Leave or get locked up

Residents in mandatory evacuation zones would be arrested if they refuse to leave their areas, according to the proposed Disaster Preparedness and Response (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

The proposed legislation, which was obtained by The Nassau Guardian, was drafted in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian – a catastrophic Category 5 storm with a death toll of at least 52.

It proposes the authorization of any individual to provide essential services with compensation; and regulation of the distribution of essential goods, services and resources.

If passed, the bill would also allow the government to take possession or control of any property it deems necessary for disaster management or to prevent health or safety risks.

“Where an evacuation order is in effect and residents within the specified area or island have not evacuated, a peace officer may take them into custody for the purpose of delivering them to a shelter,” an amendment to the bill proposes.

“…No first responder shall have a duty to risk his life to rescue or recover any person in the specified area or island if it could be reasonably expected that such first responder will lose his life or suffer bodily harm to effect such rescue or recovery.”

The proposed bill says it “…seeks to amend the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act to empower the prime minister to make certain orders and to remove the possible conflict with article 29 of the constitution”.

It suggests that the words “emergency” and “emergencies” be deleted throughout the bill “so that disasters covered by the bill are distinguished from national disaster emergencies referred to in article 29 of the constitution”.

“Clause 16 inserts new sections 27A to 27D into the principal act to provide for evacuation and disaster orders,” it notes.

“These orders would cover a range of activities or prohibitions for the protection of the health and safety of persons in the area stated in the order.

“It includes evacuations from areas specified in the order, curfews, restrictions and movement of certain persons in certain areas and the taking of possession or control of any property necessary for the management or mitigation of the disaster.”

The proposed section 27B would empower the prime minister in consultation with the minister of finance to make provisions for relief by providing rebate of business license fees to licensees; a waiver, refund or reduction of value-added tax on the importation of certain goods; an exemption of any tariff or tax of any kind on the importation of certain goods; and a waiver of any other fee, levy, tax or duty payable under any other law.

According to proposed subsection 27C, the mandatory evacuation order would have to be published “by announcement on any television or wireless transmission by the media duly licensed to operate for transmission and reception [in] The Bahamas”.

It would also have to be announced in notices outside of magistrate courts, police stations and local government administrators’ offices.

The government’s official website would also have to publish the order “as soon as practical”.

The bill recommends that media announcements be made by either the prime minister or the commissioner of police.

The prime minister’s actual or electronic signature would have to be visible on posted notices, according to the proposed bill.

“Any order made by the prime minister shall expire on the thirtieth day from the order unless otherwise provided for within the order,” the proposed bill reads.

“Clause 18 of the bill repeals and replaces section 31 of the principal act to clarify that whilst an order is in effect, and there is a conflict between the act any other law, this act shall prevail.”

The first reading of the bill is set for October 2 when the House of Assembly resumes from its summer recess.

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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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