By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis slammed Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ national address on Tuesday night as a “campaign speech” that did not provide a way forward for the country.
In a statement issued yesterday, Mr Davis said “only a prime minister profoundly disconnected from the reality facing Bahamian families would give a national address like the one we saw last night.
“It was a campaign speech, not a plan for the way forward,” he added.
The PLP leader said the country cannot afford Dr Minnis’ “formula of more job-destroying, economy-shrinking lockdowns” but said the nation needs new measures to prevent a third wave.
He said people wanted to hear about other matters such as the government’s preparedness against the new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19 from circulating around the world.
“We have heard enough talk about plans in development, somehow always ‘a few weeks’ away from being announced. It is time for decisive action and a comprehensive approach to meet the economic and public health needs of the Bahamian people,” Mr Davis said.
“What the Bahamian people need is a clear vision for addressing the current crisis and realistic plans to implement that vision.
“People wanted to hear how the government will fix its own testing policies, as it was revealed that more than 20,000 travellers have failed to comply with the five-day travel testing protocols that are supposed to protect Bahamians.
“People want to know how they can survive the coming months, and how the government will revitalise the economy so that their need for government assistance can come to an end.”
The prime minister’s speech on Tuesday highlighted the government’s spending in 2020 and the handling of the COVID-19 crisis. With the millions spent, the opposition leader said Bahamians living in truly desperate circumstances wondered how so little assistance had come considering all the tax dollars doled out and debt added to the country’s balance sheet.
“The prime minister said the country had spent $17 million on food assistance for 100,000 Bahamians,” the PLP leader said. “That totals $170 per person, during a severe economic crisis that has stretched from last March through now. Does the prime minister believe the government has done enough?
“The boasts about NIB are infuriating; the FNM opposed the National Insurance Act that created NIB, and the prime minister is not doing Bahamians any special favours when he returns to them their own contributions.
“Unemployment assistance will extend to the end of January, and food assistance through the end of March, Minnis announced. If this was intended to reassure, it had the opposite effect, striking fear into the hearts of the many thousands of Bahamians still out of work and already struggling to survive on the little assistance provided.
“People are facing eviction notices for unpaid rent and mortgages. Many do not know where their next meal or dollar will come from,” Mr Davis said.
On Tuesday, Dr Minnis highlighted his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and detailed how taxpayer dollars were spent during the pandemic. He said $177m was spent through the end of October 2020 in response to COVID-19.
“To help support businesses and workers, we offered $44.4m in tax credit/tax deferrals which funded the payrolls for nearly 7,000 private sector employees,” he told the nation.
“To protect nearly 4,500 jobs in the small business sector, $47.3m was made available for small business grants and continuity loans, through the Access Accelerator Small Business Development Centre.
“The government provided $45.5m in unemployment support, administered by the National Insurance Board. This included the extension of NIB’s existing benefit programmes, as well as support for Bahamians in the hospitality sector and self-employed individuals. This has been the largest distribution of unemployment benefits in Bahamian history.”
Dr Minnis also said between March and October 2020, $17.2m was spent on food support, providing food for about 100,000 people.
He added that in New Providence, $9m has been spent improving Princess Margaret Hospital and areas of Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre while in Grand Bahama, $21m has been allocated for a phased redevelopment of Rand Memorial Hospital.
He also announced that Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis will chair a consultative committee to advise the Ministry of Health on a vaccination plan.
After his speech, some on social media criticised him for not revealing when additional COVID-19 restrictions will be relaxed.