The Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) is ankle deep in requests for proposal (RFP) that have to be vetted for certain construction projects to begin on Grand Bahama and Abaco, and COVID-19 has only marginally slowed its progress as its stares down the one-year anniversary of the monster storm that birthed its division within the Office of the Prime Minister.
DRA Managing Director Kay Forbes-Smith told Guardian Business yesterday that the first COVID-19 lockdown came as the division’s small home repair program began to ramp up. She said despite this, $5 million has already been spent through the program to get Grand Bahama and Abaco homes back up to scratch.
But first the DRA had to deal with the debris strewn across both islands that was a mark of the storm’s intensity.
Forbes-Smith said the DRA has already spent $30 million and removed three million cubic yards of debris, deposited at several different debris management sites, that had to be contracted out across the two islands.
According to Forbes-Smith, a foreign contractor proposed a $100 million bill to remove the debris, but the DRA found local contractors to do the job and keep the money in the country.
“In chaos people come to you as an island nation and they try to get you to comply with some of the things they are saying because you’re new to this… and we are very new to handling a Category 5 storm,” said Forbes-Smith.
“And there are many people out there would say, ‘I would have done it differently, I probably could do it better’, but that’s after you have made the decision to do something. Sometimes you think you could have done it better, but everyone who is working in these spaces now they will come out of this much better than we are in.
“You learn by mistakes and I’m not saying mistakes might not have been made.”
DRA Projects Director Wendell Grant outlined myriad projects that still have to be completed by the DRA, including reconstruction and refurbishment of docks, schools, roads, bridges, etc.
But atop their list, Forbes-Smith said, is housing for those who were displaced by the storm and the RFPs they now have to work on during the recently announced two-week lockdown will move them closer toward the construction of temporary and permanent housing.
Forbes-Smith added that the DRA will also begin working on multi-use shelters for not only Abaco and Grand Bahama, but also the other islands in the country’s chain.
While the DRA’s areas of primary focus are health, housing, economy, education and environment, it has also added system improvement to its repertoire as it found systemic issues that need to be rectified on the affected islands.
Forbes-Smith said non-governmental organizations continue to assist the DRA with its work on the islands and donations continue to come in to assist with the rebuilding effort, though not as robustly as they came last year.
Speaking about the more than $1 billion in pledges the government received last year, Forbes-Smith reiterated that the lion’s share of the pledges were in the form of equity financing, while some came with fine print that she said the government could not yet green light.
Forbes-Smith said the DRA is allowed to raise its own money and intends to do so by monetizing the organic debris it has collected and collecting rent for the housing it will build.
“What we’re looking at now is how can the DRA fund itself, so that we can do more work in these communities and help rebuild these communities,” she said.
“We are looking at ways that we can monetize these projects that we are doing.”