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The National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas (NCTUB) has recommended to the Constitutional Commission that Bahamians have the right to participate in any form of gaming in the country.
"The constitution should be so amended to reflect that all Bahamians should have the right if they so choose to participate in any form of gaming within The Bahamas and any law that discriminates against any Bahamian and restricts such rights should be voided," NCTUB President Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson said.
Isaacs-Dotson presented the recommendation during a meeting of the Constitutional Commission at the British Colonial Hilton hotel yesterday.
Trade Union Congress (TUC) President Obie Ferguson, who also made recommendations yesterday, said he supported Isaacs-Dotson's proposals.
Prime Minister Perry Christie previously told The Nassau Guardian that the question of casino gambling
would be a part of the constitutional referendum promised by the government for later this year if the Constitutional Commission recommends that it be addressed as part of broader constitutional reforms.
The gambling referendum is set for January 28, but the casino question is not on that ballot.
Many Bahamians, including former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, have said the question of whether Bahamians be allowed to gamble in casinos in The Bahamas should also be included.
"The Government of The Bahamas when it appointed the Constitutional Commission knew that the Constitutional Commission had within its remit the question of looking at the constitution, listening to people and taking all of the issues that will be put before the people in a constitutional referendum," Christie previously told The Nassau Guardian.
"And so, we did not want to mix up the two, and so in the general election campaign we put into our platform, which we called the Charter for Governance, that we will deal with this issue of web shop gambling and lotteries and that's where we are.
"And so, I expect the other issue (the casino issue) to come about under (Sean) McWeeney's commission. McWeeney and Carl Bethel (the opposition's representative) and others are on that.
"And then we will take a look at that (the casino issue) as to whether that will be a question on the referendum that will follow. They have until the end of March to report, so it's not long."
Isaacs-Dotson appeared before the commission during its latest round of consultations, which involves discussions with the leaders of the country's major political parties, leaders of civic groups and other organizations in the country.
She also recommended that the constitution be amended to eliminate discrimination against women; to provide for the ability for constituents to recall their member of Parliament, and a fixed election date, among other recommendations.
The commission is expected to present its recommendations on or before March 31, 2013. Former Chief Justice Sir Burton Hall also made recommendations yesterday.
Distinguished Representatives and Guests,
I am pleased to continue this annual tradition which highlights the work and achievements of my Ministry over the last twelve months. I intend to say some things about the future as well. Near the mid-point of the past year, our Administration took office with a foreign policy focus in our Charter for Governance which can be summarized in two principles: we will be proactive and people-centred.
I am happy to join you for the opening ceremony of the Marco City Youth Leadership Institute for Senior Students. I am happy to share with you some “Lessons for Leadership” which I gained from my own experience and from my observance and interaction with other leaders here at home and abroad.
"We need real campaign finance reform to loosen the grip of special interests on politics." - Tom Daschle
Every five years around election time, incessant lip service is paid to campaign financing. It can only be lip service because after the ballots have been cast, counted and catalogued, the notion of campaign finance reform retires to hibernation - that is, until the next general election. Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider This...what practical approaches can we realistically take regarding how we finance political campaigns in The Bahamas?
Unquestionably, politics has become an extremely expensive exercise. When one considers the cost of political rallies, paraphernalia, including T-shirts and other garments now available, flags, posters, signage, printing of flyers, advertisements, including newspaper, radio and television broadcasts and commercials, the cost is staggering. Let's not forget the direct cost of personnel employed by political parties; the cost of constituency offices, sometimes four or five, particularly in the Family Islands; the cost of electricity, water, and telephones; the cost of food and beverages; of political consultants; and the printing of party platforms. When these and other costs are considered, the real cost of staging a general election could very easily cost $250,000 per constituency or nearly $10 million per party. So how are political parties expected to finance such a mammoth undertaking?
Using the public purse
It has become commonplace for the government of the day to use the power of the public purse to significantly finance its party's political campaign. We observed this practice when the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was in power; we witnessed it in the by-election in Elizabeth two years ago; and we are seeing it again in the current general election. While this has been a common practice, the Free National Movement (FNM) government seems to have taken this phenomenon to new heights.
Shortly after announcing the general election of 2012, the government launched a record contract signing marathon. The $12 million contract for the construction of a new clinic in North Abaco and a multimillion-dollar contract for a new hospital in Exuma are a few examples of this.
Last weekend, amidst great public fanfare at police headquarters, the prime minister awarded $1 million to charitable organizations. Ironically, this is the same government that - only one year earlier - reduced the government's subvention to such organizations during the annual budget debate in the House of Assembly. This is the same government that discontinued the extremely effective YEAST program that provided a positive prototype for young Bahamian men at risk and the same government that canceled the effective and internationally celebrated urban renewal program established by the PLP.
No matter which party is in power, an intelligent and discerning public should look askance at the government of the day exploiting and abusing the public purse in order to win votes after elections have been called.
In The Bahamas, political campaigns are predominantly financed by contributions from persons, companies, and organizations that believe in the democratic process and want to ensure that the message of the political party that they support is widely and successfully disseminated.
In the absence of campaign finance laws, there are no restrictions on who can contribute to a political party and how much they can donate. Accordingly, anyone -- Bahamians and foreigners - can contribute any amount to anyone at any time without any accountability whatsoever. The real question that we must address for the future health of our democracy is whether this is a desirable practice?
It has become customary for political contributions to be made in private, sometimes on the condition of confidentiality and often in secrecy with only a select few members of the party knowledgeable regarding the source of the funds.
Campaign 2012 has seen a new development in political funding. During the last few mass rallies, the prime minister has publicly appealed from the podium for campaign contributions, describing it as a further deepening of our democracy by allowing the public to become investors in his party. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it is unprecedented and uncharacteristic. We have never before seen this prime minister - or any other for that matter - beg for money from a public podium.
It therefore begs the question: why has he done so now, during what he says is his last campaign? He alluded to the answer to this question on Thursday past at a mass rally on R. M. Bailey Park when he said that he will not tolerate anyone in his Cabinet who has financially benefited from conflicts of interest.
We believe that he made this appeal for financial contributions because, while the FNM is still well-funded by those wealthy interest groups who support him in order to continue reaping his government's largess, some of his traditional sources of funding are less generous than they have been in the past. This is possibly because he has cut some of his more financially well-connected candidates for reasons already stated and reiterated again from that podium last Thursday in a purposefully vague but very revealing way.
Campaign finance reform
Clearly, as the prime minister is opening party funding up to the masses in ways never seen before, the time has come to enact campaign financing legislation. There are several things that can be done in order to impose strict controls for campaign fund-raising, primarily to level the playing field and to minimize disparate levels of funding campaigns by the various political parties. Campaign financing legislation should also establish disclosure requirements with respect to funding and spending in elections.
Such a law could introduce statutory limits on contributions by individuals, organizations and companies, which would remove the influence of big money from politics and should also prohibit foreign influences from invading the local political process.
There should also be limits on large potential donors to prevent them from gaining extraordinary political access or favorable legislation or other concessions in return for their contributions. Campaign finance laws should also provide for the capping of such funding and for the disclosure of sources of campaign contributions and expenditures. It should also limit or prohibit government contractors from making contributions with respect to such elections.
Campaign financing legislation could even provide for matching funds by the government for all the candidates in order to ensure that the playing field truly is level and to enhance clean elections.
Finally, in order to more vigilantly protect the public purse, the law should strictly prohibit a government from signing any new contracts after general or by-elections are called.
Campaigns will become more expensive as time progresses. As we mature politically, we should seek to ensure that political parties operate on a level playing field and remove the barriers to participation in the democratic process because of a lack of funding. If we want to encourage the best and the brightest citizens to enter into the elective political arena, we should seek to eliminate the observation of U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton that: "Elections are more often bought than won".
Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having external observer missions at election time is important, but no longer enough.
The Commonwealth and the Organization of American States (OAS) are now both observing general elections in two Caribbean countries - Guyana and St. Lucia - and may be observing a third - Jamaica - before year end.
But, how effective are these election observation missions, and should they continue in their present form in which they arrive in countries only eight days or so before Election Day?
The presence of external agencies, such as the Commonwealth and the OAS, are undoubtedly beneficial to the elections process. If they were not present, it is likely that, in some countries, there would be many election irregularities that could materially affect the result. External observers do exercise a restraining influence.
However, much of the mischief that surrounds elections can occur before external observer missions land in a country. And, the eight or so days that the missions are in place do not allow them enough time to unearth and expose political chicanery. The most effective thing they can do is to monitor the actual polling day for misconduct. Consequently, there is a genuine risk that observer missions could declare an election to be free and fair when, in fact, the process of manipulating it was in place long before the election campaign period.
At the end of many missions, both Commonwealth and OAS teams have submitted reports to governments recommending reforms and improvements. In the majority of cases, these recommendations have been ignored. Neither the Commonwealth nor the OAS has the authority or the resources to monitor whether or not its recommendations have been implemented and to insist that they should be.
Presently in the island of St. Lucia, the Commonwealth has a small three-person mission. The OAS is doing somewhat better with eight persons. In the massive mainland territory of Guyana, the OAS has 25 observers on the ground, and the Commonwealth will field 15 persons.
While the presence of these external observer missions is extremely important, the question has to be asked whether they would not have been more effective had the Commonwealth and the OAS combined their efforts, and, also, gone into the countries earlier than the last eight days before the elections? Further, would not their findings carry far more weight if they made a joint report, and would not their recommendations be more likely to be implemented if they jointly monitored their application?
Observing elections is a costly business even though, for the most part, observers are not paid. Nonetheless, transporting them to countries and paying for their accommodation and other costs mount up. This is a good reason for organizations such as the Commonwealth and the OAS, when they are observing elections in the same place, to do so jointly in order to be more effective.
Further, it would be beneficial if both the Commonwealth and the OAS in collaboration with the UN organization and relevant international organizations, such as the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, trained local organizations to mount their own electoral observation missions. It was heartening to learn that, for the current general elections in Guyana, the Electoral Commission accredited local groups as observers. It is time that civic groups begin to share the responsibility for ensuring that the will of the electorate is reflected in elections in their countries.
In its report to Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting last month in Australia, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), of which I was a member, said: "We believe the present system of strengthening democratic institutions, processes and culture should be improved by broadening the Secretariat's mandate on election observation to include assessment of political transition arrangements and the promotion of civic education. We are mindful that some governments, including members of the Commonwealth, have defied the will of the electorate by disregarding the results of elections and either seeking to maintain, or maintaining, themselves in power. Although the cases are few, flawed political transitions are destabilizing. They trigger political violence, undermine peace, intensify individual and group insecurity and can cause humanitarian crisis. Apart from the adverse effects on the countries concerned, flawed political transitions also have a tendency to affect neighboring and other states through, for example, the flight of refugees."
The group called for civil society to play a greater role in monitoring elections in their own countries, and stressed that to do so effectively and with maximum utility, their representatives need to be trained.
In considering how such training could be achieved, the EPG recommended that "an Academy for Democracy should be established within a Commonwealth country to reach beyond the physical processes of democratic government to instill the ideals and culture of democracy, and the foundations of democratic leadership. No such academy exists, and it would be a path-breaking service for the global community if a Commonwealth country were to establish such an institution to which governments, elections commissions, civil society and other relevant organizations could send people to be trained in best practices on a fee-for-service basis".
The EPG had Barbados in mind for such an academy given its tradition of relatively good governance, its long parliamentary history, and the commitment of its people to democracy.
Importantly, the group recommended that the Commonwealth should broaden its election observation mandate by providing observer teams that arrive optimally two months in advance of a planned election day, or, where the election is called suddenly, as close as possible to the date on which the election is called to ensure an open and democratic electoral process leading up to, including, and following, election day.
Recognizing that the period after a general election is as crucial as the period leading-up to it, particularly to achieve an orderly and peaceful transition of government, the EPG also recommended that the remit of the observer missions should be expanded to include an assessment of the adequacy of institutional and operational arrangements for post-election political transition and to advise the secretary-general of the Commonwealth on actions that may be required to improve such arrangements and to ensure that political transitions respect the results of elections.
This recommendation is also valid for the secretary-general of the OAS. But, the two secretaries general could be much more effective if they formed a strategic partnership for elections in the 12 countries that are members of both their organizations.
Meantime, we must hope that the elections in St. Lucia and Guyana - and their aftermath - will be orderly and peaceful, and so too for Jamaica whose elections beckon.
To be considered by political parties during election time groups and individuals at least have to be interested in the political process. The apathetic, uninterested and uninvolved are more likely to be ignored.
Young Bahamians, those under 35, have an opportunity in the months to come. The more that group engages with the democratic process, the more its issues will be part of the campaign.
For this to take place, young Bahamians must register to vote, go to political meetings and participate in discussions, form groups in and outside of political parties to project a collective voice, write to newspapers, call talk shows and read.
The issues of crime, education and joblessness are key issues nationally, but they are especially of concern for the young. Young men are the main group incarcerated. Young people are the ones most recently exposed to the poor national education system and many of them now face difficulty finding jobs.
The first step to pushing for change in these areas is engagement. Too many young people have embraced vacant consumerism - that is, the mindset that life is merely about enjoying the pleasure derived from purchasing things. Too many young people also spend too much time focused on entertainment culture. The latest song, TV show and film are more a focus for some than why it is that the public education system in The Bahamas produces such poor results.
In democracies we the people are responsible for agitating for the change we desire. It is not good enough to complain from the sideline while no effort is being made to bring about the result that is hoped for.
When politicians see well organized groups or passionate individuals who will not back down, in free societies they listen. And at election time they listen and attempt to satisfy those people or groups in the hope of securing votes. The young should seize this moment.
Remembering those who sacrificed
With Remembrance Day being celebrated yesterday we should not forget, in the contemporary setting, those in our security forces who sacrifice much to keep us safe. They do today something similar to what those soldiers of yesteryear did to ensure we have the freedoms we now have.
Our police and defence forces, prison officers and immigration and customs officers in various ways put themselves in harm's way to ensure that we can live more peaceful lives. The men and women of these organizations do not make large salaries. They are often criticized also when they do not get it right or when some who wear the uniforms violate the law and trust of the community.
The overwhelming majority of the men and women in these organizations, however, are honest and hardworking and we owe them our gratitude. Some of the work they do will never be seen or will never be known. That work makes The Bahamas a better place.
Please publish this open letter to the Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell.
My Dear Minister,
On Thursday August 9, 2012, I was a guest on the Gems radio show "Building a Nation" hosted by Tennyson Wells, a former minister and attorney general in the Ingraham administration. I had the occasion to voice my opinion on your appointment as a junior minister in National Security. My opposition to your appointment is for the same reason I have against the appointment of Dr. Perry Gomez as minister of health.
As former members of your organizations it is fair to assume that you both, at some time during your tenure, had crossed swords with a number of your colleagues who are still serving in those organizations. Human nature being what it is and with the spirit of victimization and retaliation in both political parties, FNM and PLP, it stands to reason that the power of your office will be used to the fullest extent in attempting to settle old scores.
I also feel that with your unbridled ambition you can easily wander in to unfamiliar political zones that will prove embarrassing to your portfolio, leader and your party.
In less than 24 hours after voicing my concerns about your ability to properly function in that position, I was amazed to read in The Nassau Guardian of August 10 your criticisms of the former FNM administration's interference in the administration of the RBPF.
The majority of the senior ranks of the force from the inception of ministerial government in 1964 have given their allegiance to one or the other of the two major political parties.
Do you remember what happened to Marvin Dames, the best and most efficient officer to have headed CDU under the 2002/7 Christie administration? He was unceremoniously removed from CDU and transferred to the Airport Division to relieve an ASP. What humiliation and degradation for an Assistant Commissioner. Since his departure from that body it has never been the same. Did anyone hear a dissenting voice from you? No, but you were in a position to protest.
And while I am looking to get some answers, will you kindly tell us out here in John Q. Public why you, as a minister, must be armed. Why do you feel it is necessary for you to carry a firearm? What was the purpose of your taking two empty AK47 magazines to the Senate floor? What were you trying to prove?
And for your information, derelict buildings were being demolished for eons before you were a minister and will be long after you have departed the scene.
Tell us how to tackle the escalating crime situation and stop reminding us what the politicians are doing with the force. Stop telling us what Ingraham and his crew did and show us what you are all about.
-- Errington W. I. Watkins