The Bahamas is a stable democracy where political rights and civil liberties are generally respected. However, the islands have a relatively high homicide rate. Harsh immigration policies, which mainly affect Haitian-Bahamians and Haitian migrants, are often executed in the absence of due process. Government corruption is a serious problem that is thought to have had significant economic consequences.
- The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won a parliamentary majority in an early election held in September, defeating the ruling Free National Movement (FNM). PLP leader Philip Davis was appointed prime minister that month, succeeding FNM leader Hubert Minnis. Election monitors praised the election’s conduct, though it also called on the Bahamas to digitize voter registration and issue campaign-finance regulations.
- In June, the Court of Appeal upheld a 2020 ruling affirming the granting of Bahamian citizenship to a Bahamian-born child regardless of the gender or marital status of their Bahamian parent. The Minnis government vowed to appeal the ruling.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The Bahamas is governed under a parliamentary system, and a mostly ceremonial governor-general is appointed by the British monarch as head of state. The prime minister is head of government and is appointed by the governor-general; the office is usually held by the leader of the largest party in Parliament or the head of a parliamentary coalition. In September 2021, Philip Davis became prime minister following the PLP’s electoral victory.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Members of the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament, the 39-member House of Assembly, are directly elected to five-year terms. The 16 members of the Senate are appointed for five-year terms by the governor-general based on recommendations made by the prime minister and the opposition leader.
Then premier Hubert Minnis triggered an early election in August 2021; polls were held in September. The PLP won 32 House of Assembly seats, defeating the ruling FNM. The Coalition of Independents and the Democratic National Alliance respectively won over 6 and 1 percent of the vote but won no seats. Turnout stood at 65 percent, a relatively low figure. Organization of American States (OAS) monitors praised the electoral process and COVID-19-related health protocols.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
The electoral process is regulated by the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) and generally well managed by the Parliamentary Registration Department. The parliamentary commissioner heads the department and is appointed by the governor-general acting on the recommendation of the prime minister after consultation with the opposition leader.
After the PEA was amended in 2020, electoral authorities implemented a continuous voter register, which was used in the September 2021 polls. In its postelectoral report, the OAS warned that individuals who were not included in the 2017 voter list or who did not register by the August 2021 election announcement may have been disenfranchised. The OAS reiterated prior calls to digitize voter registration and issue campaign-finance regulations.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties may organize freely and operate unhindered. However, as electoral financing is not regulated, there is no legal obligation to disclose funding sources and no limit on campaign spending.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Opposition parties operate without undue interference. Political power has alternated between the PLP and the FNM since the country achieved independence in 1973.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
Voters and candidates are generally able to exercise their political choices freely. However, a lack of campaign-finance regulations leaves open avenues for the outsized role of money in politics.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
Only citizens may vote, and protracted citizenship and naturalization proceedings make achieving citizenship difficult for children born in the Bahamas to foreign parents. This predominantly affects children of Haitian immigrants.
Women are underrepresented in Bahamian politics. In its September 2021 postelectoral report, the OAS noted that women do not often seek office, in part due to “gendered perceptions of politics” and social pressure. The OAS nevertheless noted an increase in women candidates. Seven women won House of Assembly seats. Four women were appointed to the Senate. Five women were appointed to the cabinet. Women additionally serve as speakers of both houses.
LGBT+ people are underrepresented in politics but continue to be more visible.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Freely elected officials are generally able to determine national policies in a free and unhindered manner. Parliament approved a state of emergency at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which expired in November 2021.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Anticorruption mechanisms are relatively weak. There is no agency specifically empowered to handle allegations of government corruption. Rates of reporting corruption are low, as whistleblowers fear retaliation. The PLP vowed to establish an independent anticorruption body and an ombudsman after taking power but did not do so in 2021.
In February 2021, Youth, Sports, and Culture Minster Lanisha Rolle resigned amid an audit of the ministry’s expenditure and contracts. In September, Water and Sewerage Corporation chairman Adrian Gibson effectively stepped aside after facing misconduct allegations.
A federal lawsuit filed in the United States in 2020 alleging members of the former PLP government were paid to ignore a decades-long sex trafficking operation was ongoing.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
Government procurement processes lack transparency, and political parties and campaigns are not required to disclose their finances. Legislators and other high-ranking public officials must disclose their income and assets annually under the Public Disclosure Act but often fail to submit the required information on time, without penalty.
In a June 2021 report, the auditor general reported that the Minnis government did not disclose the ownership details of firms that received pandemic-related funding, which was sourced from an International Monetary Fund loan. A separate audit of the Bahamas Public Parks and Public Beaches Authority (BPPPBA), the results of which were revealed in December, showed that the BPPPBA had regularly overrun its budget and that contract files were missing, prompting it to terminate existing agreements.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) of 2019 aims to improve transparency of public-sector spending. In September 2021, the Fiscal Responsibility Council, an independent oversight and enforcement body created by the FRA, published a critical evaluation of the Minnis government’s 2020 fiscal report, saying it lacked detail.
Some improvements in the legal framework and in compliance were noted during the year, however. In May 2021, a freedom of information commissioner and deputy commissioner were appointed as required by the 2017 Freedom of Information Act. The Public Procurement Act, which is meant to ensure transparency in government contracts, was passed in March 2021 and took effect in September. Also in September, the Davis government vowed to review all government contracts issued during the pandemic-related state of emergency.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Press freedom in the Bahamas is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. Privately owned newspapers and radio broadcasters freely express a variety of views, although partisanship is common.
Libel is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison. Though rarely enforced, Gorman Bannister, who ran social-media news and commentary pages, was charged with libel twice, once in 2019 and again in 2020, for allegedly insulting and defaming cabinet ministers. Bannister died in October 2021.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is generally respected.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic institutions are generally free from political pressure and other interference.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
People can freely express personal views in private and in public without fear of retribution or surveillance. However, ordinary Bahamians can face libel charges. In April 2021, a reverend was charged over a video criticizing Police Commissioner Paul Rolle and disseminated on social media. In May, a man was arraigned over allegedly libelous comments made about PLP leader Philip Davis in 2020.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected and is respected in practice. Protests sometimes faced police opposition and pandemic-related restrictions in 2020.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of association is generally protected, and a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in the country. A 2019 NGO registration law required NGOs to declare sources of contributions and donations and account for annual income and expenditures. In June 2021, the government said it was taking “aggressive steps” to ensure that NGOs complied with registration requirements.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Labor, business, and professional organizations are generally free from government interference. Unions have the right to strike, and collective bargaining is prevalent. The country’s two major trade unions signed a memorandum of understanding with the PLP in August 2021, with the party vowing to address union grievances.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judicial system is headed by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, with the additional right of appeal to the London-based Privy Council under certain circumstances. The Bahamian judiciary is independent. There have been no major reports in recent years of attempts by powerful figures to use their influence to secure favorable rulings. In January 2021, the Bahamas Bar Association called for legislation to better codify judicial independence. The Inter-American Development Bank has suggested separating the Offices of the Public Prosecutor and the Attorney General to ensure independence.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
Due process in civil and criminal matters generally prevails. However, the government only appoints counsel to defendants in capital cases, leaving some people without legal representation.
Generally, noncitizens, asylum seekers, and migrants do not enjoy due process before detention or deportation. Reports of long-term detention of immigrants and arbitrary detention of asylum seekers persist. Bahamian authorities detained over 900 Haitians fleeing that country in September 2021; in October, UN agencies called on countries to refrain from deporting Haitians without assessing their needs, citing insecurity and the effects of an August earthquake.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
Homicide and violent crime rates in the Bahamas remain among the highest in the Caribbean. A 61.1 percent murder-rate increase was recorded in the first nine months of 2021 over the same period in 2020. In December 2021, Police Commissioner Rolle reported 21 police-involved shooting incidents during the year, 13 of which resulted in fatalities. However, state security agents generally do not engage in the illegal use of force against civilians, and the population is not threatened by large-scale violence or insurgencies.
Prison conditions are poor. Violence against prisoners by guards continued to be reported in 2021.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. LGBT+ people continue to report discrimination in employment and housing. LGBT+ advocates celebrated the country’s second annual Pride week in October 2021.
Harsh immigration policies enacted in 2014 target Haitian-Bahamians and Haitian migrants, requiring them to carry a passport and residency permits. The government prioritizes Bahamian citizens for hiring, land grants, COVID-19 vaccinations, and shelter in hurricane relief centers, and has pursued removal of shantytowns that primarily house migrants.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
The freedom of movement is protected. Migrants’ and Haitian-Bahamians’ lack of Bahamian identity documents affect their ability to move freely; choose their places of residence, employment, and education; and obtain medical attention.
Roadblocks have been erected as part of immigration enforcement actions.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
The country has a strong private sector, and the economy relies mostly on tourism and financial services. Individuals are free to establish businesses.
Efforts to dismantle shantytowns continued in 2021, with the government dismantling structures in an Abaco settlement in May. In June, a Supreme Court judge expanded an existing injunction to prohibit the dismantlement of any unregulated community in Abaco.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
The government does not place explicit restrictions on social freedoms. However, the constitution distinguishes between Bahamian men and women in the transmission of citizenship to a spouse or child, resulting in distinctions in treatment of married Bahamian women’s children and their foreign-born husbands.
In 2020, the Supreme Court issued a ruling affirming the granting of Bahamian citizenship to a Bahamian-born child regardless of the gender or marital status of their Bahamian parent, which the Court of Appeal upheld in June 2021. The Minnis government vowed to appeal to the Privy Council after the ruling was issued. In September, the Davis government’s attorney general voiced his support for further appeal.
Violence against women, including domestic violence and marital rape, is a serious issue. Same-sex marriage is not legalized.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
The Bahamas is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children for forced labor and sexual exploitation. According to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons 2021, the government fully complies with minimum international standards to address the problem. Migrant workers, many of whom arrive in the Bahamas to work in the agricultural sector and in domestic services, are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
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