The Barbuda Fisheries Complex was the site of the recent closing ceremony of the Antigua and Barbuda China-Aid Post Disaster-Roof Restoration Project, dubbed the “Building Back Better” project. Everyone there was all smiles and expressed satisfaction at the work completed on the restoration of 250-plus roofs in Barbuda. Among the special invited guests were Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Chinese Ambassador Wang Xianmin and his wife, and Stephen O’Malley, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative to Barbados and the OECS.
The relaxed, almost jovial atmosphere was in stark contrast to what was experienced just six short months ago, and we are extremely happy to see the change. Who could forget the Prime Minister’s outburst at the donor agencies in which he accused the team from the UNDP of “taking all the credit” for repair work to homes in Barbuda after only contributing “a few sheets of plywood?” The PM’s reaction occurred during a tour of the homes under repair after he saw ‘UNDP-China Aid’ stickers on homes on which the government had worked. The stickers bore the two logos of the donor agencies; one logo was that of the UNDP and the other said ‘China Aid.’
The stickers were used to indicate the homes had been partially completed with material from the U.S. $2 million procurement project executed through the UNDP and funded by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC); however, that did not sit well with PM Browne. He exclaimed, “You come and plaster UNDP sticker all ‘round de place like you did some big, large amount of work? That is totally unacceptable!” The cutting statements caused such embarrassment that the UNDP’s representative Stephen O’Malley immediately apologised and readily agreed to requests for stickers, in at least one case, be removed.
When the group reached the Hanna Thomas Hospital, PM Browne became particularly perturbed stating, “I want them off. This is a public building.” He chastised the donors saying, “Don’t come and give a few sheets of plywood, when we did all the work and then come and put big sign on there as if you did everything” and demanded that “every single sticker” be removed from the hospital while calling the UNDP team “opportunistic” for promoting the project in that way.
That was then and this is now, and we are glad that Prime Minister Browne has changed his tone from delivering caustic remarks in January to words of thanks and praise for the Chinese Government and the UNDP. We wish he had reflected on the fact that the Chinese government was among the first to respond to his request for aid, as he acknowledged at the ceremony, and that US$2 million is far more than “a few sheets of plywood.” Now that time has passed and he has obviously reflected, it was good to hear him refer to the collaboration with the UNDP as remarkable. Hopefully these more complimentary words will take the last sting out of the initial criticism.
Although the ceremony signified the end to the “Building Back Better” project, the lasting positive effects will hopefully pay dividends in the future. The UNDP’s Stephen O’Malley applauded the level of partnership between the governments of Antigua and Barbuda and China in achieving the final results, and said that the UNDP had developed good working relationships with a number of entities including, NODS, the Barbuda Council as well as a number of local and international partners such as the Waitt Foundation which, he said, augurs well for future collaboration for ongoing work in Barbuda. The sister isle has not had a lot of good news lately so that must come as some relief as everyone peers across the horizon to see what comes next.
The proverb, “all’s well that ends well” comes to mind when we look at the challenges that were
overcome to get this project completed. Considering
the mutual praise that was expressed at the ceremony by all parties involved,
we believe that everyone now considers any heated talk among the parties as ‘water under the bridge,’ and we are all moving forward toward a brighter tomorrow.
One of the main lessons that we should learn from this episode is that we should always be gracious. We are a small vulnerable nation that will always require aid to overcome adversity, and donors prefer expressions of appreciation over declarations of discontent.
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