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Referendum Delayed–Pushed To June 2014

perry christie

There will be no constitutional referendum until June 2014, but for the rest of the year Prime Minister Perry Christie said the government plans to take the preparatory steps needed to make it happen.

Prime Minister Perry Christie announced Wednesday afternoon in the House of Assembly that Chairman of the Constitutional Commission Sean McWeeney, QC, has advised the government that it would not be practicable to advance all of the proposed amendments at the same time and instead recommended that the referenda should be staggered over a period of years.

Mr. Christie added that it was also recommended that the process should begin with a first round pick of issues of national priority likely to be supported by both sides of the political divide in parliament.

The prime minister said following consultations with Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis, he is satisfied that there is broad support for constitutional reform on two urgent matters.

“Firstly, the amendment of the citizenship provisions of the constitution to achieve full equality between men and women with respect to the acquisition and transmission of Bahamian nationality,” he said.

“Secondly, the expansion of the definition of discrimination in Article 26 of the constitution to include discrimination based on sex as a prohibited ground so that women and men would be able to enjoy the same level of protection from discrimination that men already enjoy.”

He added that these two issues are connected and are of national importance to The Bahamas because of international treaty obligations that require the country to end all forms of legal discrimination against women.

Mr. Christie said it is simply unacceptable for there to be any further delay in bringing about full and complete gender equality.

To achieve this, the prime minister said recommendations nine, 10, 11, 16, 24 and 25 of the Constitutional Commission’s report would have to be implemented as they call for six specific actions to be taken which deal with children born to unwed Bahamian women, Bahamian men having children with foreign spouses and marriages of convenience for nationality, among others.

“A Bahamian woman who is married to a non-Bahamian should have the same constitutional right that a Bahamian man has to pass her Bahamian citizenship to her child at birth irrespective of whether the child is born abroad or in The Bahamas,” he added. “At present there is no such constitutional right in relation to the foreign-born child of a married Bahamian mother where the father of that child is a non-Bahamian.”

“A Bahamian man who fathers a child with a foreign woman outside of marriage should have the same constitutional right that an unwed Bahamian woman has to pass citizenship to that child, subject to his proving paternity. Right now such a child would have to take the citizenship of its foreign mother, leaving the Bahamian father unable to pass Bahamian citizenship to his child.”

He added that the commission has observed that this part of the constitution represents a singular instance of the constitution discriminating against Bahamian men and would have to be changed as well.

It is also recommended that the word sex be added to the definition of discrimination to make it unlawful to discriminate against any person based on their sex alone.

However, Prime Minister Christie sought to make it unequivocally clear that this amendment would not overturn the country’s position on same sex marriages and noted that the existing position in this regard will remain in place.

“It should be noted that in all these cases, a three-quarters majority of each the House and Senate would be required to pass the amending bills,” he said. “After that, assuming of course, that the bills are carried in each house with the requisite majorities, the bills would then have to be submitted to the electorate for approval by a simple majority vote in a constitutional referendum.”

According to the prime minister, the report contains 73 recommendations of which fewer than 40 would necessitate formal constitutional amendment.

The commission presented its report to the government on July 8, 2013 and a constitutional referendum was expected to be held next month.

Mr. Christie outlined the timeline for next year’s referendum.

“It is now anticipated firstly, that the amending bills will be introduced in the House of Assembly before year’s end, secondly, that passage of bills through both houses will be completed by the end of February, 2014 and thirdly that a referendum on the matter will be held throughout the nation not later than the end of the year June, 2014.”

He also added that this timeline will give time for an ample period of public education and discussion led by the Constitutional Commission and said the government intends to act upon another urgent recommendation by appointing an new and separate commission to bring focused attention to the question of how children born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents should be dealt with in terms of citizenship and permanent residence.

Mr. Christie is expected to announce the members of this new commission in the near future.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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