Residents of West Grand Bahama got the opportunity to have pressing concerns and questions related to various governmental departments heard and addressed, during the first West Grand Bahama District Central Government Agency Fair.
The one-day event was on Saturday in the Eight Mile Rock High School Gymnasium from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Representatives from more than 19 government agencies and the corporate sector were stationed at booths ready to assist residents from as far as West End to Hepburn Town.
Member of Parliament for West Grand Bahama and Minister of Social Services Obie Wilchcombe called it a day of bringing governance to the people.
“It is also a part of a transformation because when we go back to 1965, these areas (communities outside of central Freeport) were never supposed to have access to government, and that is what we are trying to change; a change that caused for the Administrative Complex to be in the west, where opportunities exist for our people, where education and essential services are available.”
Participating in the fair were Bahamas Customs; the Department of Immigration; Mortgage Corporation; the departments of health, housing, labor, national insurance, registrar, social services, and local government; the Bahamas Development Bank; BAIC; National Training Agency; Inland Revenue; Passport Office; Road Traffic; Parliamentary Office; Urban Renewal; the ministries of youth and public works; BTC; and Aliv.
With the multiple departments, agencies and companies represented for the first time under one roof, Wilchcombe noted, “A lot of questions will be answered today, and I feel good about that.”
West GB District Administrator Ricardo Ferguson said, “People can get all the information here firsthand and not listen to word on the streets.
“So, right now, this is an opportunity for everybody to get knowledge, and we know having knowledge is power. Once you are furnished with knowledge, then you can go away from here well satisfied and ready to take care of your business without having to guess what it is you need to do.”
While he commended organizers of the agency fair, Ferguson expressed disappointment in the attendance.
“I expected more people, especially young people,” he said.
“We have a lot of young people in this community, and I really wished more of them were here because they are our future. But I presume that throughout the day, more persons will be coming.”
Jones Town resident Geraldine Martin described the fair as a welcome event for the community.
“We needed this,” Martin stated.
“As residents, we needed the help and answers to questions that we couldn’t get from some of these offices on a daily basis. So, this Mr. Smith and Minister Wilchcombe making this happen is great.”
The agency fair was organized by the West GB District Council, headed by Chief Council George Smith.
Martin noted that many residents, particularly senior citizens in the Western District, do not have access to transportation to travel to Freeport when they need assistance with government issues.
“So, having them come to us … we appreciate this very much,” she said.
Many in attendance shared Martin’s sentiments, singling out having social services representatives readily accessible.
District Chief Welfare Officer and Officer in Charge of Social Services’ GB office, Dorothea Gomez, said her team was delighted to be a part of the exercise.
“We were able to bring our various divisions to the Western District where residents can come and find out all the services we offer,” Gomez added.
She noted that there is more to social services than just providing food vouchers and rental assistance.
“We are much more than that. We offer adoption, marital and medical services; we work hand in hand with the court,” she said.
“We are hearing in the news about children not having uniforms. We have someone here from the school welfare department. We also have our child protection unit representative here; our seniors and disability unit.
“We have our community support division, which is our biggest division because it deals with persons in need in the communities. And so, we want residents to know we are more than food and rent.”
Acknowledging that recently the department has been challenged as it transforms to its digital platform, Gomez said the fair was an opportunity for residents to not only get advice, but to get assistance with registering online.
“Someone is here to assist them with whatever needs arise and to make residents more aware of what we do,” she said.