IN DISCUSSING the government’s controversial Interception of Communications Bill, 2017, which has attracted much opposition because it is seen as an unbridled invasion of privacy, Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson pointed out that “the Supreme Court is charged with protecting our Constitution, our rights under the Constitution. Nobody in their right mind who would suggest… especially those who are supposed to be protecting the judiciary” that the Bill violated citizens’ privacy. To do so, she said, would be wrong because it would be criticising the independence of the judiciary.
The Attorney General pointed out that “this is not the time for political games nor for political expediency in an attempt to win a seat”.
She was criticising those who were urging protests and public resistance to the Communications Bill, which many have condemned as “dangerous” spying legislation. She felt that the public should be assured that their privacy would be protected because this Communications Bill would be under the supervision of the courts. In other words one must respect the independence of Her Majesty’s courts.
When parliamentarians meet in the House this morning we hope that government members will heed her words and not attempt to ram through the draft report of the Constituencies Commission —now before it – in an “attempt to win a seat” in an election to be called in the next few months. It is claimed that government, in political desperation, has recommended, for example, that the Montagu constituency be divided and renamed “Freetown”.
Two FNM MPs – Andre Rollins and Richard Lightbourn – yesterday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court against the government for a review of the draft boundaries report. They pointed out that the Draft Order is being tabled out of time under Article 70 of the Act.
They see the proposals in the report as an attempt to manipulate various constituencies to government’s advantage in advance of the general election.
The report proposes that a large segment, a PLP stronghold, be taken out of the Montagu constituency, and renamed Freetown — a name that echoes slavery. According to the affidavit this adjustment will “materially promote the prospects of the government’s candidate in the general election”.
Quite apart from the breach of Article 70, the applicants say that “this is clearly an attempt, at this late stage before an election, to manipulate the timing of this proposed change and the consequences it may have for the Opposition parties, this, in itself, is a decision capable of being Judicially Reviewed and there are good grounds that it should be so.”
The applicants claim that “no rational explanation, or indeed no explanation at all, has in their view been given to why this report has been delivered in breach of Article 70 and why the proposed changes (which clearly favour the current government) have been recommended a mere three months before the election.
“The Draft Order also proposes an increase in the number of seats up for election by one at the election. This is further evidence of an attempt by the government to manipulate the electoral roll in order to increase the possibility of a favourable result at the election for the current government. This cannot be correct procedure only three months before the election, when barely 50 per cent of Bahamians entitled to vote have registered.”
When the House meets this morning it is understood that Mr Lightbourn and Mr Rollins will ask House Speaker Dr Kendal Major to postpone the debate on the Boundaries and Re-Distribution of Seats Order 2017 until the judicial review application can be considered.
It is also understood that this report from the Constituencies Commission – now up for debate – may not have had the complete concurrence of the Commission.
Although the applicants were too late yesterday to get a hearing before a judge, their lawyer, Michael Scott, served their ex parte application on the Attorney General, and a date has been fixed for 9:30am Thursday to be heard before Justice Raymond Winder.
The matter is now in the hands of the courts, and, therefore, sub judice, which means that it is not subject for debate by anyone - not even parliament.
We hope that Bahamians will not be subjected to a repeat of the Fitzgerald case, which is still under appeal, and, therefore still in judicial hands.
We suggest that parliamentarians heed the words of the Attorney General and not fly in the face of an independent judiciary. As she so rightly said, “this is not the time for political games or for political expediency in an attempt to win a seat”.