L. Ryan Pinder Member for the Elizabeth Constituency
Address to Parliament
ROAD TRAFFIC (AMENDMENT), 2011
October 26, 2011
Mr. Speaker …
Today I rise on behalf of the constituents of Elizabeth. Today we are here to debate the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill that, in general, aims to provide laws in the following 4 areas:
· Require liability insurance for Bahamian vehicle operators.
· Impose certain seat belt and car seat requirements.
· Provides a framework for violations of driving under the influence and related testing by way of breath, blood or urine.
· Prescribing situations when in a car accident the driver is not required to call the police.
These are notable amendments, however, we, especially here in Nassau, and especially in the constituency I represent, Elizabeth, feel the impact of a poorly planned and enacted road improvement program. An infrastructure project that has caused much inconvenience, suffering and financial loss to thousands of Bahamians.
Road Improvement Project in General
The road infrastructure project started out poorly with the closures and significant disruptions on Blue Hill Road and Market Street. It is well documented how many businesses and residents were severely inconvenienced, resulting in scores of businesses closing, directly putting pressure on the unemployment in the country. But, this Government did not learn from its mistakes, but instead made things worse for Bahamians the island over.
I am informed, and it is my opinion, that because of political pressure and poor public relations, this FNM Government decided to double the amount of corridors being worked on at any one time, providing tremendous inconvenience and financial peril to thousands of Bahamians. The method in which this FNM Government went about its attempt to accelerate the road infrastructure project is evidence of a government choosing politics over people, an all out assault on the Bahamian people and businesses.
At what cost and when – The FNM Government is also not being completely honest to the Bahamian people on the cost of this project, and how long will it take. We have all witnessed instances where newly paved roads have to be dug up. Government corporations such as B.E.C. have publicly stated that they were not properly consulted, resulting in the possibility that in the neat future the new roads will have to be dug up to accommodate utility expansion. What is the additional cost to Bahamians for this mismanagement and what appears to be inadequate implementation of the infrastructure project? The IDB published a program to provide at least $15 million in additional funding for the project, is this accurate, is it enough? What are the current cost overuns? What is the expected cost overuns by the end of the project? Could it be in the range of 1/3 of the original contract price? How much more than $120 million will the Bahamian people be forced to pay back? These are unanswered questions that the Bahamians people deserve to know, after all, it is their money paying for this poorly managed and executed infrastructure project.
Also, given the tremendous inconvenience to Bahamians, this Government should be honest on when it anticipates completion of the project. First it was a November completion, then it was a January completion, not is it a vague “first quarter completion.” What is the truth, because as it looks, this road project won’t be completed until after the PLP becomes the Government once again. The longer this project takes, the more delays that there are, the more Bahamians suffer, the more business go out of business, more are added to the unemployed. What is the true anticipated completion date? Be honest and straightforward with the Bahamian people.
Unlike most in this honourable place, I can personally speak to the devastating nature, and complete disregard to Bahamians and their businesses, during this project. For what seemed like months Robinson Road was closed, essentially shutting down area businesses. This happened throughout the Bahamas, with no regard or consultation. But I can also speak first hand regarding the challenges and complete disregard for Bahamians during the roadwork’s on Prince Charles Drive, which just so happens to be the current constituency boundary between Fox Hill and Elizabeth, two constituencies represented by the PLP.
Road Project and Elizabeth
I personally attended the various meetings that the Ministry of Works held. I must add, these meetings in my opinion were not done for the right reasons, to consult areas residents and businesses, but were done as a public relations exercise, to provide certain political cover to the Government in a poorly administered project. Let me explain why I believe this to be the case, choosing politics of people.
Lack of Input – I remember the first public meeting where there was a discussion on the roadworks on Prince Charles, where the representatives from the Ministry of Works presented their plan and asked for input. I remember one of my constituents recommending that instead of closing the road, that the sides of Prince Charles be graded so that traffic could flow while the work is being done laying the water main down the middle of the road. The representatives from the Ministry were very receptive to ideas of the residents and vowed to take the recommendations to the Minister. Clearly the Government was not as understanding as those working for the Ministry of Works as none of the suggestions were even considered. The very next day Prince Charles was closed and the asphalt was being dug up. Complete disregard for the residents of Elizabeth and surrounding areas.
To make matters worse, the Government proceeded with the closing of Prince Charles without proper consultation with area businesses. In the areas we have businesses such as Blanco Bleach, Superwash, Robin Hood, Pinders (no relation) just to name a few, all employing constituents of Elizabeth. Robin Hood had just weeks before opened their multi million dollar store, employing dozens of my constituents. Because of the lack of cooperation by this FNM Government in conducting the roadwork exercise on Prince Charles, Robin Hood had to close its doors, causing dozens of my constituents in Elizabeth to join the unemployment lines.
Disregard for Resident’s Safety – A fundamental component of the roadwork’s on Prince Charles, and an element that directly affects the constituents of Elizabeth was the road re-direction. At the very first public meeting, and at every single public meeting thereafter, I personally made recommendations as to the protection of residents of Elizabeth. All of us who have driven out east are very familiar with the road redirection, off Prince Charles, down Beatrice, crossing through Seabreeze Lane to Fox Hill Road. This redirection posed multiple safety concerns to the residents of Elizabeth, all that I raised with the Ministry of Works, all ignored by this Government.
The redirection resulted in an exponential increase in the traffic down Seabreeze Lane. I personally raised a few concerns and made a few recommendations on this. I recommended that instead of redirecting all the traffic down Seabreeze Lane, they should split the traffic between Seabreeze Lane and Joe Farrington Road, minimizing the traffic in any particular area. The increase in traffic volume exclusively down Seabreeze Lane raised concerns about increase in crime such as property theft, but also caused significant concern from my constituents regarding the safety of residents, and particularly children who might be playing near the streets. The recommendation to split the traffic to Joe Farrington Road was intended to address these concerns. The representatives from the Ministry of Works were receptive and said they would deliver my recommendations. Nothing came of these recommendations from the Government, the concerns of the residents of Elizabeth were totally ignored, putting politics ahead of people.
Sandilands Village Road – I expressed similar concerns regarding Sandilands Village Road. See, Seabreeze Lane has speed bumps, but Sandilands Village Road did not. The residents of Sandilands Village Road were very concerned that traffic would become a diversion from Seabreeze Lane, causing a high volume of traffic speeding down the road, putting residents, and particularly children at risk. At every public meeting, and private correspondence with the Ministry of Works I recommended that speed bumps be placed on Sandilands Village Road. These requests were all initially ignored by the Government. We even discussed stationing a police officer at the access road to Sandilands Village Road to ensure that the traffic flowed properly. This recommendation likewise was not followed through with. It wasn’t until there was a series of car accidents, some causing injury to people, and damage to property that the Government acquiesced to the request for speed bumps on Sandilands Village Road. A Government choosing politics ahead of the safety of its people.
Doris Johnson High School – It was promised at the very first meeting that the timeline for Prince Charles had the roadworks completed before school resumed in September of this year. Clearly this didn’t happen as portions of Prince Charles Drive is today closed. I was concerned about the safety of the children, especially those who walk to school from areas within my constituency and suggested at the beginning of the Prince Charles project that a designated pedestrian zone be identified for the safety of the residents. This was well received by the Ministry of Works representatives, but for some reason, the Government did not have it installed. I made this recommendation of no fewer than two Cabinet Ministers and the Permanent Secretary.
Much to my surprise when Doris Johnson High School opened this term, there was no pedestrian walkway as I had requested for the protection of the children. In fact, the students had to walk through an active construction zone, dodging heavy machinery, and walking around and through ditches and mounds of dirt and fill just to get to school. The dangers to the students as a result of the negligent development of Prince Charles Drive placed hundreds of children at risk. Another example of choosing politics over people.
Statement by Zhivargo Laing – But don’t take my word for it, I am sure that many Bahamians, and specifically constituents of Elizabeth heard the Minister of State for Finance, the member for Marco City last night on the news. When discussing the roadworks, in his usual manner he was very dismissive of the people, he essentially said that those who have suffered during this roadwork project are a by-product as they believe the quality of life of Bahamians will improve. Those who live in Elizabeth, those who lost their jobs as a result of the mismanagement of this road project, those businesses who have closed or possibly suffered irreparable damage, are you comforted by the fact your quality of life might improve? I think not, and to the Member for Marco City – shame on you to address Bahamians and the constituents of Elizabeth in this fashion. People are genuinely hurting because of your Government’s negligent actions, show some compassion. That interview last night was a clear indication of choosing politics over people by a Government. To the residents of Elizabeth – this Government says too bad, your suffering is just a by product and you should accept it. I say as your representative, you deserve better, you deserve a Government who cares, a Government that governs in your best interest.
We have heard my colleague from Englerston discuss the specifics of the legislation. I did want to take the opportunity, however, to raise a practical question as to one component of this legislation, the sections that address when police officers are not required to be present at minor traffic incidents. In order to honour a claim, insurance companies generally require a police report to, among other things, identify who might be at fault in the accident. If there is an accident, and there is damage that an owner wants to make an insurance claim, is there an avenue then to get the necessary police report? Practically will this cause a problem making insurance claims? I recognize the advantages of this provision, to speed up minor accidents, not keep police officers preoccupied in minor matters. I just want to recommend or ensure that practically this legislation works.
With respect to the seat belt laws and the requirement of liability insurance, although we can understand the practicality of these provisions, has there been any consideration to the increased cost to the common Bahamian. The cost of insurance will go up. I just ask, has there been an analysis of how much more the ordinary Bahamian will have to pay in insurance.
The management of this road infrastructure project has been nothing but negligent by this FNM Government. Delays upon delays, cost overruns that could pay for any temporary job program maybe twice over by the time its finished, hundreds of Bahamian owned businesses either shut down or irreparably damaged, increased crime in areas of diversions, frustrations to thousands of Bahamians and risk to the safety of Bahamians. All of this the responsibility of this FNM Government. When a Government undertakes such projects it is to do so with the responsibility of being as least intrusive to the well-being of Bahamians as possible. This Government did not do this, this Government believes in politics before people, this Government decided to put Bahamians in hardship in hope of winning the next election. This won’t work, the Bahamian people, the constituents of Elizabeth will remember how you treated them.