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PM assumes health portfolio

The Nassau Guardian May 6, 2020

After a day-long speculation over who will be appointed to replace Dr. Duane Sands as health minister, the Cabinet Office announced just before 9:30 last night that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has temporarily assumed the portfolio.

The Nassau Guardian understands that Minnis and the now former minister met yesterday evening, but nothing tangible came out of that meeting.

Sands bowed out a day earlier over a controversial decision to allow six permanent residents to disembark on New Providence a week ago and quarantine at home while the borders remained closed to Bahamians. He had originally said two residents came in.

The decision to allow the permanent residents in was criticized in some quarters as hundreds of Bahamians who are stuck abroad were being told they would have to show that they tested negative for COVID-19 prior to returning home and would have to quarantine at a government facility to be guarded by Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers upon arrival to The Bahamas.

On Thursday, Sands accepted full responsibility for the matter, saying that the residents had donated much-needed swabs for COVID-19 testing.

The prime minister told the nation on Sunday that the protocol regulating how Bahamians and permanent residents are allowed to return to The Bahamas was breached.

Minnis also announced on Sunday that the minister would make a statement on Monday.

The circulation of a statement on Monday carrying Sands’ name that was reportedly drafted by the Office of the Prime Minister created some confusion over Sands’ fate.

The statement had a purported apology from Sands to the Bahamian people and to the prime minister. It also stated that he had offered his resignation to Minnis who “graciously refused to accept it”, citing that it would be a disservice to the Bahamian people during this pandemic.

As that statement quickly circulated, Sands posted on his social media pages that it was not “legitimate” and that he would soon be releasing a statement that is actually from him.

About half an hour later, he posted his resignation letter to the prime minister on Facebook.

A statement from Minnis accepting Sands’ resignation came nearly four hours later.

In that late Monday statement, the prime minister said, “I will make a further statement on this matter tomorrow, including on who will serve as minister of health.”

Throughout the day yesterday, many wondered what Minnis planned to say in his promised statement and who he will appoint as the new minister of health.

Like the statement released the night before, the one released last night was a one-liner with no indication how long the prime minister intends to keep the health portfolio and no further details on the matter that escalated to the point of the minister’s surprise resignation.

Hours before that resignation, Sands was quoted in The Tribune saying he intended to remain on as minister of health.

Individuals with knowledge of the developments say that Minnis found himself in a quandary as it was not his initial expectation to have to replace Sands.

Given that the country is in the middle of fighting a pandemic, there is a widespread view that the minister of health needs to be a doctor who intimately understands public health issues and the inner workings and challenges of the health system in The Bahamas.

As there are already three Cabinet ministers who are senators — Attorney General Carl Bethel, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes and Minister of State for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson — Minnis did not have the immediate option of making a senate appointment and making that person minister of health.

His decision to assume the portfolio was not surprising to many as he is a physician by profession and served as minister of health in the last Ingraham administration.

The prime minister’s announcement on Monday night that he has accepted Sands’ resignation was met in social media and other circles with disappointment and even anger.

In addition to coming in the middle of a public health crisis, Sands’ resignation comes as the national budget is being prepared and must be presented to Parliament later this month.

Sands, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is widely viewed as a competent minister.

In July 2016, he was on the ticket with then Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner that had planned to challenge Minnis for leadership of the Free National Movement (FNM). Sands was planning on running for deputy but abandoned that bid along with Butler-Turner just hours before the FNM elections.

Sands — once dubbed by the Progressive Liberal Party as a serial loser — ran for the Elizabeth seat three times, ultimately being swept into office in the 2017 FNM wave.

Now that he has exited the Cabinet, creating some uncertainty over focused leadership in the time of COVID-19, he will formally take his seat on the backbench when Parliament meets on May 27.

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