Even though presently serving as executive member of the YMCA Board in Grand Bahama, I speak not on behalf of that body, neither are my reflections indicative of the thinking of it’s members. I speak purely from the level of a citizen of the Bahamas and resident of Freeport, Grand Bahama.
Soon after the devastation left by the two major hurricanes last fall, the Grand Bahama Port lavishly allocated millions of dollars to bring the city of Freeport, and other parts of the island, back a state of normalcy. In addition, the dearly departed Edward St. George and Sir Jack Hayward gave one million dollars of their personal money, with the stipulation for it to be allocated for specifics restorations in the communities throughout Grand Bahama, with particular emphasis on the repairs of seriously damaged schools, both private and public. They gave this money on behalf of no one but themselves and, thus, there was no reason to even suspect that there would have been any question with respect to it allocation per their wishes. They were further satisfied by the public acknowledgement of the Prime Minister of the Bahamas.
I, therefore, admired greatly the patience and forbearance of Sir Jack for waiting so long to question the appropriate use of the funds, when after ten months, no accounting had been made by Government in this regard. I further admire and congratulate him in his justifiable fury when he finally let loose on those who shamefully stymied his attempts to get some answers. Not knowing how to endure the sting of his appropriate remarks, the ensuing attempts by two good members of Government, also long-time friends of mine, to justify ten months of silence and no obvious stated application of the funds, left a seriously bitter taste in my mouth. To opine that funds given for such a cause is at the discretion of the government to dispense, or that some one million dollars had been spent on Grand Bahama, including some of the St.George/Sir Jack donation, was no more than a weak and baseless spin on words in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable.
I pen these words not to add further to the ignominy of government in this matter, but to actually congratulate it. For, not withstanding the late attempt and the motive behind it, the government, in it’s second and more enlightened response, has invaded the YMCA with a cohort of Government experts to rectify the infrastructure of this facility and make it ready to operate programs again for the youth in the communities on Grand Bahama. Whatever its motives, I congratulate the Government. If Sir Jack were mean and vindictive, he could have demanded the full million be returned and given to the YMCA. It is indeed sad when our Government has to be shamed into doing the appropriate thing so often. We await desperately for a government which is proactive, rather than always reactive or operating on an adhoc basis.
So even now many are wondering whether this very late gesture at the “Y” is simply a show, in light of major threatening hurricanes, to dissuade those who have already avowed never to contribute another dime to Government’s future efforts in this regard.
My hope, however, is that Government has learned its lesson and will act with transparency and expediency in all matters related to contributions made by individuals, corporate entities, organizations and outside donors. They need and should have an accounting of their donations and it should be done on a timely basis. Almost one year later and dead into another hurricane season, there is yet to be any public accounting for moneys collected. Even banks which deal with billion dollar accounting can provide correct accounting to thousands of individual customers on a monthly basis. Why, then, should it take Government, with a multitude of personnel and resources at hand, a year to account for a few million dollars?
Again, in concert with my good friend Fred Smith, I say that Grand Bahama can run its own affairs, and this is probably so for most of the major islands where local government agencies exist. The Grand Bahama branch of NEMA, once given its just and equitable share of restoration funds could have affected total repairs on Grand Bahama in five months or less. Currently, due to the inability or ineptitude of Central Government, there is a major amount of work yet to be done and hurricanes are again threatening. If, God forbid, we have a repeat of last year and the response is comparable, it will spell only doom and gloom again for thousands on this island and others.
Vice-President, Grand Bahama Human Rights Association