EDITOR, The Tribune.
As is commonly known, the public health crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in most of our economy being shut down.
As the government seeks to reopen parts of the economy, we take particular note of the uproar coming from the heartless owners of gambling houses after they were forced to close due to their brazen and presumptuous act of recommencing their gambling operations and bringing them outside in an attempt to continue their financial rape of poor and needy people.
In our view, they are economic vampires who are sucking the already low financial blood of poor people and legitimate businesses.
Sadly, though, the chickens have come home to roost because numbers gambling should never have been legalised in this country.
The Bahamian electorate overwhelmingly voted “No” to it, yet the Christie-led PLP government forced it upon us, and our already poor communities have been plunged into deeper poverty as the merciless owners of these numbers houses amass wealth on the backs of poor and desperate people whose need and greed tempt them to gamble away the little that they have.
We applaud the government’s decision to the close gambling houses, but we go further and urge the government to shut them down permanently, if it can be done legally.
The undeniable truth is that the presence of gambling houses in our communities will only deepen and lengthen the economic recession our country is in, and it will threaten any recovery gains made.
If the government cannot legally shut them down, we urge the government to tax them down in an attempt to pay for the financial harm they have inflicted on the poorest among us who gamble and for whom the government must provide the social safety net.
However, while we support and applaud the government’s decision to close gambling houses, we register our dismay and disappointment that the government didn’t likewise close liquor stores.
What is the rationale for allowing liquor stores to reopen in light of the prevailing evidence that it is inappropriate and unwise to do so in this COVID-19 pandemic?
In an April 14, 2020, website article titled, “Alcohol does not protect against COVID-19; access should be restricted during lockdown”, the World Health Organization Europe (WHO/Europe) gave guidance to governments regarding alcohol consumption that has been clearly and regrettably ignored by our government.
Specifically, the article notes the following: “Alcohol is known to be harmful to health in general, and is well understood to increase the risk of injury and violence, including intimate partner violence, and can cause alcohol poisoning.
“At times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence.
“WHO/Europe reminds people that drinking alcohol does not protect them from COVID-19, and encourages governments to enforce measures which limit alcohol consumption.”
Based on The Bahamas’ high incidence of alcohol abuse and addiction, domestic violence, and physical and sexual abuse, it is sad that the government has ignored sound advice and is aiding and abetting such horrific conduct by allowing liquor stores to reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Accordingly, we call upon the government to rethink that decision and close the liquor stores in the exact same way the gambling houses were closed.
Additionally, we also call upon the government to better regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol for the good of society as a whole beyond this pandemic.
Knowing that there are competing demands before the government as decisions are made regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, we assure them of our ongoing prayers to have the courage to make the right decisions for the national good and not for a selected few.
Pastors Lyall Bethel, Cedric Moss, and Alfred Stewart
May 14, 2020.