By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE $100m Inter-American Development Bank loan contingency that was activated following Hurricane Dorian will fund the restoration of public utilities and ensure the construction of temporary shelters on affected islands, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest explained yesterday.
Yesterday, IDB President Luis Moreno told reporters he had hoped The Bahamas would have never needed to utilise the loan.
However, given the level of destruction, particularly in Abaco, Mr Moreno said the money allows the Minnis administration “liquidity” to satisfy some immediate needs.
The IDB, beginning today, is also conducting a three-week assessment to place a dollar value on the cost of reconstruction, Mr Moreno said, adding the organisation was also looking into a major project to assist the government in getting close to $180m for the advancement of the energy sector.
Asked about the latter portion of Mr Moreno’s announcement, Mr Turnquest said as far as he was aware, the government had not agreed to this strategy.
Nonetheless, the concentration of resources has left Ragged Island residents wondering if they have been forgotten. The island is still without essential services after Hurricane Irma’s destruction there in 2017.
In this regard, Mr Turnquest said he did not believe any of the government’s focus had been removed from that island, which currently has a population of about 60 residents.
The officials spoke to reporters following a brief meeting with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday.
“As you know Prime Minister (Hubert Minnis) outlined a vision for Ragged Island and as far as I am aware that is still very much on track and so hopefully they will start to see the kind of results that they wanted and that they expect to have,” the deputy prime minister said in response to a question from this newspaper.
Explaining how the government intends to use the funding, Mr Turnquest said ultimately the loan is an important part of ensuring people can get back to normal.
“As the president would have said, we have accessed the full $100m and it is going to be geared towards the public utilities - both BPL and the water utility. I think the minister of works has indicated what that investment is likely to be.
“We are also using some of that money to provide temporary shelter for residents as we try to encourage them to go back to these islands and help in the reconstruction and some of it will be used in the immediate emergency relief that is necessary in order to support them during this upscale cycle where we get people back and commerce started,” Mr Turnquest said.
For his part, Mr Moreno said the IDB’s focus in on helping the Bahamas to rebuild in a better way.
He said: “I basically came here to the Bahamas to not only show our solidarity, but more importantly from the minute that the disaster happened we made a donation for disaster relief.
“More importantly we’re thinking as we are not a relief agency we’re basically a development institution and as such we’re looking at how to help rebuild Grand Bahama and Abaco family islands. In this context we’ve been looking at a number of things.
“First of all we had an emergency line of credit of $100m that the government of Bahamas can use as it sees the need to do some of the reconstruction and immediate reconstruction in terms of getting the energy back up, getting the water working and in the initial phases of all the removal of the debris. But one of the bigger challenges going forward, and I offered this to the prime minister, is how we can help support the new ministry that is going to be created to do the reconstruction and help them do the coordination with a number of donors.”
Dr Minnis announced the new Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction more than a week ago.
Member of Parliament for Central Grand Bahama Iram Lewis is the minister of state for the ministry, which is coordinating all of the storm related relief efforts.
Mr Moreno continued: “Tomorrow (Tuesday) a very big team from the IDB is arriving and they will be working for the next three weeks in doing a major damage assessment and that will put a dollar amount as to how much is the cost of the reconstruction that will essentially allow the government of the Bahamas to go to its partners to different countries that have expressed an interest in supporting the reconstruction to see how we can get funding for that.
“Then finally we’re equally working on a major project to get close to $180m for the energy sector that will be used in different tranches and then hopefully we’ll have that approved by the end of the year.”
The $100m contingency was approved by way of a resolution in the House of Assembly in January after it was previously approved during the 2018 budget exercise.
At the time, Dr Minnis said the contingent loan facility was “a line of credit that is on standby in the event the country is hit by a hurricane and needs additional funds to respond and to recover.”