Three weeks after Hurricane Dorian decimated Abaco and Grand Bahama, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis said yesterday the government could’ve done more to protect lives during the storm.
At least 53 people have already been confirmed dead as a result of the storm, according to authorities.
During a press conference at the opposition leader’s office on Bay Street, Davis said, “That is the catastrophe here.
“We can replace infrastructure, the bricks, the mortars. We can rebuild but we can’t bring back lives… The key in these matters, the effort should be: ‘How do we save lives?’
“The building codes, that’s fine but you know you can strengthen them and the building can blow down. We can always rebuild but when you lose a life, that’s the end and sadly I don’t know whether sufficient concern was placed on saving lives rather than protecting buildings, protecting the mortars and the assets.”
Davis said he met residents from impacted areas in the aftermath of the storm who claimed that government had put a heightened focus on the protection of buildings on Abaco and Grand Bahama in the days before Dorian.
When asked if the government could’ve done more to save residents on impacted islands, he replied, “I think more could’ve been done, yes.”
He noted that the government should’ve taken the lead of the previous administration.
“When you talk about the mandatory evacuation, we evacuated residents out of Inagua, Acklins, Crooked Island when [Hurricane] Joaquin was coming,” Davis said.
“It is said it wasn’t mandatory but I think some coerced persuasion – perhaps a better word – was used to ensure that they left those areas; and the same thing could’ve been done here. Failing that, having a true appreciation of the consequences of this storm, if the prime minister had recalled Parliament and had some discussions, we could’ve considered declaring a state of emergency.”
Despite what Davis contends, there was no government evacuation of residents in islands impacted by Hurricane Joaquin when it hit The Bahamas in 2015.
In fact, many residents in the southern Bahamas were unaware a hurricane was coming until it was upon them.
Dorian is the strongest hurricane to ever hit The Bahamas, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (mph) and gusts of 200 mph.
The deadly storm was stationary over Grand Bahama for more than 30 hours.
Davis said officials informed the opposition of the potential severity of Dorian on August 30 – two days before the storm.
“…If on that Friday they knew that, they had the sufficient time to take all the precautionary measures for the protection of lives; forget property, lives,” Davis said.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that the government will designate Abaco and Grand Bahama as “special economic recovery zones” for three years.
He said the zones would be modeled after the Over-the-Hill Initiative to “enable the communities impacted by Hurricane Dorian to benefit from a broad range of tax breaks and incentives.”
Minnis also said the government will also establish a $10 million loan guarantee and equity financing program which will allow qualifying Bahamian small and medium-sized businesses to secure up to $500,000 in financing “to fund restoration of businesses or the recreation of new businesses.”
However, yesterday, Davis said the fund was not enough.
“Given the extent of the damage sustained by businesses in Grand Bahama, an allocation of $10 million announced by the prime minister and earmarked to assist the business community is woefully insufficient and should be increased to at least $100 million if the government is serious about supporting Grand Bahama,” the opposition leader said.
Asked where the extra funds would come from, Davis said, “I’ve always been of the view that our tax structure is sufficient to bear the cost of businesses and services and it’s what this government has failed to do and has contributed to the inefficient collection of revenue.”
Davis said the government would find the extra $90 million for Grand Bahama if revenue is properly collected.