Sen. Fred Mitchell
Chairman of The Progressive Liberal Party
Leader of Opposition Business – Senate
Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs & Shadow Attorney General
EMERGENCY POWER RESOLUTION EXTENSION
Let me tell you what is happening outside of these walls right now.
It’s important, because no one in this building is worried about getting three meals a day.
But across our islands, there is suffering.
Many, many hard-working Bahamian families have lost their income. That means they cannot pay their bills. They do not know how they will keep the lights on. They do not know how they will feed their children.
Families that were middle-class have slipped into poverty. Bahamians who were unemployed before this crisis had even fewer resources to meet this moment and are in true distress.
I start there because I want to be very clear about why I am not supporting the government’s renewal of the emergency orders.
In the first place, these lockdowns and curfews were drastic measures, depriving people of their liberty and their ability to earn a living. They were justified only because the government needed time to create a coherent national strategy to manage the threat of COVID-19.
Here we are, months later, and where is that national strategy? For months, Bahamians have complied with emergency orders, at enormous cost. The government should have used that time – time given to them by the people – to put in place all the elements we need in order to reopen safely at the earliest possible moment.
We need widespread testing; we don’t have it.
We need a robust contact tracing system; we don’t have one.
We need to increase our capacity to isolate any new cases that emerge across our islands; we don’t have that, either.
We need extra measures to protect those Bahamians most vulnerable to the virus; I don’t see them.
We need more support for our hospitals and clinics, more protection for our doctors and nurses and technicians; where are these resources?
We need a detailed and rational plan for ending curfews and reopening; I see only vague and generic guidance.
We need to support small businesses so they can adopt best practices to keep their employees and customers safe; no such support is being offered.
We need a Prime Minister who doesn’t hide from the press; I don’t see one.
We need a competent and compassionate government working for the people; I am sorry to report Bahamians don’t have such a government at this time.
I cannot support an extension of the emergency orders in their current form. At the very least, Bahamians deserve to know that all government policies are being made in good faith, based on science and data, and applied fairly. Yet Ministry of Health officials have provided no clear rationale for continuing weekend lockdowns, and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Delon Brennen has indicated it was not a Ministry decision that islands without COVID-19 cases cannot reopen.
Nearly from the very start of this period Bahamians have worried that there is one set of rules for FNM insiders and another set of rules for everyone else. Some businesses were allowed to open, other similar ones were not. Some virus-free islands were allowed to reopen, others were not. Meanwhile, teenagers selling coconuts on the side of the road are fined one thousand dollars.
Mr. Speaker, I want to see the most aggressive plan possible to defeat this virus. This can be done while at the same time taking careful, considered steps to reopen. Everyone understands that we now live in a changed world. Bahamians are ready to be careful, ready to protect themselves and their families. So let’s move to the next phase. I am urging this government: test, isolate, trace, treat – do it in a way that allows everyone to get back on their feet.
Many countries have stepped up and are making great progress in fighting the virus while protecting their people and economies. We need to be one of those countries. The Bahamian people have given this administration plenty of time to play catch-up.
It is well past time to shift the model from coercion to cooperation.