Sen. Hon. Clay Sweeting
Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government
Disaster Reconstruction Authority Bill 2019
Madam President, Senate Colleagues, I’m thankful to be here once again to speak on behalf of the Bahamian people and to contribute to this Disaster Reconstruction Authority Bill 2019. However before I begin, I would like to take the opportunity to extend condolences on behalf of my family, my wife Delia and our son Davin, to the family of Frankie Symonette, he was a true friend, and a father, and he took pride in his job working for the privately owned St. Georges Cay Power Company on Spanish Wells. I extend my prayers to his family, especially his 3 year old daughter, his parents and the entire community of Spanish Wells who mourn his Loss.
I would also like to extend condolences to the family of Susan Sawyer of Harbour Island and contributed to the development of the Harbour Island community.
May their souls REST IN PEACE AND RISE IN GLORY.
Madam president, having read the Disaster Reconstruction Authority Bill 2019 I am left confused and uncertain about the benefits of establishing this Authority other than to provide cushy jobs for cronies and paid board appointments. Madam president there are so many overlapping roles and responsibilities of other Government agencies and this bill does not in my opinion reduce the “red tape” in the event of a disaster but seeks to add another layer of bureaucracy to an already overly bureaucratic system. Additionally, how does this Authority differ from, or how does this Authority and newly formed Ministry of Disaster work together to achieve the goals as set forth or how are their roles different? Who is the authority in the event of a disaster? It seems that multiple agencies are being tasked with the same goals. I strongly oppose the establishment of this Authority and I cannot support the implementation of the same.
Madam President, two months have passed since we have experienced the worst disaster to affect our country since 1992. Two whole months have passed and it is obvious that this government once again is devoid of ideas or seem to be scrolling through facebook waiting foir that ah ah moment on how to govern effectively. Two months have passed and families that are displaced are still in need of housing assistance, employment wherever they are, immediate food supplies and ongoing counseling. Families are still searching for their loved ones and seeking closure.
The people affected by this storm have real and immediate needs.
As I peruse this bill I see no evidence, no future planning that gives the Bahamian people the guarantee or even a glimmer of hope that the needs of those affected by this disaster are alleviated by the passing of this Disaster Reconstruction Authority Bill 2019. I find it incredibly difficult to rationalize the establishment of this Authority when we have an already established agency in the presence of the National Emergency Management Agency, whose mandate and responsibilities are almost the same and if not the responsibilities can be easily adjusted to encompass those missing aspects as presented in this bill.
Madam president, our current situation is dire. The people of the Bahamas are all feeling the aftermath of this disaster. Those that survived need help immediately. Should not the focus of this government be first to attending to the immediate needs of it’s people? The international community are reporting of the lack of organization the Government and relevant agencies and this new Authority undoubtedly will add to more frustration in the rebuilding process.
While it is imperative to establish a plan to be implemented should we experience such catastrophic events in the future, we ought to be focusing immediately on care and attention to the Bahamian people now and we have the agencies already established that can provide the same. We simply need to channel the Hurricane Funds that have been donated to these agencies and implement a system of guidelines for its usage and a policy initiated to ensure compliance.
Madam President as I stated earlier, I strongly recommend that this government retract this bill and delegate the necessary powers to the Ministry of Public Works and National Emergency Management Agency. We are already paying the people within these agencies to complete this mandate simply adjust some of the responsibilities and fund them appropriately.
In Part II section 13 we see the use of government workers already in the system being seconded to this new Authority. Is this not the same system that is currently being utilized by NEMA? As I said before, this Bill seems to be another avenue for the Government to provide cushy jobs for the board members because at the end of the day the people that will be engaged in completing the day to day work of the Authority are already in the civil service and are already being utilized by NEMA. We see in Part II section 12 subsection 1 that there is an unregulated concession made to this Authority to hire as it sees fit employees for full or part time employment at compensation levels to the determination of the board. This is a recipe for cronyism and impropriety at the highest level with no accountability of public and donated funds.
I draw your attention to part II section 3 subsection 1. Here we are establishing an Authority to manage the reconstruction of an area after it is affected. As I said earlier, should we not be focused on
1. Immediate recover for those affected using the agencies already established which has gotten the work done in the past without the implementation of new staff who are without experience?
2. Should we not be putting appropriate teams in place to assess our vulnerabilities and implement suggestions to mitigate the same in the event of future disasters?
Is it necessary to construct and entire Authority to accomplish the work already mandated to Government Ministries?
Madam President, I note with particular concerns Part III section 23 sub sections 1 and 2. How does the government compensate private land owners be it individuals or businesses once they have declared an area a Disaster Zone and implemented measures to prevent rebuilding?
Is this not an infringement on the rights of the land owner? Also, when determining that landowners ought to build to the specification of the Authority in the noted “disaster zone” is the Authority responsible compensation the land owner for architectural renderings and construction of such buildings as approved by the Authority?
Imagine paying over 100k for your property, building your dream home on your land to have it destroyed by a disaster. Imagine it being fully insured or you having the means to rebuild and be told by the Authority that 1. You cannot rebuild on your land
2. If you can rebuild on your land, the Authority dictates to you what you can build. This is explicitly spelled out in this section and it is an egregious infringement on the rights of the land owner.
I cannot support the enactment of this bill.
Madam President, the Government through the establishment of this Authority is setting itself up for internal conflict. Under Part V section 30 subsection 2 we see what should be an amicable separation of donated funds between the Authority and NEMA, where there seeks to be a distinction between funds donated for relief efforts vs funds donated for reconstruction who determines the use of such funds when both organizations have the right to solicit international and domestic donations? How does the donor know which organization is responsible for what and which organization needs the funds more. Madam President this bill does not clearly define the structure for donation of funds and the use of the same.
Madam President I concur with my Colleague Hon. I Chester Cooper in recommending that these delegated powers be turned over to NEMA as the agency is already established. If we find that the system is broken we should fix it. Not reinvent the wheel. This Bill and enactment of The Authority for the purpose of Reconstruction is a waste of public funds, tax payer dollars and donations received. We already have a vehicle in place for relief. We simply need to channel the funding being allocated the The Authority to NEMA; add additional staffing; extend the powers of NEMA and continue moving forward upward and onward.
Titus Livius once said “Men are only clever at shifting blame from their own shoulders to those of others.”
The side opposite should keep screaming about being non political when it comes to helping. Which I agree but being non political doesn’t mean that you support legislation that doesn’t make sense.
The people are screaming for help so we will do our job and echo their cries.
The fact of the matter is that the FNM is the Government.
The fact of the matter is that it has been about 8 weeks since Hurricane Dorain has wreaked havoc in Abaco and Grand Bahama and people are hurting.
Stay focused FNM.
Stay focused to elevate Abaco and Grand Bahama so they can rebuild their communities, rebuild their economies and become More industrious than ever.
It is time to roll up your sleeves, and just get the job done.
No politics. We want success but that doesn’t mean we agree with this legislation laid before us.
Red tape doesn’t help the people.
Our fellow Bahamians are counting on the government to make the right decisions that are in the best interests of the people.
I would like to echo again “We have an opportunity to rebuild from the ground up”