Sen. Jobeth Contribution 12 Nov 2019

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Senator, Hon., J.L. Coleby-Davis- Opposition Senator; and,

Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, and Youth

November 12th, 2019

Madame President, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute and speak in this

place as a voice for many Bahamians.

Madame President, before I begin my Contribution I wish to raise in this Honorable place a formal objection regarding the matter of the communication by the AG. Madame President it is clear that the conventions state there should be no controversial material in a communication and nothing that invites debate. However, on Monday pass, ignoring the conventions and rules, the PLP was ambushed and accused of things that it never did or said! I was further surprised and could not believe that the Vice President in accordance with practice allowed the communication and then allowed the Senate to be suspended without, in the interest of fairness, an opportunity to hear the other side. As a result, I wish now to controvert what the AG said, unfortunate he is not there but it’s the Government’s statement not personal to him, just as the PLPs statement was not personal to Senator Mitchell. The communication alluded to suggest that the PLP lied or mislead the house in a statement to the Senate and that is incorrect and not true. Further, in the communication, it was suggested that the PLP called the President a pawn of the Executive and that is just not so and a false interpretation of the matter raised. The AG spoke to some corrupted efforts in relation to Hurricane Mathew and I am certain he knows better throwing aspersions where it has not been proven! Lastly, no one on this side is trying in any way to assassinate the character of anyone in this Senate. The matter raised on this side is purely related to an apparent conflict, not whether Madame President is capable! As a result, Madame President, I ask, for these reasons that the communication is struck off the record of this Honorable Senate.

Disaster Reconstruction Authority

Madame President, I stand today to bring brief contributions to the Disaster Reconstruction Authority Bill 2019. Let me state from the onset that there is absolutely no way the Opposition will support this piece of legislation.What is happening here is not just a rookie mistake, but a careless and dangerous game being played by this administration- the same administration that claimed in 2017 “it’s the people’s time,” yet the people are suffering, lost and angry at this FNM administration. Two years post Irma and the Ragged Islands continue to be a wreck, even after all of the promises from the FNM to rebuild. I ask, is that the fate of Bahamians effected by Dorian as well?

Madame President, just over two months after the devastation named Dorian hit the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco, we find this Government struggling to figure out whether to go left or to go right. Madame President, it is as if they are at a T-Junction, with a line of cars (that being the Bahamian people) behind them, blowing their horns loudly and profusely begging the Government to move of the junction as the light is green, so that they can proceed in the direction they are going. However, this Government, two months after Dorian is lost, confused and don’t know what to do. So what do they do Madame President, they throw together some legislation, that usurps authority across various Ministries and departments. They come to the House and the Senate continuously debating legislation after legislation, and don’t move with haste in correcting what is truly important, this is, bringing relief, REAL, TRUE RELIEF on the ground to the people that matter.

Madame President, we were just here a week ago debating another useless piece of legislation, that the opposition did not support because it was again unnecessary. And here we are again, engaging in yet another debate for the creation of an authority that adds more red-tape and more bureaucracy to an already bureaucratic system.

Madame President, I echo our colleagues in the House and state, IF THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH NEMA, FIX THE PROBLEM!!

Madame President, it is not sufficient for those on the governing side to tug on the emotions of those in society by playing recordings from some of the affected persons during their speech in this place. Because we all heard the cries, and we were all heartbroken by what many suffered. However, the storm has passed, don’t create another disaster with our government agencies- FIX NEMA!

Madame President, it is not sufficient for those on the governing side to stand with their fancy speeches about how the damages and ravages of Dorian are personal and emotional to them, because we all have family and friends that were affected, additionally, the damages experienced on those Islands are emotional and personal to us all. So again I say that the storm has passed, don’t create another disaster with our government agencies- FIX NEMA!

Madame President, it is not sufficient for those on the governing side to scream from the mountain top, that the PLP IS PLAYING POLITICS, because not everyone that were affected feel as if this Government has done or is doing everything in their power to bring normalcy back to their lives. So the opposition speaks for all Bahamians, inclusive of those who feel neglected by this Administration. Therefore, I state again, the storm has passed, don’t create another disaster with our government agencies-FIX NEMA!

Madame President, we must get things right, in get to things right, this Government must be willing and able to listen to and accept the criticism. So, some issues with this legislation, outside of the fact that it is not necessary, because you can just fix NEMA, is firstly, this Bill is laced with conflict, and confusion. And the impression I formed, Madame President, is that this Government has been making rookie mistakes and created so much confusion following the passing of Dorian, it’s as if they are Amateurs! Unable to identify their head from their tail, running around like headless chickens, just creating new Ministries and Authorities (Like Oprah said- YOU GET A MINISTRY, YOU GET A MINISTRY, WE ALL GET A MINISTRY!!!); but without any clear assurance as to whether the legislation is necessary, functional or practical. 

However, Madame President, I advise this FNM Administration that a bigger or larger Government is not the answer; in fact, the answer to moving this country forward after a disaster of this magnitude, is having a more effective and productive Government, one that is ready on day one!

Madame President, I am further concerned with the duplication of the Government agencies and overlapping responsibilities. And I ask the question, can someone from the Governing side please explain to me the purpose or the relevance of NEMA? Because it doesn’t appear they are relevant from this legislation!

Madame President, for a moment let us go to the Bill, at Clause 6 the Bill grants the Reconstruction Authority the power (a) to accept, deposit and act as trustee and manager of any gifts, donations, endowments, or bequests for the purpose of reconstruction of a Disaster Zone.

However, under section 34 of the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act, NEMA has the power to operate bank accounts, and to receive and disburse monies held in those accounts. The funds for those accounts consist of monies supplied by Parliament and donated by persons.

Further, Madame President, the draftsman tried to clear this apparent conflict up at Clause 28(2) and provided that where a donation is given for both relief and reconstruction, the relief portion shall go to NEMA and the reconstruction portion should go to the Authority in the proportion as directed by the donor; and where there is no direction, it shall be equally divided.

However, Madame President, I find this to be an interesting and impractical solution.

How will the Government effectively manage this commingling of funds and ensure the Authority and NEMA are being properly funded? And all of this is only brought about by the creation of an unnecessary organizational structure and an attempt to construe the slightest of differences between the Authority and NEMA.

Madame President, I go even further, Section 3 subsection (6) of the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act, provides for the appointment of Consultative Committee in each settlement, town area or district to assist the Director of NEMA and Administrator in formulating disaster preparedness measures and in discharging the functions of NEMA in respect of the settlement, town area or district.

However, Madame President, at Clause 16 of the Bill, it provides that the Board may appoint a Disaster Zone Reconstruction Committee when there is contemplation of a potential disaster or immediately after the occurrence of a disaster that is large scale or complex in nature.

Madame President, here again there appears to be duplication of efforts, and frankly

this can only cause further confusion. On the one hand we have NEMA appointing a

consultative committee and on the other there is the Authority in the Bill appointing

another committee.

To further complicate things, Madame President, I also note that there are no qualifications or no maximum/ minimum number of persons given for such committee. As such, I query, exactly how many persons can be appointed to this committee? What skillset is required by those on the Committee? Is it necessary for the Committee to be a resident of the affected area? Why has this been left open ended? And why is there no defined role in this Bill for the Consultative Committee, or any committee?

Madame President, I am even more confused by (1) Clause 28 subsection (1) where it states it to be mandatory for NEMA to collaborate with the Authority and (2) Clause28 subsection (3) which grants the Director of NEMA to delegate any or all of its functions within the Disaster Zone to the Authority where he determines it to be appropriate. When this draft was being considered, I query, under which circumstance does the Government consider this transfer of powers by NEMA to the Authority desirable or necessary?

The Government should note, amidst all of this confusion that the functions of the Director of NEMA exceeds those of the Authority as it relates to disaster preparedness and relief. So why is there a provision for the Director of NEMA to transfer such powers? Further, Madame President, there remains to be no line of demarcation drawn between the recovery obligations of the Director of NEMA and the Authority!

Which leads me to my last point of contention. Madame President, I query, Can the Government honestly guarantee to the Bahamian people that there will be no political influence or interference with this Authority? In this place and the other, those on the governing side likes to cry, the PLP playing politics. However, I am certain the Bahamian people will agree with me that this Government is the only one playing politics, and wasting our time. Madame President, I ask why does the Minister have to give directions of a general nature to the Authority as stated in Clause 29? Why secure this overriding power for the Minister?

Further, Madame President, if you look at Schedule 3, you can almost round it off and

say the majority of the Board will be appointed by the Prime Minister or in Consultation with the Prime Minister, so where is the assurances that there would be limited Government influences across these Ministries.

It just seems the more things change the more they remain the same under this administration! However, instead of getting on with bringing relief, this Government, is wasting more time, more manpower, more resources in creating redundancy after redundancy. 

While Dorian has been described as the greatest disaster in the world, Madame President, I am convinced that this Administration will go down in history carrying the same title and headline.

To describe by visuals what a confused group they are, I created this graphic to honestly show the mess that has been created. (BOARD) 

Madame President, just look at what is happening. You have Grand Bahama, Abaco and all the connected Cays in the middle of all of this. And honestly, persons just truly want relief, recovery, and rebuilding. However, this Government is only bringing confusion, frustration and bureaucracy to an already difficult time. Who is managing who? Who is instructing whom? Which agency is the first point of contact? Who is the official authority in charge? When should you go to NEMA? Who directs Social Services and the Defence Force? What is the desired end result?

Madame President, while this Minnis Administration assume they are creating efficiency, it has unfortunately, added another layer of bureaucracy and I am afraid we will not be able to recover from this if they continue down this road of appointing this one, creating that authority, but not getting to the real issues. Some of which are:

• What is the official death toll to date?

• How many persons are confirmed missing to date?

• Do we have the same number of missing persons across all the agencies, that is, does Social Services records match that of the Police?

• How many death certificates have been issued to families of persons whose bodies have yet to be discovered? Madame President, I recall reading a statement where the AG said the Government would issue death certificates expeditiously, so how many if that is so?

• And are these numbers being added to the death toll? I see in today’s paper the Government plan to have a ceremony for people swept away by Dorian. So are these persons now included in the death toll or are they still listed as missing?

• When can we expect reconstruction of all Government buildings that were destroyed during the hurricane?

• What is the expected time for when those affected Bahamians can move into the temporary tent city? We don’t want to hear weeks, or soon, WHAT IS THE DATE? Will it be before Christmas?

Madame President, there are many more questions that are lingering in the minds of many Bahamians. And it is known in the Bahamas that we have a history of duplicating Government agencies and creating redundancies instead of correcting existing inefficiencies. Further, Madame President, there is an unstated point obviously being made by the Government, which is, that the existing agencies and departments are not responsive, suitable and/or capable of mounting a recovery effort. However, instead of conducting a proper analysis of the reasons for these apparent disabilities in the system, this Government has chosen to take the convenient path of creating another organization that will be funded from the Consolidated Fund replicating much of what NEMA was created to do.

Madame President, nothing in this legislation, can bring me to a point where I can support the bureaucracy this Government has created. Madame President, by the mere fact we are debating this legislation; it is evidence enough that this Government thinks NEMA is inefficient of ineffective. And while they are positioned with an opportunity to do what is necessary to fix the inefficiencies, they do the unthinkable and create another layer of confusion and for this reason, added to the many laid out throughout my contribution. I do not support this bill.