By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
THE Constitutional Commission is considering a possible delay of the proposed referendum, National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage told the House of Assembly yesterday.
Dr Nottage, the minister responsible for elections, said the government will make an announcement on a possible date change for the referendum by September 10.
The Bain and Grants Town MP also said the commission is still meeting with religious leaders about the controversial referendum and will be able to give details next week on whether the four Constitutional Amendment Bills will need further amendments based on their suggestions.
In late July, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced that the referendum on gender equality would be held on November 6. Since then his administration has received significant push back from members of the Free National Movement, backbenchers in the Progressive Liberal Party and others who have issues with the Constitutional Amendment Bills.
When asked yesterday by The Tribune if he thinks the vote should be postponed, Dr Nottage said it makes sense to delay the referendum “only if we are satisfied that the public does not yet understand what we are seeking to achieve.”
He added: “But that decision hasn’t been made yet. In fact there are many people who feel that to delay it is just to further complicate the matter but we will have to make a decision on it.”
Speaking in the House, he told Parliamentarians that the commission should have answers on the process next week.
“I am informed by the Constitutional Commission that it will be in a position to finalise the advice concerning possible amendments to these bills on or before next Wednesday, September 10,” Dr Nottage said in the House of Assembly.
“In this regard, the commission is in the process of completing the final round of consultations with the religious community and a broad section of the civil society in specific reference to the bills.
“After which, the commission will consult the government and the opposition before finalising its advice as to what, if any, additional amendments should be advanced for consideration by this honourable House while the bills are in committee. I am further informed that the Constitutional Commission is also considering whether any adjustment to the current timetable for the constitutional referendum should be recommended having regard to the need to ensure that the electorate is afforded ample time to develop a thorough understanding of the proposed changes in advance of any referendum.
“An announcement on this aspect of the matter is expected to be made on or before September 10 as well.
“In the meantime, sir, the Constitutional Commission is continuing to expand and diversify its public education activities throughout the country.”
The government has proposed to hold the referendum on November 6. However, several people have said it is better to hold the vote early next year, to ensure that the public is properly educated and to clear up ambiguity and misconception about certain bills.
Last month, Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn urged the government to delay the gender equality referendum with a view to ensuring the “flawed” process is corrected and misconceptions among the electorate are cleared up.
Bahamas Faith Ministries International pastor Dr Myles Munroe also suggested last month holding the vote in mid-2015 to help ensure its success.
The four bills before the House aim to eliminate gender discrimination in the Constitution and once passed, will be followed by the referendum.
Bill one would enable a child born outside the Bahamas to a Bahamian woman and her foreigner husband to have automatic Bahamian citizenship at birth. However this would not operate retroactively. An illegitimate child, born to a Bahamian woman, already has that right.
Bill two will give the foreign spouse of a Bahamian woman the same right to apply for Bahamian citizenship as the foreign spouse of a Bahamian man. Bill three will give an unwed Bahamian father the right to pass on his citizenship to a child born out of wedlock, once paternity is legally proven.
Bill four seeks to make it unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of sex by inserting the word “sex” into Article 26 of the constitution.