With $30 million already invested in the controversial STAR Academy project over the last four years, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said the government will have to pump roughly $10 million more into it in order to bring the project to completion.
“We have no choice,” Bannister told The Nassau Guardian.
“Too much of the Bahamian people’s money has gone into it.”
The STAR Academy was the brainchild of former Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald and former Prime Minister Perry Christie.
In May 2015, Christie announced that government intended to lease the former Bahamas Academy on Wulff Road for the development of the STAR Academy, a government-run facility for at-risk youth.
In June 2017, during a presentation in the House of Assembly, Bannister said the Christie administration had spent a total $29,539,785.93 on the project, noting that the previous administration had authorized $6,891,333.60 for demolition works and to undertake the first two phases of construction.
He also noted how weeks before the last general election, tens of millions of dollars were approved for the project, which sits on land not owned by the government.
It was later revealed that the property was owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and that the Christie administration never signed the lease agreement for the use of the church’s land for the development of the academy.
In 2017, Pastor Leonard Johnson, who was the head of the regional office of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at the time, said the church was in discussion with Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd on how to proceed on the matter.
However, in a recent interview, Bannister revealed that the government still does not have a lease for the property.
“The land is owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” he said.
“We have no lease to the land. We don’t own the land. We’re spending $30-something million to put a building on it out of your money.”
He added, “The school that we’re building on Wulff Road that’s going to cost the government over $30 million, the former administration started it on land that the government does not own, the government does not have a lease to STAR Academy.”
Pastor Kenny Deveaux, who heads the South Bahamas Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, declined to comment on the matter when reached.
Speaking about the timeline of completion for the project, Bannister recently said, “It depends on funding and we will come to the Parliament with budget estimates very soon and you will be able to see what kind of funding we get so we can do the things we need to do.”
Asked how much the Minnis administration had pumped into the project, Bannister said, “I shall speak to those figures during the budget debate.”
Lloyd declined to comment on that matter, only saying, “I will tell you next month.”
Education: Goldsmith, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice