No to an increase in House seats

The Bahamas Constitution provides for a House of Assembly with 38 members. That number may be increased by a constitutionally sanctioned process including recommendations from the Parliamentary Constituencies Commission.

The minority government of The Bahamas, pre-1967, has been accused of gerrymandering boundaries of constituencies by including disproportionate numbers of supporters of the main opposition party in large constituencies in New Providence and creating numerous, sparsely populated constituencies in the Family Islands: Abaco, Eleuthera and Harbour Island each had three seats, Cat Island, Exuma, Long Island and Andros each had two seats; Acklins, ‘Crooked Island and Long Cay’, Grand Bahama and Bimini, and ‘San Salvador and Rum Cay’ each with one seat.

Constituencies were reconfigured and increased to 38 from 33 for the 1967 general election, giving Andros three seats and Grand Bahama and Bimini getting two seats.

The first majority government of the country which came to office in 1967 promised to correct past abuses. When they were voted out of office 25 years later in 1992, the number of seats in the House of Assembly had been increased from 38 to 49. As had occurred prior to 1967, new constituencies were created.

Now, the speaker of the House of Assembly, who is the chairman of the Constituencies Commission, and who never fails to confirm our view of most of his views, has said that the best means of addressing a growing number of registered voters is to create five additional constituencies.

It does not occur to him that constituency boundary lines ought to be redrawn to accommodate shifts in the registered voters most especially in New Providence.

The Bahamas with a population of under 400,000 today has 39 seats in the House of Assembly.

The numbers of constituencies in regional Commonwealth CARICOM countries are instructive. Barbados, with a similar size population to ours has 30 parliamentary constituencies. Trinidad and Tobago with a population of around 1.3 million, has 42 seats in its House of Assembly and Jamaica, with close to three million people, has 63 seats in its Parliament.

A per capita comparison suggests that while taking account of our geography, Bahamians are well represented by the current number of constituencies.

It is usual that constituency boundaries are adjusted to take into account increases in the number of registered voters and also to consider population shifts between constituencies.

In The Bahamas, geography and small populations on some islands have dictated the grouping of islands together to create viable constituencies like MICAL (Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins and Long Cay) ‘San Salvador, Cat Island and Rum Cay’, ‘North Andros and the Berry Islands’, ‘West End and Bimini’ and Exuma and Ragged Island.

Clearly, constituencies on heavily populated New Providence, and to some extent in Grand Bahama, Abaco and Eleuthera, will be larger than those in most Family Islands. But given the reality of our geography, a member of Parliament is able to communicate and discuss matters with constituents in a large New Providence constituency far more easily than is his or her colleague with a constituency extending over two or more islands.

There is important and urgent business for the Constituencies Commission to do considering the dramatic changes that hurricane displacement has created especially in Abaco and Grand Bahama but also on islands hosting displaced voters like New Providence and Eleuthera.

These population shifts as well as the normal increase in those eligible to vote should not be used as excuses to further burden the Bahamian taxpayer with further salary, benefits and pension costs for added members of Parliament.

Both the government and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition ought to ignore the musings of the Constituency Commission chairman as there is absolutely no need at this time to increase the number of seats in the House of Assembly.

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