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Saunders calls for committee to explore handling of COVID-19 fight

Parliament is not acting as a “check and balance” for the government, Deputy House Speaker Don Saunders said yesterday, adding that a select committee should be formed to examine The Bahamas’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can take this opportunity to have a select committee look at the whole COVID-19 fight in The Bahamas,” Saunders said.

“That could be a particular area that committee looks at whether or not we should amend our laws so that there isn’t a one-person competent authority, but instead a different form of competent authority. 

“I’m not necessarily saying that I personally take issue with there being one person. The fact that the issue is so live in The Bahamas, not only by members of Parliament but by the man on the street, then maybe we should have a select committee look at how other jurisdictions are addressing that.”

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has been acting as The Bahamas’ competent authority since a state of emergency was declared at the onset of the pandemic in March.

Acting in that capacity, Minnis has ordered the closure of the domestic and international borders, imposed national lockdowns and implemented nightly curfews.

Saunders, who serves as Tall Pines MP, said a select committee should be formed — “either in the very near future or even after we’ve got things under better control” — to examine what the government has done and how The Bahamas can better prepare for another pandemic.

“The whole essence of a select committee is to probe and examine and make recommendations,” he said.

“In The Bahamas, we don’t use select committees as we should and, as a result, the executive (branch) has much more power or the executive isn’t checked as much as it should be. The Parliament is not acting, in my view, as the check and balance on the government in the way that it should be in a Westminster model.” 

Saunders added, “The role of the backbenchers or the Parliament, in general, is to scrutinize the government, notwithstanding the fact that members of Parliament may be of the same party. The rule of Parliament — whether you’re an FNM (Free National Movement) or PLP (Progressive Liberal Party) backbencher — is to scrutinize the government.

“A way of scrutinizing the government and being a check and balance of the government is to have a proper committee system in place which is normally the position in most Westminster jurisdictions.

“The problem we have in The Bahamas is that our committee systems don’t function the way they should.”

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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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