Editorial: Fixing Barbuda and perceptions

The Director of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS), Philmore Mullin, recently stated, “It is unfortunate that we now have to resort to paying people to clean up their own country, to clean up the island. I am not for it…” Mullin’s statements were in response to the proposed cash-for-work being offered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to Barbudans to clear the island of debris.

Now, we understand the UNDP’s logic in all of this because from their point of view the work needs to get done, and if Barbuda is not cleaned up, the debris could become missiles in the next storm and a bad situation will be made worse. And if the situation becomes worse, then the situation becomes more expensive for everyone, including the donor agencies. The UNDP certainly does not want to spend more money than it has already committed, and if a new storm brings even greater destruction then they will have to commit more resources, while shaking their heads and saying, “We told you so.”

That said, it is difficult to disagree with the NODS director. Why do people need extra money to clean up their homes and their beloved community? One would think that civic pride and the desire to get back to a normal life would be enough enticement to drive people to put their hands to the task. Beyond that basic point, we have to further agree with Mullin when he opines that the aid money should not be used to pay Barbudans to clean up their community and could be better used in other ways.  

From a wider perspective, the timing of the programme’s offer is also concerning to many as it is being presented at a time when the government is criticising many Barbudans for not returning to assist with the clean-up, but, at the same time, gladly accepting their pay from the Barbuda Council. We are sure that the Barbudans will have many excuses to offer but whether legitimate or not, the perception is not good, and we dare say not a public relations battle that they can win.

It is difficult to justify to taxpayers that there are good reasons why a person

will refuse to return home to help clean-up but still expect to be paid to do virtually nothing.

English political theorist Algernon Sidney is said to have originated the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” and Barbudans should reflect on those words because the application is beyond religion and politics. Humans, by their very nature, are helpful, but they prefer to help someone who has a desire to help himself or herself. However, that inclination to be charitable evaporates when the receiver is deemed to be lazy or taking advantage of the giver. If someone sees you cleaning up your yard in the hot sun, they may be inclined to help, thinking that many hands make light work. But, if someone sits on their front porch and is waiting for someone to pay them or waiting for someone else to do the clean-up, the chance of that aid arriving diminishes greatly.

Now, we are not on the ground in Barbuda so we are not casting stones at anyone, and we are certainly not kicking anyone while they are down. We, like everyone else, are only interested in seeing Barbuda rebuilt and become better than it was before Hurricane Irma.  People who are experiencing it day-to-day can only tell the challenges and stories, and even then, we know that there will be conflicting versions.    We are quickly approaching eight months since Hurricane Irma trampled across Barbuda, and a new hurricane season will soon be here. The fact that little Barbuda is still in the state that it is in is a damning indictment of our collective responsibility. At the same time, the fact that the UNDP needs to provide further enticement to the people of Barbuda to clean up their community is even worse.

When we look at the most raw and basic analysis of this situation, there should be no politics or personalities overshadowing the fact that Barbuda experienced a devastating natural disaster. Barbudans should lead the clean-up and rebuilding. And, while there are Barbudans helping to lead the charge, there are many who seem very disinterested; or, at least, there is that perception.

Our advice? If that perception is incorrect then the Barbudans need to fix it, and they can do so by demonstrating an urgent desire to get things done. And for those Barbudans who are offended by our statements, we would suggest that you use the energy that you would devote to “cussing” us, to fix Barbuda. It would be a much better use of your time.