By Philip Brave Davis Q.C.
I listened intently to the Prime Minister’s address on COVID-19 and the way forward, but apart from suspending the alphabetical shopping schedule and the announcement of a few task forces to manage food distribution and advise the government on the way forward, the Prime Minister did not address the urgent needs of many Bahamians: many of our people simply have no food and no money to purchase food.
Shortly before his address, I received a call from a single mother with children. She is desperate. She has no food and the landlord is threatening eviction. She is hurting now and the address provided no hope but more agony and despair.
For the avoidance of any doubt, the Opposition was not informed or consulted on any of the announcements made by the Prime Minister.
Tonight we heard the Prime Minister boast that we are making progress in the fight against COVID-19 but how does he measure that when at the same time he announced that the number of cases is rising? Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? The Prime Minister presumably has in his possession the metrics to give some kind of forecast as to when he sees the picture improving. None of that was evident in his speech tonight, except the bare assertion that things are getting better. Where is the evidence of that?
We continue to be very concerned about the immediate needs of the unemployed, the poor, the elderly and the disabled. The announced Food Security Task Force appears to be a longer-term strategy to deal with the broader issues of food security and increased local food production capacity.
As for the newly unemployed persons who have applied to the National Insurance Board for employment insurance benefits, the Prime Minister had nothing encouraging to say to these people. Simply acknowledging the fact that thick government bureaucracy is the cause of the non payments is not good enough. During our contribution in parliament, we urged that bureaucratic norms be done away with and the Minister responsible agreed, so what is the truth about the unemployment benefits?
It is regrettable that the government did not see it’s way to have employers continue to pay the salaries of the displaced workers and for the government to reimburse employers on receipt of rebillable invoices. This option is quicker, more efficient and would spare NIB the administrative overload that is at the root of the payment delays. The government is advised to reconsider this option.
My Parliamentary colleagues and I, along with the party’s COVID-19 Task Force and Economic Advisory Council will remain engaged with civil society and the Bahamian people and voice their concerns as we work our way through this crisis together.
By Philip Brave Davis Q.C.