The Bahamas is living an especially difficult period in its history.
For 19 months now, the country has been struggling to survive the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has overwhelmed our healthcare system and shrunk our economy.
This resulted in the closure of our borders, the shuttering of businesses, the closure of hotels and the furloughing of thousands of workers.
And it came on the heels of the crushing impact of Hurricane Dorian and the destruction of the economy of Abaco, and the further deterioration in the fortunes of Grand Bahama.
These national emergencies produced positive and beneficial responses from foreign governments, local and international charities and The Bahamas’ business community, non-governmental organizations and individual volunteers. We found these responses to be laudable.
Laudable also were the responses mounted by the former government in partnership with the private sector most especially in the creation of the National Food Distribution Task Force, headed by a private sector volunteer, Susan Larson.
As many breadwinners faced furloughs and job losses, the task force operated a well-organized and effective program that met essential food needs to some 57,000 households at its peak and continuing to assist as many as 18,000 households during the current year.
The task force provided responsive, effective, efficient and scandal-free food purchasing and distribution.
The experience garnered over these past 17 months by the leadership of the task force and its many affiliates is now available to the Department of Social Services, which has assumed responsibility for the work previously carried out by the task force.
Larson said: “The public-private partnership was a $54 million investment by the Minnis administration and likely will be remembered as the largest and most successful social aid program in our nation’s history.”
Unfortunately, in his haste to disparage what he considered missteps by the former administration, the newly-minted minister with responsibility for social services characterized the work of the task force as having been overly expensive.
The new minister foreshadowed revamping the food assistance program to include a centralized warehousing of food purchased directly from producers.
The minister is not new to government, having served previously in PLP cabinets. He ought to be fully aware of the folly of bulk purchases and warehousing of goods by a previous government led by his party.
He should therefore shy away from hasty predictions of finding increased efficiencies in previously discredited processes.
We believe that among the things that the previous FNM government got right was its agreement to work with non-governmental organizations and the business community to meet the urgent need to provide food security to families stranded in an economy shuttered by a worldwide pandemic.
We join those international agencies that recognized The Bahamas for its successful effort in this regard. In particular, we express thanks and appreciation for the leadership of the National Food Distribution Task Force and for the hundreds of staff and volunteers of the affiliated aid agencies who offered their service to ensure the success of the program.
The Bahamas can be proud that in one of its darkest hours, its citizens rose to the occasion and reached out to work with the government in support of those least able to help themselves.
Thank you, Susan Larson, for your leadership.
Thank you Bahamas Red Cross, the Bahamas Feeding Network, Hands for Hunger, the Grand Bahama Food Assistance Committee, One Eleuthera Foundation, IDEA Relief and Lend a Hand Bahamas.
Thank you, private sector. Thank you volunteers.
And thank you FNM government for getting the food assistance program right!