Iram Lewis. Photo: Lisa Davis/BIS
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
MINISTER of Disaster Preparedness Iram Lewis said yesterday officials are hopeful that the Small Home Repair Programme will resume before early next year.
He also pleaded with registrants to be patient until the agency secures the funding needed to complete the relief initiative.
Speaking ahead of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, the minister told reporters that as it stands, the Disaster Reconstruction Authority needs to acquire more than $13m to fulfil its current obligations to those who were approved for repair help.
Noting that officials are actively working towards the goal, Mr Lewis said once the DRA gets the approval it needs from Cabinet, an announcement will be made about the way forward.
“To fund the overall programme, we are in the neighbourhood of $13m,” he said. “So, that’s a major shortfall with respect to the reconstruction and even though we are undergoing serious financial challenges right now, we will see how we can do our best to secure that level of funding which is a lot considering the times that we are in.
“It is slightly over $13 million that we need to finish the programme and that is by no stretch of imagination a small number as I said earlier based on the financial challenges that we are faced with right now but we are seeking to get an approval and once we get an approval, we will make an announcement and we hope that the approval will be granted and once it’s done, we’ll resume the programme.”
His comments come amid heightened public scrutiny of the programme – which is currently suspended—after concerns were raised by suppliers in September about not receiving payments from the agency since the initiative was launched in February.
Many approved applicants have also expressed frustration, questioning when the programme will continue, allowing them to receive much needed home supplies.
Yesterday, Mr Lewis acknowledged both the concerns, but also called for more patience as he reiterated the agency’s commitment towards completing the programme.
He said: “We know that there are persons who are anxiously waiting for the programme to continue and we will be making an announcement in short order. We have a paper to present to Cabinet to get all of the necessary financing to move the project forward. I just want to assure all of those persons who we made a commitment to that we will honour our commitments.
“Persons who would’ve registered, those persons who we would’ve assessed, persons who would’ve started the registration, who we would’ve reached out to, I know it’s been a long time coming but the intention is to honour all of our commitments and the overall number is in the neighbourhood of 4,200 persons and, of course, the system ranges from 2,500 to 10,000 so again, we are focusing on rebuilding and I know persons are incredibly impatient. They have been waiting for a long time, the vendors have been waiting and again, as a government we will honour our commitment.”
Asked yesterday whether the public can expect to see the resumption of the programme by early next year, Mr Lewis said officials are hopeful the greenlight will be given before then.
He said: “We are hopeful that it will start before (next year) but of course you know we are financially stretched right now and as I indicated earlier, when we had the pledge conference, the number of commitments that came through – a commitment is not a contract and those persons who committed to giving us funding to help with the reconstruction, their priorities shifted as a result of COVID-19.
“But, as a government, our commitment is to take care of our people and so we now have to pivot a bit to seek other avenues on how we can finance those projects moving forward.”
As of October, over 4,000 people were said to have registered for the DRA’s Small Homes Repair programme in Abaco and Grand Bahama, with some $11m spent towards the initiative.