Op-Ed

Consider This | COVID-19: from pillar to post, pt. 2

“Chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counterproductive, but deeply corrosive to morale.” Robert Iger

Two weeks ago, in part one of this series, we traced the expression “from pillar to post” to its origin in the Middle Ages, although back then the expression was originally “from post to pillar”. In that era, when a person was publicly punished, the individual was first tied to a post and whipped, then moved to the pillory where that individual was showcased for the crowd’s amusement. Hence the original phrase “from post to pillar”.

It has evolved into another meaning, along with the juxtaposition of the words. To move from pillar to post, in today’s parlance, describes a person moving aimlessly from one place or thing to another with little or no purpose or direction, often due to disappointments, rejections or failure.

Also in part one, we observed that, since the beginning of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, governments the world over have responded in different ways, some successfully limiting the spread of the virus and resulting deaths among their populations, without closing their economies.

Other countries have failed miserably, ostensibly by denying the existence and the potentially disastrous impact of the pandemic, resulting in exponentially excessive infections and unnecessary deaths. The United States of America and Brazil are examples of countries whose failed leadership has moved the population from pillar to post during this pandemic.

This week, we conclude this two-part series and will continue to consider this — has The Bahamas government made us one of those nations that has moved from pillar to post in its reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic?

The first two waves

Since COVID-19 arrived in The Bahamas earlier this year, we have witnessed two distinctly different spikes in infections.

Under the first state of emergency orders in mid-March up to June 30, 2020, The Bahamas recorded 104 confirmed cases and 11 deaths. On June 30, the Ministry of Health confirmed the following cases: New Providence – 82, Grand Bahama – eight, Bimini – 13 and Cat Cay – one.

The second wave coincided with the opening of the nation’s borders on July 1, 2020.

Beginning on July 8, and as of this writing, the confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections have rapidly increased from 104 on June 30, 2020, to 878 as of August 8, 2020, more than an eight-fold increase in 40 days.

Not only have the cases exploded in numbers, but they have also affected more islands since we opened our borders.

As of Saturday, the Ministry of Health confirmed the following cases: New Providence – 412, Grand Bahama – 374, Bimini – 45, Abaco – 28, Berry Islands – 12, Cat Island – three, Exuma – three and Eleuthera – one. So far, COVID-19 has claimed 15 lives.

Monumental mistake

At the end of the first state of emergency orders on June 29, The Bahamas government made the monumental mistake of relaxing some of the austere measures that were imposed during the period March 15 to June 29, 2020.

During that first wave, Bahamians who had been in foreign countries when commercial flights were suspended were not allowed to return home unless they demonstrated that they were not infected.

The historical record will document that the government’s most fatal decision that came into effect on July 1, 2020, included the relaxation of screening Bahamians who traveled abroad for no more than 72 hours, allowing them to return home without proof that they were not infected while away from The Bahamas.

There was also a failure to ensure those returning individuals quarantined for 14 days, the average incubation period for determining whether a person is infected.

Catastrophically, that decision was taken despite the exponentially rapid surge of COVID-19 infections in Florida, our nearest neighbor and the undisputed preferred travel destination of Bahamians who believe that they have an inalienable right to travel to Miami.

Astonishing admissions

By mid-July, it was patently obvious that a dreadful mistake had been made by allowing Bahamians to travel abroad without observing similar, previously imposed protocols.

Far more troubling than the COVID-19 second wave assault was the prime minister’s admission that his government had been afraid to do the right thing.

During the parliamentary debate in July on the resolution to invoke the second state of emergency to September 30, the prime minister made several shocking admissions. 

During that debate, he stated: “…Had we made a firm decision to ensure and stop and prevent Bahamians from traveling, we would have been in a better position.

“But, to make such a decision would have been considered unconstitutional. I would have been accused, or the government would have been accused of being the most dictatorial government.

“We would have been accused and I would have been accused of an abuse of power. But power is only abused when used unnecessarily, but when it is used for the correct purpose, it is not abused.

“We, as government, we refused, though we thought about it, we refused to make that decision, to place a travel embargo on Bahamians and allow others to come in.

“What would have happened, had we done that, the opposition, the people, the media, etc., would have lambasted us for doing that because they would not have known what the possible outcome would have been.

“We would have been a successful nation, but we would have been a destroyed grouping.

“We were afraid to make that decision.

“We were already being threatened by members of the opposition to be taken to court on constitutional violations. We made the decision to not make an unconstitutional decision though we would have been better off. As a result of the decision that we made, allowing everybody to travel, we’re seeing the results today.”

He continued, “What that demonstrates, Mr. Speaker, governments will be placed in situations where at some point in time they would have to make what they call discriminatory or unconstitutional decisions against their people in the interest of the advancement of their nation.

“But, Mr. Speaker, we could not. The statistics are verifying that if we did, RIU and other hotels would have been opened and doing well.”

These admissions are astonishing. First, the government admits that it was afraid to make the tough decision, in part because, in the prime minister’s own words, “we would have been a destroyed grouping”.

He was afraid of the damage that such a decision would have on the continued existence of the Free National Movement. By “destroyed grouping”, he came perilously close to saying it would have destroyed his party! He admitted that he put politics over people’s lives.

Although it was the prime minister who decided to allow Bahamians to travel abroad without presenting a negative COVID-19 test on their return home, he and his minister of tourism blamed the surge on Bahamians traveling abroad and returning home from foreign hotspots.

They said Bahamians exhibited “a lack of discipline once the borders were open”.

It is alarming to think the prime minister, a person who is elected to make the difficult decisions and do the right thing in the face of a crisis, could have saved us all this pain and suffering if only he had not been afraid to make the right decision.

Responsible citizenship

Bahamians must also take some responsibility for the current situation. Too many of our citizens still refuse to wear masks in public – although some who do, refuse to wear it properly – and to take the other necessary measures to mitigate the contagion. Too many of our citizens refuse to comply with the mandate for social distancing and continue to participate in large groupings, against the repeated warnings and supplications of our health service providers.

Conclusion

As we previously noted, Bahamians have endured much to ensure that we mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. They have submitted to and complied with the regulations and orders promulgated by Parliament and the competent authority.

They have acquiesced to the shutdown of our businesses, churches, parks and beaches, along with national lockdowns. They have accepted the restrictions that have been imposed on their free movement.

However, the people want informed leadership, not uncertain, ill-advised, bewildering mismanagement of the people’s business, which seems to meander from pillar to post.

When the government makes mistakes, as it has during this crisis, the people suffer. The government should not take advantage of the people’s patience. That patience is not without its limits.

The government should also fully appreciate that the people will reluctantly permit their civil liberties to be abridged if they believe that such abridgment is justified. It should never assume that the people will not revolt when they believe that the government has overstepped its authority.

To inspire the people’s confidence in their government, it must refrain from moving from pillar to post regarding the business of the people. The government must make tough decisions and not blame the people when it fails, or is afraid, to provide leadership.

Finally, it must present a compelling plan, as well as vastly improved and candid communications to the people who are becoming tired of being dragged from pillar to post with no end or solution in sight.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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