NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Attorney General Ryan Pinder said the Davis administration will bring bills that stiffen penalties for environmental infractions, strengthen the crime fighting capacity of intelligence agencies, equalise access to citizenship and make medical marijuana legal.
During a press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday, Pinder said the administration will begin tabling bills related to these and other issues in parliament when it returns from recess, though some of the bills will be released for public consultation.
Pinder said the administration is working on amendments to the Public Procurement Act, the Fiscal Responsibility Act and the Public Finance Management Act.
The bills are expected to be available for public consultation by the end of this month, tabled in Parliament in September and debated afterwards.
The Free National Movement has repeatedly criticised the administration for not following the Public Procurement Act, particularly the requirement that contract awards be disclosed to the public.
Pinder said his office has been looking at “troublesome aspects” the law. He said his team decided to fully rewrite the law to make it more transparent and easier to administer.
He said an amendment to the National Crime Intelligence Agency will also be brought to strengthen the agency and allow it to better respond to intelligence on criminal matters. He said the administration is looking to amend the Defense Act to broaden the scope of that law and and provider more influence from the National Security Council.
A criminal law overhaul project will be launched through the law reform and law review commission to look at criminal laws and “to modernise and bring them into international best practices,” the AG said.
He added that the administration is working on amendments that would make it easier for scientists to conduct non-commercial research in The Bahamas after a law passed by the Minnis administration left environmentalists perplexed and vexed.
“You would have heard a lot of discussion about research permits and how we approach research permits and the difficulty that exists within the Biological Research and Traditional Knowledge Act that was passed by the former administration,” he said.
“We have a series of amendments to bring forward to that bill and what those amendments intend to do is one, look at it from a risk based approach on research permits, so those that are really low risk to the country and when I say low risk I mean with respect to our biological resources being owned by another party or another sovereign or someone out of the country; if they’re merely educational, if they’re merely scientific, we look to have a risk based approach in that regard so that we help facilitate the pure scientific and education research in a very expeditious way.
“Where it’s commercialised type research that they want to do, we have better controls over that.”
Pinder said amendments will be made to the Environmental Planning & Protection Act.
Accordingly, the fines the Department of Environmental Planning & Protection can issue for environmental violations will increase.
“That’s very important,” he said. “You need to have teeth in order to have the proper enforcement mechanisms on environmental concerns.”
He said regulations will also be brought to let DEPP issue spot fines for vessel pollutants.
“What it does is if a cruise ship is having a discharge in a harbour or like we saw in the Exuma oil spill, the DEPP can issue a fine on the spot rather than in the current regime where you have to go to court and enforce that mechanism through court,” he said.
Pinder said amendments will be brought to the Antiquities, Monuments & Museum Corporation to deal with treasure troves in The Bahamas.
A special licensing regime will be created whereby one license can be for search only purposes, another for recovery only purposes and another for both.
The changes will “really give the country a greater presence on the renumeration that comes from treasure troves and to allow the country to have a larger spread of royalties than we currently have,” he said.
Pinder said he received the first draft of a Bahamas Nationality Act last week and is currently reviewing the legislation. He said a draft will be sent to the Minister of Immigration for comment and then to cabinet.
He also said a bill dealing with medical marijuana is in the works, the first draft of which he has received and provided comments for to the government’s international consultants. He said the bill is being readied for public consultation.