Nassau, Bahamas — Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie lamented delays in the immigration section of Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) last week, which resulted in hundreds of visitors waiting in line for several hours.
On Wednesday, visitors were subjected to significant waiting times as a result of a shortage of immigration officers after the majority of them called out sick.
Although immigration officials said the scheduled officers turned up for work on Thursday, visitors exiting LPIA again complained of severe delays.
The Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) has adamantly denied it instructed industrial action.
During a ceremony marking his 40th anniversary in public life at Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) headquarters on Thursday night, Christie said visitors should never have to endure something like that when they come to this country.
He said it should not be allowed to happen again, regardless of who is to blame.
“It took them, they said, two hours, an hour and a half to two hours, to get through immigration,” Christie said.
“When they described to me this morning (Thursday) these people who are making a visit, hundreds of them visiting The Bahamas for the first time, and what they were subjected to yesterday (Wednesday), as prime minister of the country there is no explanation, no kind of apology bureaucratically, administratively, it is not supposed to happen.
“We should not, in this country, allow things like that to happen.”
Christie said while he is not aware of all the facts, immigration officers should not have allowed their industrial concerns to supersede their obligation to protect the lifeline of The Bahamas.
“I don’t care what the industrial agreement is. I don’t care what the level of vexation is,” he said.
“Whatever the principle is, we cannot allow in our country, ourselves, to mistakenly cause people who represent the lifeline to our country to be disappointed and not come back.
“The population of The Bahamas must be paramount, must be the supreme interest of the country.
“We have to be strong enough to establish that principle that we are not prepared to allow this country to be compromised by actions, whether bureaucratic, meaning people decided they were sick and not come in to work or simply too few people in the position.
“I am going to wait until the minister advises me of what the facts are, but whatever it is it ought not to have happened because it influences you, and you, and the level of comfort you enjoy in this country.”
In a press statement on Thursday, the government said it is waiting for the union’s legal counsel, Trade Union Congress president Obie Ferguson, to return to the negotiating table to finalize the BCIAWU’s contract.
The contract will facilitate lump sum payments to officers, who the ministry described as “hardworking uniformed members”.