Cayman Island’s National Recovery Find will take on a full-time permanent administrator next week with the appointment of UK-born recovery-project manager Mark Laskin.
The appointment marks the fund’s maturity from providing ad hoc post-Ivan relief to a permanent aid organisation supplying programmatic, ongoing help to victims of natural disasters.
Mr. Laskin, a clinical psychologist and health-care professional, joins Cayman’s hurricane recovery effort from his most recent posting in Grenada, where he directed the local Agency for Reconstruction and Development, aiding Grenada’s own post-Ivan efforts
The National Recovery Fund’s move toward professional relief work has been facilitated by the recruitment of three full-time project managers, replacing the temporary subcontractors the fund previously borrowed from local construction companies.
The National Recovery Fund’s outgoing Executive Director, Angela Martins, said the move would vastly improve operations and efficiency, now that the fund had navigated its first six months and achieved stability.
‘We are seeing changes taking place,’ she said. ‘Now, as insurance money is coming in and big companies are doing the larger jobs, we are moving to acquire our own project managers, who will speed up the work. It means we can build in controls and manage the progress on the work and be responsive much quicker.
‘We have the benefit of hindsight, and can refine our processes. When you look back at what happened to Cayman … We’ve been through a tremendous thing; we have faced the same delays that everyone else has faced.’
Soon after Ivan, for example, Mrs. Martins said, the fund, like everyone, had trouble finding building materials.
None-the-less, she said, ‘the fund got up and running, and as you go, you realise that we could have done this better or improve that.
‘We’ve had a huge learning curve from our deep desire to get as many houses completed as possible,’ she said.
The fund had its origins, of course, in the terrible September hurricane that devastated so much of the island.
On 11 October, Governor Bruce Dinwiddy appointed Mrs. Martins, previously executive director of Cayman’s Quincentennial Celebrations, as executive director of the fund, established on 23 September with a $1 million grant from the Bank of Butterfield, $750,000 from Susan Olde and the IAMCO relief organisation and another $500,000 from the Union Bank of Switzerland
‘The fund is … the only official fund of its kind distributing monies to private individuals in the Cayman Islands as part of the relief effort,’ according to a 1 Oct. press release from the governor’s office.
‘The beneficiaries of the fund include any persons, injured, bereaved, rendered homeless, destitute or otherwise adversely affected by the hurricane in the Cayman Islands….’
Mrs. Martins said that the fund, as of 25 March, had accumulated $4.29 million.
‘It also attracted $2.5 million from an anonymous donor who said they would forgive $1.5 million of the loan if we could raise another $3 million locally.’
The balance of the funds has come largely from gifts of between $5,000 and $15,000 from small companies locally, she said,
With only glancing references to a sheaf of documents, Mrs. Martins detailed disbursement of the money.
‘In six months, we have completed 135 contracts, and have another 113 in progress, and we have another 273 case where we are working to get estimates, do site visits and get things moving.
‘Applications are still coming in,’ she said. ‘We receive between three and five each week.’
Trustees have already disbursed $2.6 million.
‘The work we do is all ‘dry in house’,’ she said, describing the process as repairing any compromises to a building’s external structure that could admit water: roofs windows, external doors.
She said grants tended to range between $10,000 and $15,000, although they were not limited to that.
‘Some clients lost far more than $15,000, and dry in effects are greater than that,’ she said.
Trustees examine every application, assigning each a category. The fund has no geographical limits
‘We work on the basis of priority. Our A-1 files are for families with children under 5 years old or with elderly.
‘Our A-2 files are families with children under 12; A-3 for children between 15 and 17,’ Mrs. Martins said.
Other criteria involve income levels and education.
‘It’s an expression of the most vulnerable groups,’ she said. ‘We look at the circumstances in the household.’
Recognising that $4.29 million is, realistically, a modest sum, Mrs. Martins said fundraising was quickly becoming the focus of National Recovery executives.
‘International fund-raising is one of the things that the trustees are looking at. At the same time, we are very sensitive that other aspects of Cayman society need support, and that the work we do is not all the work that families need.’
She said that fundraisers had a couple of substantive packages in the works, but declined to identify them beyond saying they were local campaigns.
Other sources were Friends of Cayman groups in the US, UK and Canada, and potential corporate sponsors.
She conceded that the fund’s public accountability could be improved, but insisted every expense was documented.
‘We have nothing to hide. The National Recovery Fund’s trust deed requires rigorous enforcement. All funds are held by the Cayman National Bank and any requests require solid documentation.
‘The trustees have built in layers of accountability. I don’t sign off on any of these projects,’ she said.
Fewer than 1 per cent of NRF expenses go toward administration, Mrs. Martins said, contrasting sharply with other international charities that typically budget between 15 per cent and 25 per cent of their income to internal expenses.
‘The trustees have donated furniture to people; Cable and Wireless donated offices and office furniture; I am seconded from government, so my salary is not an issue, even the photocopier is donated,’ she said.
The aid process itself tends to winnow padding and deception.
Application forms are carefully vetted to establish addresses and aid recipients, whether they are tenants, if they are insured and if other relief funds are in use.
‘Site inspectors identify the scope of work, which is then assigned to project managers. They go to the contractors who do estimates on the work. Then the project managers assess which quotes are the most reasonable.’
Still, she vowed to approach trustees about publishing publicly available NRF accounts.
She also asked any one who had applied to the NRF to approach fund officials if help had not been forthcoming.
‘We have had around 1,300 applications, and we are constantly working, we just keep going, and if you haven’t heard from us, please contact us,’ she said.
Her last weeks at the NRF, she said, would focus on the transition to Mr. Laskin and on fundraising.
She said she hoped to raise half-a-million dollars before leaving for her new post on 1 July as Permanent Secretary for Education.