ON JANUARY 12 PLP chairman Bradley Roberts issued a statement condemning The Tribune’s editor for “shamelessly” defending “Flip-Flopper Minnis”.
The reference was to our editorial of January 8 in which we took exception to Mr Robert’s illogical conclusion that because Opposition leader Dr Hubert Minnis had done a “flip-flop” on the VAT vote when it came up for debate in the House, he was unfit to become prime minister of the Bahamas. We reminded Mr Roberts of Prime Minister Christie’s own flip-flop on the 2002 referendum, which proposed to give women equal rights with their men to confer nationality on their spouses and children. If one flip-flopped and became prime minister, why should the other one be eliminated from the contest as unfit?
The only difference between the two men was that Dr Minnis made it clear in the House debate that he did not support VAT, although, according to Mr Roberts, when Dr Minnis was an FNM minister he had indicated that he was in favour of the tax.
In Mr Christie’s case, however, after debate and several amendments, he voted in the House in favour of the referendum question that would put Bahamian women on an equal footing with their men.
However, after the House vote that united the FNM government and the PLP Opposition behind the referendum, Mr Christie did his “flip-flop” outside of the House, announcing that if he had known then what “I now know, I almost certainly would have taken a different position on the Bills.”
In other words, Dr Minnis made his position clear in the House, while Mr Christie waited until he went to the people to embarrass the Ingraham government with his “flip-flop”.
Said Mr Roberts in his press release: “The Editor apparently or conveniently forgot that it was Hubert Ingraham who in typical FNM fashion reduced the sanctity of a constitutional amendment to a ‘dumb-down’ partisan political campaign and dog fight when he declared that whoever won the referendum would win the 2002 general elections and so said, so done. Further, the only winners of referenda are the people, not political parties.
“The PLP,” he continued, “voted for the referendum in the House and subsequently reversed its position and gave its reasons and then voted against the measure in the Senate. In the interest of editorial fairness and balance, the writer might want to include the reasons given by the PLP at that time. So confusing were the questions and process that the FNM government was forced to withdraw one of the questions. Even today many Bahamians have difficulties with the ‘sweetie bill’ or the ‘sweetheart bill‘ proposed by the FNM.”
We shall now recount what took place between February 1, 2002, when Opposition Leader Perry Christie made his famous statement at a town meeting on constitutional reform that he no longer supported the Bill for which he had voted in the House, and Prime Minister Ingraham’s reply on February 27 that “whoever wins Wednesday’s referendum will no doubt become the next government of the Bahamas”.
Mr Ingraham promised Bahamians “if you give us the referendum I will give you the next government of the Bahamas”. They did not give Mr Ingraham the election and now, 12 years later, Mr Christie has still not delivered the promised referendum — a referendum, which in a private conversation during his first administration, he said that only he – and not Mr Ingraham – could deliver.
It was on February 1, after saying that he had changed his mind that Mr Christie called on Mr Ingraham “to pull back and cancel or postpone the plans for the referendum. It should,” he said, “be left to the next government of the Bahamas to do the right thing.”
Three months later, Mr Christie’s party was the next government of the Bahamas. However, for the whole of his first five year term, he never even mentioned how he proposed “to do the right thing” for the women of this country.
Now for Mr Christie’s reasons for changing his mind, which made no sense, particularly after having expressed his objections, Mr Ingraham agreed that giving Bahamian women’s foreign spouses citizenship after five years of marriage was not necessary as spousal permits already existed. As a result, the question to which Mr Christie had objected, had called “misleading” and which, he said, had caused him to change his mind, was completely eliminated. After that, no reason remained for a legitimate mind change.
However, the position was this: In the House during the referendum debate, every amendment that the PLP demanded was granted. Outside of the House, the question that had caused Mr Christie to change his mind was scrapped and in its stead, the simple question on the ballot was:
• Should Bahamian men and women be equal, and should they both be able to confer nationality on their spouses and their children? Yes, or No.
If the Bahamian voters had said “yes” the Bahamas would today be in full compliance with the UN convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
The Ingraham government was so determined that the government and opposition should be united when they went to the people that everything to which the Opposition objected was either amended or eliminated.
When the issue was raised last year, Mr Christie blamed it on the church. He claimed that it was mainly the church that had opposed the constitutional changes because it had not been sufficiently consulted. This is not entirely true – but that is another story for another time.
In August last year, lawyer Loren Klein, a member of the Constitutional Commission, said it was difficult to explain to international human rights groups how the majority of Bahamians voted against gender equality in the 2002 constitutional referendum.
We know exactly what happened. Instead of Bahamians being properly instructed, they were lied to. We got many reports in our news room from all areas of The Bahamas. One from Eleuthera said that the PLP had spread the rumour that if women were given equal rights with men, they would marry Haitians and Jamaicans and take over the country. Another report came in about 10pm the day before the referendum. The caller claimed that at that very moment Immigration officials had been in their offices busy granting citizenship to 3,000 Haitians. It was too late at night for a reporter to check the claim. However, the next morning after the polls had opened, another call came through to the news room. Overnight the 3,000 number had grown to 3,900. We spoke with the Deputy Director of Immigration who laughed at the suggestion. The only thing, he said, that Immigration had to do with Haitians on the eve of the referendum was to arrest 26 of them who were here illegally.
It is our opinion that the referendum process was hijacked and the people lied to.
Even Mr Roberts’ sneering dismissal of a bill that would put Bahamian women on the same footing as their men and in the same category as women of the Western world as a “sweetie bill” or “sweetheart bill” reveals him as another male chauvinist.
No, Mr Roberts, this referendum is no “sweetie bill”, it is about human rights. So, although you might find it difficult, we suggest you lift your mind from the gutter and move to a higher plane.