Governing shaped by public opinion

Prime Minister Philip Davis tweeted the following from New York where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last Wednesday: “Today, we are announcing the removal of the mask mandate in the Bahamas on October 1 … the adjustments to the mask mandate is recommended by the Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health and Wellness.”

This was followed by an announcement from the Ministry of Health and Wellness on Thursday.

In mid-July, when the prime minister was asked about the removal of the mask, he said “… we are attempting to reach a point where we can rid ourselves of some of the tools that stop infections … one of the ways of doing that is ensuring that as many of our people get vaccinated.”

When asked if the mandate would be lifted before year end, he laughingly said: “I hope to do so next week. If you could assist us in getting another 20,000 persons vaccinated by next week, we’d like to have it off by next week.”

The government’s vaccine tracker recorded some 170,000-plus people as having been fully vaccinated by early August.

At that time, the minister of health and wellness, Dr. Michael Darville, said his ministry was hoping “… to have 70 percent of the population vaccinated against COVID-19” before lifting the remaining mask mandates in the country, a goal he said he hoped would be reached by the end of the year.

Neither the prime minister’s tweet nor the ministry’s statement last week referenced the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated.

We have no indication that 20,000 Bahamians were vaccinated in the past six weeks. So, many will be interested to know what science-based conditions permitted the about-face in the government’s pandemic management policy.

During one year as leader of the government, Davis has shown an inclination toward doing what he believes will be popular. The relaxation of COVID-19 health safety protocols has been less to do with science and more to do with responding to public fatigue with COVID-19 restrictions.

Meanwhile, both the prime minister’s tweet and the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ statement are disconnected from the reality of the services being offered under continued pandemic restrictions by the government.

While responding to public pressure for dropping mask mandates, the prime minister has failed to cause the full reopening of government offices.

As the mask mandate comes to an end for private businesses, whether food stores, pharmacies, banks, or airlines, members of the public continue to be frustrated by government offices that require appointments for receiving the most mundane services like the submission of an application to the Immigration Department, delays in receiving receipts when paying government fees at the Department of Inland Revenue or being forced to deliver documents into a “drop box” at the Registry of Records.

In the meantime, Davis spoke at the UNGA on Saturday, reiterating expected calls for developed countries to meet their obligations to help small developing states challenged by climate change, COVID-19-related debt and harkening for better international response to crises that persist in Haiti and in Cuba.

Then, shocked by the European Union (EU) intention to greylist The Bahamas financial services sector on Friday, the prime minister lobbed a new charge against developed world regulators of international financial service centers, paraphrasing language from the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement by saying that “Black-governed countries matter”.

This statement is likely to sit well with a particular segment of the Bahamian population.

Charges of racial bias by EU governments are not substantiated by the record of EU relations with black-governed countries. The EU’s financial contribution to Bahamian development projects are a matter of record, including the electrification of Cat Island, the construction of roads on Long Island, and of airports on Rum Cay and Ragged Island.

The reality is that in their pursuit of what they consider their legitimate tax revenues, EU governments are not easily deterred.

It is true that the standards applied by them to small international financial centers are different to rules applied to themselves and to their developed country allies and, hence, unfair, but these cannot be judged to be racist.

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