Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands yesterday defended the government’s decision to increase its travel budget by $4 million in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, amid criticisms from the opposition party that cited the move as a wrong decision and a badly timed one.
“And now the discussion starts...about how can we spend $10 for this and $5 for that.. I think this is the beauty of democracy that you are able to have an impassioned discussion about facts,” he told reporters outside of Cabinet yesterday.
“The facts are there and we want to stand on our record…we have been as open and as transparent as possible and people will dissect information, which is now available.”
He was responding to Progressive Liberal Party Leader Phillip “Brave” Davis’ comments to The Nassau Guardian on Monday in reference to the government’s decision to increase its budget for travel. Mr Davis told The Nassau Guardian that the government made a wrong decision to increase its travel budget, adding that the $4 million increase was not necessary. The increased costs were outlined in the government’s Fiscal Strategy Report which was tabled in Parliament last week.
But, as a result of Hurricane Dorian, Dr Sands said money had to be spent on travel expenses to assist with the recovery and relief efforts on the storm-impacted islands.
“We evacuated some 200 persons with medical conditions and most of that was provided by the US Coast Guard, but some of it was provided by other carriers and we had to pay for it in order to get food, supplies and medication and staff, that had to be paid for in many instances. A lot of it donated, but some of it paid for,” the health minister said.
According to The Nassau Guardian, Mr Davis also expressed shock with the helicopter costs in the wake of Dorian, which was revealed to be $110,000 a day.
To this, Dr Sands said: “If you look at Odyssey (airport) immediately after Dorian, the helicopters were like mosquitoes. There were helicopters going back and forth to Abaco and Grand Bahama, delivering supplies, delivering personnel, allowing us to assess what was happening on the ground.
“And even with an historic number of flights going into Marsh Harbour and Grand Bahama during that time period, people still say it wasn’t enough. Those aircraft, while some of those flights were donated by NGOs, some of those flights had to be paid for.”
He continued: “So, the criticism is there on the basis of facts and I’m pretty proud of our record that we have been able to produce the information as opposed to just allowing people to speculate on the basis of nothing.”