Does the new Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Recovery and Reconstruction (MODPRR) make sense? The short answer is that it depends. Whether something makes sense or not depends on whether it offers an appropriate solution to the problem it was designed to solve. Is this new ministry the solution to the problem the government seeks to solve?
Having listened to me on Z Live say I was waiting to fully consider the appropriateness of the new MODPRR before commenting on it, a highly regarded individual reminded me that following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. government agencies seemed to blame each other for the lapses that allowed the catastrophe. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security was formed, which got rid of the many “silos” that existed prior. Through the new agency better coordination would be achieved. The listener also noted that in the early stages of the establishment of Homeland Security there was much criticism of the move. Many considered it a move toward further bloating the U.S. government and increasing bureaucratic hurdles. Spring forward a few years and it is difficult to imagine U.S. national security without the Department of Homeland Security. The purpose of its creation was to coordinate the work of a variety of agencies and it seemed to fulfill that purpose.
What is the intended purpose of the new Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Recovery and Reconstruction? According to Prime Minister Minnis, it is to “focus and to coordinate the national response for the recovery and reconstruction of Grand Bahama and Abaco.” Also, according to the PM, it is to help “local authorities in the development of plans and the construction of high capacity, reinforced hurricane shelters on high ground in vulnerable communities throughout The Bahamas”. The PM actually mentioned the ministry has seven responsibilities that include: (1) Relations with NEMA, (2) Relations with Family Island Consultative Committees and Administrators, (3) Disaster preparedness, (4) Disaster response, (5) Disaster relief and recovery, (6) Preparation of information to local residents on financial matters and the changing state of local services and (7) Securing from Cabinet approval of all medium to long-term plans.
If we focus on the most immediate and significant reason for establishing the new ministry, that is, to “focus and to coordinate the national response for the recovery and reconstruction of Grand Bahama and Abaco”, the question is what is required for the recovery and reconstruction of those islands? Those islands will require the replacement and improvement of destroyed public infrastructure (roads, schools, docks, clinics, buildings, etc.). Those islands will require the restoration and/or improvement of private infrastructure (homes, businesses, churches, civic structures, etc.). This is only the hard infrastructure. There is also soft infrastructure needed, including human resources, administrative and technical systems and new security arrangements.
If the ministry is to be able to do all of this and more, it will require at least three things: (1) Empowerment; (2) Staffing; and (3) Funding. The Ministry must be able to make decisions without undue consideration by others. It only adds to bureaucracy if it has to go to many places for approvals before it can make a decision or give an approval. It will have to work across the silos of various government agencies necessary for the recovery and reconstruction of Abaco and Grand Bahama, including Ministries of Public Works, Housing, Health, Environment and, of course, Finance. That is a great deal of legal and procedural power to navigate.
The ministry must have adequate numbers of people and the appropriately qualified people to make sound decisions and execute effectively on those decisions. Its leadership has to be highly respected and must command the attention and cooperation of both the staff of the ministry as well as the numerous professionals and personnel outside of the ministry. Short of this, the ministry will dwindle to another political bureaucracy void of effectiveness.
It also has to be properly funded. If hundreds of millions of dollars are necessary for the recovery and reconstruction, then that money must be given to MODPRR for its unimpeded use. it should be held to account only through appropriate public finance rules and not be subject to undue interference. This may put it in the crosshairs of the Ministry of Finance unless its legal status, like that of the Ministry of Tourism, is clear.
If these three things come together in a legal entity given the appropriate structure for streamlined decision making and execution, it may be able to focus and coordinate recovery and reconstruction. If not, it will be an added bloat to the government. If it has the fullest attention and support of the Prime Minister, as he said it will, then it may in fact work.
The prime minister said that the “main body of the ministry will function as an authority similar to the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA). The authority will be responsible for the reconstruction of Abaco and East Grand Bahama.” The PHA may have been an unfortunate reference, as there is not that much public confidence in the efficacy of that quasi-government agency. In any event, it would have an opportunity to make its own history and create its own impressions on the public. Frankly, I will not be surprised if it runs into many hurdles as it seeks to do so; power in bureaucracy never yields power without considerable demand.
Is the new ministry a sensible move? If it is empowered, properly staffed and well-funded, it could be and the people of Grand Bahama and Abaco, indeed all The Bahamas, could be the beneficiaries thereof. It carries a heavy charge and I for one hope that it executes well.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.