A chaotic scene erupted on Bay Street yesterday during a demonstration against the government’s planned tax increases after protesters broke down barricades in their attempt to charge into Parliament Square.
Tensions boiled over as they booed government MPs entering the House of Assembly.
Twice during the protest, water was thrown at Minister of Transport and Local Government Frankie Campbell.
As Minister of National Security Marvin Dames left Parliament, scores of protesters chased and booed him.
Many protesters shouted “keep your corned beef”, referencing the government’s decision to remove value-added tax (VAT) from the food product.
The government intends to increase VAT from 7.5 percent to 12 percent on most other products and on services on July 1.
It also plans to increase taxes on gaming house revenues through the introduction of a sliding scale of rates.
There has been widespread pushback to the government’s plan since the budget communication.
Yesterday, hundreds of people marched from Southern Recreation Grounds and moved along Bay Street with Bahamian flags, signs and T-shirts which read, “we thought it was the people’s time”, “we have families too”, “we need vision not taxes”, “keep your corned beef” and “keep your 12 percent VAT too”.
The gaming houses closed their doors to allow employees to take part in the march.
The demonstration began with protesters singing the national anthem and hymns, and also shouting, “not another five years”, “Minnis got to go” and “no to VAT”.
When protesters arrived in Rawson Square, many of them left; a few hundred were left standing behind barricades.
At this point vehicles were still able to move along Bay Street.
Patricia Kemp, who has six children and three grandchildren, said she marched because she is not pleased with the Minnis administration.
“My [reason] for coming out here is to support the no VAT, the no Oban…deal, the no more firing, the no more poverty, the no more embarrassment; that is why I am here,” Kemp said.
“It’s not just about the VAT. It’s not the people’s time anymore; it’s our time.
“I am beyond saddened. These people have been in power basically one year and come on, man; people are now protesting to get them out of Parliament.
“This is the worst we have ever seen it in the history of any government coming into power in this Bahamaland.”
Kemp said even with a two-parent home, her family still finds it hard to make ends meet.
“I can’t begin to think how it’s going to be a problem, especially for persons like myself with a large home, a large family,” she said.
“It is now ridiculous as it is, with the 7.5 percent, so I can’t even comment on that the way I should, because it is beyond imagination to think what [are] going to be the prices in the food stores, to the gas stations and everywhere else as of July 1.
“We cannot allow this to happen.”
Several members of Parliament, including Centreville MP Reece Chipman, Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller, Leader of the Opposition Philip Brave Davis, Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin and Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper engaged the crowd.
Others like Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands, Minister of Agriculture Renward Wells and St. Barnabas MP Shanendon Cartwright headed straight into Parliament as the crowd booed them.
Former Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald, former Progressive Liberal Party Chairman Bradley Roberts and present PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell were also present at the demonstration.
The protest became more dramatic around 10:30 a.m. when protesters got rowdy in Rawson Square and started pushing on the barricades.
Within seconds, they pushed down those barriers, hopped over them and charged toward Parliament Square.
Police officers stopped them before they could get any farther.
Protesters occupied Bay Street for several more hours, preventing vehicles from passing, with some even sitting in the street.
They continued to shout, chant and boo as more MPs entered Parliament from a side entrance.
When Campbell appeared in Parliament Square, things got even more heated.
As he entered the square from Parliament Street someone threw water on him.
“This is a democratic country,” Campbell told reporters. “Everybody in the Parliament doesn’t agree.
“The opposition doesn’t agree. So we shouldn’t be surprised that some people in the community don’t agree. But we [have] to do what we think is best as a government. We were chosen to lead and so we are leading.
“I once demonstrated. They have a right to demonstrate and they have a right to express their displeasure.
“We have a right to lead. That’s what we were elected to do. We were given a mandate; 35 to four is a mandate.
“This isn’t a representation of the 35 to four. So we are acting on the mandate that we were given. I’m satisfied that we are doing the right thing.”
Some protesters eagerly awaited the arrival of Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis.
He never showed up for the morning sitting of Parliament as he was attending the graduation of St. Augustine’s College, his alma mater.
After the House broke for lunch at 1 p.m., Turnquest, the finance minister, said only that protesters have a right to demonstrate.
As Campbell exited the House, he walked toward the protesters, seeking to engage them.
Several police officers advised him not to go over. He, however, did not listen.
Officers surrounded him as he attempted to speak to some of the people as many of them booed him and shouted profanities.
A man in the back of the crowd took a bottle of water and splashed Campbell.
Officers moved quickly; some jumped over the barricade and grabbed the man.
He was taken into custody by police and is expected to be charged with assault.
The crowd cheered and shouted at the man as he was taken away.
But it didn’t end there.
Police officers started shutting down the demonstration after protesters chased Dames, who was walking surrounded by aides and police officers.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Ashton Greenslade said while there were a few disorderly people during the protest, police managed to control the crowd well.
“We had an estimated crowd of about 300 persons, who were very orderly,” Greenslade said.
“Leading up to the last couple of minutes we had a few disorderly persons.
“We were able to get the crowd to disperse.
“We had to take one man into custody for throwing water on a public official and he is with us.
“We are going to deal with that matter as soon as we are finished here.”
Greenslade said there were 45 officers of all ranks working the event.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications
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