A HANDS for Hunger breakfast in the park event at Sutton St, Kemp Rd, in November.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
HANDS for Hunger has said it was prudent with public funds it received to feed people receiving assistance through the National Food Distribution Task Force, adding almost all of the operational costs were self-absorbed to ensure the lion’s share of the money it received was spent on food.
Keisha Ellis, Hands for Hunger executive director, told The Tribune yesterday, the organisation used its own resources to fund running the programme, inclusive of salaries, leasehold improvements and utilities.
She also addressed Hands for Hunger receiving a $2m surplus payment due to an accounting error, saying the money was returned to the government as soon as they were advised on where it should be wired.
“Hands for Hunger did its part to feed tens of thousands of people in The Bahamas during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said in emailed comments to The Tribune yesterday. “We were aware from the onset that any unused funds would be transferred to the government upon completion of the programme. As soon as we were advised on where to wire the funds, the funds were returned. This came about during the audit process.
“We were prudent and conscientious stewards of the people’s money, and used our own resources to fund almost all operating costs associated with running the programme, inclusive of salaries, leasehold improvements and utilities. This was our contribution to ensure that the lion’s share of funds received were directly spent on food.
“At no time did our clients suffer because of our prudency. All of the food boxes that we provided to thousands of our clients contained fresh produce, meats, bread, and other healthy items. We have submitted all requested information to the programme auditors and have supplied all supporting documentation requested of us. We are satisfied that we have provided a complete and accurate record of our programme income and expenditures to help the auditors conclude their work.”
Her statement comes amid deepened concern over the former Minnis administration’s handling of funds accessed through the World Bank for the national food programme.
According to The Nassau Guardian, The Bahamas has not been able to provide information to the World Bank on how funding for food assistance during the pandemic was used to help Bahamians.
Social Services Minister Obie Wilchcombe made the revelation to the newspaper.
In May 2021, the World Bank approved a $100m COVID-19 response and recovery development policy loan for The Bahamas to support the country’s efforts to provide pandemic relief and “lay the foundation for a resilient economic recovery”.
The Bahamas also received $250m from the IMF through its rapid response facility and also accessed money through the IDB.
The funds were to aid measures to enhance unemployment benefits and provide food assistance to those workers and households most affected by the COVID-19 crisis, and measures to develop an inclusive vaccination policy, the World Bank said.
According to the local daily, Mr Wilchcombe said he was “embarrassed” being unable to answer the World Bank’s questions.
The National Food Distribution Task Force was launched at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020.
At the height of the pandemic at least 57,000 households were receiving assistance through the task force.