Ever since the prime minister told us that there was a breach of protocol by the landing of an aircraft with passengers followed by Dr. Duane Sands’ resignation/sacking from cabinet during the closure of our borders, we have been waiting to find out what was meant by a breach of protocol.
We now know. It meant that the prime minister had not personally approved the aircraft’s landing.
The landing was authorized by the minister responsible for civil aviation, Dionisio D’Aguilar.
Other aircraft carrying passengers were also landed after the border closing — at New Providence, Grand Bahama and Cat Island.
For each of these landings, approval was granted by the minister responsible for civil aviation, the minister of health and the director of civil aviation and passengers were landed by immigration.
This landing of passengers, however, provided the cover for the prime minister to do what we think he had been planning all along — to be rid of an individual whom he perceived to be a threat to his position.
The prime minister did not need an excuse to fire a minister. He has the right to appoint and to dis-appoint ministers.
More thoughtful and self-assured prime ministers keep their perceived threats close, in cabinet, where they may be more easily watched and share collectively in decisions taken.
We now know that the prime minister promised that the then minister of health would make a statement on the matter without informing the minister. And, we also know that the prime minister’s office prepared a statement for the minister without his participation, which was released on social media.
That purported minister’s statement contained a groveling apology to the prime minister, cabinet colleagues, colleagues in the medical profession et al. for a breach of protocol and acknowledged the graciousness of the prime minister in not accepting his letter of resignation; a letter which had not been submitted.
Sands disowned the bogus statement and submitted his resignation from cabinet, noting that he did not wish his presence in the cabinet to be a distraction from the national effort to fight COVID-19.
Last Thursday, the prime minister dismissed questions from the media regarding the resignation of his minister who had been, up to his resignation, competently and admirably leading the national effort to meet the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than a month ago, The Nassau Guardian submitted a question to the Office of the Prime Minister requesting an explanation on the reported breach of protocol. The question was never answered.
Last Thursday was the first press conference Minnis has had since the resignation last month.
The prime minister’s unwillingness to speak to the matter reinforces a widely held view that Sands’ resignation was a concocted and manufactured event meant to dampen the extremely high regard in which he was held by the public.
It is telling that immediately following the resignation, the prime minister caused an amendment to the emergency order which had required his approval for exceptions to the closure of the border, and vested authority in exactly those offices that had been engaged in the exercise which he termed a “breach of protocol”.
The last prime minister to force ministers out of cabinet without explanation did so in his fifth consecutive term in office.
Minnis would do well to remember that one of the ministers removed from cabinet became leader of the opposition and then prime minister and another became leader of that prime minister’s own party and later still, also became prime minister.
As a sitting cabinet minister, Sands was easily accessible and helpful, completing, free of charge, more than 100 surgeries for public patients and operated on at least seven private patients without charge while serving as minister.
Having returned to private practice he is continuing his devotion to the less fortunate and dedication to public service.
Considered focused, thoughtful, approachable and competent, his presence in the government added value.
The prime minister should recognize that his resignation from cabinet has not diminished him in the eyes of the public.
He is credited locally, regionally and internationally for having provided leadership and commitment to the advancement of health care, improving nutritional standards, combatting non-communicable disease, enhancing disaster response and combating the spread of COVID-19.
The prime minister’s behavior in this matter brings to mind his lack of collegiality and reminds us of another leader whose name we choose not to call but whose behavior conveys a similar contempt for democracy and a lack of respect for people.