During his first national address of the year, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis revealed last night that he will sign a heads of agreement for a $300 million five-star residential, resort and marina development on South Abaco on Thursday.
The prime minister spoke at length about recovery efforts on Grand Bahama and Abaco in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, the destructive and deadly Category 5 storm that ravaged the two islands last September.
“Further, I am pleased to announce tonight that the National Economic Council has approved the project for the construction of a five-star residential, resort and marina development in South Abaco,” Minnis said in his televised address.
“The capital investment is approximately $300 million dollars and will help in the reconstruction and revival of Abaco.
“This development will include branded hotels and a full-size golf course.
“The heads of agreement for this development is scheduled to be signed tomorrow (Thursday) in Abaco.
“The project is expected to employ approximately 600 people during the construction phase, and thereafter.
“The project will provide a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities for Abaconians and Bahamians in a number of areas including: agriculture, fisheries, heritage tourism and many other areas.
“We will also expand and enhance the Sandy Point Airport.”
The announcement will likely be welcomed by many Abaconians who are struggling to piece together their lives, homes and businesses after Hurricane Dorian.
Thousands lost their homes and more than 70 people died during the storm.
There is no electricity on Marsh Harbour, the Abaco cays, East End, Grand Bahama, and other portions of those major islands.
Dorian is estimated to have cost The Bahamas $3.4 billion in losses and damage, Minnis noted.
Recently, the government announced that a combination of lost revenue from Abaco and Grand Bahama in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, along with associated spending and un-budgeted items not related to the storm, is projected to push the country’s fiscal deficit for 2019/2020 to a record $677.5 million.
The government is projected to borrow an additional $587.9 million to cover the revenue shortfall and expenditure increase.
The opposition has lambasted the move, calling it “record borrowing”.
Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis said The Bahamas is “headed toward disaster”.
But Minnis defended the decision.
“When we assumed office in May 2017, public finances were in a disastrous state,” he said.
“Our predecessors borrowed money in large amounts. They also misspent money in large amounts.
“We stabilized the country’s finances through honesty, discipline, rational budgeting and a variety of financial reforms that have been widely praised by respectable international institutions.
“Those decisions now give us the headroom to borrow, to help with reconstruction and renewal.
“As the minister of finance told Parliament earlier this month, my government will borrow just under $600 million to help with the Dorian response and essential capital, and other programs, to help spur economic growth and more jobs, and economic opportunities for the Bahamian people.
“In times of crisis, it is the responsibility of government to act – and we will.
“This borrowing is essential and necessary in ensuring that Bahamians have the help they need as we emerge from the worst storm in our history.
“Those who criticize the borrowing seek to deny Bahamians in Abaco and Grand Bahama the help government should deliver in crises.”
The prime minister also revealed that the government has spent $1.7 million on social assistance to Bahamians affected by the storm.
He said the Department of Social Services assisted some 514 families and paid out more than $700,000 to Grand Bahamians.
“Also, appliance assistance continues with some 300 applications, processed to the value of $400,000,” he said.
“Unemployment assistance, through the National Insurance Board, provided help to those employees, affected by the temporary closure of businesses after the storm.”
In his address, Minnis also called for unity.
He noted that the task of restoration “is awesome and wide scale”.
“The work of rebuilding and restoration will take years,” he said.
“There is no quick fix. Dorian was a historic storm. By wind speed, it was the second strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic.
“Anyone who professes quick-fix solutions to the catastrophic damage caused, is not credible.”
Minnis pledged that “we will be there with you”.
“We are not afraid of criticism,” he said.
“If there are aspects of this reconstruction and rebuilding that we need to improve on, we will take your suggestions.
“Where we have failed to properly, or regularly, communicate with you on ongoing work, we pledge to improve our outreach.
“I understand the frustrations, and I assure you that we are working very hard to reconstruct public infrastructure, and to aid in the reconstruction of businesses and homes.
“We remain the people’s government.”