||Last Updated: Nov 6, 2019 - 1:57:26 PM
CONTRIBUTION TO DISASTER RECOVERY AUTHORITY BILL
CHESTER COOPER, EXUMAS AND RAGGED ISLAND MP
NOVEMBER 5, 2019
I rise today on behalf of the good people of Exuma and the good, as well as forgotten, people of Ragged Island to contribute to the Disaster Recovery Authority Bill, 2019.
And as is my tradition I will say at the outset that we are not going to support this legislation.
In fact, let me go a step further and say that this is one of the worst drafted, poorly thought-out pieces of legislation I have seen.
It is actually offensive in many regards.
You see, people are hurting on the ground.
They are not seeing relief and restoration fast enough.
Commerce has not been restored and there is a looming level of uncertainty as it relates to basic needs like food and water and shelter and jobs.
Yet, we find time to create nonsense legislation.
If NEMA isn’t working tweak it or fix it. Rather than create another bureaucracy.
Not only does this create yet another bureaucracy in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, but it flies in the face of the prime minister’s promise to slash red tape where it exists.
This bill is the definition of creating red tape and bureaucratic mess.
It is so poorly constructed, that I wonder if it is not a thinly-veiled attempt to make busy work and give government positions to political cronies while the public is preoccupied with the enormity of what the hurricane wrought.
It leads me to wonder further: Who wrote this? Who approved this? What sense does this all make?
This will be a nonsense authority created by this bill.
It will further frustrate residents and business owners.
It will lead to more confusion than clarity.
While the government should be focused on building lives and rebuilding infrastructure, it appears focused on building bureaucracies and expanding government.
The cries throughout the hurricane ravaged areas of The Bahamas ring out about a government that is confused and unfocused.
The people say the government is not responsive to their needs.
They say it is reactive in the worst sense of the word.
They talk of a government so tone deaf that it left value-added tax in place at ground zero for the storm until the MP for Exumas and Ragged Island chastised them for doing so.
By the way, I also wonder when we will get around to debating the legislation to make that and the special economic zones happen in this place.
I guess there’s no rush, in the minds of the government.
Perhaps in all the visits to the island and grandstanding and publicity seeking, this government missed the glaring and exigent need of Bahamians.
If there is some illusion that this authority will fix the mess that has ensued, I would like to dissuade the other side of that notion right now.
And I’ll go through your poorly put together bill in just a moment, to explain to you this absurdity of it all.
But I must remind the government, that any successful endeavor rises and falls on leadership.
In the absence of it, there is confusion – much like we see now.
It appears that all these new bills and consultants and committees and appointments and the new ministry this administration has conjured are a way to get around focused leadership.
I get the distinct impression that this is an attempt to work around the existing systems, the existing ministers and existing ministries.
This legislation purports that the authority is to work with NEMA, is to share funds with NEMA, may assume responsibilities of NEMA if NEMA so deems.
The director of NEMA is mandated to be on the board of the authority.
Like NEMA, the prime minister has ultimate oversight of this authority by virtue of being the only one who can declare a disaster recovery zone.
Perhaps someone can explain to me why we are not fixing NEMA and empowering NEMA to expand its functions instead of creating whatever this new creature will be.
I regard this as NEMA 2.0.
I cannot imagine what the government is thinking.
Again: Who wrote this? Who approved this? What sense does this all make?
I look at the schedule and the basic levels therein.
We have a paid chairman, who, thankfully cannot hold political office, to oversee the board.
We have a paid managing director to run the authority and hire and second pensionable employees from other government agencies.
We have up to seven directors, all paid, to sit on the board.
Are we to seriously not consider this some FNM job creation strategy?
Let’s stop faking and focus on real economic growth and real job creation.
We need that more now than ever.
There’s also a trust fund created by this bill, which if the reports in the media are correct, and I have not seen them contradicted, the minister says it will have up to $300 million through borrowing. The Trust has some merit, but not if stacked with FNM cronies, as is this government’s track record so to do.
The bill also purports to create a new authority that does something special, yet appears to have no special powers.
Clause 6 (g) of the bill conflicts directly with the Ministry of Works as the authority has to wait upon the approval of different departments under the purview of works.
Section 9 (1) of the bill conflicts with the Ministry of Finance in that it needs the minister’s permission to borrow, not the Minister of Finance.
So, what’s the point?
I’ll ask for the record: Who wrote this? Who approved this? What sense does this all make?
Section 16 allows for the appointment of disaster recovery committees.
However, these committees can only operate for three years, after which such time, the “relevant ministry” is to take over disaster recovery?
What sense does this make?
Why enshrine this in law?
Which is the relevant ministry?
And is it empowered to do what the authority was unable to oversee in three years?
Section 20 (2) conflicts with the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, BPL, Water and Sewerage, other utilities, the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of Finance.
I may have missed a few.
Recall that Section 6G makes it clear that the authority has no special powers to override the statutory obligations and requirements of the other government entities as provided for under the law.
Perhaps the minister for Grand Bahama can tell you how effectively it works when one has to work across several agencies and ministries but has no authority over them.
Section 21 of the bill puts the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of the Environment and this authority in direct conflict.
The minister responsible for the environment, as opposed to the chief building controls officer or minster of works, determines the construction which will be permitted in a disaster zone.
Section 22 seems to not align with the bill we just passed that gives the prime minister the power to declare concessions and exemptions.
Now, the minister of finance has to do that.
This legislation also appears to fly in the face of the government’s notion of fiscal responsibility.
We should call this the Conch Salad Bill.
It’s mixed right up like conch salad.
In fact, the entirety of the government response is all mixed up.
Each day a new bureaucracy.
Each day a new announcement.
A Conch Salad Bill presented by a conch salad government.
For example, the authority cannot allocate more than 20 percent of the budget for salaries.
Except, of course, if the minister, the politician, says so.
So, now we trust politicians to be the sole arbiters of fiscal responsibility? Interesting, they trust the politician with overriding fiscal responsibility.
We also find it interesting that the minister referred to in section 9 of the bill can approve borrowing.
Should we assume it is the prime minister who can now approve borrowing?
Or is it the minister of state in charge of the authority that section 7 of this bill gives the prime minister the power to appoint?
So, now the prime minister or his appointed minister of state can authorize borrowing but only by consulting with the minister of finance?
Is this bill trying to work around the minister of finance as well?
This bill allows, through section 16, the appointment of zone reconstruction committees.
More committees, wonderful. Just brilliant!
Might I suggest that local government on these islands be engaged?
There currently appears to be no real engagement with all the consultants falling over each.
But who would know better than the locals how they would want their community rebuilt?
These people love their communities.
Respect these volunteers and locally elected officials.
Give them bigger budgets, more autonomy, and more respect.
Again, more respect for their expertise, such as where it floods and how the synergies work.
Don’t squander the money on more salaries in a useless new authority, whilst local government struggles to pick up the garbage.
Whilst teachers and nurses and doctors can’t get paid..
Section 25 (4) calls for acquisition of goods from local retailers as is practical.
This is good sense. And I hope it is closely watched. Hopefully, it’s transparent.
Section 26 allows for the Department of Immigration to give humanitarian travel authorization to those coming from abroad to assist the authority.
This should apply to NEMA as well.
I can tell several stories of credible institutions coming and needing approval to enter, even before Dorian struck.
NEMA reportedly referred them to immigration and immigration reports they never received the matter.
These were credible private sector international agencies with deep pockets, experienced in search and rescue; 30 men and five (5) choppers deep.
Still no reply.
This provision of the bill is a recipe for further conflict.
We should be clearer about who is in charge and what the process is.
Section 27 of this bill also sets up another clear conflict with NEMA.
Who is in charge?
Is it NEMA?
Is it the authority?
As we say in business, if everyone is in charge, then no one is in charge.
Section 27 (3) is redundant.
Anybody can ask anyone to do anything.
Also redundant are sections 23 and 24.
We need to spell out in law that the prime minister can engage international help in the event of a disaster? Really?
We need to detail that non-governmental agencies can contribute to the recovery process? Seriously?
I honestly don’t even fathom what could be meant in section 28 with regard to the relationship with NEMA.
How you think this cooperation may just happen depending on who wakes up on what side of the bed in the morning, is really unthinkable.
There should be regulations in place.
Where is the enabling structure?
How will it work?
Who wrote this? Who approved this? What sense does this all make?
Then we have clause 29.
I was waiting for it.
It says, “The minister may give directions.”
There it is right there, the politics.
As the other side screams there’s no time for politics, we see there’s some time to inject politics into the legislation after all.
Of course, we aren’t quite clear which minister.
Is this the prime minister who gives direction?
Is it the member for Central Grand Bahama, the recently appointed minister of state in the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness Recovery and Reconstruction?
Is this the different minister of state the prime minister can appoint through section 7 we’re talking about?
Which politician will be giving direction?
And what does this minister actually do?
What is the minister responsible for disaster preparedness, recovery and reconstruction going to be doing?
The authority has a budget but the new ministry does not?
As I noted earlier, this legislation allows the authority to establish The Bahamas National Reconstruction and Recovery Trust Fund.
As vague as this language is, I can already tell you, this bill won’t help.
The government has a credibility problem as it stands.
No one who seeks to see any urgent need met wants to give money to the government or NEMA.
They’re not going to give it to this authority either.
There’s no real accountability.
No real transparency and inefficient execution.
Yes, you have a credibility problem.
Too much of donated funds to be spent on costs, salaries, rent and overhead.
Too much red tape.
It’s been two weeks since I asked for a report on funds donated to NEMA for Ragged Island in the past two years, and still no response.
People are still asking, “Where the hurricane money gone?” Where is the accountability? Where is the transparency?
Even though you said it was all accounted for; that a firm that supposedly got a no-bid contract would track it. Where is the transparency?
You have a credibility problem, you see.
I see you talk about making regulations in this bill, yet there are none.
This sounds like someplace you want to stick people who you don’t consider loyal or useful so they still get their pensions.
This entire thing is a mess.
Who wrote this? Who approved this? What sense does this all make?
Who do expect to buy any of this?
It’s all over the place.
And I’ll be right here waiting when you come back to amend it.
The opposition does not support this legislation.
No right-thinking person should.
On behalf of the people of the Exumas and Ragged Island, I rest.
May God bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
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