First published in The Tribune here…
THIS week, Prime Minister Perry Christie appears to be having a crisis of confidence as several of his backbenchers—and even a Cabinet minister—have panned the proposed Gaming Bill and publicly (and some privately) have stated their categorical intent to vote down such an idiotic, blatantly discriminatory Bill if it’s ever moved to a Parliamentary vote. Mr Christie appears to have lost control of his Parliamentary Caucus.
This week, Gaming Board Chairman Dr Andre Rollins started the ball rolling with his surprisingly undaunted statement that he does not support the proposed Bill. Frankly, in recent time, I thought Rollins was simply glib but, in this instance, kudos to him. That took guts! The fact that Dr Rollins is the Chairman of the Board that would be expected to implement such legislation—if it’s passed—adds credence to his objection and seemingly nationalistic take on the proposed legislation. Prior to this week, the last time I had an appreciation for any of Rollins’ utterances was before the Elizabeth by-election. However, his stance this week has somewhat redeemed him in the eyes of the public-at-large. The gambling referendum was nothing short of a colossal failure, an opinion poll that can only be likened to a swift drop kick, collectively meted out by an electorate clearly fed-up with the chaotic process leading up to voting day.
Beyond the fact that Rollins is the Gaming Board’s Chairman, PM Christie finds himself in another conundrum since the Fort Charlotte MP is also the governing party’s Whip. In the Westminster system of governance, the party Whip is an MP who organizes the party’s parliamentary contributions and, even more, ensures that the maximum number of their party members is present to vote and to vote in support of the party’s position. So, now that Rollins has stated his objection to the Bill—and has been joined by a few of his counterparts—how in the world could a majority vote be attained? I have been told that all of the backbenchers will vote with the eight FNM MPs and, Alfred Gray, the Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government, seems intent on breaking ranks with his Cabinet colleagues to vote his conscience.
So, did Rollins’ courageous sound the death knell on his chairmanship? It surely appears so, even though Mr Christie used fancy words and danced around stating, emphatically, whether or not he would fire the doctor. The bottom line is that Rollins voted his conscience, implying that his conscience would not submit him to consider a Bill that 40 years after Independence makes it clear that there are certain things the government—a so-called majority rule government—would legislate that a Bahamian cannot or should do.
Daily, it becomes clearer that the national survey earlier this year was a waste of time, a superfluous squandering of more than a million dollars of taxpayers’ money! January’s opinion poll—a.k.a. gambling referendum—was perhaps the dumbest, most convoluted national undertaking in modern Bahamian history.
Just as can be seen with this new gaming bill, the entire process in January was also poorly stage managed and never appeared to be sincerely premised on the resolution of what some refer to as a “societal vice” but rather to seal a deal to a group of benefactors under the guise (secondary gain) of it being a shot in the arm to the national coffers. The same arrogance that led the government to rush all elements of that process has re-emerged.
Court or no court, the government cannot shut the web shops down. The reality is that these entities provide hundreds of jobs and, if they’re closed down, that could lead to an increase in an already unacceptable unemployment rate and could result in a spike in crime. That said, the government must come clean to the people and explain to the Bahamian people that they must tax the web shops, that although the vote was “no” that they must regulate a once underground—now quite open—industry. The government should respect the intellectual capacity of the Bahamian people and, rather than turning a blind eye and pretending like web shops don’t exist, engage the public in forums, town hall meetings and so on.
Moreover, I have said before that we must move to remove all forms of discrimination from the Constitution, repeal the Lotteries and Gaming Act and ensure that Bahamians can exercise the same fundamental rights—in their country—as a foreigner, whether that relates to gambling or otherwise. Any proposed gaming legislation, that features discriminatory clauses against the masses, should be soundly rejected.
Yes, the current Bill attempts to set about modernising the legal framework of the gaming industry—namely casinos. However, the Bill also reduces the standard that government once applied to persons seeking to run a casino. Frankly, the definition of who could own and operate a casino has been modified to make it easier for even a foreigner convicted of a criminal offence to own one after a few short years when previously anyone convicted of a criminal offence was automatically excluded. Undoubtedly, this could reduce the standard of gaming in the region!
As I type this column, I’m pondering over whether Mr Christie would actually attempt to fire Andre Rollins. And so I’m thinking, if he didn’t fire Kenyatta Gibson, didn’t fire Keod Smith, didn’t fire Sidney Stubbs, and didn’t fire Neville Wisdom, etcetera— why would he suddenly start now?
In hindsight, the failed referendum was a disastrous farce that set up this ambiguous state of affairs. Had the government asked the right questions and not botched it, we wouldn’t be in this state of confusion—whether that confusion relates to questions about the web shops or to the logic behind this Gaming Bill.
Mr Christie, it’s time to bite the bullet and do the right thing! Yes, the critics will abound, but what must be done must be done. Just do it sensibly, with a view to sensitizing the populace and making it scandal-free.