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Lewis: We’ve made tremendous progress

Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis yesterday dismissed criticism of the pace of Hurricane Dorian recovery, saying that he does not “feed a negative monster” and that the ministry is working as fast as possible depending on public cooperation.

He made the comments on the sidelines of a “Recovery Policy, Recovery Plan and the Institutional Arrangements for Implementation” workshop held at the Securities Commission on East Bay Street yesterday.

“The unfortunate thing is that there will always be naysayers. Persons, obviously, will have their opinions,” Lewis said.

He added, “I am not one to feed a negative monster. I like to focus on the positive. I like to focus on what we have achieved and use that as a springboard moving forward.

“So, we have made tremendous progress and I believe it will come. And you will notice in my speech I did say there will be years of reconstruction. It doesn’t happen overnight; it will be a long time. There’s a lot of debris to clean up.”

Speaking to current progress, Lewis also said: “We are now in the area of Marsh Harbour itself, going towards the ferry dock – a lot of privately owned property.

“We have no right to just go on those properties and clean without having the permission of the owners. They have to sign off and allow us to come on their properties.

“We are asking them to do their best in bringing their debris to the roadside, once it’s at the roadside we can now go and move it.

“So, it’s a partnership. So once we have full cooperation from all, I’m sure that we will work as fast as we can and we’ve been doing that.”

A common theme of the workshop was the need for recovery efforts to be a “collaborative effort”, and the two-day workshop itself was a follow-up of such collaboration, according to Lewis.

He said consultants from the University of the West Indies (UWI) met with Bahamian officials during a visit to The Bahamas from January 13 to 18 “to support the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) work on recovery post the passage of Dorian”.

On January 13, the UNDP sponsored a pledging conference at Baha Mar for Hurricane Dorian relief.

Last month, the government said it received $1.5 billion in pledges, which include technical assistance, intellectual assistance, concessionary loans, equity, grants and guarantee financing.

Officials, including Lewis, have previously said that a breakdown of the pledges would be made public.

However, that report has not been released.

Kay Forbes-Smith, managing director for the Disaster Reconstruction Authority, had initially said the report would be published by January 17.

On January 19, Lewis said the breakdown would be publicized by the end of the month.

During a national address last Tuesday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis specified that offers government accepts will be made public.

“The offers we accept, will be laid out for the Bahamian people to see,” he said.

“It is essential, that we promote a culture of transparency with disaster relief assistance, especially, because of questionable, and corrupt practices with hurricane funds, as we have seen in the past.”

When asked about the breakdown yesterday, Lewis suggested the information “is available to the public”.

“I believe there was no secret with respect to the pledging conference itself,” he said.

“It was wide open for everyone to be there, to take pictures and to record. There’s no anonymous donors, everyone was very open with what their proposals were and I’m sure the information, all the information that needs to be had, is available to the public.”

Despite Lewis’ assertion, up to press time yesterday, those pledges were still not publicly available.

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