Changing the Constitution

First Published: 2006-04-20

by Rick Lowe

A Constitutional Committee has published an outline for consideration of changes to the Bahamas Constitution. It is in The Tribune Business Section of April 3rd.

Coincidentally today is the announcement of the death of one of the most influential and respected Constitutional Scholars, Dr. Bernard Seigan, Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of San Diego Law School.

Dr. Seigan advised former Communist countries in the development of their constitutions. His advice to those countries included recommendations for “Free and Not Command Constitutions”.

We hope and trust that changes to the Bahamas Independence Order 1973 will not be concerned with promoting a better life through “commanding” laws, but by honouring the universal principles of political and economic freedom.

Many of the laws enacted by both political parties of the past 30 years indicate that Bahamian politicians have the erroneous notion that people are dependent on government benevolence for their well-being. For example, the latest Consumer Protection Bill is an example of laws written to benefit consumers.

Another example of laws that fail to meet the impartiality test of our Constitution is the Labour Legislation. Minimum wage laws are specifically designed to benefit a particular group – employees. So far no study has shown that minimum wage laws benefit anyone (except politicians). But there are numerous studies showing the harmful consequences for the most vulnerable, the unskilled and young persons seeking work.

The Constitutional Committee has the responsibility for making certain that changes to the Independence Order of 1973 are in line with the principles for a free society. This presupposes understanding that the protections of the constitution are negative in character and should prevent the enactment of laws that stifle opportunity.

One test of a Constitution would be whether it protects citizens from legislative agendas of politicians whose particular self-interest is to get elected to parliament. The good intentions of this group invariably have unintended and undesirable outcomes.

Dr. Seigan quotes James Madison, the principal architect of the United States Constitution:

“I own myself to a very free system of commerce, and hold it as a truth that if industry and labour are left to their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out”.

It is also good advice for those recommending changes to the Bahamas Constitution.

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