By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
OPPOSITION Leader Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday demanded a fiscal audit of the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Sciences Institute (BAMSI) after it was revealed that the government has spent nearly $50m on the project.
Dr Minnis questioned whether the more that $20m surplus from the government’s previous estimation on costs had been “pocketed”. The government has said it plans to invest $100m over the course of BAMSI’s development.
He renewed concerns over the lack of transparency in the project in an interview with The Tribune, adding that the government has yet to reveal its master plan for the institution.
“The minister of agriculture said they spent almost $50m,” Dr Minnis said.
“We would like to know where was that $50m spent? From our tour (of the BAMSI site), it was not spent there and from what we’ve seen they would need an additional $20m to complete what was there.
“We still need to see the plan. Where is the master plan so that we know what the intent was?”
During a press tour of the site on Monday, Agriculture Minister V Alfred Gray said the government had “spent almost $50 million already and we’ve just begun”.
However, Dr Minnis said this revelation on expenditure only raises more questions about the government’s fiscal management of the project.
Dr Minnis said: “The government needs to explain to the Bahamian people, how is it that $20 million was initially budgeted, they mentioned going back for another $7 million, and now they’ve spent nearly $50 million?
“Where is the other 30 odd million dollars, was it placed in someone’s pocket, and if so, whose? The Bahamian people want a breakdown of the money supposedly spent that the Ministry of Agriculture is talking about.”
He added: “We need to know where that money was spent and we need to account for that.”
In February, the government signed 14 contracts worth more than $20 million for the construction of five main buildings at BAMSI.
Although classes are expected to begin on September 29, construction of major buildings on the project have been hit with delays, according to BAMSI officials.
Mr Gray led a contingent of several government officials, BAMSI officials and media on a tour of the BAMSI site in North Andros on Monday, beginning at the Protected Agriculture and Greenhouse Department and ending at BAMSI’s commercial farm and main campus.
According to Livingston Forbes, chief architect for the Ministry of Public Works, the “major buildings” are 65-70 per cent complete and workers are now in the process of “installing windows and doors.”
A contractor for the site told The Tribune that construction is not expected to end until December or even January.
A little over a week ago, Dr Minnis led the media of a tour of the site and criticised the government over the construction delays.
Dr Minnis called on Prime Minister Perry Christie to reveal the “master plan” for the research institute amid claims of unpaid workers and victimisation.
At the time, he also forecast that the project would not bolster Mr Christie’s legacy as hoped, but further destroy it.