Senator Darville critical of Competent Authority

SEN. DR. MICHAEL DARVILLE

(Senator Dr. Michael Darville represented the Pineridge Constituency during the last government, prior to May 10, 2017. As an Official Opposition Progressive Liberal Party current senator, he has been given the shadow portfolio for health. On Friday he made the following contribution in the Senate. His remarks follow in their entirety):

“Madam President,

‘Together we stand, divided we fall. The time has come for us to work together and we stand ready as the Official Opposition to assist the government in this fight to save lives and rebuild our local economy.

This morning I rise to make my contribution to the resolution before us today that seeks the continuance of the COVID-19 Emergency Orders to September 30th 2020. We on this side have repeatedly expressed our concerns regarding the Competent Authority’s apparent failure to be transparent to this Parliament and to the Bahamian people as to what they are doing to strengthen the current COVID-19 protocols and the serious economic challenges facing the country. 

Now at this very critical juncture in the fight against this deadly pandemic, to give the Competent Authority a full two months run without, in my view, accountability to Parliament and the Bahamian people, adds insult to injury.

Two months represent a long time for these sweeping powers to be in the hands of one man who, it appears, refuses to be transparent with his cabinet, the Parliament and the Bahamian people. Therefore, we on this side cannot support the extension of the Emergency Orders in its current form.

It needs to be amended.

Madam President we are at a delicate stage in our country where we are caught between the need to fight this deadly pandemic and the need to save our economy. So, it is at times like these that we must be measured and sober in our deliberations and find the right balance to grow our economy while living with this virus until there is a vaccine. This is necessary in order to survive as a country.

We must also be clear and concise in our speech because doubt gives rise to fear and fear breeds irrational behavior.

In times like these we need honest and frequent communications by the Competent Authority and the government because dialogue is critical. We cannot allow the gaps in communication to be filled by hearsay or social media fake news. People need to know the truth and we must be fully transparent. We must also have sound plans and protocols which we must follow with precision and diligence. Our failure to do these things will bring further pain and suffering to our people.

Madam President, after close examination of what has happened on the ground in Grand Bahama, we believe that flawed policies have contributed to the current surge in COVID-19 infections. Further, the devastating effects of hurricane Dorian to homes and property, forcing residences to live with families in over-crowed spaces was also a contributing factor. This condition was compounded by weak COVID-19 protocols and consequently, Grand Bahama is now the hot spot for COVID-19 in the country.  I note that there are reports coming in of the spread of this virus to other islands as a direct result of imported cases related to domestic travel. 

The case statistics have proven that more than two thirds of all new cases in the Bahamas in July are resident in Grand Bahama and the last count from the Ministry of Health team in Grand Bahama confirmed more than 200 COVID-19 suspected cases were in quarantine on that island. But what is alarming is the fact that a number of front line workers are among the reported COVID-19 cases on Grand Bahama, proving that somewhere along the line some protocols were compromised and these front line workers were exposed.

But, what was also alarming to us on this side is the fact that in the midst of this surge in cases, so many persons violated the quarantine orders and were moving about in public places with little or no regard for the consequences.

Madam President, the Minister of State for Grand Bahama in a press release dated July 12, 2020 advised the general public that all confirmed COVID-19 cases were being placed in isolation, quarantined in a secured facility monitored by health professionals as well as uniformed personnel. But, the Ministry of Health updates reported that positive cases were being isolated at home.

These conflicting details coupled with the admission by the government regarding quarantine violations are causes for concern and beg the following questions.

1.  Was the government ready to open our borders to receive international flights?

2.  Was the Grand Bahama COVID-19 task force team led by Dr. Bartlett ready to handle the cluster of COVID-19 infections related to travel, and, do they have the appropriate manpower resources on the ground to deal with the exponential community spread?

3.  Was the home surveillance app operational during the time some people violated the quarantine protocol?

Madam President, we strongly believe that these and other policy failures contributed to the spike in positive COVID-19 cases on Grand Bahama and were compounded by the limitations by the COVID-19 contact tracing unit to identify and monitor the volume of cases associated with this second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Additionally, there is the issue surrounding the government’s refusal to expand its testing regime to include random testing before opening the borders. This is another factor contributing to the deterioration of the COVID-19 crisis on the island of Grand Bahama and must be corrected immediately if we are going to fight this invisible enemy and win.

Madam President, months ago we advised the government that random testing in high risk groups is a proven scientific tool necessary to identify asymptomatic carriers. Once walking carriers are identified, activating strong protocols for isolating them in government managed quarantine facilities would reduce the incidence of community spread.

Madam President, the evidence-based research and epidemiological data shared by the COVID19 task force confirmed community spread on Grand Bahama and confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cat Island, Bimini and Great Harbor Cay were linked with domestic tourism contact from Grand Bahama. 

Despite the political spin from those opposite, the record would reflect that we in the Progressive Liberal Party made many meaningful recommendations to the government, some of which they accepted, and we fully supported these internationally accepted scientific protocols surrounding quarantine and isolation of those infected with COVID-19, and, encouraged Bahamians everywhere to abide by these lifesaving protocols that protect the elderly, the immuno-compromised, and, ultimately save lives.

You see Madam President, good ideas are not exclusive to any one political organization and the government must not be afraid of constructive criticism because even this is an important tool in the fight, if we are going to reduce the incidence of person to person spread and win the fight against this virus. 

Understanding the potential risk of opening up our borders, we trust that the government has done its due diligence and all the safety protocols are in place at all international airports and marinas throughout the country, and ,the staff at these locations understand the potential risk factors and are properly trained and equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE's) to protect themselves and the general public. We trust that our hospitals and clinics throughout the country are ready with the necessary testing capabilities.  

Madam President, in times of crisis, we must ensure that we are very considered and thoughtful in our speech and what we say must inspire confidence in the wider public. For this reason, we on the side opposite were greatly dismayed by the apparent threats made by the Competent Authority to violate our constitutional rights for the overall good of the country. There should be no place for comments like that in the governance of our country. This issue of the restriction of Bahamian civil liberties remains a great concern to us all and must not be taken lightly. 

Madam President, there is also the issue of what appears to be the abuse of the COVID-19 Emergency Orders to address other issues going on in the country that do not relate specifically to the COVID-19 health crisis. 

Madam President, it appears that our Prime Minister has an apparent addiction to these sweeping powers to use as he pleases. He seems to apply harsh measures in some areas of business activities and relaxes other areas of business activities as he sees fit without scientific evidence. This decision making process causes us on this side and the public at large to question his logic and intentions. 

Madam President, understanding the urgency and importance of the health and safety of every Bahamian, our support of the Emergency Orders was given to allow the government and Ministry of Health sufficient time to put all of the safety measures in place throughout our country and outfit our hospitals, clinics and our borders to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and save lives. But going forward, we must ensure that the new rules are well thought out and calibrated to address the real issues at hand.

We are demanding accountability to this honorable institution. The behavior of our prime minister over the last few months is unacceptable and undemocratic. He has seemed unwilling to be accountable to the people, the media and yes this Parliament, with the power bestowed upon him in the fight against COVID19. 

 We (Official Opposition) are excluded from briefings from the health officials and kept in the dark concerning critical issues concerning COVID-19 and other matters.

Other countries in the region extend this common courtesy to the Official Opposition but while we wait for the Competent Authority to demonstrate political maturity in this COVID19 crisis, we on this side would continue to offer sound medical advice that would protect lives and assist our people through these difficult times. 

Madam President, it is critical that we start the process of weaning the Competent Authority off the use of these Emergency Orders because if we fail to do so, we stand the possibility of losing our civil liberties and endangering our democracy. 

Madam President, like our team in the other place, we on this side fully understand the challenges facing the nation with Grand Bahama now going into a two-week lockdown and evidence of community spread in New Providence, Cat Island, Bimini and Moore’s Island. But, lockdowns and curfews without explanation by the Competent Authority are unacceptable. Therefore, we on this side cannot support the government’s recommendation to extend the Emergency Orders for an additional two months and once again, the Opposition is asking the government to extend the Emergency Orders for a shorter period of time with a view of returning to this Parliament for any further extension. 

Madam President, before taking my seat I would like to join our leader the Hon. Philip Brave Davis in extending our support to the 50-plus residents of Grand Bahama during this lockdown and to say that our prayers are with you during these difficult times. But, I am a firm believer that in the mist of it all, God is still on our side and would not give us more than we can bear. 

Finally, I wish to express our gratitude to all healthcare workers, uniformed personnel, government workers, religious leaders, the business community and all frontline workers who are still out there protecting our borders in the fight against COVID-19.

We on this side thank you all for your acts of kindness and sacrifice for our country. 

Thank you and God bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”

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