Two years post Irma, politics still a hindrance to economic growth

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By Elesha George

Two years after Barbuda was pounded by a Category 5 hurricane, divisive politics is still being blamed for the lack of progress on the island. Unlike other islands that were hit by major hurricanes in 2017, Barbuda is yet to see a full restoration of basic services such water and electricity, and other vital facilities like the hospital, post office and police station. 

In addition, many residents are reported to be still living in tents.

Dakota Jeffrey, president of the Barbuda Relief Network, said the island is not where it ought to be post Irma, and he described the tricky diplomacy involved in restoration work as “a minefield.” 

He also described the atmosphere on the sister isle as being politically driven, saying: “We just have to move a little more carefully in how we approach our efforts here because, at the end of the day, our purpose is to assist in getting Barbuda back to where she needs to be in terms of overall social and economic standing.” 

Orlando Morris, Chairman of the Antigua-Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) constituency branch on the sister isle, told OBSERVER he believes the biggest issue is mapping a way around all the indecisiveness between the central government and the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM).

“The biggest issue right now” Morris said, “is how are we going to collaborate to complete what needs to be done? I think there is too much friction between the council and the government per se; even with NODS, as to how these processes should be ironed out.”

Barbuda Council Chairman Wade Burton also agrees that there is a lot of work to be done, but he insists that a report on money donated for relief work and how it was used also needs to be made available by the central government or the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS).

He explained, “We [Barbuda Council] received some donations and we are preparing our report to release it shortly to let you know what they gave and where it went. People want you to be accountable for what is happening on your island; and as government and as the National Office of Disaster Services you received a lot of stuff, and if you cannot account for them then you are going to have problems raising funds in the future.”

But Finance Minister and Prime Minister Gaston Browne defended his government on Monday morning saying that “the people of Barbuda must learn to be thankful because the situation could have been much worse.”

He said that for an island that needed US$220 million to recover over an estimated decade, they should be celebrating successes thus far.

Browne said, “We allow all of the negative political partisan rhetoric to take root and, as a consequence, we do not celebrate our successes so that they can be utilised as best practice for others.”

The prime minister believes that the steps his government took to secure lives on the island, post Irma, was “a form of competence shown by his government” that had never been seen before in the region.

“We share the frustration of the Barbudan people, but it is not that efforts are not being taken” he said, as he reiterated the slow pace at which donations from organisations like the European Union and the British and Canadian governments are being made available.

Browne also said that the Member of Parliament for Barbuda, Trevor Walker, knows exactly how relief funds were spent and, barring an audit, there have been accounts submitted “on numerous occasions.”

He blamed Walker and his like-minded supporters for spreading the “rhetoric of falsity” which he said continues to undermine recovery efforts on Barbuda.

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