By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner suggested that the government “incompetence” is to blame for any further delays to the proposed referendum on gender equality.
The Long Island MP indicated that critical national issues are being overlooked and pushed aside despite promises by the government to address them. Mrs Butler-Turner yesterday said she “stood out on a limb” to support the Progressive Liberal Party on the referendum “despite her party’s views” because she knew it was “a major issue” for Bahamian society.
Mrs Butler-Turner said that with every passing day it becomes more uncertain if the referendum will ever take place.
The proposed referendum has been delayed four times. It was first expected in June 2013, to coincide with the country’s 40th anniversary of independence. It was then expected in November 2013, but it was later said the vote would happen by the end of June 2014.
Last summer, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced it would take place on November 6, 2014, but that date was delayed until some time this year due to pushback from some members of parliament about some of the Constitutional Amendment Bills.
This year, Mr Christie said he did not want to delay the vote any further and said he hoped to hold the referendum in June.
However on Sunday, Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney said it is doubtful the process will take place that month.
“This is yet another delay in this process and the country is suffering because of a lack of competent governance,” Mrs Butler-Turner told The Tribune. “They are great at making these grandiose plans and building up hope that a better way is possible and then allowing things to fall flat.”
“This delay has little to do with the questions and everything to do with the rushed and botched process. The government destroyed this matter with the way they went about it. The PLP forced aspects of this referendum on the public with out clarification or explanation.”
Mr McWeeney, QC, also told The Tribune it is unlikely the four bills will gain the unanimous support of parliamentarians.
He also acknowledged the government recently obtained the legal opinion of Michael Beloff, QC, a former president of Oxford University in the United Kingdom who dismissed as illegitimate concerns that the fourth bill could open the door to same-sex marriage in the country.
Mr Beloff is considered one of the world’s leading constitutional law attorneys.
Mrs Butler-Turner said the referendum process has been confusing from the start.
“Last June we were supposed to be going to parliament to debate one issue and then we were hit with this.
“The focus was moved away from the need for a referendum to the (wording of the) questions. I read those questions and decided that I would support them because the issues were substantial matters that had to be moved forward. The government never expanded on it, they presented it and said these are the questions, here we go.”
The opposition MP said the government’s presentation of the questions ruined the success of the proposed referendum.
“Another grandiose plan that falls flat overtime,” she added. “Under this government this gender equality (referendum) will never be properly addressed and in the long run this will become another point on the list. The process has destroyed the potential of this (vote) and that is why we are where we are today.
“The mortgage relief plan, the national healthcare plan, Urban Renewal 2.0 – they were major points made by the government that we are still waiting to see succeed. Now you can add this referendum to that list,” said Mrs Butler-Turner.
Last year, FNM Leader Dr Hubert Minnis announced in the House of Assembly that his party would not support the changes because of concerns about the legislation. That was a turnaround from his initial pledge that the FNM would fully support the four bills.
FNM MPs Neko Grant, Hubert Chipman and Richard Lightbourn have previously said they have issues with some of the bills. PLP MPs Dr Andre Rollins and Greg Moss have also voiced concerns, with Mr Moss saying he would publicly campaign against two of them if they are passed in the House of Assembly in their present form.
This week, Mr McWeeney said after consultations, he does not expect the bills to get unanimous support, adding that at least three MPs – including two from the PLP and one from the FNM – will likely oppose at least one of the bills.