Some residents are outraged while others are simply sad that mourners at a funeral had to resort to burying the deceased themselves, reportedly because there were no grave-diggers at the cemetery to oversee the burial.
Following a funeral service at Holy Family Cathedral on Monday morning, the cortege proceeded to the Valley Church Community Cemetery for burial of a man who had died since early December last year.
Videos in wide circulation show persons at the graveside using pieces of lumber, tree branches and their bare hands as tools to “shovel” dirt into the grave – since there were no assigned Central Board of Health (CBH) workers on site.
Speculation ran rife that the grave-diggers were on strike over pay, while other rumours said they had been assigned to an “important” funeral at the St. John’s Public Cemetery.
However, “grave-diggers are not on strike. They need reliable transport to take them around,” a CBH official tells REAL News.
The official says the pick-up transporting the grave-diggers to the country cemetery broke down in the vicinity of the Hall paddock on the Valley Road, and a mechanic had to be called to the rescue. “Sadly, the funeral had gone ahead of them,” the official explains.
Several sources tell our Newsroom that the vehicles assigned to the CBH are about 14 years old, and were procured when John Maginley served as Minister of Health in the United Progressive Party (UPP) Administration.
“Tell the Government to give us vehicles that are functioning and not breaking down on the roads,” the CBH source implores.
Reportedly, replacement vehicles have been requisitioned by the CBH; but the current minister, Sir Molwyn Joseph, apparently has been unable to fulfill the Board’s request.
Sir Molwyn came in for harsh criticism, last year, when REAL News broke the story about corpses that had become liquefied in a malfunctioning container attached to the morgue. Flies and a bad odour emanating from the refrigerated unit had alerted someone on the Holberton Hospital compound to the situation.
As a result, the rotting bodies – reportedly being stored pending autopsies – had to be hurriedly buried at short notice to the families.
Last Wednesday, February 22, Sir Molwyn was ridiculed again after REAL News reported that another set of corpses had begun to decay in the same container – as official jostling between CBH, the police and the coroner reportedly was delaying their burial.
It is not known whether the deceased in Monday’s debacle was among the remains stored in the container. However, that body would have been in storage for more than two months.
“Antigua leads the way in the ‘next level’ of burying their dead. My God, disrespect for even the dead!” is one civil servant’s lament about this latest instance of the Health Minister’s shortcomings.
“This is a crying, weeping, dutty, wutliss shame that needs to be exposed. What else, Molwyn Joseph? What else? Why are our dead being subjected, so often, to being treated like trash?” another woman asks.
In the meantime, an operator owed by the National Solid Waste Authority – which also falls under the ambit of Sir Molwyn – is reminding residents that the new public cemetery promised by the minister remains undelivered.
More than $2 million was transferred from the CIP Fund, several years ago, to establish a new burial ground at Tomlinsons, while another sum reportedly was paid to a US-based designer associated with the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, USA, according to the minister.
At last reference, about two years ago, the site was scheduled to be fenced, with preparatory civil works following after. However, only a few weeks ago, the Browne Administration held a ground-breaking ceremony for an aquatics centre at the Tomlinsons location.
Meanwhile, Southside residents continue to complain about the Government’s over-use of the Valley Church cemetery to bury persons who had no ties to their community.