HAS URBAN Renewal 2.0 failed?
Surely not, after all this was supposed to be the panacea to solve all the Bahamas’ social ills and defeat crime – or was it in reality just a ploy to win an election?
In July 2012, Prime Minister Christie, in a speech in Freeport, took full responsibility for the success or failure of Urban Renewal 2.0.
“I admonished the Commissioner of Police,” Mr Christie told the press at the time. “I told him you have your views about policing, but we are responsible for policy, and policy tells us this is how we want to implement the programme and you go out and do the programme for us and if it fails then we are responsible.”
According to Mr Christie, Urban Renewal 2.0 was supposed to be bigger than politics. For it to work effectively, he said, it has to be “above politics”. Again we ask: In reality, is this true?
From the beginning, we were told that the programme was not properly organised, and that persons were being put in positions for which they were not qualified. All the decisions were political.
There were complaints that the benefits of the programme —especially the clearing of large tracts of land — went only to PLP supporters. Instead of putting a price tag on each job, we were told, persons went out, selected a piece of land, cleared it, and sent in a bill to Urban Renewal for payment. We have mentioned in this column before about the Bahamian who while on remand awaiting trial was given an Urban Renewal job. It is understood that he was paid about $60,000 for the clearing work that he was supposed to have done. However, his trial intervened and he must have been convicted, because the next we heard from him were loud complaints from prison that Urban Renewal still owed him a large sum of money.
We understand that a blind man, a regular caller in to the various radio talk shows, who is incapable of even supervising a job, is said to have submitted a bill to Urban Renewal for $100,000. It is not known if it was ever paid.
Bethell’s Trucking is another example of poor planning. It was said that the firm was contracted to clear a large tract of land south of CV Bethel High School on East Street in the vicinity of the South Beach pools. It was also alleged that the contract was for $500,000. Persons in the area complain that mounds of debris remain on the property and the weeds are finding new life. There’s no point clearing land unless there is a plan to utilise it. If not, then in a few months’ time, the land returns to its original state and the money spent to clear it is wasted.
Apparently, there has been constant waste and lack of planning in Urban Renewal as it has been duplicating the work of the Ministry of Works and Environmental Health at great cost.
And now one of the programme’s Advisory Boards is demanding to know where thousands of dollars in donations have gone.
Canon Basil Tynes, of St Barnabas Church, wants to know what has gone wrong with the programme. His board has declared that it will not put up with this “cloak and dagger” routine any longer. (See story page 1).
Volunteers are being discouraged from continuing their work. Donations are coming in, but disappearing without explanation.
It is a shame that it has taken some of the organisers so long to waken to what is happening. We have been asking for an accounting from the beginning, but no one seemed to care.
“There was a donation of $15,000 for the Nassau Urban Renewal, $15,000 for Grand Bahama Urban Renewal,” said Board Member Naomi Hunter. “None of those funds have been allocated to either office, at least not Urban Renewal East. Everything went straight to the West... We have not received any allocations.
“There are funds that have been donated – we know of funds that have been donated. Where are they going? Who is in control of this?”
This is another fund — responsible for wasting large sums of money — crying out for a forensic audit.
No wonder College of the Bahamas students are complaining of government’s announcement that their subsidies will be cut. Although this has become necessary because of the serious state of the country’s finances, Bahamians are starting to resent that they have to belt-tighten while the politicians appear to have no limits to their spending.
Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald has assured students that these cuts – $2.5 million — will in no way interfere with the quality of their education. He suggested that the reductions would be made from such things as travel — Bahamians must choke at the mention of travel, the first item on Mr Fitzgerald’s list of suggested items to be cut. Choke they must when they recall the travel of government ministers and the unnecessarily large entourage they have in tow — obviously to reflect their own importance.
We agree that serious cutbacks have to be made if the country is to reduce its debt. However, Bahamians do not see any leadership coming from the top. It is as if this Cabinet believes it is a group apart — the people have to cut back, but the politicians don’t.
For example, some of these recent diplomatic appointments are madness. Foreign Affairs shadow minister Hubert Chipman questioned whether this was the right time for government to be adding staff abroad. He questioned, for example, filling the post of Consul General for Washington, DC, a post, he says, that has only been filled once or twice in 40 years.
While government ministries have been asked to cut their budgets by 10 per cent this year, and 25 per cent next year, government continues to expand its staff and spend as though it is governing from another planet.
With no example being set at the top of the political structure, Bahamians are rightly complaining that they are the only ones required to do the belt tightening.
Bahamians have a right to know how much these Embassies are costing the country and how many of them can be closed and staff reduced.