Wednesday, Jul 8, 2020
HomeOpinionEditorialsWe are a country of laws, not of men

We are a country of laws, not of men

On June 22, in a speech on the budget, the prime minister said that he intended to have his state of emergency powers, approved by Parliament to June 29, extended to the end of July.

Parliament did not extend the state of emergency.

The state of emergency was first proclaimed on March 17 and orders continued by resolutions of Parliament on four previous occasions.

It expired at midnight last night, June 29, 2020.

The matter is not remedied by the new order signed by the governor general yesterday.

The governor general was wrongly advised to sign it.

In our opinion, a competent court would declare the new order null and void and of no effect.

The new order signed by the governor general is contrary to the letter, spirit and intent of our constitution.

We trust that it will be challenged in court.

Now is an opportune time for members of Parliament to restore sanity to the governance of our country.

The emergency powers orders permitted the competent authority to practice virtually one-man rule of our country for the past three and a half months.

An emergency has never before been declared in an independent Bahamas.

Hence, no previous Bahamian prime minister had recourse to exercise emergency powers.

The suspension and/or restriction of civil liberties of the citizenry under the order must be for the shortest possible time.

The Bahamas is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. We have an executive comprised of a prime minister and his Cabinet. They are collectively accountable to Parliament.

There is a distinction between an authoritarian regime and parliamentary democracies.

In authoritarian regimes, led by dictators, absolute monarchs and military leaders, government is by decree, which has the immediate force of law.

This cannot happen in a parliamentary democracy such as ours.

We have no government by decree.

We are subject to the rule of law. Laws are made by Parliament. And, laws cannot be passed on the day of their introduction, except with the unanimous consent of all members present.

Over the past three months, the competent authority has sought to govern by decree.

Emergency orders have been issued and amended sometimes several times in the same week.

Citizens and residents had their movements curtailed and businesses suspended from operations without sensible explanation. Violators of emergency orders were subject to substantial monetary penalties and also to incarceration.

Restrictions on movement were put in place, supposedly on the basis of science, to safeguard the health of the public but in reality, they had little or no connection to science.

The hours of curfew have been arbitrary. Closures of normal business activities and of schools on COVID-free islands have never been explained.

Having passed through five phases of reopening of the economy, the prime minister wishes to preserve his ability to rule by decree when clearly the “emergency” has passed.

The governor general says in his proclamation of emergency he is “satisfied that due to the presence of COVID-19 in The Bahamas, a state of public emergency exists in The Bahamas”.

We note this came just one day after the prime minister said in a national address, “Like a number of other countries, we are reopening because we have been successful in arresting the community spread of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.”

If certain behaviors put in place to mitigate against and contain the spread of COVID-19 are necessary for the continued safety of the general public, including requirements for physical distancing, wearing facial coverings in public, restrictions on the use of public spaces and/or regulation of the number of individuals permitted on public transportation or in certain business establishments at the same time, and testing of arriving passengers from outside The Bahamas, then the government should move to have such matters enacted in law by Parliament. Such laws can have sunset clauses.

And, the government should engage the opposition, so that these matters may be placed in the statute laws of The Bahamas in the shortest possible time.

The emergency powers order, which expired yesterday, is dead.

And, the new order is a nullity.

We are a country with a constitution, a country of laws, not of men.

There is no way around Parliament.

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