Hon. Philip Davis, Q.C., M.P.
Commonwealth of The Bahamas
We do not support the government’s resolution to yet again extend the state of emergency.
You will recall that we supported the initial state of emergency. The Emergency Measures were intended to be short-term, a means of giving the government the flexibility to manage anew and urgent public health crisis.
Mr. Speaker, some ten months have passed since the Prime Minister appointed himself as the sole Competent Authority, and for ten months he has ruled without consultation, without transparency, and without accountability.
Ten months later, the threat of COVID has not disappeared, nor are we COVID-free, as the more than eleven hundred Bahamians with active cases of COVID tell us.
But any new measures needed to keep Bahamians safe can be enacted through ordinary legislation. This government’s own Attorney General has confirmed this.
Instead, the Prime Minister has decided to once again extend for himself:
§ The power to spend public funds outside of the ordinary procurement process;
§ The power to punish and reward;
§ The power to pick favourites; and
§ The power to make decisions without having to debate or defend them.
Mr. Speaker, the obvious question is: why is this Prime Minister so determined to operate without Parliamentary oversight?
The answer has nothing to do with public health, and everything to do with avoiding accountability.
Mr. Speaker, the Emergency regulations might give the Competent Authority great power – but there are also some responsibilities.
Within six weeks of the expiration of a proclamation of emergency, the Prime Minister is required to bring a report before Parliament detailing expenditures, suppliers for the goods and services procured, and the reasons those suppliers were chosen. (I refer to section 11.2 of the EMRGENCY POWERS (Covid-19 Pandemic) REGULATIONS, 2020)
Twice the proclamation of emergency has expired – at the end of June, and in November, and neither time did you comply with that requirement. Neither time.
You are in breach of the law sir.
What do you not want the Bahamian people to know about how you are operating behind closed doors?
Which expenditures, and which suppliers, are so controversial that he cannot disclose them to the public, as he is so required?
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Every promise ever made to the Bahamian people about accountability is sitting in the dustbin.
Even if we aren’t surprised, we should still be shocked – because it should be shocking to us to see a Prime Minister treat the law — and the people — with such disdain.
The same Prime Minister who is so quick to impose heavy fines on Bahamians for the most minor infractions is himself in violation of his own regulations.
But Mr. Speaker, I wouldn’t want to let the lack of transparency distract us from the incompetence.
This government comes to this honourable place looking for praise from the Bahamian people — when they should be asking for forgiveness. It is their failure to plan ahead, despite all the warnings they were given, that resulted in months of lockdowns and curfews.
Mr. Speaker, those lockdowns took a wrecking ball to our local economy.
How many Bahamian businesses closed their doors in the last few months?
How many people lost their homes as a result?
How many Bahamian children are hungry right now, right this minute?
Mr. Speaker, Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19 have been terrible blows.
It is tragic that in both cases, terrible situations were made worse by mistakes and mismanagement.
There was always going to be suffering. It didn’t have to be this bad.
It was the botched reopening plan in June that led to thousands of new COVID cases. There was no plan – and without enough testing and tracing in place to halt the outbreak, the Competent Authority had to turn to lockdowns and curfews. Visitors were warned to stay away. As Sandals resorts re-opened across the Caribbean, the Sandals resorts here stayed closed, and their employees stayed home.
No one will forget when the Prime Minister announced without warning an immediate week-long lockdown. That was insanity, and he was forced to reverse course.
Policy reversals – we’ve seen a lot of those:
§ One week the government boasts about a massive new rapid testing policy for the borders, the next week it’s scrapped.
§ Rapid testing on day five for visitors is crucial to keep the country safe, they told us, but then shrugged their shoulders when large percentages failed to show up.
§ There were new regulations announced at Christmas, then hastily withdrawn.
This, Mr. Speaker – the zigzagging, the reversals, the uncertainty – thisis the cost of having a Competent Authority who feels no need to consult widely and no need to present before the Parliament and the people’s representatives any data or science or rationales for his decisions.
I wish the COVID crisis were over. I’m ready for it to end; we all are. But in fact, new, more transmissible strains of COVID are now circulating in dozens of countries. One of these strains, known as the UK strain, because it was first identified there, is thought to be not only more infectious, but possibly more lethal as well. It has been found now in multiple US states, including in Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States has warned this strain will likely be the dominant strain in circulation in the US by March.
What will this mean for The Bahamas, for the health of our citizens and for the health of our economy?
Where’s the plan?
Mr. Speaker, this government has at its disposal thousands of employees, and millions of dollars, but no plan in sight.
We urge the government to act now, instead of waiting for a crisis to develop and only then reacting.
At a minimum:
1. The government needs to expand testing capabilities to be in a position to tamp down any new outbreaks. Testing must be made accessible and free for Bahamians concerned they may have been exposed to the virus.
2. The government must prepare now to isolate any new cases so that Bahamians across the country can be treated in our clinics and hospitals for other illnesses without concerns about becoming infected there.
3. Cloth masks may not offer sufficient protection from the new coronavirus variants. In addition to ensuring sufficient PPE for health care workers, the government should stockpile medical-grade masksoffering 94-95% filtration and provide them to all frontline workers, from immigration to police to defence force workers as well as others.
The government has said that they have the “formula” to beat COVID. But their “formula” of lockdowns and curfews decimated our local economy. Lockdowns are not a plan.
Lockdowns should be a last resort, not a first step. You only need to lock everyone up if you don’t have enough testing and tracing to find and contain the virus. Somove, move now, put those resources in place, avoid future lockdowns.
Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of pain in The Bahamas right now.
The food lines are long, more hotel workers are being furloughed, the news is grim.
The government’s announcement that it will stop food distribution and unemployment benefits programmes at the end of this quarter has caused great anxiety.
Many people are angry about the frequent and indiscriminate roadblocks and believe the issuance of citations is a scheme to raise money from financially stressed Bahamians rather than a strategy to keep us safe.
Mr. Speaker, we can’t afford more pain. We can’t afford premature victory laps by these politicians; we need them to use the resources of the government not to campaign but toplan.
This extension to the state of emergency is not about public health.
The Opposition will not support this resolution.