INSIGHT: The same old blame game over government business

ALEX STORR, executive chairman of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority, speaking on Friday. 
Photo: Donavan McIntosh/Tribune Staff

ALEX STORR, executive chairman of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority, speaking on Friday. Photo: Donavan McIntosh/Tribune Staff


Former DRA Managing Director Katherine Forbes-Smith.


THE row over contracts at the Disaster Reconstruction Authority is exactly the kind of depressing finger-pointing that leaves so many people disillusioned with politics in The Bahamas.

Alex Storr, the authority’s executive chairman, has criticised the actions of the authority under the administration of former Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.

On Friday, he said: “In terms of what we’ve seen so far, I will rule on the side of caution and the benefit of doubt and say that it’s just gross incompetence right now.”

Just gross incompetence. Heaven help us if he wasn’t erring on the side of caution.

The problem is we’ve seen this too many times before. A new government comes in and starts pulling apart the work of its predecessor, and in the end nothing comes of it other than political talking points and maybe finding an excuse to move contracts from one person to another.

Mr Storr said an accounting firm would be brought in to conduct a forensic audit of the authority. He said: “What’s clear is that the Disaster Reconstruction Authority, while a good thought and idea by the former administration, appears to have been grossly mismanaged and hampered by poor execution, from the current internal structure, the extremely high salaries, the way contracts were negotiated, the apparent conflicts of interest and the lack of compliance of management of every project.”

One of the salaries highlighted is that of the former managing director, Katherine Forbes-Smith, who was being paid $110,000 a year, with bonuses including an annual housing allowance of $30,000, a duty allowance of $15,000 and even a gratuity at the end of the contract of 15 percent of the sum received under the contract. We know to leave a tip with our restaurant bill, we didn’t know we had to leave a tip for a senior government post’s salary. The base sum of the contract is perhaps in the ballpark of what we might expect for someone leading disaster recovery efforts, but it is the extras on top that really look questionable.

However, while that undoubtedly gives one side an excuse to point the finger of blame, what all of this really accentuates is the need for strong independent review processes. And the most frustrating thing is, we already have those, at least in part.

Over and over again, the Auditor General has produced reports analysing the functions of our government, and the areas in which they have fallen short. Terrance Bastian has filled the role and doggedly chased the details of problem areas – all while suffering from a shortage of funding and staff.

Worse, last year it was revealed his work was being hampered by both individuals and institutions ignoring his requests for documents and files.

Mr Bastian at the time said such obstruction both violates the law and helps public officials evade accountability for the waste and mismanagement of funds.

The Auditor General is not the only watchdog either – there is the Public Accounts Committee.

The PAC is supposed to hold the government to account for its use of public funds and resources by examining the public accounts, and it covers the entirety of the public sector. In opposition, Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis made noises for a while about using the PAC to examine public spending, but with little action.

In truth, the PAC has been a hollow shell of a body since at least the days of the Christie administration. Part of the blame for this has been pointed at a ruling by former Speaker Dr Kendal Major in 2015 that the PAC could only examine documents that have been tabled in Parliament and could only send for people, papers or records if a parliamentary resolution permitted it. That ruling was overturned a year ago, however, and there’s been little sign of movement on the issue since. Indeed, one of the issues previously was just getting a quorum of members with committee members who were part of the government failing to show up.

So, when people talk about bringing in auditors and complaining about a waste of public money, but then don’t try to fortify the processes we already have, it looks like a performance rather than a genuine effort to deal with the problem.

We want to stop waste? Fully staff the Auditor General’s office. We want to account for the use of public funds? Treat the PAC as a serious thing, meeting regularly and delivering reports.

There are, without a doubt, issues over the performance of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority, many of which were highlighted at the time, with questions about clearance of debris, the seeming waste of money on domes for housing that were never used, and so on.

But we’ve seen this dance too many times before, and using the processes that are designed to investigate such things means we can try to create structural change rather than blaming it all on individuals. If we want to stop contracts being handed out with such oddities as a 15 percent gratuity, write that into the rules, and prevent it from being done in the first place. Table all the contracts in Parliament so that they are open to see, and hand them over to the PAC so it can get on with its business.

We can actually have a more open, more transparent view of our government’s workings using the tools already in place. If we have the tools, and choose not to use them, what does that really say about our claims of a desire for transparency?


regrolli 2 years, 2 months ago

For as long as we continue to allow the fox to guard the chickens, nothing will change.


M0J0 2 years, 2 months ago

I call it integrity, its the same FNM who paraded other of another party before the courts with not one person charged. Same gov. whom said they would be transparent and not like the former but hey here we are once again sadly and millions or even billions missing and generators.


DWW 2 years, 2 months ago

bahamas does not understand accountability. it means you dont do behind closed doors what you would not do in the open . simple, but we prefer corruption and get rich quick on govt comtract


sheeprunner12 2 years, 2 months ago

I agree with the writer ............... we have too many political persons (elected, P&P, & appointed) in Government who filibuster and frustrate the system, then complain that the system is broken ........... Who do they serve??????????

Then we wonder why we seem to be going to hell in a handbasket .......... Who will suffer???????


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