Mitchell says the government must assure public it will not abuse powers
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman and Senator Fred Mitchell called on government senators to justify the use of emergency powers given widespread public compliance to COVID-19 prevention measures.
However, his request was met with silence during the brief Senate session this morning.
Mitchell, the leader of opposition business in the Senate, said: “You have to be very, very concerned when a government exercises these kinds of emergency powers and the public has to have a sense that substratum is actually there for the need for emergency powers.
“The fact is that as far as we can see, the public has complied with everything the government has asked to be done — the social isolation, all of the rules; the churches have complied and so on and so forth, so why does the government feel the need to have emergency powers. And I am sure they have an explanation for it.”
He added: “We are already hearing some feedback on the question of the power under the regulations with regard to social media comments and whether there is going to be abuse of power by the government.”
The morning session opened with Labour minister and Senator Dion Foulkes tabling the Governor General’s proclamation order for a state of emergency, and the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulations, 2020 with its minor amendment and the Quarantine Order 2020 bill.
Mitchell made the appeal after Foulkes advised Hall-Watson of the intention to adjourn the session as he and the Minister of State for Grand Bahama and Senator Kwasi Thompson were in the “midst of a Cabinet meeting”.
When Senate President Mildred Hall-Watson asked Foulkes if he had a response, the government senator indicated he did not.
Hall-Watson replied: “Okay. We shall continue then with our agenda.”
Governor General CA Smith signed the proclamation order on Tuesday.
In Parliament Wednesday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis laid the emergency regulations, giving himself and government wide-sweeping powers related to mandatory detention, isolation, curfew, requisitions of building, and criminalizing the posting or sharing of fake news.
Minnis has not made any orders imposing those restrictions as yet.
Mitchell said notwithstanding the time constraints, an explanation was prudent as it was unclear the public understands this new development.
He also said the public must be assured the government will not abuse the emergency powers, as there is a history throughout the Caribbean of the abuse of power in the exercise of emergency proclamations.
“I thought that even given the time constraints, the Cabinet meeting and everything, that there would be an explanation to this House as to what is being done; what is being laid; what has been laid; and including both the proclamation and the regulations, and what is the substratum of why this is necessary,” Mitchell said.
“It would seem to be obvious I think because his response was it was done in the House of Assembly, so the country knows, but this is another House — that’s number one. Number two is, we’re not certain that the country understands quite a part of why it is being done; what is actually being done.
“So, to explain to people what is the proclamation; how the governor general gets to have the authority to do so; and what is going to ensue from this.”
Mitchell noted there was an amendment to the proposed regulations in the Lower Chamber, but the opposition was uncertain of what the effect of the change had.
He said: “But now that it has come here it is perhaps appropriate for the ministers here to say well this is what the effect of this is.
The amendment to COVID-19 regulations adjusts the “fake news” clause.
The clause reads: “No person shall publish or cause to be published, posted or re-posted, over any media platform inclusive of social media, any purported news or report, or purported statement of fact, knowing or have reasonable cause to suspect that the same —is untrue or false; or may incite public fear, panic or ethnic hatred.”
The amendment changes the clause to: “is untrue or false; and may incite public fear, panic or ethnic hatred.”