By Jeff Trotman
Region Ten Chairman Sharma Solomon has lashed out against persons who have hinted at a perceived lack of accountability in the manner in which solicited funds for the rebuilding of the One Mile Primary School by self-help has been handled.
The One Mile Primary School was one of several buildings destroyed by fire during the month-long electricity rate hike protest in Linden between July and August of 2012. A special committee, headed by Maurice Butters, APNU member on the Region Ten Regional Democratic Council (RDC), was set up to spearhead rebuilding of the school by self-help with funding from several sources, including the Diaspora.
However, the rebuilding programme was plagued with interruptions and before much progress was made, the government conceived a multi-million dollar rebuilding programme and hired a contracting firm to rebuild the school in another section of the compound. The government’s rebuilding project is in an advanced state, with the completion date anticipated by the end of February 2015.
Tempers flared at the December statutory meeting of the RDC, when AFC Councillor, Audwin Rutherford, who had been calling for a financial statement of the rebuilding fund over a number of statutory meetings, said that he was enlightened by a comment that the rebuilding of the One Mile School was initiated by self-help and was not a matter for the RDC and, consequently, he was withdrawing his enquiries into the matter.
APNU councillor Gregory Parkinson rose to say that Rutherford was being funny, to which Rutherford took strong offence. Parkinson said the issue was raised by Rutherford and after he had managed to tickle the interest of councillors, it was an insult for him withdraw his enquiry. “Trust me, that’s why I’m saying he’s being funny,” Parkinson insisted, “and I maintain he’s being funny… because he raised this issue… a very, very serious issue… and after going through that and spent such energy, to withdraw now… I say it’s an insult to us… I maintain he is being funny.”
Solomon, however, stated that the matter is serious and should be treated in like manner. Solomon added that if Rutherford wanted an apology, he would get it since he had cautioned Parkinson that it was a serious matter and that he and all the councillors should take it seriously.
Parkinson said that Rutherford was taking a facetious approach and the fact that Rutherford had raised the issue and when the other councillors had taken it seriously, Rutherford’s move to withdraw from the matter was “being strange.”
Rutherford agreed that he had been “in a very strange place.” He insisted that he was not impressed by the method by which the information on the finances for the self-help rebuilding programme was distributed by “passing around a few sheets of paper in a meeting” but emphasised that he was “no longer interested in the issue.”
Nonetheless, Solomon said the matter is being pursued and it will continue to be pursued to the satisfaction of the council. He added that people’s names have been deliberately dragged through the controversy. He also observed that it is strange that for the past two and a half years councillors have had issues with late payments of allowances without those matters being raised at RDC meetings but it seemed as though some want to find something wrong in the accounts of the One Mile School rebuilding programme “to incriminate people.”
Butters, who was present, suggested that the financial statements “should not be circulated until we have the full document and then we ensure that councillors get copies of it in good time….”
Solomon said he wanted to commend Butters and his committee “for answering the call of all those who made unnecessary accusations against the committee because here it is they are providing the information that was asked for.”
Solomon added later that he was proud of the rebuilding programme and he wanted to place on record “those councillors, moreso councillor (Mayfield) Greene, who had put her hands deep in her pocket—at one time, to find over $1.5M of her own money—to be repaid whenever.”
Disclosing that Greene had been repaid, Solomon said her funds played a big role in covering the funeral expenses of the three men who had been killed during the 2012 protest.
He said that many times RDC councillors say accusingly that people would like to know about the money but he has never heard anyone ask about the rebuilding programme. He added that the manner in which queries were made “would have brought people’s good character and image into disrepute. People like Councillor Greene, who made every sacrifice on her own behalf and family’s behalf to give financially… they would have also damaged or attempted to damage a programme, that is, rebuilding a school with historical significance in our community. That is the very first school that was built by self-help effort … one, we should be very proud of and that we are committing to ensure that the legacy of self-help is being preserved in our community.”
Solomon further said he would be very encouraged if councillors could take that same interest and intent about finding the money, to find out about the rebuilding programme and how they can assist it. “I have no problem with criticism once it’s fair,” he noted, adding, “but many times it’s heading towards maliciousness and wickedness, moreso political wickedness. Now, what would you do? Damage people’s character? Tarnish their image? Accusing them of stealing while damaging a programme that is intended to rebuild this region and at the end of the day, we back out and say it’s all good?”
Stressing that all councillors had a chance to talk and act, Solomon urged the Council to support the rebuilding committee. He said the RDC has had situations such as investigating the disappearance of over $4M from an account, which was earmarked for the Ituni community and no answers have been given. “This government has promised many times to show documentation on many things and has not done so and look how we want to crucify a committee that sacrificed time, effort and their own resources so that we could look good,” he added.