IF THE FNM had won the government Bahamians would not now be arguing about a gambling referendum.
Gambling had been removed from the FNM’s agenda for the next five years, because within its own ranks there was no consensus.
During the heated exchange of words in the House of Assembly last Wednesday a government member suggested that the FNM had already drawn up draft legislation, and had consulted web shop operators to have their input.
It is true that government officials had drafted gambling legislation for the FNM government’s consideration, however, it is not true that former prime minister Ingraham had at any time met with web shop operators for their input.
Mr Ingraham, now enjoying retirement, confirmed that there had been draft legislation for his government’s consideration. However, there was no consensus within the party, added to which he had received a letter from Anglican Archbishop Laish Boyd stating his opposition to the licensing of web shops. As a result the gambling issue was dropped. There was no mention of gambling in the FNM’s 2012 Manifesto.
“We would not have gone ahead,” said Mr Ingraham yesterday, “because we would have had no mandate.”
The FNM, according to its 2012 agenda, had great ambitions, but heading its list of priorities was crime, economic and employment growth, public debt and national security. There was to be no costly referendum, and there was to be no gambling legislation for anyone to argue over.
Last Wednesday the House was in constant agitation from the nine-member Opposition as Prime Minister Christie attempted to read his Communication changing the date of the web shop referendum from December 3 to next year — January 28, 2013. He also had a change of mind. After bluntly announcing that the referendum would deal only with web shops and no lottery — which his advisers had told him was not feasible at this time — he was now adding the question of a national lottery to the referendum.
An angry FNM Deputy Leader Loretta-Butler Turner constantly interrupted the Prime Minister as he attempted to deliver his communication last Wednesday.
She said she was not only offended by his “flip-flopping” on the issue, but was insulted that two weeks before he had brought a referendum before the House, which he should have known was not constitutional. And now, she said, he was back trying to correct his mistakes. All during his presentation, she grumbled loudly.
At the conclusion of the Prime Minister’s presentation, Opposition Leader Dr Hubert Minnis, asked to make a communication on the referendum. The Speaker refused. He said that Dr Minnis had not given prior notice of his wish to speak. The Speaker asked Dr Minnis to resume his seat. Dr Minnis remained standing. Government members shouted that the Opposition was quite aware of the House’s rules. They said Dr Minnis had to await his allotted time on the agenda.
Dr Minnis persisted, forcing the Speaker to adjourn the House to restore order. It is true that there would have been a spot on the agenda for Dr Minnis to eventually speak, but it would not have been that day. Dr Minnis wanted it to follow the Prime Minister’s statement because he felt that the Opposition’s position was also important to the debate.
Apparently, the rules on such a request are flexible. Depending on the circumstances the Speaker can allow a member time to speak, whether or not he has given prior notice. In fairness, said one commentator, Dr Minnis should have been allowed to speak. But the government had the power to refuse and they decided to use it. The Opposition, we were told, felt that they were being unfairly suppressed, which accounted for their behaviour.
Dr Minnis then went to the committee room, where he released his statement to the press.
But what is surprising is that with the Prime Minister and his Deputy both lawyers, it took the Opposition to point out to them that the referendum as proposed was illegal.
“There is no lawful way for the office of the parliamentary commissioner, his staff or any other agencies of the government to expend public funds and taxpayers’ dollars to conduct an illegal consultative referendum, or any other kind of non-constitutional plebiscite,” said an Opposition spokesman.
The reason for Government’s change of date was so that a Bill could be presented to amend the Constitutional Referendum Act to make the illegal legal. Once this is done a non-constitutional referendum can be held.
In 2002 when Mr Christie was first elected prime minister he was severely criticised for taking so long to appoint his boards. His reply on that occasion was that he was taking his time to deliberate and consult to make certain that he selected people who were able to serve their country well.
When asked to postpone the rushed referendum he told the FNM that they had better get used to the pace of his government because he is focused on moving his agenda forward despite their protests.
We encourage him to move ahead, but advise him in future to pay more attention to detail to avoid any more confusion.