The prime minister announced on March 19, 2020 that he was invoking the provisions of Article 29 of the constitution to decree a proclamation of emergency under which a number of emergency regulations and orders have been legislated to address the crisis arising from the coronavirus.
The emergency regulations and orders put in place a number of measures such as a 24 curfew, a complete lockdown on weekends as well as limits on the number of people who can gather in one place and imposed a six-feet physical distancing requirement on gatherings.
Under the circumstances, at that time, the cessation of the civil liberties of the citizens and residents of The Bahamas was reasonably justifiable.
However, in my view, the restrictions on those fundamental rights have been left in place for too long.
The prolonged application of the proclamation of emergency and its draconian procedures is dangerous and unnecessary.
The almost daily amendments to the emergency powers orders are confusing and give the appearance, rightly or wrongly, that the competent authority is intending to stretch the incursions on our liberties to the maximum extent possible.
The frequent adjustments to the orders offer too much opportunity for speculation and conjecture of political manipulation.
These repeated amendments and the consequential fear, anxiety and panic they cause to the citizens and their psyche are exactly why Justice Louis Brandeis sounded the following warning: Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent.
It is my view the proclamation of emergency ought to have ended after the initial 14-day period.
Legislation with accompanying practical institutional measures could have then been enacted to replace them. Some of these measures could have included continued enforcement of physical distancing, wearing of masks in gatherings, limits on the number of people at social gatherings, the closure of facilities where crowds usually gather such as nightclubs, theaters, and schools and ban on international and local travel.
I did not include churches in the grouping above because I believe that the church (collective) missed an ideal opportunity to put together its own regulations for worship and for ministering to the people. By missing this opportunity and for its almost total absent voice in this time of crisis, the church has lost much credibility to the extent that some are now questioning their motives and value to the society.
The passage of the legislation to replace the emergency proclamation together with the enforcement of the appropriate protocols would have afforded the government the results it was seeking.
They could have achieved this without taking away people’s fundamental rights and the resulting panic it caused.
There is no logic in having the population out and about Monday through Friday and then impose upon it a complete lockdown on Saturdays and Sundays. The virus is spread only on weekdays?
Moreover, why lockdown adults at nine o’clock every night for weeks on end when only a small percentage of the population is out at nights?
It is easier for the police to drive around and check various business establishments and popular meeting spots than to be at numerous intersections in the hot sun checking IDs.
The right of citizens to move about freely in their country or their right to assemble in small crowds ought not to be abridged for so long a period.
The people should be allowed to move about while obeying the laws and operating guidelines outlined by the medical community.
The coronavirus is not likely spread by people driving their vehicles or walking the streets.
I read a report that indicates that 90 percent of coronavirus infections are spread at homes, in the workplace, public transport, social gatherings and restaurants.
Another report advocates that people should be permitted to move around in the fresh, clean air as immunity is increased by exposure to pathogens on the outside while immunity is greatly weakened by staying in sterile environments indoors.
I would like to see the proclamation of emergency revoked or allowed to die an uneventful death on May 30.
There is no need for the extension of the emergency powers now reposed in the competent authority.
It seems perilous and overly burdensome for these powers to be reposed in the prime minister for 30 days without parliamentary review or oversight.
Why would he want this type of control over the lives of Bahamians for so long a period?
It is time for the people to demand their right to move about and to assemble.
It is time for commerce to reopen with normal hours, so that consumers could have broader choices and there is a little more leveling of the playing field.
By this letter, I am not minimizing the dangers and risks to essential workers that are inherent in this insidious virus.
Rather, I verily believe that we can experience the same level of competence and protection without the continued loss of fundamental rights.
I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s caution: They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
— Maurice Tynes