Constitutional Reform. An Opportunity to Protect our Freedoms.

First Published: 2004-07-25

by Rick Lowe

As we go about our daily lives, a group of 24 people known as The Bahamas Constitutional Commission (The Commission) is reviewing The Bahamas Constitution with the intention of amending it. The future effects of the amendments, whether positive or negative are open to question. Changes that will undoubtedly impact future generations. Whether these changes will be positive or negative only time will tell.

The Commission is co-chaired by Hon. Paul L. Adderley and Mr. Harvey Tynes Q.C. both of whom have considerable legal experience. Mr. Adderley was at the meeting in Britain in 1967 when the Constitution was drafted so he has hands on experience with The Bahamas Constitution. Based on his presentation at a recent Town Meeting to discuss this matter, he also has some regrets that he might wish to resolve.

Options for Change

The Commission has produced a well set out booklet consisting of 72 pages with 14 Chapters and Endnotes. A series of questions are posed regarding aspects of the Constitution and its relevance for Bahamians.

Important Considerations

Too many issues are raised for a proper discussion here, however, some of the issues not included in the current discussion that are worthy of note are:

1. Should the Prime Minister be subject to term limits of 10 years?

2. Should Members of Parliament be subject to term limits of 15 years?

3. Should a Constitutional limit for the National Debt and Budget Deficits be set? Maybe as a percentage of GDP.

4. Should it limit the number of Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament based on the population count?

5. Should it ensure that Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, and various Chairmen appointed give reasons when a request or license application is denied?

6. Should it enshrine a formal consultative process for new legislation to ensure checks and balances?

7. Should it ensure that any law passed by Parliament automatically applies to Government, its agencies, departments and corporations as it applies to the country’s citizens and businesses?

What should be included? The Oxford Dictionary defines a Constitution as “a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or organization is governed. > a decree, ordinance, or law.”

The Constitution is limited to fundamental principles that define the relationship of the governing body to that of the governed reflecting a commitment to a free society.

Accordingly, all the additions and changes might be unrealistic but as the review is taking place, it would be a shame not to attempt to find a way to keep the state in check at the same time as it has been proven over and over again that the omnipotent state can do substantial damage to a country and her citizen’s. Russia, now rebuilding from the ashes of such a state is a case in point.

Where to now?

A free society certainly needs permanent means for restricting the powers of government no matter what the particular objective of the moment might be. The foundational principle of the Constitution is to protect the individual against all arbitrary coercion. Any recommendations for change to the existing document must be tested against this principle.

The Commission invites input from the general public and it is hoped all Bahamians will think more about the significance of a Constitution and recognize its role in the protection of liberty.

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