Robert Roberts, Chief Councilor, Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, Bahamas.
Robert Roberts, Chief Councilor, Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, Bahamas.

Dear Editor,

Please allow me space so I may bring the country up to date on the State of Spanish Wells as we head into the next general election.
The following may reflect similarly on every District in our archipelago, in fact I am sure it does. So, once you have had time to read and digest the following please have your Chief Councilor send in YOUR current “state”. Let’s get all the Districts to report in between now and the next general election.


Budget!

As most are aware, the Government over the past 4 years has been collecting more in taxes but giving less back. Our annual budget is prepared, then sent to Nassau where someone decides where the value for money is. They delete line items such as but not limited to “upkeep and maintenance of public buildings”, then it is sent back “Approved”. However, it doesn’t stop there. In 2013 the Government started retaining a percentage of the budget. For the past two years, they have withheld 12% of the approved budget. In our case that is $43,278. The past three years we have had the same budget approved despite the introduction of VAT. We have also had a recurrent deficit over the same period. This unfortunately has led to our contractual workers not getting paid in full; currently we are only able to pay them 50% of their monthly contract value because of the shortfall. As of the end of this fiscal period, we will once again be in the same situation as we have been for the past two budget cycles and will not be able to satisfy our commitments. As referenced, our budget for 07/08 was $450,000.00; the last two years it has been roughly $317,000 less the 12% retention. This is available for all to see. It is public record and is a part of the National Budget.

Graveyard!

Digging up bones! That’s what we have been doing for the better part of 5 years. We are having to use an old cemetery plot that has lead to exhumation. Council started agitating for a new grave yard site officially in October of 2012. There have been several visits over this period and countless correspondence but as of the writing of this piece nothing has come of it.

Clinic!

Our clinic is in a deplorable state! The A/C is broken, the roof leaks during normal rain squalls, including in the emergency room. Most of the windows don’t work, there is mold and mildew everywhere. The morgue has been broken down for the better part of two years, in fact the last few persons that passed away on-island had to be relocated to Eleuthera. Shutters are falling off. Prior to December, there was no resident doctor to service North Eleuthera (including Spanish Wells and Harbour Island) for months. Patients could not get prescriptions in addition to other specialized medical care. We have a resident nurse that was just recently relocated to SPW (best one in the country), but now she may get evicted from her apartment because Government has let her rent fall behind. The administration of the clinic has failed miserably! Aforementioned issues (particularly maintenance and upkeep of the facility) were brought to light in September 2011. The District Council did a thorough walk through of the facility and reported the findings to the Administrator of Family Island Clinics. Despite continuous update and agitation to the hierarchy of the Ministry of Health, to date nothing has been fixed; the clinic continues to deteriorate.

Roads!

Many of the roads are filled with pot holes. There are several that are past the point of patching and need to be rebuilt. Most of the roads are starting to show their age as they were redone twenty-five years ago, the lack of a constant supply of perma-patch contributes to the deterioration. The abutment is continually breaking through. We have just recently had a team from the Ministry of Works visit the Island and they did a complete drive through to confirm the same. We are waiting on a final report.

Bridge!

The two-lane bridge “Roderick Newton Bridge” connecting Spanish Wells and Russell Island was destroyed in August of 1992 by Hurricane Andrew. A temporary single lane bridge was installed in October of the same year. The bridge is rusting and in a state of disrepair to the point of being dangerous. This bridge plays a vital role in our daily lives. It is in constant use. The public dump and power company is located on Russell Island along with other businesses and private residents. Russell Island is in a phase of continuous development. At least 60% of all construction being approved by the District Council is for Russell Island and will be that way for the foreseeable future. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012 the bridge was washed out on the south side. Eleuthera Construction was hired to make a temporary fix; to date they have not been paid. The Council has been agitating since March of 2012 to effect repairs/change to the bridge. We have just recently had another team from Ministry of Works visit the site; the Council is patiently waiting for a response.

Water!

Our water supply is pumped from a well field on Eleuthera, directly into the city system. We have a 100,000-thousand-gallon water tank that is supposed to be kept full, but there has never been a shut off system installed. So, once the tower is full the overflow goes into the harbour until such time as Water and Sewerage on Eleuthera can be contacted. The Council just recently sent a sample of city water to an independent lab in Nassau. Here is a sampling of the findings. Calcium 624.00, chloride 2,675.77, salinity 4.90ppt and there was also trace of coliform found. I am sure it is illegal to sell this water to the public, in fact, it’s probably illegal to give it away. The authorities have been aware of the water situation on Spanish Wells for many years. Despite continuous development on Russell Island, the public water supply does not extend to residents and businesses to the far West. The government built and paved the road, but didn’t put the infrastructure in place to provide water first, so of course the road will have to be ripped up to complete installation. This is the perfect example of poor planning. Businesses in the area affected are now being told by Environmental Health that the Health Code requires them to have access to public water, yet the same government has not made such provisions.

Garbage Dump Site!

This has been a sore spot for as long as I can remember. Like most all the out Islands we push and burn the waste; food, plastics, electronics, household garbage, oil, tires, batteries, construction waste and just about anything you can think of. This is a concern and directly relates to the health of our community. I’m sure you have heard of “Environmental Levy Fees” charged at the border by Customs; what are these fees being used for? We need a proper recycling programme! The council has asked DEHS to send a team to assist with a better management plan. We have yet to receive a reply.

Fishing!

For years the fishermen of The Bahamas, particularly Spanish Wells, have been crying out to the government to protect the banks from illegal poachers. The response from successive governments has been like a slap in the face; from being told that fishermen were reporting “ghost ships” to sending Defence Force personnel in days after reports of poachers were made. Thankfully this last Crawfish Season saw better response from the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, but one must ask, is this only because election is on the horizon? It is sad that the government only appears to be partially proactive close to election time. We have faith in Commodore Tellis Bethel and pray the government continues to allow him to do his job, whether it be an election or not.

School!

The school is on a constant money binge. They are raising money for everything you can think of, even toilet paper. The District Council entertains requests for funds several times a year despite an already exhausted budget. The school is always short on teachers especially at the onset of a new academic year. We are very thankful for and appreciate the new school classroom block that was completed prior to the 2012 General Election. The education of our children is a priority, but teachers need to be given the tools they need and students should not lack the materials or facilities required. Why is it that in 2017, our Public Schools do not have individualized budgets? Every institution should have a budget whose expenditure is ultimately executed by the District Superintendent, not one huge budget for a cluster of schools; that results in financial chaos and neglect of facilities.

Finally,

The District of Spanish Wells had a Crest designed 9 years ago. To date we have still not been able to get it Gazetted. The last correspondence with the Dept. of Local Government about the same was April of 2016. Once again, we requested that it be sent to the relevant government agencies so that it can be Gazetted and officially recognized.

What is being done with the 8-10 million tax payer dollars that the community of Spanish Wells pays to the Public Treasury annually? We receive a little more than 4% in the form of the District Council budget which in part is used to help maintain our community’s infrastructure. There are 1,600 residents and 600 homes. The Administrator’s Office which has the burden of collecting these taxes recently went for weeks on end without the ability to photocopy, print or register voters because of lack of office supplies. The Administrator’s Office has a balcony above the entrance way that is ready to collapse. Water comes through the concrete when it rains and the office stinks because of mildew and the damp carpet. It is not healthy for staff or customers.

Spanish Wells has a history and reputation of paying its taxes on time and conforming to government regulations.

If you want to get paid for a government job these days you must apply for a tax compliance certificate, yet government can go without paying its bills to the very people supporting them financially.

Just recently a social media post on Facebook raised the issues of our roads and clinic. One of the comments implied that if residents expected the government to fix the issues, they should have voted for their candidate in the last election. This is the same mentality that has stunted growth in various communities nationwide. I would say, our collective response to that is- if governments are going to take that approach, stop taxing constituencies that do not have Members of Parliament on the governing side. Let us retain and manage our own taxes locally; we’d be better off. If you’re going to make us pay, give us value for money! And should I mention, this same government’s candidate from the 2012 election is a resident of Spanish Wells and has again been ratified for the 2017 general election, yet conditions continue to worsen. Has he not had the ear of the Prime Minister or Cabinet Ministers for the last 5 plus years?

Central Government is becoming more centralized; Local Government is hardly functioning because of the chokehold. All the while the Family Islands are being neglected and everything is Nassau centric. We supposedly celebrated 20 years of Local Government in 2016 but have less to celebrate now than ever before!

I look forward to reading the responses from other Local Government Practitioners on the “State of ‘Our’ Union”. If only it was better.

Sincerely,
Robert Roberts
Chief Councilor