By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government’s repeated delay of its proposed constitutional referendum shows that the Christie administration does not care about the rights of women, DNA leader Branville McCartney said yesterday.
Mr McCartney’s statements came as the government missed another self-imposed deadline to hold the referendum, which Prime Minister Perry Christie had pledged would be held by the end of June.
The government has said the planned referendum will deal with the issues of gender inequality in the constitution.
“Over the course of his term in office thus far, Mr Christie has paid only lip service to the idea of female empowerment and equality while allowing those under his direction to further trample on the freedoms of Bahamian women across this great country,” Mr McCartney said.
Shortly after it won the 2012 election, the government pledged to hold a referendum on gender equality.
“More than 50 years since the women’s suffrage movement, months after receiving the recommendations of the Constitutional Commission, and more than two years in office, this government has not seen fit to make good on this promise,” he said.
“Prime Minister Perry Christie has instead postponed the date of the planned referendum twice and his administration has, during this time, failed to undertake the promised educational campaign intended to make the public more aware of the key points at the heart of this very important issue.”
Mr McCartney said his party is not surprised by the constitutional referendum delay, adding that parallels could be drawn between the issue and the Christie administration’s handling of value added tax, national health insurance, the implementation of a Freedom of Information Act and the implementation of the sexual offender’s registry.
“The government has faltered consistently, failing not only to meet its own self-imposed deadlines, but also in providing the public with the necessary updates required to inspire confidence in the electoral process,” he said.
While noting the importance of the constitutional referendum on women’s rights, Mr McCartney said the Christie administration has cast a shadow of doubt over future referendums because of its handling of last year’s gambling vote.
He said: “The government’s amateurish handling of the gaming referendum and the subsequent decision to go against the will of the people in that regard is additional proof of this government’s ineptitude and lack of focus.
“The decision to regulate the industry after a resounding ‘no’ at the polls has only further undermined the public’s faith in our country’s still developing democracy and has undoubtedly cast a shadow of doubt over any future referendums. How can the electorate be sure that the government will honour the outcome of the vote? How can Bahamian women trust that the rights they vote to protect will not be overturned at the whim of an indecisive leader?”
Last October, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced that the government would bring the necessary bills for the vote to the House of Assembly before the end of last year. At the time, he also pledged that vote would take place before the end of June 2014.
However, the bills have not yet been brought to Parliament and the government has not started its long promised educational campaign ahead of the process.
Early last year, Mr Christie said the referendum that aims to reform the country’s outdated constitution was postponed to late November 2013 to “foster the widest possible dialogue and public education well in advance of the referendum”.
The prime minister had initially said the vote would be held around June 2013 ahead of the 40th year of independence celebrations.
In 2002, the government, led by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, held a referendum that asked voters, among other things, if they supported the removal of constitutional discrimination against women.
The majority of people who voted in that poll said no to both questions.
The Progressive Liberal Party, which was in opposition at the time and led by Mr Christie, urged the electorate to vote no, citing a flawed process.