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Michael A. Foulkes, MP: Contribution to Debate House of Assembly Disaster Preparedness and Response (Amendment) Bill 2019
Oct 17, 2019 - 6:15:46 PM

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Contribution to Debate

House of Assembly

Disaster Preparedness and Response (Amendment) Bill 2019

Michael A. Foulkes, MP

Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Social Services and Urban Renewal

17 October 2019

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Scripture tells us in John, Chapter 13 Verse 35, New International Version, that, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Also, Mr. Speaker,

Scripture admonishes us in Matthew Chapter 25, Verses 35-40, New International Version that, “35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Mr. Speaker,

I rise on behalf of the wonderful people of the Golden Gates Constituency and I thank each of them for the honour of representing them in this honourable institution, now, 290 years old this year.

Mr. Speaker,

I offer heartfelt condolences to the Honourable Member for Killarney, the Most Honourable Prime Minister on the passing of his brother.

I also offer heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Stephanie Wells and the entire Wells family on the passing of the Hon. Tennyson Wells who served in this Chamber for 20 years consecutively from 1982-2002 and as Cabinet Member from 1992 to 2000.

I offer heartfelt condolences to the family of Marguerite Thompson, especially her son Travis, daughter Terrell and her parents, Rev. Joseph Thompson and Mrs. Thompson.

I also offer heartfelt condolences to the family of Leilin Thompson, especially his wife and children. Mr. Speaker I offer condolences to you as well because not only was he the Chairman of the Nassau Village Constituency FNM Association, as you told us, he was truly your General and your “right hand man” during the 2017 election.

I also offer heartfelt condolences to the Grant family of Harbour Island or as we say, “Briland” on the passing of Mr. Warren Grant, Meritorious Council Member of the FNM.

May all of their souls and the souls of the faithful departed rest eternal and may perpetual light shine upon them.

Mr. Speaker,

There have been 61confirmed lives lost. And there are many still missing.

Imagine, 61 of our residents in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas lost their precious and God-given lives in the worst natural disaster and catastrophe we have ever experienced in this country.

The Bahamas has never before lost so many lives in any single disaster or incident, all at once or over a period of time.

By the grace of the good Lord, we have been spared wars.

We have been spared famine.

We have been spared any mass epidemic or contagion.

We have been spared plagues.

Mr. Speaker,

That was, until the 1stof September, 2019, about six weeks ago when we lost 61 residents of our beloved country in Hurricane Dorian.

Our beloved country and people were under siege by Hurricane Dorian, as in a war. Just look at parts of Grand Bahama, Abaco and the Cays today, if you did not know, you might have thought it was part of a war-torn area and it all happened over just two days.  

Yet, Mr. Speaker, we know, that God has been good to us.

Mr. Speaker,

Thousands of our residents probably have been physically injured. But thousands still, are probably facing psycho-social challenges as well and, to some extent, they are more serious and pose more of a health concern over time. The Minister of Health, Hon. Duane Sands, during his contribution raised concerns about this issue.

I spent a couple of weeks directly assisting the Department of Social Services and Ms. Shonel Ferguson, the Honourable Member for the Fox Hill Constituency in that partnership ramping-up the Fox Hill Community Center as a shelter.

That shelter was very well operated with many volunteers and great team work. We at the Department, are very grateful for the Honourable Member’s assistance and that of the Center’s Board, the Center’s Staff and the Volunteers.

On one occasion, while at the Fox Hill shelter, medicine supplies were low and I was asked to assist in securing a list of 25 of them. I suggested to Dr. Petra Forbes that the most important medicine ought to be identified.

Dr. Forbes indicated that the most important of the 25 listed was the anti-depression medication. She further indicated that over 60% of all the persons treated needed anti-depressants.

Mr. Speaker,

As other Members have indicated, we have had many donors both international and domestic. The outpouring of support has been nothing short of heart-warming and more than we could have imagined. We cannot adequately express our immense gratitude to those who have done so much to assist those directly affected by the hurricane.

Many NGOs (international and domestic), groups of people, families, individuals, companies, churches, all answered the call. The Department has commenced a process to identify, as best it can, all of its donors as many of them provided dry goods of almost every type, hygiene care packages, cleaning supplies, clothes, to name a few, and many services.

Mr. Speaker.

Still, today, hundreds of persons are missing. As we meet here today, many families are dealing with not knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones. After six long weeks, this is a real, heart-breaking, emotional and distressing experience for so many of our residents. We pray that soon, they will all have some degree of closure, although scars are likely to remain.

Mr. Speaker,

In the aftermath of the hurricane there were about 3,000 persons in the various shelters and today there are 830 including about 320 children.

Thousands more were evacuated and are still staying with families and friends with great uncertainty as to what the future holds for them.

Mr. Speaker,

Thousands were evacuated to Eleuthera and are still staying with family and friends. The Hon. Jeffrey Lloyd, Minister of Education, informed the House of Assembly last week that there are 50 students who were evacuated to Andros.

We even heard the Minister for Disaster Preparedness, Hon. Iram Lewis, last week tell us in a gut-wrenching and heart-rending way of his experience and that of our fellow colleagues in Grand Bahama. He stated that personally he lost many of his cousins in the hurricane.

I take this opportunity to publicly congratulate him on his new appointment. I am sure, by the grace of God, he will do well in this most important assignment.

We have thousands of people in Abaco, the Cays and Grand Bahama today still dealing with completely life-changing circumstances and new realities, many of whom survived with nothing but the shirt on their backs.

Mr. Speaker,

Realizing what we are facing today, Sir, I was most disappointed, appalled and even surprised by the remarks last week of the Hon. Member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador.

He came out the gate swinging, recklessly so, in a most unfortunate, a most inappropriate, a most heartless and insensitive way, with nothing but negativity in a time when thousands of our people and our nation are still coping with the impact and effects of Hurricane Dorian.

The Honourable Member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador and Leader of the Opposition last week said that the government’s efforts to prepare and respond to the hurricane was, slow, erratic, rudderless and disastrous. 

That is what he offered the Bahamian people from the outset of his contribution last week. Given where thousands of our residents are today, as we meet in this Chamber, at this moment, this is a time to be sensitive, caring, giving, compassionate, encouraging unity, not seeking to sow seeds of division and discord but, demonstrating empathy and offering condolences to our people.

Mr. Speaker,

It is critically important that the Bahamian people really understand precisely what the Hon. Member was really saying. According to Webster Dictionary, disastrous means: “attended by or causing suffering or disaster.”

So now we know, when he made the comment in this Chamber last week, as reported by the Nassau Guardian, dated Thursday, 10th October, 2019, page seven and I quote, “Indeed, the response of the government has taken on the semblance of the characteristic of Hurricane Dorian.”

What he was plainly suggesting is that in essence, this government, led by Prime Minister Minnis, visited another Hurricane Dorian or similar effects on the people of Grand Bahama, Abaco and the Cays, and we all know that nothing can be further from the truth – nothing!

Mr. Speaker,

The Hon. Member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San San Salvador went even further in his comments last week stating that the Honourable Member for Killarney and Prime Minister has blood on his hands. These comments were made while seated.

That is quite an incredible and outrageous allegation to make of anyone and especially when it is totally unfounded, baseless and without any merit whatsoever. How low some people will go to score cheap political points.

But worse, Mr. Speaker, it is unhelpful, unnecessary and it only serves to divide our people rather than unite them. It is also an insult to the hundreds of civil servants and volunteers of all political affiliations, who worked long hours and sometimes in great danger.

Mr. Speaker,

It goes without saying that, no matter what the government did to prepare for the hurricane or is doing now in response to the aftermath, the fact of the matter is that someone can always make the case that more could have been done.

The reality is that no human endeavour or effort is perfect. Only the angels of the Lord could have been perfect in such circumstances. As the English poet, Alexander Pope stated, “to err is human”.

Mr. Speaker,

I now read a quote: “I am sick and tired of the complaints and criticisms in the hurricane relief efforts. Can we stop and try to help our brothers and sisters in Abaco and Grand Bahama? It’s not just the responsibility of the government.

“It’s a national responsibility – all of us must do our part. This is a national tragedy and we must all come together for the sake of our nation. Politics must be put aside. It is time to be Bahamian.”

Mr. Speaker, that is a quote not from a Member of the Government, it is from none other than my friend, the former Chairman of the PLP, Mr. Raynard Rigby. Clearly, Mr. Rigby, the former PLP Chairman, gets it!

Mr. Speaker,

Tenor is important, the words that we use are important, what we convey and how we convey our ideas to people are important, especially following the worst national, devastating and deadly tragedy we have experienced in our country’s history.

So, let us examine the difference in the tenor as we just mentioned by the Hon. Member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador and that of the Hon. Member for the Exumas and Ragged Island, his Deputy.

We heard just yesterday in the chamber, the Hon. Member for the Exumas and Ragged Island giving his contribution to this debate. He did not come out swinging in a negative way. In fact, at the outset he offered condolences to the families of the persons who lost their lives in the hurricane.

Then, Mr. Speaker, he went on to talk in a measured way, about those who worked so hard and gave so much during and after the hurricane. But he was not finished, he then said that there is no room for politics in all of this. Truer words could not be spoken!

He went even further, he acknowledged that it was difficult to imagine the effects of the hurricane and we could not know how powerful Hurricane Dorian would become. Again, those are the facts, the truth of the matter.

And further still, he said that it will be a long rough road ahead, that they want to help and he was confident that we will rise, with the help of the good Lord.

He also, naturally, made some constructive criticisms and raised legitimate issues of concern.

Mr. Speaker, that is a demonstration of leadership having regard to where we and our people and our country find ourselves today, through no fault of our own.

Mr. Speaker,

Not only did the Hon. Member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador and Leader of the Official Opposition come out swinging in a negative way about everything related to the Hurricane preparation, response and relief, he also attempted to make a lot of hay about a forecast from some Pacific Group or Company that he thought the government should have heeded and he suggested, if it did, perhaps the experience in Abaco and Grand Bahama would have been different and less disastrous.

Mr. Speaker,

The Honourable Member’s assertion and contention is seriously disingenuous because in all that he pontificated about -- and he spent some time on this issue last week-- he never, not once, mentioned that the same forecast he heralded so much, made absolutely no mention of the hurricane parking, sitting, stationary, not moving at all, over Grand Bahama for over 36 hours!

No Sir, the great supposed forecast did not forecast that. And, he did not reference that when he attempted to make his great, gotcha point against this caring, compassionate, hard-working and decisive Government.

It was hollow and meaningless, as no one could have forecasted the hurricane sitting over Grand Bahama for over 36 long and never ending, it seemed, hours drenching, flooding and lashing the island.

Mr. Speaker,

You are a former Chief Meteorologist for the Bahamas and would know a lot more about these things than I would as a layman, but even I am aware that the north-east quadrant of the hurricane is the most dangerous and potentially devastating from both extremely high winds and drenching and flooding rains.

This is important because as the eye of the hurricane sat over Grand Bahama, the north-east feeder/outer bands of the hurricane were ferociously and mercilessly lashing and beating Abaco and the Cays.

No forecast, none, could have foreseen that. It was a first-time event in the history of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Bahamas, the Caribbean and the entire U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

Mr. Speaker,

The Hon. Member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador also during his contribution talked about the government not preparing the shelters.

That is just not so and if I were elsewhere, I would undoubtedly call it something else. Frankly, Mr. Speaker, I am thinking of two words, one that starts with the letter “B” and second starts with the letter “S”. I will leave that there.

The reality, Sir, is that all of the shelters were well prepared, without question or reasonable contradiction. And, let us not forget that the Department of Social Services in these circumstances, traditionally operated shelters, but were these really shelters?

In reality, as the Hon. Frankie Campbell, Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, stated last week, we are providing, after six weeks, what can only be described as transitional housing and not shelters.

Mr. Speaker,

A shelter is intended to provide protection from the weather or otherwise, for a temporary period. Naturally, there is nothing temporary about housing persons for six consecutive weeks and likely to be more than that.

Mr. Speaker,

The Department of Social Services operated and managed in excess of 10 shelters initially with about 3,000 persons, and today there are only three “transitional housing units” and the total number of people living there is 830. I must say, Sir, that the employees of the Department did and are doing, a great job and I commend them all highly.

It is important to note that the Department had the responsibility for all the shelters/transitional homes with coverage seven days a week, 24 hours a day for about three weeks.

The Department also operated and staffed its Emergency Operational Center at the Headquarters on Baillou Hill Road, again, seven days a week, 24 hours a day and is still staffing it today, seven days a week, including the holiday, for 12 hours.

Some of the Department’s staff were brought to New Providence from Grand Bahama and Abaco as most of them lost their homes, clothing and personal effects and even family and friends.

Hence, teams of Social Services employees were sent to Grand Bahama, Abaco and the Cays almost immediately, but certainly as soon as they were able to travel to the area to commence much needed assessments, assist where and when possible and to relieve traumatized fellow staff members.

Teams from New Providence are still today, alternating making trips to Grand Bahama, Abaco and the Cays under extreme and most difficult circumstances on the ground.

In fact, last week in this Chamber, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Hon. K. Peter Turnquest, Member for East Grand Bahama, spoke well about the great job our Social Services employees were doing in Grand Bahama under enormous stress and strain, but nonetheless, meeting the challenges and getting the job done, as best they could, in the circumstances. We thank you kindly Sir.

Let us not forget, at one point, the Department had hundreds of hurricane evacuees seeking assistance at the Headquarters on Baillou Hill Road. At the high, the Department placed about nine persons to help process these claims for assistance, when ordinarily, it would be about three.

Mr. Speaker,

The Department also staffed its operations at NEMA on Gladstone Road for about three weeks, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, then to 12 hours a day and still now, eight hours a day, five days per week.

Mr. Speaker,

There is no question, that the Department of Social Services was spread beyond thin, that would be an understatement, having regard to the need for its services in the aftermath of the hurricane.

In fact, today it still directly manages three shelters from 8am to 8pm every day, teams are still going to the affected areas, our EOC is still being operated from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week and we still have staff at NEMA.

Mr. Speaker,

I take this time to thank the Acting Director, Lillian Quant-Forbes for a job well done under tremendous stress and strain. Likewise, Deputy Director Kim Sawyer. The lead person in the Department’s EOC, Assistant Director Cherely Kelly, along with Assistant Director Wrensworth Butler, Assistant Director Leonard Cargill and Chef Dennis Dean and their many teams, all played an active and critical role in this effort.

Enough cannot be said about all of the Shelter/Housing Managers and the many staff who assisted them. Special mention is needed however as Chief Probation Officer Ms. Andrea Newbold, the Shelter Manager at the Sir Kendal G. L. Isaacs Gymnasium including Tents, A, B and C housed at one point a high of about 1,300 evacuees.

Mr. Speaker,

We want to thank the many donors who gave directly to the shelters, to Sir Kendal G. L. Isaacs Gym, the Department and the many groups that prepared hot meals every day for everyone in the shelters.

Mr. Speaker,

We want to say a special thanks to all of our partners that made their places available, most being our churches. We would not have had the shelters/transitional housing if it were not for their generosity and commitment to assist our efforts.

Of course, special thanks goes to Fox Hill Community Center, as the only non-church related shelter with the exception of the Kendal G. L. Isaacs Gym, for which we are very grateful to the Minister and the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture for the use of their facilities at the Gym and the National Stadium.

Mr. Speaker,

We also want to thank the Royal Bahamas Defence Force for a great job providing security, protection and control of the shelters/transitional housing for over five weeks, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Recently, the Royal Bahamas Police Force has commenced the coverage at the Transitional Housing and they have been doing a good job.

We also thank the Minister and Ministry of Health Medical Teams including medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and assistants including many international medical professionals as well. Their services collectively were and are indispensable as ensuring that persons in the shelters were healthy was and still is critical.

Mr. Speaker,

As I close, am reminded of a famous quote, part of a gospel song and a poem.

Martin Luther King Jr., is quoted as saying, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but, where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Mr. Speaker there is a popular Gospel song that was a favourite of a former member of this chamber, Dame Janet Bostwick, now I will not sing it, as I cannot carry a tune, but it is called “Rough Side of the Mountain” by Bishop F C Barnes, the words of the chorus are, “I’m comin up on the rough side of the mountain, I must hold to God, His powerful hand. I’m comin up on the rough side of the mountain, I’m doin my best to make it in.”

Mr. Speaker,

Following the hurricane, thousands are doing their best to make it in and so is the country.

I am also reminded of Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise”. The thrust of the poem is that, no matter the circumstances in life, still she will rise. Mr. Speaker, by the grace of God, so will the people of Grand Bahama, Abaco, the Cays and the Bahamas.

Mr. Speaker,

Golden Gates wholeheartedly supports the Disaster Preparedness and Response (Amendment) Bill 2019.

May God bless, keep and strengthen the residents of Grand Bahama, Abaco, the Cays and the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

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