A DAY of political drama ended in a short statement last night.
“I have accepted the resignation of Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands effective tomorrow,” wrote Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis. “I thank him for his service to The Bahamas, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
With that, the ministerial career of Dr Sands came to an end – at least for now. One needs only to look at Dr Sands’ personal history of coming back to battle for the Elizabeth constituency seat three times, and running as deputy leader twice, to see that he doesn’t give up easily.
It was a swift turnaround in events. On Sunday, Dr Sands told The Tribune he would not resign. On Monday, he offered his resignation.
The day itself was slightly confused by a letter that circulated on social media earlier in the day, claiming that Dr Sands had offered his resignation and Dr Minnis had declined it. Dr Sands took to Facebook to say that statement was not legitimate – before later posting his real letter of resignation.
Then, shortly before 10 o’clock last night, came the statement from Dr Minnis, accepting the resignation and stating that a replacement minister will be named today.
The resignation comes at the worst time, of course. In the middle of this pandemic, there was a certain reassurance that the head of the health ministry and the head of the government were both doctors. Offering the resignation was the right thing to do. Once Dr Sands accepted the responsibility, the Westminster system requires him to offer his resignation. Too many have failed to live up to that before him, it is notable that he did so.
Dr Sands had been a steady figure at the briefings by the Ministry of Health, giving straight answers and offering a clear voice telling Bahamians what needed to be done to curtail this virus. Agree with him or disagree, he was consistent and clear in urging people to wash their hands, stay physically distant, not to go out unless they needed to and to wear masks. His successor will have to provide the same clarity.
With a change at the top of the ministry, it is essential that we do not stumble in the battle against COVID-19. Key advisors such as Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, Dr Pearl McMillan, Dr Nikkiah Forbes and Dr Delon Brennen will be important to whoever picks up the baton.
We also hope it causes no interruption in the efforts to secure much-needed supplies for The Bahamas.
That’s the real shame in all of this – that just at a time when the tide is turning, a failure to ask enough questions or check the details has ended the appointment of a key part of the team dealing with the pandemic. Simply follow the right procedure with discipline and we wouldn’t be here.
This week could have been the turning point, the moment we look back on in years to come when the country started to recover – instead it will always have a footnote this was the moment the Minister of Health resigned over his handling of a breach of border protocol.
We await the statement from Dr Minnis today – with hopefully less confusion than today’s announcements. He must reassure the public the effort to fight COVID-19 will not be derailed – and his choice of minister will hit the ground running. We wish the successor luck.