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2005-08-16 17:06:48

Ungracious Slap In Face To Sir Jack

Generous benefactor told to 'shut up' and 'go back to England' by ungrateful Bahamians.

TODAY we are back on the issue of Sir Jack Hayward and the $1 million donation to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), established at the end of 1992 to assist Bahamians in the rebuilding of their hurricane damaged homes.

The donation became an issue in March when the YMCA, an important sports and fitness centre in Freeport, was destroyed by last summer's hurricanes. On his return to Freeport in March members of the Y, of which Sir Jack is founding patron, complained to him that a letter they had written to the NEMA representative in Freeport on January 17 two months earlier itemising the hurricane destruction and requesting urgent assistance, had gone unanswered. Sir Jack felt there was nothing to worry about. He was certain that some of the $1 million he and his partner, the late Edward St George, had given NEMA for that very purpose could be used.

And so Sir Jack instructed a member of his staff to contact NEMA's Freeport office. The staff member was told that Freeport had no funds. The local representative said he wished he could help, but his hands were tied. He had applied in vain for other persons, but could get nothing out of the central fund in Nassau. He suggested that the request go straight to Nassau.

Alarmed Sir Jack took over the matter himself. He first called the Freeport office to make certain his ears were not deceiving him. He then telephoned Nassau. There he got the usual run-around. His phone calls were not returned.

Insulted that he was being treated like a "fourth class citizen", Sir Jack phoned The Tribune to put a firecracker under NEMA. By now his frustrated requests for funds for the Y had turned into an angry complaint.

Reading his complaint in The Tribune the next morning, Luther Smith, NEMA's senior coordinator, claimed that Sir Jack's frustration was the result of a "misunderstanding."

He admitted that the Hayward-St George donation was deposited to the general disaster relief fund as were all other donations and, with the others, had been applied nationally.

He said the fund's guidelines would not permit government to use these funds to repair schools or any private institution, such as the Grand Bahama YMCA.

This is true, but also true is the fact that the specified instructions accompanying the donation made it impossible for it to be applied nationally.

NEMA, established by the Ingraham government after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in August, 1992, was specifically set up to collect funds to help uninsured citizens and those with insufficient funds to rebuild their homes. NEMA funds could not be used for government reconstruction, obviously this prohibition included schools and the YMCA.

At a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Freeport in October last year, Prime Minister Perry Christie not only announced receipt of the Hayward-St George $1 million donation, but read the donors' short letter stipulating the terms of its use. All of the million dollars was to go to Grand Bahama 50 per cent for Freeport, and 50 per cent for the communities of East and West Grand Bahama. "We would also like to express our wish that these funds be used for restoring the educational facilities on Grand Bahama" this would have included the YMCA.

Mr Christie, being a lawyer, immediately knew that the donation was hobbled. He said that they had to make a "special position" for that donation and as the donors wanted it to go to education, "government must find a way to oblige them."

In law the only way that the donation could have been properly handled would have been to have put it in a special fund not NEMA. It could then have been distributed according to the donors' wishes. There is a body of law that protects such donations. If Sir Jack wanted to be nasty, he could have demanded the return of his $1 million.

However, thanks to his loud complaint, Freeport's Y will probably get more financial help from government than it requested. If Sir Jack had remained silent, it is unlikely that the Y would have got anything.

But as if ignorance had not caused enough trouble, the insult to Sir Jack was further compounded by a scurrilous "comment of the week" on a local website. Sir Jack was called "eccentric", his "outburst foolish", his political preferences questioned, his outbursts a "liability" to the Grand Bahama Port Authority. It was even suggested that there was now a "family fight" within the company between Mr St George's most generous widow and Sir Jack. Finally Sir Jack was advised to "shut up" and stay "in England where he belongs."

To add insult to injury, the website scribe claimed that both Sir Jack and Mr St George were told that their donation could not have conditions attached. It "had to be used for national hurricane relief."

To which Sir Jack replied: "Absolute nonsense a lie we were told nothing."

If Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell has any influence over his former website, he might suggest that the writer apologise. After all it seems a most ungracious slap in the face for a man, who, with his partner, paid university fees to make it possible for Mr Mitchell to complete his final year as a law student at Buckingham University in England.

Editorial from The Tribune, Nassau, Bahamas

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