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Former BIS exec explains why she's voting No in the upcoming Bahamas referendum on Gambling

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Sharon Turner was the Deputy Director of BIS under the ousted FNM Government in The Bahamas. She resigned her post before midnight on the May 7th election that brought the ruling PLP to power.

MY VOTE WILL BE NO ON DECEMBER 3 - AND HERE IS WHY

Dear Editor,

1. The Bahamian people were deceived during the general election campaign about this referendum on gambling in The Bahamas. The Bahamian people thought they would have the chance to vote on casino gambling, a national lottery and the legalising of the numbers business. But the now governing PLP clearly mislead the Bahamian people. Once elected, they turned around and said there would be no vote on casino gambling and then to add salt to that wound, they announced that foreigners have told them not to have a national lottery in their own country, and so that too is now off the ballot as well. So now, the only thing the Bahamian people are being asked to do is to get the numbers houses, which are said to have heavily financed the PLP's general election campaign straight (and as a point of fact, the PLP government has never denied that it took campaign funds from numbers houses, so if what I am saying and what has already been said since as far back as prior to the May 7 election was false, the leader of the PLP and now Prime Minister would certainly have already said it was false). It’s not my business to get someone else's business straight, and it is a disgrace that the government is using the Bahamian people to make good on an assurance to numbers bosses who reportedly gave them money for their election campaign.

2. Not a single piece of proposed legislation has been presented to the Bahamian people to review before they make the decision to vote yes or no - so in truth and fact, the Bahamian people really do not know what they are being asked to vote yes or no to. Do well to remember that once the nation votes yes, the government never has to come back to you again if it does not want to about what it does with this issue from that point forward. No, it is not as simple as saying, "man all we are being asked to vote for is legalising numbers, so it ain't that deep." Yes, it is that deep, because you don't know what the government plans to do with the money from these enterprises, or how these enterprises will be allowed to carry out business if they are suddenly made legal. You do not know what rights and privileges these numbers men will suddenly have once they get what they want. You do not know what you are telling the government they can go ahead and do on this issue once you vote yes. You cannot assume that the public treasury will reap huge dividends from the numbers houses being made legal - you must see that in the form of proposed legislation. Otherwise, all you are doing is trusting the word of a politician - and none of my readers need me to say what my position is on that kind of thinking as a Bahamian voter- that is, just taking someone's word for it and that's as far as it goes.

3. The December 3 referendum is not a constitutional referendum, meaning, the vote will not change anything in the Constitution – it is simply a public opinion poll in this instance. It would be a constitutional referendum on the subject of gambling if there were to be a vote on allowing Bahamians to gamble in the nation’s casinos, because the Constitution currently says we cannot do so. But the Prime Minister has said casino gambling will not be put to a vote, and so we are not being asked to consider changing an article of our Constitution. The poll in fact, is not needed at all to legalise the numbers business – all that is needed is legislation – legislation incidentally that was left in draft form by the former government prior to the election.

4. When a referendum is held, it is held because our government theoretically, sees that parts of the nation’s Constitution need to be brought into modern times and/or reflect the actual circumstances and situations of a 21st century Bahamas. December 3 will not be about that. December 3 will not be about giving Bahamians equal rights with foreigners insofar as casino gambling is concerned. After the vote, Bahamians will still be second-class to foreigners in their own country on this issue. December 3 will be about helping Mr. Christie to keep his alleged promise to numbers men. The promises the Prime Minister and his Party allegedly made to numbers men are not my business and are not that of the Bahamian people. Don't ask me to stand on a line and vote so that the people who reportedly gave you money can get what they paid for. I don't do foolishness with my one vote.

5. He who has the gold makes the rules. If you have paid the governing Party a heavy sum of money to get them in office and they win the election - do you think that administration will be able to tell these numbers men "no" when they start making demands because of the amount of money they have given them? In the United States, the numbers houses could be considered a special interest group, of sorts. When the numbers men begin to remind the current administration that "now look, it was my money that put you in office", what do you think the government's position toward them will be when they start making demands about things they may or may not be entitled to under the law?

6. The Prime Minister today said that if the poll fails to pass, the numbers houses will be shut down. And that would be a wonderful pledge if it made any sense at all in the context of what you, I and every Bahamian knows is true - which is that numbers houses are currently illegal and they are not being shut down. The referendum vote does not instantly change the law of the land. On the night of the poll if Bahamians vote yes, numbers houses will still be illegal until legislation is drafted, tabled and passed in both houses of parliament to legalise them. Which means the Prime Minister is being completely disingenuous in his "promise". If the law were the concern of successive governments in this regard, the numbers houses would not have been permitted to openly and widely operate to begin with. The Bahamian people do not need to vote for the current laws on the books to be carried out. The law is already the law. If a nation’s leader were minded to uphold the law, it would have already been upheld. The Bahamian people voting in a public opinion poll has no direct legal effect on his or her obligation in that regard whatsoever.

7. After I vote yes for the numbers men, I as a woman will still be a second-class citizen in my own country with respect to passing my citizenship onto my child under certain circumstances. After I vote for the numbers men, I will still not be able to do what tourists and other non-Bahamians can do legally in my own country, which is gamble in our casinos. After I vote for the numbers men, nothing about my nation is going to change for the better. My yes vote won't translate into advancing my country. My yes vote won't translate into strengthening the pillars of government so that my nation can be more mature and on the path to tangible, productive growth. My yes vote will make a few men in the country very happy, but it won't lower national unemployment. It won't lower serious crime. It won't improve our weak educational system. And it certainly won't change our country's culture of corruption and the ‘something-for-nothing’ psyche that is a stench to the very fabric from which our flag is made.

All it will change is that a group of men who were allegedly made a promise of having their businesses legalised, will get what they paid for.

And so on December 3, my vote will be NO. No need to get riled about my NO vote, because if you are a Bahamian and feel you should vote YES, then by all means do so. Your vote is your right, mine is mine.

The ballot counters can go ahead now and mark me down in their mind as NO when I present myself to the relevant polling station on December 3.

And I cannot be bought, so no need to offer me a single solitary dime for my vote or anything I may write and publish about the referendum, as I'm certain many Bahamians will be offered between now and December 3 - I don't need to get a silver shiny penny to write what I feel is right.

 

Sharon Turner

November 1, 2012

 

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