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'Stop Beating Country With The Stupid Stick'

photo

Robert Myers

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Government was yesterday urged to "stop beating the whole country with the stupid stick" amid growing fears that continual COVID-19 lockdowns will create "an economic implosion by Christmas".

Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance's (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business that the Government needed to target specific virus hot-spots and those non-compliant with established health protocols rather than punish an entire population by shutting down islands and the whole country.

Speaking after the Prime Minister yesterday reversed some of the harsher New Providence lockdown measures, Mr Myers said the timing and severity of restrictions unveiled without any warning had made many Bahamians - especially those without jobs, income or sufficient supplies - "increasingly desperate" to the extent some took to the streets in protest.

Warning that The Bahamas "cannot afford social and civil unrest on top of" COVID-19's health and economic woes, he added that the Government needed to produce an "across-the-board strategic plan" that enables the country to "live with" COVID-19 beyond the immediate threat to life and associated medical issues.

Mr Myers suggested that The Bahamas will be "in a war" with the virus for at least the next six months, which he argued made it imperative to also focus on preserving "livelihoods" and jobs - many of which are unlikely to ever come back.

Revealing that he has "never been so unsettled in my entire life in The Bahamas" as he is currently, the ORG chief voiced fears that this nation may take up to five years to recover the economic growth lost to the COVID-19 crisis, describing the present situation as akin to "a house of cards".

"How could you do anything less?" he responded to Dr Hubert Minnis' easing of lockdown restrictions. "When you force people into dismay, and put them over the edge, how do you wonder why they react the way they do when you restrict their civil liberties, and right to earn and eat. If you push people into a corner they're going to do that.

"I don't understand what they're [the Government] doing. I just don't. It goes against every morsel of democracy I can imagine. It's completely ridiculous and irresponsible. Address the culprits, address the situation but don't beat the whole country with the stupid stick. Then we all become stupid and it becomes a bigger problem."

The most severe COVID-19 restrictions seen yet, which the Prime Minister imposed on New Providence on Monday without warning, provoked short-lived street protests yesterday morning by Windsor Park on East Street, which was said to have resulted in the arrest of some 50 persons.

The protest was viewed by many as a symptom of the increasing frustration and weariness felt by many Bahamians over the latest government restrictions, which were designed to halt the recent explosion in COVID-19 cases in New Providence.

The lack of advance warning, which prevented many from stocking up on essential food and other supplies, was seen as inflicting further hardship on a distressed population where one in four persons is receiving food assistance from a government-sponsored initiative and around 50 percent of the workforce is thought to be unemployed.

The Prime Minister's lockdown reversal, which now allows food stores, water depots, gas stations, hardware stores and private pharmacies to re-open from 6am to 9pm, came after strong push back and criticism yesterday from multiple groups.

Mr Myers suggested that the lack of warning was designed to avoid a repeat of Grand Bahama's lockdown, where many people fled that island by air and sea prior to its imposition, threatening to spread the virus to other islands.

Yet Dr Minnis' statement acknowledged the perils of imposing a severe lockdown during the peak of hurricane season, as he acknowledged the approach of another potential storm had factored into his decision to ease restrictions.

However, the constant changes are eroding trust and confidence in the Prime Minister and the Competent Authority, while fuelling the impression that they are out-of-touch with the growing hardship being imposed on Bahamians in the battle to contain COVID-19.

For that very reason, Mr Myers urged the Government to "be more strategic" in targeting COVID-19 'hot spots' and those failing to comply with health protocols, rather than always falling back on the blunt instrument of locking down islands and an entire country.

Dr Minnis on Monday said the Government was moving to a risk-based COVID-19 approach, assessing the threat posed by the virus on each island and tailoring measures accordingly. However, Mr Myers argued that this was "a day late and a dollar short".

"This is a war we're fighting, and are going to be fighting, for a long time. We've got at least six months more of this," he told Tribune Business.

"Let's come up with a strategic plan that is well thought-out and provided by practical persons rather than those who provided this advice. Clearly, those people are not capable of making the right decisions.

"I say that so harshly because the safety and security of this country depends on their state management. We cannot afford social and civil unrest on top of what we're going through. That cannot happen. You're killing the whole country with the stupid stick. Don't beat the whole country with the stupid stick," Mr Myers continued.

"For God's sake start listening and come up with a strategic plan that works across the board, not only for health. You may not be killing people, but your destroying lives and livelihoods that are not going to come back. You're doing it in this draconian manner that shows no foresight and vision.

"It's very disturbing, very disturbing. I've never been so unsettled in my entire life in The Bahamas. I love this place and would hate to see it fail. I still haven't seen an economic recovery plan, and have not seen an ease of doing business plan. It's painful. We've got to do better."

The Government's priority during the COVID-19 pandemic has always been to save lives and protect the already-weakened public health system from collapsing under the weight of multiple virus-related cases.

However, from the economy's perspective, Mr Myers described the cycle of constant lockdowns, re-openings and new restrictions as "unsustainable". He told Tribune Business: "It was unsustainable in March, it's unsustainable now, it's going to be unsustainable if we keep doing it in September and October, and eventually the house of cards will collapse.

"That's what we're building here. A house of cards. It's completely unsustainable. Commerce has screeched to a grinding halt, other than construction and banking, and they're running at half-speed if that. We cannot keep going like this or there's going to be an implosion before Christmas.

"We are not going to win this war by sticking our heads in the sand. This disease is not going to go away. We've got to live with it. That means people have to survive, the economy has to survive, businesses have to survive and jobs have to survive, and we have to pull together to make sure that happens," Mr Myers added.

"It's a very precarious position that the country is in right now. We need vision and good leadership. If we put the right incentives and policies in place, and communicate the right way, and get the health and safety measures in place, we can recover, but it's going to take at least five years or more to get back the ground we've lost.

"I hate to see the country torn apart like this. We need to get some visionary leadership back and need a serious change. We're not going to win this war like this."

Comments

Baha10 2 months, 1 week ago

Any “successful” Businessman knows Committees are created when one wants to avoid making tough decisions, as it allows one to buy time in the hope that time itself will cure the problem ... of course this fundamentally flawed “kick the can down the road” approach to governance has been the convenient order of the day post a Independence, but now the proverbial “chickens have come home to roost”, so if anyone is truly expecting solutions from these multitude of Committees they are sadly disillusional, indeed all one really has to do is look at who are on these Committees ... they are not the truly “successful”, much less “smartest” in this Country, rather they are the “bullish..ters” who are well known to those who are actually successful and smart, who know from interaction that they are merely looking to advance themselves ... the truly successful and smart among us are instead the “quiet” ones who are going about their personal affairs and seeking to exploit the “opportunities” that this Pandemic presents whilst majority panics and runs around like headless chickens ... as this is what successful and smart people do ... noting this is how they became successful in the first place!

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Porcupine 2 months, 1 week ago

"successful and smart" seem to be defined by how much money one makes in today's world. Could anything be further from the truth in terms of successful? The smart and successful have been running this world for eons now. How's the world looking to you?

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Clamshell 2 months, 1 week ago

Neil Hartnell interviews this same guy at least once a week. Today he interviewed him for TWO separate stories. And a photo with each! I know we’re a small nation and all ... but aren’t there a few other businessmen out there? This guy is in the paper more often than most of the Tribune’s reporters!

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The_Oracle 2 months, 1 week ago

Many business people have been trying to help for years, if not decades and get tired of wasting their time. Government(s) don't want help. Many give up. There is only so much pointlessness one can take.
The same people appointed to boards, committees over and over, are there for the stipend and perks. (lunch served at meetings with appropriate carry home ferl) They sure ain't gonna say something that runs counter to sitting quiet. Myers is right, but he hasn't grown tired of trying yet.

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DDK 2 months, 1 week ago

Yes, Mr. Myers and People, SOMEONE has to keep tying to get through to these bird seed for brains politicians.

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Baha10 2 months, 1 week ago

The fact that Govt. has to buy the people on these Committees Lunch tells you all you need to know ... as if you can’t buy your own Lunch, how the hell can these “Experts” help us, when they can’t even feed themselves?!? Time to take a closer look at who is on these Committees and you will see they are for the most part either hanger ons or wannabees (all looking for that “free” Lunch) as they greet and pat each other on the back, whereas the “real” successful people are not even in the restaurant, much less peacocking, but rather hard at work actually achieving results!

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professionalbahamian 2 months, 1 week ago

Thank you Mr Myers!

Absolutely we don’t need to be treated like idiots while trying to keep things afloat in the private sector.

Furthermore government needs to promise NOT to lockdown again before anyone can get anything substantial done to fight this war on COVID.

Enforce testing and allow alternate testing methods as the FDA has done, Open the economy 100% and keep it open no matter what - its a sinking ship at least give us a fighting chance - either that or give EACH citizen and investor a cheque for a years expenses NIB is doing whatever they feel like- changing how long they support persons to suit themselves!! Banks are trying to help as they seemingly are about to go out of business under pressure Don’t force people to wear masks outdoors or in their cars (it’s stupid) Don’t reduce store days or hours (it’s stupid) and only causes crowding- reduce occupancy Don’t close the beaches! post maximum Occupancy - put polite defence force officers to enforce this (people have a right to liberty in truly free countries??!!)

Don’t restrict inter island travel - require rapid testing before boarding aircraft. (As UAE did/does)

This war will last a lot longer than 6 months - try 24 months plus. Remember the current goal is to flatten the curve - eliminating the spread will only come with herd immunity with this one (Sweden)

Lastly what is the point of having such a large government if only a few representatives and the PM actually take part in governing and in the decision process? We’re any representatives consulted, do any of them object to anything or are they just collecting a paycheque with benefits and a government plate? Or are they discouraged because they know the system doesn’t work? Take action, get involved.

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