By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government will this weekend begin an aggressive public education campaign ahead of the November 6, 2014 referendum that will seek to make several changes to the outdated Constitution of the Bahamas.
According to retired Supreme Court Justice Rubie Nottage, who will spearhead the education initiative, the Constitutional Commission will ramp up its efforts to ensure the electorate is well versed on the issues the referendum will address.
With less than four months until the electorate votes, Mrs Nottage said she was confident the Commission had a reasonable time frame to bring all Bahamians up to speed on the proposed constitutional changes.
When asked by The Tribune of the working budget for the campaign, Mrs Nottage was not able to say adding that the finances were not in her purview.
She said the educational committee will seek to answer all questions about the upcoming process.
“We want all Bahamians to be involved,” she said. “Be as open as possible. No question should go unanswered. Everybody’s question is important. We want an electorate that goes to that vote on referendum day who knows exactly what they are facing. We want to speak a language that is understood by all. Plain language not necessarily statutory language or early constitutional legalese.
“The public can expect seminars, actual teaching sessions, and actual dialogue with persons from the community. Ask your question. Let’s discuss it. How can we make it clearer to you. That’s it, that’s our aim.”
Brandace Duncanson, a Constitutional Commission representative, stressed the importance of full electoral support saying every Bahamian will be affected by the changes to come.
She said: “These issues touch and concern every Bahamian. We don’t want anyone to walk away feeling confused or not having an understanding of what the consequences are and what it would mean for Bahamians. So our education campaign will definitely be structured toward achieving that goal.”
The Christie administration introduced four separate bills in the House of Assembly yesterday which aim to amend the Constitution. The bills represent the first round of constitutional reform and will cover the need to institute full equality between men and women in matters of citizenship and, more broadly, to eliminate discrimination in country based on sex.
In 2002, the government led by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, held a constitutional referendum which addressed, among other things, the issue of gender discrimination in the constitution.
However, most of the people who voted in that process said no to all five questions presented. More than 60 per cent of people who voted said no to the first question on that ballot, which asked voters to remove discrimination against women, their children and spouses in the constitution.
The PLP, in opposition at the time and led by Prime Minister Perry Christie, urged the electorate to vote no citing a flawed process. However, the PLP had earlier supported the constitutional bills when they were brought to the House of Assembly for debate and a vote.