Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands yesterday defended the government’s decision to increase its travel budget by $4 million, noting that it was necessary given the emergency situation.
“…If you looked at Odyssey [Aviation] immediately after Dorian, the helicopters were like mosquitoes,” he said outside Cabinet.
“There were helicopters going back and forth to Abaco and Grand Bahama delivering supplies, delivering personnel, allowing us to assess what was happening on the ground. And even with an historic number of flights going into Marsh Harbour and Grand Bahama during that time period, people still say it wasn’t enough.
“Those aircraft, while some of those were donated by NGOs, some of those flights had to be paid for. We evacuated some 200 persons with medical conditions. Most of that was provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, but some of it was provided by other carriers, and we had to pay for it.
“In order to get food, supplies, medication, staff, that had to be paid for in many instances.”
On Sunday, Perspective revealed that the government’s budgetary allocation for travel and subsistence for the 2019/2020 fiscal year is set to increase by just over $4 million according to its 2019 Fiscal Strategy Report.
Acting Financial Secretary Marlon Johnson said the increase is due to travel associated with response to Hurricane Dorian.
Dorian, a Category 5 storm, decimated parts of Abaco, Grand Bahama and the surrounding cays in early September.
In a table of expenses Johnson provided to Perspective, $954,967 is allocated for travel by various ministries and departments; $36,854 is allocated for the Ministry of Health’s emergency flights from Abaco; $3,017,195 is allocated for per diem, incidentals and accommodations for public officers and uniformed staff; and $8,000 is allocated for expenses related to customs officers’ clearance of hurricane relief supplies in South Florida.
The total increase in expenditure is $4,017,016.
Sands said he is proud of the government for its transparency on the matter.
“We have been as open and as transparent as possible,” he said.
“And people will dissect information which is now available. This is a totally different era. Now the information is there.
“The numbers are there. And now, the discussion starts. That’s when the fight starts. Well, how come you spent $10 for this and you didn’t spend $5 for that. How come you spent $20 for this? I think this is the beauty of a democracy, that you are able to have an impassioned discussion about facts. The facts are there. We want to stand on our record.
“So the criticism is there on the basis of facts. And I am pretty proud of our record that we have been able to produce the information as opposed to just allowing people to speculate on the basis of nothing.”
Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis said the increase was the wrong move.