Bishop Delton Fernander, President of the Christian Council. Photo: Terrel W. Carey/Tribune Staff
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Minnis administration is “planning to go against the wishes of the people” with its citizenship agenda, Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander said yesterday.
His comments came as he criticised the government’s plan to amend the Bahamas Nationality Act to give children of unwed Bahamian fathers and Bahamian women living abroad automatic rights to citizenship upon application.
“We have to be careful with tampering with democracy,” Bishop Fernander said when contacted by The Tribune.
“This is the second government that once in power and elected has been willing to go against referendums. I await to see the amendments brought to the House of Assembly but it is the second statement where they are planning to go against the wishes of the people, vis-a-vis the deputy prime minister and minister of tourism saying they [are considering] a national lottery and now to reverse the outcome of the referendum where they are going against the expressed will of the people in the referendum.”
Bishop Fernander suggested while he doesn’t disagree with expanding the list of people entitled to automatic citizenship rights, the larger principle is that Bahamians declared their position on this issue in last year’s referendum and their votes should be respected.
The Minnis administration’s plans touch on two issues which were addressed in last year’s referendum.
The first of four questions involved changing the Constitution to give married Bahamian women the same right their male counterparts have to confer citizenship to children regardless of the country in which the children are born. On that question, 32,249 people voted ‘yes’ to the question and 51,022 people voted ‘no.’
The third question involved changing the Constitution to give an unwed Bahamian father the same right that a Bahamian woman has to pass citizenship to a child born in or out of wedlock. On this issue, 28,246 people voted yes but 54,890 people voted no. Some observers believe the results of last year’s referendum were the response of a country angry with the Christie administration and determined to defeat its agenda to send that administration a message. Some also believe many Bahamians, sidetracked by concerns about opening the door to homosexual marriage – which the Christie administration said were unwarranted - voted against all the bills to ensure only heterosexuals could get married.
These are not reasons for an administration to now go against the referendum results, Bishop Fernander said.
“I think it cannot be proven to be the case yay or nay why people voted the way they did unless we had an exit poll to see the feelings of people when they exited. If it was an [anti-PLP vote], still, it was carried out legally and the results should be abided by.”
In its last term, the Christie administration regularised web shops even though this question, as well as the one asking if a national lottery should be created, were rejected by voters in a 2013 vote on gambling.