Bethel says govt. reviewing policies relating to homeless, delinquent tenants
Houses of Parliament pass resolution to extend emergency order
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday that everyone must “take a hit” and help to shoulder the burden associated with emergency measures intended to prevent the local spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
The attorney general made the statement in relation to concerns expressed about landlords evicting delinquent tenants during the state of emergency.
“Everybody has to take a hit,” said Bethel, as he wrapped up to debate on a resolution to extend the ongoing emergency order and 24-hour curfew until next Wednesday.
“The government is taking a hit. Private sector businesses are taking a hit.
“Unemployed workers are taking a enormous hit. And though we are trying to give some support, it may well not be enough to both survive and pay the rent.
“Landlords, banks take a hit. They have deferred all mortgages for three months, so let us all shoulder our fair share and carry the load”
Bethel said the matter could be resolved by deferring rent payments until the emergency order concludes, but that may be “too much” for landlords to bear.
“Maybe it would be better to come with some kind of rent relief or come with some kind of arrangement,” he said.
“Be that as it may, someone who is being evicted within days of the emergency obviously may not have been paying from before the emergency and that may be a problem.
“But we are always dealing with human beings and I think that everybody should realize that we have to love our neighbor at this time.
“…Everybody has to bear and be prepared to bear their fair share of the burden of the fight against this disease, and that means landlords should be prepared to take something of a hit, and not put old people, mothers and children, on the road.”
Both houses of Parliament passed the resolution yesterday.
Leader of Government Business in the House of Assembly Renward Wells advised parliamentarians in the Lower Chamber the emergency orders could be extended.
In the Senate, Bethel made a similar statement, noting the government will be guided by health experts who may need additional time to address what could be a spike of COVID-19.
As of Monday, there were 14 confirmed cases — a doubling in the last four days.
Bethel assured the public that any change to the emergency order is subject to parliamentary and judicial scrutiny and oversight.
He added a judicial committee is charged with reviewing these measures, namely the process of arrest and detention.
Senator Fred Mitchell, leader of opposition business in the Senate, asked Senate President Mildred Hall-Watson to speak to newly appointed Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle about sensitizing officers to enforcement of the orders, particularly with older citizens who live alone and need to travel around the island for essential services.
This week, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis asked individuals over age 75 to not leave their home, and those between 65 and 74 to work from within their homes.
Responding to Mitchell, Bethel said there have been too many violations.
He said until Bahamians accept that a 24-hour curfew means “you do not go out driving because you want to feel the breeze; go out driving to have fun” police will continue to make judgement calls which require them to “ask more questions of people”.
“We have to learn that the law applies to us, not just to everybody else,” Bethel said.
“If the police get are going to get a little frustrated, I apologize on their behalf in advance.
“They too have homes and every time they have to stop some car, they themselves are at risk of whatever if going on in that car.
“Nine times out of 10 it perfectly lawful, but there is always that fraction.
“If the police are a little on edge, I apologize in advance, but I urge Bahamians please observe the curfew.”
The curfew was imposed by the prime minister as a preventative measure in the “fight” against the virus.
Those who violate the curfew are subject to up to 18 months in prison and/or up to a $10,000 fine.
There have been concerns expressed about reportedly homeless people being detained for being out on the streets in breach of the curfew.
To this, Bethel said even if the policy is “misguided”, it is limited by the capacity of the Department of Correctional Services and holding cells.
“If it is a knee jerk reaction to grab everybody said to be homeless and bring them before a court and then be [ordered] to pay a lot of money which they don’t have or go to jail; that’s bound to be frustrated by the lack of capacity of the prison system to deal with it and there has been be a better societal resolution. Now, that only me speaking as a lawyer.”
He said the government will have to review the matter.