By EARYEL BOWLEG
PROGESSIVE Liberal Party leader Philip “Brave” Davis called for explanations from the ministers of aviation, immigration and finance, saying former Health Minister Dr Duane Sands did not act alone in allowing Americans to disembark in the county.
At the party’s monthly press conference yesterday, Mr Davis said there are still many questions to answer regarding the six American permanent residents bringing COVID-19 test kits and being able to quarantine at home last week, which Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis called a breach in protocol. The debacle resulted in Dr Sands leaving his post.
The incident infuriated many Bahamians as the border was closed to citizens abroad until Dr Minnis recently announced efforts for them to come back home. Still, individuals would need to test negative for COVID-19 before arrival and be in a quarantine facility guarded by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, officials have said.
The PLP leader said it was imperative for the prime minister and his ministers to “fully account to the Bahamian people and answer truthfully these questions.”
“What I’m saying is it is very difficult to believe that Dr Sands acted alone and the mere fact of all the ministries that had to be involved for the end result of the matter,” he said.
“It gives me comfort...that others ought to have known or should have known and if they don’t know they were negligent in their own duties.”
He explained: “We believe that there are other ministers who have to explain and account for what happened in this matter.
“The persons who entered had to get the permission of the Civil Aviation Authority, the Immigration Department and the Customs Department. This means that the ministers of aviation, immigration and finance have explanations to give to the country for their conduct or for the conduct of their departments.”
According to the Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP, the attorney general must say whether or not the law was broken in the circumstances. He questioned what export laws of another country were violated by transporting the COVID-19 tests into The Bahamas.
The Tribune previously reported that former Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe connected Dr Sands with donors who supplied 2,500 test swabs that cost $11,250, prompting an effort by the health minister to get the swabs here.
Dr Sands got approval from Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar for a N-578GC aircraft to deliver the supplies to the country. He then got the go ahead from Immigration Director Clarence Russell for the passengers.
Mr D’Aguilar told Dr Sands officials had been insisting that people coming to the country provide a negative COVID-19 test to gain entry. The Freetown MP deferred to the health minister to make the call and Dr Sands allowed the passengers entry without testing them.
The residents were not tested until last Thursday, a day after they arrived in the country. They have tested negative for the virus, the prime minister has said.
With this knowledge, there are some asking for Mr D’Aguilar to step down as well.
In regards to Mr Wilchcombe’s part in the matter, Mr Davis had little to say about his PLP colleague.
“If Mr Wilchcombe, as a citizen, provided Dr Sands with information, I don’t know if that goes any further than that. I don’t know the context they spoke from what I’ve seen. It appears that Mr Wilchcombe would’ve made the introduction and that was about it,” he said.
In the wake of this controversy, some have questioned if it was appropriate for Dr Sands to resign during a pandemic.
Despite Dr Sands’ capabilities, Mr Davis said one must face the consequences.
He explained: “….For him to continue in the post of minister of health would not be the message they’re sending to the country as a whole. So we have to balance what we think about his worth with the balance of what I call the overall common good which relates to good governance and I think good governance trumps the belief of what he could have done for the country.”
While he was minister of works during the last Christie administration, Mr Davis was accused of misleading Parliament over a Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science (BAMSI) matter in which he made two conflicting statements in the House of Assembly. The Free National Movement, the opposition party then, demanded his immediate resignation.
When this was brought up, Mr Davis defended himself, saying he did not mislead Parliament, adding that the score was settled by the 2017 general election.
“What general elections are for - to settle all scores,” he said. “They would’ve brought all those issues up during the course of the election campaign and perhaps I’m here. So at least my constituents understood and accepted my view of the situation.”