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Why The Bahamas should become a republic

Published: Oct 17, 2013

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Dear Editor,

Our nation has been an integral part of the British Commonwealth of Nations for more than 200 years.  Once a former colony, a self-governing nation with foreign and military matters being taken care of by the British government, and now a so-called independent nation, we have evolved, constitutionally, in starts and fits.

After 40 years of independence, this nation should become a republic within the British Commonwealth as is Trinidad and Tobago and Nigeria.  Both of these countries, inter alia, are members of the so-called Commonwealth but are completely independent in that they have an elected president, who is head of state and an elected prime minister who is head of government.

Their Supreme Court, as opposed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, is the final court of appeal.  While the Queen of England is still recognized as head of the commonwealth, her role is largely ceremonial and of no real consequence.

Our criminal justice system is being held hostage by the legal and jurisprudence antics of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which has frustrated and tied our hands as we seek to enforce accepted criminal laws and penalties in our own nation.

State executions are on our law books but we are unable to carry out the same, without exception, unless the case is deemed, by the Judicial Committee, eventually, to be the worst of the worst.  In essence, unless we abandon the Judicial Committee, there will never be another execution in this dispensation.

We now have scores of convicted and sentenced individuals on the infamous death row, none of whom will ever face execution, despite the collective wishes of a majority of Bahamians.  This is an injustice and a mockery of the system.  One is able to murder at will, but there are no consequences save for a long spell in jail.

I see absolutely no logical reason why we should not have our own final court of appeal for criminal cases.  If for foreign concerns and assurances we need to retain the Judicial Committee, let us do so solely for civil matters.

Our governor general and/or president should be head of state and should be elected to a fixed term by popular vote.  Our head of government should also run for election as leader of a political party and should serve for a definable period of time; say two consecutive terms maximum of five or four years each.

Members of a bicameral Parliament should be elected by popular vote and serve no more than two terms, as would the head of government.  Not only would this allow for fresh blood in the legislative halls, but it would prevent the accumulation of too much power and influence in any one individual or partisan caucus.

The much-celebrated Freedom of Information Act and the requisite commission and commissioner are long overdue in our wonderful nation.  Too often politicians, especially Cabinet ministers and senior civil servants, conduct public policy initiatives and the peoples’ business as if they were their own.  Contracts are awarded and payments made which are not, ordinarily, subject to public scrutiny.

Under a republican form of governance, much of the under the table and around the table alleged potentially corrupt public and political dealings would be eliminated or reduced to the irreducible minimum.  Public accountability is crucial to good governance.

There would be a proper Judicial Appointments Commission and, certainly, a formalized Public Accounts Committee.  We need to get past the constitutional fiasco where there is too much executive and legislative powers vested in the prime minister of the day and his cronies.

We have, in fact, a constitutional dictatorship of the highest order.  Witness what we have today.  The PM, God bless his soul, has been around in the House of Assembly for decades.  His highest and most trusted advisor and office administrator is well into his 80s.

We begrudge no Bahamian an opportunity to serve but at what point will that service come to an end to make room for younger people and for more fresh ideas to come into place?  There seems to be a deliberate shutting out of black Bahamian investors to sit at the table of economic development by the gatekeepers within the Christie administration.

Under this system, the PM literally controls all branches of government.  This must change if we are to progress as a nation.  The Constitutional Commission means well, but it is stacked with old PLPs and far too many individuals interested in maintaining the status quo.

Don’t mind the bogus talk about town hall meetings and consultation with the public because almost all of the meetings were poorly attended and too many attendees were barely tolerated and were, indeed, talked down to.

Not a single Constitutional Commission meeting addressed the role of the media and the public accountability of the government de jure.  There was absolutely no talk of sexual equality and no one, no one bothered to talk about the necessity to ensure that access to Crown land and commonage land were addressed.

The Christie administration has a golden opportunity to do the right thing, but I fear that the PM is too busy and reminding himself, daily, that he is, in fact, if not de jure, PM of the nation.

To God then, in all things, be the glory.

– Ortland H. Bodie Jr.

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