Sen. Fred Mitchell
Chairman of The Progressive Liberal Party
Leader of Opposition Business – Senate
Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs & Shadow Attorney General
Only a Prime Minister profoundly disconnected from the reality facing Bahamian families would give a National Address like the one we saw last night. It was a campaign speech, not a plan for the way forward.
As the Prime Minister congratulated himself for spending millions here and millions there, Bahamians living in truly desperate circumstances wondered how, with all those tax dollars spent and all that debt added to the country’s balance sheet, so little help has reached them.
The Prime Minister said the country had spent $17 million on food assistance for 100,000 Bahamians. That totals $170 per person, during a severe economic crisis that has stretched from last March through now. Does the Prime Minister believe the government has done enough?
The boasts about NIB are infuriating; the FNM opposed the National Insurance Act that created NIB, and the Prime Minister is not doing Bahamians any special favours when he returns to them their own contributions.
Unemployment assistance will extend to the end of January, and food assistance through the end of March, Minnis announced. If this was intended to reassure, it had the opposite effect, striking fear into the hearts of the many thousands of Bahamians still out of work and already struggling to survive on the little assistance provided. People are facing eviction notices for unpaid rent and mortgages. Many do not know where their next meal or dollar will come from.
The United States has announced that everyone entering their country must now provide a negative COVID test.
Unfortunately, this may reduce even further tourism to our country. The Prime Minister did not mention this, perhaps because doing so would underscore how unprepared his government continues to be.
The Prime Minister said the country had figured out “the formula” for keeping COVID cases low. The problem for Bahamians is that the Competent Authority’s “formula” is brutal, business-killing lockdowns, instead of free and easy-to-access testing, public education, and actual enforcement of testing requirements for visitors.
It’s hard to overstate just how damaging this government’s lack of planning has been for our country. The economic fallout from COVID-19 was always going to be bad, but it didn’t have to be this bad. Lockdowns were never an acceptable substitute for a plan, but now the Prime Minister tells us they’re “the formula” for beating COVID in our country.
We have heard enough talk about plans-in-development, somehow always “a few weeks” away from being announced. It is time for decisive action and a comprehensive approach to meet the economic and public health needs of the Bahamian people.
What the Bahamian people need is a clear vision for addressing the current crisis and realistic plans to implement that vision.
We cannot afford the Competent Authority’s “formula” of more job-destroying, economy-shrinking lockdowns; instead, we need new measures to prevent a third wave. The PLP COVID-19 Task Force has released a full set of recommendations.
The Minnis administration is always reactive instead of proactive, the same approach that has earned the country consistently low rankings in global indexes measuring pandemic responses.
What the Bahamian people wanted to hear was that their government was prepared to stop the new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19 from circulating in our country.
People wanted to hear how the government will fix its own testing policies, as it was revealed that more than 20,000 travellers have failed to comply with the 5-day travel testing protocols that are supposed to protect Bahamians.
People want to know how they can survive the coming months, and how the government will revitalize the economy so that their need for government assistance can come to an end.
The Progressive Liberal Party will continue to push for a competent and compassionate approach to public health, economic recovery, and social support policies that give every Bahamian a chance to make it through these trying times.
It all starts with a plan.