Improving our electoral system

The general election has come and gone in The Bahamas. The people have chosen who will govern them for the next five years.

The new prime minister and his ministers have been sworn in, and their attention will be turned to the management of our affairs during these most unprecedented times.

The Commonwealth Observer Group, which is scheduled to leave The Bahamas today, has released its preliminary findings, stating that the voting, closing and counting processes at polling stations were credible, inclusive and transparent.

“The commitment of all Bahamians to the exercise of their democratic franchise is to be commended, bearing in mind the considerable challenges confronting The Bahamas in the face of a snap election, as well as the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” stated the group, headed by former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

But the Observer Group found that key recommendations made in the 2017 post-general election report had not been adopted.

For one, the group reiterated that The Bahamas should consider the establishment of an independent election management body, in order to strengthen adherence to international good practices.

The observers urged all stakeholders and citizens of The Bahamas to reflect on this recommendation.

The Observer Group in its 2017 report, stated: “The time has come for The Bahamas to establish an independent electoral management body to consolidate and build trust in its electoral processes.”

In 2017, the Observer Group, which was chaired by Hanna Tetteh, the former foreign affairs minister of the Republic of Ghana, also recommended that in order to promote fairness, transparency and accountability, a regulatory framework governing campaign financing should be developed prior to the next election.

Again, the government of The Bahamas did not adopt this recommendation, although in opposition Dr. Hubert Minnis, the now former prime minister, had committed to doing so.

Earlier this year, Minnis said he remained committed to campaign finance legislation, declaring that he had “seven more years” to introduce it.

Philip Brave Davis, then-opposition leader, said last year the Minnis administration’s so-called commitment to a campaign finance law was another empty promise.

“These are low-hanging fruits,” Davis said.

In its “Blueprint for Change”, released ahead of last week’s election, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) promised “campaign finance reform”.

In 2017, the Observer Group also recommended the development of a Political Parties and Candidates Code of Conduct. Again this year, the Observer Group recommends that the Parliamentary Registration Department consider the development of such a code.

Regarding the media, the Observer Group in 2017 pointed out that one main complaint was that the state media, the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, did not offer equal airtime to all the political parties and candidates that participated in the election, but instead devoted a disproportionate level of coverage to the incumbent party.

Again, the 2021 group made the same observation.

In 2017, the Observer Group recommended that the Public Disclosure Act be reviewed in an effort to increase public trust in elected officials. 

The Minnis administration pledged to repeal that act. It introduced the Integrity Commission Bill in 2017, but it never moved forward with it.

The PLP now promises a “new” Public Disclosure Act.

The 2017 group also said the government should prioritize enacting a robust Freedom of Information Act. We note that while the former administration brought the act into force, the setting up of the necessary infrastructure has meant that members of the public have not yet been able to make requests for information under that legislation.

Much of what was observed and recommended in 2017 received little or no attention from the Minnis administration.

We hope that the new administration sees value in giving consideration to the recommendations made by Golding and his group in the interest of strengthening our electoral system and deepening our democracy. 

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