In this picture from September 8th, a road cuts through the rubble of homes that belong to the same family, destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in Rocky Creek, East End, Grand Bahama. Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP
AS the government forges ahead with plans to restore storm-ravaged islands, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest said the country would be better served if the official opposition made contributions on fixing issues rather than criticising efforts.
The Progressive Liberal Party on Sunday described the Minnis administration’s handling of Grand Bahama and Abaco following Hurricane Dorian’s passage as “scattered and unfocused”.
Responding, Mr Turnquest said this was an unprecedented situation that “knocked” this country to its knees.
“…The fact of the matter is this is an incident that is unprecedented in terms of the scale of it, in terms of the diversity of the islands and communities, which it impacted. So it’s easy to criticise.
“I think it would be more useful for the opposition to contribute to the debate in terms of how we address these issues going forward and support us in the efforts that we’re trying to do to bring some normalcy to our citizens.”
The Minnis administration has also had to worry about economic restoration in Abaco and Grand Bahama, Mr Turnquest telling The Tribune officials were certainly concerned about businesses returning to those islands.
According to the Abaco Chamber of Commerce recently, some business owners there have said they won’t return.
Similarly a few merchants in the nation’s second city are of the same view.
However, Mr Turnquest said yesterday that it was vital for all businesses to return to ensure there is an “economic revival” on both islands, which account for 18 percent of the nation’s GDP.
He said the government was doing everything it could to make it less expensive for merchants to rebuild after Dorian left many with nothing.
“In order for us to rebound fully we need all of our entrepreneurs, all of our businesses to come back and to participate in this economic revival,” the deputy prime minister said in response to a question from The Tribune.
“We’re certainly from our part as the government doing all that we can to incentivise and to encourage all of those businesses to come back.
“As you would know the prime minister has indicated there’s a package of incentives that we’ve put forward through loans, through grants, through joint ventures and through private sector lending commercial banks and other agencies.
“We’re putting together this whole package to try and support the entrepreneur class so that they do come back and we make it as inexpensive for them to get back in to business.
“So whatever we do from the government side we’re certainly trying to facilitate that.”
He also said: “The fact of the matter is that the two islands, Abaco and Grand Bahama, account for some 18 percent of our GDP and so we need them to be performing and we need them to be producing at the levels or even exceeding the levels that they’ve done before.
“We believe that there is going to be a tremendous amount of opportunity in these islands in the short terms (and) in the medium terms as a result of all the reconstruction that is going to be necessary.
“So whether it’s in the service industry, whether it’s in the food industry, whether it’s in housing or whether it’s in construction there’s going to be opportunities in these islands and so I would encourage business people (to return).”
Mr Turnquest continued: “We’ve been knocked down and we’re down on our knees. However we’ve been here before in that respect and we’ve been able to bounce back, slow as it may have been.
“But I think we have to take advantage of this opportunity, see it as an opportunity to create new business opportunities and to take advantage of the situation and to produce and create employment and create wealth for ourselves.”
He said despite some business owners saying they were prepared to set up shop on other islands, there was tremendous interest in government offered incentives and waivers.
In late September, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said Abaco and East Grand Bahama would be designated as Economic Recovery Zones. He said at the time that a $10m loan guarantee and equity financing facility would be available for enterprises to either help them re-open or create new businesses. An applicant will be able to secure a maximum of $500,000.