'We were defenceless': New ministry as Minnis says we have to prepare

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis speaks on Sunday.

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis speaks on Sunday.


Deputy Chief Reporter


PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced the creation of the new Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction yesterday, to be headed by Central Grand Bahama MP Iram Lewis.

Mr Lewis, pictured, will be sworn in today at Government House as minister of state for the body. While making the announcement, Dr Minnis declared it was critical that red tape, which might hinder recovery and reconstruction efforts, be removed. Dr Minnis said the country is facing a climate emergency and in order to combat it, there must be comprehensive and dramatic changes in hurricane preparedness and disaster relief management.


Central Grand Bahama MP Iram Lewis.

The National Emergency Management Agency will also undergo restructuring with input from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, among other international counterparts.

“We are facing difficult times,” Dr Minnis said yesterday. “We have faced an enemy that we have never seen before, an enemy that had devastating effects to our country and yet we were defenceless.

“Enemies of similar nature will again approach our shores and our only weapon is preparation. We have to prepare, we have to improve our codes, our sea walls and we must build resilience and that we will and that we must.”

The new ministry will work with local authorities in the development of plans and construction of high capacity, reinforced hurricane shelters on high ground in vulnerable communities; work with NEMA to pre-position hurricane relief stores, foodstuffs, water and supplies; pre-position life rafts, life jackets, generators, chainsaws, jet skis, tools and heavy equipment and other material to provide immediate services to affected areas; and focus on consultation and training of residents in vulnerable communities.

It will also implement and oversee the enforcement of mandatory evacuation orders, which are currently in draft form, Dr Minnis said.

“The National Emergency Management Agency is going to be dramatically restructured, especially in light of the global climate emergency, which is making hurricanes more powerful and more deadly,” Dr Minnis said.

“In restructuring NEMA, we will work with disaster preparedness, recovery and management experts from around the world, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the United States of America. Let me be clear, it cannot be business as usual in government.

“We have to break down the silos. There is no time for territorial or turf battles. Egos must be put aside in the interest of the common good,” the nation’s leader said.

The ministry also will be in charge of disaster response.

Meanwhile, as he outlined plans for Grand Bahama and Abaco, Mr Lewis said it was his intention to see a greener more efficient utility infrastructure in Abaco, adding Hurricane Dorian created an opportunity to do so.

To have efficient and effective restoration on those islands, he said there needed to be a layered approach, handled in phases.

The first phase will feature cleanup and sanitisation.

He said once the Department of Environmental Health gives the green light, the government will begin to erect temporary housing facilities for the teams that will carry out the necessary infrastructural work.

Mr Lewis, a certified architect and project manager, said: “It is my intent to see a greener more efficient utility infrastructure in Abaco and Dorian has presented us with an opportunity to make this a reality. Our team of engineers and consultants will ensure that we build state-of-the-art infrastructure for the people of Abaco.”

The second phase will be rebuilding homes and businesses.

“Working with the business community in Abaco and restarting the islands economy is vital to returning Abaco to normalcy. As is clear, the building codes will be addressed and moving forward will be strictly adhered to, in order to give the residents of Abaco, the best opportunity in the event of another major storm. We have learned a lot from Dorian and there is still much to learn, so we must not take these lessons lightly,” Mr Lewis said.

“My team will work along with central government, the banking sector and other institutions to create vehicles that allow residents to get the assistance needed during the rebuilding phase. We are going to review a public housing scheme which we anticipate will prove very beneficial for many residents.

“In my commitment to total transparency we will ensure weekly updates are made to the public to inform them of our progress, possible setbacks, etc. We will also work to create a clear dialogue with the public to ensure proper information is disseminated and that questions are answered by those with the correct answers,” Mr Lewis said.

The main body of the ministry will function as an authority, similar to the Public Hospitals Authority, Dr Minnis said.

Dr Minnis explained that legislation establishing a board of directors for this authority would be debated in Parliament in early October.

The prime minister said a budget for the new ministry had not yet been decided, but Cabinet is expected to discuss this matter tomorrow.

However, he said, given Dorian’s destruction, the government would do everything in its power to restart the economic engines of Abaco and Grand Bahama.

Abaco generates $120m per year for the Bahamian economy and Grand Bahama contributes $137m, Dr Minnis said yesterday.

As for Grand Bahama, Mr Lewis said he intended to work with several stakeholders to open the gates of opportunity for rapid business development on the island.

He said much like Abaco, East Grand Bahama, areas over the bridge and Queen’s Cove appeared to be the hardest hit areas of Grand Bahama.

He also said: “We will work along with the Office of the Prime Minister and the local lending institutions in Grand Bahama to find comprehensive ways to assist the residents and business owners with rebuilding their homes and reopening their establishments.

“We will work along with the Grand Bahama Port Authority to revisit the building codes as they pertain to flood prone areas. We must also address the topic of proper disaster shelters throughout both islands.”

The new ministry will operate from the Office of the Prime Minister. Dr Minnis said he will guide the larger policy objectives of the ministry and help to coordinate the full governmental response to Hurricane Dorian.


OMG 2 years, 11 months ago

Always afyer the fact added to which how can the country possibly fund raising/improving sea walls for all the islands let alone Nassau and Grand Bahama ?


DonAnthony 2 years, 11 months ago

Speaking of defenseless. Can we have completely new leadership for our defense force? The commodore needs to be relieved of duty. We spent a quarter of a billion dollars on boats, two of which have already been run arground. The British navy made their way to abaco before the defense force did. How is this possible? Well they tracked the storm and had a ship on its way from Jamaica to enter abaco as soon as possible. We should have done that.

Instead we were late as usual leading to unnessary looting and lawlessness. Then the defense force brags that on Friday sept 6, 5days after the storm they had 250 members in abaco and Grand Bahama combined. This out of a force of 1600 members. No planning, terrible logistics amounts to failed leadership. We can not be business as usual in these times. We deserve better. The commodore and defense force leadership has to go.


cx 2 years, 11 months ago

Agreed I noticed this too. They left port before the storm and had to go back to Nassau to get supplies. A forward thinking commander would have had those ships loaded with basic supplies and extra troops before they left port to avoid the storm then drop them straight to Abaco after the storm.


Well_mudda_take_sic 2 years, 11 months ago

Dr Minnis said the country is facing a climate emergency and in order to combat it, there must be comprehensive and dramatic changes in hurricane preparedness and disaster relief management.

Long before Hurricane Dorian came along, Minnis was well aware that one of the greatest risks our country faces is a direct hit from a category 5+ hurricane to any of our more heavily populated islands. Most Bahamians remember Minnis, shortly after becoming PM, addressing a full assembly of the United Nations in NY on the very grave risks that climate change poses for the Bahamas. Yet he now deceitfully maintains that such an horrific event could not possibly have been predicted by his government. This deceitful pretense is nothing but a very lame excuse for the Minnis-led FNM government's shockingly unsatisfactory degree of preparedness for just about any major hurricane.

The main body of the ministry will function as an authority, similar to the Public Hospitals Authority, Dr Minnis said.

The new ministry will operate from the Office of the Prime Minister.

Minnis clearly wants to be in full control of the goodies to be dished out from the new restoration and re-building cookie jar. There's plenty of room for political abuses here that usually take the form of heavily padded and highly wasteful government contracts. Abuses of the benefits associated with the exigency orders by the party faithful and cronies of the political elite can also be expected.


K4C 2 years, 11 months ago

'We Were Defenceless'

That's a statement that is 100% accurate, what is needed is a new political mindset, the days of this 3rd world mentality are done, where are the forward thinking avant garde Bahamians, they exist, the time is NOW for them to show their presents


ThisIsOurs 2 years, 11 months ago

Forward thinkers? They can't penetrate the party system. Hence they will never be elected. Hence we end up with Moultrie offering China the Southern Bahamas.


gbgal 2 years, 11 months ago

While the planning and preparation are being activated, review a streamlined approach to reduce/eliminate the red tape our ministries enjoy extending to simple procedures. That would certainly provide a refreshing change to getting things done. Wonder how long all this will take?


akbar 2 years, 11 months ago

What defense can you mount against a storm that probably couldn't be measured?


DonAnthony 2 years, 11 months ago

Lots. Do not build in flood prone areas or right on the shoreline. Stricter building codes that new structures must be a certain elevation above sea level. Build shelters that can withstand 200+ mph winds. Will be expensive so let shelters be dual purpose e.g. the new schools should be built to this standard so will not have to rebuild after these storms and they could double as shelters that will not fail. Plan properly, pre position assets before storm etc. The list is endless of how we can defend against these storms.


joeblow 2 years, 11 months ago

... well the first and obvious answer is to evacuate out of the direct path of the storm. Lives would be saved even though property would still be damaged!


DonAnthony 2 years, 11 months ago

Absolutely, I hope people heed the warnings to evacuate next time. If we do not learn from Dorian we never will.


TalRussell 2 years, 11 months ago

Be hard pressed if there be left just a lone die-hard comrade remaining a loyal red shirt living on any the Islands and cays the Abaco's - who with clear conscious - are even remotely willing to believe anything being promised by colony of out islands elected government, yes, no ....In name Joseph, the father, Jesus, what manner distrust have the elected 35 red MP's, brought upon themselves ,,,. Wait until news reaches them that as we speak, their elected government is preparing legislation to order the immediate forced mass evacuation all residents living across entire Abaco's ... Can't just make such manner things up cause mischief ...


geostorm 2 years, 11 months ago

A step in the right direction Dr. Minnis. Good that you are getting assistance from FEMA and others with the restructuring.


TalRussell 2 years, 11 months ago

Ma Comrade DonAnthony , you know I value your words wisdom but not on the pre Hurricane Dorian evacuation of all Abacoians, yes, no ... How can you point government's dismal handling of the voluntary evacuations of just small number Abaco's population as being even remotely successful, yes, no ... the road hell for the relocated Abacoians may have been paved with the best intentions but it has turned into anything remotely acceptable.... Abaco, may just be the reds ground zero for no bouncing back by the mandated runging' bell 2022 general election... can anyone even begin imagine the utter chaos that would have resulted had the hurricane's eye sat over Nassau for hours - where the odds point to a much greater count Abaco's hurricane dead ....


joeblow 2 years, 11 months ago

This country was NOT defenseless against hurricanes, just unprepared! It takes all the brainpower of politicians to figure out how to get re-elected, doesn't leave much intellect for anything else of real value!!


Sickened 2 years, 11 months ago

Correct! Some houses DID survive with minimal damage and a lot of land did NOT flood. We know that good construction on higher ground played a major roll on houses that remained standing (though not completely because luck also plays a roll in respect to being hit by flying debris and direct tornado strike).


concerned799 2 years, 10 months ago

Instead of trying to reassemble things from damage, what about not continuing to cause the climate change that drives these monster storms to become bigger and more impactful?

Can we still continue to move forward with LNG and brand new refineries and more cruise ship terminals when its clear this will all contribute to more climate change?


The_Oracle 2 years, 10 months ago

For 50 Years the Civil service has taken people who can think to a degree, and trained them not to. Most civil servants fear their immediate supervisor 10 times more than the P.M. or any minister. Most are place keepers, devoid of any drive to fix malfunction and disfunction in their ministries/departments etc. When things get serious, they get paralyzed. I've seen them catatonic in Frances, Jean, Wilma, Matthew and now Dorian. I have also seen a spark or two, so it is not a 100% write off. but damn close.


The_Oracle 2 years, 10 months ago

Well what the hell, throw another ministry at it, that always works right?


ohdrap4 2 years, 10 months ago

The only other option is a Task Force. Task Forces always work.


SP 2 years, 10 months ago

Blah, blah, blah, blah meanwhile BPL & BTC, still doesn't work, we remain inundated with non-tax paying Haitians and their massive tax burden, the country has an excess of foreign blue-collar workers repatriating hard currency by the $M100's damaging the local economy and destroying the commercial banking sector, illegals are working while Bahamians stand in soup kitchen lines begging for handouts and blah, blah, blah, blah!

The politicians that "lead" the country into all these problems that "the people paid for" should be held accountable!


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