The details contained in a 2-minutes and 42-seconds long video posted on social media depicting the state of government buildings 18 months after Hurricane Irma hit Barbuda on September 5, 2017, are being dismissed as “misleading”.
The agency making that statement – the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) – has issued a press communique in which it fact-checks the information in the video shared on the social media pages of several Barbudans just days ahead of yesterday’s Barbuda Council Elections.
The disaster agency first pointed out that in the video it is claimed that “the Barbuda Council was responsible for repairing the airport terminal building”, but NODS said this “is not true.”
In reviewing the video which is called “Barbuda March 2019 Status Report”, posted initially on the page “Barbudian Daze”, OBSERVER media noted it indeed states that the building was “repaired by the Barbuda Council with private funding.”
It also indicated that up to the date the video was published (March 23, 2019), “There has not been an independently audited report of all the materials, goods, services and international monies donated and spent in the name of the Barbuda Hurricane Relief Effort by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.”
While NODS said the information about the work at the airport is false, it did not however address the point about the lack of an audit and record of the funding received and spent thus far.
NODS wrote, “Work was done under NODS recovery programme utilising government and donor funding. A Barbudan contractor erected the fence, while repair work on the building was done by an Antiguan contractor along with workmen from the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force and Cuba. Another Barbudan Contractor, who was employed by the Barbuda Council, supervised the work.”
NODS said it is challenging those responsible for the video to “prove otherwise.”
The agency noted that other buildings such as the hospital, post office, environmental health building, and the police station, “are all being repaired using donor funding and government has no control over the donor’s internal processes.”
It added, “One million US dollars have been made available by the Indian government to complete the Hanna Thomas Hospital and the Post Office, which is being managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Barbuda Council is fully aware of this and has been part of discussions with the UNDP and the government…”
While acknowledging that the authorities are “awaiting action from the UNDP”, the video goes further to state that several of the buildings remain “untouched” – a claim that appears to be supported by the photographic evidence in the video, which OBSERVER media later verified through discussions with individuals on the ground in Barbuda.
The video acknowledges that work is being done on the post office by the UNDP and that this commenced this month, while highlighting that work on the health building recently came to a halt.
Meanwhile, NODS has offered a reason why the police station remains untouched.
It wrote, “The building has severe structural damage and may have to be torn down”. The disaster agency goes further to state that “The Council is also aware that repairs are being carried out through a small grant funding from the Canadian government to fix the Zabeth Handicraft Centre to house the police. This building could have been completed had there not been a shortage of windows.”
NODS said the windows are now in place and the electrical work is being carried out.
Reacting to the video’s claim that the community centre has not been repaired and is still occupied by the military personnel in Barbuda, NODS said repairs to that building and the Council Office are being done through the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) with funds from the Canadian government. It added that the government has no control over the CDB or UNDP’s procedures.
NODS did not refute or confirm the claim that no work has been done in those two instances. Neither did it refute the claim that the day care centre was renovated with private funding.
It did however say that the day care centre is no longer a two-storey building but is now a single storey because “the upper floor was severely damaged”.
With regards to the video’s statement that the Holy Trinity School was “repaired by the Barbuda Council with private funding, NODS said, “An assessment was carried out and NODS was advised that the structural integrity of the building was compromised, hence the government erected temporary structures at Low School, which is close to Holy Trinity, to accommodate the students.”
NODS said also that the Agriculture Building, “which is to be rebuilt” and the Lands and Planning Office, “which is to be repaired” and “will take a greater effort to be completed”, are going to be “part of the second phase of the recovery operation”.
The Director of NODS, Philmore Mullin, in the press communique, said “misinformation and misleading statements being made in the public have caused some donors to back away from providing any assistance”.
However, no information has been provided as to how many organisations or people have pulled out as a result of the alleged misinformation and exactly when this occurred.
He however concluded by saying that, “The rebuilding effort will take time and the situation is made complex due to the level of structural deficiency discovered on the sister isle that has to be corrected before going forward.”