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AG says there is no confusion over state of emergency

Attorney General Carl Bethel yesterday shot down suggestions that there is any confusion over the legality of the emergency proclamation and emergency powers.

“I wish to advise the Bahamian people that there is absolutely no confusion as to the legal status of the proclamation of emergency and the emergency powers regulations or any of the orders made pursuant to the proclamation of emergency made on June 29,” Bethel said outside Cabinet.

He added, “[A]ny person who is suggesting that there is some confusion about this is misguided or, intentionally or otherwise, is exposing the Bahamian people to harm, because people, if they are confused, will err in favor of doing what they wish to do. The curfews are still and lawfully in effect. All of the social distancing measures are lawfully in effect.”

On Monday, confusion erupted in the Senate over whether Bethel tabled the most recent proclamation of emergency last Friday.

According to Bethel, the Senate clerk said he had not tabled the proclamation, even though he believed that he had.

Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Senator Fred Mitchell noted that the matter had the potential to call into question the validity of the state of emergency, as the document must have been tabled within five days of it having been declared by the governor general, which happened last Monday.

Bethel moved for the Senate to suspend, so that he could check the tapes to ensure he tabled the document. Soon after, Bethel confirmed that he did table it last week.

Speaking to the matter yesterday, Bethel said, “Any confusion was occasioned by the clerk of the Senate, who was mistaken.

“[A]ll of the documents, the proclamation of emergency and the emergency powers regulations empowering the competent authority were lawfully and constitutionally tabled in the Senate of The Bahamas on the afternoon of July 3. After a proclamation summoning the Senate to meet was read, then the Senate opened. Immediately after the Senate opened, the proclamation of emergency…was the first document tabled. The second document tabled was the emergency powers regulations.”

Mitchell has said the opposition does not agree that the matter has been resolved.

Bethel, however, assured there should be no dispute.

“[The tape] shows quite clearly the interactions between myself and the leader of opposition business in the Senate. He is well aware that there is no confusion as to the legality of these documents and their effectiveness in law. And any suggestion otherwise is pure political mischief-making.”

A state of emergency was declared on March 17, following the country’s first case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The prime minister as the competent authority then moved forward with emergency orders restricting the movement of residents, closed the borders and issued other provisions to stem the spread of COVID-19.

In the House of Assembly on June 29, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis gave notice of a resolution to extend the initial state of emergency from June 29 to July 31. The government planned to debate the extension the following day.

However, the emergency proclamation and accompanying orders expired midnight — hours after Minnis gave notice that an extension would be debated the following day.

Bethel accepted responsibility for the “procedural oversight”.

As a result, Governor General C.A. Smith declared a new state of emergency on June 29.

The new proclamation was tabled in the House of Assembly the next day on June 30.

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