In his first press conference in more than a month, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis on Thursday refused to explain why he accepted Dr. Duane Sands’ resignation as minister of health in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that “it is finished”.
Sands resigned last month after The Nassau Guardian reported that permanent residents — later revealed to be six people — were allowed to enter The Bahamas and isolate at home while the borders remained closed to Bahamian citizens.
A day before Sands’ resignation, the prime minister noted that protocol had been “breached” when the decision to allow the permanent residents to disembark was made.
More than a month ago, The Nassau Guardian submitted a formal question to the prime minister’s office via email asking for an explanation on what the specific breach was, but no response ever came.
Some members of the public have criticized Minnis’ decision to accept Sands’ resignation.
When asked on Thursday why the resignation was accepted, the prime minister replied, “Dr. Duane Sands submitted his letter of resignation publicly, of which you would be very much aware of. This matter has been discussed and debated extensively in the public domain.
“And at this particular point in time we are more concerned with dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic; getting our economy running again, ensuring that people get their jobs back, ensuring that people have food on their table and we decrease our unemployment, increase our employment status that we see today.
“I do wish him well in his private sector role.”
Prior to his resignation, Sands said the decision was made on the spot and that the plane was already in The Bahamas.
However, The Guardian later confirmed that decisions regarding the entry of the permanent residents, who had a donation of 2,500 COVID-19 swabs, was made way ahead of the flight leaving Florida.
On May 4, The Tribune reported that Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar gave his support for the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority to approve the flight “given the dire need for swabs necessary to conduct COVID-19 testing”.
D’Aguilar told reporters on May 13 that he had no intention of resigning.
“I think honestly that enough has been said about this,” he said.
On Thursday, Minnis shied away from questions regarding D’Aguilar’s role in the incident.
When pressed on which protocols were breached by Sands, Minnis replied, “Allow me to repeat: that matter was discussed ad infinitum in the press, so that matter is finished, okay. We are moving on, trying to get our economy running, trying to deal with this pandemic, get people out… working and have food for their family and themselves. That is our priority today.”
Minnis is now minister of health.
He said he does not plan to appoint another minister until after the budget debate, which begins today.
“I think it would be unfair for me to name a new minister at this particular time and he or she be placed in a position where they would have to present the health budget to the nation,” Minnis said.
“I think it would be appropriate that I am here at this particular time.”
The prime minister said a new minister will be appointed “soon after”.