Sunday, Nov 17, 2019
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A plan to fail

As the adage goes, to fail to plan is to plan to fail.

Jesting, political claptrap and unseemly rancor was the order of the day during the prime minister’s contribution to parliamentary debate Wednesday instead of an articulation of government’s plan to restore Abaco and Grand Bahama — a now consistent indication that this administration is content to rest on the invaluable benevolence of international aid groups over demonstrating leadership in the aftermath of crisis.

Reading from a recent post-Dorian report on The Bahamas by Standard and Poor’s (S&P), the prime minister highlighted the S&P’s view that, “Preliminary information available to us suggests that the long-term effects of the hurricane on credit quality could be limited provided that the government is able to respond in a timely manner to the various challenges posed by the natural disaster.”

Even as this opinion was read, the requisite proposed legislation to enable certain incentives for economic recovery on both islands had still not been tabled, keeping benefits for storm victims and the economies on both islands out of reach.

Further, the prime minister emphasized the S&P’s view that “it is possible that Dorian may not lead to meaningful deterioration in The Bahamas’ economy, fiscal performance, debt burden and external assessment”.

The fact is that the economies of Grand Bahama and Abaco — which together contributed approximately 14 percent of total government revenue last budget year — have suffered catastrophic setbacks, and the extent to which the country’s overall economic fallout can be held to sustainable levels will depend on a clear, workable and demonstrated plan for recovery.

Though the prime minister has stated the government’s desire to restore the economy of East Grand Bahama, he read a report from the Grand Bahama Power Company advising that restoration of electricity supply as existed in the area prior to Dorian is not economical, and that power generation and supply for the east requires “a government resettlement and community rebuild plan”.

Yet, no such plan was announced or foreshadowed.

Though he spoke to the need for debris cleanup, no announcement was made on contracts for cleanup in the east nor an explanation given on why such contracts have not yet been issued as has been done for Abaco.

Many hundreds on Grand Bahama are homeless post-Dorian, but temporary housing options have only been announced for Abaco. Those left homeless in the east have had to rely on close to 40 family-sized tents generously provided through local Rotary clubs.

No power, no large-scale cleanup and no housing translates into no recovery.

Government schools on Grand Bahama remain closed, even as the prime minister advised that all but two of the island’s public schools sustained only minor damage.

No plan was foreshadowed for the way forward for students in the east whose schools were leveled by the storm.

In his contribution to Wednesday’s debate, newly appointed minister Iram Lewis, who is now charged with oversight of reconstruction on both islands, gave no rebuilding plan or even an update on reconstruction efforts to-date.

And though Finance Minister Peter Turnquest highlighted categories of intended spending for donations and hurricane credit and insurance funding, no plan was communicated on how repairs and replacement of critical public infrastructure, such as Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport, will be financed.

Restoration can hardly be contemplated for the nation’s second-largest economy without a public hospital.

While government ministers harkened to a hope that lives will be restored and residents will be more resilient in the aftermath of Dorian, this will not happen by sheer faith, nor can it happen over the long term substantively at the hands of international agencies.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that a comprehensive plan to bring this hope to fruition may not exist, and in failing to craft and execute such a plan, the government runs the very real risk of overseeing failure in the economies and future of both islands.

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