Categorized | Featured, National News

Cooper Against Disaster Bill


Progressive Liberal Party Deputy Leader Chester Cooper expressed his disapproval of the Disaster Preparedness and Response Amendment Bill 2019, which seeks to implement forced mandatory evacuations. 

Debate on the bill continued yesterday in the House of Assembly, where Cooper said he cannot support the bill because it offends Article 29 of the Constitution.

“From all that I have read, and the advice that I have taken, what this bill seeks to do seems tantamount to forced mandatory evacuation by levying fines and prison terms for not leaving your home in time of a national emergency,” Cooper said.

“Not only is enforcement of this outside the bounds of practical reality, but as lawmakers we should not be in the business of crafting legislation that could violate our supreme law.

“This would also likely open the government up to lawsuits and further burden taxpayers and waste resources with lengthy court proceedings.

“So, this is really just window dressing, optics and publicity, for the moment, until we can be satisfied that it is appropriately aligned with Article 29.

“This seems like something we’re doing just to tick the box to fulfill what the prime minister said would happen after Hurricane Dorian came.”

According to Cooper, there is no shortage of powers given to the executive under the Constitution to effectively evacuate a population.

“Just use the tools you have now,” he said.

“As the saying made popular by Bob Marley goes, ‘in the abundance of water, the fool goes thirsty.’

“Should people remain in their homes in low-lying areas during a storm? Of course not.

“Should we seek to save lives? Of course.”

However, he added that there are practical ways of getting people to evacuate without the threat of incarceration or detention.

“We must find the balance in law without offending the Constitution,” Cooper explained.

“If we look at the case of Abaco, would the government have arrested the thousands of people who decided to stay there?

“With what security force?  Where would they have been taken if arrested?

“They couldn’t stay on the impacted island.

“You can’t take them to the Bahamas Department of Corrections without taking them to court, which would likely be closed in the case of a national emergency.

“The shelters weren’t effective on Abaco, so you wouldn’t take them there.

“This all seems poorly thought-out, or no thought at all, to be frank.”

Cooper pointed out that the bill also seeks to vest more power in the prime minister, which, he said, could lead to politicization of disaster relief and recovery efforts.

“And, as we have repeatedly reminded, there is no room for politics in all of this.

It was not possible to anticipate the magnitude of this storm, nor the impact,” he said. 

Cooper also noted that the two of the only structures to survive in Marsh Harbour, Abaco were the government-built clinic and the administrative complex.

As a result, he asked, “Shouldn’t we be discussing mandating specifically-designed government-built storm shelters?

“Last I checked, we had none.  There should be at least one on each inhabited island that can withstand 200-plus mph winds.

“Perhaps several for islands that are segmented like Andros, Eleuthera and Exuma.

“I would think that today we would be talking about a multi-stage evacuation plan in the event of national emergency.

“Though we could not have known how powerful Dorian would become, like every other storm, we knew it was coming.”

Written by Jones Bahamas

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