Nottage: Independent boundaries commission needed
Bain and Grants Town Member of Parliament Dr. Bernard Nottage yesterday called for the establishment of an independent boundaries commission to define constituencies, arguing that the inclusion of sitting MPs on such a commission can lead to “political mischief” and “legalized cheating”.
“I do not believe (the inclusion of) serving members of Parliament on the commission best serves the implied independence of the process,” Dr. Nottage said during debate on amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act in the House of Assembly.
“This process, so critical to free and fair elections should be taken out of the hands of active politians. The temptation, pressures and opportunity for partisan political mischief is just too great for even the most honest and well-meaning politician.”
Currently, the commission is made up of a judge, two MPs from the majority party, one MP from the opposition party and the Speaker of the House.
Dr. Nottage suggested that a judge should be appointed chair of the commission and members of civil society should be the other members of the body.
“What is worse is the law also allows the prime minister, after the commission has made its recommendations, to alter their decision even further,” said Dr. Nottage.
“The prime minister gets the chance to double dip in the process – he tells his members what he wants and then he is able to tweak their conclusion if he sees some advantage between the time they make their recommendations and the (time) Parliament gets to debate their report. I call that legalized cheating.”
The bill before the House is intended to create greater certainty regarding the constituency a person is entitled to register and vote in. It will also allow overseas voting at certain foreign missions for students, those working for the government and their spouses and family members.
According to Dr. Nottage, the changes the government is seeking to make to the election laws do not address the most serious issues facing the electoral process.
The laws as they exist make it impossible for many young residents, who are entitled to citizenship in The Bahamas, to vote because of the unwillingness of governments to make it easier for them to secure citizenship, Dr. Nottage said.
According to the constitution, people born in The Bahamas to foreign parents have the right to apply for citizenship after they turn 18.