Davis wants govt to shorten time to declare a missing person dead

By RIEL MAJOR

Tribune Staff Reporter

rmajor@tribunemedia.net

PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Leader Phillip “Brave” Davis has called on the Minnis administration to shorten the time it takes to declare a person dead once missing after a natural disaster.

Mr Davis wants the change to be made to the Birth and Deaths Registration Act, which he discussed at the PLP’s monthly press conference yesterday.

He also said the PLP intends to oppose the draft bill that intends to introduce mandatory evacuations on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

Mr Davis said: “I am considering a proposed amendment to the bill to deal with the scores of reported missing persons in the aftermath of the storm who many presume sadly are dead.”

Mr Davis said at the moment the law states that if a person is missing, they are not presumed dead until after seven years.

“You have to wait for seven years to have a declaration of death. That causes a lot of challenges on the surviving family members. When circumstances such as a disaster points to the fact that they are not just missing anymore but circumstances suggest that they can’t be surviving that they are dead, why do we have to wait seven years?

“There are issues of if they had a mortgage, issues of insurance there are other issues that will attend to that presumption that families will be saddled with. So the intended proposal. . . is to propose a period, for example persons who went missing during the passage of Dorian, we could deem that they are dead having regards to information that can be supplied by family members.”

He added: “For example, in one of our visits to East Grand Bahama, we are being told stories of people being swept to sea. They (saw) them going out to sea and so do you think that person is still alive? Should we wait until seven years to say that they are dead?”

The opposition leader said the party is drafting an amendment to suggest to the government at the House of Assembly today.

Mr Davis said: “(Hopefully the government) considers it to bring some closure to some of the families (instead of them) having to wait for seven years.”

Regarding the PLP’s opposition to the draft Disaster Preparedness and Response Bill, Mr Davis said: “We intend to oppose the amendment of the act in its present form and oppose what the government proposes to do.

“In short, in order to suspend civil liberties, which this bill proposes to do, you have to come squarely within the provision of Article 29 of the Constitution and this does not do that.”

According to a draft of the bill, people who refuse to heed a mandatory evacuation order could face up to a month in prison.

On Monday, Mr Davis along with Glenys Hanna Martin, Picewell Forbes and Senator Clay Sweeting travelled to Abaco in response to call from residents in the cays. He said the major complaint that greeted the delegation was the absence of governmental authority.

The group visited Man-O-War Cay and Hope Town in Elbow Cay.

He said: “Before going into the cays, we rode around Marsh Harbour. The stench of death is ever present. With respect to the conditions of the cays, there was major damage and devastation. The first observation that struck us was the conspicuous absence of government presence.

“Bahamas Power and Light has done nothing to date to supply and restore power to the cays and all affected areas. In fact, we have been advised that no representative of BPL has been there to assess the damage as a result of the hurricane.”

Mr Davis added: “The relief efforts are almost entirely driven by members of the private sector. It has gotten to the point where private sector individuals are seeking to do so themselves and we have advised that proposals have been submitted to BPL to permit their intervention, but to date no response has been forthcoming.”

The opposition leader said the government “appears to be more concerned with public relations than actually doing their jobs” to help distressed people.

He said: “We are deeply concerned about the mental state of the people who endured and survived the hurricane, seen the death of their loved ones, and those persons whose families have not yet been found.”