NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Attorney General Carl Bethel today suggested the government’s balancing act of mitigation efforts may have gone too far toward liberty, freedom of travel”.
He maintained that contact tracing efforts has shown that new cases of the coronavirus on previously uninfected islands was largely the result of Bahamians and residents traveling abroad and then subsequently visiting Family Islands.
The attorney general said if The Bahamas had the same structure as authoritarian China the government could have reopened the borders to the world and block Bahamians from travel.
But he pointed out the nation is a democratic one with enshrined fundamental rights.
Bethel said: “Now, this is the reality. We live in a free and democratic country and, you know, if we were in authoritarian China, we could easily have said, yes, we’ll open to the world, and we will block our citizens from going anywhere, but that’s not The Bahamas.
“We have a constitutional democracy. We have the rule of law and people have fundamental rights, so we are where we are because of the nature of our constitutional order and the profound commitment of the Bahamian people to the protection of their own fundamental rights and.. also the fundamental rights of others.”
He made the statement during debate in the Senate of a resolution to extended the state of emergency and the emergency orders to September 30, 2020.
He conceded the “balance may have gone too far toward liberty, freedom of travel”.
“We are where we are because of the nature of our constitutional order and the profound commitment to the Bahamian people and their fundamental rights,” Bethel said.
“…We are where we are, and the government, pursuant to medical advice, will do whatever is necessary to protect the health and safety of the Bahamian people, the preservation of our health system, the ability of our hospitals to cater to the broad range of health needs — that has to be fundamental to our efforts.”
Health official briefed Cabinet and other stakeholders on Thursday.
He said those details were being shared with the opposition, civil society, the trade union and other stakeholders to inform them on where the country stands today.
Bethel said only a vaccine will restore the “normality of which we are accustomed”.
To the extension of the state of emergency, the attorney general said the extension from month to month reflects on Parliament’s oversight, as the orders could be extended for six months in one instance.
He insisted Parliament remains sovereign under the constitution even in an emergency.
Bethel said the government must do what is right to protect Bahamians and strike the right balance to sustain life and health, and economic activity and must “move towards an appropriate balance between these two undertakings”.
“These are serious times and we are in the grips of what appears to be a second wave, largely associated with the reopening of the economy, the borders,” Bethel said.
He added: “We will fight and defeat this insidious virus.
“We will strike the right balance. We will save our country.”
For his part, PLP Senator Michael Darville said the opposition cannot support the orders in its current form and it needs to be amended.
In the House of Assembly on Thursday, the Official Opposition proposed to amend the state of emergency to the end of August, but the amendment was voted down.
Darville said the government must be “measured and sober” in its deliberations.
This article has been edited to include the attorney general’s direct quote on China in the Senate.