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Acklins in uproar over govt neglect

Just before the Christmas season, Guardian Business has learned that businesses and social services workers in Acklins have not been paid by the government for more than six months, igniting outrage in the struggling community.

According to Alfred Gray, the Member of Parliament for Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins and Long Cay (MICAL), the thousands of dollars owed to hard-working Bahamians represents negligence and it is “unacceptable”.

“Christmas is coming and they expect to have their money,” he told Guardian Business.

“I made reference to this a week ago in the House of Assembly, and nothing has happened to bring relief to my people.  I am livid about it because the government can do better.  This time of year, people need their money.  That’s why people are very angry.”

Gray said the shop owners and grocery stores on the island have been unable to cash in their food coupons since June.  Meanwhile, social services workers, such as housemaids, domestic workers and those who look after the elderly, have also been empty-handed despite constant complaints to the island administrator.

In June, a “substantial sum of money” was stolen from a safe on Acklins, The Nassau Guardian reported.  The money represented public funds from the central government to pay salaries and public expenses.

While the robbery might be the reason for the lack of funds, Gray said, “I just think they haven’t paid because they don’t believe it’s important”.

“The government has to send money to Acklins by plane.  They don’t have a bank in Acklins.  The fact is they just haven’t paid these people,” he said.

Loretta Butler-Turner, the minister of state for social services, told Guardian Business that the government “has not been aware of that”.

“We know they had a robbery,” she said.

“With regards to the payments of the merchants, I have not been aware of it.  We try to stay on top of it.”

The apparent lack of funds for Acklins is yet another blow to the isolated island.  In August, Acklins was among the hardest hit from Hurricane Irene.  Some houses were destroyed.

Clinton Rolle, the owner of CFC, a general store on the island, said he is personally owned nearly $5,000 – a significant sum for the modest entrepreneur.

On a typical month, Rolle collects food coupons from many of his customers and subsequently cashes them in with the island administrator.  But since the robbery, there is no money for anyone.

Even more troubling, he said, is the fact that the island hasn’t even received food coupons for the month of November, meaning Rolle has extended credit to his customers in the hope of one day getting what is owed to him.

“This island was recently hit by the hurricane and people are struggling, just trying to make ends meet,” he said.  “I’m sick and tired.  I don’t see the reason why, but when I go to the island administrator, they say there is no money.”

By now they should have replenished the money, he insisted, and the situation is especially disheartening with Christmas right around the corner.  Although residents have spent the last six months pushing for change on the island, Rolle said the time has come to take their protests to the next level.

“Last month was pretty rough,” he said.

“People don’t understand why.  For me, I have allowed them credit for certain groceries, but I hope to be paid by the people I’m assisting.  I am hoping they come back and pay me.”

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