Given the state of emergency created by Hurricane Dorian’s deadly and destructive impact on Abaco and Grand Bahama, it was expected that the government would return to Parliament yesterday to give the nation full and comprehensive reports on the state of both islands and on the government’s recovery and restoration plan.
Rather than responding to the immediacy of this tragedy by providing detailed communications during what was the first sitting of Parliament since the disaster and since its lengthy summer recess, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis during his communication which reiterated much of what has been previously released by NEMA, advised that the government would give full reports next week during debate on its proposed disaster preparedness legislation.
Given the myriad of unanswered questions and lingering concerns regarding the dead and missing in Dorian’s aftermath, as well as the pressing needs triggered by tremendous storm-related losses, the government’s decision not to come to yesterday’s sitting prepared to give a full accounting of its response before, during and after the storm is disconcerting.
Information that ought to have been provided at yesterday’s sitting includes the status and process of search and recovery for human remains, the process and status of identification of the deceased on both islands, an accounting for how missing persons are being located, a report on the number of damaged and destroyed homes and the assistance provided to the displaced outside of shelters, a report on the number of businesses damaged and destroyed, reports on damage to public infrastructure on both islands, a report on how the over $5 million in donations received by NEMA has been spent to-date, a report on the tourism plan on both islands and a full report on the Equinor oil spill disaster on Grand Bahama.
Minnis announced that the number of persons missing in the aftermath of Dorian is now down to 424 from an initially revised NEMA tally of 1,300 back on September 11 and a count of 600 he gave during his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week.
In the interest of transparency and to aid in search efforts, the government should make good on pledges to release to the public the working list of missing persons as administrated by the Department of Social Services.
On Grand Bahama, homeowners and businesspersons bemoan the lack of an articulated plan for economic and social recovery by both the government and the Grand Bahama Port Authority.
Indeed, it was only following immediate backlash which included an appeal from one of the government’s own MPs — the member of Parliament for West Grand Bahama — that Minnis yesterday announced an extension of the government’s recently-announced economic recovery incentives to Freeport and the west after having designated the incentives only to east Grand Bahama.
That Freeport and the west were excluded in the first place was a signal to many that the powers that be may not have a full and proper grasp of what is needed for the island to recover.
And while the prime minister stressed the need for quick access to government resources in the recovery phase, it was only yesterday — one month after the storm — that the announcement was made of additional law enforcement transfers to Abaco to address ongoing security concerns and an intention to set up a NEMA depot in east Grand Bahama so that residents who live a minimum of 25 miles from the city can access critical relief supplies in their areas.
In times of disasters, a nation must be able to look to government for hope, strength and most of all, sound leadership.
If the confidence of storm victims and the wider public is to be restored and strengthened, a clear and ready plan for transitioning from relief and restoration to recovery and revitalization must not only be communicated, but demonstrated.
A legislative debate on what to do before a disaster approaches is in order as we prepare for future events, but the disaster of Dorian has already occurred and is now just over one month in the making.
Storm victims and the country need to be assured that their government is ready and up to the task of bringing Abaco and Grand Bahama from the point of devastation to a point of restoration.