By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
CITIZENS for Justice, an activist group, has said it will take legal action against the government this week hoping to force it to provide public funds to the constitutional referendum’s vote “no” campaigns.
Attorney Paul Moss, who represents the group, said yesterday that Citizens for Jusitce (CCJ) may request an injunction to prevent the government from continuing to fund the YES Bahamas campaign until the group’s matter is heard - or might even ask for an injunction on the referendum itself.
With the vote set for June 7, opponents are becoming restless over Prime Minister Perry Christie’s failure to respond to their requests for funds even as the vote “yes” campaign continues to receive money.
In a letter to Mr Christie sent on April 21, Mr Moss set the deadline for the government to make provision for vote “no” funding at April 29, last week Friday.
His actions came after Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney told The Tribune last month that the government should provide equal access to public funds to both the vote “no” and vote “yes” campaigns, citing precedents in Ireland.
Mr Moss said the same in his letter to Mr Christie, which he sent to the media over the weekend.
“We noted that the executive government launched a ‘yes’ vote campaign and appointed noted persons in the Bahamian community to promote such a result,” he wrote. “Sir, this and the government’s posture in this regard stands in stark contrast to democratic principles applicable to constitutional referenda as recognised, for example, in the Irish Supreme Court decision McKenna vs Taoisearch…which have come to be euphemistically described as ‘the McKenna Principles.’ In his opinion in that case, Hamilton C J said ‘the use by the government of public funds to fund a campaign designed to influence the voters in favour of a ‘yes’ vote is an interference with the democratic process and the process for the amendment of the constitution and infringes the concept of equality which is fundamentally to the democratic nature of the state.’”
Mr Moss said he is concerned that a judge may set a hearing for the case at a date near the referendum or after it, hence the possibility that he would make an injunction request.
This is not his preference, he said, adding that CCJ wants the referendum to proceed as scheduled but believes the government would welcome an injunction since “the referendum will fail.”
“Even though the Constitutional Commission has said that there should be equity amongst the players, we have not seen the government move in this direction,” he said, referring to Mr McWeeney’s comments.
“Private groups are trying to perform the herculean task of having to fight not only the ‘yes’ campaign but also the Constitutional Commission that’s masquerading as performing an education campaign but is trying to get a ‘yes’ vote.”
It’s unclear if the government intends to provide funds to the vote “no” campaign.
Asked about this last week, National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage, who has responsibility for referendums, told The Tribune he will address the matter at the next House sitting.
Senate President Sharon Wilson, nonetheless, confirmed two weeks ago that government is providing funds to the vote “yes” campaign, although she said she did not know how much has been provided. Mrs Wilson is co-chair of the YES Bahamas campaign.
Another vote “no” group, Save Our Bahamas, made a request last month seeking $100,000 of public funds.
Last week, the group’s spokesmen, Kevin Harris, told The Tribune it would give the government another week to respond to its request before pursuing other action.
At a pastors’ forum at Evangelistic Temple two weeks ago, Marco City MP Greg Moss told those gathered not to get their hopes up believing the government would give them public funds.
He said while a judge would rule the government’s failure to do so “unconstitutional” a judge would likely neither grant an injunction nor award costs to the winning party.