In his first contribution in Parliament since he led his party to a humiliating election defeat a little over six weeks ago, former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis mounted a flimsy and shameful defense of his own administration’s pandemic response, and demonstrated once again why so many are saying “good riddance”.
Before month’s end, he will become even more irrelevant when he is replaced as Free National Movement (FNM) leader and eventually as leader of the official opposition – a decision no doubt made after it became increasingly clear that he would have been embarrassed at the party’s upcoming convention if he tried to hold onto the leadership.
During debate on Monday on a resolution to thank the governor general for reading the Speech from the Throne on October 6, Minnis went as far as suggesting that the actions – or inaction – of the Davis administration since its election on September 16 resulted in deaths due to COVID-19.
“From a scientific perspective, I would ask the member to do an analysis of the number of deaths that occurred in the Family Islands when we were in versus when they were in,” said Minnis, referring to Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Michael Darville.
The suggested analysis is a dim-witted suggestion, however.
How anyone could make a determination that deaths after September 16 were a direct result of a change in government is beyond us.
To date, The Bahamas has confirmed 643 COVID-19 deaths. Another 67 deaths remain under investigation. Additionally, 128 people died with COVID, but COVID was not the cause of death.
Health officials confirmed 142 COVID-19 deaths in September, the deadliest month for The Bahamas since the start of the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, Minnis and his ministers took credit for progress made in the fight against COVID-19 – the acquisition of vaccines, and the end of the first and second waves. Of course, there was no accepting blame when the situation deteriorated.
In fact, Minnis called a general election during the height of the third wave, hopscotching around The Bahamas, holding political events that broke protocols he himself had put in place. It was thus baffling to hear him blame the new administration for the COVID outbreak on some islands, which occurred within a month of the general election.
There has been insufficient reporting by health officials on these clusters which popped up on some islands.
In the House of Assembly on Monday, Minnis said it was the Davis administration’s lack of a plan to adequately deal with COVID clusters in certain Family Island communities that led to a bad situation.
The situation, according to the reports from the Ministry of Health in recent days, has since been brought under control.
While he gained a reputation as being anti-media, and of talking down to the public, particularly during the pandemic, Minnis on Monday also chided the new prime minister, Philip Brave Davis, accusing him of being silent on the pandemic.
“Were we returned to office, as a sitting prime minister, I would have given a national address within days to address the state of the pandemic,” said Minnis, who gave his last national address on August 22.
“Indeed, throughout the pandemic, we held regular press conferences and I addressed the nation on many occasions; in fact, more than any prime minister this country has ever seen. Unfortunately, the new prime minister has failed to give an address thus far.
“Many Bahamians are confused as to what the government’s plans are. The government seems to lack understanding and direction on dealing with the pandemic just as in opposition. They have more than a communications problem. There are also policy issues.”
But Minnis remains a delusional man.
To suggest that the new administration has failed to communicate its plan to fight the pandemic is just not true.
When Parliament met on October 27 – the first time since the formal opening on October 6 – the health minister delivered a communication on the status of COVID-19 in the country and the new administration’s response and strategies.
He also attended the Office of the Prime Minister’s press briefing the next day and took questions from the media after providing another update on the pandemic response. In fact, he has consistently spoken with reporters since becoming minister of health.
But Minnis was determined to attack the government, even if it was largely without merit.
On Monday, he said what is “most shocking” about outbreaks that have occurred on the Family Islands is that news of them often broke on social media.
“Journalists or people from the areas told of the deteriorating situations,” he said. “So, I ask, where is the plan for the Family Islands?”
The problem for Minnis and for the opposition is that he lacks credibility and repeatedly shows himself to be hypocritical as he makes feeble attempts to defend his already rejected record.
That Minnis has turned his guns at the new administration over the COVID situation in the islands and has absconded responsibility for the state of affairs that existed when he was voted out boggles the mind.
Earlier this year, Minnis and his clueless minister of health were reluctant to acknowledge that the country was in a third wave of COVID-19, although the evidence was clear.
They eventually did so after Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme, made the declaration to the media.
As competent authority, Minnis decided he would no longer take questions from the media after making his addresses, thereby avoiding probing relating to questionable policy decisions and the uneven application of COVID-19 protocols.
Following his lead, Ministry of Health officials were in many instances unavailable and far from forthright when they did stage a press conference. During the height of the third wave, they went months without calling a press conference. When they did, they failed to provide critical information, including data related to contract tracing and case clusters.
It was laughable to hear Minnis on Monday talk about journalists and people from the Family Islands finding out about outbreaks through social media.
Over the course of days in late July, early August, there were repeated online reports about an outbreak of COVID in the Church of God, which resulted in some members dying. There were no reports from the health officials. Minister of Health Renward Wells had no comment when we called to get details. We eventually had to track down that important story without any information from the authorities.
In August, many Long Island residents repeatedly expressed worries on social media and to reporters directly about an outbreak on their island. Again, there had been no formal reporting by the officials.
On the islands, healthcare resources remained scarce.
In July, as the brutal third wave took a vicious toll, Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) officials reported to the media that they had reached a breaking point. In many instances, Family Island patients were being turned away.
During a tour of PMH on August 17, a hospital official told reporters in most chilling tones, “… the islands are calling and I have nowhere to put these patients.”
We know the situation of an overburdened healthcare system due to the pandemic – and in particular the delta variant of the virus – was not unique to The Bahamas.
Countries the world over have dealt with and continue to suffer as a result of the strain on their systems.
Like the Minnis administration, the Davis administration has promised to beef up resources in the healthcare system across the country. It is an ongoing challenge that requires efficient management and the wise use of already limited resources.
To now hear Minnis – who could have used the eight months remaining in his term to effect further improvements and help stabilize our COVID-19 situation – accuse the new administration of causing deaths and failing Family Islanders in the first month of its term shows him to be an even bigger joker than originally thought.
The pandemic response under 18 months of his government’s management saw unrest among healthcare workers and their representatives, who were mostly ignored and disrespected.
A perception set in, and understandably so, that the rules were for the “small man” and the “average Joes” while the more affluent, including many in the political directorate and in exclusive and posh communities, played by a special set of rules.
Many Family Islanders, meanwhile, felt abandoned by their government as their local economies imploded and their clinics were often unable to do much to help them overcome the ravages of COVID-19.
We are watching to see whether the new administration delivers on what it has said it will do – and that is to roll out a sound management plan to enable Bahamians to co-exist with this virus as efforts are made to grow the national economy.
Darville, the health minister, insists they are making progress. We agree with him that Minnis should “hold his head in shame” for making his statements, although it is also probably disingenuous for Darville to tell the House the former administration did “nothing” in the Family Islands.
As a member of Parliament, and as a former prime minister, Minnis has every right to defend the policies he implemented, to criticize the government of the day and to make recommendations on moving us beyond the nightmare we have lived through, and which many are still living through, but to hear him spew disingenuous nonsense from the parliamentary stage in a desperate bid to appear relevant, only reconfirms for many why they are so elated that his days as the leader of anything are quickly coming to an end.