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‘A breach of the constitution’

Constituencies Commission members condemn speaker’s actions

In the latest development in what is shaping up to be an unusual election season, four members of the Constituencies Commission are accusing its chairman, Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie, of being in breach of the constitution by submitting a purported commission report to Governor General Sir C.A. Smith with only his signature on Friday.

In a statement on Friday night, Supreme Court Justice Deborah Fraser, Minister of Health Renward Wells, Progressive Liberal Party Deputy Leader Chester Cooper and Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard called the move by Moultrie “a clear and flagrant breach of the constitution” and noted their intention to urge Smith to reject the report.

Article 69(6) of the constitution requires the concurrence of at least three members for any decision by the commission.

The commission must give the prime minister written notice of its intention to submit its report to the governor general, according to Article 70(3) of the constitution, which mandates the prime minister to subsequently publish that notice in the gazette. 

In their statement, the four commission members said, “The action of the speaker does not comply with any of these fundamental provisions of the constitution and is a blatant disregard for legality and for the constitutional order of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas. The speaker is the chairman of the commission pursuant to the constitution. However, he is only one member of the commission.

“A report signed by one member alone is a legal and constitutional nullity, which only serves to bring the high office of speaker into disrepute. What was clear from the beginning of this process, which began last September, is that the speaker of the House was intent on having his own way and doing his own thing. The speaker announced a meeting to sign the report, which was not properly constituted, and there was not a quorum.

“The member for Exuma (Cooper) indicated via email that he was in his constituency and not available for the meeting. No other member of the commission responded to the email or attended the meeting. The speaker submitting a report to the governor general signed only by him is grandstanding and political posturing.  It marks a low point in the history of our democracy.”

They said the report does not reflect the view of the majority of the commission.

The commission members’ public denouncement of the report submitted by Moultrie came a week after Pintard told The Nassau Guardian that the speaker was “at odds with the majority” of the commission’s members.

He made the comment after Moultrie threatened to submit the report with only his signature and accused government members on the commission of frustrating the process of completing a report. 

Article 68 of the constitution mandates the review of constituency boundaries at intervals of not more than five years. The last report is dated February 2017.

The prime minister is constitutionally mandated to lay before the House of Assembly for its approval a draft of an order by the governor general for giving effect, whether with or without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the commission’s report.

But the prime minister could legally call an election in the absence of the commission reporting, if he calls the election prior to February 2022.

The report submitted by Moultrie, which was obtained by The Nassau Guardian, recommended a statutory independent Constituencies Commission.

It noted that there is a need for public consultations, public sitting of the commission and the establishment of a website and/or other social media platforms.

The report stated, despite low voter count, larger islands of the southeast Bahamas should be classified as “exceptional constituencies and be made more practice for access by the elected representative”.

It stated that the option of redistribution of the electoral boundaries in New Providence, Grand Bahama and MICAL was debated.

“It was the will of the majority of commission members to recommend no change to the 39 electoral constituencies,” the report read.

“Those commissioners who disagreed with the majority’s position offered dissenting opinions, which are incorporated in this report in summary and attached in full as Annex 2 and Annex 3.”

Only Annex 2, which is Moultrie’s dissenting opinion, was attached to the document.

In his dissent, Moultrie outlined what he sees as the need for four additional constituencies – three on New Providence and one on Grand Bahama – for voter parity.

Moultrie also recommended splitting the MICAL constituency and reintroducing the constituencies of Inagua and Mayaguana and the constituency of Acklins, Crooked Island and Long Cay.

The report submitted by the speaker concludes by noting that the commission fulfilled its constitutional mandate to present a single report pursuant to the constitution.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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