Hon. Philip Brave Davis, Q.C, M.P.
Cat Island, Rum Cay & San Salvador
Leader of The Opposition & Progressive Liberal Party
We face twin crises that are global in scope, and unprecedented in terms of reach.
There can be no going back to the way things were before. We will have a new and different future. And what each country must decide is: what kind of future will we build?
The two crises, of course, are climate change and pandemics.
On June first, the hurricane season begins anew. Our beautiful islands have contributed very, very little to the problem of climate change, yet we are painfully vulnerable to its consequences.
The second crisis is the virus — another problem we did not create, but one that will impact us for years to come.
You are going to hear a lot about fiscal deficits in the coming weeks.
But what I see is a leadership deficit.
A strong leader would tell you: the same old same old isn’t going to work for us.
Instead we have the Prime Minister telling people yet again they’re going to have to sacrifice. Let me tell you: the Bahamian people have sacrificed, they are sacrificing right now, they are continually sacrificing.
And somehow, under this government, it is always the middle class and the poor who are asked to make the biggest sacrifices.
That’s because along with its leadership deficit, this government has a vision deficit and a compassion deficit, too.
Why shouldn’t our country finally lead other small island nations in a new fight for debt relief for the debts incurred by crises not of our own making?
We need to lead the way. Don’t come at us with your small thinking anymore.
We need to do more to prepare for and protect ourselves from hurricanes – hurricanes made more deadly and more destructive by the carbon emissions of other countries. Why shouldn’t those countries share some of that cost burden? Don’t tell me it’s impossible when you haven’t even tried.
And if viruses from other countries are going to be a new and recurring threat – and Ebola, MERS, SARS and COVID-19 are evidence enough for me – we need to invest in a stronger health infrastructure too, and not just in New Providence but on Grand Bahama and all our islands.
Listen, we Bahamians are strong and resilient. Just look at the creative ways people are finding to help each other through this crisis. Look at our nurses and doctors risking their own health to take care of ours.
The Bahamian people deserve a government at least as strong and capable as they are.
We need to bring people together to solve our toughest problems.
Yet right now we have a government that can’t even cooperate with itself.
This mis-stepping, backtracking, fumbling government has been something to behold. Division and dysfunction when we need coherence and competence.
People want policies that are based on science and common sense – instead everyone’s worrying that decisions are being driven by politics and inside access.
Why are some islands with zero COVID cases open for business, but others in the same position are not?
Don’t look for an answer from the health officials: they told us they have no idea why. So why are the people of Exuma, Eleuthera and San Salvador being prevented from earning a living, being with family, putting their lives back together?
Fix this. Now.
Where is the plan for the tens of thousands of workers employed directly or indirectly by the tourism industry?
I’m hearing talk about the return of visitors. This government knows this will not happen in large numbers any time soon. It can’t happen at all until we know for sure visitors won’t bring a deadly virus with them, and I haven’t seen a real plan for that, either.
The Bahamian people are owed honesty and candour. But being honest about the size of the economic crisis would require this government to offer a real safety net, so you’ll see a lot of dodging and weaving and pretending instead.
People are hurting. If a government locks you up at home and takes away your ability to earn the money that keeps the lights on, it had better provide just compensation for following the rules. Instead, this government fails to adequately help, then issues a $700 fine to a teenager selling coconuts on the road.
So: not just a leadership deficit, and a vision deficit, but a compassion deficit, too.
Foreigners and special interests get to break the rules, or – more likely — write them in the first place. For people trying to survive, it’s a different story.
We need a government that will fight for the Bahamian people, not ask them to endure sacrifice after sacrifice with no end in sight.
We need a government that can articulate a path forward while paying attention to the details that matter.
Here’s an example: waive the fees for the taxi drivers and tour drivers who can’t renew their licenses right now. They’ll be back on their feet when visitors return. But until then, come on, man, do the right thing.
They have slashed the Ministry of Works’ capital budget, and I could call that short-sighted, but the better word for doing that in this economy is stupid. When we build or rebuild bridges, docks, seawalls and more in this country, we are hiring Bahamians and investing in a stronger country.
But this year marks the second straight year where the Minister of Works has breached Cabinet protocol and publicly requested an increase in his capital allocation. We can guess what they’re likely to tell him. Yet the folly and expense of depending on global supply chains have never been more obvious. We need a massive new push forward for BAMSI and the ability to feed ourselves.
Every day I’m grateful to the essential workers keeping us going. Where’s their raise in the minimum wage?
Favors for special interests and the wealthiest Bahamians, pain for everyone else. That’s the pattern this government has established.
I am telling my colleagues across the aisle: it’s time to change course.
It is people who will revitalize our economy. Do better for them now, so they can weather a crisis they did not create.
We can work together to build a different future.
It will take strength and it will take vision.
It will require a belief in the dignity of every one of us.
May God Bless the Bahamas.