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AG suggests Sands had no authority to authorize permanent residents to disembark flight

The Nassau Guardian May 1, 2020

Attorney General Carl Bethel said on Friday  only the director general of Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (BCCA) is permitted to give authorization for someone to disembark an aircraft during this time.

His comments came one day after Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands told reporters that he gave authorization for two Americans, who are permanent residents of The Bahamas, to disembark a plane on New Providence on Wednesday despite the closure of The Bahamas’ borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The attorney general said there is “no question” that Sands “misspoke”. 

“ I assure you a verbal error, a mistake even the best make sometimes,” Bethel said.

When asked whether Sands had the legal authority to make such an authorization, Bethel told The Nassau Guardian, “Health when called upon advises DGCA (director general of Civil Aviation).”

 He added, “The decision is that of DGCA.”

 Bethel added, “That is how the structure works and has been working. That’s how Bahamians have been authorized to travel inter-island for health issues (non-COVID) like pregnancy: when mothers in the third trimester must come to Nassau to give birth.

 “That’s how essential workers fly around the islands to repair critical infrastructure. That’s how permission to leave The Bahamas by air — stranded tourists etc. — [is] handled.

 “That’s how permissions etc. That’s how Bahamians will shortly be permitted to return home.”

 Captain Charles Beneby, the director general of civil aviation, categorically denied authorizing the disembarkment of the permanent residents from the aircraft.

 “I gave no such approval,” he told The Guardian.

 Beneby declined to make any further comment.

 The revelation that the two permanent residents were allowed to enter the country and quarantine in their home during a strict border closure that has left Bahamian citizens stranded abroad, has been met with public ire.

Bahamians abroad, who are seeking to get home, are required to test for COVID-19 prior to coming to The Bahamas. However, the Americans were not required to be tested.

The prime minister has said those returning would have to be quarantined at a facility guarded by Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers.

During a press conference on Thursday, the minister of health said an exception was made for the permanent residents, who brought in swabs for COVID-19 testing.

He said they did not show any symptoms of COVID-19 when they landed, but were tested for the virus the following day.

“The decisions were made on the spot. I take full responsibility for it,” Sands said.

 “If we had to do it again, perhaps we may have done a few things slightly different.”

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