By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday blamed COVID-19's economic fall-out for the Government receiving just $364,000 in cash out of the $1.5bn promised at January's Hurricane Dorian pledging conference.
Iram Lewis, minister of state for disaster preparedness, management and reconstruction, acknowledged there was "a serious shortfall" between the total sum pledged by private sector donors and what has been forthcoming to-date to assist with post-storm reconstruction on Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Speaking outside the Cabinet Office, he said: “As you know a lot of funds were pledged from the pledge conference; we got over $1.5bn pledged. However, we received only $364,000 in cash and deposits, so there is a serious shortfall.
"On top of that, with the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of priorities have shifted for persons who would have made pledges. So we did not collect all that was pledged but we will do our best to accommodate Bahamians because housing was one of the six pillars under which we are operating, so we want to make sure that our citizens are back in their homes.”
The Government's failure to manage expectations over what January's pledging conference would ultimately produce has left it open to attack from political opponents and the wider public. Many persons believed it would generate instant cash to finance rebuilding efforts in Abaco and Grand Bahama, providing an instant kick-start for the restoration efforts.
However, the bulk of the pledges - some $975m - came from the US-based P3 Group, which focuses on developing infrastructure projects via public-private partnership (PPP) type structures. Its offer involved debt or equity financing, and not the provision of a cash gift.
Kay Forbes-Smith, the Disaster Reconstruction Authority's (DRA) managing director, has repeatedly emphasised that few of the pledges involved cash and donations. Instead, they took various forms and involved recovery financing and the provision of in-kind services.
“The pledges included initiatives in home building and repair; educational assistance; renewable energy partnerships; relief aid; grants; direct assistance to storm victims; parks restoration; loans and financing," Mrs Forbes-Smith said.
“After further assessment of the full scope of pledges, the revised amount pledged was very close to $1.8bn." She broke this down into $41m in grants; $1.3bn in public-private partnerships; technical assistance worth $51m; $400m in other assistance and the $364,000 in cash and deposits yesterday referred to by Mr Lewis.
Mrs Forbes-Smith then reiterated this message on an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) webinar, where she said: “Everybody knows about the infamous pledge conference where people felt that we collected $1.77bn in cash, which never happened, but our development office is actively trying to secure the fundraising."
Out of the equity financing and gifts in-kind that were pledged, she said some $1.14m was confirmed, with another $800,000 in the proposal stage and just over $250m "to be explored or confirmed".
Meanwhile, Mr Lewis said yesterday: “The government made a commitment last year to deposit $10m as a part of the overall initiative, and the balance was supposed to come from pledges and from private donors who would have earmarked specifically for reconstruction.
"Again, because of the pandemic a lot of priorities shifted, and even though we received $1.5bn in pledges, a pledge is not really a deposit. We really only received $364,000 in cash and deposits, and we’re doing our best to ensure that we accommodate as much as possible."
Questioned over the difference between what was pledged and what has been received thus far, Mr Lewis said: “Out of the $1.5bn that was pledged in cash and kind we received $364,000 in cash and deposits so far.
"We also got in-kind support from the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and our other international partners. We had Samaritan’s Purse in Grand Bahama and Abaco, and we had Church by the Sea, so there were a lot of foreign NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) that also came in and, in addition to cash, there were in-kind donations.”
Mr Lewis promised the Government "will do our best to ensure that we carry out our commitment to the Bahamian people because we realise there is a need, and we will do our best to support our people".