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Bahamian Politics Last Updated: Oct 9, 2019 - 10:52:10 AM

Philip Davis remarks at monthly press conference
Oct 8, 2019 - 2:46:53 PM

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Statement by Leader of the Opposition

Hon. Philip Brave Davis QC, MP

Monthly (October) Press Conference

For Immediate Release

8th October 2019

PLP’s visit to Abaco on Monday:

Yesterday (Monday, 7 Oct 2019), my colleagues Glenys Hanna Martin, Picewell Forbes MPs, Senator Clay Sweeting and I travelled to Abaco in response to a call from residents in the Cays. We visited Man-O-War Cay and Hope Town in Elbow Cay.

I first want to say that before going to the Cays, we rode around Marsh Harbour. The stench of death is ever present. There was a report that a trailer of bodies was overlooked and only within the last week discovered. The authorities must address this report because the story is rife through Marsh Harbour.

We spoke to the RBDF officer stationed there and other security personnel. They have been sent there without proper support. There is no canteen and their living conditions are deplorable. They feel abandoned. We raise this issue because the Prime Minister says that he intends to send another 150 Bahamian troops to Abaco.

With respect to conditions on the Cays, as expected, there was major damage and devastation. The first observation that struck us was the conspicuous absence of a Government presence there. The relief effort is almost entirely driven by members of the private sector. As a matter of fact, the first and major complaint that greeted our delegation was the absence of governmental authority.

We have already complained about the report of abuse of the authority of Local Government where the proposal by the Local Committee is to restrict the access of second home owners to the Cay to a period of seven days and by prior application to the Committee. This has no authority in law and is causing some concern.

Bahamas Power and Light has done nothing to date to supply and restore power to the Cays and all affected areas. It has gotten to the point where private sector individuals are seeking to do so themselves and then collecting from BPL on the back end.

There is a terrible problem with the disposal of tons of debris on the Cays. The absence of a governmental presence or input makes it difficult to decide where and how this debris will be safely disposed of.

It is going on six weeks now since the passage of the storm and the Government’s approach seems haphazard and indifferent, knee jerk and whimsical where they appear to be more concerned with public relations than actually doing their jobs which is to help those distressed people.

The Disaster Management Bill

We intend to oppose the amendment of the act in its present form and oppose what the Government proposes to do.

In short, in order to suspend civil liberties, which this bill proposes to do, you have to come squarely within the provision of Article 29 of the constitution. This does not do that.

There is already the authorizing power to suspend civil liberties under Article 29 and there is an Emergency Powers Act which enables how to execute under Article 29. The Bill requires substantial revision and more work to be done before it can get our support.

Further, I am considering a proposed amendment to the bill to deal with the scores of reported missing persons in the aftermath of the storm who many presume are dead.

The Ruling by the House Speaker:

The ruling by the House Speaker on 2nd October 2019 not to allow a full and frank discussion by Parliament on Dorian, given the severity of its impact on every sphere of our national life, was an affront and offensive to democracy, plain and simple. He did so after publicly acknowledging that Dorian was a matter of ‘immediate public importance.’ This is the same FNM who called for a live airing of a public hearing on the contract administration of buildings at BAMSI. The Speaker misrepresented certain provisions in Article 51 of the Rules Book and his ruling was wrong in law, a departure from convention and an insult to the Bahamian people.

Treatment of relief workers:

I spoke specifically about the living conditions RBDF Officers deployed in Abaco are being subjected to, but we again raise the concerns expressed by the first responders, including health workers, and social workers. We have received reports of inadequate government support, poor working conditions, long working hours and the government’s failure to pay the hardship allowance owed to these workers. These workers have told us that they do not think that their own plights are being sufficiently considered and addressed by the government.

Announced repatriation of undocumented persons:

The PLP maintains and we reiterate our position that we see no extenuating circumstances in the aftermath of Dorian to temporarily suspend or to relax the immigration laws of The Bahamas. All persons, regardless of their nationalities, must be repatriated according to law if they are found to be undocumented – that is, if they do not have the right to reside or work in The Bahamas.

Conditions in shelters in Nassau:

Six weeks after the storm’s passage, we continue to receive reports of deplorable conditions in the shelters in Nassau that pose serious health risks. By now the government should have gotten a handle on this and have systems and protocols in place to deal with the logistical, health, safety and sanitary issues at those shelters.

Lingering concerns in Grand Bahama:

We are advised that the indignities of waiting in long lines in the hot sun to receive relief supplies continue unabated in Grand Bahama. This is unacceptable and we again call on the government to address this vexing situation with urgency.
Concerning the massive oil spill at South Riding Point, my colleagues and I met with the executive team of Equinor and they have assured us that they will do all within their power to clean up the spill and remediate the affected areas. We take them at their word.

I am however concerned that this is arguably the worst and biggest oil spill on record and the government appears not to be taking this serious.

How many gallons were spilled?

How many gallons were recovered to date?

Where are we with the Environmental Impact Assessment?

Is there a constant government presence at the site of the spill to act in the public’s interest? If not, why not?

I ask these questions because when the PLP was in office, we provided literally daily updates to the public on significantly smaller oil spills. We did so because it was the responsible course of action and the right thing to do. That is how the government builds public trust and confidence. To date, we have heard very little from this government on this major disaster and when the Minister for the Environment spoke, his utterances were unreliable and quite frankly troubling. The public’s response was not one of confidence and trust but ridicule and scorn.

We also await the government’s plans to rebuild Sweeting’s Cay, given the Prime Minister’s recent trip there. They were slow to address the concerns of the Abaco Cays and have all but abandoned Ragged Island after making many promises, but we hope they would move with alacrity to address the infrastructure and economic concerns of Sweeting’s Cay.

PLP’s trip to MICAL:

During the trip to MICAL by the National Chairman, the Deputy Chairman and other party officers, a constant complaint was the unavailability of the chemicals necessary to address the vexing problem of mosquito infestation. I trust that the Department of Environmental Health will get on top of this issue.

Another major complaint across the four islands was the shortage of teachers and the inability of the government to get the virtual classroom up and running.

In addition to inadequate banking facilities there, the team observed an environmental discharge of diesel at the BPL Plant on Crooked Island due to faulty piping. This creates concerns about the integrity of the local water table and whether the water is indeed potable. We hope the Water and Sewerage Corporation will act in the interest of public safety.

We remain concerned about the scores of students in Fresh Creek, Central Andros who were reportedly exposed to Carbon Monoxide while being transported by bus. Has the ministry of Education commenced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident?

Has that bus been taken out of service and inspected?

What were the findings from the inspection?

Is the bus currently licensed and inspected by the Road Traffic Department?

Was the contractor compliant with the safety protocol put in place the Ministry of Transport and Education and written into the contract to protect the health and safety of those students?

What contingency plan is now in place in the interim?

What are the current conditions of the students and especially the ten who were critically injured during the exposure?

Status of primary school in Lowe Sound, Andros

During January 2017, construction began on the long awaited primary school, permit #03956 for the children of Lowe Sound, Andros. It has now been thirty-four months since construction began and twenty-nine months since the FNM came to office, but the future school remains in limbo and the construction status remain mystery as the structure remains at the belt course. I remind the Prime Minister that this is not a PLP school but a badly needed public school being constructed for the people of North Andros.

The people of Andros deserve to know the status of the construction that remains suspended for some twenty-nine months. They deserve to know why the government feels that the children of North Andros do not deserve this school.

In closing and at every chance we get we thank the social workers, the police force, the defense force, customs, immigration, nurses and doctors and other first responders for all the work they continue to perform to drive this national effort under such difficult circumstances.

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