RIGHTS WE ALL DESERVE
FRED Smith QC has become a champion of those individuals who are unable to defend themselves. He draws the ire and condemnation of many Bahamians who seemingly forget that every human being is entitled to their fundamental rights even if they don’t speak English, even if their navel string is not buried in The Bahamas, even if they are not wealthy or light skinned and don’t have straight hair.
According to Dr Duane Sands, “this would be a far better country if there were more Fred Smiths”. That said, this is not about Fred Smith.
The debate about the Gamble Heights bulldozing demands that we ensure that such any exercise of the government is done properly and with respect for the dignity of all human beings.
One concern is whether or not the bulldozing of the Gamble Heights shanty town paved the way for the alleged arsonists to mete out street justice against individuals that they perceive to be illegal. Such a question could only be asked if the mood created in our country is one that supports the overwhelming perception that these people deserve only contempt and that their rights as human beings does not matter.
Where is the public outcry if one or more of these individuals suffered excessively because of these actions? This is not about whether shanty towns ought to exist or not. This is about whether human beings ought to be treated at least at a minimal standard by the State.
How could the people who resided in Gamble Heights now prove their status if all of their identification documents were perhaps destroyed?
By ADRIAN GIBSON
HURRICANE Joaquin has not only made broad swaths of our people homeless refugees within their own country, but the storm is daily exposing the failed planning and incompetency of our government.
In the aftermath of Joaquin, we have seen displays of gross negligence on the part of government as they are slowly – very slowly – bringing much-needed relief to affected Bahamians.
While this column is not entirely about Long Island, I think the situation on the ground is heart-wrenching. My home town is a sight to behold, it is almost foreign to me and it is, frankly, a sight for sore eyes. I am deeply saddened by what I have seen on Long Island since the hurricane.
This week, forecaster Wayne Neely, of the Department of Meteorology, has revealed that the department’s Doppler radar was not functioning for several hours during the passage of Hurricane Joaquin. Mr Neely claims that as the category four storm battered several Family Islands the department was without the important weather instrument. Mr Neely’s claims directly conflict with Transport and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna Martin’s statements on Monday that the radar was never inoperable. She said the issue boiled down to a simple rebooting of the monitor at the Meteorology Office, which displays the information from the Doppler radar.
According to an obviously incensed Mrs Hanna Martin, the radar provides details on rainfall intensity, thunderstorms and tornadic activity, including waterspouts effectively within a 150-mile range. She said the radar is best used by officials as a supplemental tool to satellite imagery, the lightning detection network and computer modelling from a variety of official international sources. The minister, who has the Meteorology Department in her portfolio, insisted that the issues with the accuracy of the category four storm’s track had to do with the erratic nature of Joaquin and not with forecast equipment in the Bahamas.
I have heard Wayne Neely’s statements. I trust that the meteorologist – who I believe means well – is not threatened or victimised in any way by the powers that be.
I like Glenys Hanna Martin. I taught her daughter. But I think that she is allowing her emotions to get the best of her and she must exhibit a level-headed, sound approach to this matter. This cannot and should never be about personalities or launching any attacks that could be perceived as personal. I have always held the view that she was one of Christie’s better ministers.
The issue that now arises is whether the government is suppressing the truth about the radar and whether those individuals who are charged with leading the Met Department were toeing the line with hopes of self-preservation? Any attempt to silence any of the forecasters would be intimidation and victimisation.
We have reached a point where the only truth that is seemingly allowed seems to be the “truth” that emanates from the mouths of politicians? When Deputy Prime Minister “Brave” Davis issued the infamous words concerning the lack of insurance at BAMSI – which suggests that he misled Parliament – he had to walk it back and though he did so gingerly and carefully, he never admitted misleading Parliament.
Is the government orchestrating a cover-up?
It is alleged that the radar was not working. The Weather Channel reported that the Bahamian radar was not working. We have reports of several comments attributed to meteorologists in the Met Office asserting that the radar was not working. This is phenomenally embarrassing to Prime Minister Perry Christie, Mrs Hanna Martin and the Cabinet. The statements by the meteorologists are consistent with multiple reports of Family Islanders who have claimed that they were not warned with sufficient time to prepare for the disastrous storm. When given an opportunity to respond to these comments, there appears to be an unfortunate attempt to shoot the messengers, describing these messengers in defamatory ways and launching personal and scurrilous attacks and tirades on social media, in the House of Assembly and elsewhere.
Surely, this cannot be the right response to investigative journalism in this country!
What is this dark place that we have come to in The Bahamas? Do we believe in the truth and if we speak truth to power should one be subjected to vilification, obfuscation of facts and all manner of other ills?
The mood in this country is becoming them (privileged, elitist politicians) versus us (the people)! The concept that the Press is an important part of a democracy seems to have been discarded and the government of The Bahamas appears to be actively opposed to a free Press. Over the past few days, we have seen direct criticism of all aspects of the media emanating from various corners of the government and by obviously instructed functionaries of the government.
There are many Bahamians who have stated to me that they do not find the response of the minister to be credible.
Frankly, the language being used to explain what happened with the radar seems calculated. It is clear that the forecasters didn’t have an image on the screens through which to view radar readings. The minister’s response is that the radar was functional and that all the forecasters had to do was reboot a computer in order to realise that the radar was functioning. But, that statement misses the point as the persons responsible for reading the radar had no functional equipment. You need both the computer equipment and the radar to get the information being provided. The net effect is that the information to be gleaned from the radar was not available. It appears that top officials from the Met Office and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation are grandstanding on a technicality and ignoring the fundamental premise that people were, as a result, not warned and didn’t have time to prepare.
Therefore, the conclusion can be drawn that either the system was not working or they have failed to train the people working at the Met Office how to troubleshoot, reboot and repair a faulty system. It is still a lose-lose situation.
How is it that our government, knowing that we live in a hurricane basin, would not provide the country’s Met Office with properly functioning computers? Why should they have to reboot? Why do we practice such third world foolishness? Even if the radar was working, the fact that they had to constantly reboot a faulty system and a possibly obsolete computer system is another glaring failure.
Recently, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Alfred Gray has said that heads should roll. In a Westminster system, the idea is that the Cabinet speaks with one voice. So, is the PM going to fire Mr Gray for yet again speaking out of turn or will he ensure that heads roll?
It appears that when confronted with the same facts, Mr Gray and Mrs Hanna Martin have arrived at starkly different conclusions. I’m embarrassed that based on the chronology and description of events, I’m siding with Mr Gray on this one.
When one looks at the number of people who lost their homes and will become refugees within our shores - 413 in Long Island, 123 in Acklins, 50 in Crooked Island and so on - this storm was of apocalyptic significance. As we do a post mortem of the storm, we ought to be honest, seek clarity and truth so that if faced with a similar situation in the future, our national response can be improved.
If there’s one observation that can be drawn from the political circus relative to the management and handling of Hurricane Joaquin, it would be that this storm is a definite nail in the coffin of the governing party.
Turning to Long Island, I note that there is no proper co-ordination relative to the distribution of relief. There are scores of Long Islanders who were affected by the storm who have been reached by the government or relief agencies.
I have a different vantage point and appreciation for the entirety of Long Island - north to south - than many Long Islanders. My grandfather is from the south (and his family remains there) and my grandmother is from the north. I have longed to see a Long Island where the people work as one and are together, as opposed to having superficial rivalries based on foolishness about south versus the north and vice versa.
Unfortunately, the island was divided by politics when the PLP split Long Island into two seats. The north was considered more PLP but, on review of the demographics of the last few general elections, that too has changed in favour of the FNM. But, politics should not matter in these times, nor should one’s geographic location on the same island. The division between north and south remains – to a lesser extent than in times past – though Long Island is now a single seat represented by one MP and has been so for many years now.
I can appreciate that south Long Island suffered far more damage that the north. However, there are persons in the north such as Grace Deal, 97-year old Rosa Adderley and other folks who lost their roofs, had the sea flowing through their homes and damaging furniture, etc. My grandfather, Edward Gibson, who is the second most senior Bishop in the Church of God Inc, lost a part of his church roof and suffered damage to his house roof. But, very little has been heard from the island’s administrator or those persons supposedly organising the relief.
I spoke to island administrator Terece Bootle-Bethel a few weeks ago and told her that I had been informed by my grandparents and other affected residents that none of the aid was getting to settlements in the north. She informed me that she would be sending a bus filled with aid and that she would have it dropped to the administrator’s office in Simms.
I was totally flabbergasted by this and I told her so. How in the world could elderly folks get around to retrieving aid dropped to the administrator’s office in Simms? I asked her this question: Why not have the Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers and other personnel assist with delivering the aid to residents, particularly the elderly? I did not get a satisfactory response and it is this approach that I think has led north Long Islanders to contact me and to complain about not receiving fair treatment. I think such an approach divides Long Island and pits one side against the other. The impression should never be given that one’s preference lies with one side over the other.
I intend to write to the administrator regarding those persons in the north who have yet to be accounted for.
I have spoken to Long Island’s MP Loretta Butler-Turner. She shares my view in trying to restore “oneness” in Long Island and advancing the concept of one Long Island. I think we should have more festivals – much like Eleuthera – where each community has festivals every holiday and the other communities come out in support.
I see Long Island as a place that I love and I have family on both ends who I love equally. I hope that other residents can one day begin to appreciate Long Island from that perspective. When people talk about Long Island or us being sheep runners, they speak for the whole of Long Island.
The younger folks in Long Island don’t so much care about north versus south. Younger Long Islanders are all inter-marrying and moving between both ends. We could care less. But there are some in Long Island who promulgate such division and that, I think, is sad.
The people of Long Island have endured suffering. They/we still do. Long Islanders need constant fogging as mosquitoes are on the island en masse. We also need chlorine tablets to be distributed, particularly in the southern end and north parts where there is no running water.
We are strong people. I too suffered minor loss. But we shall overcome.