When the Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) Bill was debated and passed in the House of Assembly in early November 2019, then-Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis lauded it as “a major part of the necessary change in how the government and The Bahamas respond to disaster preparedness, response, and reconstruction”.
Just two months after monster Category 5 Hurricane Dorian tore through swaths of Abaco and Grand Bahama, Minnis said the act would help to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy that slows progress in The Bahamas.
We have since come to know the DRA as yet another poster child of government inefficiency and unaccountability.
The tales of those on Abaco and Grand Bahama who decried the inaction of the authority in light of the promises made, have drowned out the grandstanding of politicians who were warned that another government agency to deal with disaster recovery was perhaps not necessary and would only add confusion to frustrate those most in need of help.
The DRA run under the Minnis administration was unable to deliver on its many promises – not erecting all the domes paid for by taxpayers, allowing donated supplies to rot as the people of Sweeting’s Cay were left to the elements, failing to provide comprehensive help to most of the homeowners who suffered property damage and not even being able to complete the foundation of a hurricane shelter on Abaco that was chiefly a gift of the government of India are a few of the more ignominious failures.
Then there was the failure of the DRA to follow the statute law that brought it into being.
This was pointed out in pellucid detail by The Nassau Guardian’s Perspective section
Section 11(3) of the DRA Act 2019 states: “Three months after the end of each financial year, the authority shall submit a copy of the audited accounts to the minister, together with a copy of any report made by the auditor.”
Section 11(5) of the DRA Act 2019 states: “All contracts awarded by the authority within a fiscal year shall be publicly disclosed at the end of the fiscal year.”
Neither of these provisions was met in 2020 or 2021 up to the last general election as far as we are aware.
After the election, of course the DRA was cloaked in shame after a series of revelations and disclosures by members of the Davis administration and former DRA Managing Director Kay Forbes-Smith.
Forbes-Smith sued the government in December of last year, though the government claims it was not served notice until earlier this year.
In the lawsuit, she revealed the terms of her hitherto undisclosed contract gave her in excess of $150,000 per year.
We will not today detail the unfortunate generator fiasco that also occurred around that time.
Earlier this year, Alex Storr, the DRA’s new executive chairman, said an operational audit of the DRA will become a forensic audit as he claimed gross mismanagement appeared to have taken place “from the current internal structure, the extreme high salaries, the way contracts were negotiated, the apparent conflicts of interest and the lack of compliance in management of every project”.
One of the contracts awarded was to Sunrise Sanitation and Disposal, a company owned by former Free National Movement (FNM) Senator Heather Hunt and her husband, who managed the Treasure Cay debris management site.
Hunt claimed there was nothing untoward with regard to the contract and the work the company billed the government for, which was sometimes as much as $320,000 per month.
Another company, Tycoon Waste Management Company, was receiving as much as $1 million a month, according to Storr.
However, Ed Curling, the company’s principal, who has ties to the FNM, denied that this was the case.
Since February, Storr has been relatively quiet.
And to this day, we have seen no action plan for the DRA, no results of any audit and still no compliance with the DRA Act 2019.
While allegations of government mismanagement are clearly in the public interest, ensuring that the DRA actually lives up to its mandate to help those impacted by disasters, such as the people of Abaco and Grand Bahama, is a much more useful outcome.
The Progressive Liberal Party excoriated the creation of the DRA while in opposition and has engendered significant public doubt about the former administration’s stewardship of the agency now that it is in office.
But as far as providing a way forward as another hurricane season approaches and with the third anniversary of Dorian’s landfall around the corner, it has failed.