By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
MEMBERS of the new Constitutional Committee yesterday began a process which will see them making suggestions to the government that could lead to the first-ever changes to the country’s Constitution.
Last month, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced in the House of Assembly that a committee would be formed to consider altering the Constitution ahead of the country’s 40th year of independence.
In 2002, Mr Christie had appointed a 22-member committee, but their suggestions never materialised as the PLP was voted out of office in 2007. The new committee consists of 13 persons.
Although the committee will not officially begin work for another month, former Attorney General Sean McWeeney, chairman, said the committee is expected to have an aggressive schedule to meet the six month deadline mandated by the Prime Minister.
Their review will begin at the end of September and continue until March 31, 2013 when they are expected to make a presentation to the government.
Mr McWeeney said: “It’s a very ambitious, very aggressive time-line. Having regard to the work that was done by the first commission, the need for public consultation is perhaps not as great, is not as extensive as it was before.
“We anticipate setting up full committees so that those committees probably would be meeting with a greater frequency. The idea is to try and parcel up the work so we are moving along parallel tracks rather than waiting for everybody to weigh in on the same issue. So I think that’s going to facilitate the work.”
Mr McWeeney did not say which issues the committee would tackle first, however, he said the aim is to have all of their suggestions put before the government by the deadline.
“I really wouldn’t want to get into the discussion of substantive issues. I think the Prime Minister’s communication indicated those issues which are likely to attract the greatest amount of public interest, but I really wouldn’t want to identify one as being more problematic than any other.”
This time around, efforts will be made by the committee to keep the public informed of the progress and challenges during the process, Mr McWeeney said.
During his initial House announcement, Mr Christie said the Commission will concentrate on examining anti-discrimination and fundamental rights provisions in the Bahamas Constitution, but also citizenship-related questions, amongst other things.
“It is anticipated that the new committee will pay particular attention to the need to strengthen the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, including the need to end gender-based discrimination against women consistent with the United Nations Conventions and more enlightened views that have developed globally since the attainment of our Independence,” he said.
Mr Christie also said the committee is expected to examine complex questions relating to the regulation of the relationship between state power and the individual, the retention and enforcement of capital punishment, whether the Bahamas should remain a constitutional monarchy or evolve into a republic and whether the Caribbean Court of Justice or perhaps a final court in the Bahamas should replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the final court of appeal.