A shouting match erupted between Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and Leader of the Opposition Philip Brave Davis yesterday in the House of Assembly after Minnis accused the opposition of “politicizing matters of life and death” and engaging in “political gimmicks and games” in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
“We are not surprised by the criticism of the opposition as we try to improve how our Bahamas addresses disaster preparedness and response,” Minnis said as he led off debate to the Disaster Preparedness and Response (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
“That is the posture this opposition has taken with the government from the day after elections.
“They seek to politicize everything, including, sadly, matters of life or death.”
At that point, Davis stood on a point of order, denying Minnis’ claims.
Minnis, however, accused the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) of wearing party colors while responding to the hurricane.
“Even in the midst of the heartbreak from Hurricane Dorian, some were engaging in political gimmicks and games,” he said.
“Some were intent on displaying the flag and color of a single political party instead of the banner of unity and our national colors.”
Davis, however, insisted that the PLP flew the Bahamian flag wherever they went.
Davis also said that after he received no word from Minnis on the situation, he reached out to the prime minister on multiple occasions requesting information on the government’s plans, but did not get a response.
Davis explained, “…When I finally got his bodyguard to speak to me, I said at 11:35 on the day before his first press conference, I said, ‘I am the leader of the opposition. We are under the threat of a very major catastrophe.’
“[He said,] ‘Well I am very busy.’
“I said, ‘I don’t know what’s happening.’”
Davis said Minnis promised him a briefing after the press conference, but it never happened.
“I wrote him two letters, the letters are here, reaching out to him,” Davis said.
“Talk about wearing colors? That’s where the colors lay.”
Minnis then rose to his feet, pointing to his cellphone with a news article and a photo of Davis touring parts of New Providence that flooded during Hurricane Dorian.
“Here you are in your big yellow cap,” Minnis said. “And the PLP flag on the truck.”
He continued, “Now, allow me to answer you. The member knows exactly why I did not follow up with him. I told…him in unhealthy language that I cannot repeat here. So, he knows.”
At this point, Davis jumped to his feet and said Minnis messaged him a response – and did not tell him to his face.
An angered MInnis shouted, “I told you to your face.”
Davis shouted back, “I could say it to your face.”
Both men began pointing and shouting at each other.
Minnis shouted, “Mr. Speaker, if you were to clear this room, turn those TV off, I would tell you exactly…”
But House Speaker Halson Moultrie stood to his feet, signaling that both Davis and Minnis take their seats.
However, Davis continued shouting at Minnis.
“Honorable member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador,” Moultrie said.
“I expected a lively, emotional debate on this matter but we cannot permit the debate to descend into name-calling.”
When Minnis served as opposition leader, he was highly critical of the Christie administration’s response following Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
He said the PLP had dropped the ball and did not take sufficient precautionary methods.
In 2016, the Free National Movement (FNM) leader pledged that an FNM government would implement mandatory evacuations under similar circumstances.
However, three years later, even after the passing of Hurricane Irma in 2017, which decimated Ragged Island, the legislation was not yet enacted.
The government has faced criticism over the timeliness and quality of its response to Dorian.
Minnis insisted the government’s response could not have been any faster.
“The U.S., Mr. Speaker, mobilized helicopters and other relevant equipment and materials and had such materials parked at Andros and Exuma in anticipation that once the all clear was given, these choppers would have been mobilized immediately on a search and rescue effort,” Minnis said.
“But because the storm slept over Grand Bahama in excess of 30 hours, and the feeder bands continued to beat and lash Abaco, the choppers were unable to move, but once the all clear was given, they immediately were dispatched.
“Mr. Speaker, if that was not fast enough, you can only arrive faster if we were in the Star Trek era: ‘Beam me up Scotty.’”
Minnis also said the importance of individual responsibility in storm preparation cannot be ignored.
“It is important that I emphasize the role of personal responsibility in hurricane safety,” he said.
“When orders are made with the advice of experts of our Department of Meteorology, it would be important for all Bahamians and residents to listen and to follow reasonable instructions intended to save lives. Remaining on the coast in the direct path of a storm is a bad idea. Remaining in a low-lying area prone to flooding is a bad idea. Remaining in poorly built structures is a bad idea.”
Minnis continued, “Using good judgment and relocating to higher ground or a safer area or building before the storm as advised could save your life and that of your family.”
He added, “I remember attempting to warn individuals to evacuate, and many were still refusing.
“I begged and pleaded that if they chose to stay, at least allow the women and children to [leave].”
The Disaster Preparedness and Response (Amendment) Bill, 2019, will introduce mandatory evacuations, providing that those who fail to heed evacuation orders could be imprisoned for up to one month and fined up to $500.
If passed, the bill will authorize the government to impose curfews and prohibit travel in areas declared mandatory evacuation zones.
The proposed bill would also prohibit the movement of anyone “within any specified area or island where necessary”.
First responders would not be obligated to risk their lives to rescue or recover residents in evacuation zones until the Department of Meteorology has given the all clear that weather conditions are “no longer a threat”, according to the legislation.
“The purpose of this legislation is to help save lives when we face storms and to maintain peace and order afterwards,” Minnis said.