By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has defended his role as competent authority amid scathing attacks from Mount Tabor pastor Bishop Neil Ellis, who earlier on Sunday raised concern about the “dangerous” amount of power vested in one man.
Dr Minnis refrained from attacking Bishop Ellis and said he will not speak ill of him, but did affirm his belief in God, telling this newspaper he is a frequent church goer and a baptised Catholic.
His comments to The Tribune came after Bishop Ellis heaped criticism on Dr Minnis, Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament while preaching about the ego of King Nebuchadnezzar.
Bishop Ellis also suggested the nation’s leader did not believe in God. His sermon was live streamed on Facebook.
The bishop knocked House Speaker Halson Moultrie for complaining about “bathroom issues” in Parliament and Education Minister Jeff Lloyd for vowing not to engage with Bahamas Union of Teachers President Belinda Wilson because of her behaviour.
He saved his harshest criticism for Dr Minnis, however. Parts of the sermon went viral on social media yesterday.
At one point the bishop said: “The only way our children can learn now is online and you have the nerve to cut over 9,000 people’s electricity off? I ask you this question: where is your heart? Do you have a soul? Look at them, FNMs wouldn’t say nothing and look at the PLPs gloating. This ain’t no time to gloat and this ain’t no time to be quiet, we have to fight for our nation and fight for our children.”
Bishop Ellis also said: “In our country we live in a democracy and I’m saddened over the fact how grown men and women can sit in our Parliament from March to now and still allow the prime minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas to act as the one, true and only leader who makes every decision in the Bahamas. How dare y’all.
“Having been democratically elected by our people because you’re spineless and trying to protect your territory, you’re grumbling on the outside about you don’t know how long we’re gonna do this and you don’t have enough spine on the inside to stand up and say ‘no more lockdowns Mr Prime Minister, we will not extend these curfews, we will not give you an extension of the orders another month.’”
He continued: “It’s a dangerous thing when you start acting like a god. It’s a dangerous thing when you got all the power wrapped up in your hands. It’s a dangerous thing when you’re the only person in a country who can determine who goes and who stays, who has a funeral in a church and who else goes to the graveyard. It’s a dangerous thing for you to decide who gets to come in private and who else got to stay locked down. It’s a dangerous thing when there’s only one person in your country making all the decisions. He determines when we shut down or open up. He determines whether businesses stay closed or operate from the curb. He determines whether churches are opened or closed.
“How in the world did we get like this? This is no longer cute. It was alright for the first two or three months when everyone was trying to get their composure and understand this virus but eight months in if you’re gonna ask for an extension, at least make a case. You are insulting our intellect and parading on our democracy and sidelining our right of movement and humiliating our business owners and entrepreneurs. Your one man stand is killing our economy and it sure doesn’t help when the one in the chair does not believe in God.”
When contacted for a response, Dr Minnis pushed back at assertions he is not a believer of God, but said he will not respond to Bishop Ellis as he was taught to “respect” religious leaders.
“I was brought up in a Christian home,” Dr Minnis said. “I was brought up as a Catholic. I attended Our Lady’s Church and served as an altar boy. I’m still a Catholic, I attend the Resurrection Church when I can and outside of that I attend New Providence Community Church on Blake Road. I was baptised as a Catholic and I do believe in God. I was brought up to have the greatest respect and admiration for all religious leaders as they are God’s earthly representatives.
“I will not respond to Bishop Ellis nor will I say anything ill of him. That has been my teaching and I’ve been taught by my mother and my father that only God should deal with his earthly representatives and that respect and admiration I should never lose for any religious leader.”
However he did defend his role as competent authority, which some have said have led to too much power being concentrated in the hands of one man.
“The competent authority is only the voice of Cabinet and Cabinet is only the controlling voice of government and therefore the prime minister only would’ve been chosen as the voice because the prime minister is also the chairman of Cabinet,” Dr Minnis said. “Cabinet could’ve chosen anyone as the voice but in this case the prime minister represents the voice of the Cabinet.”
Yesterday, Free National Movement Chairman Carl Culmer said Bishop Ellis was “out of place” for the critical comments he made about Dr Minnis.
Mr Culmer said the bishop has worn his political “colours on his sleeve” in the past, alluding to his previous support for the Progressive Liberal Party.
“As a man of God, because your church is made up of people from different backgrounds, I think it’s not fair for any one person to force their belief on one individual,” Mr Culmer said. “I believe the entire statement was out of place and should not be made from that setting of a church. The church setting is where you educate persons on God and what it is to be a believer and do good for men but to try to condemn a leader of your country in such a fashion is unbecoming of a leader.”
The country has been under a state of emergency since March, with Dr Minnis empowered as the competent authority. As a result, various restrictive measures have been in place since then, including lockdowns, curfews, movement restrictions and suspension of business and social activities meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.