WE know that many people in The Bahamas are suffering incredible hardship because of the economic effects of COVID-19.
It’s been said before that around one in four people are receiving food assistance – and the report in today’s Tribune of the number of calls to the Bahamas Red Cross support hotline only highlights even further how many are being driven to the brink.
“Some of them may not come outright and say ‘I’m going to kill myself, but you can hear it in their voice that’s where they’re headed,” said Dr Bernadette Saunders, the Red Cross’ health and wellness coordinator.
So it is doubly alarming in our lead story today to see that while so many are genuinely in need, there are those who are exploiting the system for more than their share.
The National Food Distribution Taskforce has been hard at work trying to deliver food packages to people in need – and yet they have seen many instances of abuse.
Some are having different people in a single house register as heads of the household so multiple people can go and collect aid. Others have tried to sell their food parcels. Others go to as many distribution sites as possible to get food.
The people who suffer for this are those in the most need. As taskforce chairman Susan Larson says, “One of the reasons why there are delays at the distribution sites is because we are trying to ascertain the legitimacy of people standing in front of us.”
Every food parcel costs money to provide – and at the best of times there is only so much money to go around. At times like this, people draining the system for perhaps their own profit are literally taking food from the mouths of others.
To those in need, you have our every sympathy for what you are going through. To those exploiting a system set up for those in need, where is your heart? Where is your compassion for your fellow Bahamians?
The simple truth of the economic effects of this pandemic is that tomorrow you could be the one in need. You could be the one needing that food parcel to feed yourself and your children.
Show some care for your fellow men and women.
To quote US president John F Kennedy, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.
The taskforce can always use a few more volunteers – perhaps those with idle hands needing purpose can ask what help they can give, not what they can take.
Too soon to say
If the people on the breadline are the picture of the economy at the ground level, then Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest’s speech yesterday was a look at the bigger picture.
How do things look for the weeks ahead? Well, sadly, it seems it’s too early to say.
Mr Turnquest didn’t rule out an extension to the unemployment benefits programme, while hoping the tourism sector will start taking people back on ahead of the country’s planned reopening.
The rest was in large part an accounting of where money is going, and how much has been spent.
If Mr Turnquest is preparing us for more borrowing to keep the country going, he wasn’t telling, but some of the signs are there. The country’s foreign reserves remain healthy, he says, while ministries have been ordered to make 20 percent cuts across the board as the government tightens its belt with lower revenues.
The end of September is when Mr Turnquest says big decisions will have to be made. Until then, Mr Turnquest says “we will continue to do what we can to support Bahamians as best as we can”.
Small comfort for many – but a sure sign of the times we are in.