Former Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday he will not support an extension of the state of emergency as proposed by the prime minister, charging that given the number of COVID-19 cases, the country is not a “whole lot better off” as a result.
The Elizabeth MP insisted the time has come to return the power to the people.
“I don’t see any reason why we ought to continue a situation where the management of the affairs of this country are limited to a single individual,” Sands told The Nassau Guardian.
His comments came a day after Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced the intention to extend the state of emergency brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic to October 31.
“There is the belief that we have surrendered our responsibility and concentrated it into a single person,” Sands said.
“I don’t think the country is a whole lot better off because of it. As a matter of fact, with 3,000 cases, almost 90 deaths, some might say that we are certainly not better off.
“So, it is time now for the legislature to assume its rightful place as one of the pillars of democracy. Let us move from a situation where all of the decision making has been vested in the hands of the competent authority for now moving into seven months and return to the appropriate representation that the people voted for.”
Governor General C. A. Smith declared a state of emergency on March 18, granting wide-ranging powers to Minnis as the competent authority. The move came three days after The Bahamas confirmed its first case of COVID-19.
As of yesterday, The Bahamas recorded a total of 3,177 cases of COVID-19. There are 1,626 recovered cases and 69 deaths. Seventeen deaths are under investigation.
Over the last six months, there have been numerous lockdowns, curfews and other restrictive measures to fight COVID-19 in The Bahamas.
“There is no end in sight to COVID-19,” Sands said.
“Are we going to surrender democracy indefinitely, or are we going to return the power to the people?
“We made a decision that we would vest responsibility for many things into the competent authority because there was an emergency.
“Our constitution allows for that. I am not sure that our constitution allows for it to extend beyond six months.
“But certainly, I don’t see anything that would suggest that this member of Parliament should vote to extend those emergency powers. And so, I would go on record to say that Elizabeth will not be supporting the extension.”
When he addressed the House of Assembly on Wednesday, Minnis said there is a continued need for the state of emergency, citing the increasing number of cases and deaths. The current emergency period is set to expire on September 30.
The constitution provides for the extension of the emergency proclamation for a period “not exceeding six months”. Today marks six months since the March 18 proclamation.
However, the government neglected to cause the extension of the emergency period when it expired on June 29 and the governor general issued a new emergency proclamation, effectively resetting the clock on the competent authority’s emergency powers.
Some legal scholars contend that the constitution does not envision multiple proclamations for the same emergency.
The prime minister gave notice that the resolution for the extension will be debated at the next sitting of Parliament on September 23.