Former prime ministers say Dorian recovery “bigger than us”
NASSAU, BAHAMAS- As the government continues its response to the humanitarian crisis left in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, former Prime Ministers Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie said today that they are willing and available to serve in any capacity deemed appropriate by Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis.
In a joint press conference at Odyssey Aviation following a tour of Abaco earlier today, Ingraham and Christie offered to assist, advise or support the government in any way possible and said they are prepared to be called upon.
Having seen nearly every settlement in Abaco, Ingraham said, “The reports in the newspapers and on the television can’t accurately and completely describe the devastation that took place. I thought, and I think Mr. Christie will agree, that we who have had tremendous experience in The Bahamas — and together we have been in public life for a total of 80 years; having served as a minister for two years-plus, leader of the opposition; prime minister for 15 years; MP for 35 years; [and] Mr. Christie has been a minister of the government for nine years; prime minister for 10 years — that we owed it to The Bahamas to make available our talent, our experience in any way, shape or form that could be utilized.
“And so, today, I wanted to publicly say that we are available to provide whatever assistance or advice or support that the government may wish to access from ourselves.”
Ingraham, who said the press conference was not planned, but came about after a photo of the pair on the ground in Abaco went viral, noted that The Bahamas amid crisis is the beneficiary of a host of international assistance, including the United States, British, Dutch and Caribbean countries.
He stressed that The Bahamas “cannot do this ourselves” and encouraged the government to accept all assistance to bring relief to the thousands in need.
Christie, who described the scenes in Abaco as “utter destruction” in the aftermath of the Category 5 storm, said he spoke with Minnis on Sunday after the prime minister called him to “make a suggestion on what he thought I could do”.
He said he told the prime minister that his reputation and that of the country was being “assaulted” and that he ought to consider making a bold decision given the degree of destruction that exists under the most “horrific circumstances”.
Christie recommended a special unit be created with legislative authority, which would have the capacity to make quick decisions, coordinate the best expertise, and assist the government because “one man cannot do it”. He suggested the relief efforts in Abaco should be led by Ingraham, a former member of Parliament for North Abaco for over 30 years. He said the same should be done in Grand Bahama.
He said this unit would report to the prime minister, so there was no question of control, but it would be “foolish” not to recognize the strength of the recommendation.
“I indicated to him (Minnis) that we should meet, if circumstances warranted it,” Christie said. “That did not happen, but I indicated at the time, that based on the experience that I have had through four or five hurricanes that he would be overwhelmed by this. I told him that he should exercise the greatest care because the reputation of the country was being assaulted; that he was personally being heavily criticizes and that it was just too much — even if he was symbolic — for him to be the symbol of restoration in this country. I said if you were to make a bold decision, and I’ll tell you about that, the people of The Bahamas would applaud you.”
He continued, “Seeing the extraordinary amount of work that must be done physically, of knowing the resilience of the Bahamian people; the spirit that I spoke of as an indomitable spirit; notwithstanding, they are bewildered; they are despairing; they are deeply concerned; and there appears to be uncertainty as to who they should turn to. I concluded that if I was the prime minister today of a PLP government; knowing the politics of our country, I would have invited Hubert Ingraham to lead the restoration process for Abaco. Today, I just happened to see in the different places we visited the extent to which people were able to respond to someone they call prime minister; someone who represented them for 35 years in Parliament, as a member of Parliament, and someone, who had a defining presence in the constituency. You need know more than anything else, to inspire the people who have suffered greatly; to get them to believe that there is a basis for hope; that they could in an orderly fashion that they could return to Abaco‚ and that will come in my view if the right decision is made.”
He added, “I am hoping that Prime Minister Minnis is sufficiently secure to be able to see the offer from myself and Mr. [Ingraham] as meaningful at this time in our country because I apprehend that if we do not move more quickly than we are doing now we are going to have a disastrous set of circumstances set in.”
Responding to the recommendation, Ingraham said he spoke to the prime minister following the hurricane and offered his assistance in any form. He said the prime minister thanked him for the offer and would get back to him.
“Notwithstanding what Mr. Christie said, I don’t see a role for myself being carved out by Prime Minister Minnis in this restoration exercise. And so, I will give such advice as I can, and such aid as I can, but I don’t think Prime Minister Minnis would be inclined toward having me take an active role in the reconstruction. That’s fine.”
Both former prime ministers expressed being deeply grieved by the loss of life and the tremendous blow dealt to families who have lost loved ones, homes, properties and their livelihoods.
As it relates to the road to recovery, Ingraham said he has no idea how long it will take to rebuild Abaco, but there are some “low hanging fruit” that can be worked on in the short-term — restoring power and water supplies.
Both former leaders also said they hoped to bring about a greater degree of unity across the political divides during a time where the government should operate without regard to politics and access talent wherever it can find it.
Ingraham said he and Christie were grateful for the volunteer group at Odyssey, which has been responsible for dealing with evacuees, supplies and transportation of those impacted.
He said he was very disappointed to read criticisms of the group, calling it “unfair and unjust”.
Ingraham said, “I was happy to read the letter this morning from Senator Lynn Holowesko rebutting some of the baseless claims made by others.”