STATEMENT: First, let me say that public trust in the enforcement of our immigration laws is not just important to me but essential. I want to be absolutely clear about that.
As you know, the Opposition raised some questions in Parliament, and the Department of Immigration is releasing a statement to address those questions.
It is my understanding that, in many instances, the Opposition’s questions were based on wrong and inaccurate information.
As an important aside, I want everyone to understand that when civil servants share the names and personal details of individuals from files in the custody of their department, they are in violation of the law, and they have breached the public trust. People who share their private information with the Government of The Bahamas, in departments across our Ministries should be able to do so with confidence that they will not find their names being shouted at press conferences or thrown around to score political points.
Let’s return, at this moment, to immigration.
It is fundamentally important that Bahamians have confidence that every immigration matter is handled fairly, in accordance with the law, and in the best interest of The Bahamas and the Bahamian people.
There has always been a substantial amount of ministerial discretion in the enforcement of immigration laws in our country and in other countries in the Westminster system. There are practical reasons for that, including the need for flexibility to respond to unique or complex situations and the need to respond to new and changing circumstances without requiring constant legislative changes. And, of course, that discretion operates within a system of checks and balances to promote fairness and due process.
But just because a system has always operated a particular way doesn’t mean it can’t be strengthened or improved. As you have heard me say on many occasions, I didn’t come here to defend the status quo, I came here to change it. When there are ways to improve governance, we are going to modernize the system instead of maintaining it.
You saw that earlier today, with the historic introduction of legislation to make our Parliament an independent branch of government, which will increase accountability and strengthen the representation of the people.
I have had a lot of conversations with Bahamians in recent weeks about immigration – and I want to let you know that I hear you. I hear your concerns about how things work in this country and intend to address them.
I am announcing today that we will undertake a comprehensive review of the checks and balances regarding how immigration decisions are made, with a view to strengthening them.
Every Bahamian deserves to have confidence that the rules promote efficiency, fairness, and accountability to the greatest extent possible.