‘Out of our control’
Tragedy and crisis can be defining periods in governance, and for the Minnis administration, the devastating misfortunes of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic certainly fall within the category of watershed moments.
In both cases there are ruinous aspects that are out of the administration’s control, such as the fury of category 5 storms and the reverberations of a global economy in free fall as a result of a pandemic pathogen.
A government will ultimately pay a political price for a bad economy regardless of its merits and factors out of its control, but what is in its control is the manner in which it chooses to govern both in and out of crisis situations.
Regardless of the climacteric, transparency, respect for the citizenry and fairness in policymaking ought to be constant and non-negotiable.
Failure to abide by these foundations of good governance has regrettably become as much a hallmark of the current administration as the catastrophes it has been forced to grapple with over the past three years, and is continuing to exact wounds that rip to the marrow of traumatized and pressure-ridden Bahamians.
Lack of transparency in the processing and handling of the missing, the dead and the bereaved in the wake of Dorian is a tragedy arguably second in gravity only to the loss of life caused by the storm.
To date, a list of those reported missing has not been made public despite repeated promises, and after nearly nine months, the remains of over 50 storm victims on Abaco are scheduled to be buried without having been positively identified.
There has been no explanation for why outside assistance was not utilized so as to speed up the process of electrification for Abaco, and there has been no report on what became of $4 million in hurricane donations earmarked for a 250-dome family life center for displaced Abaconians that never materialized.
As for the COVID-19 fight, a report on investigations into a COVID-19-positive passenger’s return to The Bahamas remains elusive for now.
Respect for the citizenry was violated when the competent authority, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, failed to explain why the economies of the Berry Islands, Exuma, San Salvador, Eleuthera, Harbour Island and Spanish Wells are to remain closed despite having no reported or suspected COVID-19 cases.
Troublingly, even the members of Parliament for these islands — all members of the governing party — have expressed uncertainty over the reasons for Minnis’ decision.
That the people’s representatives would be left in the dark on this critical decision, gives insight into how little regard appears to have been paid for how this decision would effect those impacted.
Confusion on Long Island ensued on the heels of the prime minister’s recent announcement for Family Islands, with its MP Adrian Gibson taking to Facebook to advise that happy hours, dine-in restaurant services and gaming house operations are not permitted though the island is now open for commercial activity.
The confusion is unsurprising given that a new Emergency Powers Order to give effect to the prime minister’s announcement has not been issued.
Gibson’s explicit warning about gaming houses meantime, re-ignites debate about fairness in COVID-19-related policymaking.
We cannot contemplate a public health recommendation that would call for gaming houses to be the only businesses barred from operating on islands fully open for commercial activity.
Decision-making throughout the country’s pandemic response has failed to neutralize the scent of special interest and favoritism, and with the new allowance of in-store shopping for hardware and home stores, also fails to account for why smaller businesses able to enforce social distancing protocols, are being forced to remain closed.
When people are left in the dark, disrespected or chagrined by the appearance of kisses going by favor, outcries and ramped up civil discourse are inevitable which, contrary to the insistence of government surrogates, has nothing to do with ungratefulness.
Those elected to govern must remember that government is not owed devotion for doing its job, but rather owes its devotion to all Bahamians regardless of one’s vote, political persuasion or dissent.
In crises out of our control, the citizenry is further disempowered when it cannot look to its government and find transparency, respect and fairness.
In the end, it is these things that are fully in this administration’s control that will define it and how the Bahamian people judge its stewardship in the midst of disaster and beyond.