On multiple grounds, Bahamians should roundly defeat the upcoming referendum question on legalizing web shops. First, there is a stunning and insulting lack of transparency.
Moreover, the PLP that cried foul over a lack of process during the last referendum has been breathtakingly hypocritical and cynical in terms of the lack of process in its rush to give certain numbers houses an early Christmas gift. This referendum involves both a perceived conflict of interest and a betrayal of the common good.
A part of the back-story of the PLP’s decision to hold a referendum solely on the question of legalizing the current criminal enterprise of selected web shops involves a bizarre statement recently made by Prime Minister Perry Christie.
When asked if his party accepted campaign donations from various illegal numbers houses for the recent general election, former prime minister and FNM Leader Hubert Ingraham said that while individual candidates may have, he did not accept such donations on behalf of the party.
By stunning contrast Christie said he didn’t know whether the PLP received donations from such illegal enterprises. Bahamians will have to judge whether they find credible Christie and his stated ignorance on this matter.
What is incredible is that on a matter of which there is widespread suspicion of a conflict of interest by Christie and his party is that he has claimed ignorance on whether donations were received.
Imagine the British or Canadian prime minister claiming ignorance about potential donations from illegal sources in the run-up to a major vote in parliament or a referendum. He would be hounded by the press and perhaps hounded out of office. But here in The Bahamas Christie is hiding behind a claim of ignorance.
The potential conflict of interest on the referendum question is as transparent as it appears massive. This referendum is a defining moment in Christie’s legacy. It spells the death-knell of the progressive spirit in the PLP, a party now fully in thrall to special interests and a self-serving oligarchy whose mantra is: PLPs First.
This is a shameful and disgraceful moment for the country, for the PLP and for Perry Christie, who will go down in Bahamian history for selling out the Bahamian people, more of which next week.
Are we to be treated to the same contempt for our intelligence and contempt for the national interest by Christie on the matter of oil drilling? He has also failed to be transparent about his relationship with and the consulting fees he received from a company conducting oil drilling tests.
Having failed to expand constitutional rights for women in its last term, the first referendum held by the PLP, the party of corporatist interests, is one that will narrowly and overwhelmingly benefit special interests at the expense of a broader common good.
Women of The Bahamas be damned. The question of legalizing windfall profits for illegal enterprises is more a priority for a referendum under the PLP than your rights.
In its election charter, the PLP promised a referendum on a national lottery and gambling in general. It has broken its promise citing a report by consultants which the Christie government has refused to make public. If we have paid for this report, why can’t we see it? This is the behaviour of a dictator, not a democrat.
The message to the Bahamian people: Go to hell and drop dead. Not only won’t we tell you what’s in the report. We also don’t see a need to justify the limited nature of the question or why we changed our position.
In one of the most pathetic, insulting and dismissive statements ever made by a prime minister, Christie offered a litany of nonsense in his communication to the House on web shop gaming:
“Firstly, I re-iterate that my Government and Party will maintain a position of complete neutrality on the referendum question. We will not campaign for or against either side to the question, nor will we offer any encouragement for either a YES vote or a NO vote. We are going to stay out of the fray and let the Bahamian people decide what they want without any cajoling or coaxing one way or the other.”
What utter hogwash! How stunningly disingenuous! By so narrowly defining what will be voted on and who may benefit, Christie’s PLP has dispensed with any pretense of neutrality. And, then, he seeks to insult the intelligence of the Bahamian people by claiming neutrality.
There is the old joke of a wife looking through the keyhole of a hotel room, watching her husband and best friend disrobing and cooing at each other. At the last minute before certain matters transpired, one of their undergarments is flung over the keyhole, so the wife never actually sees the deed done. It is -- pun intended – a revealing story.
Christie’s non-transparent and pathetic statement continued:
“I hasten to add, however, that not all existing web shops would be legalized. Instead, it would only be those that are duly licensed in due course.” Really? Like whom, Prime Minister? Anybody in particular, or might we take bets on who may be licensed? Might you give us some examples?
Then there was this from the Prime Minister who is morphing from late-again to last minute: “The precise phraseology of the question that will be put to the electorate in the referendum will be announced well ahead of the referendum itself.”
Is this a joke? Clearly, timeliness has never been one of Christie’s strengths. Mere weeks before the referendum on a single question, and his administration can’t tell us the question. And this from the party that criticized the FNM on process?
On the basis of process, and according to what the PLP self-servingly claimed at the last referendum, this question should be defeated. The referendum has been rushed, the question is still not known mere weeks before the referendum, promised questions are left out, and there is insufficient time for well-organized and thorough forums for debate.
More so, there is so much we don’t know in terms of the details of possible legislation, which the government has an obligation to address in greater detail before a referendum. Christie and the PLP cannot be trusted on this front.
Christie also offered this false equivalence between how casinos and web shops should be taxed: “This would be in addition to the annual taxes that would be payable, based on the revenues of the licensed web shops, similar to the taxation structure that applies to casinos.”
He noted that the government expects between $15 and $20 million revenue from legalized numbers. Yet, estimates from study of the industry by the Ministry of Finance prior to May 1st, 2012, suggested in excess of $40 million annually. Why have estimates seemingly been halved?
There are many other questions of public policy and social justice left unanswered by Christie, a number of which require urgent discussion prior to the referendum. The debate has been joined by the general public, some churches and others, including the Democratic National Alliance, which released a clear position on the referendum.
Meanwhile and unfortunately, the Opposition FNM has appeared bungling and inept. Rashly and idiotically, Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis pledged to vote yes on a gambling referendum months ago, before a question to be put to the electorate has been framed and finalized.
One Lorraine Gibson defended Minnis’ statement as his personal view. This is the kind of silly defence that might be made by a green pre-law student or a naïve political activist. On questions of such moment and import it is best for any leader to make a statement on behalf of his party.
The FNM needs to get its act together and issue an intelligent, vigorous and consistent position on one of the most important issues before the Bahamian people during the current administration’s tenure. The country cannot afford a feckless government and prime minister as well as a feckless opposition and leader of the opposition.