Former legal affairs minister questions border reopening narrative

Former Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez yesterday expressed doubt in the competent authority’s reasoning for reopening the country’s borders to international travel, saying Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has yet to be transparent with a few things.

“As a principle, you ought not to discriminate against any group of people because of where they come from,” Gomez said.

“However, having said that, as our closest traveling neighbor, Bahamians who are likely to travel are likely to go to Florida. So, it makes sense to close the borders completely so you don’t discriminate until such time that you feel is safe. But opening the borders in the way that it has been opened is what has caused the spike in COVID-19 cases.”

The prime minister’s emergency orders, which were signed and dated July 22, made it possible for travelers from all countries to enter The Bahamas, including commercial air travelers from the United States, subjecting all visitors to mandatory 14-day government quarantine.

However, it came just three days after Minnis announced a travel ban for all countries except Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Effective July 28, domestic travel is prohibited.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Gomez said. “If you’re going to come into contact with visitors who are sick, being removed from them on a weekend and then being subjected to them during the week will create havoc.

“What I’m saying is having the borders open is inviting people with the disease to come and that is during a period when Bahamians have been allowed to go to Florida, which is now one of the hot spots in the states. It doesn’t make any sense to do that. I have tuned him out. He hasn’t come clean with things.

“I’ve lost confidence in him and those who support him in what he’s doing. The bigotry that he’s displaying towards his political opponents he’s now displaying toward the entire public.”

To date, Florida has confirmed over 423,000 coronavirus cases with over 9,000 confirmed yesterday. Five thousand, eight hundred people in the state have died as a result of COVID-19.

In a statement on Friday, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the provisions governing the admission of foreign visitors to The Bahamas were changed in order to create a uniform standard of treatment for all visitors to The Bahamas during the pandemic.

Bethel said, “The creation of a uniform framework means that there is no longer any need to create any list of countries from which The Bahamas would accept commercial flights, which list thereby excluded other countries. Further it eliminates the need to continuously add or delete countries as their circumstances might change.

“Importantly, it allows for the protection of the Bahamian people from the possible dangers or travel-related contagion in a manner which is consistent with our treaty obligations, and also with the provisions of the Chicago Convention which regulates international air transport.”

Attorney Bjorn Ferguson yesterday came out in disagreement with Bethel’s stance.

“The Chicago Convention has a provision that allows the parties to do what is necessary in times of war and national emergency,” Ferguson said.

“That is found in article 89. Outside of that, our constitution is supreme to any treaty obligations that we have. Article 29 of the constitution provides the government with the authority to do what it’s doing right now, the state of emergency, suspend rights, privileges, all those things. It’s very strange that they would rely on a treaty as the justification for being prohibited from closing the borders.”

Ferguson added, “Any attorney worth their salt cannot argue sensibly in a court that treaty obligations trump constitutional powers and authority.”

The Chicago Convention of 1944 established rules of airspace, aircraft registration and safety and details the rights of signatories in relation to air travel.

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