Former Speaker of the House of Assembly Dr. Kendal Major said while he prefers for fundamental changes to citizenship rights to be entrenched into the constitution, he expressed support of the Minnis administration’s plans to make changes to citizenship rights through amendments to the Bahamas Nationality Act and Status of Children Act in the interest of “parity”.
“I don’t necessarily agree that because the Bahamian people went against it (the 2016 referendum) that – I like the idea of it being entrenched in the constitution, but at the same time I think all consideration should be given to determine the benefits,” Major told The Nassau Guardian.
“I am concerned about those persons who are duly qualified to become citizens and deserving and it is not being addressed, and it is creating a subculture in our society.
“I believe that is creating more harm than good and so to that extent, I think some deliberate decisions ought to be made with respect to [it].
“If that means going to Parliament and enacting a law that brings more teeth to it and more parity to it, then I think that would be the prudent thing to do.”
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced earlier this month that the government intends to amend the Bahamas Nationality Act to ensure that all children born outside The Bahamas to Bahamian women automatically receive Bahamian citizenship.
Attorney General Carl Bethel has said the application would only be honored in cases where the mother is a “natural born Bahamian”.
The government also intends to amend the Status of Children Act to allow children born to unmarried Bahamian men and foreign women an “automatic” right to Bahamian citizenship.
The announcements came over a year after the Christie administration’s failed gender equality referendum, which sought to enact similar constitutional amendments.
The announcement of these proposed changes has given rise to the view by some that the Minnis administration may be going against the wishes of the Bahamian people.
The Bahamas Christian Council’s president shares this view, although his vice president disagrees.
Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin, who promoted the gender equality referendum under the Christie administration, called it “stunning and surprising” that the Minnis adminstration would seek to make fundamental changes to citizenship rights through the ordinary powers of Parliament.
Hanna-Martin called on the government to respect the process.
Meanwhile, former Court of Appeal President Dame Joan Sawyer is on the other side of the debate.
She argued that changing citizenship rights through amendments to the Bahamas Nationality Act would not offend the constitution, and referred to Section 6 of the Bahamas Nationality Act which currently empowers the minister to grant citizenship to the child of a citizen of The Bahamas at his or her discretion.
Major also referenced this provision.
“The minister being able to have his or her sole jurisdiction or through the Cabinet to do it, I think through legislation, fully debated and aired in Parliament, town meetings, discussion at the constituency level, I think that should be fine,” the former speaker said.
When asked whether sufficient time has passed since the failed gender equality referendum last year to allow Bahamians to have a fresh look at these citizenship changes, Major said, “That is a good question.
“I don’t know the answer to that question because the Bahamian people are weary from what they have experienced with the referendum, and you see the Christian church speaking out about the people voting against it, and so how could you come back.
“I understand that argument, but I think at the core of the matter, I believe in both of those referendums (2016 and 2002) it was to some degree flawed.
“I think both of them failed again because of a matter of trust.
“And so, are they true reflections of the will of the Bahamian people? Maybe, maybe not.”
Major recommended further research and polling to determine that.