As former Prime Ministers Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie yesterday expressed their desire to assist the government in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, Ingraham said he believes hundreds of people are dead on Abaco.
The government’s official death toll has remained at 50 for the past two days.
“In my opinion, the opinion of Hubert Alexander Ingraham, based upon information I have, based on my knowledge, there are hundreds of people who died,” said Ingraham after he and Christie arrived from touring parts of storm-ravaged Abaco.
“I pay no attention to 50.”
He added, “And I don’t make wild statements. I don’t make uninformed statements.”
Ingraham said the disaster is unprecedented in The Bahamas.
“We are not accustomed to having substantial deaths during hurricanes in The Bahamas. They have, generally speaking, been very low numbers — single digit at the most —whereas, in this case, hundreds of people have died. Hundreds of people have died in Abaco, and significant numbers in Grand Bahama.”
Christie said that he believes Ingraham would be the perfect person to head a government team for Abaco’s recovery.
“I told him (Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis) that he should exercise the greatest care because the reputation of the country was being assaulted, that he was personally being heavily criticized and that it was just too much…for him to be the symbol of restoration in this country.”
He added, “There appears to be uncertainty [among Abaconians] as to who they should turn to. I concluded that if I were the prime minister today of a PLP (Progressive Liberal Party) government, knowing the politics of our country, I would have invited Hubert Ingraham to lead the restoration process for Abaco.
“…People were able to respond to someone they called prime minister, someone who represented them for 35 years in Parliament and someone who has had a defining presence in the constituency. You need now to inspire the people who have suffered greatly to get them to believe that there is a basis for hope.”
However, Ingraham said he is doubtful he will be given such an opportunity.
“I spoke to Prime Minister Minnis the day following the hurricane,” he said.
“I offered him my assistance in any way, shape or form. He thanked me for it, said he appreciated it and that he would get back to me. We’ve spoken several times since that time.
“Notwithstanding what Mr. Christie said, I don’t see a role for myself being carved out by Prime Minister Minnis in this restoration exercise. So, I will give such advice as I can and such aid as I can, but I don’t think that Prime Minister Minnis would be inclined towards me having an active role in the reconstruction.”
Christie said he also reached out to Minnis to offer assistance, but the offer has not been taken up.
Both former leaders expressed the need to use the opportunity to learn from foreign experts.
“We have an opportunity that has not existed here before, in that we have the United States here with its coast guard, its other assets,” Ingraham said.
“We have the British here, and we have the Dutch here. They have ships. They have helicopters. They have engineers. They have skilled personnel.
“We have the Caribbean here offering assistance in terms of security — Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and others. We can’t do this job by ourselves. No government, no government I led, no government Christie led, no government Minnis leads could do this by itself. It’s bigger than us, and we have to access it, take advantage of it.”
He added, “Some people have the view that, ‘Listen, I have this job. I’ve got this, so no, I don’t need no help from you. I’ve got it.’
“Well, it’s big. It’s bigger than any one man, any one government, bigger than any one of you, and it’s our country, all of our country, and so we all have a duty to support it.”
Christie said: “If he does not respond positively in the way that we said, history will judge him harshly in that regard.
“He is in a one-of-a-kind situation. No one in The Bahamas has had to deal with the level and the degree of harm and hurt and physical damage to our country as Prime Minister Minnis.
“So, he has this opportunity in recognizing that to make some big, bold decisions, and to accept that it would not diminish his authority. In fact, it would make him seem bigger in the office of the Prime Minister, and I am hoping that he would see that and understand that.”
Asked about public criticisms of the government’s response to the hurricane, Ingraham said, “I would prefer not to deal with the criticism at this stage. There will be ample time for a postmortem. At this stage, I’d like to keep it on a positive level and say the things that we can do or ought to do to move forward.”
Christie added, “The country will be debating this for years, and it’s one of those defining historical moments that we’re going to have to learn the lessons from to better prepare ourselves.”