COVID-19 state of emergency expires at midnight

COVID-19 state of emergency expires at midnight
AG Senator Carl Bethel. (Keval Williams/EWN)

New proclamation expected, curfew continues

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – A legal oversight has led to the expiration of the public state of emergency order; however, the national curfew and emergency orders will reportedly remain in effect as officials work to close this gap.

Attorney General Carl Bethel apologized today, for what he termed a “procedural oversight” in allowing the Governor General’s state of emergency declaration to lapse.

The latest state of emergency was extended to June 29 and expected to expire at midnight.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis tabled a resolution today to extend the state of emergency and emergency regulations to July 31. Minnis gave notice several weeks ago that the government did intend to extend the state of emergency again.

However, under Parliamentary rules, a 24-hour notice is required between the tabling of any motion and any debate on that motion.

While the rule could have been waived to allow the debate, Bethel said the Official Opposition did not support the waiver.

During the evening sitting of the Senate, Bethel took full responsibility for the faux pas.

He explained that the Office of the Attorney General failed to deliver a resolution to extend the state of emergency in time for the document to be tabled in Parliament.

“As minister I must accept, and freely do accept full ministerial responsibility for this oversight,” Bethel said.

The attorney general furthered that the Governor General will now have to consider whether the COVID-19 emergency still exists in The Bahamas, and whether he will issue a new proclamation.

“If and once he does issue so, the Competent Authority will consider whether to issue new COVID 19 orders and provisions,” Bethel said.

“The effect of this would mean that there would be no break in the curfew orders, no break in the mask wearing, sanitization and social distancing orders…The regime that is in place during this phase of opening will remain in place with all of the disciplines, so immediately after 12 midnight, should the Governor General make the second proclamation, all the orders will then come into the new orders that will be signed after the governor general has signed the proclamation.”.

Bethel reiterated that the issue was his full responsibility.

“The government of The Bahamas has every right to expect and to rely upon timely, and in-time, advice from the Office of the Attorney-General,” he said.

“This is not the prime minister’s oversight. This is not the government’s oversight. It is the oversight by my office, and my oversight.

“I apologize for this procedural oversight to His Excellency the Governor General, the prime minister, the government of The Bahamas, and the Bahamian people.”

The initial state of emergency was declared on March 17, amid the global spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The declaration along with the emergency orders was extended several times to allow the government to mitigate the spread and phase in the reopening of the country.

Article 29 of the Constitution provides for an extension of the state of emergency of up to six months with parliamentary approval.