By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
CHAIRMAN of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority John-Michael Clarke says officials are hoping to soon open the application process for the housing development in Central Pines, Abaco which is set to be completed before next month’s end.
The first phase of the project involves the construction of five houses, consisting of a mixture of three and two-bedroom units. This project is being funded by donors.
When asked for an update on the project yesterday, Mr Clarke explained that work is still underway to have the homes ready by next month.
Although he could not say when applications will be made available to the public, the DRA chairman noted that seniors and single mothers and other vulnerable victims will be top priority to receive the homes.
“At the appropriate time, the Office of the Prime Minister, under which NEMA and the DRA and the disaster management agencies fall, will ensure that there is an appropriate application process so those projects that are still being managed through the DRA, none of those things have changed,” Mr Clarke said when contacted by this newspaper yesterday.
“We want to assure the people that nothing has been forgotten and in short order, they can expect that the application process will be available. The priorities that were originally outlined, those will remain the same so the elderly persons that had property and lost their homes, single mothers and they will be selected in a fair and transparent way.”
However, it is not clear when the next phase of the housing project will begin, with Mr Clarke telling The Tribune that some of the DRA’s initiatives are currently being reviewed by the new Davis administration.
Myles Laroda, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, who also has responsibility for disaster management, told reporters earlier this month that the government had planned to assess the work of the DRA.
While in opposition, the Progressive Liberal Party had repeatedly castigated the former government’s response to Hurricane Dorian, including its mass burial exercise for over 50 storm victims last year.
Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis recently told reporters he was awaiting a report on Dorian’s aftermath to determine if an inquiry is needed into the former government’s handling of the disaster.
Yesterday, Mr Clarke confirmed that an internal audit is being conducted in the agency and said the report’s findings should be completed by next month.
Asked to respond to criticism that the agency has not been transparent and productive, he replied: “All I want to say is I want everybody to remember this: This is our economy. Every contribution to everyone is essential and even those that offer criticism that is helpful because oftentimes that helps us to stay aware of what the gaps in our reconstruction strategy is but along with the criticism, I hope that the contribution matches the criticism and that is equally as helpful. “
Still Mr Clarke insisted that the work of the DRA will continue while also pledging to fulfill all commitments made to storm affected victims.
"As far as the resources are available, any commitment that has been made as it relates to the small home repair programme, the DRA is committed towards ensuring that those commitments are met,” he said.
“The DRA has not stopped anything. The staff is still in place. They’re going to work and they’re doing what they’ve been mandated to do and you know until people have been told otherwise, the work of our reconstruction continues.
“There’s housing and infrastructure that has to take place. Those are two critical things. The infrastructure includes (things) like the seaport in Abaco, the airport in Grand Bahama. Those are key things that are essential to reconstruction and rebuilding of the economy.”
Meanwhile, as it relates to the proposed Abaco community centre, Mr Clarke said work is still continuing.
Dorian hit Abaco on September 1, 2019 as a Category 5 hurricane before barreling toward Grand Bahama. The estimated cost of the storm's impact on The Bahamas is said to be some $3.4 billion.