Constitution Reform booklet launched

By Vanessa C. Rolle
Published July 16th 2003 in Nassau Guardian, Bahamas

The Constitutional Reform Commission on Monday began its public education campaign with the launching of a booklet, The Bahamas Constitution: Options for Change.

An initial number of 20,000 copies of the publication have been produced and are being distributed locally, with distribution set to hit the Family Islands by the end of this week.

A series of town meetings and campaigns are scheduled both locally, and in the Fami ly Islands spanning a two-year period.

At a press conference held at the Commission's headquarters in Victoria Gardens, one of the framers of the present Constitution and Commission Chairman, Paul Adderley, said that the road to constitutional reform will be a democratic one as the people will decide on recommendations via a referendum.

The booklet outlines specific related ideologies, including the strengthening of the fundamental freedoms and civil and political rights of the individual, and cri tically examining the structure of executive authority.

Questions to consider, Mr. Adderley said, also include: Whether The Bahamas should remain a monarchy and pledge allegiance to the British Sovereign; what changes should be made to the citizenship provisions; should the Senate be abolished, and proportional representation, as to whether the membership of the House of Assembly should be determined by the percentage of votes polled in general elections.

Also up for review were: Questions as to w hether the executive powers of the Prime Minister should be limited; should the Privy Council in London be retained as the final Court of Appeal; should the appointment of judges be subject to the approval of Parliament; and should the entrenched provisions of the Constitution be limited.

"The appointment of the Commission comes at a time when there is world-wide recognition of the need for increased involvement of the people in the process of democratic governance," Mr. Adderley said. "This is a special fe ature of our mandate so that our Constitution can be seen and known to be the product of our national collective will."

He said that the present Constitution came about as a result of an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament, which stipulates that the Constitution of The Bahamas is, in fact, a law.

"No Bahamian legislative process was necessary to bring that into effect," he said.

The British, explained Mr. Adderley, were ready to grant Independence to The Bahamas during the first Constit utional Conference held in 1963, but political parties were not ready at that time.

The United Bahamian Party formed the government at that time and the Progressive Liberal Party was not prepared for it under the political rules in The Bahamas, he said.

The nation was still not prepared for it by 1968 said Mr. Adderley, adding that the PLP government at that time were not prepared to rush into it unless the Bahamian people were ready.

"We therefore became an example of evolutionary progr ess in stages measured by the people's will as it was perceived to be. However, in 1973, we were ready. A Green Paper was published, a White Paper was published, and there was a national campaign to educate the people. With the Party in opposition not opposed to the principle of Independence, it was not really difficult to craft an Independence document, particularly since the British had many Colonial precedents to follow which had been accepted by othder former Colonies in the Caribbean," he said.

Mr. Adde rley continued: "We want to avoid the complaints which the Caribbean countries already run into with their Constitutions. Trinidad amended theirs long time ago. Barbados had a Constitution Review Commission two years ago and Jamaica was a little bit longer. So we are not breaking new ground here when we think about amending the Constitution in The Bahamas."

Mr. Adderley said that the constitutional reform process should not be left to lawyers or legislators, and considered it imperative that the people be i nvolved to attain optimum success.

However some Bahamians have misconceptions regarding their constitutional rights as it pertains to the fundamentals of their freedom, he said.

"It all depends on the freedom you're looking for. There is no such thing as absolute freedom, absolute in a sense that you can do what you like whenever you like. That's the difficulty but we'll see how far this goes with regard to fundamental rights," said Mr. Adderley.