Bell: Govt still recovering money from food program

The government is still “recovering money” from the National Food Distribution Task Force, Minister of Immigration and Labour Keith Bell said in the House of Assembly yesterday, noting that just last week it got $100,000.

“I’m not here today to talk about the prudence and fiscal responsibility of the food program under the last administration,” he said during debate on the Fiscal Strategy Report. 

“I might add, while I am not talking about it today, more than a year later, the Ministry of Finance and the police are still recovering money, over $100,000 last week, Madam Speaker, boats, cars, other heavy equipment from the food program.”

Bell did not elaborate. 

Shortly after taking office in September 2021, the Davis administration took issue with the program.

Initially intended to be a 12-week initiative, the food program was in operation for 70 weeks with $53 million in funding, and assisted the most vulnerable households during the COVID-19 pandemic when thousands of Bahamians were out of work.

But Davis said it was unclear how that money was spent because there are no records or standardized reporting.

He previously said the government discovered that one organization had nearly $2 million of money meant to feed Bahamians sitting on its account.

Susan Larson, who chaired the task force, defended the program last year, noting that there are comprehensive records related to the program.

As he tabled an audit by ATI Company Ltd. into the company, Davis said last year that $10 million earmarked in the program “simply vanished”.

“…In the general findings of the audit report, 18 categories of major deficiencies were noted,” Davis said.

“These ranged from a widespread lack of record-keeping, and widespread inconsistencies relating to the sums of money handled, to a complete absence of minutes being kept of meetings, agreements and actions.

“In other words, although tens of millions of the Bahamian people’s dollars were being spent, not even the most basic safeguards were in place.

“A government that speechified about transparency at great length, and at every opportunity did not conduct even the most basic oversight of a major government initiative.”

Davis added, “Given the sums of money involved, the deficiencies are breathtaking.”

The auditor general’s report into the food program has not yet been brought to Parliament. It is unclear whether that report has been completed as yet.

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Travis Cartwright-Carroll

Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018.

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