Dangerous trend with legislation

First Published: 2004-12-16

The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and other business sector organisations have recently reviewed four Bills, that if they become law, will set dangerous precedents.

The Bills are:

  1. The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Act
  2. The Standards Act
  3. The Consumer Protection Act and
  4. The Weights and Measures Act

Some say these Bills are required to comply with all the trade initiatives (WTO, FTAA & CSM&E) in which the country is involved. Others suggest they are politically motivated and not required because there are ample laws in place, or Common Law cases, that address the issues raised in the Bills.

So what’s the danger?

Well, there are a few major issues that citizens should pay attention to.

  1. Citizens should be wary of details of the various pieces of legislation that allow a Cabinet Minister to be prosecutor, judge and jury over matters considered contrary to the Act.
  2. Alarms should ring loudly when Parliamentarians stand in support of legislation that they have not taken the time read or consider their consequences.
  3. There is something wrong with a Parliament that allows for legislation to be drafted that does not hold Government departments, agencies or corporations to the same standards that it does the business sector.

The courts serve a vital purpose.

Acts such as these make it less likely that matters will go before the Courts, which distorts the fundamental democratic system. i.e. The Constitution, The Court, Parliament, Citizens and Civil Society.

Political leaders have suggested that the Courts do not work, and this, in their minds, justifies giving prosecutorial power to Cabinet Ministers.

If there is any basis that the Courts are dysfunctional the solution is to fix the Court system not circumvent it by giving more power to Cabinet Ministers.

If the proposed legislation becomes law, a Cabinet Minister will have the power of Summary Conviction at his or her disposal. This power could lead to rent seeking (bribes) and victimisation if ever taken to extremes like the infamous Court of the Star Chamber of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries in Britain

Power Corrupts.

While the Star Chamber is more extreme than what could be envisioned in today’s Bahamas, Lord Acton was correct when he said “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely…”

This absolute power granted to Minister’s in an attempt to circumvent the Court system is the danger everyone in The Bahamas should pay very close attention to. The Honourable Parliamentarians carry a more serious burden in this regard. Rather than blindly supporting Bills because the “Objects and Reasons” section contained in the Bills sound reasonable enough, “the devil is in the details” of the proposed legislation.

This dangerous trend in legislation can be reversed when Parliamentarians earn their keep and spend the time required to read through, and think about the consequences of the legislation they support.

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