By Elesha George
The people of the Commonwealth of Dominica and Barbuda will finally receive funds from the Caribbean Strong Concert that was held almost two years ago to raise money on their behalf after hurricanes Maria and Irma caused immense destruction to their respective territories in September 2017.
Two years after the concert was held on Sunday October 29th 2017, Chairman of the Dominica Antigua Relief Fund (DARF), Darwin Telemaque, told OBSERVER that the first payout will be given to the Barbuda Council next week.
“We will be giving the money for Barbuda to the Barbuda Council, and we will be giving the money for Dominica to the Tourism Minister, Robert Tonge. We could see that happening as early as Monday on the Barbuda end,” he told the newsroom during an exclusive interview.
Telemaque said 50 percent of whatever is in the Scotia Bank account, as per the auditor’s statement, will go to Barbuda and 50 percent will go to Dominica.
The auditor’s report, according to Telemaque, “reflects the condition under which the event took place. It speaks to the sort of integrity of that process, and it also speaks to the highest level of accountability that went into the ticket sales, to the point where the tickets that were left over were accounted for, and those that were sold – the monies were deposited by the same company. “
While this presents itself as welcomed news, it did not come without its share of speculation and damaging publicity. The inability or tardiness of DARF to produce the auditor’s statement, and thereby disclose the amount of funds raised, had remained a contentious public issue – especially now, in the peak of yet another hurricane season.
On Thursday, Telemaque explained the challenges that the organisation faced in getting the auditor’s report. He provided a timeline from the conception of the concert to receiving the auditor’s report a few weeks ago.
The DARF chairman said that once the concert was over, the members met with BDO – the firm that had agreed to complete an audit of the entire event at no charge. He said they gave BDO everything they asked for, and a month later, Cecile Hill, a member of DARF’s finance committee, “was sure and clear that the BDO partner had everything that she needed to conclude her audit report.” But months after, still, the audit report was not forthcoming.
“We have been attempting for the last two years to get BDO to give us that report and we have been having major difficulties in getting that done. We just weren’t getting it. We’d call her, she said ‘okay I’ll get it done this week’. There were at least four occasions when I left my office and went and sat at BDO’s office to wait for her to give me the documents, only to be told that they are not ready, ‘we have more stuff to do’,” Telemaque explained.
He said DARF simply couldn’t identify the issues, nor did the BDO partner clarify what they were. “It just kept lingering on and on and on. So it was just a continuous stalling and she finally, just about a couple of weeks ago, provided us with the final report which shows the revenues, the expenditures and the balance that should be in the bank account which is in the bank as well.”
Regrettably, the chairman agreed, it took too long; but he explained that DARF didn’t think it fair to go the legal route since the service was being conducted free of charge.
“In the end,” he said “you had a situation where we probably could have done a whole lot more in terms of pressing, and maybe even looking at taking legal action to get it done, but we did not feel that it was something that we should have done. She came and she did it in good faith. She was not charging us a fee to do it and all those reasons are reasons why we said let us just wait. Unfortunately it got shoved into the political environment, and sad to say that it did, because it should never have. It was geared towards helping people in a bad situation and I’m really sorry that it became as political as it did.”
Telemaque hopes that the negative publicity brought on by the almost two-year wait for the auditor’s report, does not influence the trust and integrity that volunteers have given to DARF over the years.