East Grand Bahama MP Peter Turnquest yesterday argued it’s a slippery slope to ban foreign spouses of Bahamians from fishing commercially, but Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said Bahamians missed the opportunity to correct gender-based discrimination in two failed gender equality referendums.
“I believe the country missed an opportunity in two referendums on the issue of making sure there is parity between Bahamian men and women. We missed an opportunity.
“The discussion of the Fisheries Bill is not the next opportunity to relitigate that particular issue. That’s not what this bill is about. And so, I stand in solidarity with Bahamian men and women who deserve to have equal treatment under the law.
“This issue is about livelihood for Bahamians, empowerment for Bahamians, the use of natural resources in The Bahamas by Bahamians and for Bahamians.”
The issue arose as parliamentarians yesterday debated the Fisheries Bill, 2020, which would prevent people who are not citizens of The Bahamas from engaging in commercial fishing.
Turnquest said that while he supports the bill, the issue of foreign spouses is a challenge for him.
“It clearly says in the act that it must be a citizen,” said Turnquest, the former minister of finance.
“Does that mean that spousal permit holders and permanent residents are likewise excluded from being able to fish? And if that is, in fact, the case, how do we square that with the constitution and with general human rights, because I would think that any…spouse of a Bahamian should have a right to help support their family, whatever their skill is.
“And I think it’s a slippery slope, Mr. Speaker, because if you start with fishing, is the hotel industry next? I just wonder how we square that and if we’ve consulted with all of the human rights organizations and representatives here to ensure that we don’t continue to perpetuate a discriminatory policy against Bahamian women in particular, because, let’s face it – that’s who we’re talking about. The constitution already has some built-in discriminatory clauses.
“This seems to be further entrenching that discriminatory clause where we males are saying to these females that we don’t trust you to make a decision about your spouse and whether they are marrying you for love or something else.
“And it also seems to me maybe admitting that maybe…that the immigration department is not able to police these marriages of convenience and thus we’re punishing people who actually have a sustainable marriage.”
However, Pintard said the fisheries industry should be reserved for Bahamian citizens, as other industries are. He said both referendums to address gender-based discrimination in the constitution failed, with politics having dominated the considerations.
“Both administrations missed the marvelous opportunity to create parity in the constitution by supporting Bahamian men and women,” Pintard said.
“It seems as if politics dominated those considerations. But this bill is not the flashpoint to re-litigate those issues, which we should address.”
He added, “There are a number of spouses of Bahamians who are equally and in some cases more talented than the persons in this room, but who by virtue of a carveout in our system cannot offer for the House of Assembly. And I have not heard a petition by any member in this place or the other place petitioning for their participation and highlighting what they term to be discrimination.
“I have had cause to live in communities, which I am very proud of, from where I came and that I am still loyal to, where gunshot lullabies put us to sleep at nights from time to time. And I’ve had to call the police. And at no point [was] any of the police who showed up…a [foreign] spouse of any Bahamian citizen, because again that is another area of carveout.
“…So I’m just making the point that there are some carveouts that we’re entitled to as Bahamians, and this is one of them.”
Pintard continued, “While I am sympathetic, I am deeply concerned about any business that feels that they would be adversely affected. My primary responsibility is to protect the limited Bahamian resources for Bahamians who right now are trying to eke out an existence, a livelihood in this country.”
The Fisheries Bill, 2020, which would repeal the current Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Act, 1977, outlines the broad strokes for a new fishing management and conservation regime in The Bahamas.
“No person shall engage in fishing, or be employed on a commercial fishing vessel for fishing other than sportsfishing in the fisheries waters; and use or be employed on a commercial fishing vessel licensed under this act for fishing other than charter sportsfishing, unless that person is a citizen of The Bahamas,” the bill reads.
It adds that no operator of a commercial fishing vessel shall allow a person who is not a citizen of The Bahamas to engage in fishing in Bahamian waters or use a vessel other than for charter sportsfishing.
A person who contravenes this section is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $250,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding four years or both.
“We welcome others into the country,” Pintard said. “We would love for them to become citizens to fully enjoy all aspects of Bahamian life and all of the benefits that go with it, but we did not contemplate a continuation of non-Bahamians participating in the fishing sector working on Bahamian vessels.”