||Last Updated: Nov 21, 2017 - 2:50:28 AM
November 2017 Contribution- Second Reading of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill and Pensions
(Amendment) Bill 2017 Senator, Hon., J.L. Coleby-Davis- Opposition
Senator and Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs,
Madame President, Senate Colleagues, my fellow Bahamians, I am grateful to God and thank him for another opportunity to present in this place once again. I take pleasure in the opportunity to represent the Bahamian people, and I do not take these moments that I stand to advocate on their behalf lightly.
Madame President before I get into my contribution in this place on matters arising from the Second reading of the Constitution Amendment Bill and the Pensions Amendment Bill, I wish to beg leave for you to permit me for a moment to extend condolences to the family of Sir Arlington Butler, I am sure many would agree that we are ever grateful for his service to the building of The Bahamas, his lifelong contributions to our country’s national development; He was an extraordinary man and will be missed by many.
I also extend condolences to the family of a cultural icon and a great pioneer, Mr. Ronnie Butler. I pray that his family is comforted in their time of mourning. I wish to remind them that songs like Burma Road will remain to be played throughout this Bahamas and his legacy shall live on.
Madame President I wish to congratulate the new leader of the Progressive Liberal Party and the Leader of her majesty Loyal Opposition the Honourable Philip Davis, MP for Cat Island, San Salvador and Rum Cay. I send congratulations out to our newly elected Deputy Leader Honourable I. Chester Cooper, MP for Exuma and Ragged Islands. Congratulations to my colleague in this place and Leader of the Opposition Senate, Senator Frederick Mitchell as the new Chairman, and congratulations to former Senator Robyn Lynes as the new Deputy Chairman, and to the scores of party supporters and members that have offered themselves to serve in the great PLP.
Constitution Amendment Bill
Madame President, I move now to discuss the Amendments offered to the Constitution. Madame President, the Bill seeks to establish within the Constitutional framework of the Bahamas the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutor. This in itself is a welcomed change. By enshrining in the constitution the Office of the DPP, the Bill, save of its deficiencies, elevates the status of the DPP from a mere functionary within the Office of the Attorney-General to a constitutional officer.
However, I wish to speak on two matters that concern me with the proposed amendment.
Independent Office of Director of Public Prosecution
Madame President, my first concern is the reservation in the amendment at section 78 (3) which grants the AG the authority, in any case involving considerations of public policy, national security or the international obligations of the Bahamas to give general or specific directions to the Director of Public Prosecution, and the fact that the director shall act in accordance with those directions.
Madame President, I reviewed the constitution of various countries in the Caribbean to determine the precedent that was relied on by this Government to maintain within the amendment a reservation for the AG. The one that came close was in the United Kingdom, where prior to 1985, the Attorney General was charged with the superintendence of the DPP as well as the power to direct institution of proceedings of special cases. However, Madame President, since 1985, in the UK, you would find that the AG is no longer empowered to direct, but continues to superintend the work of the DPP. This relationship is recognized and regulated by a number of protocols that requires the AG safeguard the independence of the DPP. The mentioned protocols are explicit in that the AG must not seek to give direction to the DPP in any individual case, save for exceptional circumstances where it is necessary to safeguard national security. Additionally, Madam President, there exist in the UK other safeguards, one being The Code for Crown Prosecutors which invariably speaks to and defends the independence of the Office of the DPP. A further safeguard in the UK is the ‘Statement of Ethical Principles for the Public Prosecutors’ which gives guiding principles to the work of the DPP and Prosecutors, one statement in this ethical guideline requires reporting by the DPP or prosecutor of any improper attempts to influence their decision making.
Madam President, I gave that bit of information because I wanted to draw attention that in the UK whilst the AG retains some form of oversight of the office of the DPP, there exist a number of safe guards to ensure the integrity and independence of that office.
However, the concern that I have with the amendment as presented, is the AG remains to have significant powers over the DPP, which in itself is concerning and already dissipates the notion of independence. Madame President, additionally, I have yet to hear of any mention of accompanying safeguards that would ensure an overbearing AG, government or political directorate is not allowed to exercise undue pressure or influence over the DPP.
Further Madame President, the AG reservation of power over the DPP is that of public policy, which it is well-known that public policy is VERY broad. There is widespread judicial support that defines public policy as a ‘principle of judicial legislation or interpretation founded on the current need of society.’ From this definition, it is evident that the notion of public policy is variable and ambiguous. Carving out “public policy” as a blanket area under which the AG may specifically direct the DPP is a clear encroachment on the independence of the office. What is and what can be considered public policy is vague, undetermined, and of a considerably wide scope. In effect, Madam President, the AG would have the constitutional power to direct the DPP on any number of matters and claim “public policy” as the reason. Surely, this cannot be what is intended.
Therefore, Madam President, it is my suggestion, that the Government, rethink those vague “public policy” reservations that has been granted to the AG, and if for any reason they wish to reserve specific offences whereby the AG can intervene and assist the DPP, they can take a page out of Barbados constitution. During my review of Barbados, it appeared the sections in this amendment are also similar to our amendment; however, the fundamental difference is that in Barbados Constitution section 79A give specific offences when the AG may give general or specific directions to the DPP. They are offences related to:
Trading or otherwise dealing in slaves,
Publication calculated to interfere with the peaceful relations of Barbados with foreign states,
High treason, treason, misprision of treason or treachery,
Sedition or seditious meetings,
Mutiny or incitement to mutiny,
Unlawful oaths, and
Any offence under an enactment relating to any right or obligation of Barbados under international law.
Madam President, if the amendment was more specific as to the offences by which the AG can intervene, as done in Barbados constitution or otherwise if a number of safeguards and ethical policies are implemented as in the UK, then it would be suitable to state the Office of the DPP is independent. However, I remain to have a concern as the amendment as drafted gives wide and unfettered powers to the AG. Terms such as ‘public policy’, ‘national security’ or ‘the international obligations of the Bahamas’ as stated in the bill are too wide and encompasses virtually any and every case.
Security of Tenure
Madame President, my second concern with the Bill is the matter of tenure of the DPP at section 78B. Madame President, security of tenure is a cornerstone of the constitutional provisions for judicial independence in The Bahamas. As stated in the Bill, the standard by which the DPP is selected as prescribed by this Bill is the same way by which we select judicial officers. It is noted, that in the Bahamas, the appointment of a judicial officer remains to be in place until he reaches retirement age, subject to death, a condition permitting his/her removal for inability or for misbehavior. The intention there is to insulate judicial officers from the temptation to cater to the wishes of the political directorate to preserve or prolong their continuation in office.
Madame President, it is significant that the standard for the selection of the DPP mirrors that of those provided for judges, but the Bill seeks to prescribe a 5 year appointment of the DPP and a maximum 10 year tenure, notably deviating from the tenure of judges. Madame President, I have great concern with the tenure provide to the DPP, as he or she should be endowed with the same qualities of independence as the judiciary to ensure that the criminal justice system is independent of political and other improper influences. Thus, Madame President, if our judiciary is regarded as independent and impartial and if our system of governance should be seen as based on the separation of powers it then follows that the DPP (under the umbrella of the judiciary) should be given security of tenure.
Madame President, it would seem clear that the DPP would be protected from political and other improper influences to the same extent of the judiciary if the Office had security of tenure. However, it is indeed noteworthy, that the government purposefully did not provide for such.
Pension (Amendment) Bill
Madam President I move now to provide comments of the Pension Bill. I do not intend to be on this matter at length, because it is almost so clear what the motive is to invite this amendment, even Stevie Wonder could see what’s happening here.
Madame President, the government has requested an amendment to the Pension Bill to change the number of years for the Commissioner of Police to serve in that capacity before he is able to receive pension from ten years to seven years.
Madam President, I only want to discuss briefly with the Bahamian people, and ask them DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?? I question how the government arrived at this LUCKY NUMBER SEVEN, and why now? WHAT IS THE RUSH? WHO ASKED YOU TO DO THIS? Could the Government be any more obvious by amending the years from 10 so conveniently to 7.
Madame President, we recently had a change in government, following the change in government the Commissioner of Police became very silent in his position, so silent that it became concerning. Additionally, a number of press notices would come advising of vacation leave and recently, the former Commisioner was appointed High Commission to London.
Madame President, what is ironic and maybe coincidental is that the Comissioner of Police served for a total of, who wants to guess?? Who wants to guess how many years in total Former Commissioner Greenslade served as Commissioner. DRUM ROLLL… Former Commissioner Greenslade served for a total of 7 years as Commissioner. Madame President, how IRONIC, WHAT A GREAT COINCIDENCE, something is very fishy about this Bill. This amendment has a great cloud of convenience, and it appears to me, Madame President that this amendment is to satisfy the outgoing Commissioner.
Madame President, I am even more confused to the timing of this amendment to the pensions act, because the Government is bringing this amendment within their first 6 months, despite the many other matters that presently plague our country. I will leave with them a number of questions that they should answer to the Bahamian people.
Why amend this pension bill now? This never came up during the campaign or even in the speech from the throne, unless I missed it. So why does this amendment take the lead before amendments and policy positions that would effectively change the lives of Bahamians or assist with growing this economy.
What is the rush to make this amendment?
What is the significance of making this amendment?
Why is this amendment and change to 7 years, so coincidental to the time served by the outgoing Commissioner?
Madame President when I last spoke, I asked the Government to provide governing plans and policy position on specific matters and problems Bahamians are facing. I think it is important to list those off again, because I am baffled as to the importance being placed on amending the pension act, when we have REAL issues, which need REAL solutions, and it takes REAL leaders to bring about positive changes. So I ask the government, provide the Bahamian people with your governing policy, plan and governments position on the following:
Reduction of crime in our society;
HOW TO FIX GRAND BAHAMA
Reform of the Immigration Policy;
Ease of doing business to encourage Entrepreneurship and Foreign Direct Investment;
Matters related to Climate Change and Energy Conservation;
Produce an efficient and effective plan to eliminate the sub-standard conditions under which too many families still live in our inner cities;
Meet the demand for decent Affordable Housing;
Provide free UB education to Bahamians as promised;
Introduce new strategies for the economic improvement of our Family Island Communities;
Stimulate an expansion of our Tourism industry;
Reinvigorate our financial services sector;
Promote economic growth and prosperity in all other sectors; and
Protect our coastal and marine environment and our fisheries resources.
Madame President, as I remain to be confused as to the timing of this amendment and the proposed year in the amendment, I would follow the opposition leader as stated in the other place and change the name of this bill to the Greenslade Bill. I ask the Government to get focus, get on with the important business of the people and matters that would bring relief, and govern this Bahamas.
Ova da hill community
Madame President, I spoke in my first contribution on “dat lil ting” that the Ova-Da-Hill community awaited from this Government. I raised very valid concerns that may result from the government’s proposed revitalization. Additionally, I asked questions to ensure that the proposal was carried out in a way that would benefit the people of the community instead of harming them.
I understand that the Prime Minister made comments to the effect of ensuring the next budget speaks to the tax incentives for the ova-da-hill communities, however, not much details were given as to what sort of incentive and what regulations and stipulations would be in place to safeguard and protect the system from dishonesty.
Madam President, as it pertains to Ova Da Hill community, I queried whether the government will initiate a study to determine the owners of the property Ova Da Hill. To ensure proper title has been declared on the properties and we understand who are the owners and responsible for the beautification of the community, so that the onus is not all placed on the Government. If the study determines that it is indeed owned by the less fortunate, tax incentives for urbanization can prove beneficial to incentivize development. Following my queries, the AG in this place confirmed that the Government was indeed commencing a study to provide the information and answer the questions that I raised regarding land title. Therefore, I question the outcome and a report of such study if completed or when completed I ask that we are provided some summary on the results of that study. Madam President, if we find that the landlords are wealthy Bahamians, the government may consider passing regulations that provides use of land standards, which would require that landlords maintain their property at the appropriate levels.
Madam President, there is a word that continues to enter my mind when I think of this proposal of revitalization, and I do not bring this up to oppose or argue, but because it is dear to my heart. That word is Gentrification- for those that may have missed my explanation in my first contribution, I will once again provide that gentrification, is the restoration of run-down urban areas by the middle class, resulting in the displacement of lower-income people. To put it even simpler, gentrification is the arrival of the wealthier people in an existing urban area, i.e., Ova Da Hill, and following their arrivals and them acquiring the land in that community, it becomes unaffordable for the Ova Da Hill people to remain. The government must ensure that any form of revitalization blocks the development of condos, or townhomes or any form of development that will misplace the people of the Ova Da Hill community.
Madam President, again, I query what regulations and stipulations does the government intend to put in place with the tax incentives to ensure the system is not open to fraud and dishonesty.
What enforcement provisions will the Government implement to accompany this initiative and ensure business owners are not defrauding the government and the community?
Madam President, I would hope that there are assurances to the Ova Da Hill community that savings earned by the business owners in the community, will be properly passed down to the consumer, otherwise, your plan to bring relief will be ineffective!
Madame President, I turn to briefly discuss the matter of Citizenship and the Governments intent to amend the Bahamas Nationality Act and the Status of Children Act to grant children of Bahamian women born outside the Bahamas and children of unwed Bahamian men as well automatic citizenship.
There is apparently a legal argument that ensues with this move by the Government. Some legal minds would argue that this is unconstitutional, that the intent of the constitution is clear to protect the sovereignty of the Bahamas and the birthright. Therefore, the Constitution speaks specifically to matters where persons must be granted citizenship by providing specific categories. It is the Constitution that, based on the specific categories of eligibility, determines who is to be conferred Bahamian citizenship. Therefore, by that notion, it should be the Bahamian people, by virtue of changes to the constitution; who should determine when and how those specific categories of eligible persons for Bahamian citizenship can be changed/ amended.
???Madame President, I look forward to the Attorney General providing information on how the Government intends to accomplish the granting of citizenship to these persons through legislative changes, without violating the provision of Article 13 in the constitution; which grants parliament privilege to make laws regarding citizenship only on matters where the Constitution is silent.!!!
Madame President, there is also a fundamental concern of morale, as I am also baffled by the outright silencing of the Bahamian electorate, who loudly declared a year ago that they did not wish for such changes to citizenship to occur. This is not the first but the second time the Bahamian public rejected such change to the Constitution. Additionally, this is the same Government that thought it important to continually remind the electorate during their campaign that the PLP ignored their Gaming referendum results and created the legislation for the regulation of the Gaming houses. For this reason, they told the electorate to out rightly reject the PLP because they have out rightly ignored their voices. Therefore, I am quite unclear why the Government now, after being empowered, thinks it wise to make such amendments without regard for the Bahamian public that rejected two referendums that seeked to amend the Constitution section on citizenship.
Additionally, Madame President, I also find it interesting, that this Government think it is okay for them to take upon themselves and make changes to the Nationality Act, when two successive Governments, gave the Bahamian public the respect and authority to determine whether they wish for such constitutional changes, by hosting two referendums.
Does this Government think this move would be very popular?
Do they not care about the voices of the Bahamian people?
Lastly, I ask, when are we going to stop playing politics with the Bahamian people emotions?
Madame President, this Government had the opportunity to provide a united front on the issues of citizenship when the referendum was presented a year ago. If I am not mistaken, the AG was a part of the Constitutional Committee that provided the questions for that referendum. This is also the Government that campaigned on reducing the deficit, so why when in opposition, why not save us money to ensure the success of the referendum. Madame President, I am of the belief that had both parties join together a year ago and present a united front on the issues of citizenship, and spoke in one voice as One-Bahamas, educating the electorate on the importance of a yes vote to the particular questions, which they now seek to amend by virtue of legislative changes; I am of the strong view and opinion that the end result may have been in the affirmative. Madame President, sometimes I wonder, what is more important to many of our politicians, is fixing the Bahamas and moving this country forward more important than playing politics? If so, then I question why when the same questions were presented a year ago, we didn’t have more unity, insightfulness and optimism by the FNM administration. It is just unfortunate how we sometimes allow ourselves to be misguided by personality and selfish agenda’s.
However, I want the best for the Bahamian people, when I went to the polls I voted yes because I do believe that children of Bahamian women born outside the Bahamas and children of unwed Bahamian men, should not have to feel rejected and misplaced. They should be granted the ability to Bahamian citizenship; and while I am happy the Government is placing focus on this issue of citizenship, I remain to agree with legal arguments presented that it should be amended by changes to the Constitution which requires a vote by the Bahamian people. Therefore, Madame President, I caution the Government to reconsider the plans to go against the will of the people.
Madame President, before I take my seat, I want to speak to the most popular topic over the last two weeks. The Prime Minister stood in the other place and gave notice that he intends to seek a raise for the Members of Parliament at the next budget. And I found that so interesting, Madame President, you know how our Former Prime Minister Christie would say, this is a teachable moment, well when that notice was given in the House of Assembly, to me that was a laughable moment. Madam President the audacity of this government to think life is just peaches and creams and raises are just dropping out of the sky.
Madame President, at a time when scores of Bahamians since May 10th are being given another form of notice, one that sounds something like this, we thank you for your services… and wish you well in your future endeavors. Leaving these same Bahamians, many who are young persons and just wanting to make an honest living and build their life and careers; leaving them jobless, hopeless and option less.
Madam President, this enraged me, because I sat and thought, on a regular government job, when hired on a permanent contract, if I am correct, you are on a 6 months probation, following which, you go through a procedure of performance review, and then you enter into your contract if things seemed to have been going well. So this government essentially is six months in, at the performance review mark; and lately all of the people that they told it was their time, seem to be angry, disappointed, discouraged, and frustrated.
In addition, Madame President, for some strange reason, this Government think that after granting tax incentives and relief to those persons to ensure their aircraft parts are fixed, to all companies making 50 million profit or more, to those needing to buy more washers and dryers, to those who want to eat caviar, after satisfying the needs of those who are NOT in need. Taking a 10 week vacation, presenting legislation on a not so independent DPP, changing the Pension Act to 7 years the same time someone who only served 7 years was moving on to another post, after telling the Bahamian people you voted against the citizenship and now we found a loophole so oh well, we don’t need your permission. After, backtracking and stating to the people we will have to wait a little longer before focusing on those campaign promises because the cupboard is bare. This Government NOW says, before any policy announcements on bringing some relief to the less fortunate, BEFORE any confirmation on developments to reduce crime, BEFORE any information on how to grow this economy and bring foreign investment to create more jobs, before any of the necessary and important matters are discussed which clearly defines the direction in which this country is going. The Government wishes to first deal with the matter of raising their salary so that they can get to work?
Madam President, I say to this Government, NO WAY, JOSE…cause the only things raising is crime and the unemployment rate, and be careful, in a few years they do not encourage the Bahamian people to say to them, HIT THE ROAD JACK AND DON’T YOU COME BACK NO MORE NO MORE NO MORE!
Madame President, I think the Government should give something else a raise:
Let us RAISE awareness of the teachers and nurses that have worked tirelessly for many years at their salaries, who essentially are the backbones of societies, with teachers being the one to educate our children preparing them for the real world, and nurses that care for us and bring us back to good health. When are we going to give them what the rightly deserve?
Let us RAISE awareness on the problems being faced in Long island, the cries for an updated airport, one that would facilitate more airlines and therefore bring in a larger group of tourist to that island and assist with building that economy. Who is gathering the necessary funding to assist with that project?
Let us RAISE awareness of those workers at the Post Office that have been picketing in the hot sun, to ensure their voices are heard, who have worked in horrible and deplorable conditions and is now unable to perform their duties, which is detrimental to the postal service of our Country, especially at one of the busiest seasons of the year. When will we remedy that situation? On a scale of 1-10, 10 being extremely important, where does this Post Office concern fall on the list of priorities for this Government?
Let us RAISE awareness, for those workers on Chub Cay, who respectfully stood in unity, to send a message via video to the Government, explaining that the system of granting these building permits to approve the continuation of their project, is moving at a glacier pace, so slow that their jobs are now being threatened.
Madame President, I want to remind the Government, that it is important that much focus and attention is placed on these very serious issues and many more that our people are faced with on a daily basis. The Government must do the work as promised in their manifesto and within the speech from the throne. Madame President, many persons are hurting in this country, and time is of the essence. As I grew, and faced situations in life, I was always careful how I treated others whilst I was dealing with things, because it is a true saying that HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE. And the Bahamian people are hurting, they want answers, this government promised transparency, and however, they have yet to figure out how to remain consistent and on message. To my Bahamian people, let me just state, the Government is not suppose to give you anything, so those comments of persons saying, they didn’t do anything for me, should stop, because it almost encourages the same actions that we despise. However, Madame President, it is the duty of Governments to implement policies and legislation, plans and programs that will MAKE LIFE BETTER FOR THE PEOPLE. It is the duty of the Government of the Bahamas, to MAKE LIFE BETTER FOR BAHAMIANS. The FNM on their campaign promised to MAKE LIFE BETTER FOR THE PEOPLE.
Therefore, Madame President, the focus and attention should be on finding ways, foreign investors, tax relief, jobs, industries, and many other avenues, that will bring about the relief in the country that can be felt across the entire Bahamas, in a positive way that MAKES LIFE BETTER FOR BAHAMIANS.
Madame President, last week, my niece called me, her name is Ziahon Taylor and she is 7 years old, in the third grade at the International School in Turks and Caicos. She said Aunty Joey, as she calls me, I am on student council at my school and I have to give a speech to the students, I wrote something and I want to read it to you. As she read, she said something that resonated with me, and I told her, wow you are actually helping aunty with her speech. She said to the students, the International school is your school, so remember you must treat your school how you would want your school to treat you. So I paraphrased that, and I say to this Government, This is YOUR BAHAMAS, you must treat the Bahamian people how you want them to treat you in five years.
So as I end, I implore this Government to be mindful, that they are here to work for the people. As a result, that alone should be their focus, your just reward would come in five years, if you have done well for the people they will return you, and if you have done well for the Bahamian economy, no one will disagree with you receiving an increase. As Galations 6:9 states, “Be not weary in well doing, for in due season you will reap if you faint not.”
Now I must put my preach in here, to the Bahamian people, each time I stand, I am an advocate for you, to ensure that you are being treated with the respect you deserve, and so I always wish to leave with you also a word of encouragement. Continue to use your voices, across the media airwaves and social media to demand you the people get from this Government what you rightfully deserve. Therefore, stay strong in the fight for what is right, and if We March stop marching with you, be not discouraged and continue to “Pledge to excel through love and unity, pressing onward and marching together… and press on the matters that are important to you across this Bahamas, because this land is your land. As you silently hum that last segment of our National Anthem, with pride and strength, …till the road you’ve trod lead unto your God, MARCH ON BAHAMALAND!
Madame President I have presented my concerns on behalf of the people of the Bahamas, and my only hope is that they do not fall on deaf ears. I support both pieces of legislation and hope in future that we are able to discuss pieces of legislations that bring about the growth in the economy that we all so desire. May God Bless the people, may God Bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
© Copyright 2017 by thebahamasweekly.com
Top of Page