MAKE IT MAKE SENSE: Businesses blast lack of uniformity over COVID orders exemptions

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The rationale behind which businesses are afforded ‘special permission’ by the Competent Authority to remain open under the COVID Emergency Orders is being called into question, with some business owners crying discrimination over the lack of response to their requests to conduct business.

Several business owners voiced concern that the government’s approach lacks uniformity. Kevin Knowles, owner/operator of Waterloo told Eyewitness News he had spent thousands of dollars preparing the venue for outdoor dining however after the most recent extension of the COVID Orders and what he called consistent bombardment of his business by COVID police he decided to close the business down last month.

Still, Knowles said he couldn’t’ help but notice the stark difference in treatment of club operators such as himself and local resorts that have operated virtually unabated by restrictions.

Knowles told Eyewitness News, “Bahamian operators have the same obligations as the hotels do though in a smaller capacity. We make smaller amounts of money so it’s all relative. I had to close at 9 pm but Bahamians that can not spend money with me could go spend money in the hotel until 2 am-3 am in the morning.”

Knowles added, “We spent quite a bit of money to prepare the place for outdoor dining. We had extra furniture come in and operated all outdoors. Hotels however are operating completely indoors all day with no restrictions. We made all the adjustments we should have. We brought on extra servers and did additional training for outdoor dining with servers. People began to accept the fact that they had to deal with the protocols but then we were still constantly bombarded by the COVID police. We had 20-30 police come to the location. Businesses can’t operate like that.”

A public state of emergency has been in effect since last March, along with teetering lockdowns and daily curfews as well as exemptions for certain businesses to operate. The state of emergency gives wide-sweeping powers to the “competent authority”, the prime minister, to impose restrictions and requirements to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has repeatedly defended the use of the Emergency Orders. He asserted during an address in Parliament earlier this year that had the government not enacted them there would have been “many more deaths”, as he defended his administration’s actions as “morally and constitutionally right”.

There have been 12,004 confirmed COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas since the pandemic began and 232 total COVID-19 related deaths.  Eyewitness News reached out to the Office of the Prime Minister for comment but none was provided up to the time of publication.

Still, Knowles noted that the many Bahamian businesses were being irreparably damaged by the Emergency Orders. “They are killing Bahamian businesses without thought. We sucked up the losses because we thought this would end in May. When they extended the curfew we just could not go on any longer.

The state of emergency and emergency orders have been extended to August 13, although Dr Minnis said the government hopes that the full three-month extension will not be needed.

According to the latest Emergency Powers Order (COVID-19 Pandemic)(Management and Recovery)(Amendment) Order, 2021, released by the government on a bar, indoor cinema, nightclub, and any cultural or entertainment facility; a regatta, festival, fair, play performance art and other cultural or entertainment event; a spa; and a craft or straw market vendor and a jet ski operator are not permitted to operate.

The government however advised that notwithstanding the order specific facilities and businesses, including certain cinemas, with prior permission to operate may continue to operate prompting two major cinemas Fusion Superplex and Galleria Cinemas to advise patrons that they will remain open.

Knowles said he applied for special permission to operate but to date has not received even an acknowledgment of his request.

“We put together a four-page document outlining what we do. We haven’t had any staff that has tested positive for COVID. We asked for special permission to host groups privately, indicating that we would let them know in advance booking dates, that we could do testing or anything they wanted us to do. We closed down and still haven’t heard anything back. We didn’t get the courtesy of a yes or no, meanwhile, you have some places with people hanging over the walls.”

Renwick Rolle, a 30-year water sports industry veteran, and operator of J.R. Action Water Sports said that he to had written the Competent Authority but had received no response.

“It seems as though they are planning on banning jet-ski operators. It seems as though they want to have us sitting down and waiting on $200 dollars every few weeks. We’re not ungrateful but they need to turn us loose and let us go out there and fend for ourselves. There is a huge demand for jet skis. A lot of the tourists are asking the beach vendors about the jet skis. I don’t understand the reason why we can’t operate. People are going to see the swimming pigs with 20 people on a boat. Why can’t we have two people on a jet ski? We’re not operating in a closed environment, we’re operating in an open environment. It doesn’t add up. I don’t care what the science says. Make it make sense.”

He added, “I already wrote the competent Authority and didn’t get an answer or even an acknowledgment. We have paid our license fees. The year is almost halfway gone and we’re not going to get reimbursed those funds. I have $150,000 worth of equipment not in use and it’s going to cost me $20,000-$30,000 to get them operable again.”

Ivan Francis, owner/operator of Skate City 242 recently told Eyewitness News that he was still seeking to secure formal permission from the Competent Authority.

“It’s really kind of confusing. People were calling me wondering what my situation is. A lot of businesses are just trying to catch themselves. All I could do is sit and wait and see what they are saying. They told me to do some things and so I’m  going to see what happens.”