One month after Hurricane Dorian destroyed parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper last night lambasted the government over what he sees as its failure to outline “a clearly defined plan” to tackle recovery and reconstruction in the storm’s aftermath.
“I want the prime minister to know that the Progressive Liberal Party stands ready to support him in any effort that will help move The Bahamas back along the path to restoration, but we will not support confusion,” said Cooper during a speech at the PLP’s Marathon branch meeting.
“What we see is the glaring lack of a clearly defined plan. We see knee-jerk responses by an administration that appears overwhelmed by the task before it.”
Cooper highlighted the “irony” of Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ stance on hurricane-related issues when compared to his position on the issues as opposition leader.
“The then-opposition leader, now our prime minister, said in 2016, that the Christie administration was not ‘aggressive enough’ in getting people out of the path of the storm,” he said.
“Perhaps he thought he wasn’t being political. Back in 2016, the then-opposition leader said if the FNM won the government, it would implement mandatory evacuation legislation.
“I’ve been a member of the House of Assembly since May 2017, and I have yet to see any mandatory legislation tabled, but perhaps none of that was political.
“So, if all of that he said when he was opposition leader was not political and legitimate criticism then, he should not shy away from addressing those same concerns now.”
Dorian is the strongest storm to ever hit The Bahamas and has left at least 58 dead and more than 600 missing.
Echoing the prime minister’s own words when he was critical of the Christie administration after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Cooper suggested the government dropped the ball as the storm approached The Bahamas.
“The government knew Hurricane Dorian was coming,” he said.
“We all watched it form and move. The government was briefed on it. The opposition demanded to be briefed on it. The world saw it coming. Where was the mandatory evacuation legislation that was promised in 2016 and 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma…when you were prime minister?
“Where were the trucks, chainsaws, garbage bins, dumpsters all lined up to deal with the aftermath appropriately? In fact, where were the RBDF (Royal Bahamas Defence Force) ships? Where was the enforcement of the building codes as was promised when he was prime minister in the aftermath in 2017?
“If these issues were not political then, surely they could not be political now. Perhaps, among the many lessons this storm will teach The Bahamas and this prime minister, is to be more circumspect with his words.”
In the weeks following Dorian, the prime minister announced the establishment of a new Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction.
Central Grand Bahama MP Iram Lewis has been appointed a minister of state in the ministry.
Minnis also announced the appointment of permanent secretary Jack Thompson and former National Insurance Board Director Algernon Cargill as hurricane relief coordinators for Abaco and Senate President Kay Forbes-Smith as the coordinator for Grand Bahama.
Cooper suggested last night that Minnis has turned the national catastrophe into a matter of politics by the recent appointments.
“We have no beef with Iram Lewis, and we wish him well,” he said.
“However, what the prime minister should have done was restructure [the National Emergency Management Agency], extend its powers and put highly skilled, competent, energetic people in charge.
“The prime minister says he wishes to end the red tape, to reduce the bureaucracy. But he has done the exact opposite.
“In the PLP’s view, it is fair to question what the organizational structure of this new ministry will be. What will its budget be? What role will NEMA play? Will there be a permanent secretary, as there must?
“What will be the structure of the authority that is supposed to be set up within it? What role will the Disaster Relief and Reconstruction Committee play?
“Will NEMA report to the minister, who will then report to the prime minister? Is this not the very definition of red tape?”