NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said the government has “taken a stand” on access to the fishing sector and while there are those who have criticized amendments to fisheries and immigration regulations as discriminatory, the Constitution allows the government to “legally discriminate”.
The Fisheries Act, 2020, which was passed in the Senate this week, prevents the foreign spouses of Bahamians from engaging in commercial fishing.
“This is not a matter of recent vintage,” Johnson told the media.
“The Constitution allows it. Persons can’t just come and decide they want to be an MP and you’re not a citizen or a senator or a police officer or any varied number of areas.
“If you want to be a citizen — and I always say this — being a citizen is more than just a vote.
“And I tell people if you want [that], there are only certain things a citizen can participate in [in] this country.”
He continued: “In the categories I have outlined, sometimes you can legally discriminate and you see that with police officers and other areas.
“But the intention in terms of looking at an industry that’s under threat worldwide, we’re the envy of the world in terms of our resources, and how do we protect it…”
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said he was disappointed the Free National Movement (FNM) would implement a “pointedly discriminatory” provision.
He was not alone in his concern.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, the current member of Parliament for East Grand Bahama, also said the government’s amendments for the regulation of the fishing sector may be “discriminatory” to Bahamian women.
During debate on the bill in the Upper Chamber, Senator Lisa Bostwick-Dean also expressed concern about the provision, though she ultimately supported the bill.
Acknowledging the former prime minister’s concern, Johnson said: “It is beautiful in a constitutional democracy that people can come forward and make their wishes known. But at the end of the day, the government is to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of this country, that is in the best interest of this country.”
Johnson added that the bill was “still in transition” and the Minnis administration is a consultative government.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Bahamas has applauded Ingraham and Turnquest, insisting the legislation is “regressive and discriminatory”, and must be resisted.
“Bahamian women are already discriminated against on so many levels, both socially and under the law,” Human Rights Bahamas noted.
“To add this further burden upon them by stigmatizing, excluding and restricting the employment of their spouses who happen to be foreign, is absolutely unconscionable.
“Currently, individuals on spousal permits have an unrestricted right to work in The Bahamas.
“This should under no circumstances change.
“In line with its election promises, this government should in fact be working to abolish the shameful discrimination already visited upon Bahamian women, not adding further to their burden.”
Human Rights Bahamas added: “If the fishing industry is allowed to trample upon the principle of equal treatment for all in this way, what is to stop other sectors from doing the same?”