The Consequences of Ignoring the Will of the People

Monday 31st, March 2014 / 08:36 Published by

gambling-lotteryThe government is moving ahead with permitting web shops and allowing Bahamians to legally gamble in some form, it seems. The announcement has been made but the details of the proposal have not yet been disclosed.

Parliament has always had the right to amend the Lotteries and Gaming Act in order to permit Bahamians and legal residents to gamble. But instead, the Christie administration put forward a non-binding referendum in January of last year to solicit the opinions of Bahamians on the controversial issue.

Fewer than 50 percent of eligible Bahamians voted in that poll. Of that number a majority opposed regulating web shops and the creation of a national lottery. Conservative forces such as the church have long opposed legalizing gambling for Bahamians. They won that vote.

We think the administration assumed Bahamians would support the referendum so that it would have political cover to legalize web shops for the friends of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) – the web shop owners. That did not happen and the status quo of open illegality remained.

The PLP has a large majority in the House of Assembly. If the whip is on the governing side would easily be able to pass its gambling provision. The decision, however, to ignore the vote of the people in that referendum is likely to have far-reaching consequences.

In referenda such as the non-binding one held in The Bahamas last year – when a government merely seeks the view of the people regarding a controversial matter in an advisory manner – the people trust that the government will respect their view. If they find out the government will do what it wants on the matter shortly after the vote, regardless of their will, the people will likely be much less inclined to participate in these votes in the future.

That cynicism by the electorate could also spin over to more consequential referenda. The consent of the people via a referendum is needed to amend many articles of our constitution. We need Bahamians to be engaged during efforts to reform our supreme law. We need them to vote.

If the PLP wanted to legalize gambling it could have done so from day one without the referendum of last year. What is clear is the party has no clear thinking on the issue of gambling. The PLP’s ad hoc approach to this issue has caused confusion and will harm the referenda process going forward.

We still don’t know exactly what it is the governing party intends to do on gaming for Bahamians. The PLP needs to come up with a clear and rational policy on the issue. We need not further harm the trust between the public and the government of this country on this matter.

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1 Comments on “The Consequences of Ignoring the Will of the People

  • Since gambling in the Bahamas is illegal there should not have been a referendum for the people to vote on. Government should have just taken measures to legalize the industry since they weren’t going to make any arrest to those illegal web shops anyway.

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