Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Michael Pintard said yesterday the Davis administration should consult with Bahamians before it moves forward with legislation to address citizenship issues.
“We wish to say unequivocally, the Free National Movement supports Bahamian women and men being able to pass on citizenship to their children,” said Pintard at a press conference at FNM headquarters.
“What we are concerned about, however, is any attempt to introduce legislation to solve this issue without having conversations with a population who on two separate occasions pronounced a verdict.”
Voters overwhelmingly voted against constitutional change during a referendum in 2002, which addressed citizenship and other issues.
Again in 2016, voters rejected proposed constitutional changes in a referendum, which dealt exclusively with citizenship and gender equality issues.
Pintard said “politics interfered with the process”.
Ahead of the 2002 referendum, members of the Progressive Liberal Party, led by Perry Christie, voted in support of the constitutional amendment bills in the House of Assembly but later campaigned against the referendum, arguing that the process was flawed.
In 2016, FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis told Bahamians to “vote your conscience” in the referendum after the FNM’s caucus voted in support of the bills in the House.
He also never denied a claim by then Prime Minister Christie and Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney that he pledged bipartisan support for the constitutional referendum on the basis that the gender equality issue would be exclusively on the ballot.
Pintard said yesterday, “Politicians went into the House, agreed in the House, went out of the House, and ran a separate campaign.
“So, many are of the view that the defeat of the provision for both Bahamian men and women being able to equally pass on citizenship was a result, in part, of politicians saying one thing in the House of Assembly and doing something else on the outside.”
Pintard said the FNM is willing to work with the government.
“We caution this government that it is important to have a discussion with various stakeholders,” he said.
“You are dealing with an opposition leadership team that is prepared to sit down to determine the way forward with the government, and to leave the House of Assembly and enter into a national education campaign, not clouding the issue with a bunch of other issues, other issues that can confuse the matter [and] break up an appropriate coalition.”
Not a political football
A major issue in the 2016 vote was question four, which sought to end discrimination based on sex.
This would have involved the insertion of the word “sex” in Article 26 of the constitution, so as to make it unconstitutional to discriminate based on whether someone is male or female. But many felt it would pave the way for the introduction of same-sex marriage in The Bahamas.
“We caution the government to listen to the Bahamian people and give the Bahamian people an opportunity to weigh in on this matter and to educate our people on the importance of doing what is right,” Pintard said.
“We do understand the difficulty this administration is having in agreeing with opposition and other stakeholders including the Bahamian people on the way forward [because] they themselves are not on the same page.
“The attorney general is headed in one direction and the prime minister has that same matter that the attorney general is talking about on his radar but it is not yet a priority.
“We must not play political football with something so important as the citizenship of our children.”
Currently, a Bahamian woman married to a foreign spouse cannot automatically pass on citizenship to children born abroad.
Bahamian men who have children with foreign women out of wedlock cannot automatically pass on citizenship to their children, even if they are born in The Bahamas, though the matter is now before the Privy Council for a final determination.
Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander said on Sunday, the government is taking the “wrong route” on the citizenship issue.
“Obviously, if the legislative route could have been done, why did we go through two referendums?” he asked.
“We continue not to do the hard work when we want to change positions on legislative matters. Rather than teaching and preparing people to understand what you’re trying to achieve, we’re busy trying to just ram things through.
“I’ve said this publicly. I believe it’s the wrong approach.”
In June, Attorney General Ryan Pinder said the government intends to advance legislation to allow Bahamian men and women to pass on citizenship in all circumstances by the end of the summer.
But Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis later said the issue was not a priority at this time.
On Thursday, Pinder said the citizenship bill was among the priority items on the government’s legislative agenda this year.
Pintard said Pinder and the prime minister should “get on the same page”.