PICK UP THE PIECES: Former state minister urges govt to continue to pursue undelivered Dorian pledges

PICK UP THE PIECES: Former state minister urges govt to continue to pursue undelivered Dorian pledges
Former Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis (third right), former Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis (right), other officials and two students at the Hurricane Dorian pledge conference held at Baha Mar in January 2020. (BIS)

Lewis hits back at Storr’s suggestion pledge conference was “PR exercise”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Former Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis yesterday urged the Davis administration to continue to pursue pledges made to the country for Hurricane Dorian recovery and restoration.

Lewis’ comments come amidst an ongoing audit into the Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) due to what has been labeled as “mismanagement” under the former administration.

He was responding to criticisms from DRA Chairman Alex Storr, who slammed the Minnis administration’s Dorian pledge conference as nothing more than a public relations exercise to “fool the Bahamian people”.

There’s no way to reinforce a pledge. If the person who made the pledge decided that their priority shifted, there’s nothing we can do.

– Iram Lewis

Lewis contended that the idea for the conference was suggested by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which assisted the government with organizing the event.

He noted that in the months after the conference, the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused potential donors to shift their focus from The Bahamas and to their own countries.

“We certainly should be able to understand. We would have loved to receive all the pledges that were given, but a pledge is not a contract; it’s only a promise,” he said. 

Former Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis. (BIS PHOTO/ERIC ROSE)

“There’s no way to reinforce a pledge. If the person who made the pledge decided that their priority shifted, there’s nothing we can do.”

Lewis charged that officials must not be reckless in their public utterances regarding such issues, given that it could be considered an insult.

He said this administration should also not try to trivialize or politicize the work done under the former government.

More than 300 local and international delegates attended the pledge conference at the Baha Mar resort in January 2020.

Pledges totaled some $1.77 billion, including initiatives in home-building and repair; educational assistance; renewable energy partnerships; relief aid; grants; direct assistance to storm victims; parks restoration; loans; and financing.

However, just two months later, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the spread of a novel coronavirus as a global pandemic, with the Bahamas seeing its first case on March 15.

In the months that followed, then DRA Managing Director Kay Forbes-Smith explained that while the value of the pledges totaled billions of dollars, the government had yet to collect from individuals or organizations.

Forbes-Smith also sought to clarify that the government could not take advantage of many of the offers, given that some organizations required the government to engage their services as well.

Make the phone calls. Go after them and see if we can receive some of those pledges. Remind those potential donors we are still in need.

– Iram Lewis

Sixty-five percent of the total value of pledges was from the P3 Group Inc for restoration and rebuilding efforts post-Hurricane Dorian, under a lease-purchase agreement.

Lewis said yesterday that the Davis administration should make an attempt to receive those undelivered pledges.

“Make the phone calls. Go after them and see if we can receive some of those pledges. Remind those potential donors we are still in need,” he said.

Storr advised last week that the DRA is exploring means to raise funds for reconstruction and relief efforts, including crowdfunding.

He added that several projects are being looked into and that once priced, the DRA can present the monetary figure it needs in donations.

UHY Bain and Association has been asked to perform a forensic and operational audit into the authority.

About Sloan Smith

Sloan Smith is a senior digital reporter at Eyewitness News, covering a diverse range of beats, from politics and crime to environment and human interest. In 2018, Sloan received a nomination for the “Leslie Higgs Feature Writer of The Year Award” from The Bahamas Press Club for her work with Eyewitness News.