By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOLLOWING statements from top government officials that the constitutional referendum would not be held if there is not unanimous support for it, FNM leader Dr Hubert Minnis said yesterday that the Christie administration must not “to use the FNM” as a scapegoat.
National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage told reporters last Friday that “the prime minister has always said that we would not go to a referendum without agreement between the parties concerned.”
It is unclear to which parties Dr Nottage is referring, especially as the FNM has publicly thrown its support behind amending the Constitution to grant equal rights to men and women.
Dr Minnis said: “The FNM’s position has always been that we believe and support equality for men and women. There’s no difference between my mother and father and brother and sister. Don’t try to use us. Don’t suggest anything on us. We will continue to fight for equality.”
During a separate interview, FNM Deputy Chairman Dr Duane Sands added that Dr Nottage’s statements leaves him concerned about the Christie administration’s commitment to its proposed constitutional referendum, adding that the damage “a failed” referendum would have on Bahamians would be irreparable.
“It’s a very interesting comment (that Dr Nottage made) and it must give one pause as to the level of commitment of the government to do the necessary heavy lifting to get this very important remaining challenge in our Constitution sorted out,” Dr Sands said. “We’re one of 27 countries in the world that still has discrimination against women enshrined. We have the dubious distinction of being aligned with many countries that have adopted Sharia law, countries in the Middle East and Africa. Given the fact that we are now 41 years old and we still maintain constitutional discrimination, it seems as if this would be an important issue to rectify.”
He added: “I think that the government has demonstrated that their historical bias has been to put principle behind expedience, to put politics above people. They have demonstrated with the last referendum that it is not as sacred an exercise as it ought to be and so when I hear this type of rhetoric it suffices to me that yet again, this is less about doing the right thing and more about trying to create a positive narrative of a government that is certainly struggling with its credibility. If we don’t right this wrong now, it would be a shame and a disgrace but there’s a part of me that says unless the government is fully invested in doing whatever it takes to get its job done then let’s not make it difficult for somebody more serious to get it done next time. If they mess it up, the Bahamian people’s approach to referendums will be irreparably damaged.”
Dr Sands also joined a growing chorus of people who want the language of proposed questions in the anticipated referendum to be made simpler.
“I don’t think the language is absolutely clear,” he said. “I have attended a number of symposiums and meetings about the four bills and questions, and as expected, what is written on paper is not so simple because of the implications and consequence of these various changes as it relates to reality of life in the Bahamas.
“The choice of the questions and how they are worded, are even for lawyers, even for constitutional scholars subject to interpretation. Just like with the last non-constitutional referendum, there is a level of ambiguity in the questions. If this is going to pass, then when we put a question to the people, let’s do our best to make it unambiguous, clear and simple.”