By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
PRIME Minister Perry Christie is routinely criticised for leading a government that is long on lofty promises, but short on follow through.
The Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) highly touted mortgage relief programme, the glittery pledge of 10,000 immediate jobs, and suggestions that the party would introduce campaign finance legislation this term are just a few of the promises the government has not fulfilled.
Perhaps the most embarrassing promise that has been left undone, is the seemingly abandoned referendum on gender equality. Most pundits blame the PLP for the failed 2002 referendum, which addressed the gender issue among other questions.
When the government announced early in this current term that it planned hold a referendum to correct gender inequalities in the country’s Constitution, it seemed like a perfect way for the PLP to right a perceived wrong.
However, with nearly two years left in this term it seems more and more unlikely that the postponed vote will ever happen. The government’s repeated fumbling of this issue is to the detriment of Bahamian women and their offspring.
Voters should be angry that the government was able to pull off a gambling referendum - even though it botched that process - less than a year after coming into office, but does not have the fortitude to hold a vote that has far reaching implications for its citizens.
The four Constitutional Amendment Bills before the House of Assembly all deal with gender equality.
Former PLP Cabinet minister George Smith is one of the few prominent faces who have repeatedly urged the government not to abandon its promise of a referendum. He has said the Christie administration must hold the important vote by next July, otherwise it will be too late considering the next general election has to be held by May 2017. If there is no referendum, Mr Smith said women voters must show their disdain at the ballot box.
“If this referendum isn’t done by at least the first seven or eight months of next year, it may well be too late to do it before the next election,” the former Exuma MP told Insight. “And at that election, women should make it their business to make sure that every male in this country who is a candidate in the next election who did not support the referendum should pay a heavy price by women withdrawing their support. The women ought to take the view that if I am not good enough to be equal in my country, and be given the same constitutional right as a male, then I should not be good enough for you to expect me to vote for you.”
Mr Smith conceded that some observers blame the PLP for the failure of the 2002 constitutional referendum. The gender equality issue was one of five questions put to voters at that time.
However he said that process, which occurred during a previous Ingraham administration, was wrought with confusion.
“The first referendum, I think the timing of that was terrible, it took place just a few months before the 2002 election,” he recalled. “The issues were rather clouded, there were a number of issues that were put to the electorate at the time and there was uncertainty (over the questions). So the person who went into the ballot box had to be familiar with so many provisions of the Constitution that it became convoluted and confusing.
“I know that the PLP is blamed by the FNM as having been responsible for the defeat because we had initially said in the House (of Assembly) that we will go along with it. When the members of the then House got further enlightened about the complicated approach that the referendum would take in terms of questions that were posed, there were other issues, it was not very clear.
“But yes, the PLP was blamed, but I think if we do not proceed with this referendum at this time, both parties will have to bear the brunt of the blame and the anger of women at the polls.”
The referendum was expected by June 2013, but has been delayed many times since. When questioned about the issue recently, Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney said he did not know when the vote would be held.
Last week, Anglican Diocesan Bishop Laish Boyd revealed his disappointment in the referendum’s delay. “I am alarmed that the government has not set a date for a referendum,” Bishop Boyd told the Nassau Guardian. “If the government is uncertain that a majority of members of Parliament will vote in favour of the motion, then I am alarmed at the Parliament.
“Where do we go from here? What is happening in a country that so many consider to be progressive and advanced if we cannot address four amendments?”
Some may say that the government has other pressing issues on the table to deal with: soaring rates of crime and unemployment; the Baha Mar disaster; plans to implement National Health Insurance and so on. However, an effective administration must know how to balance and juggle issues - not relegate important matters to the backburner because they might not be politically expedient.
“You can’t just say you’re going to deal with one issue,” Mr Smith added. “You’ve got to deal with them all. That is what being a government is and if there are members of the House of Assembly who are in government or in opposition who can’t deal with all the heat in the kitchen, all the things that should be on the front burner, get out and make room for people who are prepared to be there.”
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