Referenda and citizenship

EDITOR, The Tribune.

Once again the government, through Attorney General Ryan Pinder, has foreshadowed its plan to introduce legislation to bring about citizenship changes which the referendums of 2002 and 2016 did not. In my view, this is rather unfortunate.

The Attorney General is quoted as saying that the citizenship changes the government is seeking to bring about have been impossible to attain through referenda. While it is true that they were not obtained through referenda, it is not true that they have been impossible to attain that way.

The sad reality is that the 2002 referendum was politicised; voters were told that the outcome of the referendum would determine the winner of the impending general election. And the sadder reality is that the 2016 referendum was sexualised; the government derailed what was otherwise a referendum on citizenship by trying to get voters to amend Article 26 of the constitution to add “sex” as a ground of non-discrimination.

Accordingly, Bahamian voters voted resoundingly “no” in each referendum. Some have wrongly accused Bahamian voters of being incapable of thinking through the referendum questions, and others have even gone as far as to say that Bahamian voters will never amend the constitution. Such assessments don’t give Bahamian voters the credit they deserve.

It is rather unfortunate that Bahamian voters were not given the opportunity to consider amending certain citizenship provisions in the constitution in a proper referendum that was not freighted with other concerns like politics and sex and its meaning. And now the government is resorting to grant some citizenship rights that ideally should have been and would have been approved by Bahamian voters in a proper referendum. This is sad. It did not have to be this way.

Also, I add my voice to other voices calling upon the government not to withdraw the appeal before the Privy Council that will settle once for all the proper construction of Article 6. If indeed the proper construction of Article 6 is that any child born in the Bahamas is a Bahamian at birth so long as one of his parents is a Bahamian, without regard to marital status, we owe citizenship to all those to whom it has been denied since July 10, 1973, and they should be allowed to have the privilege of citizenship by constitutional right and not legislative favour. The Privy Council should be allowed to rule whether this is indeed the case.

On the other hand, if the proper construction of Article 6 is the one that currently prevails (that unmarried Bahamian men cannot pass citizenship on to their out of wedlock children at birth), the Privy Council should be allowed to affirm it and close the legal debate on the issue.

Either way, I believe it is proper and fitting for the government to allow our final court to have the final say on this very important matter.

To my mind, it does not seem right that a 3:2 decision of the Court of Appeal should be allowed to settle what is perhaps the most important constitutional question in our nation’s history to date, bearing in mind that it is about the sacred gift of Bahamian citizenship and who is constitutionally entitled to it at birth.

The government is free to move ahead with its legislative plans regarding citizenship as it sees fit. But I still maintain that it is unfortunate that Bahamian voters were not given a proper opportunity to confer certain citizenship rights constitutionally through referenda.

And I pray that the government allows the Privy Council to rule on the proper construction of Article 6.



June 21, 2022.


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