Where will we go from here?
Political gamesmanship and controversies of protocol juxtaposed with ongoing hardship and irresolution about the reopening of the country’s economy has strained the nerves of many Bahamians.
When nations face crisis, the citizenry typically rallies around leadership and Bahamians were no exception to this dynamic, lending support for government as it set off on uncharted waters of a global pandemic that has brought the country’s economy to its knees.
But with the passage of time, questionable decision-making and weekly press conferences by the competent authority, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, leaving more questions than answers about the path to progress from the social and economic fallout of COVID-19, widespread support is transitioning into impatience and angst.
When the country was placed under a state of emergency, it was an unfamiliar and uncomfortable state of affairs for most Bahamians, and made the role of holding the competent authority accountable for the use of his sweeping emergency powers an exceptionally critical one.
At the onset, Minnis opened himself to questions from the press, but it has been more than two weeks since his regular press conferences have been replaced by weekly addresses without press participation.
This timeline coincides with the resignation of former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands, the revelation of numerous approved passenger flights during the country’s border closure, and has continued even as questions remain about circumstances surrounding a COVID-19-positive Bahamian’s entry via a government-organized repatriation flight.
The protocol breach now said to be “under investigation” — the place where many a controversy goes to die — resulted in hundreds of Bahamians having their hopes of returning home dashed once again.
By refusing to submit to press questions during what have now become moments of infamy in the country’s pandemic battle, the prime minister has injured essential public trust, and has hoisted the bar of suspicion about the extent to which actions taken during the imposed state of emergency have been singularly focused on the people’s best interests.
Part of evaluating the people’s best interests moving forward, should rest in determining whether existing curfew orders are serving their intended purpose, and whether those least able to safely abide by those orders are being disproportionately criminalized and penalized.
Over the past two months, we have seen the homeless, the hungry and the underprivileged — in one case showing up to court with no shoes to wear — hauled before the courts and sentenced to fines and/or imprisonment.
Some claimed they were hungry and searching for food, others claimed to be taking medication to sick children or relatives, while others claimed to be taking food to elderly parents.
As we have recently highlighted, limited mobility is negatively correlated with one’s ability to abide by curfew orders, and limited mobility not only encompasses physical or mental infirmity, but poverty, hunger and lack of access to healthcare and essential resources.
Over two weeks since the announcement of a National Food Committee, which among other responsibilities is to immediately increase food distribution for vulnerable individuals and communities, no update on its progress has been given even as the cries of the destitute and newly jobless in COVID-19’s wake continue their painful crescendo.
With a projected unemployment rate of 30-plus percent, a possible double-digit GDP contraction and anticipated delays in the commencement of foreign direct investment projects, a bold and workable plan for our economic recovery and growth has never been more paramount.
Thus far, the most substantive hint of a plan has come through the prime minister’s announcement that his recently convened Economic Recovery Committee has created subcommittees.
It gives the uncomfortable impression that the government is waiting for this committee to tell it how the country’s fiscal and economic affairs ought to be handled.
While stakeholder consultation is integral in effectively managing the country’s affairs, leadership is paramount, and lead this administration must.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama once said, “If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists — to protect them and to promote their common welfare — all else is lost.”
At this watershed period in our nationhood, there fails to be an overarching sense that government knows what needs to be done, has the will to do it, and is both unified and transparent in performing the task at hand.
As such, many Bahamians are left to restlessly ponder where we will go from here.