Hon. Philip Davis, Q.C., M.P.
Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press:
Thank you for coming this morning.
You have all been very busy lately. I can’t remember the last slow news day, and I bet you can’t either. Today I want to ask you to help me cut through the noise and the distractions to focus on two concerns of enormous consequence.
The first is that the government is not doing enough to protect Bahamians as we reopen our borders. And the second is that the government is not prepared to shield Bahamians from the worst of the economic crisis.
In both cases, the government’s incompetence is dangerous.
International visitors return via air to The Bahamas today, for the first time in months, even as the United States just yesterday set a new daily record, with 47,000 new COVID-19 cases announced.
The Americans’ top infectious disease expert has said that the rate of new infections could soon double, to 100,000 a day. Cases in the US have surged by more than 80% in the last two weeks.
Bahamians have — at truly great cost to themselves — done their part to contain the virus in our own country.
What they are owed by this government now is a plan to make sure all that has been gained will not be lost.
The experts on the PLP Task Force have said from the start that testing has to be at the center of any plan to keep Bahamians safe. That is especially true as we move to this more dangerous phase of the pandemic and the country reopens.
Imagine a traveler is getting ready to come here. Let’s say he gets tested on a Tuesday, gets his negative result on Friday, goes to a crowded party on Saturday night, and flies to The Bahamas on Sunday. Most visitors won’t behave this way. But we have to be prepared that some may.
We must be clear about the risks we’re facing.
One Bahamian hotel employee can be infected by one visitor, and days before either experiences symptoms, the virus can begin to spread silently through our communities.
Where is the plan to reduce the danger of this happening?
We need to conduct regular and extensive testing of Bahamians who work with or near visitors. Testing is the best tool we have to detect a virus that spreads invisibly.
There is no replacement for testing when people can transmit the virus before they experience any symptoms.
European countries are opening their borders to international travelers today, too; I note that travelers from the United States are banned, however.
Even some states within the US are requiring fellow citizens traveling from hotspots to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
And yet our government has hardly changed its plans since cases in the United States began surging.
We have said very clearly: Reopen, but do it right. Do it smart.
Instead, yesterday we learn that the government has gone ahead and fired junior doctors. These are the men and women who have studied and worked and are ready to risk their own health and lives to save ours.
The firing of Bahamian doctors during a pandemic is stupid and immoral and the government needs to reverse that decision immediately.
The Prime Minister gave one of his National Addresses on Sunday. He has stopped doing press conferences because he isn’t willing to answer your questions – questions like:
How could you fire doctors during a health emergency, when you should be reinforcing our frontlines instead?
What is our country’s capacity to test and therefore discover new cases in our communities?
What steps has the government taken to expand our ability to conduct on-the-ground contact tracing? How many people have been trained?
What is our ability to isolate positive cases, for visitors and Bahamians? Where are the individualized plans for each of our Family Islands?
These questions are literally a matter of life and death, and yet we have a Prime Minister who will not answer them.
The greater the crisis, the more essential it is to have a leader who can face the people.
Here we are, on our ninth set of Emergency Measures, with a Prime Minister who wants ever greater authority with ever less accountability.
In Parliament, I supported the original Proclamation of Emergency because I thought it was urgent to protect Bahamians from the virus.
The law empowers a body, described as a Competent Authority, to create emergency measures. As a matter of good practice, such authorities are usually not one person but instead a number of people.
Yet the Prime Minister decided to assign these powers entirely to himself.
Along with a great number of our fellow citizens, we have found that too many of his decisions defy science and common sense.
Take, for example, the curfew, which was recently moved forward to begin at 10pm. Many Bahamians ridiculed the PM’s decision — does the virus now emerge at 9.59pm, and disappear again at 4.59am?
Surely the protective and physical distancing measures that are sufficient during the day can also function in the dark?
The greater the infringement on civil liberties, the greater the responsibility of the Prime Minister to provide sound scientific justifications. When a government restricts the freedom of movement of its citizens, it had better have a good reason.
Yet you cannot ask him about this, because he will not face you.
The crisis for us is that we have a Competent Authority who is not competent.
And to make matters worse, we now have an Attorney-General who has joined him in misleading the country.
I want to make it clear: the mess created over the Covid-19 orders is entirely the fault of the FNM and Dr. Hubert Minnis.
The government did not fail to table the resolution in the House, as the Attorney-General claims. They did deliver it in time. The Prime Minister stood up and tabled the resolution.
You could go back and watch him do it on TV.
What then happened was, for reasons which baffled us all, they moved to postpone the vote to the following day. Why? We were all fully prepared to debate it.
The fault is in their management of the Agenda. Three years in government, and they still do not understand a basic function of parliament.
They obviously only got as far as putting half a reminder in their phones: “Hey, Siri: Don’t let me forget to renew the Emergency Orders.”
But they forgot to say: “Don’t let me forget to ask the House to vote on them”.
This is pure ineptness – total incompetence.
Given the way they shut down the debate again yesterday, they are obviously frightened of the matter being debated in the people’s parliament.
They were aided by the House Speaker, the worst and most undemocratic Speaker to have ever occupied that office.
What are they hiding?
What dirty tricks are they up to that they want to put in place before the people’s representatives can fully debate the Orders?
A major by-product of this whole farce is that they were forced to run to the Governor-General for help in issuing a completely new proclamation. and now expose themselves to legal jeopardy.
The Prime Minister said on Sunday last that the country would open up because we have been Covid-free. Yet when the orders expired because they forgot the expiry date, they want to start over again by saying that the country is not Covid-free.
Which is it?
We have watched in amazement as this FNM government has completely bungled this State of Emergency, with one misstep after the next. You will remember: at first they said no testing was necessary.
Now they are converts to testing – but they’re not doing enough testing. You remember at first they said “no masks”. Now they are fining people 200 dollars if they don’t wear a mask.
Bahamians were exasperated.
Bahamians were embarrassed.
But Bahamians were not surprised.
No one who has been following this government for three years could have been surprised.
The same government that spent over $100 million on the Grand Lucayan hotel, but forgot to include the golf course and furniture in the deal.
They said they used your money to buy the hotel in order to protect employees, but of course they haven’t.
They’re still spending over $1 million a month on that run-down empty building.
Imagine how much good that hundred-million-dollars-plus could do right now for families out of work and hurting.
This is a government that, in the midst of growing concerns about interruptions to global supply chains, chose to invest less in BAMSI, not more.
A government that time and again failed to meet their own fiscal projections, before Dorian, before the virus.
They can’t be trusted to negotiate competently on your behalf. On some level they understand this, because they have failed to table no fewer than seven Heads of Agreement in Parliament, choosing to keep the terms of those deals secret instead.
Then there’s their inability to account for the shifting numbers of missing after Hurricane Dorian. Here again we have a matter of the utmost seriousness, and a government that has failed its citizens.
I am deeply worried that they are too dysfunctional to guide this country through the economic crisis, which is already having a terrible impact across the country.
Just yesterday, thousands more workers were permanently laid off at Bahamar, and Atlantis announced that they were going to delay re-opening.
People don’t know how they’re going to pay the rent or the mortgage, or how they’re going to keep the lights on.
And yet the government stands by passively while people with decades of service at hotels in this country are being sent onto and into poverty.
The Government should not sit idly by and do nothing. The hotels must understand that after all the tax concessions they have been given, they have a wider moral obligation to these workers and this society.
This is particularly so at Atlantis where the reports are that contract workers are being employed over those who are permanent and pensionable. The permanent staff should be called back first.
Then came the news that the President of the University of The Bahamas is looking for a new job. The reports are that this is driven by savage cuts to the university’s budget which the Minister for Education is unable to persuade his colleagues to reverse.
We are facing an historic crisis in this country, when we will need to do big new things to secure our future. We need more education, not less!
The staff at the institution are demoralized and have a sense that the FNM does not have a commitment to the university.
I want to assure the staff that the Progressive Liberal Party fully supports the University of The Bahamas.
We will do all that we can to ensure that the university is properly funded to carry out its mission.
We all know Bahamians who are watching their small businesses go under, businesses that represent years of dreaming and hard work.
The government’s new budget does not prepare our country for the hard road to come. They have failed to set aside enough funds for food and rental and social assistance.
They have no vision for the way forward.
The Opposition has extended every courtesy to the government in offering advice in private.
We are prepared to continue to do. Thank you so much for your time today. I now invite your questions.