By Orville Williams
The Barbuda Council is defending its actions after coming under scrutiny from the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) for the alleged mishandling of donated medical equipment.
On Tuesday, NODS Director Philmore Mullin criticised the Barbudans while referencing images posted to the social media accounts of NODS and Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
The images showed critical items, including hospital beds, walking assistance devices and a wheelchair, all laid outside at the mercy of the elements in a sandy area.
“This is after several weeks of continued dialogue and placing a call to Barbudans [on] how important it is to get the medical items into the renovated space at the hospital,” Mullin said.
“I was very disappointed when I saw the photos, [because] we have been reaching out in one shape or the other. Members of my staff [have been] in contact with the Barbudans, to impress upon them to get these things inside because of the weather and so on and some of the items as you can see, are still outside.”
“I don’t know if it’s a lack of appreciation, they don’t care or that’s just the norm in Barbuda. I’ve been saying to you – look – the items for the hospital need to go to the hospital so that the technician can do the installation. Some of these items, they’re in storage from 2018, the year after Irma struck Barbuda.”
However, in response to the criticisms, Barbuda Council Secretary Paul Nedd suggested that ineffective communication and logistical planning were to blame for the situation.
“We received the phone call from Mr Mullin the day before, when the barge was already on its way to Barbuda with some items he has been storing [NODS}. I, personally – as secretary of the Barbuda Council – was called by my Chair, to say that these items were on their way.
“We had no forward planning, we had no forward information, except when the items were on the way to Barbuda. So, when I got to the dock, the barge was already [there] and the [items] were already off-loaded – a full barge of items for the Hanna Thomas hospital,” Nedd said.
The Barbuda councilman also bemoaned the condition of the items upon receipt, disclosing that the council actually considered refusing them initially.
“The items that NODS speaks about, that the Prime Minister speaks about, they were in Antigua since 2018, after Hurricane Irma and they reached Barbuda in July 2020.
“When we got to the dock [and] looked at the items, we were very absolutely disappointed, we were flabbergasted [at their] condition. They were broken, they were kept in an area where dust and open atmospheric conditions – the elements – had an opportunity to destroy and took control of all the items,” Nedd explained.
“We looked at them and to be honest with you, we made a decision as to whether we are going to keep them or not. Bearing in mind we understood they were donated from an overseas donor, we agreed [to] keep them and look at them [to] see what is good and what is not.”
Amid the discontent shared by both parties, avoiding offending donors is one issue that they appear to agree on.
In his comments, Mullin shared his concerns that situations like this could affect the willingness of donors, saying that “when donors realise that is what is happening to their hard-earned donations, we’re going to have a rough time attracting assistance after a disaster”.
Nedd, on the other hand, explained that they would be contacting the donors to share what has been happening, once the items are repaired.
“We got to employ a body man [vehicle spray painter] to look after the materials, to look after the beds, to respray them and make sure that they’re ready to go into what is considered a brand-new hospital – donated by the people of India. “We actually took a decision as to whether we would send them back to NODS, but we decided no, because it wouldn’t look good to the donors. So, we kept them and we agreed we will fix them and we will send a contrast as to what we received to what we repair, to the donors,” Nedd added.