NASSAU –– Mical MP V. Alfred Gray suggested yesterday “heads should roll” over some of the government agencies’ response to Hurricane Joaquin.
Gray said the Department of Meteorology and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) could have done a better job with their advisories and warnings.
He said these agencies were “seemingly caught off guard”.
“I think the government will also be wise to learn that the agencies responsible have to be always on alert and they cannot drop the ball,” said Gray, who was a guest on the Guardian Radio talk show Morning Blend.
“If you drop the ball too early many lives could be lost. And so, I don’t know who is responsible. I am not pointing fingers, but I believe that some things that happened could have been better handled by some agencies of the government.
“And I’ll just leave it there. They will blame the politicians and we will take responsibility. But the prime minister and the cabinet cannot do everything for those who are assigned to do it. My position is when people don’t do what they are supposed to do, some heads should roll because someone has to be accountable.”
In an interview at the Office of the Prime Minister, NEMA director Captain Stephen Russell said the organization’s main focus was to get supplies and resources to the affected islands over the next couple of weeks.
He said NEMA must also ensure essential services are returned, though he could not provide timelines.
Russell was asked to respond to criticisms of NEMA, particularly regarding the communication challenges the prime minister alluded to during a nationally televised Press conference last Thursday.
“That is beyond me to a certain extent,” Russell said.
“Like I said, we have national infrastructure where the government would have invested $68 million [and] we had some challenges with it. So, the experts from BTC [Bahamas Telecommunications Company] and those, the providers of that infrastructure, they have to examine and analyse that whole process because we were relying on that. That is failing.
“And similarly, you have a massive electrical failure, so the two of them combined really heightened our challenges.”
NEMA was also heavily criticized for some shelters, including those in Acklins, not being open as the storm unleashed 140 mile per hour winds.
Russell said in due time officials will have to sit with the island administrator to find out what happened.
“He himself had a little challenge because he was trapped in certain areas. Therefore, he could not make contact with his disaster committee to make sure some things happened,” he said.
“And people have their own personal challenges in the midst of these disasters.”
Russell pointed out that earlier this year administrators and chief counselors were flown to New Providence for a conference on disaster preparedness.
“You can train people, but if you cannot bring them all together as a leader on the ground, or if there is disjointedness in terms of the collaborative efforts in trying to build, you have total system breakdown.”
The government has also been accused of not demonstrating a sense of urgency with the relief efforts.
In response, Gray pointed out that the government began travelling to the south-eastern islands on Saturday, the day after the storm passed.
“I don’t know what the people want,” he said.
“People who have an agenda will find reason to criticize everything except themselves. I believe the government dispatched ministers of the government to every island at the same time, and I believe that was the best response we could have given.
“What I do know though, the Met Office and NEMA might have been able to do a little better with advisories of this hurricane. But even they were seemingly caught off guard because this hurricane was formed right in our backyard.”
Gray said storm victims told him that had they had more advance warning and time to prepare the might have fared better.