PM announces new ministry

Central Grand Bahama MP Iram Lewis has been appointed minister of state in the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Recovery and Reconstruction — a new ministry.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis made the announcement yesterday, three weeks after Hurricane Dorian decimated parts of Grand Bahama and Abaco.

“I am pleased that he has accepted this great responsibility on behalf of the people of Abaco, Grand Bahama and indeed all of The Bahamas,” said Minnis at a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

“Because of the historic circumstance of this generational tragedy, this new ministry will help to focus and to coordinate the national response for the recovery and reconstruction of Grand Bahama and Abaco – respectively our second and third most populated islands.

“The main body of the ministry will function as an authority similar to the Public Hospitals Authority. The authority will be responsible for the reconstruction of Abaco and East Grand Bahama.”

Minnis said the authority will have an executive director and a board of directors that will oversee the redevelopment of the impacted islands.

“The board will comprise of professional entities; for example, the president of the chamber of commerce in Abaco,” he said.

“We’ll have a representative from East Grand Bahama. We’ll have architects, engineers, businessmen, bankers, professionals, so as to make decisions. They will have the authority to contract with other entities be they facilities for environmental, facilities for cleaning, etc.

“They will also have the authority to contract town planners if necessary, to contract architects if that’s necessary.”

Minnis said they will have the “mandate to redesign, rebuild both Abaco and East Grand Bahama without any interference or government obstructed bureaucracy.”

It will also have “the powers and instruments of other such authorities with the ability to act with great flexibility and rapidly,” according to the prime minister.

Minnis said the ministry will function from the OPM.

Newly appointed Minister of State Iram Lewis (right) is congratulated by Golden Gates MP Michael Foulkes during a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday. TONYA ALEXIS

He said the government has not yet allocated a budget for the new ministry.

“We go back to Cabinet on Tuesday and I am certain that the entire matter will be discussed,” the prime minister said.

“…You must remember, we are facing difficult times. We are facing a disaster. …Two of our economic engines have been decimated.

“Abaco generates about $120 million per year for the Bahamian economy and Grand Bahama generates about $137 million per year for the Bahamian economy. We must make changes, whatever changes are necessary.”

The prime minister said Lewis will “help to coordinate with Cabinet colleagues” and “to coordinate the development of, and the functioning and the work of the ministry.”

He said the minister of state will also help “to coordinate with the leadership of NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) and with the hurricane relief and redevelopment coordinators on Grand Bahama and Abaco.”

“It is critical that we have effective coordination, including with international partners and agencies,” Minnis said.

Functions and powers

The prime minister said the ministry will have seven key responsibilities which will include “relations with NEMA” and “relations with the Family Island consultative committees and administrators.”

Minnis said the ministry will work with NEMA in the “pre-positioning of hurricane relief stores, foodstuff, water and supplies; [and the] pre-positioning of life rafts, life jackets, generators, chainsaws, jet skis, tools and heavy equipment and other material to provide immediate services to affected areas.”

He said the ministry will also work with NEMA for “consultation and training of residents in vulnerable communities.”

Addressing the new ministry’s role in disaster preparedness, Minnis said, “Disaster preparedness will include working with local authorities in the development of plans and the construction of high capacity, reinforced hurricane shelters on high ground in vulnerable communities throughout The Bahamas.”

He added, “Disaster preparedness will also include implementing and overseeing the enforcement of mandatory evacuation orders. I noted that the government is still in the consultation stage on legislation for these proposed orders. No final decision [has] been made in terms of legislation.”

The ministry will also handle “enhanced” disaster response measures, including the coordination of immediate relief and response efforts with NEMA and other organizations.

The prime minister said the ministry will be empowered “to marshal local resources and manpower and to issue short-term contracts for any necessary rescue or recovery efforts, the removal of debris and road clearance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster in affected communities.”

The ministry will prepare comprehensive assessments and proposals for central government regarding funding needs for reconstruction and rebuilding.

Minnis said it will also secure the services of planners and architects who “will work with local residents to create plans for rebuilding connected to the availability of funds [and] become a long-range planning task force”.

“As a part of its disaster reconstruction work, the ministry will coordinate the longer-term rebuilding process and provide comprehensive short, medium and long-term recovery assessments; determining preferred options; prioritizing lists of recovery projects; [and] provide policy guidelines for use of finances,” Minnis said.

The ministry will also be tasked with preparing information for local residents on financial matters and the changing state of local services.

The prime minister said the ministry will have to secure Cabinet approval for all medium and long-term plans.

Speaking about his role in relation to the new ministry, Minnis said, “…I will guide the larger policy objectives of the ministry, help to coordinate the full governmental response to Hurricane Dorian, lead efforts to seek and to promote domestic and international investments and reconstruction initiatives on Abaco and Grand Bahama…help coordinate new public infrastructure and reconstruction projects on Abaco and Grand Bahama, and I will ensure that red tape and bureaucratic roadblocks are cut through and removed.”

The government will table legislation for the ministry in the House of Assembly on October 2, according to Minnis.

He said it will be debated on October 3.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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