One-man rule in the country’s pandemic response is proving to be a patent disaster, and it is past time that the Parliament of The Bahamas recognize and live up to its role in our Westminster democracy, and restore sanity to the governance of our country.
Cries of anguish, ire-laced protests and match-striking at the stem of longstanding social powder kegs within New Providence’s inner-city, filled streets as a consequence of the incredible precipitousness of the competent authority, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, who ordered an immediate one-week lockdown, closing food stores, water depots, private pharmacies and gas stations.
That Minnis did not recognize the closure of these essential services without prior notice would result in residents being unable to secure sufficient drinking water, food, medications and other provisions for themselves and their families, is inconceivable.
It is equally unthinkable that the prime minister would believe tens of thousands of Bahamians and residents who have been unemployed since at least March, would have the resources necessary to adequately prepare for such a move.
Further exacerbating this dilemma, was that his announcement would have prevented pensioners and unemployment beneficiaries of the National Insurance Board (NIB) from being able to collect their disbursements this week.
The abruptness of Minnis’ proclamation was reckless, and had the potential of causing an even greater threat to the health and safety of thousands on New Providence during a lockdown, than would COVID-19.
Conduct unbecoming would be the reasonable verdict for an officer who leads his or her people into a most hazardous stage of battle, with promised bulwarks unfit from the outset.
Minnis advised that those needing to leave their homes during the lockdown were to phone the Royal Bahamas Police Force at 311 for approval, but scores of frustrated residents soon echoed complaints levied since March, of being unable to get their calls answered.
Those in need of food were told that registrants of the National Food Distribution Task Force program would receive parcels, but on the heels of receiving thousands of new registrants due to the lockdown announcement, the program’s chairman advised reporters that the system was “never designed to be an on-demand food assistance program”.
Public outrage, tipping-point dissent and appeals by private sector entities had an anticipated effect of a reversal of Monday night’s announcement for New Providence.
Nevertheless, the Office of the Prime Minister advised in announcing a reversal, that the reason was due to advice by the Department of Meteorology regarding a weather system which might impact The Bahamas by Sunday.
Notably, there was no concurrent announcement about lockdown amendments for the rest of the country to enable all islands to prepare for a potential storm threat.
As of yesterday, a low pressure system located 1,300 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, was said by the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) to have a 90 percent chance of development into a tropical depression over the next several days.
The NHC’s initial public advisory on the system came six hours before the airing of Minnis’ national address, a noteworthy sidebar that speaks to the larger problem of how the prime minister has governed under the state of emergency.
We understand the decision to immediately lock down New Providence was taken without Cabinet consultation.
Days prior to Minnis’ announcement, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar branded as “absolutely no sense” a full shut down, stating that “people have to eat”, and most remarkably, National Security Minister Marvin Dames said he planned to “write a letter” to the prime minister about his constituents’ most vital lockdown needs.
The framers of our constitution vested the authority of governance in the Cabinet rather than in the prime minister.
And contrary to popular belief, the prime minister is not the lord of the Cabinet or Cabinet ministers, but is the first among equals, whose policy declarations ought to be the outcome of collective decision-making.
It is the confidence of the majority of parliamentarians that enables a prime minister to be appointed, and it is public confidence that enables the government he or she leads to have a viable chance of successful stewardship.
The state of irrationality mushrooming over the last five months is eroding lasting vestiges of public confidence, and has rolled back the curtain on a Cabinet seemingly unwilling to hold the prime minister – the first among equals – accountable for actions that have damaged the pandemic fight, the country’s brand and critical relations with the citizenry.
Those elected to govern this country must move to stop the madness.