COVID-19: bungling management and loss of trust

There was almost unanimous agreement that stringent restrictions and limitations to normal civil liberties would have to be imposed to safeguard Bahamians from COVID-19.

Nearly all agreed that the invisible enemy affected all of us equally and that to overcome the threat, sacrifices had to be made by all of us.

The declaration of a public health emergency and the imposition of emergency regulations and orders froze normal life around the country.

Not surprisingly, there were early cracks in the newfound national unity.

Documents were poorly drafted but entered into effect anyway.

Amendments to the orders were many and frequent. Waivers granted were rescinded for some while continued for others.

Almost at once, it became clear that the government had decided that emergency powers vested in the competent authority would be enforced by coercion, not persuasion.

And, the competent authority determined that there was no need for him to be subjected to regular questioning by the media or even Parliament.

His communications with the public have become scripted broadcast statements, official press releases and communications made in the House of Assembly. But even the latter are scarce as Parliament is adjourned for a month at a time.

Efforts to regulate and control food shopping failed miserably and had to be abandoned as regulations contributed to non-observance rather than adherence to social distancing guidelines.

The strict mandatory provisions in the law gave the police no discretion in respect of violations and so it quickly became evident that enforcement without discretion was the wrong law. It sought to compel rather than persuade people to comply with the orders.

First then, the homeless were arrested.

Then, the poor who live in small dwelling places without connections for water were arrested, charged and convicted because they sought to obtain water from public water stands meant to meet their basic needs.

Somehow it escaped the remembrance and or understanding of the government that some Bahamians who live Over-the-Hill without connection to public utilities are unlikely to be able to obtain and secure water in sufficient quantities to meet drinking and cleaning requirements for more than a single day.

Later still, a teenager selling coconuts was charged and convicted by the courts.

This was followed by parents being convicted for breaking curfew to take medicines to children and others pursuing food or experiencing car trouble.

The government appears oblivious to the reality that some, living in confining small spaces, without easy access to private gardens, pools, tennis courts and golf courses and who traditionally get their fresh air by playing in the street or standing outside their premises along the roadside, are being hauled before the court for violating curfews and lockdowns.

On the other hand, tennis and golf facilities and coffee shops remain in operation in high-end gated communities. Police officers do not patrol those gated zones to enforce curfew and weekend lockdowns.

The secret opening of closed international borders was exposed when it was revealed that approval had been granted for passengers travelling on private aircraft to be landed in New Providence, Grand Bahama and Cat Island.

The “different strokes for different folks” imposition of testing requirements for those being permitted to return home from abroad or to travel to certain Family Islands further aggravates and frustrates many Bahamians who do not accept that the same rules are being applied to all.

International borders were opened to permit large-scale return of Bahamians and residents from abroad before internal borders were opened even between COVID-19 free Family Islands.

Now, multiple requirements are being imposed on the thousands of Family Island residents who have been stranded in New Providence since the closure of internal borders without notice and who have not yet been able to return to their homes in the Family Islands.

The unscientific reasoning for permitting normal commercial activity on some COVID-19 free Family Islands while denying the same to others was a misuse of authority demonstrating preferences and favouritism in the treatment of some islands over others.

It is the same unscientific reasoning that has been applied to the reopening and setting of working hours permitted for businesses in New Providence and Grand Bahama.

The goodwill of ordinary citizens has frayed; a growing number of them have lost confidence in their government.

In short, the trust Bahamians reposed in their government at the beginning of this emergency has been squandered.

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