By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Perry Christie said the government will not postpone the referendum on a national lottery and web shop gaming for a second time.
Speaking to The Tribune, the PM dismissed concerns that time was running out for an effective public education campaign.
He said he plans to publicise further details on the vote after discussions with representatives from the ‘Vote Yes’ campaign today.
However, he would not confirm whether the government plans to release the official questions and embark on its promised public education campaign this week.
“The question will be ‘do you think, do you support, do you agree’ but the questions specifically will be with regard to web shop gaming and with respect to the establishment of a national lottery,” he said.
“The people will go into the polls, they will know that there are two questions, it will be publicised, regulations will be discussed.”
He added: “You know what you’re voting for, every single one who is voting knows that they’re either voting to make it happen, or to stop it from happening. So it’s only a question of whether they could read.”
Initially slated for December 3, the government postponed the referendum with less than a month to go after it was decided that the electorate lacked a good knowledge of what a majority “no” or “yes” vote could mean for the country. At the time, Mr Christie said further consultations needed to be completed and important amendments to the Gaming Act passed in the House of Assembly.
With the January 28 referendum now looming, Mr Christie expressed confidence that preparations to draft regulations that will govern the process were progressing well.
Mr Christie said: “I met with the Christian Council [on Friday] to discuss not only the questions but the regulations that will govern the referendum and who in fact will be eligible to sit in the polls and observe. We had a very informed, meaningful discussion with respect to the entire process.”
He said: “[The Christian Council] gave me suggestions and advice as to how they would want me to make balanced presentations with respect to pros and cons of regulating and not regulating.”
Bahamians will be allowed to register for the referendum until January 10, according to Mr Christie, who said the cut-off date came under the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner and Minister of National Security.
“Everything is in progress and there is a timeline in the regulations as to what should happen - the Governor General gives an order and that will set everything in order,” he said.
Mr Christie said: “We are confident that we will have a fair and transparent process, we discussed the extent to which the government can make this an orderly vote to really put in as many controls as possible.”
Among concerns levelled by the religious leaders were the possibility of bribery and controls to discourage incidences in which people may be induced to vote.
Mr Christie said: “We have been talking about money influencing elections for years and years and years, lots of money put out. I told [the Christian Council] that the elections are going to be on a Monday and they have the last word. Sunday will be Referendum Sunday, so people have argued that this is an unfair advantage to the church.”
He added: “We have to rely on the intelligence and good sense of the Bahamian voting public, and then to rest assured that the results will be clear as to what people will want and agree too. At least that is our hope.”