Statements by the prime minister from the floor of the House of Assembly and to the media and subsequent statements by various Cabinet ministers suggest that little, if any, effective communication takes place between the prime minister and his minsters at weekly Cabinet meetings.
For the second time in recent weeks, the prime minister gave instructions to his attorney general from the floor of the House of Assembly.
On the first occasion, the attorney general subsequently told news reporters that he was unaware of the instruction which dealt with the acquisition of Crown lands where shantytowns had been constructed in Abaco. The attorney general said that he was certain that he would be informed in due course.
Last week, the prime minister again advised the House of his intention to instruct the attorney general to have an existing shantytown injunction lifted by the courts. This matter is already being addressed by the attorney general’s office. In fact, the attorney general previously informed news reporters that the matter was in abeyance following attorney Fred Smith’s recent serious accident in Italy.
In any event, the Mudd and Sand Banks are Crown lands. It ought to be straightforward for the government to get an order for it to possess its own lands.
Then the commodore of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) was mandated to commence three months’ vacation leave with less than a day’s notice on October 15.
The prime minister opined that the leave was mandated as a cost-saving measure though he offered no advice on what sums were being saved nor how they were being realized. The cost of the commodore’s leave and any expense connected to acting appointments in his absence will be the same now as they would be next year or at any time before the commodore may retire in 2021.
When the Minister of National Security Marvin Dames was queried by the media on the commodore’s future in the RBDF he admitted rather astonishingly that “no one knows what’s next for the commodore”. But he added that Bethel “was still the commodore”.
We must assume that there was no meeting of the Security Council and that the minister was not consulted on the decision to send the commodore on leave in the middle of a national crisis. And, we gather from his comment that he is aware, even if the prime minister is not, that in accordance with the Defence Force Act, the commodore remains the commander of the force even while on leave.
Then, complaints were lodged against a new policy reportedly being implemented by the immigration department requiring volunteers assisting with hurricane repairs and reconstruction in Abaco and Grand Bahama, to apply for and pay for work permits.
The prime minister assured the House that volunteers with international aid agencies were not being required to obtain work permits.
He indicated that the minister responsible, Elsworth Johnson, would address the subject.
Johnson’s comments on the subject hardly settled concerns in Abaco and Grand Bahama. He maintained that work permits were required as it was his department’s responsibility to ensure that undesirables did not enter the country as volunteers putting Bahamian women and children and risk.
Thousands of Bahamian women and children relied on the generosity of tens if not hundreds of private foreign volunteers who followed close on the heels of military first responders from the U.S., Britain and Canada, into hurricane-devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama, providing life-saving water, food and medications in the absence of an organized response by the Bahamian government.
One can only imagine their chagrin at being told that their lifesavers and guardians now require work permits with fees attached.
Better communication between the prime minister and his ministers is urgent if the Bahamian people are to receive efficient, effective government.