Individual rights and freedoms are so sacrosanct that the framers of our constitution made it the third chapter, right behind declaring itself to be the supreme law of the land and the convoluted definition of citizenship.
Fourteen of the 16 sections of Chapter III of the constitution deal with protecting our rights. Our very freedom flows from these rights.
But Section 29 of Chapter III gives the governor general the right to suspend all of those rights enshrined to us by the constitution, if we are at war or if a state of public emergency exists.
The current global pandemic was the first ever trigger of this provision of the constitution, making it the duty of the government to protect the lives of each and every one of us.
The drafters of the emergency powers legislation could have found a better name for the chief executor of these emergency powers than “competent authority”.
Despite its negative connotations, the legislation and the actions of the competent authority have no doubt saved lives since it was implemented.
The prime minister assumed the role of the competent authority and by happenstance his previous occupation was medical doctor, sworn to a Hippocratic Oath to first do no harm, but ultimately to save lives.
That was undoubtedly his instinct and he acted on it to save us from our own self-destructive demons.
Some responsible Bahamians who always put the common good above their own became incensed by the actions of the PM to limit the movement of Bahamians during these trying times.
Our lockdown measures have by no means been the most draconian undertaken in this region or in the world. But when followed, they have been surprisingly effective in saving lives.
For large swarths of our population, the default behavior is to flout rules in pursuit of self-pleasure. We know that given the opportunity, some of our countrymen imbibe too much, display loutish behavior and side-step regulations designed to keep us all safe.
Social media details a sordid proclivity to gather in large groups and disregard masks and social distancing guidelines in pursuit of a virtual orgy of alcohol-infused, profanity laced pleasure.
This is exactly the petri dish in which COVID-19 spreads. Exhibit A, in this regard, is just 200 miles from Nassau where the beaches of South Florida were teaming with patrons acting as if corona was just the name of a beverage.
As a result, the entire state of Florida has become the global hotspot for COVID-19 with unprecedented numbers of new infections, which are traced right back to people ignoring sound public health advice for momentary pleasure.
The prime minister was captured on social media touring the fish fry on the first weekend when he eased the lockdown. The recommendation was to enjoy yourself responsibly by keeping social distance and wearing masks.
In the video, the only people wearing masks and social distancing were the prime minister and his security detail. Our fellow Bahamians frolicked and partied like it was Junkanoo morning.
Who, then, should have been surprised when the PM locked off the beaches over the Independence Day holiday weekend? Deep down, we knew that those people who have no behavior would ruin it for those who know how to comport themselves with health and safety guidelines.
Yet, that didn’t stop some members of elite society from patching hell on the prime minister for robbing them of the opportunity for a sea bath, or access to a preferred picnic spot after weeks of home confinement.
Make no mistake, the action by the PM slowed the virus, despite the short-term economic pain and the denial of a day at the beach.
The world has seen that, by reducing the mobility of the population, countries have flattened the pandemic curve. Therefore, the PM had a constitutional duty to restrict gatherings and public outings for the common good.
Things seldom happen in isolation.
Had our borders not opened on July 1, then a case could have been made to permit beach outings. But we did begin to open up on July 1 and by July 10, Independence Day, some Bahamians had gone to and come back from Florida and, as the evidence shows, COVID-19 hitched a ride here with some of them and probably those tourists who outsmarted our border dragnet.
Imagine if the newly arrived partied on the beaches over the long holiday weekend, spreading the virus and laying waste to the stay-at-home sacrifice we made in April, May and June.
While the prime minister implored us to not travel to Florida, social media showed people lining up to go and mingle in Miami, where tens of thousands are infected and many more don’t know it.
After flattening the curve for weeks on end, our infection rate shot up by dozens soon after we opened the border.
It’s a known fact that less mobility by the population leads to enhanced social distancing. Absent of a vaccine, this is the most effective way to slow COVID-19.
The “competent authority” has earned our thanks and our gratitude, even if it must be given grudgingly.
As hard as it is for some to accept, fighting the pandemic is absolutely necessary to rescue the economy.
Evidently, Dr. Hubert Minnis understood this from day one of this pandemic.
His medicine, though bitter, is effective.
— The Graduate