The legislative leviathan.

First Published: 2005-11-30

Bahamians interested in the preservation of political and economic freedoms, no matter their political persuasion, would do well to take interest in the Chamber of Commerce's exchange with a government minister on the Consumer Protection Legislation.

For example, in May 2004, in its review of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Act, the Chamber, supported by numerous other business sector Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO's), noted:

The overriding concern regarding this Act is the power granted to a single person (The Minister) while attempting to limit the power of the Courts. We all share concerns that Acts such as these that make it less likely that matters will go before the Courts, and will distort the fundamental democratic system. i.e. The Constitution, The Court, Parliament, Citizens and Civil Society. We cannot emphasise enough that if there is a perceived problem with the Court system, this should be fixed, rather than circumvent the system.

The entire review is posted on The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce web site under the Legislative Resources section.

A legislative trend of the past few years has increased the power of government ministers. They can summarily convict and fine "offenders" and order the search of private property without reference to the Courts.

While successive governments have suggested there is nothing new about granting the minister such wide powers, there are lawyers and business people who dispute such a claim.

Accountability is lacking in the legislative process. It becomes arbitrary and dangerous when the consultative process is not fully honoured. The vital role of government in making new law is to insure the impartiality of the law and that it apply equally to everyone.

Politicising the law-making process results in "designer" laws to serve the particular interests of particular groups. Unions are an example of a voting block that influences legislators to make laws favouring their desires in exchange for votes in an impending election.

The ultimate objective of man-made law should pass the test of whether it can be universally and impartially applied. Laws unable to meet such a test invariably have unintended consequences.

Discrimination is imbedded in the Labour Legislation of 2000. Minimum wage and other regulations of the labour market were introduced that discriminate against the unskilled or handicapped individual who would qualify for a job at a price below the minimum wage. The increased number of unemployed persons since 2000 may well be the unintended consequence.

In the course of discussions with the government on the Labour Legislation, the opposing views of representatives from the business community were deemed to be "mischievous" rather than being honoured for their legitimate concerns.

The same process is taking place now by members and leaders of the present government regarding legitimate criticism of the controversial consumer protection legislation.

If opposing and/or different views are discouraged or not given audience in the legislative process, economic and political freedoms cannot be preserved. Future generations are at risk of becoming the property of the leviathan state as a consequence.

The Nassau Institute

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