PM claims $10 mil. ‘vanished’ in food program

Prime Minister Philip Davis claimed in the House of Assembly yesterday that $10 million of the Bahamian people’s money earmarked for the Food Distribution Task Force had “simply vanished”.

“To this day, Madam Speaker, despite numerous requests, two NGOs have still not provided any information at all and, combined, they received more than $10 million,” Davis said.

“Madam Speaker, $10 million of the Bahamian people’s money has simply vanished.”

Davis did not name the NGOs, and there was no conclusion made by ATI Company Limited, which conducted an “agreed-upon procedures report” on the program for the government, that more than $10 million had “vanished”.

Davis tabled ATI’s report yesterday.

ATI stated that Lend a Hand Bahamas did not submit requested data “as at the date of this report”.

It added that IDEA Relief “did not submit timely data (submission March 18, 2022) via email in PDF”.

According to the food program “contribution summary” contained in the report, Lend a Hand Bahamas was given $11.5 million (the largest allocation of all NGOs) and IDEA Relief was given $4.4 million for its feeding programs connected with the work of the task force, which was established by the previous administration to help feed the most vulnerable Bahamians during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking in Parliament, the prime minister said, “In the case of the food program, requests for credible documentation of how $53 million was spent have not been answered. To be clear, documents have been provided, but they are not documents that answer the most important questions posed.”

He said, “… In the general findings of the audit report, 18 categories of major deficiencies were noted.

“These ranged from a widespread lack of record-keeping, and widespread inconsistencies relating to the sums of money handled, to a complete absence of minutes being kept of meetings, agreements and actions.

“In other words, although tens of millions of the Bahamian people’s dollars were being spent, not even the most basic safeguards were in place.

“A government that speechified about transparency at great length, and at every opportunity did not conduct even the most basic oversight of a major government initiative.”

Davis added: “Given the sums of money involved, the deficiencies are breathtaking.”

He said public officers did not have oversight in the expenditure of funds.

“Expenditure of millions of dollars remains unexplained and undocumented,” Davis added.

“No audited financial statements have been provided, so information provided by the NGOs cannot be confirmed. Information dashboards presented by the task force did not reconcile to the information provided by NGOs.

“So, for example, just to highlight the point, if the task force is saying that they gave an NGO $100,000, and the NGO is saying they only received $80,000, what’s happened to the difference?”

The prime minister said, “We table the report today and once again, call on those with knowledge of the underlying facts to come forward. Those who have failed to provide answers and evidence still have an opportunity – and an obligation – to do so.

“We do not prejudge the circumstances we have uncovered. We cannot say definitively whether we are looking at jaw-dropping incompetence … or something considerably worse.”

Initially intended to be a 12-week initiative, the food program was in operation for 70 weeks with $53 million in funding.

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Krystel Brown

Krystel covers breaking news for The Nassau Guardian. Krystel also manages The Guardian’s social media pages. She joined The Nassau Guardian in 2007 as a staff reporter, covering national news. She was promoted to online editor in May 2017. Education: Benedict College, BA in Mass Communications

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