The minister responsible for civil aviation, Dionisio D’Aguilar, gave “approval” for an aircraft with passengers to land at New Providence in late April.
He had no legal authority to do so.
Under the Emergency Powers Order, only the prime minister as the competent authority, was empowered to authorize passengers to enter The Bahamas.
And, only the director of civil aviation was empowered to authorize an aircraft with cargo to land.
Neither of the two approved the aircraft’s landing.
In granting approval for the aircraft to land, D’Aguilar advised that approval was also required from immigration. And, he noted that previous civil aviation approvals had also required the approval of the Ministry of Health; an unnecessary approval in this case, as the request originated with that ministry.
The landed Bahamian permanent residents brought with them 2,500 COVID-19 test swabs in short supply in The Bahamas.
The Department of Immigration landed the passengers at the request of the then-minister of health. The department had no legal authority to do so as their authority had been usurped by the competent authority under the order. They also knew that only the competent authority could authorize the passengers’ landing.
In the words of the prime minister, the landing of the passengers was “a breach of protocol” as he, as the competent authority, had not approved the passengers’ landing.
For his transgression, Dr. Duane Sands resigned his ministerial position.
When asked by your reporter whether he thought he should have resigned along with Sands, D’Aguilar replied “No.”
He added: “I think it’s been ventilated. The prime minister has spoken to it. Dr. Sands has spoken to it. I don’t think I did anything wrong and I’ve moved on. I think we should all do the same.”
We believe this is a clear case of ignorance or wanton disregard for accountability.
The Manual of Cabinet Procedures deals with accountability as follows: “Each minister charged with responsibility for the administration of any business or department of government is responsible for the actions carried out by the department in pursuit of government policies or in the discharge of responsibilities laid upon him as a minister. Ministers are accountable to Parliament… This includes the duty to give Parliament, (including its select committees), and the public as full information as possible about the policies, decisions and actions of the government, and not to deceive or mislead Parliament and the public.”
The Bahamas Constitution establishes that Cabinet, responsible for the direction and control of the government, is collectively responsible to Parliament.
This duty to be accountable applies equally to the holder of the office of the prime minister. Our government is called Cabinet government for good reasons.
The prime minister has named himself interim minister of health and promptly discontinued regular press briefings where the minister was questioned by the media. And, he has made it clear that he speaks to the public only when scripted and when there is no opportunity for questions to be put to him. No other Bahamian prime minister has ever held such wide authority to control the personal and business interests of citizens and permanent residents, their freedom of movement and their freedom to assemble.
At this time of great uncertainty, and while the country is under a state of emergency with nearly unlimited powers vested in the prime minister as the competent authority, the House of Assembly is shuttered.
It last met on April 27. It will meet again on May 27 — 30 days with no parliamentary oversight. No opportunity for members of Parliament, whether opposition or government, to question or make inquiries in respect to the operation of any of the orders or of their misuse, abuse or non-enforcement.
Elsewhere, prime ministers are regularly questioned in Parliament and by the media at such a time and required to account for how and why decisions are being made.
From our observation, members of the governing party are none the wiser than is the public.
Sadly, we are being governed with willful and wanton disregard for accountability.