Evaporating trust in the competent authority

When he spoke at a Ministry of Health press conference on Friday evening, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis noted that as COVID-19 is a fluid situation, it is necessary to examine decisions and change course in response to evolving dynamics.

There is, of course, truth to that statement, but the continued knee-jerk pronouncements, lack of demonstrably science-based decisions and uneven application of policies remain worrying and continue to erode trust in the ability of the competent authority to effectively shepherd us through the current health and economic maladies we face.

Given the magnitude and unprecedented nature of the situation still unfolding, it is unreasonable to expect perfection from those leading the battle against COVID-19. But it is quite reasonable to expect sound decision-making that strikes an acceptable balance between the need to protect public health and the need to safeguard the economy.

It continues to be exceedingly clear that the concentration of power in the hands of one man; and his obvious failure to adequately consult on matters impacting lives and livelihoods have fueled an escalating crisis.

We have repeatedly witnessed an arbitrary use of power, favoritism and discretion used for specific businesses/individuals while the competent authority neglects to be accountable.

The latest glaring example of this arbitrary use of power and favoritism was on display yesterday when videos and photographs of a destination wedding that took place on Harbour Island, Eleuthera, on Saturday made the rounds on social media.

This, as some Bahamians had to postpone their weddings after the unreasonable last-minute announcement by the prime minister that only weddings with five or fewer people could take place.

Families who were preparing to bury loved ones also had to make the painful decision of which four people could join the officiant at the funeral.

The order released on Saturday giving legal effect to the prime minister’s declaration does not speak to anyone having a wedding or funeral being able to request special exemption from the competent authority to have their events with more than five people.

But some have a direct line to the prime minister that many ordinary Bahamians just do not have.

The scenes of the wedding guests and the happy couple partying on Harbour Island without any social distancing, and photos purporting to show a large beach gathering related to the Harbour Island wedding, were offensive to Bahamians who were ordered on lockdown and who have been unable to go to the beach.

That there was also a Bahamian wedding allowed on New Providence does not provide any comfort to Bahamians, many of whom continue to feel disadvantaged in their own country as they continue to see foreigners and the well-connected get special treatment in The Bahamas.

While most of us were confined to our homes and could not legally even exercise on our properties beyond 5 p.m., some were having a ball, with a Junkanoo rush-out to excite and entertain wedding guests.

No wonder many continue to ask whose time is it really. Many do not see that it is the Bahamian people’s time.

The competent authority needs to advise whether those who came to town for the destination wedding were tested for COVID-19 in advance or whether they also benefited from any other waiver. Did they come from a hotspot?

It is laughable that the prime minister’s office said in its statement last night that the competent authority has asked the police force to investigate reports that proper COVID-19 protocols were not adhered to.

Is that supposed to make Bahamians feel any better about this situation?

Throughout this pandemic response, we have seen certain people benefit over others.

The special treatment for the couples for their weddings is the latest worrying revelation that has emerged in the government’s COVID-19 response.

Many are losing trust in the prime minister, whose explanation for abruptly placing the country on weekend lockdown was that it needed to be done to address the surge of COVID-19 cases currently being experienced.

Although health officials have not provided any information on the travel history of the vast majority of cases we have seen since the borders reopened, we have been told by the prime minister, minister of tourism and senior health officials that this is the result of Bahamians traveling abroad and returning home.

The recent explosion in cases in The Bahamas is a clear indication of a policy failure. The failure needs addressing, not excusing.

There have been 238 new cases since the full opening of the borders on July 1.

The decision to allow Bahamians and residents to travel and return within 72 hours without the requirement to be tested for COVID-19 is a policy decision by the competent authority that played a major role in the surge currently being experienced, government officials have acknowledged.

Speaking in the House of Assembly last week, the prime minister admitted that he and his government had been afraid to restrict Bahamians from traveling internationally after the July 1 opening of the border to incoming visitors, fearing that he would be labeled a dictator.

This from a man who has consistently over the past three-plus months adopted numerous dictatorial positions, issuing emergency orders that permitted no discretion by either law enforcement officers (police) or indeed the courts, leading to ridiculous consequences – convictions for violations of emergency order dictates – for mostly, poor and disadvantaged citizens.

The narrative that The Bahamas is not first and foremost for Bahamians gets traction when there is not a consistent demonstration by our leaders that Bahamians must be put first in every respect.

With continued special treatment for certain people, unclear orders that are not often released in a timely manner, and are sometimes inconsistent with the prime minister’s public pronouncements, and a Cabinet that has been impotent in the COVID-19 response, it is easy to see why the competent authority is facing growing difficulty in getting buy-in from the public as he struggles to demonstrate strong, convincing and decisive leadership in this protracted and deepening crisis.

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