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Hanna-Martin: Changes to citizenship law will be problematic

Glenys Hanna-Martin.

Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin said yesterday she finds it “stunning and surprising” that the government intends to make fundamental changes to citizenship rights through changes in the Bahamas Nationality Act rather than the constitution.

“They were always talking about the Nationality Act and that is what is so stunning and surprising because my understanding is that citizenship is rooted or grounded in the constitution,” said Hanna-Martin, who appeared as a guest on the Peace 107.5 FM talk show ‘Hard Copy’ with host Steve McKinney.
“It makes sense that it would be. It is so fundamental.

“The argument that they are making is that you change citizenship rules under this act by the normal legislative process in the House of Assembly.

“I think [of former Chief Justice] Sir Michael Barnett, [whose] presentation to the Rotary [last year] was recently repeated where he said that he did not see how that could possibly happen because the whole basis of who is who, citizenship, is in our constitution.

“They are now seeking to do that. I am concerned about that because while in principle I agree wholeheartedly with what they are seeking to do, I am concerned that you are seeking to make fundamental changes in a normal legislative way.”

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced on November 2 that the government will amend the law to ensure that all children born outside The Bahamas to Bahamian women automatically receive Bahamian citizenship.

The next day, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government also intends to amend the law and allow children born to unmarried Bahamian men and foreign women an “automatic” right to Bahamian citizenship.

The announcements came over a year after the Christie administration’s failed gender equality referendum.

Bethel told The Nassau Guardian on Sunday the changes to the law on citizenship rights would not “offend the constitution”.

“We are not doing anything to go against the constitution or against the law as it is presently,” Bethel said.

However, Sir Michael Barnett said otherwise during his address at a Rotary meeting ahead of the referendum last year.

“Some have suggested that the changes proposed with respect to citizenship can be effected by ordinary legislation and an amendment to the Bahamas Nationality Act would be sufficient,” Sir Michael said.

“I do not agree. The provisions for the grant of citizenship which are sought to be corrected are contained in the constitution itself. It is the constitutional provision that is being corrected, and this, in my opinion, can only be done by amending the constitution.”

Process

Hanna-Martin said yesterday that the government should respect the process.

[Former Prime Minister Hubert] Ingraham went by referendum,” she said, referring to the 2002 referendum.

“We did it by referendum. Both times it failed and I don’t know, this may be a way of saying make it happen. I don’t know. You have to have respect for this process.

“Unlike the gaming referendum, which was described as an opinion poll, which should have been given weight and I agree people were very upset about that, the [constitutional] referendum is very different. It has legal effect.

“So I am very surprised that they are moving beyond that now and saying that they intend to do this, make these changes.”

The Progressive Liberal Party MP also took issue with the way in which the government is presenting the information.

“They are bringing it to us piece, piece, piece and these are fundamental changes they are trying to make,” she said.

“Really, they should have come with a comprehensive policy decision so Bahamians could have understood.

“This creates confusion or does not bring to the fore the whole picture so Bahamians are not aware of what’s happening all at once.”

At the time of the prime minister’s announcements, the proposed amendments had not yet been finalized.

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