SUMMARY STATEMENT BY SENATOR FRED MITCHELL
CHAIRMAN OF THE PROGRESSIVE LIBERAL PARTY
FOLLOWING HIS VISIT TO FREEPORT, GRAND BAHAMA
7 September 2020
I want to thank the Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party and many of our benefactors both on this island and across the country for their support of this visit. I am leaving here with the satisfaction that all of the objectives that I was sent here to execute were executed with some degree of success. I thank the local team of officers and members for their unqualified support of our work. In particular I must thank the National Vice Chair for Grand Bahama Julian Sawyer and the Assistant Secretary General Chala Cartwright. I thank the owner, management and staff of the Royal Islander Hotel for their gracious hospitality. I thank my friends Al Dillette and Brian Seymour for their unstinting support.
I also bring greetings to the wider Grand Bahamian community from the Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party Philip Davis. I want to thank those chairs of our Branches and other officers from all constituencies in Grand Bahama for attending the briefing session. I now wish to speak of some of my observations about the state of the island and this city.
I landed here on Wednesday 2nd September with the following remit and objectives. I spoke at a press conference at the Grand Bahama International Airport. They were to stand with the victims of Hurricane Dorian, one year after; to hold up the flag of the Progressive Liberal Party and to show the people of Grand Bahama that the PLP had not forgotten them; to test the regulations and rules for travel during this pandemic, having regard to the express statement of the Attorney General that the Parliamentarians cannot be restricted constitutionally by these rules; and lastly to thank the business community for their help in forcing the Government to reopen the economy of Grand Bahama.
In that regard, my mission was helped significantly by some trolls and propaganda people of the Free National Movement by publishing what they alleged was a photograph of me eating at a local establishment when I was supposed to be in quarantine. The visit took on a life of its own and then became the currency by which the PLP was able to spread its message. They did my work for me.
I have said that I do not propose to comment on any specifics of those allegations but I repeat the invasion of privacy should be criminalized.
I also say though that one hopes that the same FNM trolls and propaganda folks will ask the Prime Minister the same questions about his visit here today with a staff of people and whether or not it is his intention to quarantine here for 14 days. Further, the question for the PLP is whether or not the Prime Minister will concede that the Leader of the Opposition has now the right to do the exact same travel patterns that he the Prime Minister now does when it is time for the Leader of the PLP to come here.
You have all heard me say it before: what is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander.
This is what I meant when I was at the international airport when I said that we as legislators have to test the system. It is clear that the Prime Minister believes that he is free to travel the country with his entourage. Yet our MPs the Leader who represents Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador; the Deputy Leader who represents the Exuma mainland, the Cays and Ragged Island; the Leader of Opposition Business Picewell Forbes represents South Andros, Mangrove Cay and Central Andros, are all by these Covid regulations stuck in Nassau and unable to visit their constituencies, if these regulations are to be followed. It is unreasonable to ask these MPs to quarantine in their islands for 14 days to carry out their responsibilities.
The Prime Minister’s visit to Grand Bahama makes the point in that he has stayed here for a little over 3 hours and no one expects that he will put himself in quarantine as the rules require. So again, what is good for one must be good for the other.
Now the Prime Minister came here ostensibly to tour the Rand Hospital. This follows by one day, the tour by the PLP delegation led my me yesterday and the Rev Keith Russell, NGC Kirk Russell, Vice Chair Julian Sawyer and Assistant Secretary General Chala Cartwright. Our PLP tour highlighted the shocking collapse of health care in Grand Bahama, the fact that health care workers are not given proper working conditions and equipment. There is a shortage of medicine and swabs for testing. Testing for the general public is now farmed out to the private sector in an economy with little ready money for the cost of 264 dollars a test. This is unconscionable on the part of the FNM.
I repeat. Grand Bahama does not need slick public relations by the FNM government. They need action. The Prime Minister can fix these problems and he does not need to tour the Rand. He needs to fix the Rand and the ancillary health care facilities.
We are very concerned about the reports that testing has ceased to the general public and is being farmed out to the private sector. This means that people will not rest voluntarily and therefore we will get a false reading of the state of the infections in Grand Bahama. The Prime Minister must correct this.
There is a balance in the public policy to be struck between life and livelihood. The PLP has made the point that the FNM has starved this economy dry by shutting down the whole economy and people are revolting against it. We urge the Government to do both their jobs: protect our lives by ramping up testing and a public education campaign on protecting our health and providing equipment and medicine and also opening the economy in a sensible and sustainable manner.
What is discovered on the latter point is that there is significant pent up local demand that can keep the economy humming, albeit at a reduced level but something is better than nothing.
I also encourage all PLPs to join our campaign of public education: protect yourself, save yourself. This is in response to the FNM’s failure in public education on Covid. We urge all supporters to wear a mask when on the outside and in stores, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, stay 6 feet away from others when outside, sanitize all surfaces and keep the windows open at home to let the fresh air in. The talk is that if we can get 80 per cent of the population to follow this routine, we may be 90 per cent of the way to protecting ourselves and saving ourselves.
Our supporters have asked me about PLP candidates in the next general election. You know that the party’s new constitution seeks to give the local branches the first say about who they would recommend to be their candidate. I emphasize the word recommend. Several aspirants are already in the field in all constituencies in Grand Bahama. No one has been nominated or given the nod by the Leader or any other party officer. There is an intense competition and some people are upset with the dynamics of that competition.
I thank all the aspirants who are at work. I encourage them not to mislead people in the field that they have been chosen but to maintain their decorum and truthfulness and respect for their opponents. Their supporters at the end should know that we are all PLPs and we need every vote.
At some point in the not too distant future branches will be asked to make their recommendations. Until then the canvassing with continue. Thank you again for understanding and supporting the process.
The Leader’s position is that the process should not be rushed but should be concluded sooner rather than later.
Our concern is not to put people in the field to expose them to the FNM and to the financial and other liabilities of a political campaign too early. We hope that you understand. However, I do want to make it absolutely clear that if an election were called today, we are ready to fight that election.
We are keeping an eye on the Government’s political activity. One of the reasons for this visit is to be sure that the signal is sent to the Government that we are not going to allow them to use the Covid 19 pandemic as an excuse to stop the PLP from campaigning in our country and suppress the ability to campaign, island wide and nationwide.
We only take at face value the word of the Prime Minister that he is more focused on the pandemic than on an early election. We do not believe him and we have to act on the basis that an election will be called at any moment since that is the very nature of our system. The law gives the Prime Minister the right to catch the Opposition off guard by calling a snap election. Indeed, having regard to the results in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and St Kitts and Nevis, we think the Prime Minister may be tempted to do so. We are aware of all of this.
This has therefore been the reason why we have taken the position with the government that has now proposed to amend the law to end the practice of renewing the register every five years. The government now wants to keep the present register, make it the permanent register with the Registrar General having the responsibility with the Parliamentary Commissioner to purge the voters who have died and add those who register for the first time, mainly those turning 18.
This means that the PLP will have to trust the public service to purge the register.
Our position is that if the Prime Minister intends to go to an early election then we will contest under protest the present register. However, since the Prime Minister now says he intends to run the full term, there is enough time for him to start the renewal of the register as is required now by law and that new register will become the permanent register. We insist that registration to renew the list should be started as the law now requires. It is already 2 months late.
It looks like the Government intends to ignore our advice and go ahead anyway with their plan to turn the present register into a permanent register. This means that PLPs will have to be vigilant doubly so as to ensure the purging of the register. You can put nothing beyond the FNM and their bag of tricks.
The settling of candidates, pushing for a national census to be completed, for the constituencies commission to meet will be priorities for the Leader upon his return home which will be sooner rather than later.
The Deputy Leader Chester Cooper has been charged with settling the draft of a platform on which we will fight the next general election and I expect that the elements that it will contain are:
An economic recovery plan with as much as 250 million dollars set aside to assist small and medium businesses and venture capital;
The removal of bothersome nuisances in regulations and hindrances on businesses and their ability to function;
The restoration of the public scholars programme and the full support of the virtual platforms for education nationwide and;
Legislating the proper economic rent for the use of our natural resources and for monetizing the externalities associated with tourism like the damage to the environment.
Fixing health care with each island getting the mini hospitals and the support of doctors and equipment and in particular supporting the anticovid fight
National Health Insurance must be finalized and capitalized.
We are concerned that this economy is in the doldrums and immediate action must be taken to stimulate local demand. I repeat what I have said for a number of years to the FNM: put money on the ground in Grand Bahama.
This island is paradise on earth. You have much to be proud about. You have a strength and resilience that I have long admired which has caused me to want to be a part of the residential community here someday. We all have to work to save the island. We cannot let the FNM get away with the mismanagement and indifference. We as PLPs must give hope.
I as leave this time, I say not adieu but au’revoir.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless the Commonwealth Of The Bahamas.
PLP All The Way!