By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
BAMBOO Town MP Renward Wells yesterday called for the government to immediately provide funding for the campaigns opposing the gender equality referendum.
Mr Wells, a member of the FNM, said he would “proudly” vote against the fourth bill as he defended the validity of opposition campaigns, noting that there were credible arguments against all of the Constitutional Amendment Bills.
He said the government was duty bound to provide equal funding for all campaigns.
“If the government is going to promote and fund the ‘yes’ vote,” he said, “then the government, in a constitutional referendum, is duty bound to fund the ‘no’ vote campaign as well to the exact dollar amount. That is what happens in a democracy in order for there to be equity.
“We are having an equality referendum and you are not being equal and equitable in your promotion with tax payer dollars. They shouldn’t fund the ‘no’ campaign two days before the vote either, that’s disingenuous. They should be doing that right now.”
It was confirmed last month that the government was providing funds to the vote “yes” campaign. Although the campaign was already underway, organisers of YES Bahamas said the campaign’s budget had not yet been finalised.
Activist group Citizens for Justice 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 that CFJ 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. CFJ is opposed to the fourth and second bills.
Another vote “no” group, Save Our Bahamas, whose members are opposed to bill four, made a request last month seeking $100,000 of public funds.
Several church leaders also made public declarations in support of a “yes” vote, including Bishop Neil Ellis of Global United Fellowship of Churches, Bishop Laish Boyd of the Anglican Diocese and Archbishop Patrick Pinder of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese.
Meanwhile, Mr Wells questioned how religious opponents of the 2002 referendum could justify their support of the 2016 bills.
“The PLP’s opposition to the exact same bill in 2001 was legitimate, or was it propaganda? Because some very cogent arguments were used as to why the Bahamian people shouldn’t vote yes at that time.
“Some of the same pastors who were opposed to the bill then are promoting it now. So was it propaganda back then, or now have they seen the truth? None of them have come out and said they were wrong.”
Mr Wells added: “Is it because the PLP is putting it out now?”
The bills were passed in the House of Assembly on March 2. The first bill was passed by all 37 members present in the House of Assembly. Marco City MP Greg Moss voted against bill two and bill three was passed with the full support of the members present in the Lower Chamber.
The fourth bill, which was the most controversial, was passed by a vote of 34 members of Parliament supporting it, two voting no and one abstaining.
Mr Moss and Mr Wells voted against the bill while Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant abstained.
St Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman was absent from the vote due to illness.
It was Mr Wells’ opinion that opposition campaigns have been stigmatised by political figures as negative or illegitimate but the vote was not a political matter.
“The Constitution sets the boundaries for the way government operates and the way the citizenry operates and treats each other.
“Those pastors who are out there, they ought not be castigated for putting out their view.
“I will proudly vote no on bill four,” Mr Wells said. “There are cogent arguments on bills one, two, and three as well, but as it stands now I will vote for those.”
The gender equality referendum will be held on June 7.