Just this morning I wrote in a post that the OBA seem adept at self-inflicted scandal – in fact, their turn in Government so far has largely lurched from one scandal to another, with Jet Gate being by far the most serious and still largely unresolved one.
And as if to prove me right, that’s exactly what seems to now be emerging with controversy surrounding Minister Pamplin-Gordon, Minister of Public Works.
The controversy stems from Gonzalo, where the Minister’s private house was damaged.
- Within 24 hours (by Saturday evening) ‘tarps were put on her roof’ ‘by one of the teams that was helping island-wide’. It’s not clear who those teams were, but it seems likely the reference is to Regiment crews.
- Those initial tarps didn’t hold ‘and she eventually experienced flooding in her house’. It should be noted that it didn’t rain until mid-week, around Wednesday.
- She ‘mentioned it to her PS, and W&E came to assess the situation on Thursday evening’.
- On the Friday ‘W&E put plywood over a section of the hole in her roof’.
- On the Sunday more of the ceiling collapsed ‘leading to the Fire Service putting tarps over the roof again’.
Now, from my time in the Regiment, post-hurricane crews right after the passing of the hurricane are focused on clearing the roads. They may provide tarp to people (and indeed, people could pick-up tarp from Warwick Camp, and later the Fire Station), but they generally only install tarps for vulnerable people – that is, senior citizens, the physically differently abled and people with young families.
Having said that, I’m personally not too fussed about a Regiment team being approached about getting help with an emergency tarp and helping out. I can see that, and I don’t think there’s really any problem there.
Nor do I think there’s a problem too much with calling the fire service for assistance with the later further collapse of the ceiling. I can see that constituting an emergency of sorts.
The issue that I think people have is with W&E crews being sent out, with public resources (both in terms of time/wages and material) to repair a private residence.
W&E crews are responsible for Government buildings. Not private buildings. In an emergency situation there is a case for them intervening on private property when there is a clear and present danger to public safety – such as a wall collapsing onto a public path/road. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.
The Minister has stated that the services and materials she received regarding this were available to anyone. I look forward to the news media investigating that aspect. As I’ve stated above, W&E do not provide assistance for private residences in the manner they appear to have done here.
Is it a relatively minor thing in the grand scheme of things?
Well, that depends on what you’re comparing it to, but it certainly does raise the question of an abuse of power.
And following on from the UBP/OBA’s heavy focus, when in Opposition, on similar things under the PLP, including things that there’s absolutely no evidence of yet (cedar beams anyone?), including the Minister herself being extremely critical of former Premier Dr Brown, is it any surprise that people, whipped up by the UBP/OBA’s previous focus on such things, are particularly sensitive to new incidents?
Is it any surprise people will look at the OBA and this particular Minister as hypocrites?
Is it any surprise that others who have been affected by Fay and Gonzalo but without the access to power that the Minister has will look at this incident with anger rather than sympathy?
I can get that the Minister acted innocently and may not have even been aware of her abuse of power until the Opposition PLP brought it to the public’s attention. However, that doesn’t alter the optics much.
It’s a small thing, and nothing on par with Jet Gate and related unresolved issues that have beset the OBA.
But it does chip away some more at the OBA’s political capital and claim to be doing politics differently. And it does serve to further distract the Government, with the blame landing squarely in its own lap.
It’s yet another self-inflicted own-goal that they could have easily avoided.
This also further damages the image of the particular Minister as a competent Minister, following on as it does from:
- Her handling of the Lamb Foggo UCC issue in 2013, which is thought to have contributed in her being removed as Minister of Health in December 2013.
- Her mis-speaking regarding the issue of GP plates in March 2014.
It may be a small thing, but to many it will resonate a lot with a growing feeling that the OBA cannot be trusted and says one thing only to do the opposite. This is a key problem for the OBA that they need to address – they need to restore public trust in them. And right now that looks like a steep task, which silly and avoidable things like this is only making harder.