By YOURI KEMP
THE prime minister yesterday confirmed that the post-Dorian Economic Recovery Zones will be extended to cover Grand Bahama entirely - albeit only for one year.
Dr Hubert Minnis, addressing the House of Assembly upon its return from summer recess, made an announcement that will likely be greeted with relief by Freeport and West End homeowners, not to mention businesses based in those areas.
The initial three-year Economic Recovery Zones, unveiled last month, covered only east Grand Bahama and Abaco and the surrounding cays. Freeport and Grand Bahama's West End were excluded, with many believing the decision not to include the former was because it already enjoyed many of the tax breaks unveiled by Dr Minnis under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.
However, Tribune Business sources have questioned why Bahamian and expatriate homeowner residents of Freeport were not being given any tax breaks or incentives to aid their rebuilding efforts as a result of being excluded from the Economic Recovery Zones.
The benefits of Freeport's "bonded goods" regime, upon which the recovery zones are modelled, are only targeted at businesses within the port area. They are not available - or cannot be accessed - by residents for use outside a business. As a result, some suggested Freeport homeowners were being discriminated against in comparison to their counterparts in east Grand Bahama and Abaco.
Gregory LaRoda, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce's president, told Tribune Business last week: "You cannot exclude Freeport from those types of incentives. Just moving around the Freeport area I see the devastation. They would think Freeport was not hit that hard, but a lot of them [businesses] are still closed due to flooding. Some are saying they are not even going to open any more."
The prime minister appears to have heard those calls based on his announcement yesterday, as he also detailed how the government's initial post-disaster financing will be spent. The majority of the $100m Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) credit line will be used to finance utilities restoration, debris clean-up and increased social services spending.
Some $30m will go to electricity restoration; $15m to water restoration; $30m for extra social welfare spending; $15m for debris removal and clean-up; and $1m for reimbursement of evacuation and shelter costs. A further $9m will remain unallocated.
Dr Minnis said the Central Bank had recommended that the government use no more than 50 percent of the funds it is holding from dormant bank accounts for Dorian relief. This means that around $20m of the $40m it is holding will be available.
These monies will finance the $10m equity and loan facility being made available for small business restoration, with a further $5m going towards temporary housing accommodation in the Dorian-hit areas. The $5m balance will be used for purposes yet to be determined.
The government also has access to the $12.8m payout from the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF), plus some $5.159m in monetary donations received by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).