NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell insisted yesterday that the government acted too hastily and should have alerted their international allies before announcing border restrictions.
The government shifted its position on a commercial travel ban, opting instead to introduce a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all incoming travelers.
The new measure came into effect last Wednesday.
This came just days after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced the closure of the country’s borders to all incoming international commercial carriers, except from Canada, United Kingdom, and the European Union – that was expected to take effect on July 22.
However, the attorney general told Eyewitness News the government had instead adopted a “universal standard” that will fit all countries.
Yesterday, Mitchell insisted the move was due to insufficient consultation.
“The United States is our closest trading partner and it’s our main tourist market, ” he noted.
“It only makes sense as a matter of courtesy, and to make sure your planning is done properly, to let your close allies know…what you plan to do with regard to your borders. You don’t spring surprises on people.”
The former foreign affairs minister said he understands that both the foreign ministry and the Ministry of Tourism were caught “flat-footed” by the announcement and there was significant pushback as a result of it.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield told Eyewitness News on Thursday the ban would not have had an impact on the geopolitical relationship between the two countries.
Henfield said both he and the Bahamian ambassador in Washington spoke to U.S. officials, who, “understand that we are doing all that we can to keep Bahamians safe and in doing so we are going to keep Americans safe because we are strong strategic partners and neighbors who interact with each other on a daily basis, as we have been doing so for many many years.”
A day after those comments, the Office of the Attorney General announced the change in policy.
Bethel advised that the government wanted to ensure there was a uniform standard in accordance with the Chicago Convention, which establishes rules of airspace, aircraft registration, and safety, and regulates international air travel between the signatories.
In January, the Bahamian government began denying entry to non-residents who had traveled to China — the initial epicenter of the coronavirus — within 20 days of their arrival in The Bahamas.
In March, during the height of the first wave of global cases, travel restrictions were expanded to deny entry to non-residents who had traveled to Italy, Iran, Korea, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Europe within 20 days before arriving in The Bahamas.
Those countries, with the exception of Korea, are also apart of the Chicago Convention.
But Mitchell insisted yesterday the government has not been transparent in explaining to the Bahamian public the implications of the border decisions by the competent authority and are left to guess why they are being backtracked.
He said: “Our deduction is that they made a mistake by acting too quickly, acting precipitously and thus we have this problem.
Similarly, Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Leader Arinthia Komolafe questioned the government’s decision to flip-flop on the border closures.
In a statement, Komolafe said the prime minister must accept his share of responsibility for the mismanagement of the pandemic and bungling the reopening of the economy.
She questioned whether the competent authority only found out about the Chicago Convention days after announcing border closures on the U.S. and whether the attorney general provided legal advice or guidance before the final decision was made.
“Several jurisdictions who are signatories to the Chicago Convention have restricted or banned travel from certain COVID-19 hotspots; what makes The Bahamas different?” Komolafe continued.
“Was this flip flop truly due to international obligations or was it damage control due to diplomatic fallout?
“Does the government believe we are uninformed or gullible?”
She added that the prime minister’s actions and “terrible decision” has set the country back as a nation.