June 09, 2016
Prime Minister Perry Christie
PRIME Minister Perry Christie yesterday defended his administration’s decision not to give public funds to organised opponents of the constitutional referendum, adding that he could not yet say how much money the government gave to the YES Bahamas campaign until an assessment of the finances has been done.
As results trickled in showing a resounding victory for the vote ‘no’ side on Tuesday night, some opponents of the referendum bills who gathered at Grace Community Church said they were irate at the government’s decision to give public funds to only one side in the debate.
It was a decision that even Mr. Christie’s handpicked Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney, QC, opposed.
One woman, identified as Linda, said: “I’m offended (Mr. Christie) took my money and used it against me.”
Reacting yesterday, Mr. Christie suggested that his government was on the right side of the issue while others were on the wrong side, even as Bahamians resoundingly rejected his position on the bills.
“I’m sorry,” he said, speaking to reporters in the foyer of the House of Assembly yesterday. “But the fact of the matter is that as an elected representative and one who is the minister of finance, my government made a decision that what we were doing was elevating the country on behalf of men and women.”
Mr. Christie suggested that his desire to have the country unified in support of the bills justified his decision to give funds only to the YES Bahamas campaign.
“When we started off,” he said, “we said we would not do it if we were disunited so we made a decision to be able to send people out to carry things out to ensure public education took place. I’m not going to argue today about things that were said. The ‘no’ people said things. I don’t want to dishonour the statement I made (earlier in Parliament) with contentious talk but I had certain views that affected me personally that they said. I don’t want to (talk about) that today. I can but I will not.
“I simply want to say to that lady that we acted responsibly. We acted in the best interest of the people of this country. We were always motivated to do so and we feel that anything we can do to advance public education of an issue of a public nature that will be defining for the country was money well spent.”
To some like Mr. McWeeney, it went against legal precedents not to give both sides of the referendum equal access to public funds.
Until yesterday, Christie administration officials had declined to say conclusively whether they would give money to any of the organised vote ‘no’ groups.
Their decision will likely continue to reverberate in the days to come, with Save Our Bahamas campaign member Pastor Lyall Bethel telling The Tribune Tuesday that they will demand that the government give a detailed account of how the money given to the ‘yes’ campaign was spent.
Asked how much money had been given to the YES Bahamas campaign, Mr. Christie suggested that he didn’t know, adding that an assessment of the matter will likely be made after the budget communication debate ends.
“We just finished and we have to make that assessment moving forward,” he said. “Right now, for example, you see we are in the middle of a budget debate and time is of the essence. We got a late start to the debate. Everyone must have a full opportunity to speak. After this debate we’ll have further time to reflect.”
By Rashad Rolle, Tribune Staff Reporter
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