NASSAU, BAHAMAS – During a town hall meeting for displaced Abaconians last night, a local NGO member expressed concerns over allegations of corruption in recovery efforts on the Hurricane-Dorian ravaged island.
Ian Goodfellow, of 25 United, said non-government organizations stationed on Abaco have been working non-stop since the Category 5 storm raked the island in early September.
Goodfellow, principal of Goodfellow Farms, underscored corruption as a challenge faced by NGOs during his presentation to just over 150 displaced Abaconians at the Hilton.
The forum was staged by the recently formed “Abaco Will Rise” organization; and Goodfellow, along with Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis, and Chairman of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority John Michael Clarke were presenters at that meeting.
Goodfellow spoke about the collaborative work his organization has been doing with local and international NGOs throughout North Abaco and the Abaco Cays.
“Cooper’s Town School, this is a difficult situation where corruption is taking over now,” he said.
Goodfellow claimed an NGO requested a meeting with the government to discuss the matter, but was told, ‘if you bring a suitcase with $30,000 you can have that meeting’.
He did not indicate who requested the money.
“I know how Bahamians work,” he continued
“I know how we do business in our country. But this government ran, and I voted on this government, ran on a no corruption basis and I have to tell you that what’s going on in Abaco is really s**t.
“We have all the money it takes to rebuild Coopers Town school, but we can’t get it done.”
Addressing Lewis directly, Goodman said: “I got to tell you sir, we can’t get it done. We have what it takes to do it. If you left it up to us, we would have been opened for Christmas. But every time we turn around, there’s somebody tripping us and we can’t get this stuff done.
His comments were met with shouts and applause from Abaconians in the room.
He continued: “Why is corruption setting itself into this thing.
“These guys, they’re not going to give to their money, when they know it’s going to go to payoffs. I’m going to tell you that right now. There’s millions of dollars available from the Americans but they don’t want to give it to you because they are scared of where it’s going to go.”
Lewis, who addressed the corruption claims in his presentation, warned Goodfellow not to paint the government in that light.
“If you have incidents of that happening, this $30,000 in the suitcase to talk to government, let us know,” Lewis said.
“We have the police. We have the defense force. We have law enforcement. Do not be afraid. Let us know. Bring it to us. If we do not know, we cannot address. If you have evidence of that, please allow me as the new minister to address it.”
Lewis made a promise that he will address the issue.
“There will be no stones unturned because we cannot tolerate that,” he continued.
“It is causing you to suffer. It is causing me to suffer. It is causing the country to look bad. And we don’t want you or anybody else to go up to the States to talk about how corrupt how bad, The Bahamas is.
“So yes, there are some spoiled apples. Do not hide it. Let us know. And do not paint the government because I am apart of that I do not have a corrupt bone in me.”
Lewis further presented and discussed the government’s plans and relief initiatives for the island – including the Family Relief Centre near Spring City Abaco, infrastructure on the island, healthcare and food security.
He and Clarke fielded questions from the displaced residents about their pressing concerns including rebuilding their homes and timelines on how soon they would be able to return to Abaco.