EDITOR, The Tribune.
Abaco after Dorian is the closest The Bahamas have ever been to a war zone, unique in our history.
The Mudd, Pigeon Peas and SandBanks are 99 percent depopulated, as 58 persons are proven dead, with at least another 500 bodies waiting to be found and (hopefully) identified as rubble is searched and cleared away.
With all housing destroyed, uncounted thousands have moved away, either voluntarily or under Government evacuation orders to shelters in New Providence or Abaco itself.
This is not only a human tragedy but an economic crisis, since labour resources will be insufficient as Abaco slowly recovers with the gradual rebirth of Marsh Harbour, Treasure Cay and Hope Town.
It is fatuous for the Attorney General, the immigrations authorities and the Prime Minister himself to talk about business as usual; normal enforcement of the law; no exemptions, etc, while Abaco is living under war zone conditions.
Our politicians are clearly reacting to the undeniable fact that the vast majority of the dead and displaced are Haitians without Bahamian citizenship. They are all being called “undocumented”, although it turns out that a fair number held work permits entitling them to be here.
Of course the Haitian presence in The Bahamas has become excessive, and I thoroughly agree with the recent letter from John Bostwick suggesting an effective naval blockade based in Inagua, where our Defence Force could play a more useful role than from its ceremonial headquarters in Coral Harbour.
This redeployment should have been executed years ago.
But that that change would not solve today’s problems.
What’s needed is a present-day administrative Special Authority within Abaco.
The Prime Minister’s first move was correct. He appointed two experienced officials to coordinate government relief efforts — Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Jack Thompson and former NIB head and experienced businessman Algernon Cargill.
Then a week later he muddied the bureaucratic waters by creating the “Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction” headed by a new Minister of State, instead of simply upgrading the already existing NEMA.
The PM has ample constitutional power to create such an Authority by simply declaring a state of emergency, and giving Messrs Thompson and Cargill plenary powers as virtual Czars with broad executive discretion.
Specifically, they could:
• Fence in the devastated shanty towns and rigidly restrict entrance to prevent re-settlement and rebuilding.
• Arrange the razing of shattered structures and removal of debris.
• Determine ownership rights of the newly vacant spaces, possibly with devolution to Government.
• Arrange for sale or rental to private sector developers who would reconstruct under approved zoning rules and building codes.
• Deal individually with displaced Haitians, negotiating jobs for those with work permits and enforcing timely departure of all others, to other islands with Government shelters or eventual repatriation to Haiti.
All these detailed steps can best be handled, and decisions made, on the spot in Abaco.
As in any war zone, existing laws and regulations could be waived or amended to suit immediate objectives, and the special regime would come to an end once Abaco is restored to function normally.
Innumerable international precedents can be found for war zone measures.
In the United States during the Second World War, tightly regulated gas rationing was accepted, with enforcement discipline, even arrests, unthinkable in peacetime.
“Law and Order” can be maintained without anti-Haitian hysteria.
In this emergency, Government cannot be expected to make the lives of displaced Abaco Haitians any bed of roses, but they can be treated fairly and humanely.
October 2, 2019