By NATARIO McKENZIE
The Government is facing a combined $800million bill from Hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew combined, Prime Minister Perry Christie told Parliament yesterday.
“Hurricane Joaquin rebuilding efforts will cost the Government in the region of $200 million,” he said. “This will be paid for by foregone taxes, where you forgive taxes via exigency Orders.
“So forgiving taxes, concessions, exigency Orders, direct expenditure will be about $200 million. In the normal course it will take the Government years to rebuild, with replacement of public infrastructure being secondary to rebuilding homes. It is estimated that Hurricane Matthew could cost the Government in the region of $600 million.”
Given that the Bahamian insurance industry is estimating that total insured losses from Matthew will total around $400 million, the Prime Minister’s figures yesterday confirm that the country has suffered a $1 billion blow in the short-term.
These numbers appear not to account for uninsured losses, plus economic losses from the loss of tourist spending and other projected incomes, although it is possible the Government’s $600 million may include the cost of home rebuilding and repairs for those who are uninsured.
“The Ministry of Works, on road contracts and bridge contracts, have awarded to date about $68 million, with another $6.8 million ready to be awarded in contracts,” Mr Christie said of Matthew.
“Therefore it’s already over $70 million without including assistance to communities with seawalls, the assistance in agriculture and fisheries, the assistance with the reconstruction and repair of homes, and most certainly taxes that are forgiven, which is also a cost.”
The Prime Minister added: “The Government is faced in those circumstances with an $800 million obligation. This is roughly 9 per cent of GDP and 40 per cent of our national budget.”
Mr Christie shot back at the criticisms and outrage over his suggestion that a ‘hurricane tax’ may need to be considered.
“It is just a natural question to ask; to invoke a debate in the county as to how we are going to do those things and, heaven forbid, the hurricane season isn’t finished yet, but governments don’t have the luxury to pretend that they should not plan, and a plan anticipates worst case scenarios. It’s just a dialogue that has to take place,” said Mr Christie.