By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
Parliament has passed 58 bills since the Free National Movement won the general election two years ago.
The Tribune’s analysis of Parliament’s records show 43 percent of the legislation have been budget bills to facilitate the government’s continued operations while 24 percent have been financial services reform bills to address demands from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Union.
The transparency and accountability agenda that defined the FNM’s general election campaign has mostly been shelved.
In an interview last week on 96.9 FM’s “Z Live” with Zhivargo Laing, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands discussed the pressure the administration’s legislative agenda has faced, saying the government needs a bigger drafting team.
“We have had a very ambitious legislative agenda in part because we have had countless acts, amendments etc predicated by the actions and oppression of the OECD and Europeans in order to salvage our financial services sector so that has displaced legislative room for a number of other things,” he said.
“What we have is limited capacity in legal drafting. We have worked the drafting team to death. Bear in mind, that even as we have financial services and immigration that’s been pushing legislation, we have a new dental bill, new nurses and midwives bill, we got tobacco, a revision of the PHA Act, all waiting in the wings trying to get a slot. For the drafting team, this is very technically demanding stuff. We don’t want to take a bill that has glaring grammatical errors or offends the constitution and while it may seem we could just do it, the requirement for due diligence would mean we need to have a much bigger drafting team which we don’t. Part of this is we have to simultaneously build our capacity.”
Attorney General Carl Bethel suggested to The Tribune on Friday that Parliament is about done passing bills to placate international organisations, saying just “several bills need small amendments”.
On the financial services sector generally, he said: “The next six months will be critical and may involve more parliamentary exertions. There are also less pressing financial sector bills, such as a new financial and corporate service providers bill and several bills to regulate cryptocurrency offerings. The focus, however, is shifting towards a new environmental protection bill and new fisheries laws. Looking further afield we will need a new Companies Act to amalgamate IBCs [international business companies] with companies and a new insurance act to amalgamate domestic and captive or external insurance. But these will be massive undertakings.”
The Integrity Commission Bill and the Ombudsman Bill are good governance bills yet to be debated even though both were among the earliest to be tabled in the House of Assembly.
Other key campaign priorities not addressed include legislation to regulate the finances of political parties and to establish a recall system for elected officials. The administration has also not tabled its Public Procurement Bill, though a draft version was published on the Organisation of American States’ website in 2017. It is hoped the law would fix a system often described as opaque and vulnerable to abuse, issues over which FNM officials attacked the Progressive Liberal Party during the previous term.
Nonetheless, the administration has fulfilled its campaign pledges with respect to two good governance issues: amending the constitution to establish the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2017 and passing a Fiscal Responsibility Act.
On the promised bill to limit terms of prime ministers to two, Dr Sands said: “Draft legislation has been presented. It’s been discussed at a very high level and we imagine that should be tabled in the very near future.”
Among bread and butter issues affecting Bahamians, the administration passed the Economic Empowerment Zone Act last year, initiating Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ promise to create a special tax zone for Over-the-Hill. It also passed an Access to Affordable Homes Act which aims to make land available to people at an affordable price.
The Tribune requested information relating to bills passed by the last Christie administration, however representatives from the House of Assembly said the information was not available.