By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
DISASTER Reconstruction Authority officials revealed yesterday that over 4,000 people have registered for its Small Homes Repair programme in Abaco and Grand Bahama.
They said some $11m has been spent towards the initiative to date.
The figures were revealed by DRA’s project director Wendell Grant II while giving an update on the restoration efforts being made on the island’s post-Hurricane Dorian during a Ministry of Disaster Preparedness press conference.
“To date, the Small Homes Repair assistance programme has 4,559 registered homeowners, 3,686 approved homeowners and over $11 million home dispersed,” he said.
“The DRA has also worked with partners to provide temporary housing solutions, including 150 temporary domes in Abaco and the cays and our team is currently erecting 20 modular container homes for families in Sweeting’s Cay, East Grand Bahama.”
This comes amid heightened public scrutiny of the programme after concerns were raised by suppliers last month about not receiving payments from the agency since the initiative was launched.
Many approved applicants have also since expressed frustration, questioning when the programme will continue, allowing them to receive much needed home supplies.
Last month, officials conceded that the delay was due to an influx of persons registering.
Addressing the issue yesterday, State Minister for Disaster Preparedness Iram Lewis suggested that initiatives have been affected by COVID-19’s economic impact and also, by some of the shortfall experienced from the Dorian pledging conference in January.
Still, he maintained that officials are committed to the programme and will honour all of its obligations.
He said: “All of the vouchers we have issued, we are seeking to honour those but as you would note and be aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted a lot of the responsibilities and priorities of persons who would’ve pledged during the pledge conference and, of course, the pledge is not binding.
“So, there were some serious shortfalls based on our expectations. However, we are working as best as we can. We are looking for more partnerships. We are looking for more funding, but it is our focus, it is our commitment to honour all of those that we have committed to and we will ensure that we accommodate as many Bahamians as possible.
“(Some) persons who didn’t qualify for various reasons — either they had insurance in place or there were ownership issues, etc. But all of those that were approved, we will do our best to honour those commitments.”
Asked yesterday about the outstanding balance for vendors, the minister replied: “We are currently reconciling our accounts and we know that there is a major shortfall. The overall programme will run into over $20m but as it stands right now, and when we have reconciled those accounts and numbers then we will be able to better answer that question and make a determination about the way forward.”
Yesterday, Mr Lewis also responded to concerns raised by residents of Moore’s Island, Abaco, who recently told The Tribune that little attention has been given to the community by the government since Hurricane Dorian hit the island more than a year ago.
Residents there say there is a need for major upgrades to basic infrastructure in the community like its clinic, airport and roads. They have also taken issue with the community’s water supply, which they say is inconsistent.
However, Mr Lewis claimed that officials have evidence to show that Moore’s Island residents have indeed been assisted by the government.
He said: “I will not agree with the fact that they have not been given any sort of attention by the Bahamas government because I know otherwise to that question. I’m sure that we have been and we have evidence to show that we have been assisting residents of Moore’s Island.”
Mr Grant also added that DRA officials have “in fact visited Moore’s Island” and have conducted assessments on the island through its home repair programme.
“We are quite actively pursuing discharging all of the relief that has been planned. We can also say that there is still much work to be done with infrastructure and with respect to the other systems of government in that island,” Mr Grant said.