Former Health minister says govt. owes families an apology
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Former Health Minister Dr Duane Sands acknowledged today that there has still been no explanation given on how hundreds of names were excluded from the list of people reported missing from Hurricane Dorian.
Sands, who was contributing to the 2020/2021 budget debate, made a damning criticism of the government’s handling of the missing and dead in the wake of the deadly Category 5 storm.
He called for a coroner’s inquest to bring closure to grieving families.
“We did not handle the identification of those who lost their lives or those still missing well,” he said.
“…As of today, we do not know collectively who is lost, missing, or missing and presumed dead.
“I fear that we have not sufficiently elevated this matter as a national priority.”
Dorian devastated parts of Grand Bahama and Abaco in early September – claiming the lives of a confirmed 74.
Last month, Assistant Commissioner of Police Solomon Cash said the number of reported missing stood at 33.
At the time, he acknowledged the number of reported people missing to the police force does not match the number of victims recovered following Dorian.
Fifty-five unidentified Dorian victims were buried in Abaco last month during a ceremony that was widely criticized.
When asked by Eyewitness News last week about the procedure of how missing persons were dealt with in the aftermath of the storm, Cash said he could not specifically speak to the event.
He noted that he could only speak to the general process of how a missing person is reported in The Bahamas – which is investigated by the police after a report from the family.
In October, Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell advised Parliament that records from his ministry indicated a total missing count of 1,208 – 1,003 in Abaco and 205 in Grand Bahama.
The Tribune reported that the Ministry of Social Services had moved to publish an advertisement in its paper on October 10, featuring the names of 1,208 missing people but the ad was pulled amid confusion about the correct figures.
National Security Minister Marvin Dames later advised that police only had reports of 282 people still missing from the storm – and that the matter was under the purview of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Sands insisted today that there was too little focused attention on the management of the issue – revealing that responsibility was spread over multiple ministries and government agencies.
“It was believed that this would ensure greater clarity,” he said
“Inaction, it proved to be a recipe for disaster.”
He questioned the process used to arrive at the official count of 33 – “even as many more families mourn missing persons”.
“To this day, we do not know what happened that caused thousands or hundreds of names to be excluded from the official list,” he continued
“There may be reasonable, justifiable reasons for pruning the list.
“But those reasons and processes have not been shared and explained to the public. Because of that process, we have raised many questions and squandered credibility.”
The former health minister questioned why there isn’t a publicly accessible listing or database of missing persons and insisted the public deserves to know about DNA sampling for the 55 victims recently buried.
“If we are to get closure as a country, we must accept the loss, outline the process used, admit our missteps and operationalize systems to do better,” he said.
“Perhaps this is simply because we continue to exist in an environment where information is not shared with the public freely, openly, and frequently.”
Sands added that the population of undocumented migrants has paid a “premium with possessions lost, lives of loved ones lost, and we have not consistently assured that they were afforded safe spaces to interact with government agencies “.
“Let us agree to convene the coroner’s inquests to bring closure to grieving families,” he said.
“Identify and empower a single empathetic team, separate the process from the specter of immigration intervention, start a public conversation, and then let us apologize for getting it wrong the first time.
“Let us publish the names of the lost souls and then formally memorialize them.”