Hon. Philip E. Davis
Member of Parliament
(Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador)
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister Of Works & Urban Development
Debate on The Midyear Budget
Wednesday, 25th February 2015
House Of Assembly
Commonwealth Of The Bahamas
Nassau, New Providence
I am grateful for the opportunity to again celebrate the constituents of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador by speaking on their behalf. The call of representation is made so much easier by the impetus of their many kind words and deeds, their willingness to assist where necessary, their patience in addressing needs, and their continued support.
While I celebrate my constituents, I lament the passing of two Cat Islanders. The first is Mrs. Ella Larrimore Thurston (Monkey Man’s mother) of Dumfries, who died on February 11th at the age of 88 years. She was renowned for her manipulation of straw and soursop leaves to make beautifully decorated straw products. She heralded from a time when women stayed at home, cementing families together but creating industry nonetheless.
The other is Mr. Wilberforce Seymour, Sr., who died on Sunday, February 15th. Mr. Seymour was a courageous Stalwart Counsellor of the Progressive Liberal Party and hailed from the settlement of Knowles’ better known as Bachelors. He gave a life of stellar service to the Customs Department and meaningful contribution to the growth and development of Cat Island, particularly the development of regattas and sailing as he was a “Class C” boat owner and competitor. I am thankful for his life. In recognising their lives and works, we celebrate The Bahamas.
When the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Member for Centreville, made his Statement on the Midyear Budget two Wednesdays ago, he provided this House with solid and irrefutable evidence that, notwithstanding the “great challenges” and “many obstacles that lie before us”, this Government is on track to restoring the economy of The Bahamas to a healthy state. With this evidential base, we forge ahead with a coordinated and cooperative approach among Ministries to restore faith in our nation. We did it before, and once again, through sound governance, we are pacing ourselves to eliminate the primary deficit in The Bahamas.
Last month, my Ministry had the privilege to welcome the Member for Mount Moriah as our Minister of State. He comes to my Ministry with a reputation that is tested and proven to excel in any endeavour to which he sets his hand. He is an astute businessman and lawyer. His competence at the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) is celebrated. He is also a product of the Catholic Church and its educational system; but I am of the firm view that all that is good about him stems from his love of family. He was raised in a home that taught him how to be a good husband and father and he was blessed with a good wife.
The Member for Mount Moriah’s story has been told many times over. Even during this debate, the Member has repeated it, and it is worth repeating because it never really grows old. In fact, it helps this Government’s position that National Health Insurance is a critical plank to our continued viability in a progressive world.
The Member for Mount Moriah is likely alive and healthy today because he has a life giving partner and resources available to him to save his life. He beat the odds faced by the large majority of Bahamians, who do not have health insurance. For some, that lack means that they do not seek medical care until it is too late. If we pay attention to our statistics, we know that too many of us have high blood pressure, diabetes, and other lifestyle-related diseases that diminishes our potential as a people and our economy thereby suffers. The health of a nation remains its wealth; and this Government’s vision, through National Health Insurance, will provide quality healthcare that is affordable and accessible to all its citizens.
Yes, it costs money, but when balanced against disease and its complications and implication, for each of us, it will be money well-spent. The pinch on our pockets through contributions can never compare to the financial injury derived from catastrophic illnesses. In 2025, I predict, and that is only ten years away, when we have almost $160 million in annual benefit savings and a citizenry relieved of healthcare burdens, we will look back to today and wonder why we took so long to get this thing going.
My Ministry is fully cognisant of the fact that time flies and that we have vital roles as stimulants to and facilitator of our economy. I remind you that the allocation of $125.9 million to my Ministry’s capital budget for 2014/2015 represented only the bare minimum required to meet expenditure for existing contractual commitments, to facilitate essential maintenance, and to allow for desirable new projects. However, we determined to achieve as much as we could with what we have for the benefit of the people of The Bahamas.
My Ministry renews its commitment to do all that we can to assist Government to keep on track to eliminate the primary deficit in The Bahamas by fiscal year 2015/2016. When the Prime Minister spoke at the Fidelity Group of Companies’ First Annual Bahamas Economic Outlook some two weeks ago, he noted that infrastructural development “still [has] a lot of ground to cover – even dictating investments beyond what we can directly fund within the present budget framework.” He went on to say that “we have built-in some of the infrastructure funding in the expenses borne by developers in the Family Islands, to be repaid through multi-year concessions. […] Indeed, The Bahamas needs expanded air and sea access and opportunity for tourism, trade, retail and corporate business development.” He foreshadowed that the “price tag to bring Family Island [air]Ports […] up to [ICAO] standards is just under $200 million” and noted that “these have to be confronted, if these Islands are to be firmly established as sustained development zones.”
Development of our Family Islands has always been a priority of this Government. Our Bahamas is unlike any other destination. Each of our islands have unique attractions and characteristics. Each has the requirement for upgrades of physical infrastructure; but, more importantly, each requires special attention to its peculiar human need. My Ministry is committed to do all that it can to facilitate that development; and we look forward to continued participation as it relates to accelerating job creation, enhancing our standard of living, and strengthening our competitiveness in the Caribbean and, indeed, around the world. So, as I progress through this intervention, I will add further tangible evidence that demonstrates our commitment to turn around the historic under-investment in both capital and maintenance investment in the Family Islands.
Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador
Forgive me the partiality, but the constituency of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador is a good beginning point.
On Thursday past, I travelled to Rum Cay to assess the School House and Clinic, which we will give attention to in this and the next fiscal year. The runway there was recently lighted to facilitate emergency night flights.
From there, we travelled to San Salvador. We are well on the way to declaring the National Park for that island. We are preparing to repair seawalls there. We intend to give attention to the primary school that is in dire need of repair. We also intend to give attention to the affordable homes for San Salvador. Demolition works are already underway; and fifteen (15) affordable homes will be built within the next fiscal period.
Then on Friday, I visited residents of Cat Island. There I held two meetings. At the Town Meeting, we discussed the comprehensive infrastructural developments that are afoot for that island. Exciting times are approaching for Cat Island. My Ministry with the Ministry of Health sent technical teams there to assess clinics at Orange Creek, Smith’s Bay, Old Bight, and Bain’s Town.
At Orange Creek, the entire building will be converted into clinic space. All of the interior walls of the section, which now houses the nurse, will be demolished to accommodate the addition of trauma, dental, examination, pharmacy/dispensary, treatment rooms, a doctor’s office, public waiting area, a staff lounge, restrooms, and small kitchen. There may be a need for physical expansion to accommodate everything. Floor plans are now being drawn and the scope of works costed.
At Smith’s Bay, minor renovations are planned for the health clinic on top of the hill so as to allow more storage space for records and supplies and facilitate electrical and air conditioning upgrades. The original health clinic is in poor physical condition. As a result, my Ministry will engage a consultant structural engineer to examine the integrity of existing structure prior to effecting any repairs. Based on the initial inspection, though, the entire interior of the building needs to be gutted, the building expanded to include raising the finish floor level from existing below road level to about two feet above the finished road level to minimise possible future flooding, and the height of building will be increased by about three feet. Concrete columns and new concrete belt beams will be poured and a new pitch timber roof will replace the flat one that exists today. New services infrastructure will include plumbing, electrical, air conditioning, and fire suppression utilities. If the structure is sound, the repair work will go forward almost immediately. Work on this clinic will be complete 8 -14 months from commencement.
At Bain’s Town in South Cat Island, site elements and sketches were obtained with a view to carrying out major internal and external repairs. The building spaces require redesigning. Project officers will design the drawings as soon as MOH submits its requirements. Then, at Old Bight, also in the South, the technical team determined that the clinic there also requires renovation to improve conditions of service delivery. Project officers will prepare a scope of works upon receipt of a design brief from MOH. All of these upgrades are in keeping with the MOH’s plan to ensure that health facilities stand ready for NHI.
Apart from assessment of the health infrastructure, the site for the Police Station at Arthur’s Town in the North Cat Island was identified and briefly reviewed. This station is a high priority item for Government, and we have moved with plans for its design and construction.
We have also engaged consultant architects and engineers for the proposed International Airport Terminal Building at New Bight. We have in hand a preliminary plan for the new airport. Cabinet has already approved expenditure in the sum of up to $11.5 million for the new terminal and runway rehabilitation to complement the PGA development. Construction will begin within months and be complete within 18 months thereafter.
I am pleased to advise that Cabinet has approved completion of repairs and construction works for Cat Island’s roads and seawalls, and my Ministry is working to complete a Master Plan for the development of all of Cat Island, which includes the Spine Road, the study which will be funded by the Caribbean Development Bank (CBD). Following the Master Plan’s completion, further funding will enable its execution.
Apart from the Town Meeting, I hosted the farmers to a luncheon meeting, where we took the opportunity to discuss how farmers can benefit from participation in BAMSI. The packing house at Smith’s Bay will be repaired and upgraded to include a kitchen so that they are able to process their produce to add value to the farmer’s produce can be enabled. The aim is to revitalise the agricultural sector, returning to the “glory days” when Cat Island exported pineapples and tomatoes to Florida and beyond.
The constituency of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador is on the move.
I move to Grand Bahama.
There are several projects set for Grand Bahama. The new Police and Fire Station for Grand Bahama, which was previously tendered and evaluated at approximately $6 million, has now been redesigned and retendered. This project will start by April of this year at a cost of approximately $6.2 million (including VAT).
Since I mentioned VAT, it is worth noting here that VAT has been implemented smoothly, and provides a fair and equitable tax system in The Bahamas. It represents revenue that will be put towards services that all Bahamians will benefit from and further reduce our debt. Through this reform of our country’s tax system, we will be infinitely better positioned to make the vital investments in infrastructure, healthcare, education, culture, and public safety.
My Ministry is also working with the Ministry for Grand Bahama to progress feasibility and design- build contracts for the Fishing Hole Road project. We are eager to rectify the challenges posed by this roadway. My Ministry is seeking confirmation of the appropriate modelling of the proposed design solution, so that any adverse effect on nearby communities can be avoided.
We are also working to urgently remedy the serious coastal erosion and loss of highway being encountered at Smith’s Point. We are moving on a design-build tender and now have approval to commence essential ground investigations so that the project can proceed.
I turn to Abaco and the North Abaco Port. On 9th March 2011, the side opposite as Government, executed a Memorandum of Understanding with China Harbour Engineering Company Limited (CHEC) for the construction of critical infrastructure projects in the Family Islands, namely: the North Abaco Port and By-pass road; the Little Abaco Bridge (replacement for environmental reasons of the Causeway between Little and Great Abaco); the Exuma Port and By-pass Highway; and the Glass Window Causeway in Eleuthera. For reasons unknown, the scope was subsequently reduced to include only the North Abaco Port and Little Abaco Bridge for a Guaranteed Maximum Price of $40 million. This Concessional Loan finance agreement included some $3.9 million for design build components of the project to be awarded to local sub-contractors – that is to say, local subcontractors would provide components for water, sewerage and drainage; electrical power supply and communications; a timber dock, and a small boat and timber fuel dock.
That history is important to frame the challenges which the project now faces. Upon this Government coming to office in May 2012, Cabinet agreed to proceed with the North Abaco Port project only. This required US$33,419,015.00 of the available US$38,431,867.00; and a Non-Concessional Loan Portion (GOB) for reimbursable taxes, etc. – US$5,012,852.00.
Since ground-breaking in June of 2014, there have been substantial project delays related primarily to the contractor’s tardy submission of final design and construction drawings. There is also pending the issue of a permit to excavate the port and dredging of the entrance channel, which turns on the BEST Commission’s approval of the project’s Environmental Management Plan (EMP).
After securing a permit for the harvesting of protected trees, the contractor encountered a previously undiscovered blue hole. A stop order has been issued by the BEST Commission pending, among other things, review of the hydrological assessments on the tidal creek system and blue hole. Contractual works are now being undertaken to produce a Supplemental Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA). That report will be available for consideration next month.
I am advised that the results of the SEIA may necessitate relocation or reconfiguration of the port layout. This is therefore a critical and likely costly delay point; however, we remain committed to complete this project for the economic benefit of North Abaco.
Also for Abaco, Mr. Speaker
My Ministry executed contracts for detail design, contract management, and site supervision for Marsh Harbour International Airport Freight Terminal. The Contractor was mobilised in July 2014, and the works are now approximately 60% complete. We anticipate completion before June of this year.
Infrastructural project work is never easy and unforeseen delays can pop up at any time. My Ministry is cognisant, though, that the outcome is determined by effective management to minimise negative consequences. We know too that good roads facilitate commerce by creating and attracting jobs. They tell all who traverse them that the community is open for business.
North Andros is set to let the world know that it is open for business. With the opening of the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Research Institute (BAMSI) in September of last year, it became critical that the main road between BAMSI and the San Andros Airport be reconstructed and paved with hot-mix asphalt. By December 2014, my Ministry began negotiations with Bethell’s Trucking and Heavy Equipment to agree a price to reconstruct some 9.7 miles of the main road from the San Andros Airport to the major crossing south of the BAMSI site. For North and Central Andros, this marks only the beginning of phased roadworks as there are another 79.3 miles of roads in North and Central Andros designated for repair and reconstruction, including the main and settlement roads and upgrade of the water distribution mains in Mastic Point and Nicholls Town.
In the same way that good news should always be shared, it bears repeating. So for those who did not hear, on 5th February 2015, my Ministry executed the contract with Bethell’s Trucking for those roadworks in North Andros; and work is currently underway.
The BAMSI project has advanced significantly and is funded, in large part, from my Ministry’s budget. Prior to this Government coming to office, two decades saw virtually no public sector investment in infrastructural upgrade, manpower development and public/private sector partnership of food production. Agriculture was on the decline in terms of interest, acreage, and farmers. BAMSI represents tangible and meaningful steps toward realising a long-held dream of food production, independence, and security for our country. It is mobilising the core ideal of the Progressive Liberal Party that agriculture is an integral part of our sustainable economic development. BAMSI was and remains this Government’s step in the right direction to maximise our national potential and to materialise this goal. Progress is evidenced through the construction of facilities, the enrolment of students, and the production, packaging, and branding of quality fruit and vegetables that are now available in major foodstores.
The construction phase of BAMSI has been severely delayed. Of particular note, the male dormitory, which was set ablaze by an arsonist on 15th January 2015. The culprit has since been arrested and charged before the courts. Many people have made joyful noises over this setback. It gave the naysayers another opportunity to speak doom and gloom for The Bahamas. As I said then, I say now, we are not broken nor distracted.
The morning after the fire, I led a team to the site and technical officers from my Ministry made an initial assessment. Subsequently, a contract was let to Island Dimensions for a proper structural assessment so that a determination can be made as to whether salvage is feasible given a cost benefit analysis.
The dormitory that burned was initially earmarked for completion to allow accommodation of students for September 2014. At the contract’s signing, the contractor had everything that was required to contract work with my Ministry, including Contractor’s All-Risk Insurance. However, because of the delay and the fact that the contractor failed to pay the annual premium, the insurance coverage expired. Full completion of Phase I is now projected for June 2015. My Ministry is now in discussions as to the way ahead. When those discussions are finalised and decisions have been made, I will bring an update to the House.
When we campaigned for office, the Progressive Liberal Party committed to the restoration of hope and economy for Bahamians. While challenges remain afoot, we remain committed to our Charter.
The Dock at Fresh Creek in Central Andros is now 95% complete. Regrettably, a further section of deteriorated sea wall was recently discovered. This will require additional funding and a further three to four months for final completion.
We are also paying attention to the main and settlement roads in this area. Maintenance works, if they have not yet commenced, will do so shortly.
South Andros cannot be excluded. Approval has been given for and we are pursuing upgrades to the water mains there. The Water and Sewerage Corporation is now in the design phase of the project which will bring even more fresh water to the South.
For Mayaguana, my Ministry awarded a contract in the sum of approximately $5 million in the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year to complete an agreed scope of works for road repairs. In order to accommodate significant water mains infrastructural upgrades, the contract was enhanced by $1.1 million. Those road and main works are expected to be complete by June of this year.
The completion of the breakwater and harbour for the mail boat and Defence Force craft at Ragged Island is long overdue; however, completion is now planned for before the end of June this year. This project will dovetail with the programme of the Defence Force contracts for Sandy Bottom and Inagua Bases.
Other Family Islands
Other structural engineering contracts now completed include the reinstatement of the Bailey Town seawall in Bimini, which was damaged by Hurricane Sandy; the completion of remedials to the Ferry Dock Bridge in Exuma; and the refurbishments to Georgetown Dock in Exuma. The final works for comprehensive re-surfacing of the Georgetown Dock are projected for completion ahead of the regatta this year. We have approved a consultancy for the repair of the Salina Point Road so as to afford those residents and business owners much needed relief.
My Ministry will also contract for consultancy in the sum of $127,923.54 for the development of Master Plans for sporting facilities in Abaco, Exuma and Moore’s Island. Members will recall that when I made my contribution to the debate for the approval of this budget, I referred to the need for feasibility studies in this regard.
Studies are now being conducted and studies being reviewed as to remediation of the challenge at the Glass Window Bridge in North Eleuthera. Once complete, I will bring a report to this House.
We move to New Providence.
Upgrading of facilities at Prince Georges Wharf has progressed steadily with the longstanding contract having been addressed by the appointment of an Employers Representative consultancy team. The contract for bollard installation is now substantially complete and more recently a supplementary contract for the essential repairs to Fenders was also completed. Regrettably, the dredging works at Wharf 15/16 were found not to have been as comprehensive as previously indicated and measures were implemented in late 2014 for further remedial dredging to ensure a full depth of draught at all intended locations. These works are all now complete, with only post contract clean-up outstanding.
A contract for load testing of the eastern Paradise Island Bridge was executed in January 2014. The formal report confirmed the capacity and durability of the bridge and now enables more permanent remedial measures to be implemented with financing from the Bridge Authority later in this fiscal period or during the first few months of the next budget year.
Early in this fiscal year, my Ministry released retention for the completion of the new seawall at Caves (subsequent to its destruction during Hurricane Sandy) and also the completion of the South Beach Culvert, which brought much improved drainage capacity to the area.
My Ministry is implementing its Road Maintenance and Management System as advocated by the IDB-funded Institutional Strengthening component of New Providence Infrastructure Improvement Programme. This approach has been partially effected by a strategically realigned procurement practice, awarding relatively small contracts on a local area-by-area basis, thus ensuring good deployment of local resources and ensuring that small to medium sized contractors are offered diverse employment opportunities.
A similar approach has been adopted for cemeteries maintenance where thirty (30) relatively small new contracts were recently let. Fifteen (15) contracts were also let for maintenance of stand-pipes and wells on behalf of WSC.
Given the fact that my Ministry saved considerable funds in other areas, we were able to divert funds to sidewalk construction targeting delivery of approximately $2million of contracts let in numerous small contracts before the end of the final quarter of this year.
All of these initiatives signal a move away from larger agglomerated contracts to smaller disaggregated contracts which offer wider employment opportunities.
I move now to the Big Pond Park Development Project on Blue Hill Road, which is tied to the New Providence Road Improvement Project. The area is being restored and protected as an urban open space as an offset for negative impacts brought about by road construction. The plan to develop the park was completed in 2001. In early 2014, Cabinet approved the award of a contract in the amount of approximately $3.8 million to undertake the Phase IB and authorised the BEST Commission to provide oversight of the environmental concerns related to the works.
As regards the environmental concerns, my Ministry, in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Health Services, BEST Commission, Department of Public Health, and Water & Sewerage Corporation hosted a Town Meeting on Tuesday, 21st October 2014 to promote the use of the park as a venue for enterprise and to advise residents of neighbouring communities against water activities at the park. My colleagues Minister of The Environment and Minister of Transportation, who is the Member of Parliament for the area, attended as well. These works are projected for completion at end of March 2015. Anyone passing by can see the already resplendent beauty of the park in the heart of our urban community. We look forward to its official opening.
Other capital works include renovations at Bolam House, which are being effected at a base contract sum of nearly $7.5 M ($7,490,646.00). The renovations commenced in September 2014. The required demolitions are basically complete and roughing installed. At this time, the project has progressed well and should be complete by the end of the first quarter of the next fiscal year.
I turn now to the matter of Baha Mar and the settlement of the final account for the construction of the West Bay Street diversion and Corridor-7 road projects. These roads are arguably the most beautiful roadways of The Bahamas, enhancing the driving experience and adding considered value to Baha Mar and adjourning properties. The Heads of Agreement included a reimbursement pay out for specified works, and payments have been made on account. An outstanding claim by Baha Mar for an additional $19.7M remains in dispute, however.
As the Government acts for and on behalf of the people of The Bahamas, we must be firm in our belief that we have received value for money, that the money was spent for works that fall within the scope of the agreement. Two reasons can be given for the protracted road to settlement of this issue. The first is that Baha Mar has not been cooperative in this process. There is no doubt that a greater amount of due diligence is required for settlement of the accounting. This includes independent verification of monies paid to contractors for works directly related to the roadworks. Baha Mar, though, has not been forthcoming with very specific information requests and have not attended agreed meetings. The second reason is the fact that the articles that provided for the testing of sums at industry standard in the original Heads of Agreement of 2006 were removed when the Heads was renegotiated. Given this result, it can only be concluded that this was a poorly negotiated deal for Bahamians, but we commit to ensuring that we get full and justifiable value for any monies that are to be paid once they fall within the agreed scope of works.
Notwithstanding the fact that we are currently operating in an environment of extreme fiscal restraint, my Ministry continually rises to the challenge of moving economy. The Member for Centreville has noted that the essential of effective and efficient implementation of infrastructure investment and the fact that public private environments must be encouraged to foster growth. My Ministry is happy to accommodate any feasible proposals related to public private partnerships.
My enthusiasm for progressing physical infrastructure is no less when it comes to evolving our human capital. In this regard, I turn my attention to Urban Renewal, giving the nation our stewardship in advancing the Urban Renewal 2.0 Programme.
The Architect of Urban Renewal, that is the Member for Centreville, the Prime Minister, saw the wisdom of removing the Urban Renewal 2.0 Programme away from government ministries and departments; knowing full-well that for his vision to take wings and flourish, it could not be bogged down in bureaucratic red tape. Urban Renewal, the Government’s transformative and restorative initiative, for it to be effective, it must be imaginative and unfettered. It must be allowed to operate “outside the box”. Yes, Mr. Speaker, in ministering to needs of the poor, Urban Renewal must be immediate, responsive, proactive, creative, and innovative.
The Urban Renewal Commission Bill, 2015, establishing the Statutory Body, Urban Renewal Authority, will be tabled in Parliament later this year. Meantime, the Urban Renewal Commission has been given the Executive Authority, thus much autonomy, to carry out projects and programmes to improve the quality of life of residents living in urban and traditional communities. The Co-Chairs, the Hon. Cynthia “Mother” Pratt and Hon. Algernon Allen, have been entrusted the task of availing the services of the Urban Renewal 2.0 Programme to all Bahamians in need. They have embraced this trust, and together are effecting change with the Urban Renewal Commission’s administrative team and Royal Bahamas Police Force Officers.
Co-Chair “Mother” Pratt recently said that Urban Renewal is not the salvation of Bahamians. I agree with her. Urban Renewal will not save everybody, cannot save everybody. But, Mr. Speaker, I emphatically declare that Urban Renewal 2.0 has brought, and continues to bring favour to thousands of urban residents. Urban Renewal hears and responds to cries of the poor, the unemployed, at-risk youth, the elderly, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden and the downcast. Through Urban Renewal, the future for many have been brightened.
When the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister gave the Midyear Statement, he also determined that we must bring acute focus to creating more wholesome youth programmes with the goals of preventing, arresting and reducing crime and fostering positive youth development.
Now is certainly the time for mega investment in our youth to combat the negative trends. The proposed National Youth Cadet Corps, National Technical Apprenticeship Initiative, and other such programmes will build the structured social environment necessary for the healthy development of our youths for they will learn discipline, morals and values, good work ethics – life skills, and become employable.
The operations arm of Urban Renewal continue to directly impact communities, walking the streets, visiting with the elderly, working with “at-risk” youth, holding crime prevention workshops, having social outreach initiatives, clearing overgrown lots, removing derelict vehicles, pulling down abandoned and dilapidated buildings – building meaningful relationships within urban communities.
Before I leave this aspect of Urban Renewal, I take this opportunity to commend and thank Mrs. Carolyn Bowe, Assistant Commissioner of Police, who has effectively served as Urban Renewal Coordinator at the Urban Renewal Operations Directorate and co-managed the Urban Renewal Centres in New Providence over the past thirty months. ACP Bowe has been assigned new duties at Police Headquarters and will be missed by Urban Renewal. She has a stellar reputation as an officer and Urban Renewal is better because of her significant intervention.
The Urban Renewal Commission commenced Phase II of the Small Homes Repairs Project in November 2014. Since that time, 220 homes have been repaired by local contractors, at a cost of $2 million dollars. This sum has been injected into the economy of urban communities in New Providence through the hands of more than 300 contractors and tradespersons who have been employed to repair houses in these communities.
Those 220 homeowners could not afford to repair their houses, whether senior citizens, the disabled, or unemployed; and were assisted to realising what could only be viewed as blessings. The environs of these houses repairs have undergone a transformation. That means the lives of residents in these repaired houses have been enriched and empowered. Talk about tangible evidence…
Another 200 houses will be repaired in urban and traditional communities in New Providence before the end of June. Talk about tangible evidence…
As long as there is a need, the Urban Renewal Peace Ambassadors will continue to minister healing to hurting families of murdered victims and others assailed by violent crimes; to minister hope to distressed families, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, caring for the down trodden, the poor, the disenfranchised, the unemployed, the single parent, the disabled, the at-risk, challenged youth.
Bahamas Electricity Corporation
I will turn now to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation. Though challenged, BEC continues to provide the essential service of supplying power to the majority of The Bahamas, facilitating our economy. We have good news from the Corporation, and each of us should be feeling the effect pocket-wise. Reduced fuel prices on the international market has driven the Fuel Surcharge down from 27.7 cents per kWh in October 2014 to 22 cents per kWh in February 2015, savings of 20.6%. The Corporation advises that we should see a further reduction at the end March 2015. Tangible evidence…
BEC also wishes to advise that customers will soon be able to opt out of receiving a hard copy bill and receive an electronic copy only. This is coupled with the new bill format, which was recently introduced. The new format provides more clarity to and other useful information on the bills.
In New Providence, a major achievement has been celebrated by the Corporation; and that is the installation of permanent power supply to Baha Mar’s core project site. Assisting economy…
BEC is taking the prudent approach and using this time to overhaul its large diesels at Clifton as part of its ongoing Maintenance Programme and in preparation for the summer demand. Maintenance Programme orders have also been placed for the procurement of parts to attend to the combustion turbines at Blue Hills Power Station.
The Corporation is also investing in enhanced computer technology that will improve system operation, reduce outage times and assist in data gathering. This project is now 90% completed and is projected to be completed by mid-2015.
Voltage upgrades are set for exchange between Big Pond and Blue. As well, construction of new 33,000 volts substations for the areas of Venetian West and Gladstone/Fire Trail Roads are on tap to facilitate growth. Meanwhile another is being installed at Wulff Road to replace the current unit.
Further, BEC will upgrade transmission lines on Prince Charles Drive to provide increased capacity to eastern New Providence. These works will commence within the next couple of months.
BEC works underway in the Family Islands include:
· For the new Bimini Bay Project site, they are providing interim supply. Designs for a permanent supply are underway.
· For the BAMSI site at North Andros, they are providing a few temporary supplies. Once additional technical information has been received, designs for the permanent supply will be finalised.
· For Guana Cay, Abaco, preparatory works are in progress for the installation of a submarine cable. This would be part of the “Cay Circuit” to improve services to a number of the Abaco Cays. A Town Meeting to apprise residents of the project and to receive their feedback is scheduled for tomorrow (26th February 2015).
· For Ragged Island, designs for the upgrade of facilities to accommodate the new Defence Force Site are being undertaken.
Water and Sewerage Corporation
I move to the Water and Sewerage Corporation.
The Water and Sewerage Corporation’s main focus continues to be the implementation of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan programme. During the period July 2014 to December 2014, the following was accomplished:
· The Diagnostic Report of existing sewer infrastructure was prepared. This will enable the completion of the Master Plan for the island of New Providence by early 2nd quarter of 2015.
· Draft legislation and bye-laws for URCA was prepared to facilitate URCA becoming the economic regulator for the sector. The legislation will also provide for the establishment of an environmental regulator (that is, a Groundwater Protection Unit) within the Ministry of Environment & Housing; and re-establish the Corporation free of regulatory functions.
· As I reported to this House early last month, the 2014 target for reduction in water losses was exceeded by almost 1Million Imperial Gallons per day resulting in overall reduction of losses from 6.9Migd to less than 4Migd. If the Corporation maintains its present savings, over a ten-year period, more than 10 billion gallons of water will be saved. This saving in water production will be accompanied by savings 7 million gallons of diesel and 33 gigawatt-hours of electricity. This is equivalent energy to power over 600 households and over 800 vehicles for 10 years. That is what you call savings.
In addition to those accomplishments, Mr. Speaker
The Corporation set about its plan to expand partnerships with the private sector through outsourcing of various activities and offer opportunities to its employees to improve effectiveness and efficiency.
While Government subsidies to the Corporation remain high with $20Million allocated in the 2014-2015 budget, and an additional $15 Million in operational subsidies approved, this represents a $4Million reduction over previous highs. This reduction is the beginning of the Corporation transforming itself into a financially and operationally sustainable entity through improved service and efficiency.
Other initiatives include continued focus on water quality improvements through aggressive replacement of unlined iron pipes and post-treatment improvements, along with replacement of gas chlorination with a safer form of disinfectant. WSC has also introduced e-notification and recently implemented online payment to make it more convenient for customers to receive and pay their bills.
Expansion projects are also planned or ongoing in New Providence (Pinewood Gardens, Coral Lakes) and the Family Islands such as Mayaguana, Long Island, and Andros in order to address longstanding water supply challenges.
I now move to the national flag carrier, Bahamasair.
Like the majority of airlines around the world, and particularly state-owned regional carriers, Bahamasair is faced with many challenges. Competition, labour and the aged turboprop fleet are the major issues affecting Bahamasair’s financial position today.
While competition has significantly impacted Bahamasair’s revenue base, Government views this as healthy and necessary because it has created hundreds of job opportunities, reduced airfares, and provided the consumer with alternatives.
Bahamasair’s labour cost is presently just over 44% of total revenues, which is much higher than industry average (that is, 26-27%). Uniquely, Bahamasair is associated with four trade unions representing staff locally and in Florida. Unfortunately, Industrial Agreements between the company and unions have expired for over three years and this gives cause for great concern. Progressive negotiations are underway with all unions, and hopefully, conclusions would be reached before June 30th.
I am pleased to advise this House that, in December 2014, Government approved the Bahamasair’s proposal to replace the five Dash8-300 aircraft with two 70-seat ATR72-600, and three 50-seat ATR42-600 aircraft. The fleet mix will increase capacity on high density routes such as Freeport, Marsh Harbour and Florida without having to increase frequency. From an economic standpoint, this makes good economic sense.
Over the past three years, Bahamasair’s financial position has improved. The airline’s annual deficit was reduced from $26.3 million five years ago to $15 million last year. This year’s deficit is projected to near $20 million. However, this year’s budget includes the recently introduced business licence fee and value added tax.
Notwithstanding its challenges, the figures bear out that Bahamasair is lessening its burden on the taxpayer. It, therefore, has to explore options for profitability. The domestic market is saturated with competition, but with greater diversity among tourist markets, turnaround is indeed possible.
I am advised that in view of the significant investment to be made towards replacement of the turboprop fleet, Bahamasair is giving serious consideration to its rebranding to include changing the aircraft paint scheme, re-introducing catering services on flights over 45 minutes, changing staff uniforms, and expansion of charter services.
Bahamasair recently had to take the regrettable decision to reduce its seating capacity on the Deadman’s Cay route from 50 to 37 seats following an international runway assessment, which determined that the hill at the eastern end of the runway poses a challenge to safety if the aircraft exceeds a specified weight. This represents a significant financial loss to Bahamasair as it serves Long Island on a daily basis. In fact, this restriction accounts for 4,745 seats annually. Going forward, Government may need to consider whether expanding the runway at the western end is feasible so as to restore the airport and airlines to desired capacities. Alternatively, consideration may be given to building a new airport at another site.
Mother Nature was very kind to The Bahamas and Bahamasair last year. We had only two close calls from Tropical Storms Bertha and Cristobal in the south eastern islands. This resulted in cancellation of two flights into Providenciales and one each to Mayaguana and Inagua. There was no disruption to services and fleet evacuation was not necessary.
I cannot turn away from Bahamasair without raising the issue of their pilots’ unprovoked and unwarranted sick-out on the 22nd and 23rd of December last year. I have already condemned the action as unconscionable. It was taken at a most inconvenient time when Bahamians and tourists were most vulnerable and hard-pressed for time. Bahamasair’s pilots would wish right-thinking, intelligent to people believe that seventeen out of seventeen pilots were sick on the afternoon of December 22nd, and thirty-eight of thirty-eight pilots were sick on the morning and the afternoon of December 23rd.
These pilots added insult to injury by deliberately blocking management’s efforts to provide alternative airlift by misleading their U.S. counterparts, who in turn issued threats of blacklisting pilots of two airlines contracted to operate Bahamasair’s flights.
As of January 20th, the cost of this illegal industrial action was calculated at $822,321.29, and claims for ticket refunds, hotel, car, and related expenses continue to pour in. This does not sit well with Bahamian taxpayers, who are the beneficial owners of Bahamasair.
The Straw Market Authority
The Straw Market Authority (SMA) is the baby on the block when it comes to Corporations; however, they are holding their own, advancing its significant role in the frontline of the Tourism industry.
The Authority continues to work with the Stall Holders and service providers to ensure that the markets Downtown, Cable Beach, Fort Fincastle, Fort Charlotte and Paradise Island operate in the most efficient manner and are first class facilities.
The Authority is making in-roads by systematically addressing vendor attrition as a consequence of death, retirement, and transfers around the markets. For the most part, it has not been easy to communicate that where some policies and procedures align with historical practices, the Authority is also about finding new ways of doing business. In this regard, the training programmes for staff and vendors have been enhanced and are continuing.
The unfortunate reality is that World Famous Downtown Straw Market, which is relatively new, just three years old, is in a serious state of disrepair as outlined in a report by engineers at my Ministry. Inappropriate and inadequate flooring in the wood carvers’ area is lifting. The current door motors are not for commercial use and have a life span of only three (3) years and presents a challenge to the operation. These are urgent works that must be carried out before the hurricane season. Additionally, immediate attention must be given to the air conditioning system, the fire sprinkler system, and the lighting systems. All of the restroom fixtures must be switched out as they are not commercial grade. The Authority is currently installing a CCTV system in the Market.
Before I conclude, I move to a subject that I never hide my interest in – and that is unemployment, particularly among young men who should be seeking stability so as to live out vocations as head of families. My Ministry’s actions to ensure that as many people as possible share in whatever we can offer to small contractors and tradespersons has been tangible evidence of my commitment.
While we must do all that we can to reduce unemployment, much needs to be said and done to spark and nurture an entrepreneurial spirit among our people. Too many of us believe that we need a whole lot of money to start a business. Entrepreneurial opportunities are boundless. Immigrants come to this country without a dollar to call their own; yet, they market their skills and talents and create a revenue stream for themselves. We used to have that same spirit, Mr. Speaker. Our parents and grandparents got out there and made things happen for them. Especially among the women, they may not have gone out, but certainly, they made money at home…sewing, straw craft, catering, and the like. I call on us to continue in that vein.
Department of Physical Planning
The Development Control Division of the Department of Physical Planning is responsible for processing a variety of planning applications including building permits, shop licenses, home-based businesses, preliminary supports of approval, land severances and advertisements. Our data reveals that the number of each type of application has generally risen from year to year. I was happy to note the incremental increase to 12% in home-based business applications over the years 2011 – 2014 and the 94.6% increase in shop licence applications for the same period. These figures indicate a resurgence of the entrepreneurial spirit. When we further examine data coming out of the Department of Physical Planning, we also see a 41% increase in preliminary support of application over the same period. These are good facts. The economy is indeed turning around and these numbers are indicative of that.
As we seek to lay the foundation for moving the economy further through infrastructure, the Department of Physical Planning continues work on revisions to the Planning and Subdivision Act. Work is also progressing the draft of a Sign Code. This regulation document is sorely needed to control the proliferation of illegal signage that continue to appear in and around our most precious amenity areas including scenic drives, roundabouts and major road junctions. The Code will balance the needs of the business community and sign industry with the need to protect the built and natural environment from visual clutter. The new Code will also take into account advanced technology in the advertising industry while imposing new penalties and a fee structure.
The Department is also currently involved in two critical projects that will aid management of forest and coastal resources of The Bahamas in the long term. These projects are the IDB-funded Bahamas Pine Islands Forest Mangrove Innovation & Integration and Integrated Coastal Zone Management Projects. These projects do not require direct financial contribution from the Department’s budget, but will require extensive involvement of our planning officers.
I express sincerest thanks to the Member for Golden Gates, whose Ministry secured much needed office space for the Department of Physical Planning. They moved into their spanking new office space at the end of September 2014. The space is conducive to more productive work and for provision of services to a public that deserve no less.
The Member for Centreville says that he is satisfied “that we have already achieved against great odds [and] there is no challenge we cannot meet and no obstacle we cannot overcome.” I too am satisfied and I can confirm that we have the wherewithal to achieve much and that we have weathered the global economic turndown well. Accordingly, I look to a bright future and wholeheartedly support the resolution on behalf of the people of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador.
 Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition (SCADA) System
 Home based business applications – 3,348 (2011), 3,762 (2014)
 Shop licence applications – 886 (2011), 1,724 (2014)
 Preliminary support of applications – 124 (2011), 175 (2014)