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Contribution to Resolution to Extend the State of Emergency

Chester Cooper, Exumas and Ragged Island MP May 28, 2020

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to hear that I will not support the extension of the state of emergency. In fact, no one who purports to believe in democracy should. At the outset of the coronavirus crisis there was widespread agreement that there should be a state of emergency in order to react quickly to mitigate the threat. I see no medical evidence or rationale put forward by the competent authority that indicates we should remain in a state of emergency.

I seriously question whether this is about protecting anyone any longer, but rather about a prime minister who is clueless as to how we emerge from this state of emergency. The competent authority should not have been constituted one man, but rather a small tribunal, but that is what happened.

As we have moved along, what I have witnessed is a prime minster, who appears to me to be drunk on power and relishing that he can make decisions unchecked. This is not what the state of emergency should be about. And, indeed, this is not what our democracy is about. The people of the Exumas and Ragged Island did not send me here to surrender their democratic rights to a single individual, who clearly, in my opinion, has no earthly idea what he is doing.

In fact, no one sent any of us here to surrender our democracy to the prime minister. He is an elected official given power through a democratic process.

He is no king; no matter how much he acts like one of late. I find it incredible that any of us in here would entertain the thought of extending the state of emergency to give power to a single individual after the way we have all been treated. I wonder if the members who represent Eleuthera will find their voices after their constituents were so thoroughly disrespected by not having their elected representatives counseled as to when their islands would be allowed to resume normal commercial activity.

I wonder how the representative for the Berry Islands feels having to admit that he had no idea Andros, but strangely not the Berry Islands, would be allowed to open. How does he feel having to admit that he was in discussions with the Office of the Prime Minister about opening the Berry Islands? It appears that up to Wednesday, he was unable to convince the most competent most honorable authority.

How did the representative for Bimini after advocating for a lockdown and seeing her cries go unheard for weeks, only to find out the people she represents were going to go into a two-week lockdown when the rest of the nation did? The management of this entire situation has been a shambolic, disgrace. And I say that not from a political perspective, but as a reasonable thinking human who can easily spot mismanagement when he sees it.

The competent authority has made decisions that are devoid of logic and common sense. First, he closes the borders without notice to our country’s own citizens, denying Bahamians the right to return to their home.

You probably can count on one hand the number of nations that did this. Yet he lacks the clarity of thought to avoid gloating about being one of the first countries to allow citizens to come home. You don’t hear about many countries opening up to allow citizens in, because hardly any locked their citizens out. Then he does not allow Nassuvians stuck in the Family Islands to return home or allow those stuck in Nassau to return to the Family Islands under any circumstance.

Now, there are numerous requirements being imposed on the Family Island for residents who want to return to their homes. Then, he imposes a 24-hour curfew and lockdown carrying penalties of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of $10,000. He gave no ability under this law to exercise discretion, and gave the courts no route to use discretion not to impose penalties. It is outrageous. It led to the arrest of the homeless.

Then, the arrest of poor people looking to get water during one of these draconian lockdowns.It must be nice to live so comfortably that you forget there are Bahamians who do not have running water in their homes. Running water, by the way, that this administration promised to deliver to them.

It must be nice to not need to work every day to earn a living so that you forget that some young men who do not want to pick up a gun would like to sell coconuts to support his family without being arrested.

We have seen people looking for food locked up and fined.People looking for food, like the food you had promised to deliver them through your much-touted food network, arrested and fined. We have seen children checking on their parents locked up and fined. It has been a disgrace. An overreach and an abuse of power.You have decided to govern this situation by coercion rather than persuasion. You have pitted our police force against the public. You should hang your heads in shame. Then, you announce a five-day lockdown with little advance warning, creating panic at food stores whose hours you limited. Then as we were emerging from the lockdown you released an alphabetical food scheduled that created chaos. It was such spectacular failure that you had to abandon it within days.

You have issued orders one day, then amended them the following day and over and over and over again. You have done nonsense like impose a weekend lockdown after allowing people to be out in public during the weekdays.

Then, you brilliantly allowed three hours of exercise during the lockdown days, because clearly the virus sleeps in on weekends. You closed Arawak Cay, Potter’s Cay and the dock at Montagu, robbing those fishermen the ability to make a living through regular sales. You ordered Arawak Cay and Potter’s Cay restaurants closed completely, yet every other restaurant can offer delivery and takeout. You have ignored the vulnerable and left them to dangle despite what you claim social services and NIB are doing.

I know of a woman in her 20s on Exuma who has been living in her car with her six-year-old son for three weeks because she is out of work because of the border closure. She applied to Social Services in Exuma weeks ago for rental assistance. Social Services in Exuma sent the request to Nassau. Social Services in Nassau told Social Services in Exuma that an inspector would have to assess her situation before she could get help. I want to ask what assessment should be conducted? If she is living in her car, that should be patently clear. She got help yesterday because she called me Tuesday at her wit’s end and I had to call Social Services on her behalf. What exactly is going on?

Why do I need to call Social Services to help someone who has applied to them in need? I know of another woman who went to Social Services and said she needed food. Social Services told her that she needed to wait on NIB to pay her, which it had not.

She went back to Social Services and said, ‘I am hungry. I need food.’ When she got a voucher, it was for $50 and she was told she cannot get another voucher for four weeks. There are constant complaints of Social Services on Exuma running out of food vouchers. And those vouchers have to last a person four weeks. You are not now providing the kind of support that people need to make it through these curfews and lockdowns you imposed, and now you want to talk about doing this for another month. It is ridiculous.

All this confusion, all this irrational, unintelligible nonsense is topped off by a competent authority who ducks the press, runs to the arms of the state-run media to find comfort and only deigns to address the nation when the king sees fit. It is unseemly and undemocratic. I am shocked anyone here would think of allowing this to continue. I will tell you, the people of Exuma do not wish it to continue. What they want is a plan to help Exuma rebound. There seems to be none by the competent authority.

But we in Exuma do not just wait around for others to do things for us. Community stakeholders and myself have devised a plan to make Exuma a COVID- 19 free zone and market it to the world in the absence of a vaccine. We would like to set up a private laboratory, working along with the private medical community, to be fully operable with coronavirus test kits and full

protective gear, pharmacy and delivery services available; and dully compliant with the Ministry of Heath guidelines.

Protective gear would include N95 and 3Ply masks, personal protective suits, face shields, two to four ventilators, infrared thermometers, rapid test kits CE certified and eventually full antibody test kits and a PCR Analyzer. A very good analyzer unit would cost about $50,000 landed. We would have all the residents on the island tested via the antibody test kits when they become available. We would ensure that every hotel/guesthouse and public area is cleaned in a way approved by the health department and has regular disinfection routines. We would invite the health department to do regular random and unannounced inspections of public areas and issue regularly updated certificates. Exuma and her cays would adhere to all international and local recommendations as it relates to COVID-19 in order to lower the risk of spreading the virus.

The borders could be open on a step-by-step basis until a full vaccine is available. We would open the airport to international flights, while limiting flights to smaller, more manageable planes. We would create a new marketing program to say that Exuma is open for business and “COVID-19 safe”. We would get a new Exuma website going with spectacular videos to showcase the Exumas, as a safe destination for travel. We would establish regular flights with Makers Air from Fort Lauderdale to George Town and Silver Airways, ensuring that all passengers have a recently certified test done showing a COVID-19 negative result. This could be supplemented with a rapid test at the airport before boarding.

We would then increase the flights according to demand and eventually expand into American Airlines and the other larger carriers. Visitors can then go to certified Covid-19 free resorts, hotels, homes, restaurants and public areas where needed.

The fixed-based operator welcoming private planes would be equipped with rapid test kits to ensure all incoming international passengers are cleared in concert with health authorities. As number of visitors grow, which would hopefully be quickly, more airlines could adopt the same measures of pre-testing passengers. We know that Google and Apple are developing a new COVID-19 tracing tool for Android and Apple users that will become available soon on an opt in basis with all the necessary safeguard to keep information confidential. Therefore, we believe this is a feasible plan. The people of Exuma are tired of this treatment. The people of The Bahamas do not widely trust that the competent authority is indeed competent. This is a democratic country, not a kingdom. We work for the citizens, they are no one’s subjects. We are legislators. We need to do our jobs and legislate social distancing measures in public places. This rule by fiat must end.

The Bahamian people do not wish to be dictated to in this fashion any longer. God bless Exumas and Ragged Island and God bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

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