Former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said that while he initially supported the state of emergency to help curb the spread of COVID-19, too much power has been concentrated in the competent authority, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis.
“Elizabeth will not support the extension of the emergency orders because there is no apparent justifiable reason to do so,” Sands said in the House of Assembly.
“There has been no specific reason to continue the unfettered power, not just of the executive, but of the competent authority.
“Do we extend indefinitely?”
Sands added, “In the face of the greatest challenge to the survival of this country, in the face of the greatest economic downturn since the great depression, in the face of the single greatest public health threat, Parliament, because it cannot function normally, in my view, has surrendered the power of the people.
“Not only have we surrendered the power which we have pledged to protect, but we have doubled down and concentrated it in the office and person of the competent authority because it certainly appeared that it was the right thing to do.”
Minnis moved a resolution yesterday to extend the state of emergency to October 31.
Minnis said, in his view, there remains a state of emergency in The Bahamas due to the number of COVID-19 cases, which now sits at 3,618.
The resolution passed yesterday evening. Three MPs — the three Progressive Liberal Party MPs present — voted against it. Sands abstained.
WHAT HAVE WE GOTTEN
Sands said the outcome of the emergency measures show they are not worth sacrificing democracy over.
“Even with the emergency orders, the framers of our constitution envisioned a balance of power shared by the executive, the legislature and the judiciary,” he said.
“While not explicitly enshrined, it was imagined that each would check the other and the fourth estate would hold all accountable.
“What we have done, at first for good reasons, is to consolidate power into not 39, but one.
“What we have done is to weaken the power of the 39 to provide checks on the one. We have seized the power of the people, possibly, and this requires legal consultation, in defiance of the constitution. We have concentrated it into one person.
“The expectation [was] that there would be a more efficient and effective approach to the emergency.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We have surrendered the people’s power and what have we gotten?
“And all of us, all 39 of us, are here for this time.
“Our people are looking on.”
Sands said a sunset law could be passed saying that until the end of 2021, social distancing and the wearing of masks is required.
He said he supported the “draconian” emergency orders initially because he believed they would allow for the spread of the virus in The Bahamas to be brought to a halt.
“They were a constitutionally sanctioned means to achieve an end,” said Sands, who seconded the initial resolution to declare a state of emergency back in March.
“We had good intentions. The road to a certain place is paved with good intentions.”
Sands said The Bahamas is failing in its fight against COVID.
“We are not winning this battle,” he said.
The Elizabeth MP argued that the emergency orders were inconsistently applied and that MPs should have been consulted before decisions that affected their constituents were made.
Sands was critical of the lack of innovation, particularly as it related to the way in which the House of Assembly has had to meet.
Social distancing protocols have meant that not all MPs have been able to sit in the House at the same time. He said the issue has been exacerbated by a recent exposure at the House, with at least two parliamentary staffers having recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Despite calls from House Speaker Halson Moultrie for all MPs who were in attendance that day to quarantine, and for the House to consider a resolution to allow virtual meetings, that has not happened.
“We ought to be setting an example for the public to follow,” Sands said.
“[Mr. Speaker], I am reliably informed that we have 39 MPs, 17 staff members and 16 senators. To date, six staffers or MPs have been stricken with COVID-19 – that’s 8.3 percent of the staff and members of Parliament.
“That cluster of cases confirms that we are challenged in this ancient edifice, because it amounts to some 10 times the national average.
“… How many more should be infected before we act?
“Many of us, like the population, have comorbidities. Some of us are older than others.
“And while we are individuals, we hold offices. And even if we are willing to risk our individual health issue, we must protect the offices and the institutions we serve.”
“This is not about us.
“This is about this country and ensuring that this country and the instruments of governance and government can continue without interruption.
“This reality ought to push us to an alternative venue or platform and we should do it now. We should have done it sooner.”