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Defending the food task force

Former minister says all transactions were transparent 

Former Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell yesterday defended the National Food Distribution Task Force, a public-private partnership that ended on September 30, maintaining that all transactions were transparent.

“There are records,” Campbell told The Nassau Guardian.

“If you speak to funds being released from the Ministry of Finance, then you know for a fact that the Ministry of Finance will not release any funds unless they have Cabinet approval.

“It is known that it was a National Food Distribution Task Force coordinated by a private entity but facilitated by using NGOs throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. That is what made it national in scope. It was a response to food insecurity.”

Campbell said he stands by the efforts the previous administration made to assist those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s difficult to have any wrongdoing when there are easily verifiable facts and when funds can be traced from point A to point B,” he said.

“No, there was no wrongdoing that I was aware of doing. There was no wrongdoing. Persons benefited. Persons were fed. Persons were grateful.”

Financial Secretary Simon Wilson said yesterday there was no information on the government’s files in relation to the task force.

He said this was discovered during the Ministry of Finance’s initial review of the Minnis administration’s spending during the state of emergency, which lasted from March 2020 to November 2021.

“The way the program was structured, even though it was public funds, it was structured in a manner that no information was made available to the government,” said Wilson when called for comment.

“So, we move to phase two (of our internal review) and we will see what we find.”

On Sunday, Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Director of Communications Latrae Rahming said there was no evidence that the Department of Social Services obtained an understanding of the task force’s policies and procedures related to the food distribution program, specifically as it relates to the selection of non-governmental organizations (NGO), beneficiary selection, vendor selection, procurement and payment by the NGO, and expenses incurred and settled by the NGOs.

Rahming said the Ministry of Finance paid more than $9.1 million to a beneficiary that did not appear to be an NGO engaged by the task force.

Free National Movement Leader Michael Pintard said yesterday the figure revealed by Rahming was likely for distribution efforts on Grand Bahama.

“The Grand Bahama program would have been overseen by a consortium which included the Office of the Prime Minister, the Grand Bahama Port Authority, BORCO, so various partners in Grand Bahama who themselves were contributing funds to this pool of funds that were used in order to issue vouchers,” he said.

“The checks and balances on the system were executed, I’m advised, by I think it was Cates and Co. as the accounting firm that assisted.” 

Pintard said the only group that was not an established NGO that received funding was the OPM and the partners that worked with it to administer the program on Grand Bahama. 

The task force was launched during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic to assist families struggling to make ends meet as a result of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic.

The task force provided assistance for more than 70 weeks at a price tag of at least $54 million. It has been formed with a 12-week period in mind.

In New Providence, weekly food parcels were valued at approximately $38 for a household of four people.

At one point, at least 57,000 households were depending on the task force.

NGOs that made up the task force included Bahamas Feeding Network, the Grand Bahama Food Assistance Committee, Hands for Hunger, IDEA Relief, Lend a Hand Bahamas, One Eleuthera Foundation and, during 2020, the Bahamas Red Cross. 

The weekly spend of the program during 2021 was slightly more than $768,000, its chairman Susan Larson said at the time the program was wound down.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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