Minister of Tourism Lisa Cummins tonight apologized to the nation for a display in the Senate on Wednesday that smacked of petulance, misplaced indignation and empty bluster. No doubt, her apology ought to be accepted by members of the Upper Chamber whose safety she might have compromised by her presence after being exposed to Ghanaian nurses affected by COVID-19, and in circumstances where she had not fully complied with health protocols. We believe that a future apology should be made on the floor of the Senate directly to the four senators who left the Upper Chamber because of her presence and whom she later verbally berated for their decision.
But context, recall and careful assessment of events of the past seven days must be given to Minister Cummins’ apology. It is instructive that this apology came almost 48 hours after her fit of pique in the Senate during debate on the Integrity in Public Life Bill 2020. It is also noticeable that the apology came almost simultaneous to a Government announcement tonight that three more Ghanaians who had tested negative before, had been retested after the seven-day mark and were found to be positive. Miss Cummins had breached that seven-day quarantine period by her appearance in the Upper Chamber on Wednesday.
But there are peculiarities in this situation that ought to be clarified by Government and senior health officials and which Miss Cummins’ apology has not addressed. Thus, in the hope that breaches of protocols in high places are minimized it is important to give context to what transpired these past few days.
On Wednesday during a press conference Prime Minister Mia Mottley made reference to both Minister Cummins and Minister of Health Jeffrey Bostic who had been on self-quarantine after being exposed to possible infection by the Ghanaian nurses who had arrived at the Grantley Adams International Airport on Thursday, July 30. Some of them tested positive for COVID-19 after their arrival. This was part of a statement made on August 5 by Prime Minister Mottley about her two Cabinet colleagues. “. . . Minister Bostic and Minister Cummins and others are at home this week because their exposure would have been at that point, and even though they tested negative the CMO (chief medical officer) is saying give it another day or two in order to complete fully the seven days.”
But on the same day Miss Mottley made that statement, while Minister Bostic remained on self-quarantine, Minister Cummins turned up at the Upper Chamber with a medical certificate from the CMO indicating that her presence in the Senate would pose no threat. But how could that be? Cummins’ appearance in the Senate – medical certificate and all – contradicted what the Prime Minister had said. If one disliked mathematics with insane passion, one would still find it difficult to count seven days from July 30 to August 5, exclusive of the first day of possible infectious contact and the end of a full seven-day isolation period. The Prime Minister, by her own admission, claimed the CMO had recommended a couple more days for Minister Cummins to meet the minimum requirement of seven days and yet she presented an official certificate to the President of the Senate Sir Richard Cheltenham on the same day of Miss Mottley’s pronouncement. This is most peculiar! The President at age 78, along with other senior, vulnerable members of the Chamber would have had reason to be perturbed. We doubt, however, that Sir Richard’s abrupt retirement had anything to do with the Minister of Tourism’s presence. Nevertheless, we should not have a situation where authorities in the country are closing shops, pulling privately-owned public service vehicles off the road, and in previous instances incarcerating and fining persons for breaching curfew protocols, and the Government and its agents are themselves playing loose with their conduct.
During her rant on Wednesday, Miss Cummins demonstrated a naïveté that could have led some to question why she benefited from the recent Cabinet reshuffle. She admitted that for four months while in charge at the Bridgetown Port she had interacted with many travellers from a total of about 22 000, said she had complied with protocols and had not done a single test. She used those numbers to show she had been exposed to thousands of individuals before and had not been shunned but was now being avoided in the Upper House having tested negative.
We will not speculate on the level of safeguards which the minister took while interacting with those thousands of individuals at the Port. Suffice to say that given those earlier circumstances, her recent negative test was timely and perhaps overdue. But taking into consideration what was announced tonight with the retesting of the Ghanaians, the minister and any others present at that public relations exercise at the Grantley Adams International Airport on July 30 might consider retesting as well.
We are faced with a virus that kills and an abundance of caution will never be too much. Minister Cummins was allowed to waltz into the Senate with not only questionable medical clearance, but also with an attitude. She and others whose public positions might make them appear less accountable than the average Joe, should be reminded that COVID-19 has levelled the playing field in its choices. Apology accepted, Miss Cummins, but you need now to seek out Senators Caswell Franklyn, Crystal Drakes, Monique Taitt , Lindell Nurse and Dr Christopher Maynard.