The government’s flawed narrative

Major problems requiring the focused attention of the government abound such as the poorly managed and ill-led Bahamas Power and Light (BPL); putting the Public Hospitals Authority’s (PHA) patients’ medical records into a retrievable computer program; bringing crime, particularly violent crime against individuals, to heel; reigning-in growing bureaucracy which adds to the cost of doing business and frustrates legitimate business; moving to implement policies that counter climate change; and putting in place a structured, thoughtful recovery and reconstruction plan for Abaco and Grand Bahama, three months since Hurricane Dorian.

None of these major problems are receiving appropriate focused, continuous attention by the government; none more so than the response to Dorian. Instead, the government is leading the chorus of xenophobic voices who see the presence of several thousand mainly unskilled and largely illiterate migrants in the country as the single most important issue requiring its attention.

Clearing Haitian shantytowns on Abaco has trumped getting assistance for speedy recovery and reconstruction to Bahamian communities stretched across Abaco and Grand Bahama.

New and conflicting administrative appointments and the creation of duplicative bureaucratic positions confuse and delay progress on the Dorian recovery and reconstruction front.

Efforts by international private sector groups to bring equipment and reconstruction supplies to Bahamian communities are being hindered, if not stopped altogether, under the guise of protecting government revenue streams.

On Saturday, this paper reported the newest government minister to join in the government’s demagogic assault on Haitians. He expressed alarm at the discovery of several powerful generators in the ruins of the principal shantytown of The Mudd in Marsh Harbour, Abaco. He said these were operated in pre-Dorian Abaco by well-heeled criminal networks which also threatened government revenue streams.

He did not tell Abaco when its schools would be repaired, its airports returned to full service and its electrical and water systems restored. He had no report on the clearing of debris from Marsh Harbour, Dundas and Murphy Towns. No, his focus was on Haitians having had electricity in The Mudd.

The minister did not recognize the absurdity of an allegation that several million dollar-sized generators could be delivered to Marsh Harbour and set up in The Mudd and subsequently serviced and provided with diesel fuel on a regular basis, undetected by any authority – the port, immigration, customs, police or BPL on Abaco. The minister’s allegation condemns each of them.

The minister’s comments are in keeping with the government’s narrative, led by the prime minister, of blaming the presence of persons living in the shantytowns as principal contributors to our economic woes, and now, to criminal activity.

Such views ignore the government’s own pre-Dorian report on shantytowns that identified most residents of shantytowns on Abaco as documented persons: Bahamian citizens, permanent residents and work permit holders.

Saturday’s paper also carried comments of visiting representatives from the UN’s regional human rights office which relayed “worrying claims of violence and abuse” connected to deportations and repatriations.

Government leaders must ensure that reckless, unthoughtful statements by them are not used by others as justification for bad behaviors or indeed, violations of the rights of individuals.

Previously in this space we voiced a concern that jingoistic language coming from leaders of the government would make us pariahs in the international community or, at a minimum, place us in the company of governments whose association would not contribute to our reputation as a responsible member of the international community. We repeat that concern as minister Desmond Bannister added his xenophobic statements to earlier pronouncements by the prime minister, the attorney general and the minister responsible for immigration and others regarding Haitians living in The Mudd in particular.

These ministers sit in a cabinet with a colleague minister who has publicly acknowledged that his mother first arrived in The Bahamas as an undocumented Haitian immigrant. The success of her son, and his continuing contribution to the growth and development of The Bahamas, is proof enough that the short-sighted, xenophobic, demagogic attitude being excused and supported by some in the government is not only flawed but dangerous.

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