Deeper than the breach

The Bahamas is in the trenches of its public health response to a global pandemic; a response that could ill afford to be disrupted or distracted by the departure of critical elements of its hardworking and dedicated leadership team.

But this is precisely what the country has suffered in the fallout ending in the resignation of former Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands; a fallout that has an unpalatable scent of politics.

Key to the global response to COVID-19 has been the ability of countries to carry out testing for the disease, as well as their contact tracing capabilities connected to such testing.

Desirous of winning the COVID-19 battle and of having relative comfort with the relaxation of containment orders, Bahamians have called on health officials to ramp up and expand testing throughout the country.

Expanded testing and the acquisition of test kits to maintain and ramp up testing have been the laser focus of public health and its former minister.

But it was not until Sands, in explaining the reason for accepting a donation of test swabs from a permanent resident couple, revealed the challenge faced by The Bahamas in getting these critical supplies that Bahamians received some insight into what most of us had taken for granted.

Due to global shortages and restrictions, health officials have worked to source COVID-19 testing materials from countries throughout the region and around the world, and have found success through donations of testing supplies on occasions including the most recent that has sparked controversy.

We have spoken this week about weak governance with respect to the present controversy, and pointed out that though it is the competent authority who is to approve requests under his emergencies orders, letters requesting exceptions or clarifications go unanswered, with individuals being advised to make their applications elsewhere, whether to the director of civil aviation or to another place.

To this end, a concern deeper than a yet-to-be-explained breach of protocols in this matter is whether cabinet ministers, in an effort to meet the urgent public health needs of Bahamians in the COVID-19 response, have had to make decisions in the public interest and in uncharted waters that strong governance could have ameliorated.

What is also yet to be explained by Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, is why he has not called for consequences for the country’s permanent resident donors, or for any public official apart from Sands who would have been involved in the entry, landing, processing and disembarking of this flight, since he has categorized the incident as a breach of protocols.

For his part, Sands made the honorable and proper decision of choosing not to allow his presence in the Cabinet to be a distraction to the COVID-19 fight.

But circumstances surrounding that resignation suggest that this fallout may be about more than test swabs and how the swabs got here.

Hours before Sands advised the public of his resignation, a statement we are advised was drafted by the Office of the Prime Minister in Sands’ name, began appearing on social media sites.

The draft statement stated that Sands had offered his resignation to the prime minister, who “graciously refused to accept it, citing that it would be a disservice to the Bahamian people during the pandemic and national health crisis”.

Sands took to his social media pages, stating that the circulated statement was “not legitimate”, and that he would be posting “the statement shortly”.

We understand that Sands had not tendered his resignation to the prime minister at the point that the draft was first presented to him.

This turn of events raised questions among observers as to whether there were deeper, politically-motivated reasons that led to an outcome many Bahamians have decried as detrimental and painful at this critical period.

Minnis accepted Sands’ subsequent resignation on Monday and announced late last night that he will temporarily assume the health portfolio.

From the fallout over the donation of critically needed test swabs, and the decision to allow its donors entry into the country, The Bahamas and public health have lost a highly competent and dedicated health minister.

With such a loss in our pandemic response and in the wider delivery of health services at the policy level in The Bahamas, the deeper question at hand is, what have the Bahamian people ultimately gained?

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