By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A funeral home director has denied an industry association’s assertion that the government paid her business a near-six figure sum to collect the bodies of Dorian victims, branding this “misleading”.
Denalee Penn-Mackey, chief executive of Evergreen Mortuary, in an e-mailed response to Tribune Business blasted the allegations made by the Bahamas Funeral Directors Association (BFDA) in a February 19, 2020, letter to the government.
“To mislead the public into thinking that a removal fee of six figures was collected for the recovery of Dorian’s victims is not only untruthful, but is very deceptive,” she wrote.
“In all fairness I recalled Dr Duane Sands inviting the association to come to Abaco to assist with the recovery, but they surprisingly never showed up. And, as printed in yesterday’s article, any indication of putting up $300,000 by the BFDA is simply laughable.
“Had they spoken with Iram Lewis, the substantive minister for disaster preparedness, management and reconstruction, who has full responsibility and carriage of the process of seeing this whole mess cleaned, they would know the details.”
The association’s letter, sent to John Michael-Clarke, chairman of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority, said it was “shocked and very concerned” that the government appeared to have gone back on a “letter of commitment” it had allegedly promised to issue to it.
It said the group “had multiple level communications” with the Disaster Reconstruction Authority and was “advised by its chairman” that they would be provided with a “letter of commitment” to proceed with providing services for the burial of victims of Hurricane Dorian.
They “were invited to meet with representatives of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority in Marsh Harbour on February 17, 2020” to view the burial site and finalise plans. This trip went ahead, and the BFDA said they were advised that their services “would be accepted, and that we would be issued a letter of commitment on February 18, 2020”.
It added that they were prepared to spend more than $300,000 of members’ own money to provide the funeral service, prepare all graves, and ensure that all related services would be handled.
However, the BFDA letter said: “We are shocked and very concerned to now understand that the Government of the Bahamas has succumbed to the pressure of one of our members, who initially volunteered (as reported in the media) to assist the Government with removal of bodies in Abaco, and only provided services for persons who had contracted their business directly, to now be on the precipice of being offered the very same service that we have agreed to provide, and what we are advised was accepted by the Disaster Reconstruction Authority.
“We are even more concerned to learn that the Government in fact paid this member near six-figures to remove bodies in Abaco, at a rate almost double that of what law enforcement pays for the removal of deceased persons, when this member advised that the services were provided on a voluntary basis.”
While the Association’s letter never identified the “member” it was talking about, Ms Penn-Mackey did that yesterday. She told Tribune Business she had been hired by the Government from “over two months ago”.
“The Government has been collaborating with me and the Christian Council from Abaco’s president, as well as the Christian Council here in Nassau,” Ms Penn-Mackey said. “All of us have been collaborating from the inception to see how we can bring some type of solace to this fiasco with the trailer in Abaco. We were very much involved with recovering most of those bodies.”
Pressed on the exact figure she submitted to the Government for the burial expenses, she declined to respond, but did say: “There was a bid that was put in by my company, and a bid put in by the BFDA.”
Ms Penn-Mackey then told Tribune Business she attended a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office involving Iram Lewis, minister of disaster preparedness, management and reconstruction; Kay Forbes-Smith, managing director of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority; and John-Michael Clarke, Disaster Reconstruction Authority chairman; as well as the permanent secretary.”
“Ms Smith was given a mandate from the Prime Minister, her and the minister of disaster, to deal with me because I am an Abaconian first and foremost. But aside from being an Abaconian I would have dealt with these families who would have had loss from day one,” Ms Penn-Mackey added.
“I am familiar with who they are and I have been dealing with them from then to now. So the Prime Minister obviously wanted the person who was involved from day one to continue with this because I am very much privy to who the families are and whatever needs to be done to bring some peace of mind to the families through this time.
“Ms Smith knew what the mandate was and, in fact, all indication was given to me that it was a go and clear to proceed.”