Dry Bones or Tools for a new world?

Former Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson

During this COVID19 crisis I am reminded of my Grandmother saying that we are as strong as our weakest link. This truth applies to family, community, country and the world. While some will “stay home”, thereby mitigating spread of the virus, the homeless person has no home in which to stay. This diminishes the success of confinement efforts. It does make everyone see our interconnectedness. I am dismayed that Parliament has tied the hands of judges so that, our society has come to the place where homeless people are imprisoned for circumstances beyond their control. Is this an opportunity to create a new Bahamas where, by 31st December, 2020, every home must have running water and sewerage disposal facilities?

Recovery dictates that countries that are seriously in debt have to “rescue” the economy and institutions that strengthen society. Is this the opportunity for thought leaders to define a new world where wealth and prosperity include capital/money as well as the wellbeing of people and our quality of life? Should a vision of a new Bahamas and a new world, one resilient against pandemics, include focus on basic needs including access, for all, to running water, housing, primary health care, living wage etc.

The world is in the midst of a health and an economic crisis. In The Bahamas, it is said that on 30th March, 2020 Parliament will debate extension of the 24h curfew to April 30th, 2020. I pray that Bahamians and residents will be given facts, to promote transparency and understanding of the reasons for decisions. As our leaders seek balance in response to both crises, it would be wonderful to see economic and health experts, from the private sector and the Leader of the Opposition, standing with the Prime Minister. These are national crises. All voices must be heard.

Especially during a state of emergency, are the following some proposals that we could reasonably expect from Government in a 21st century Bahamas:

  1. provision to support all self-employed workers who are earning profits below a defined amount and paying national insurance;
  2. Government support up to a defined sum per month for companies to keep workers employed. Perhaps these workers could receive agreed salaries/wages and not NIB payments;
  3. prohibition for 90 days from evicting persons who are renting homes;
  4. 90-day deferral on home mortgage payments for persons below an agreed household income level. The family must be living in the home;
  5. prohibition for 90 days on financial institution foreclosures on mortgages for rental or other home mortgages;
  6. no financial institution penalties on the deferrals and prohibitions;
  7. lifting of financial institution charges e.g. online transfers and credit card payments, for 90 days;
  8. promotion of conservation measures on the consumption of electricity, diesel, propane, gas and other fossil fuels. This will help conserve foreign currency reserves so that fuel can be purchased for essential services to keep the country running;
  9. encouragement and incentivizing of renewable energy solutions;
  10. conservation measures on water to minimize waste;
  11. prohibition for 90 days on disconnection of BPL, BTC, WSC and ALIV;
  12. encouragement of Bahamian cottage industries e.g. production and acquisition online of face masks, so that during the crisis everyone wears a mask whenever they leave home. Social media is filled with stylish face masks. No red tape. Online ordering and delivery for these and other products and services could promote safety measures to diminish COVID19 spread?

These proposals are similar to those being made in other nations. They promote public and private sector partnership. The private sector would be called to share with government the burden of helping people through the crisis and the benefit of mitigating health, social and economic devastation. Also, to the extent that people remain employed, the country is in a better position to rebound. It is easier to regain momentum while moving rather than from a complete stop.

Looking at these crises, through old prisms, we may see devastation or dry bones. Is it the truth that by showing concern for the weakest link, or supporting our neighbor, we may put ourselves in the best position to rebound? Is the so called devastation an opportunity to create a new world?

Yes we can!

Allyson Maynard-Gibson
29th March, 2020