Prime Minister Gaston Browne wants to assure the public that there are adequate safeguards in place to protect the monies donated for Barbuda’s reconstruction from any abuse by his government.
The matter was raised by Opposition Leader Baldwin Spencer during the questions period of Tuesday’s sitting of the Parliament. Spencer sought clarity on the amounts received, how they are being used, and the process by which decisions are being made about what to spend on.
In response, Browne said that Samantha Marshall, the social transformation minister, is tasked with getting a comprehensive report from the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS), the lead agency on the disaster response and reconstruction efforts.
However, he did offer some preliminary information.
“In terms of resources that we’ve collected so far, the accounts that we had set up, three different accounts, we would have collected to date about EC $10 million, $2 million of which would have been utilised, I believe, in payments so far.”
However, the PM said there were a number of outstanding payments to be made, which he believed would amount to millions of dollars. These include contracts for the clean-up effort on Barbuda. According to Browne, “There’s no opportunity for any mischief” from his ministers since they are not directly involved in the payment process.
“So those payments, just to explain the process, they are authorised by NODS, then sent to the Cabinet for ratification. After the Cabinet ratifies the payments, then they go to the Ministry of Finance for payment by treasury officials or Ministry of Finance officials.
According to Browne, there is a “watertight and transparent process in place.”
“We have also agreed to the appointment of an external auditor to audit the payments and to give periodic reports, and that is why I am undertaking here to let you know that as soon as practicable there will be a formal report tabled in the Parliament.”
A number of donations have been made directly to the United Nations Development Programme for the reconstruction efforts, such as the U.S. $3 million from China and India.
Spencer queried whether there was any input from Barbudans via their council or otherwise in determining the priority areas to be addressed to which the PM responded in the affirmative. He explained that there were several committees, which included Barbudans, but he added that he did not believe public consultations with the wider populace were necessary.
“In order for them to resettle in Barbuda there must be electricity, there must be water, they must have homes to live in, they must have a hospital, they must have schools, common sense issues. We don’t need to go and have a consultation to determine what
these priorities are,” he stated.
However, Browne did acknowledge that they planned to have consultations with Barbudans as it relates to the medium-to long-term plans for the island, which includes a more climate-resilient Codrington.
“Now, that in itself requires significant consultations compared to repairing somebody’s home. I mean, what’s there to consult about? What they want is speed to get their homes repaired so they can move back over.”
Last month the government outlined a 60-day plan to speed up the resettlement of Barbuda residents on the island with a late January target to have a significant number of them back home and public institutions back in operation.
According to Browne, everything is being done to hasten the process, but manpower remains a problem.
The World Bank has estimated that Barbuda’s reconstruction will cost some U.S. $222 million.