Cooper: Disaster Authority is ‘NEMA 2.0’

Cooper: Disaster Authority is ‘NEMA 2.0’
Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper (file photo)

PM defends role of authority as bill passes in Lower House

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper yesterday called the disaster authority bill a “thinly-veiled attempt” to give government positions to political cronies.

Cooper said the authority would lead to more confusion than clarity, calling it one of the “worst drafted, poorly thought out pieces of legislation”.

He was contributing to debate in Parliament on the Disaster Reconstruction Authority Bill, 2019, which the opposition did not support.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis insisted the proposed authority was a major part of the necessary change in how the government and nation responds to disaster preparedness, response and reconstruction.

The authority has the ability to borrow funds, but only with the approval of the minister responsible for disaster preparedness and emergency management.

This was another point of contention for Cooper, who said the bill conflicts with the Ministry of Finance.

“Not only does this crease 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,” Cooper said.

“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.”

If passed, the authority’s powers would include accepting, depositing and acting as trustee and manager of any donations, endowments, gifts or bequests for the purpose of reconstruction of a disaster zone; entering into contracts; and appointing employees as it considers necessary.

It would be comprised of a Board of Directors and certain committees to deal with money matters.

The board would be comprised of a chairman, and deputy chairman appointed by the minister on the advice of the prime minister, a managing director, the director of NEMA or a representative, a representative of the ministry and not more than seven; nor less than three people appointed by the chairman, who would not hold political office.

NEMA may delegate any or all of its functions within a disaster zone to the authority when it deems it appropriate.

According to the bill, the authority would have sole discretion in the award of contracts, appointments, terminations, promotion or disciplining of employees, as well as the determinations surrounding beneficiaries of repairs in the aftermath of a storm.

The authority would be funded by Parliament, grants and donations and sums borrowed.

The Exuma and Ragged Island MP declared that if NEMA is not working it should be fixed rather than creating more bureaucracy.

The opposition has criticized the government’s creation of a new Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction with Iram Lewis as its minister of state as a means for the prime minister to insulate himself from public backlash.

Of the authority, Cooper made a similar statement, calling it “NEMA 2.0”.

Additionally, Cooper noted the trust fund created by the bill has merit, but not if the authority is “stacked with FNM cronies”.

To this, Minnis said the board of trustees would be absent of politicians, and instead comprised of leaders in the private sector and other reputable organizations.

Responding to Cooper, the prime minister pointed to provisions in the bill exist that limit remuneration and pension of the authority to not exceed 20 percent of its annual budget without consent of the minister.

He said this clause controls employment and prevents practices Cooper raise alarm over.

“Mr. Speaker, they (PLP) had hired hundreds of individuals pre-election just so that they could possibly vote for them, but Mr. Speaker this particular bill would not allow that to happen as you would be cut off at 20 percent,” the prime minister said.

“It is not a bill that would support cronies as they may have done pre-election.”

Cooper stressed the prime minister has ultimate oversight of the authority by virtue of being the only one who can declare a disaster recovery zone.

For his part, Minnis suggested Cooper misunderstood the proposed legislation.

“The member, is his misunderstanding of the bill, said that this bill involved politics in that the minister sits over the authority. I wanted to remind the minister, that the Public Hospitals Authority, the minister sits over the authority and the minister is reflective of Cabinet.”

The bill was passed shortly after 7pm last night.