Prime Minister Perry Christie wants to hold a constitutional referendum in either May or June of next year, Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney said yesterday.
This is separate from the referendum on gambling the government has promised. The referendum on gambling [which is not necessary] will not be a constitutional referendum.
McWeeney, QC, made the revelation at the start of the commission’s first meeting.
“The prime minister reiterated his desire to have a referendum on the constitutional issues in advance of the 40th anniversary of independence, which is July 10 of next year,” said McWeeney during his opening remarks ahead of the group’s closed meeting at the British Colonial Hilton.
“Since that public pronouncement from the prime minister he has indicated to me that he would in all likelihood like to have a referendum on the constitutional issues in either May or June of next year, thereby ensuring that the will of the Bahamian people is known in advance of the 40th anniversary of independence.”
Christie has previously said the commission will review a number of issues, including the possibility of a fixed election date; term limits for a prime minister and members of Parliament and the reform or abolition of the Senate.
The prime minister has also said that among other things the commission is expected to consider whether the country should keep the death penalty on its law books; whether the country should evolve from a constitutional monarchy to a republic and whether the London-based Privy Council should remain the country’s final court of appeal.
The Christie administration has also committed to holding a constitutional referendum to amend clauses that are discriminatory against women and another referendum on oil drilling.
Recently, Christie said the oil drilling question and constitutional changes may be addressed in the same referendum.
In spite of the myriad issues before the commission, McWeeney said he does not anticipate that there will be more than one constitutional referendum.
“No, the idea is to have all of the issues put to the electorate in May or June of next year [to be] dealt with in one fell swoop.”
Christie appointed a Constitutional Commission during his first administration but was voted out of office before any of the group’s recommendations could be implemented.
McWeeney said the new commission will not face that problem.
“One of the reasons why the last commission didn’t end up completely successful was because the government which sponsored the commission was thrown out of office and that essentially killed it,” he said.
“This is starting at essentially the beginning of a new term of government and we have a very ambitious mandate to report rather quickly, so there is every expectation that the political will being what it is at the moment, that there is really no danger of the commission meeting the fate that the last one did.”
He also said because of the extensive work and public meetings coordinated by the former commission, this newly formed group will not have as many town meetings. A website will be launched to provide information and get public feedback.
The commission has 13 members who are working on a volunteer basis, McWeeney said. The last Constitutional Commission had 22 members.
The group is expected to meet every two weeks going forward, beginning at the end of September, until March 31.
McWeeney said smaller committees will be formed and will meet more frequently.
Loren Klein, chief counsel in the Office of the Attorney General, is a member and technical co-coordinator of the commission’s secretariat.
Other members are former Attorney General Carl Bethel; retired judge Rubie Nottage; Mark Wilson; Lester Mortimer; Tara Cooper-Burnside; Michael Stevenson; Dr. Olivia Saunders; Michael Albury; Chandra Sands; Brandace Duncanson and Carla Brown-Roker.
Paul Adderley, a former attorney general, and Harvey Tynes, QC, co-chaired the first commission appointed by Christie in his previous term in office.
The last Constitutional Commission recommended that the British monarch no longer be The Bahamas’ head of state and also that the office of the governor general be abolished. The commission also recommended that the country should transition into a democratic parliamentary republic with the head of state being the president.
By: Taneka Thompson
Source: The Nassau Guardian