By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
DESPITE promises from the Disaster Reconstruction Authority that all commitments will be honoured, Abaco residents say they are fed up.
They just want to hear back from the agency about when its Small Home Repair Programme will resume because its suspension is only further delaying the rebuilding efforts there.
The programme, which was launched last February, was suspended after concerns were raised by suppliers in September about not receiving payments from the agency.
Since the initiative was placed on hold, many locals have expressed frustration with the DRA, questioning when the programme will continue, allowing them to receive much needed home supplies.
Rochelle Albury, of Marsh Harbour, is one of them. Speaking to The Tribune yesterday, Ms Albury said that after her 70-year-old father lost his home to Hurricane Dorian they applied to the DRA in the hope of securing help in rebuilding.
However, despite being approved by the agency, the resident said her father has yet to receive the promised assistance.
“My father is a senior,” she said. “He got approved for the (voucher) which was ten grand after his home was destroyed and he hasn’t gotten the first piece of lumber. I have cleaned up my dad’s yard twice. He has no income and you still have tons of people still living with other people, some living in tents. My dad was also approved for a dome and he never even got it because that’s on hold.”
The situation, Ms Albury said, has left residents frustrated and uncertain.
“(The DRA) called me this week and was like ‘how’s it’ going’ and I was like ‘what do you mean, how’s it’s going?’ I said ‘y’all have the (programme) on lock’ because y’all didn’t pay your bills and the lady said ‘that’s going to be corrected shortly, probably within the next week’ and I’m still waiting.”
She added: “This government has just been so hopeless for Abaco. I think they should do something more for the elderly like my daddy and single mothers because you could pick through the town and you have your few that need extra help.”
Junior Menard, of Hope Town, also does not feel optimistic that the agency will be able fulfil all of its promises to the Abaco people, pointing to the DRA’s failure to finish its repair programme among other things.
“The DRA has failed us and the government, in that regard,” he said. “It’s actually appalling what they did. They came around. These people had this big press conference, community meeting for Abaco from months ago and a lot of people got 50 percent of the money that was promised to them and they’re still living in other people’s homes and the DRA has not honoured that.
“Then the government keeps coming forth saying they’re going to make the difference, but I don’t think that that’s going to happen. This is definitely slowing down the rebuilding process in mainland Abaco and now mind you, Hope Town is a little different because we have a lot of second homeowners here and so they had a lot of insurance money that poured into the community and that helped us come along really well. But on the mainland, it has come to a screeching stop.”
Last month, Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness Iram Lewis told reporters that officials needed to acquire more than $13m to fulfil its current obligations to those who were approved for repair help.
At the time, he said officials were actively working towards the goal and were seeking to get the approval it needed from the Cabinet.
When contacted by The Tribune on the matter earlier this month, DRA Chairman John-Michael Clarke said DRA officials were still working to secure the finances needed to complete the programme and planned to give an update on when the payouts will be made near the end of this month.
He told The Tribune: “We’re working towards getting the necessary financial resources to continue the small home repair programme and we understand the delay and we want the people to know that as soon as we’re able to address the delay with resources in hand, we have every intention of making sure that every vendor is paid and every appeal issued is honoured and we will give an update on the status of that before the end of the month.
“So, we will let people know exactly where we are and we’re not still making promises that by the end of the month, you’ll be able to do something. We’re only saying we will be able to tell you definitively by the end of the month what the situation is realistically, but in the interim, we are, as we stated in December, we are trying to secure the necessary resources for the completion of that programme and the temporary shelter programme. Those two programmes are going.”
There are some residents who are calling for more transparency from the DRA, questioning how the funds are being spent.
“I’ve been asking for a breakdown of the funds,” said Roscoe Thompson, chairman of the Marsh Harbour/Spring City Town Council. “You got domes sitting out there that haven’t been given out. There’s millions of debris out in the Spring City site (that needs to be managed) and we’re still moving debris from people’s yards.
“I mean why did they even form a ministry and waste that five to seven million dollars in salaries that could’ve been used via NEMA? Why didn’t they just revamp NEMA and use local government. You have hotel licensing, you have port, you have town planning, all of these are under local government.”
According to the DRA chairman, the agency plans to publish a comprehensive report detailing its expenditure by next month.