By NICOLE BURROWS
SINCE the story of the Auditor General’s report on the Urban Renewal Commission’s Small Home Repairs programme first broke, the dialogue in most places has been about the disagreement between the co-chairs, Algernon Allen and Cynthia “Mother” Pratt, and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about the way the report was released and its implications on the integrity of the co-chairs.
There has been detail about the project specifications which should have been met (but were not) by the construction companies contracted to carry out the small home repairs and whether those companies completed their work or if they ever did the work to begin with.
While the report begs the question of accountability and transparency in the programme, it doesn’t exactly say why the Auditor General concluded that the programme lacked accountability and transparency, except that it mentioned how many homes there were in total repaired or surveyed, the recorded costs to repair, the amounts paid to construction companies, the nature of the repairs provided and the like.
However, there was one detail provided in an early report by NB12 which noted that, in most cases, a number of business licences for the construction companies working on the small homes repairs had in fact been granted just before the contracts were awarded. This I find to be the most compelling part of this news story, far more interesting than the debate about whether or not the report should have been released without the approval of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister and others, per “Mother” Pratt’s suggestion. The answer to the question of accountability and transparency is directly tied to the legitimacy of the contract awardees and their freshly-minted businesses.
Why were contracts awarded to construction companies who had only been issued their business licences just prior to the awarding, with little or no record of previous contract performance? Moreover, if the companies were “usually General Maintenance and Landscaping” companies, per the categorisation of their business licences, why were they renovating and repairing homes? Is that not the job of a bona fide contractor, however small?
I think the answer to these questions would do more for substantiating the validity of Mr Bastian’s concerns as outlined in his audit of the programme than the current inane argument about who is more right than whom and who should have told who about what first before telling anyone else.
I can add to the fire that, in my neighbourhood, on one street alone, small home repairs were made to three homes, all of which are inhabited by families who are known to be supporters of the Progressive Liberal Party. Make of that what you will.
Parading Prime Minister
Opposition leader Hubert Minnis is always entertaining when he gives interviews. His pointer finger does a lot of wagging. In a recent interview, he remarked that the Prime Minister can’t run a country and that all he wants to do is ”jump in that car with the flag on and outriders … ‘I am the Prime Minister!”’
It was a funny piece of footage to watch, and as rarely as I agree with anything that comes out of Dr Minnis’ mouth, I certainly share his sentiment on this occasion. But I would hasten to add that the PM is not the only one to whom this applies.
Any Bahamian with a piece of a title wants to be heard and seen. It’s a twisted love for ‘tings’ and prestige, power and position that Bahamians have, which, ordinarily, you might want to afford them if that’s all they have, but it is because we are so caught up in trivial life trappings that we can’t make a few steps ahead in a sensible direction.
No sooner had Dr Minnis said these words did I find myself on the street subjected to another maddening fleet of Bahamian aristocratic “wannabes” flanked by their reckless outriders. Dame Marguerite Pindling it seems, this time, was the centre of the float parade. Somehow, the members of their troupe had gotten separated and my vehicle was one lodged in the midst of their circus.
The front outrider tooted his tiny horn but stayed in my blind spot so I could not see him. Eventually, he got in front of me and aggressively motioned for me to get to the side of the road so this carnival could regroup and drive on. Me, the lowly civilian, in my old busted up car had no right to just happen to get caught up in the convoy they had so poorly organised.
And what got into me anyway? Didn’t I know who was trying to pass? Why didn’t I stop my car, throw myself into the street and bow down, kiss the ground and exalt the heavens for sending me another person to worship?
There are many (negative) things that can be said (and might be true) of former PM Hubert Ingraham, but that he was not humble in comparison to the circus parade of leaders we have currently is not one of those. You would never know Ingraham was around if you couldn’t hear his voice or see the conspicuous licence plate. He would cruise through traffic, often in his own vehicle, and if you happened to see him and give him a wave he would smile or nod and wave back.
Discretion. Christie and the circus ensemble could learn a thing or three thousand about humility.
On Sunday, a reported approximate of 700 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya, when their vessel sank. Another vessel ran aground yesterday morning near the Greek island of Rhodes, with more migrants confirmed drowned. Another two vessels were also reportedly in distress carrying several hundred more migrants. And, just days prior, (Muslim) migrants were arrested, upon rescue at sea, for allegedly throwing other (Christian) migrants overboard on the journey.
It is estimated that 218,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2014. That is not far off the entire population of The Bahamas; it could easily be the case with Haitian migrants who continue to risk their lives entering The Bahamas, presumably to get to America – eventually.
The Italian authorities, who are now being bombarded by migrant crossings into Lampedusa and Sicily, say they have no more space, no more money and no more instruments to support the influx of people escaping their homes into and through Italy. Italy says they “have been left alone” in their efforts, and, today, leaders of the European Union (EU) countries have called an emergency meeting in Luxembourg to discuss the way forward.
Libya is regarded as a failed state. It begs the question: whose responsibility is it when a country becomes a failed state?
As big a country as Italy is, they can’t deal with the problem of migration being facilitated by people smugglers. And the whole of the EU is trying to decide what to do. What should The Bahamas do?
A likely resolution would seem to be to stop people smugglers in their efforts. EU countries reduced their efforts and patrols last year, believing that more patrols would encourage more people to come, a theory which seems to be invalid at this point as fewer patrols exist and the migrant numbers have increased.
Authorities are debating the establishment of camps in North Africa to have migrants apply for asylum there before taking to the high seas on rickety, overcrowded vessels. But who will pay for that? As a viable alternative, that method has not been tested, and, thus far, it is only Italy, Greece and Malta of the countries which border the Mediterranean Sea that feel the greatest impact of this problem.
In direct comparison, The Bahamas cannot afford to pay to set up camps in Haiti to accept asylum applications. Which country can accept asylum applicants, anyway, when they can’t provide proper education, healthcare and security for their own people? Is paying for asylum camps in a foreign land a fair expectation of Italy, Greece, Malta, any or every EU country … or The Bahamas?
Some argue that the problem of people smuggling will exist no matter what until Libya and countries which find themselves in similar dire straits are restored to some semblance of enduring order. But the reality of that prospect is slim and grim, as it is not something that can happen by the sheer will of any other country but Libya, making it even less likely to happen swiftly, if ever.
More fortunately for them, the EU is comprised of first world countries, which have land to accommodate migrants and law enforcement and financial resources to fight people smugglers. Again, in comparison, what does The Bahamas have?
A commonality amongst immigrants is that they “all think there is no way they can survive in their own original countries”. Bahamians (myself included) are beginning to feel this way, in spite of the sun, sand and sea.
Bahamians are already economic and education immigrants to other countries, they’re just not running from warring factions in their homeland. Yet.