Although security and safety are still major concerns on Abaco, many Hurricane Dorian storm evacuees are being forced to return to the island due to the high cost of living on New Providence, Abaco Chamber of Commerce Director Krista Albury said yesterday.
“Security has been and will continue to be a major concern on Abaco,” she said.
“There is an increased presence from the police and defense force, but at this time, we still have reports coming in from locals on the cays and on the mainland of persons looting their property while they’re not there. Cars are still being stolen, sometimes several times over. My car, in particular, when I left it three weeks ago, I returned a week ago and the tires had been stolen off my car.
“I was only off of Abaco for about a week and a half before I returned, so within a week and a half, they stole my tires.
“So, this is becoming a very high point of contention, but we have many Abaconians who are faced with no other choice but returning to Abaco. They have no income. They can’t afford Nassau.
“To get a job in Nassau, you still need a place to sleep, so they are choosing to go back to an environment which is not only unsafe due to security concerns, but also due to the state of the places they’re returning to, whether or not they’re returning back to homes that are structurally sound, whether or not they have windows or a functional roof to keep the elements out. But, they are making that choice because they have no other option here.
“So, it is a sad state for many Abaconians right now because they are trying to get back on their feet, but first, last and security in Nassau is not something most of us had in mind that we’d have to be paying around September 1.
“So, they’re trying to find accommodations over here. The shelters are shutting down and getting more and more condensed and these people cannot manage to come up with a reasonable amount of money to be able to sustain life in Nassau, so they’re choosing to return back to Abaco.”
The government has already cleared land to make way for temporary housing on Abaco.
The Family Relief Centre, which is expected to cost the government $6.4 million, will consist of the installation of 250 dome structures that can each house four to five people.
The domes will be in place for at least three years.
Hurricane Dorian, one of the strongest hurricanes on record in the Atlantic, moved over Abaco and Grand Bahama early last month, leaving ruin in its wake. So far, 65 have been confirmed dead and thousands displaced. In the days and weeks following the storm, many complained of looting on Abaco, where its capital, Marsh Harbour, was among the hardest hit areas.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis indicated that a curfew may be considered for the island.
However, Minister of Security Marvin Dames has assured that law enforcement officers on the ground have the situation under control.
Minnis recently said that those who break the law on Abaco will be prosecuted.
“Law and order are essential for rebuilding. We have had to re-establish the workings and the instruments of government on the ground,” he said.
“This is the largest deployment of government personnel in the history of the country in the aftermath of a natural disaster.”
Supermarket to open
Albury said that some businesses are planning to open their doors soon, and when Maxwell’s Supermarket, the island’s main supermarket, opens on November 7, other businesses will also be able to operate inside the same space.
“There are many businesses that are going to be setting up inside of Maxwell’s for ease of doing business in Abaco,” she said.
“So, people will be able to find more than just Maxwell’s inside of Maxwell’s. There will be a bank. I believe it’s Commonwealth Bank that is opening up inside there, and many other businesses. I have not, at this time, gotten a list of names yet, who will also be given, essentially, booths inside of Maxwell’s to be able to function.”
However, she said many business owners are being held up due to issues with value-added tax (VAT).
“Right now we’re still waiting to hear from the government as it concerns VAT regulations on Abaco,” she said.
“Our biggest issue right now, that many businesses are facing, is that records pertaining to VAT from the previous quarter are still being requested by the government, but many businesses over there have lost all records.
“…I have heard that [the Department of] Inland Revenue is asking for local businesses to come in and speak to them, but until those government departments actually get set up on Abaco, many business owners right now are trapped in a way into paying VAT in order to make up, but they have no idea how much that may be in some cases.”
Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said the government intends to amend the Value Added Tax (VAT) Act, 2014, to ensure exemptions for residents on Abaco and Grand Bahama following Hurricane Dorian.
Days following the passage of Dorian, the government implemented a 90-day exigency order for the tax-free import into the affected islands of medicine and medical supplies, building materials, bedding materials, mosquito netting, electrical and plumbing fixtures and materials, household furniture, furnishings and appliances, electrical generators and other items.
On Wednesday, the government extended the order to December 31, 2019.
Turnquest said the VAT amendment will aim “to provide for the waivers that are covered by the exigency order at the moment”.
However, it is unclear how it will affect VAT filing for the quarter before Dorian hit.
Albury said that slow cleanup efforts have also hindered progress for some.
“Many people over there, especially in the business community, are waiting for further heavy machinery to get over there to assist with cleaning up of their facilities to be able to start looking at rebuilding or re-opening,” she said.