The recent passing of Bahamian great Paul L. Adderley has shed light on the state of the judiciary and on the need to change the constitution of the Bahamas. Our country is set up to malfunction and we need to make constitutional reforms as soon as possible.
The office of the prime minister is at the focal point of my belief where a lot of the country’s problems starts and ends. We have set up shop to allow one person to literally run and control the affairs of the country.
The prime minister is empowered by the constitution to appoint the commissioner of police, the commander of the defence force, the comptroller of customs, the director of immigration, the superintendant of the prisons, the chief justice and the attorney general. I am not sure if the average Bahamian realizes the implications of these appointments and the effects that these appointments can have with the running of the country.
The prime minister through his authority can cause the termination of any of these appointees. This is certainly not reflective of a true democracy. I remember an incident last year with the director of immigration making claims about the illegal immigration problem in the country and his intentions to intensify his department’s efforts to curtail this issue. His decision caused quite a stir and he has mysteriously been out of the public view since.
My point is that the potential for the abuse of power by the prime minister does exist and the constitution backs him or her 100 percent. The prime minister having the authority to directly flex his muscles in my view in these type situations chokes the democratic process. The recent sale of BTC is a classic example where the prime minister flexed his muscles. In fact the BTC sale may have caused the Free National Movement (FNM) the government because a whole new political party was formed because of the government’s decision. The former prime minister said on television that if the government members did not vote for BTC, then this would have been cause for a general election.
I am almost certain that more government members were not in support of the sale of BTC, but the prime minister said what he had to say and all except one member fell in line.
We need a country where ideas can flow freely and put checks and balances in place to strengthen the country’s decision making process. Every five years we have allowed one man to dictate where we are going as a country as opposed to a cadre of people. We need more people actively engaged in the democratic process.
The recent road works project is another classic case of prime ministerial abuse. A decision was made to allow the Bahamas to bear the brunt of additional costs to the project. The public accounts committee report showed where the government of the day excluded Jose Cartellone Construccionnes Civiles from any additional costs for the road project, when they were clearly responsible for some of the project’s delay and cost overruns.
Some might say that the cabinet meets regularly and that these discussions and decisions are made by committee but do we seriously think that cabinet ministers given what they know the powers of the prime minister to be will jeopardize their career and go out on a limb? Our history has shown this to not be the case and even when it does happen, we all know that it will be political suicide for the member who speaks out against the prime minister’s policy.
The prime minister gets done what he wants done in the country. He is the minister of finance and signs off on government spending. He dictates all policy and basically determines what is urgent or not. Look at the public transportation system in the country. Obviously this has not been an urgent matter as successive prime ministers have not sought to correct this problem even though studies have been done in an apparent effort to implement an effective and safe public bussing system.
The dictatorial powers in the office of the prime minister do not bode well for the country and history shows that any individual with absolute power develops tunnel vision. Our dictatorial democracy is not violent but very subtle. Bahamians far and wide know the far reaching effects of the prime minister and many of them have decided to play it safe as opposed to becoming truly involved in the democratic process.
The government of the day now has the opportunity to make critical constitutional amendments. But will it happen? Will the prime minister set term limits for the office of the prime minister? Will he set a fixed election date? Will he cause the policies of the boundaries commission to be changed? It is mind boggling to be living in Fox Hill in one election, living in Montagu in the next election and then in St. Anne’s in the next election even though you have not moved? This must be insanity.
Mr. prime minister, let’s start the process of getting rid of this dictatorial democracy that has always existed in our country. This is your second time in office and this is the second time that you have had a commanding majority in the house of assembly. The onus is on you sir to lead the country where it needs to go.