Urgent needs, sluggish response

The needs of the thousands displaced on Abaco and Grand Bahama are urgent and critical close to four months after the passage of Hurricane Dorian, but you would not get that impression judging from the sluggishness of key facets of government response.

The Christmas season often adds sentimental and emotional pressures to having personal challenges fully addressed, but the holiday season will regrettably bring with it still many unanswered questions for bereaved relatives and those with no place of their own to call home.

Not to be shaken by the urgency of Dorian’s aftermath, Parliament has given itself a six-week break with the House to re-convene on January 29 — even as essential pieces of proposed legislation to address “pressing” needs post-Dorian have not been introduced as promised.

During his communication on the 2019 Fiscal Strategy Report back on November 20, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest announced that “within two weeks’ time” the government would table a supplementary budget to “address in an orderly and transparent manner the extraordinary expenditures and revenue losses associated with the passage of Hurricane Dorian, together with the identified pressing expenditure requirements to be met over the current budget and the medium-term fiscal horizon”.

Turnquest also foreshadowed the tabling within that two-week period of the government’s borrowing resolution to fund its anticipated fiscal deficit.

But one month later and with over one month’s break from the House, these budget bills have not been tabled.

A critical budget item is the allocation for the government’s new Disaster Reconstruction Authority.

The country does not know how much money has been earmarked for the work of the authority, nor for the salaries and emoluments of board members appointed to carry out this work.

While there have been no shortage of photo ops and press statements restating well-known problems on the ground on Abaco and Grand Bahama, reconstruction timelines and protocols to address concerns of unregulated construction work in the disaster areas have yet to be met with an announced and actionable plan.

Though previous announcements indicated that some dome homes on Abaco would be ready for occupancy by Christmas, displaced Abaconians residing on New Providence expressed at a town meeting this week that they have been unable to get answers on how occupants will be chosen.

On the ground, storm victims lament with the familiar refrain of “where is the money?”

On Grand Bahama, displaced homeowners in need of assistance with materials and labor ask what has happened to the millions the government has received.

Though homeowners on both islands have been promised considerations for a maximum of $10,000 per household to assist in repairs, such assistance is still outstanding, much to the dismay of jobless and uninsured residents who hoped to be able to effect critical repairs to their storm-damaged homes by the end of the year.

Those critical repairs, we understand, include electrical work necessary for homes that suffered flood damage to receive power, but it is work that some homeowners cannot afford to have carried out.

Media reports of Bahamas Mortgage Corporation clients in Freeport who have been allegedly forced to pay for stage repairs out of pocket notwithstanding insurance company payouts to the corporation have not yielded a response from the minister responsible.

Meanwhile, distressed family members are continuing to call for answers on the identification process of bodies housed in a refrigerated trailer on Abaco.

It is likely that in at least some of these cases, the government’s abrupt about-face on repatriation exercises post-Dorian will have resulted in the deportation of identifiable next-of-kin and a fear of coming forward on the part of documented and undocumented migrant victims still in the country.

Free National Movement (FNM) member of parliament for Marco City Michael Pintard, who along with his family were flooded out of their Freeport home in the height of Dorian, recently stressed a need for greater urgency on the part of the government.

But long holiday breaks for MPs and a yet-to-be seen collaborative national response plan that includes resiliency preparation for upcoming hurricane seasons are hardly evidence that government is getting that message.

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