By Randolph Jackson For BahamasPress
“Hypocrisy is the audacity to preach integrity from a den of corruption,” those words are from Coach Wes Fesler.
I spent real time thinking about those words, especially given the current circumstances we a facing here in the Bahamas. Over the past several weeks accusations have flown back and forth regarding potential misappropriation of funds secured to assist those most negatively impacted during the pandemic.
This exercise was a noble gesture on the part of the former government. However, I never quite understood why the financial support was not just divided and given to the agencies already providing the support to those at-risk families; whether NGOs, faith-based organizations, or the government’s own social service agencies.
The former government took the additional step of having a third party coordinate the National Food Task Force (NFTF) initiative. They drew the conclusion that real estate agent/developer Susan Holowesko Larson was “by far” the best choice to run it and should be paid to do so.
To be clear, I have no issue with compensating someone for the use of their time and talent, but there are some real issues here regarding what happened. The government determined it was better to create and coordinate a new program via the NFTF rather than work through the many social outreach programs that were already in existence or through its own social agencies designed to deal with such initiatives.
Given what we have seen, something is definitely up!
Firstly, the Bahamas Government secured a pandemic aid loan in the amount of USD$54 million from our partners at the World Bank. This was not monopoly money; it was US dollars that were supposed to utilized in the provision of food items and other support at the height of the pandemic. The Task Force was charged with ensuring the most efficient and effective way to make these funds impact as many homes for as long as possible.
Yet what we as a nation have received is a lack of transparency and what can only be deemed a paid mouthpiece in the form of Candia Dames and The Nassau Guardian.
The best place to start is at the beginning. First, Ms. Larson was appointed and engaged to coordinate and lead an effort to provide food to vulnerable families across the Bahamas during the height of the pandemic. A quick review of the Facebook page and website of the National Food Distribution Task Force will demonstrate that what was achieved could have been done by engaging directly with the NGOs.
What is striking is that, while this was an amazing volunteer effort involving hundreds of Bahamians, what is apparent by the pages I previously mentioned was that this seemed to be more of a public relations event or promotional exercise. Seemingly no expense was spared taking photos and flooding social media with information on the persons working on the initiative. Many anonymous quotes of thanks and appreciation were peppered throughout the digital posts.
I would recommend that interested parties should visit the Feed Bahamas page and look at what was posted. This is what Candia Dames felt was worth $54 million: to provide the necessary cover for a situation that is clearly in need of closer scrutiny. The Prime Minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, appointed Ms. Larson to provide executive oversight for a program that functioned under the auspices of the Office of The Prime Minister. Not the office of the Editor at the Nassau Guardian, or the office of certain social media outlets. The Office of The Prime Minister.
Everyone outside of the central government seemed to be preoccupied with ensuring that the new PLP government did not politicize the program and were quick to defend the honor of the Holowesko family. Circumstances being what they are, there should be a high level of fear and concern from a number of these engaged parties. For example, how does $2 million dollars from the proceeds of a World Bank technical loan end up in the personal account of the program executor and the only explanation offered is that there was an accounting error. That response was waived off and accepted at face value by every member of our worthless news establishment.
How is this even possible? To make matters worse, these are the same stakeholders who criticize at every turn decision after decision made by a government that has been in office less than eight months. What is clear is that pure lip service is paid to us as a nation by the useless storytellers known as journalists.
Don’t believe me, fine! For a moment let us concede for argument’s sake that we are concerned about the situation being politicized; why then would you not just turn over any disputed documents to the Auditor General who has shown himself to be equally as vicious to either side of the political divide. Yet that was not done. Why? Because there is more going on here than all engaged parties are willing to say.
The reason some of these NGOs distanced themselves from the operations of the National Food Distribution Task Force was the fact that the operation’s conduct was inconsistent with some of their own organization’s best practices. Yet – and still – cover was provided by the media for something that really should require none.
Furthermore, how is it that the sister of the former Minister of National Security can find time to defend someone who has yet to provide the Bahamas government with documents that are legally theirs, that are required reporting for a government financial facility. This is same Candia Dames who has yet to ask the same questions regarding the failure of her brother, the Hon. Marvin Dames, on the unaccounted for $17 million dollars from the National Security drones’ program. This is the same Candia Dames who rants and rants in her National Review about the government’s apparent willingness to just spend too much but failed to have any opinion when confronted with real, verifiable corruption that hit too close to home.
$2 million dollar accounting errors don’t happen to regular people. To think, with a wave and a nod, we would all just brush this off like it is absolutely nothing. I for one am sorry about the constant disrespect and contempt shown to the Bahamian people. The concerns Ms. Larson has may be legitimate, but not so much that she can bypass her employer in this instance to provide access to the press. In this instance, she is not a whistleblower, she is not pointing out wrongdoing. What seems to be happening is she is attempting to get out in front of a very compromising situation that can truly damage the family brand (Holowesko) and the key to success in this venture is to have someone else tell the story. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, Candia Dames.
What is terribly sad is the fact that the daily newspapers could be focused on any number of amazing, exciting, and truly uplifting stories, like the reduction of the deficit that has been trending down for the past several months; no new taxes, as a matter of fact a reduction in VAT to boot. What about the government’s unwillingness to raise taxes despite the increasing cost of goods and services? The Prime Minister’s crime initiative, the expansion of services for at risk families, commitments on foreign direct investments and other initiatives, including the 50th CARIFTA Games next year.
Despite all of this real news, the newspapers elevate the voices of our actor/farmer Opposition Leader and others like him, all seeking to find their footing while the adults go about trying to rebuild a country damaged by their colleague’s greed and corruption. And, even if it wasn’t them, they stood there and let the others hurt this nation.
For that there can be no forgiveness.