Saturday, June 4, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas May 30th - June 3rd 2016

By Elcott Colby


Sen. Gibson: Only referendum can ensure “freedom from discrimination”

Former President of the Bahamas Court of Appeal Dame Joan Sawyer was in the media this week suggesting again that the upcoming referendum is a waste of time and that its objectives could be fixed legislatively. On Wednesday the Office of the Attorney General responded, calling the suggestion incorrect.

“There has been a suggestion that the Constitutional Referendum is not necessary, and that ordinary legislation is sufficient to address current inequities in our country between men and women with respect to citizenship and the right not to be discriminated against. That suggestion is incorrect.”

Pointing out that the constitution supersedes any law, the OAG indicated that the discriminatory constitutional provisions that disadvantage women are entrenched in law and can only be changed via a constitutional referendum.


“The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It takes precedence over any other law. The provisions which treat men and women differently with respect to citizenship rights and freedom from discrimination are entrenched provisions in our Constitution. They can only be changed by a Constitutional Referendum.”

“If we want our sons and daughters to be guaranteed equal rights under the law with respect to citizenship and the right not to be discriminated against, those rights must be written into the Constitution and entrenched at the highest levels” argued the OAG. “Ordinary legislation can be passed by Parliament, and it can also be changed, as it often is, by a simple majority in Parliament. Ordinary legislation cannot offer the same guarantees as entrenched constitutional provisions.”


McWeeney: A ‘NO’ vote on bill #4 could make same-sex marriage easier
This argument on the powers of protection against discrimination based on sex contained in Article 15 of the Bahamas Constitution has been made before and in a letter penned to Pastor Dave Burrows of Bahamas Faith Ministries International earlier this week, chairman of the Constitutional Commission, Sean McWeeney QC, laid out the argument once again.

Mr. McWeeney pointed out that multiple rulings by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, namely Campbell-Rodriques v the Att. Gen. in 2007 and Newbold v the Commissioner of Police in 2014 as proof that Article 15 does not, in law, protect a person against discrimination based on sex.

He also pointed out that ‘sex’ remains undefined in the current Bahamas Constitution and its insertion and definition in Article 26 makes it difficult for any judge to interpret ‘sex’ as ‘sexual orientation’ if bill #4 passes. If bill #4 fails, then the Constitution remains as is and ‘sex’ can be interpreted as ‘sexual orientation’ by a court, therefore opening the door to same-sex marriage. He cautioned those in the VOTE NO campaign that voting NO on bill #4 can have the unintended consequences of creating what the NO campaign claim they are seeking to prevent, same-sex marriage, so they must be careful what they wish for.

A YES vote on bill #4 closes this door as it defines ‘sex’ as simply being male or female. It also prevents any future Parliament from enacting laws that are inherently discriminatory against persons based on being male or female.

Mr. McWeeney made a third point concerning that ancient 1879 Matrimonial Causes Act (brought forth by Article 30 of the Constitution) that permits discrimination as it relates to marriage law in Article 26 (4) (c). The permissibility however only applies specifically to “race, place of origin, political opinions, colour (or) creed” but not ‘sex’ at this time. By inserting ‘sex’ in Article 26 along with the definition, discrimination in marriage law based on ‘sex’ also becomes constitutionally permissible if the YES vote succeeds in bill #4; Article 26 saves the Matrimonial Causes Act.

Apparently, Bishop Neil Ellis, Bishop Patrick Pinder, Bishop Franklyn and Bishop Laish Boyd get it. Unfortunately, Bishop Walter Hanchell, Rev. Lyle Bethel, Rev. Cedric Moss and the Rev. Mario Moxey still do not get it therefore the church is still somewhat divided on this issue. The national education campaign and debate continue.


Mitchell on Immigration Matters
The genesis is this. Last week Immigration Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell released a statement cautioning against borderline racism and jingoism in response to postings in social media relative to the Chinese investment in Baha Mar. On Tuesday of this week, the Hon. Hubert Chipman called him a hypocrite so on Wednesday Mitchell called a press conference to respond and to update the media on a number of other issues.

“We both have a responsibility as public spokesmen to stand up against jingoism and racism” said Mitchell. “If he (Chipman) chooses not to do that, that is his business but I do. His criticisms of me are completely misdirected and untrue.”

Mitchell again defended the government’s immigration policy, pointing out that protecting our borders is not the same as jingoism as Chipman suggested. He also said that if Chipman fails to stand up for this country, then he fails in his public duty.

“What I have always said and I say again, is that when it comes to the border of The Bahamas, that border is inviolate. We must all stand together to protect The Bahamas, the place we want to live. That is not jingoism - that is reality. The FNM must stand up for The Bahamas and he must too. If he does not then he fails in his public duty.”

Mitchell urged all residents of Fox Hill to vote YES in the upcoming referendum as he would be voting YES to all four questions; he accused pastors in the vote NO campaign of using same-sex marriage as a smokescreen to deny women equal rights and he gave a statistical breakdown by nationality on migrants currently detained at the Carmichael Road Detention Center.


Potable water for residents of High Rock
Minister for Grand Bahama, the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville led a team of government officials and West Grand Bahama Local Government Council representatives on a tour of West Grand Bahama Potable Water Phase One, May 30, so as to get an understanding of the depth of this major project.

After 30 years of using fresh water wells operated by electric pumps, 102 families will soon be able to apply to Grand Bahama Utilities for potable water. The focal areas are Holmes Rock Avenue and Robinson Road, and Chisolm Avenue in the community of Holmes Rock.

"This is good news because water is essential to life, and although residents have electricity, water was lacking and now, that is a thing of the past,” noted Minister Darville.

He further said that the Government is making plans to announce the construction of a new school with state of the art sporting facilities in Holmes Rock, so putting water and electricity infrastructure in this planned area will be a catalyst for young people to establish permanent roots within this community.

Minister Darville noted the project is a joint effort between the Ministry for Grand Bahama, the Member of Parliament for West Grand Bahama, Grand Bahama Utilities, and Water and Sewerage.

The West Grand Bahama Potable Water project has three phases and is contracted to Waugh Construction.


Temporary Closure of The Bahamas’ New York Offices
The Bahamas Foreign Mission in New York City advised on Tuesday that due to the extensive damage caused by flooding during the weekend of February 16th, 2016, BAHAMAS HOUSE NEW YORK, inclusive of the Permanent Mission of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to the United Nations, the Consulate General of The Bahamas New York, and The Bahamas Maritime Offices, will be undergoing comprehensive renovations and will be closed to the public from 1st to 20th June, 2016.

For inquiries and all emergencies during this period, please call our emergency line 201-320-1145 between 9:00am to 2:00pm and/or emailbahamasny@gmail.com.

We will reopen to the public on Tuesday 21st June 2016 at regular business hours.


Sears requests adjustment to resignation date
According to a College of The Bahamas press statement, Chairman of the Council of The College of The Bahamas (COB), Mr. Alfred Sears, QC, has decided to delay his resignation from today, May 31, 2016 to Monday, 6th June, 2016.

Mr. Sears announced his resignation last week, but later wrote to the Minister of Education, Science and Technology, the Hon. Jerome K. Fitzgerald to ask for a deferment, indicating that he had failed to take into consideration the June 2nd commencement ceremony for the Northern Campus in Freeport, Grand Bahama over which the Chairman presides.

“I hereby request your permission to adjust my resignation from the 31st May, 2016 to Monday, 6th June, 2016 in order to preside at the commencement ceremony to fulfill this last duty as Chairman” wrote chairman Sears.

On Tuesday of this week, Minister Fitzgerald presented Mr. Sears’ resignation to Cabinet; he also recommended the appointment of a new Chairman, Dr. Earl Cash, Deputy Chairman of the College Council. This recommendation has been approved by the Cabinet.

The college believes Dr. Cash’s active involvement in the transition process in addition to his familiarity with the College Council makes him an “ideal candidate to take the helm and resume the work of the Council.”


Minister Hanna-Martin releases safety message ahead of Labour Day
In the wake of a spate of fatal traffic accidents, especially on the streets of New Providence and ahead of the Labour Day holiday weekend, Minister of Transport and Aviation the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin released another road safety message. She again urged motorists to wear seatbelts, not to drink and drive and to drive with the greatest caution and care. The message is published below:

“As we approach this holiday weekend, I am urging yet again that all road users exercise the highest degree of caution and care.

Specifically:

1. Do not drink and drive: Alcohol impairs judgment and reason.

2. Do not speed.

3. Do not overtake in dangerous circumstances.

4. Do wear your seatbelts: Seatbelts save lives.

5. Do drive with caution and care and with full attention to the road conditions, signage, traffic lights and to other road users.

6. Do exercise the greatest care on unlit roads, pay special attention to unexpected bends on the road, or parked or stationary vehicles, or other obstacles that may be in your path.

Let us ensure this holiday is a safe and enjoyable one.”


Despite differences, PM Christie and union bosses call for unity
The week ended with the celebration of workers as thousands took to the streets of Nassau and Freeport in the 4th annual Sir Randol Fawkes Labour Day Parade amid the pulsating and rhythmic sounds of Junkanoo, Calypso and Soca music

The President of the National Congress of Trade Unions (NCTU) John Pinder listed health and safety, a more effective tripartite council, agency shop and an amendment to the Employment Act that will accrue greater economic empowerment and freedom to workers among his priorities as he claimed an unfinished agenda. Of particular concern is the legal right of an employer to terminate an employee without cause. He told the media that if the current government fails to meet their demands, the membership will support a political party that will.

Obie Ferguson, President of the Bahamas Trade Union Congress, insisted that workers and trade unions are united despite their differences and assured workers that all efforts are being made to resolve outstanding issues affecting workers nationally. He remained optimistic of a united march as the NCTU marched to Christie Park and the BTUC marched to Arawak Cay.

Labour Minister the Hon. Shane Gibson conceded that “we do not live in a perfect world” as outstanding labour issues remain but considering the amount and gravity of outstanding labour issues the current government inherited and the amount resolved to date, the commitment of this government to workers rights is clear.

Prime Minister Christie had this to say about the current state of labour: “Trade unions and businessmen in our country in a tripartite arrangement with the government ought to work much more cohesively toward impacting public policy because our country can advance significantly and in a very measureable way. We want the best little country in the world and making an authentic statement that we are able to work together in both areas where there should be no politics or divisions separating us.”

Veteran trade unionists Keith Archer and Reginald Grant were honoured on this fourth anniversary for their contributions to the development of the labour movement. Mr. Archer is a founding member and former President of the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) and Reginald Grant is the former President of the Airport, Airline and Allied Workers Union (AAAWU).


In Passing…
Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Minister of Tourism the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe, and Minister of State for Investments the Hon. Khaalis Rolle took a seaplane to Highbourne Cay, at the northern end of the Exumas, on Friday morning, May 27, where they had a tour of the facilities. Highbourne Cay is an example of the exquisite Bahama Island experience with luxury cottages, marina, and facilities that place it prominently on the map of world-class destinations.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the appointment by the Prime Minister Rt. Hon Perry Christie of Tony Joudi as Non- Resident Ambassador of The Bahamas to Qatar. Mr. Joudi, who is a Civil Engineer, has also been designated by the Government of The Bahamas as Commissioner General of The Bahamas’ Pavilion for Expo 2020, which will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The appointments take place with immediate effect.

Minister of National Security the Hon. Bernard J. Nottage was in Long Island earlier this week to officially open a police station. During his address he told Long Islanders that much of the serious crimes the country faces are the result of young people losing their way socially and being recruited by gangs that lead them into a life of crime.

The latest hotel to be opened on Bimini by Resorts World Bimini will be officially opened on Saturday at noon. On hand for the opening will be Prime Minister the Hon. Perry G. Christie, Tourism Minister and area MP the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe and other invited guests. The 300+ room hotel is operated by the Hilton brand.

Creating 2,200 jobs in the pipeline throughout The Bahamas to bolster the Bahamas’ financial services portfolio, Sterling Bank & Trust has arrived to our shores, fortified with more than $9 billion in assets for administration and operations in The Bahamas and Cayman Islands. Welcoming this much needed addition to our second largest industry was Minister of Financial Services the Hon. Hope Strachan and Minister of State for Investments the Hon. Khaalis Rolle. The official launch took place on May 26, 2016 at Luciano’s of Chicago. Also in attendance were the bank’s Chairman, David Kosoy, and the Bank’s President and COO Stephen Tiller.

Ahead of the 2016 Sir Randol Fawkes Labour Day Parade, veteran trade unionist and TUC chief Obie Ferguson bemoaned the current state of labour relations with the government. To support his claim, Ferguson cited unresolved labour issues with unionized employees at Kentucky Fried Chicken, Customs and Immigration, Melia Resort, Water and Sewerage (management) and Commonwealth union in Grand Bahama. Ferguson said that the government knows the facts and as a last resort, labour unions will ‘take to the streets’ in demonstrations.

The Free National Movement met on Thursday night in a council meeting to decide on a new convention date among other internal matters. The new convention dates are the 27 – 29 July 2016.

There will be no contest for the posts of president, treasurer and trustee of the Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) at its next general election of officers scheduled for June 9. At a hearing on Wednesday, Bahamas Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder approved the application for the injunction filed by embattled BUT President Belinda Wilson. The other 15 positions will be contested as planned.

The annual Long Island Regatta officially opened on Thursday of the week with sloops in the A, B and C classes competing.

The education process and campaign on the four referendum bills continued this week

As co-chair of the YES BAHAMAS CAMPAIGN Senator Sharon Wilson visited North Andros. She told the media that these bills took two years to formulate after the widest range of consultations and the suggestion in some quarters that there is some hidden agenda is an insult to the integrity of those involved.

The Greatest, Muhammad Ali has passed. He died in an Arizona hospital after suffering respiratory complications; he was 74. Ali won the gold medal in the middleweight division at the 1960 Rome Olympics. He would go on to become the first 3-time Heavyweight champion of the world when he defeated Leon Spinks in 1978 in New Orleans. Ali defeated Sonny Liston in 1964 and George Foreman in 1974 in the fabled “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire to secure his first two world titles and made box office history when he and Joe Frazier were the first two fighters to earn more than $1million each for a non-title fight. It was their second meeting. Ali became a civil rights activist and cultural icon in his stance against the military draft and the Vietnam war. Stripped of his title and imprisoned for 3.5 years for his stand, Ali would win his appeal in the US Supreme Court and make a successful comeback with a TKO win over Jerry Quarry.

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