Water woes, crime, dilapidated infrastructure, economic questions, health issues and many other topics were addressed during a press conference hosted last week by opposition members.
“Right now, this country is at a standstill,” District Three Representative Julian Fraser said, adding, “When you look at the opposition, it’s six members, and the government has seven. That means the country is evenly divided, and we have a role to play and we must play it.”
To that end, the six opposition members took aim at the government’s recent record and aired ideas for improvement during the Oct. 25 press conference.
Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton, for instance, suggested jumpstarting the “sluggish economy” by borrowing to fix infrastructure.
“One thing I’ve learned in my past life is that fixing infrastructural problems after they’ve gone wrong is not a quick fix unless you have the level of funding like the military,” he added. “There is no doubt in our mind that people are hurting out there. The cost of living is high, and as the opposition and the government, we need to find ways to help people who need food, who need assistance to pay rent.”
District Six Representative Myron Walwyn echoed the call to borrow, claiming the biggest mistake the past government made was turning down a £300 million loan guarantee from the United Kingdom to help fund the recovery from Hurricane Irma.
Mr. Fraser spoke similarly, suggesting borrowing money from the Social Security Board for infrastructure projects.
Mr. Fraser also expressed concerns about rising crime in the territory, which he blamed in part on the decision made after the recent Commission of Inquiry to remove legislators’ discretion over assistance grants. He said many of those grants — which are now administered by the Social Development Department — were used as food vouchers for needy residents.
“You take that out of circulation and tell me that you’re not gonna find [crime] happening,” he said.
Mr. Fraser also complained about the lack of water supplied to households and businesses across the territory, which he said has gone beyond rationing to the “nonexistence of water.”
“There’s no reason to be rationing water when the [Paraquita Bay desalination] plant is producing 2.6 million gallons per day,” he said. “We still are not getting water, and there’s no excuse for it after all these years. The fight has been constant, and it’s not going to stop until things have been changed.”
Asked whether any current or former National Democratic Party members now on the opposition felt responsible for the contract extension the NDP-led government granted Biwater in 2016, Mr. Skelton said he didn’t recall the specifics of the deal.
Mr. Walwyn then chimed in, stating that the minister responsible for water in the territory at the time would have more details and knowledge about the contract than him or Mr. Skelton.
“There must have been some sort of negotiation that took place. There’s nothing wrong with changing the terms of the contract,” he said. “The point is that we have a water crisis. The current government has been here for the last five years and owns the problem. From my understanding, there is not a water production issue. The problem is our capacity to receive the water and distribute it where it needs to be.”
Mr. Fraser pointed out that the Burt Point wastewater treatment plant is still offline and that sewage is being dumped into the ocean near Slaney Hill.
“[Researchers] found that there is a tremendously alarming rate of cancer in this territory,” Mr. Fraser said. “That tells me that you can’t dump raw sewage in the ocean and expect it not to impact upon your population.”
Opposition members also called for amendments to the Procurement Act; changes to the Registration Apprenticeship Employment and Development (RATED) programme; new tourism-related investments in the territory; and the establishment of a housing cooperation or authority charged with affordable housing.
Shortly after opposition members were sworn in following the April election, they announced plans to form a “shadow cabinet” similar to the one in the United Kingdom government, where representatives serve as watchdogs monitoring ministers’ portfolios.
Asked about the status of the shadow cabinet, Mr. Skelton said the opposition needs more time.
“We’re still working along those lines. It’s new,” he said. “It’s going to take a little while for us to hone our skills and concentrate on the shadow cabinet.”
Mr. Turnbull said he has set out to meet with ministers to speak about issues specific to his district and with the minister that he’s shadowing. Mr. Walwyn added that there are “different ways” to shadow, including posing questions in the House of Assembly and holding meetings with ministers to discuss issues.
In an interview with JTV on Monday, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley pushed back against the allegations made in the press conference.
“What becomes concerning to me is a narrative that’s been put forth that things like crime is the fault of the government,” he said. “I see that as a self-serving narrative being promoted by the opposition.”
Dr. Wheatley added that many of the challenges addressed during the press conference were created in former governments that included several of the current opposition members.
“The very individuals that left these challenges on the table for us to solve can’t come to us and say that we’re taking too long,” he added.