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Constitutional reforms

Dear Editor,

That our constitution is in urgent need of reform is a given and is commonly accepted.  Unfortunately, our politicians lack the fortitude to cause them to come about via public referendums.

Some years ago, an incarnation of Hubert Alexander Ingraham and the Free National Movement (FNM) launched a series of badly thought out referendums, seeking to amend constitutional provisions relating to citizenship and the ‘regularization’ of children born outside of a marriage.  Needless to say, they all went down in flames and the FNM lost the 2002 general election.

In an infantile reaction, my good friend and sometimes patron, Ingraham, stepped back from the leadership of the defeated and splintered FNM.  It is believed that he ‘set up’ Tommy Turnquest to become leader of that party while he mulled his eventual return to high office.

While Perry Gladstone Christie served as prime minister (2002-2007), he and his administration did appoint a so-called ‘constitutional commission’, led by Paul Lawrence Adderley and Harvey Tynes.  That commission met several times and held a number of public forums but nothing of substance came out of its eventual report.  The PLP was subsequently returned to the political bone yard and the FNM and Ingraham ‘bounced’ back.

Upon his return to high office one of the first statements made by Ingraham was that he and his administration were not ‘minded’ to host another referendum anytime soon.  So said, so done.  None were held and none will be able to be advanced at this stage of the electoral game.

Under the current Independence Order-1973 (our constitution), the prime minister is able to serve for life or as long as he ‘commands’ the support of the majority of members of the House of Assembly.  This cannot be allowed to continue as we have seen, clearly, that after two terms in office, the holder seems to either get ‘tired’ and devoid of sensible ideas, or he comes to believe that no one else is capable of governing the nation.

So it was with the late great and irreplaceable Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling and so it is now turning out with Ingraham, with all due respect.  There was a time in the distant past when the latter seemed capable and able to come up with brilliant ideas.  This term in office has demonstrated that he is now in a tax, borrow and spend mode.  This has resulted in the accumulation of a massive public debt; monumental disruption to business thanks to the badly managed road works; and high unemployment.

Term limits are essential for the office of prime minister as well as for regular members of the House of Assembly and even for the Senate.  Persons who hold any particular office for too long come to believe that that office ‘belongs’ to them.

An independent boundaries commission must also be legislated, but the difficulty is who will select or appoint members to the same?  Currently, the governor general does so after ‘consultation’ with the prime minister of the day, who himself would have ‘consulted’ with the leader of the opposition. This, of course, is a farce of the highest order in that the PM of the day is a literal constitutional ‘dictator’.

We would also do well to have a parliamentary ombudsman appointed under the authority of the constitution.  Such an individual would be the bulwark between the legislature and the average citizen.  This office has been established in most Commonwealth countries and has come to be of great significance.  Here in The Bahamas there is no constitutional appeal available for the ordinary citizen where legislation may be overly burdensome and/or patently unconstitutional.

I would also wish to see the establishment of an ‘independent’ judicial appointments commission, which would be totally devoid of the appearance of political manipulation.  The current committee is headed by the chief justice of the day, who is appointed by the governor general on the advice of the PM of the day after consultation with the leader of the opposition.

Sir Michael Barnett, the current CJ, is a former failed candidate for the governing Free National Movement.  He also served that party as a high ranking executive and a longtime associate of the PM.

Lastly, the date for general elections must be fixed by the constitution to avoid capriciousness on the part of the prime minister of the day.  As it stands right now, the current PM is able to wake up any morning on the wrong side of his bed and decide to advise the governor general to dissolve Parliament and to issue writs of election.

Hopefully the incoming government, after the general election, which I predict will be held in February of 2012, will move to reform the constitution.  Until then, however, to God be the glory in all things.

– Ortland H. Bodie Jr.

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