We are witnessing more undemocratic tendencies by the Minnis administration by the day, aided by a House speaker, who constantly disregards the rights of the official opposition to fair treatment as he struggles to demonstrate an understanding of his role.
It is truly troubling to watch.
After screwing up by failing to bring a resolution to Parliament in time to extend the initial emergency proclamation that had been in place due to COVID-19, the government returned to the House yesterday to table the new proclamation and regulations made by the governor general on Monday evening, in an attempt to cure the mess that had been created.
On Monday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, the competent authority in law, gave notice to the House that debate would take place yesterday on a resolution to extend the initial proclamation.
Yesterday, he refused to acknowledge the mistake in any meaningful way and the government moved to suspend the sitting immediately after the prime minister’s brief remarks and tabling of the new proclamation.
In so doing, the government shut down the opposition’s attempt to seek clarity on the matter.
It was a pompous and arrogant stance to take.
Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis told National Review afterwards it is clear the government did not want to be accountable or transparent in what it was doing.
“We were trying to get an understanding of where they were, where they have us now and where we will like to go because he (the prime minister) made a misstatement about the measures still being in place, but clearly they are not in place; they would have fallen away with the proclamation last night and they’re coming back (to Parliament) on Monday, but what are we coming back for?” Davis asked.
“More importantly, I wanted to put on record in the House of Assembly this continual blaming of the PLP that’s continually laced with lies. We do not stand in the way of the government’s legislative agenda because it is their agenda. The executive has the legislative agenda and I have to acknowledge and respect their wish to pursue it.
“At the end of the day, whatever we do or say, democracy dictates that the majority will have their way, but at least let us have our say; but they are having their say, and their way and we can’t even have a say. It’s really troubling. It’s truly trouble.”
It was quite odd to us when the House of Assembly suspended on Monday without debating and passing a resolution to extend the emergency proclamation.
A week earlier, Minnis stated while closing the budget debate that the state of emergency would be extended through the end of July.
It was obvious then that the government needed to pass an extension before June 30, as the existing proclamation was set to expire on June 29.
That the Parliament met on June 29 without dealing with the resolution was thus baffling.
We do not understand how the misstep could have occurred.
The attorney general, Carl Bethel, accepted full responsibility for what he termed a “procedural oversight” — a mild wording to characterize the error that placed the governor general (GG) in an awkward position.
The government had to scramble to get the GG to issue the new proclamation, which grants the competent authority a new six-month period in which he could have his powers extended.
We opined in our editorial yesterday that the new order signed by the governor general is contrary to the letter, spirit and intent of our constitution.
The situation was an embarrassing one for the Minnis administration, notwithstanding the attorney general seeming to stress in his communication to the Senate on Monday that “this is not the prime minister’s oversight. This is not the government’s oversight. It is the oversight by my office, and my oversight”.
While the attorney general is for sure responsible, that the prime minister was not aware that the expiring proclamation needed to be extended before it expired (and not after) demonstrates how incompetence flows from the top.
It did not require a skillful legal mind to know Monday was the last opportunity to pass the resolution before running into this problem.
It was quite apparent to us.
In typical fashion, the Free National Movement (FNM) condemned the official opposition, accusing it of preventing a resolution from going forward to extend the emergency period on Monday.
The FNM, taking its cue from the attorney general a day earlier, claimed yesterday that the opposition failed to agree to waive the 24-hour notice for a resolution to be debated.
“The PLP had the opportunity to agree to waive the 24-hour requirement to debate and pass a resolution to protect the health and well-being of our citizens, however, they decided not to,” the FNM charged.
“They could have very well levied political attacks and criticisms of the government after passing protective measures; instead, they chose to score cheap political brownie points. They have showed that they do not care about the Bahamian people, and will say and do absolutely anything for the sake of public relations.”
The FNM added, “They had an opportunity to demonstrate bi-partisanship, and affirm their claims of being both caring and compassionate, but clearly showed that this is all a spectacle to play on the fears, stress and anxiety that this pandemic has already brought about.
“…The fact of the matter is that yesterday’s occurrences are in no way a reflection of the outstanding job the Minnis administration has done in the fight against COVID-19, and managing the resulting economic fallout.
“So while we do not intend to ignore what transpired yesterday, we cannot sit idly by, and allow this duplicitous and hypocritical posturing by this flip-flopping, confused and ambivalent opposition to continue unabated. Politics is politics; however, we don’t expect that politics should be played with the lives of our citizens.”
While the FNM sought to place the spotlight on the PLP with the claim, Davis advised that at no time was the opposition asked to agree to waive the 24-hour notice to allow the resolution to pass.
Davis said had they been asked, they would have obliged as they have done in the past.
Ahead of the sitting on Monday, Leader of Government Business Renward Wells advised Leader of Opposition Business Picewell Forbes that the plan was to lay the resolution and debate it the following day.
Wells has not responded to our question on whether he had made any request for a waiver prior to that.
But this is not about the opposition, despite the FNM’s deflection.
It is about what the government failed to do.
It is lame and tiresome to keep pointing a finger at the PLP.
As the chairman of the PLP (Fred Mitchell) put it, “…you can always count on the FNM chairman (Carl Culmer) to not get any of the memos, to be fast asleep at the wheel, out to lunch and totally lost in space.”
But there is a larger and more disturbing situation at play.
The competent authority seems to be drunk with power.
Although Minnis advised in a national address on Sunday that we have arrested the community spread of COVID-19 and that there has not been a new case in the country in two weeks, and that we are now open for the world to come, the governor general in his proclamation said he was satisfied that a state of emergency exists in The Bahamas due to the presence of COVID-19.
What exactly is the emergency?
While we are supposedly in a state of national emergency, with a fresh, new proclamation to prove it, our borders are open for tourists to come in. Makes no sense.
As we observed in yesterday’s editorial, if certain behaviors put in place to mitigate against and contain the spread of COVID-19 are necessary, then the government should move to have such matters enacted in law by Parliament.
We submit that what we are witnessing is the prime minister’s desire to rule by decree for as long as he can, and this is dangerous in any democracy.
Suspending civil liberties is not something that should drag on for long periods of time.
Furthermore, blocking the opposition from questioning the government on such matters is an affront to our democracy.
These are truly sad days for our Bahamas.