Govt defends record on crisis response after ‘attack’ from Davis

Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis has been “attacking” the government “for his narrow self-interest” during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of the Prime Minister said on Wednesday, adding that Davis has not been interested in “the hard work of governance”.

The OPM’s comments came after Davis released a statement claiming that public confidence in Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has decreased as a result of “unfair applications” of COVID-related restrictions, including lockdowns, which, Davis said, are “killing small businesses and hurting Bahamian families”. 

Davis also called on the government to put money on the ground by supporting the local economy and to upgrade hospitals and clinics and testing capacity.

However, according to OPM, Davis’ “continued failure of substance and support puts all Bahamians at risk”.

“This is a time when we should be coming together as one, not issuing false, misleading statements,” it said in a statement. 

“The leader of the opposition’s statement released earlier today is sadly mostly fiction and the same meandering thinking has led him to continuously flip-flop as the government put in place health measures to save and protect lives.

“He has been asked to attend meetings, offer suggestions and participate as a Bahamian leader, not as a partisan politician. Sadly, the only things we have been able to count on from the opposition are partisan politics and willful misinterpretation of hard facts.

“In this crisis, the leader of the opposition has not demonstrated an interest in being involved in the hard work of governance. Leadership is about doing and working with others toward a common goal.

“The leader of the opposition has only been interested in attacking the government of the Bahamian people for his narrow self-interest.”

The OPM said this is “a time of extreme strain on all Bahamians”.

“Families are hurting,” it said.

“Jobs are being lost. Businesses are fighting to survive. The government has had to borrow to ensure the country’s sustainability during the terrible economic shock because of COVID-19.”

The government has “maintained” all public officers amid the pandemic and worsening economic situation, according to the OPM.

The National Insurance Board’s (NIB) unemployment benefit program has issued $84.2 million to 36,813 people since March 23.

NIB paid $15.5 million to 7,183 individuals under the government’s self-employed assistance program, the OPM statement added.

“This government has put in place an unprecedented national food distribution program in conjunction with leading non-profit feeding programs, including Bahamas Red Cross, Hands for Hunger, Lend-a-Hand Bahamas, the Bahamas Feeding Network, One Eleuthera Foundation, IDEA Relief and others,” the OPM said.

The program was established in April to assist those in need during the pandemic.

On Sunday, the prime minister said 27,705 households have registered for assistance. The figure increased by 2,944 households in the next 24 hours.

As of Tuesday, 30,649 households were registered with the program, in which the government injects $1 million weekly in addition to existing social services programs.

As a result of the pandemic, the government instituted a tax credit and tax deferral employee retention program through which medium and large-sized businesses with 25 employees or more were able to receive tax credits or deferrals of up to $600,000 for three months to service non-tax payroll.

As of July 20, the Department of Inland Revenue approved $18 million in tax credits.

The Small Business Development Centre has approved $38,681,769 in grants and seven-year term loans for small businesses, according to the OPM.

A total of $25,908,632.04 has been disbursed to 541 companies. Of this amount, $3.1 million are grants.

The COVID-19 pandemic followed Hurricane Dorian which ravaged Grand Bahama and Abaco — the second and third largest economies in The Bahamas — nearly a year ago, displacing thousands and killing dozens.

The pandemic came as the government attempted to stimulate economic activity on the islands, particularly Grand Bahama, which has been stagnant following devastations by successive hurricanes in recent years.

Unemployment figures, which were released by the Department of Statistics in August 2019, indicated a national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, which was the lowest rate in 10 years.

However, one year later and five months into the pandemic, Director of Labour John Pinder estimated that the national unemployment rate has exceeded 40 percent as thousands of tourism workers and other non-essential workers remain furloughed.

On Wednesday, the OPM said the government is “standing shoulder to shoulder with every Bahamian” as The Bahamas continues to fight the pandemic.

“The leader of the opposition’s statement ignores the hard work of the government in this extraordinary crisis,” it said.

“That he would issue a statement in these times absent of the facts, logic and common sense is disappointing. The prime minister and his government spend every day focused on bringing solutions to the real-life emergencies COVID-19 has caused Bahamians. This is not the time for political gamesmanship.

“The public is reminded that The Bahamas is not alone in dealing with this devastating pandemic. Every country in the international community has taken measures to protect their public health and their economies.

“As of today, over 20 million cases have been reported and some 737,417 deaths have been recorded worldwide. Millions have been made jobless.

“The leader of the opposition is again invited to join with the government and Bahamians of goodwill to help those in need.

“It is not too late for him to change course, lay down his political ambitions for a moment and do the right thing.”

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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