Unintended consequences

Dr. Duane Sands tendered his resignation from the Cabinet in a letter to the prime minister last evening.

He accepted responsibility for the breach in protocols barring the return of Bahamian citizens and permanent residents under the Emergency COVID-19 Regulations and Orders.

He professed to have acted in good faith in an effort to obtain testing swabs in short supply and urgently needed in the country’s fight against the spread of the virus.

We do not condone a minister acting outside the scope of his authority. And we do not do so now. We do commend the minister for accepting responsibility and offering his resignation.

Circumstances notwithstanding, we believe that Dr. Sands’ service to the country, as minister of health has been stellar and his contributions including his leadership in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 is a matter of record.

This incident illustrates the point we made in our editorial yesterday about the consequences of weak governance.

Two senior ministers, Duane Sands and Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, together and in concert with each other facilitated something they had no authority to do: Sands in the landing of permanent residents, the exclusive purview of the prime minister under the Emergency Regulations. And, D’Aguilar in the grant of an approval for an aircraft landing he had no legal authority to give. That authority rests with the director of civil aviation.

Added to this must be the attorney general’s apparent misunderstanding of where authority lay during this emergency.

We are a democracy, a country of laws and customs and conventions. The provisions of our constitution require that cabinet ministers know the limits of their authority so as not to exceed it, abuse it or misuse it.

One minister has resigned. The prime minister has accepted his resignation.

There is a deafening silence regarding the other.

Like his ministers, it is imperative that the prime minister act with extreme caution as he is exercising substantial, constitutionally permitted, extraordinary powers under exceptional circumstances relating to a serious threat to public health.

It is troublesome that even at this late date the prime minister, as the competent authority, does not appear to appreciate the role he is meant to have in the implementation of emergency orders.

Applications for exceptions to rules established in the orders may only be made to the competent authority. Yet reports reaching us indicate that letters requesting exceptions or even clarifications go unanswered. Alternatively, individuals are advised to make their applications elsewhere, whether to the director of civil aviation or to another place.

While trying to contain the damage from the slip shod application of a failed policy barring the return home of Bahamians and permanent residents, the prime minister has managed to create further confusion with the introduction of relaxed restrictions on business around the country. And further, the reopening of commerce in the southern most islands with effect from yesterday.

On Monday, Nassau’s streets resembled a normal pre-pandemic beginning of the work week. As social distancing is our best protection against the spread of COVID-19 we are in for a rude awakening.

Last week, the prime minister informed that we would remain in Phase 1a as only essential service businesses listed in the various emergency orders would be permitted to operate.

On Sunday past, the prime minister informed that he was moving the country’s businesses into Phase 1b of the plan with effect from yesterday, May 4.

The announcement was welcomed by many.

It was particularly welcomed by wholesale and retail liquor merchants who, early on, had suffered mixed signals from authorities when one liquor retail outlet received permission for home deliveries of alcoholic beverages before a quick rescission and another was advised that the sale of alcohol under any conditions was not under consideration. All of this occurred while at least two alcohol establishments, with apparent permission or wilful blindness, from the authorities, engaged in the retail sale of wines and spirits.

We have on a number of occasions suggested that the government be more accountable and transparent with the public. An informed public is far more likely to accept and observe restrictions of their civil liberties if they are made aware of real threats to their wellbeing. Compliance will not be achieved by coercion or with the threat of ever-increasing outrageous and obscenely heavy penalties including imprisonment.


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