The Free National Movement (FNM) wants the Davis administration to provide a detailed and itemized list of its expenditure for Expo 2020 in Dubai, former Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Iram Lewis said yesterday.
The decision by the government to carry a seemingly large contingent to the event and the inclusion of certain acts drew criticism in some quarters in The Bahamas.
The concern was only exacerbated over the weekend when several videos appeared on social media featuring some members of the delegation showing off their hotel rooms and another video where a group of men said, “We’re here. Where y’all is? Home. Stay home.”
While the videos were likely meant for close friends and family, they spread on Facebook and its messenger program, WhatsApp.
Lewis said the decision to move forward with the trip, especially when The Bahamas is in the midst of an economic crisis, is difficult to accept.
“Bahamians are watching carefully just how careless and negligent this current government is, especially as it relates to the scarce resources of the country,” he said in a statement.
“We are calling on this high-flying government to give a detailed account of the Dubai trip including an itemized list of expenditures; a breakdown on exactly how many individuals were a part of the delegation; a list on exactly how many government officials were on the trip and what justified this amount; [and] how many cultural artists and artisans were included on the trip and what was the criteria utilized to determine which artist, group, choir or entertainer would comprise this cultural delegation?
“Finally, given the severity of the fourth wave of COVID we are currently experiencing in the country, did the government receive the all-clear from our local health professionals regarding the Dubai trip including the size of the delegation and how this decision might impact our COVID situation in the country?”
Expo 2020 is part of World Expo, an event that occurs every five years and lasts for six months. According to its website, the event is a festival where participating countries can show off innovations and “have fun by sharing ideas and working together”.
In a statement over the weekend, Office of the Prime Minister Director of Communications Latrae Rahming defended the trip.
He said the government of the United Arab Emirates “support the presence of The Bahamas pavilion with $3.5 million” and that the private sector supplied donations totaling $500,000.
Further, he said Cabinet approved up to $1 million for Expo 2020.
Rahming said the previous administration approved $1.7 million for the expo.
However, former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said his administration did not allocate any funds specifically for Expo 2020. He said the Ministry of Tourism was advised to use funds already budgeted to attend the event.
Lewis said the Davis administration could have carried a smaller delegation to participate at Expo 2020 in a targeted way.
“What makes the government’s decision even more painful for many to digest is the fact that the government is actually trying to justify their spending by saying that the previous administration was committed to spend $1.7 million on this trip,” he said.
“Well, the fact of the matter is that the planning to participate in Expo 2020, according to a recent news report, was initiated in 2016, which would have been under the previous Christie-led PLP administration and well before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was upon the realization that the impact of COVID could be severe on the lives and livelihood of Bahamians, that the former administration put in place a suspension of travel for all Cabinet and government officials.”
The Central Grand Bahama MP noted that the FNM supports cultural artists and opportunities for them to gain exposure.
“However, we share the concerns of a number of Bahamians who question the wisdom of the prime minister and his government to send such a large delegation with some of whom may not have been chosen because they ideally were the right fit for the stated objective the trip,” he said.