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Bannister Aiming For $500m Works Budget

Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.

Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A Cabinet minister yesterday said he will be "smiling from ear to ear" if his wish for a $500m capital works budget to improve decaying infrastructure and boost the economy is granted.

Desmond Bannister, minister of works, told Tribune Business that the collapse of the bridge linking Spanish Wells and Russell Island was "a stark warning" about the decaying state of many of The Bahamas' key infrastructure assets.

Arguing that successive administrations have left the likes of roads, bridges and docks in "an untenable position", Mr Bannister said the Government need to initiate major capital works "in each of the Family Islands" as well as New Providence to both upgrade its infrastructure and stimulate jobs and economic activity post-COVID-19.

He added that the pandemic's effects were "so frightening" for an import and tourism-dependent nation such as the Bahamas, given both the health and economic fall-out that has hit every citizen and resident. The minister said COVID-19's impact on the US, which is the world leader for both deaths and infections (the latter over 1m), was especially troubling given that the country is the source market for 85 percent of this nation's tourists.

How quickly The Bahamas fully opens it borders to international travellers will depend greatly on whether the likes of the US, Canada, the UK and Europe - all of which are struggling with COVID-19 - are able to bring the outbreak under control.

In the meantime, Mr Bannister said Ministry of Works engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and other personnel are racing to complete as "many scopes of work as possible" in the next few weeks in the hope these can all make it into the capital works package being negotiated with the Ministry of Finance.

Asked how large a capital expenditure budget his ministry would like, Mr Bannister replied: "I wish I could have $1bn to stimulate the economy, but that isn't going to happen. We need to ensure that there's a stimulus in place for capital expenditure as much as possible, we really do. I don't control that; I don't have any say over that......

"If we go to half a billion dollars that would be the kind of figure that would make me smile. If we get $500m I would be smiling from ear to ear."

Capital works and infrastructure projects are among the areas the Government is focusing on to prop up the Bahamian economy, and create some employment and consumer demand, amid the plunge in private sector activity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

They represent a traditional stimulus measure when private consumption and investment are low, yet it is unclear just how much funding will be made available to the Ministry of Works for capital projects given that K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, recently told this newspaper that the Government's revenues were down 50 percent in March with a more significant fall anticipated for April.

The Ministry of Finance's practice in recent years has been to trim the Government's capital expenditure Budget as a means to keep its overall fiscal deficit low, which has potentially starved essential infrastructure upgrades of much-needed capital.

Mr Bannister yesterday said his ministry received some $193m for infrastructure and capital works during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which is comfortably less than half the $500m target desired for the upcoming budget.

"In order to do the things to stimulate the economy, we need a lot more money," he added. "We have to put people to work. There are many, many people in our country that have the skills to do things in various communities.

"We have an aging infrastructure all over the country. You saw the collapse of the old Spanish Wells-Russell Island bridge today - a 28 year-old bridge sitting there amid the process of finishing a brand new one. We have infrastructure like that throughout the entire country.

"We could put people to work on every island improving infrastructure. We could improve our tourism product hugely, but the reality is we have to have funding to do it, and there has to be appreciation that any expenditure brings back returns," Mr Bannister continued.

"The Government has a responsibility to the people, and we cannot fail that responsibility. We need to act in accordance with proven formulas, what has been proven to simulate the economy in the past. What we have to do is create projects in each of the Family Islands and New Providence. We have lots of old infrastructure everywhere"

The minister described the Spanish Wells- Russell Island bridge collapse as "a stark warning in that we have left a lot of this infrastructure in an untenable position for years". The accident had created a greater "appreciation of urgency" among all stakeholders for the situation to be resolved.

Waugh Construction was awarded the contract to build a new bridge in July 2019, and Mr Bannister said the company "appreciates the seriousness of the challenge" after he spoke to its principal yesterday.

Acknowledging that Waugh Construction had suffered equipment loss and damage when Hurricane Dorian hit its Freeport headquarters last year, Mr Bannister said the replacement bridge was already on Spanish Wells - albeit in nine containers - and now has to be assembled and put together.

"The old bridge has to be taken down so the new one can be put up," he added. "There are severe challenges. In order to take the old one down there must be some method of providing transport across the water. The contractor has ordered a barge from Louisiana, and that barge should be here in a week. Once that is here, they will be able to take the old one down and erect the new bridge in a matter of weeks.

"I have to choose my words carefully, but if any bridge had to fail to some extent it was better that it was Spanish Wells than any other. We have a bridge at Fresh Creek in Andros that is very dangerous and needs to be replaced. We have the Glass Window bridge that could pose serious problems. We have two bridges in Andros that we are starting to build now. We have a bridge in Exuma that needs to be replaced."

Mr Bannister said the same applied to multiple Family Island docks and "hundreds of miles of road" throughout the length and breadth of The Bahamas. Upgrading such infrastructure, he argued, could also spur Bahamian and international investors to invest in these islands and "make a huge difference in getting out of the recession".

Comments

Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 5 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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DDK 1 year, 5 months ago

SHAMELESS AND FOOLISH 🤣

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DonAnthony 1 year, 5 months ago

Every time I see a photo of Mr. Bannister or my BPL bill it makes me sick to my stomach. Heaven forbid the Bahamian taxpayer give this incompetent man one more dollar much less $500 million to spend. Privatize BPL immediately and remove this heavy yoke from the necks of Bahamians. A never ending record of failures and false promises only higher electricity bills. If only he would resign too.

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John 1 year, 5 months ago

This will be an excellent stimulus to keep the country moving as Tourism still seems to be some distance off from opening back fully. Make it a full billion and share the works around the Family Islands. Tourism budget can be cut by 50 percent for now as a number of other Ministeries. Include the Carmichael Road expansion project because driving in that area on a regular day is a nightmare.

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birdiestrachan 1 year, 5 months ago

successive administrations of which Banister has been a part off

Banister seems to have lost his mind. Gone crazy. Banister the whole wide world is in a recession.

You have cast blame made excuses. for three Years. TIME is running out. Blame and excuses will not do,

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totherisingsun 1 year, 5 months ago

  1. What historically happens to large amounts of borrowed monies in the public sector and what is the resulting value? 2. How long does a permit take to be approved, inspected and passed? 3. Any more questions?
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Chucky 1 year, 5 months ago

Borrowing to stimulate the economy is like spending on your credit card to make up for shortfalls in your pay check.

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thephoenix562 1 year, 5 months ago

You are 100% right but what choice do we have?We have been operating on a deficit from 1973.The USA is doing the same thing.Those so called stimulus checks are only borrowed money.

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Baha10 1 year, 5 months ago

One can only assume Bannister is among the first Bahamians stuck abroad to be repatriated as he appears completely disconnected from reality. The Country has had years to address infrastructural issues, but instead squandered millions on pointless Projects such as the many miles of beautifully paved road to no where in North Andros, indeed better than any anywhere else in The Bahamas. Instead, pleas focus on what should be your main concern, namely BPL, which is the primary reason Bahamians are broke today ... and if you have not read the News ... Oil is practically now free”, so there should be NO MORE NEED FOR SURCHARGES on already inflated electricity bills.

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TigerB 1 year, 5 months ago

I am so grateful for Dr.Bernard Nottage when he got that 292 million for the Defence Force boats, Those boats are carrying the load now, however this was in hindsight, but during the course of him trying to get it, it looked nonsensical to me. My point is before we judge him, let his work speak for him... we need to stop this!

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sheeprunner12 1 year, 5 months ago

The FNM Ingraham Government secured the original RBDF loan …… The Christie Government got the same order of boats with an extra $40 million bill ..... Wonder where those extras were spent???????? ……… #kickbacks

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