Govt looking to end state of emergency in August

Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday the government is seeking to end the state of emergency in The Bahamas in August, when the current emergency expires.

However, he noted that the decision depends on if cases begin to increase again.

“As it is right now, the government has indicated a view that we could look towards the August period for the removal of emergency powers,” Bethel told reporters outside Cabinet.

“And that is certainly the aim.

“Everything depends on how we behave ourselves as a people. If we don’t behave ourselves and infections go out of control, then the governor general may have a view as to what is needed to protect the Bahamian people.

“But it is always best for people to err on the side of caution and to protect themselves. And so, I call on Bahamians first of all to embrace the vaccination program where possible, and secondly, where it isn’t possible, to take every step necessary to protect yourself from contagion, because the coronavirus is still here and is still moving through society. The question is whether it is a manageable matter or whether it can’t be managed.

“Now, we hope that through the self-discipline of the Bahamian people, we will continue to be able to manage and as you see, bring down rates of infection, which is currently going on.”

While there has been a decrease in the number of new reported COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, officials say deaths and hospitalizations remain high. The country is currently in a third wave of infections. There have been 12,379 COVID-19 cases recorded in the country.

The Bahamas has been under a state of emergency since March 2020, shortly after the country recorded its first case of COVID-19.

A “procedural oversight” in the Office of the Attorney General led to the inadvertent expiration of the first state of emergency on June 29, 2020, leading to the governor general’s declaration of a new state of emergency on the same day.

Had that error not occurred, the six-month period permitted by the constitution for a state of emergency would have expired in September.

A third state of emergency was declared on November 24, 2020, and the fourth state of emergency was declared on May 14, and is set to expire on August 13.

Bethel made the comments yesterday when asked about the government’s intentions given that the House of Assembly suspended until September 22, even though Parliament would have to debate any extensions to the current state of emergency.

He said Parliament will meet as necessary should the governor general declare another proclamation of emergency.

“If the governor general forms the view that the emergency persists, the governor general is always free at any time to issue a new proclamation even during the course, the unexpired term of an existing proclamation,” Bethel said.

“And once he does so, then both houses will be summoned to meet within five days of the issuance of such a proclamation.

“So the mere fact that the House has adjourned beyond the expiration date does not prevent the governor general in his discretion, should he feel that the emergency persists, to issue a new proclamation, summon the houses and allow them to debate whether or not to extend the proclamation.

“Such a proclamation would last for 14 days absent a decision by the houses to extend the proclamation.”

Minister of Health Renward Wells, however, said the decision to suspend until September is indicative of the government’s intention, as he called for the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to facilitate the reopening of the country.

“Simply said, in order to extend the state of emergency, you have to be in the House of Assembly,” he said.

“I think August 13 was the date and we have suspended the House until September 22.

“So, obviously, unless the House of Assembly is called back under an emergency circumstance by the governor general, the order itself is just going to expire.

“I would have said that we are looking to open the Bahamian economy fully.

“In order to do that, we need Bahamians vaccinated. Bahamians are beginning to answer the call in greater numbers.”

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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