By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
IMMIGRATION Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday said he would welcome the appointment of a citizenship commission to allow for applications for Bahamian citizenship to be processed without “political inference”.
While making a contribution in the House of Assembly, Mr Mitchell said the proposed commission “would receive the application, examine whether the individual meets the criteria set down in the Constitution and the Bahamas Nationality Act” and determine if that person should be granted citizenship.
However, Mr Mitchell said the procedures for citizenship have not changed in 42 years and it is “unlikely to change” so long as the Bahamian people believe that their representatives ought to have some input into who becomes a citizen of The Bahamas or a permanent resident.
He was responding to comments made by Anglican Bishop Laish Boyd, who last week said the appointment of a citizenship committee, without the interference of government, is “long overdue”.
“The Bahamas Nationality Act and the Constitution mandate who can and cannot become a citizen of the Bahamas and how you apply. Those applications are to be processed scrupulously and in as timely a fashion as our present procedures and systems permit,” Mr Mitchell said.
“In other words, as I understand, the role of the minister in these matters is to receive the application, examine whether the individual meets the criteria set down in the Constitution and the Bahamas Nationality Act and if the person meets the criteria, that person should be granted citizenship of The Bahamas...
“The practice has evolved by convention in this country that minister in the statute law means the Cabinet and the final adjudication on these matters therefore sits before the Cabinet. From a time point of view, the question is how often can you get before a Cabinet and how many applications can be considered at a time? I assure you not many times and not often.
“The procedures have not changed in 42 years,” Mr Mitchell added. “It is unlikely to change so long as the Bahamian people believe that their representatives ought to have some input into who becomes a citizen of The Bahamas or a permanent resident. Many have suggested administrative reforms, which would remove the Cabinet’s input, but these have not been accepted, nor do they seem at this point to be politically saleable.
“The wider difficulty is that you are unable to have a dispassionate public conversation about this without it disintegrating into a nasty row. The bishop referenced the citizenship commission and I would welcome its appointment. Perhaps that is the better way to deal with this. In formulating new public policy, the policymakers run the risk of moving a people faster and further than they are prepared to go with drastic consequences as the end result.”
Mr Mitchell invited Bishop Boyd to lead the discussion on immigration and “bring his church membership and the wider community of faith from across the dominations along with him so that meaningful consensus could be had in charting the way forward for our country”.
“If the Bahamian people wish to move to a system which is devoid of the input of political decision makers like some developed countries then that is a genuine discussion we can have. But this minister in this present system does his work without fear or favour and applies the law in that manner and I do not want it hanging out there that I am the perpetrator of procedural or other unfairness. Those who are entitled are advanced. When Cabinet time permits, they are adjudicated upon and that is that,” Mr Mitchell said.