The decision to scrap the dangerous and anti-democratic Interception of Communications Bill 2017 could point to a new era for civil society and public interest activism in The Bahamas. The Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) considers this is a huge win for the concept of ‘we the people’ and a precedent that is likely to alter the country’s political landscape dramatically.
Until now, the political class has dominated national affairs with unquestioned authority and total impunity. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens remained unaware of the incredible power that is vested in them by the Bahamas Constitution. Most Bahamian believed there was nothing they could do to influence the course of national events.
With the death of the Spy Bill, all that has changed. The public can now see that real power is vested in their hands and that at the end of the day, government must be answerable to the citizenry – not the other way around.
Bahamians and residents from all walks of life spoke out against the Bill on social media and in the press; they joined petitions and signed up to march in the streets against the rushed passage of a law that would have had serious consequences for their fundamental right to privacy.
Collectively, we stood up for the principle that we should all have a voice in important decisions made on our behalf.
The GBHRA thanks the Christie administration and the attorney general in particular, for accepting the will of the people and backing down from the dangerous and unconstitutional course upon which it had been engaged.
We issued a similar message of appreciation in February when the passage of the Bill was postponed for consultation. However, the GBHRA must take issue with the government’s recent mischaracterization of what followed as a consultation process. Those who took part indicate that while the authorities shared information on the Bill and listened to concerns, they also indicated a firm unwillingness to alter the proposed legislation in any way.
Real consultation is a two-way street; what occurred instead is better characterized as a condescending government lecturing at the citizenry.
In the end though, people power won the day, and this victory, if harnessed by civil society, could mark a new day in which political parties will have to operate transparently and take the views of the citizenry into account if they expect to hold office in The Bahamas.
Grand Bahama Human Rights Association