The $5 mil poll
Guardian News Editor
Published: Oct 07, 2013
When governments refuse to make sound decisions in the best interest of the citizenry and act on them, the price could be costly.
Case in point, the January 28, 2013 gambling referendum.
Although the public still has yet to get any details on how much money the government spent on foreign consultants to advise it on gambling, we now know that the failed poll cost well over the $1 million figure Prime Minister Perry Christie had tossed about.
Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage, who is responsible for elections, told reporters last Thursday that the figure for the referendum was around $5 million, although he too did not provide an exact figure.
That revelation was made a day after Christie announced that the planned November constitutional referendum was being pushed to 2014.
The constitutional referendum is of course necessary to effect constitutional reform. The government would need to take key issues to the people before the constitution can be changed.
But with the revelation of the high cost of the January opinion poll, many people are feeling even more sure that the entire effort was a monumental waste of time and money.
The vote came because the government decided that dealing with the web shop issue was a matter high on its agenda in its first term in office. It decided that the public needed to make the decision. The government itself was not prepared to.
The referendum came as the government continued to beat the financial drum on what poor financial shape we were in.
Perhaps the thinking was the money from a regularized web shop industry was precisely what we needed to help bail us out of our fiscal mess.
Before we launch into a discussion on future referenda, we deserve to know how much the January referendum cost down to the cent; that should include the cost of consultants who did not produce an actual report.
Nine months after the January referendum, the status quo remains as a legal challenge brought by web shop owners is tied up in court.
The next opinion poll, the government says, will likely be in 2015. That is the referendum on oil drilling.
This will likely be another useless vote; whether to drill for oil is a decision that ought to be made by the government after adopting a sound and informed policy position.
With his back up against the wall on the oil drilling issue ahead of the 2012 general election, Christie promised voters that he would call a referendum before making any decisions on this matter.
It came as then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham battered him over his connection to the Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) after it was revealed that Christie had provided consulting services for the company through Davis and Co. law firm.
We assume that vote would mean another $5 million or so of taxpayer dollars — likely another waste of time and money.
If Christie sticks to the new timeframe he has announced for the constitutional referendum, voters would head to the polls again before June 2014 in the second such poll in a dozen years.
They will be asked to eliminate language from the constitution that discriminates based on gender.
This is the second postponement for the constitutional referendum. The announcement to put it off yet again reflects poorly on the prime minister who appears disorganized when it comes to such matters.
His announcement last week to push the date from November into 2014 did not come as a surprise. Although Christie announced earlier this year that the referendum would not happen by June 2013 as originally planned, there seemed to be no preparations for another referendum in November.
Christie had said the November date was more desirable to give the Constitutional Commission more time to complete its work.
The commission presented its report in July without hearing from the prime minister who postponed his address to the commission several times before deciding that he would not advise the group on his views on constitutional reform because he did not want to appear to be prejudicing its work.
Why it took several postponements before he arrived at that determination was puzzling.
Christie eventually decided that even the November date he gave to hold the constitutional referendum would not give the government enough time to launch a public education campaign before the next referendum.
The failed January 28 referendum may have served as a lesson for the government on how not to approach the process leading to these votes.
That gambling referendum itself also had to be postponed as the government failed to provide a proper education campaign ahead of that vote and Christie personally confused the process with his utterances on the highly controversial issue.
That referendum was postponed from December 3 to January 28, and the national lottery question was put back on the ballot.
That vote proved to be embarrassing for the government, although Christie had insisted all along that the government had no desire for a particular outcome.
Dr. Bernard Nottage, the minister responsible for elections, acknowledged last week that the process leading to the vote earlier this year was botched.
“The last referendum on gambling and the first one that I had an opportunity to observe, which was in 2002, in both cases the public was ill prepared to make judgments,” he said.
We assume now that the government will not allow months to pass before launching the education campaign it has promised.
Christie said last Wednesday that the government hopes to “amend the citizenship provisions of the constitution to achieve full equality between men and women with respect to the acquisition and transmission of Bahamian nationality”.
The government’s expectation is that the opposition will be onboard.
Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis told us after Christie’s announcement on Wednesday that the Free National Movement (FNM) will support the referendum bills as it is all for equality.
He noted that in 2002, the FNM administration unsuccessfully attempted to make the constitutional changes the current government wishes to make.
Christie has projected that the amending bills will be introduced in the House of Assembly before the end of the year and that the passage of those bills through both the House of Assembly and the Senate will be completed by the end of February 2014.
Minnis’ commitment notwithstanding, the Christie administration must not bank on support of the Official Opposition.
While in opposition ahead of the last constitutional referendum, the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) parliamentary caucus supported the referendum bills, but later campaigned for a ‘no’ vote, claiming that the process had been botched.
More recently, ahead of the gambling referendum, Minnis went back and forth on what his position was on this issue.
There is no doubting that the time has come to address key constitutional reform issues.
The government is being cautious in not bringing too much to the Bahamian people all at once.
It believes the multiple questions on the 2002 referendum was a major reason why that vote failed.
As noted by Minnis last week, an agreement by the government and opposition on the constitutional referendum bills would not necessarily mean that the electorate is also in agreement.
With a new timeframe set for the first constitutional referendum since 2002, we hope that the promised public education campaign is well planned and executed.
Any further delay or fumbling of the issue could cause this poll to go off course.
We hope there will not be a need for further postponement, and this sense of ‘making it up as you go’ does not set in, otherwise the referendum planned for 2014 could turn out to be a referendum on Christie.