Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis. (File photo)
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said it is very difficult for government to give an exact count of those missing since Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama, telling Parliament last night “we are doing our best”.
According to the Killarney MP, several things factored into his administration’s inability to update the public on these missing people two months since the storm. “We’re only aware of about 67 (deaths) and we must remember there was excessive storm surge,” Dr Minnis said last night as he wrapped up debate on the Disaster Reconstruction Authority Bill, “and individuals may have been swept out, so it is a possibility that later on we may find bodies at remote cays and other places that may have been washed and moved by the ocean. That’s a possibility.
“It’s very difficult for us to have an exact count on the numbers of missing individuals because you will recall that there are a lot of undocumented individuals. If they are undocumented we won’t have records of them and therefore you may find that numbers may fluctuate, but we are doing our best to keep count of and reporting to the nation at large as to the count the number dead as well as the number missing.”
This as Dr Minnis said his administration’s Disaster Reconstruction Authority Bill 2019 was proof that government is “dead serious” about making sustainable changes in the country following devastating Hurricane Dorian.
During his earlier contribution to the Bill, he said it did several things that have not been seen in other pieces of legislation.
These include prohibiting the holder of the authority’s chairmanship from also holding political office and a restriction that only 20 percent of the budget can be used for salaries and personal emoluments.
However, Opposition MP Chester Cooper said the Official Opposition would not support this Bill calling it horribly drafted and poorly thought out. He called the Bill “NEMA 2.0”, telling House members it would easily create opportunity for cronyism.
Many have questioned how the authority will work as much of its functions seem to overlap with the National Emergency Management Agency. “In seeing the destruction caused by Dorian my government knew right away we had to change how The Bahamas prepares for, and responds to storms, especially mega storms,” Dr Minnis said.
“The warmer seas due to climate change mean that cyclones that peaked at Category 1 or 2 strength in a previous time now may be of Category 4 or 5 intensity or ‘Category Hell’ as the United Nations secretary-general stated after seeing the scale of the disaster for himself.
“We have to change, revise and in various instances dramatically overhaul laws, procedures, agencies and mindset for these times.
“There are those who cling to doing things the old way. Whenever innovation is suggested they say ‘no, no, no’. They complain. They fear change. But change is a must if we are to develop new procedures, structures and modes of thinking that may save lives and lessen the damage to hard-earned property when storms strike.”
The Bill creates the framework for the the Bahamas National Recovery and Reconstruction Trust Fund. The fund Dr Minnis said will be an independent and non-political body to help fund home and building repairs.
When he took the floor to speak on the Bill, Mr Cooper said it was an offensive proposal. “We’re not going to support this bill,” Mr Cooper said
“In fact let me go a step further and say that this is one of the worst drafted, poorly thought out pieces of legislation that I’ve seen. It was actually offensive in many regards. People are hurting on the ground. They are not seeing relief and restoration fast enough. Commerce has not been restored and there is a looming level of uncertainty as it relates to the future and their most basic supplies and basic needs.
“Yet we find time to create nonsense pieces of legislation. If NEMA isn’t working, why don’t we fix it? If NEMA needs to be enhanced why don’t we tweak it? Why don’t we enhance it rather than creating another bureaucracy?”