The St. Augustine’s College (SAC) team of Alexis Godet, Kobe Forbes, Steven Armbrister and Tiarra Stubbs snagged the 23rd national debate championship title, but it was C.I. Gibson Senior School’s Amia Bastian who walked away with the best speaker title for the second time, having earned the honor as a 10th grade student.
The C.I. Gibson team, comprised of Bastian, Deranique Moore, Kella Fleurima and Ranicia Ferguson, finished second.
Kingsway Academy’s third place team was comprised of Tymia Thompson, Tynaz Thompson, Tremaine Johnson and Shemar Gibson.
It was the first time in the history of the debate that there was a three-way run in the final.
SAC brought forward the proposition. C.I. Gibson Senior School and Kingsway Academy, the opposition.
For Godet, the win was “shocking” yet “sweet redemption”.
“I was on the team since ninth grade, but you’re not allowed to speak until 10th grade, and that year we did not make it to the final. Last year was cancelled due to COVID-19, so this year was like a redemption. We took it and ran with it,” said Godet.
Going into the competition, Godet, SAC’s rebuttal writer, said her teammates had a lot more faith in their ability because she had fed into the hype that another team was a difficult opponent. But she said the SAC team armed themselves with facts to address the topic, “Be it resolved that the government alone should have the right to make decisions for The Bahamas during a pandemic” at The Geoffrey Brown Auditorium, at Queen’s College, Village Road.
Key to their win, she said, was the copious amount of research done by the squad.
“We had to do so much research, more than we’ve ever done – article after article, asking whoever we knew, getting different voices, and hearing everyone’s opinions to get us on the right path to know what topic we should research.”
The SAC team said making a decision is the government’s right constitutionally, and that the Government has proven that they listen to the advice from science and medical experts, and as a result have no reason to have anyone help make their decision.
In their speech, the SAC team referenced Dr. Mike Ryan, epidemiologist with the World Health Organization (WHO) who said the countries that best succeeded in curbing the spread of the virus and eliminating it were not those with more resources, but those with governments who centralized their decisions and did not hesitate to implement aggressive measures to contain the virus as early as possible. And that it was because of that reason why during a pandemic it was best that governments alone chart the course of their countries, and reject dissident voices.
They also referenced former Court of Appeal President Dame Anita Allen, who said, “The government and governor general are authorized to make regulations by Section 3 of the Emergency Powers Act for the purpose of security of the public safety during an emergency.” She added, “For the purpose of dealing with an emergency, the constitution allows government the right to provide for the detentions, restrictions and punishments of persons who offend against the regulations.”
The SAC team reminded the opposition to not forget the fact that the government still takes advice from healthcare professionals and experts, but that their decisions are ultimately made amongst themselves.
“In your crusade to revoke the government’s right as a ruling body, you forget that making a decision and listening to advice are two utterly different things. The government can and has been heeding the advice of numerous experts, but in the end, these experts do not and should not have the authority to make decisions.”
The SAC team hammered their point home, citing Chapter 3, Article 19 of the constitution, which states that the government, during an emergency, has the right to restrict freedom to prevent a spread of infectious diseases.
During rebuttal, SAC questioned what makes a good government. They said many people will say it is one that listens to its people; while others will say it is one that puts the needs of the most vulnerable first. But they questioned what would happen when the voices of the citizens and the most vulnerable do not speak as a united one.
In rebuttal, Godet said government must act decisively. And that if the government waited for a vote to be taken, even more lives would be lost.
Godet told The Nassau Guardian that as the SAC squad did its research, she came to the realization that government is doing more than people give them credit for, and that multiple people are behind final decisions being made.
To prepare for the final, Godet said the SAC squad came together in socially distanced sessions on days when they had in-person learning at school, and got together via Zoom on days they were home.
Bastian told The Nassau Guardian she was in disbelief to have captured the best speaker title for a second time.
“It was a great shock,” she said. “But I thank God.”
At the same token, she said she was disappointed her team did not take the win, but proud of them for making it to the final.
The C.I. Gibson team had stressed that government, alone, should not have the right to make arbitrary decisions for The Bahamas, and that the lockdowns were gratuitous and unfair.
The debating championship was established by the Ministry of Education for senior schools during the 1998-1999 academic year on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Common Market.