THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (10 – 14 OCTOBER 2016)
COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY
Prime Minister Christie announces “Mathew” Exigency Order
Top on the minds of many Bahamians who suffered total loss and structural damage to both personal and commercial properties was state intervention in facilitating a return to some semblance of normalcy to their personal lives and businesses operations. In response, generic viagra Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie announced that an Exigency Order for properly-approved, buy cialis privately-imported items would be instituted. He made the announcement on Tuesday, October 11. Additionally said the Prime Minister, supplies assigned to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) will be given duty and VAT free privileges, with no assessed processing fees.
“Emergency supplies — such as water, tarpaulins, generators, personal and building supplies — not assigned to NEMA or a recognized charity would be released upon confirmation by NEMA,” said Prime Minister Christie at a press conference at NEMA Headquarters, Gladstone Road.
Specifically, the Exigency Order is valid for one hundred and eighty days, from the 7th October 2016 to the 4th April 2017 except for bottled water which can be imported duty free for only 60 days. The list of duty free goods is as follows:
· Building materials
· Electrical fixtures and materials
· Plumbing fixtures and materials
· Household furniture, furnishing and appliances
· Bottled water
· Motor vehicles
With respect to destroyed vehicles, “exemption will be based on the market value of the vehicle destroyed on the date of the Hurricane. In the event that the minimum value is less than $5,000 on the date of the Hurricane, a value of $5,000 would be used; the destroyed vehicle must be turned over to the authority of the Customs Department in all instances” according to the Exigency Order.
PM Christie eyes upwards of $150 million to fund hurricane restoration
“I advised the country (on Sunday, 9th October at the NEMA press conference) that we are going to continue with governance in the usual way as per our budget and that we were in discussions with the clearing banks of The Bahamas to raise a bond which can be between $100 million and $150 million and I have every reason to believe that the damage will exceed that amount.”
At that NEMA press conference, the Prime Minister said that allocated funds were diverted from government ministries to finance the recovery and reconstruction efforts in the wake of Hurricane Joaquim in 2015. He said that the objectives of the government were slowed and hampered as a result of this and his government had to find “innovative” ways to raise the requisite funding to defray Matthew’s costs, separate and apart from the approved budget for individual government ministries.
“Clinics have to be built, schools have to be built, (the) Fishing (Hole) Road has to be built, the new junior high school has to be built here on Grand Bahama. All of the activities that we are engaged in must be done nationwide” said the Prime Minister, referring to the approved budget for ministries that he is determined NOT to divert.
“We have to recognize that there are the indigent people (who) will simply need the government’s assistance. It’s a massive undertaking” said Mr. Christie, underscoring the vast scope of the expenditure related to the recovery, restoration and construction efforts.
Bolstering administrative and executive support for NEMA, the Prime Minister appointed Labour and National Insurance Minister the Hon. D. Shane Gibson as overall coordinator or czar for these post hurricane recovery efforts.
Fitzgerald provides updates on public school opening schedule
The Education Minister, the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald, provided three public updates on his ministry in six days: one on Sunday, 9th October at NEMA; one on Tuesday the 11th October at the Ministry of Youth conference room and a third on Friday, 14th October at a press conference held at the Ministry of Education headquarters. Below is a dossier of sorts of this week’s developments within the Ministry of Education in just the last six days:
Schools resumed normal operation on Tuesday of this week with the exception of schools in North Andros and the Berry Islands, New Providence and Grand Bahama.
Minister Fitzgerald reported that after a thorough assessment of the public schools on the above islands, the schools generally “held up well” but C.I. Gibson Senior High in Nassau, Bartlett Hill and Lewis Yard Primary on Grand Bahama and the Lowe Sound Primary on Andros sustained extensive damage. Cleanup he said will take the remainder of the week.
All custodial staff members were ordered to report to work immediately to assist with the necessary clean-ups and all teachers were directed to report to their respective schools on Thursday, October 13th, 2016 at the regularly scheduled times. The two satellite offices that were without power will remain closed until the power to those buildings has been restored. They are Examination and Assessments on the Tonique Williams-Darling Highway and Scholarships on Shirley Street.
Following are the latest updates communicated by the Minister at his press conference on Friday, the 14th October, 2016.
All public schools in New Providence to be opened on Tuesday, 18th October with the exception of C.I. Gibson and Government High and schools in Grand Bahama and North Andros to be opened on Wednesday, 19th October.
New Providence based teachers are to report to school on Monday, 17th October and teachers in Grand Bahama, North and Central Andros are to report to school on Tuesday, 18th October.
October midterm break that would have been from the 19th to the 24th will now take place from 21st to the 24th.
The commencement of the 2016 Christmas holiday was moved from Wednesday the 14th December to the 16th.
The February 2017 midterm which was originally scheduled for the 22nd thru the 27th has been moved to the 24th thru the 27th.
Teachers are asked to be sensitive and exercise good judgment toward students who may have lost uniforms during the hurricane and may attend school without uniforms.
Psychological support will be made available to those who wish to use these services.
The next update is scheduled for Tuesday, the 18th October where the status on C.I. Gibson and Government High will be the focus.
North Andros receives hurricane relief
NEMA reported this week that The HMBS Lawrence Major left Nassau on Tuesday, October 11 with much needed supplies for residents in North Andros, one of the areas hardest hit by the Category 4 Hurricane Matthew.
The supplies including 40 hygiene kits, 36-two burner stoves, and 4 generators arrived in Lowe Sound on Wednesday.
Senior Deputy Administrator Ivan Ferguson reported that 35 homes were completely destroyed; 40 received major damages and 100 received minor damages. Lowe Sound has a population of just about 700.
The items were donated by the United States Agency for International Development/Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), one of the international agencies providing relief assistance post Hurricane Matthew.
Meanwhile, in its the latest update October 11, from the Water & Sewerage Corporation, stated that restoration crews were deployed on October 7, 8 and 9 to assist in North and Central Andros along with needed equipment and other supplies.
North Andros suffered significant damage and flooding in pumping stations serving Nicholls Town, Conch Sound and Lowe Sound. The system is partially restored serving Nicholls Town and Lowe Sound. Water for communities was also made available at main pumping station site.
In Red Bays and Mastic Point, the water system was also commissioned but the supply was intermittent. In Central Andros, supplies were off at press time due to power supply disruptions; portable gensets have been and are being deployed and restoration crews have been deployed to provide temporary relief. Crews have also cleared and re-commissioned well fields in Bowen Sound, Cargill Creek, Staniard Creek and Stafford Creek.
Fresh Creek and Love Hill remains off and power was restored at Fresh Creek on Wednesday, October 12.
Works Ministry declared all New Providence streets “passable”
The Ministry of Works & Urban Development announced on Monday of this week that as of 6:00pm, all roads in New Providence had been made passable.
In advance of Matthew said Deputy Prime Minister Davis, “my Ministry busied itself preparing our transport infrastructure to withstand the onslaught by trimming overhanging branches, clearing drains, and strategically placing heavy equipment to allow immediate post-hurricane clearing operations. These measures resulted in the flood waters receded quickly.”
The DPM pointed out that even before the “All Clear” was given, his officers began carrying out inspections and clearing obstructions and within 24 hours, the Ministry of Works was able to ensure that all major routes in New Providence were passable.
Mr. Davis commended the enthusiasm of his staff who he said “notwithstanding personal losses, rose to the challenge of disaster response – many of them working outside of the realm of terms of their employment. It is because of their commitment to our recovery that we have attained this milestone achievement within four days. I acknowledge the contribution of ordinary citizens, many men and women, who initiated self-help activities to clear roads. As well, I thank our contractors who stood ready and took action as directed. This is yet the beginning of a long haul to recovery.”
The public is advised to place all inquiries via the Ministry of Works & Urban Development’s Facebook Page or on 302-9700 or through NEMA on 322-6081.
New Doppler radars for the Met Office
At a cost of some $20 million, Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin revealed a “phased acquisition” of the radar systems.
“Based on (outside) advice and concurrence of our own technical team at the Meteorology Department, it was agreed that more effective coverage, sovereign coverage, could be achieved by a series of Dopplers throughout the country. The Bahamas made a policy decision to take the country beyond, and we will seek to provide comprehensive coverage” said Mrs. Hanna-Martin.
Acknowledging that the expenditure is huge, the Minister said that the government intends to keep the current radar and use it in conjunction with the new ones. The first in a series of Doppler radars are expected to be acquired early next year.
Bahamas Power and Light on restoration and financial performance
Appearing on a local talk show on Thursday, CEO of Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) Pamela Hill announced that complete power restoration to the entire Bahamas is expected within a few weeks with resource assistance from PowerSecure and Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation (CARILEC). She said that PowerSecure sent 35 personnel and equipment to assist in the Bahamas restoration efforts.
“We pulled some of the resources off of ongoing restoration on the east coast and we are moving them to Nassau” confirmed Power Secure President Ronnie Brennan. He said the trucks are at the docks in the US and the ship sails to The Bahamas on Friday.
She pointed out that as of Thursday (13th October), power was restored to 76.5% of New Providence customers.
On the issue of BPL’s financial performance, it is well documented that BPL currently carries a legacy debt of around one half billion dollars and in another recent interview, Ms. Hill addressed how her executive team plans to improve the financial performance of BPL going forward.
Among the opportunities identified were the use of more fuel efficient power generating units such as the temporary and recently installed Aggreko units; improved reliability and operational practices; savings; cost cutting measures; optimizing revenue generation and bridge financing.
“So that’s how we’ll start, is by looking at those opportunities” said Ms. Hill.
“Another way, which often tends to be a temporary way, is by borrowing. So our focus in a very short-term way will be to look at bridge financing and that sort of funding that we can use to optimize the operation of our units so that they can then become more trustworthy and robust, but also so that we can begin to lower the cost for our customers, because we can then take off those units that are really just so inefficient and are creating higher bills than they should because of how poor they operate” she said.
National Hero’s Day ceremony postponed
The state-recognized ceremony honouring our heroes scheduled for Monday 10th October 2016, National Heroes Day, a public holiday was postponed due to hurricane Matthew.
The statement read as follows:
“The General Public is advised that Cabinet at its meeting on 7th October agreed to postpone the ceremony that was to have taken place 10 October at the Botanic Gardens in observance of National Heroes Day. This is so that all the military and public agencies together with the civilian authorities can concentrate on the hurricane recovery.
“The Government pays tribute to all those who helped to build our nation. We are certain that in this post hurricane phase when we face the challenges of recovery, new heroines and heroes will emerge. Let us remember those who gave to this nation before us and let us pray for those who will help to build our nation in the future. As we go to church today let us pray for the builders of the nation and for its recovery. Each one is encouraged to do so today on the eve of National Heroes Day, remembering our blessings and those who brought us here and praying for our future.
“As soon as the new date for the ceremony has been set, the general public will be advised.”
Chamber of Commerce CEO Edison Sumner backed a policy move by the Central Bank to relax its lending guidelines in order to assist both business owners and homeowners impacted by Hurricane Matthew can get restoration refinancing more easily. The Central Bank informed commercial banks that it was relaxing both borrower debt servicing ratios and equity contributions to better facilitate access to necessary credit in the wake of Matthew’s devastation. The Central Bank waived the 15% down payment for a loan and the debt to income ratio was increased by ten percentage points from 45% to 55%.
Responding to numerous social media posts about fuel outages, local oil companies assured the country that there was sufficient inventory to meet the energy demands of Nassau. The head of Sun Oil confirmed that his company was in fact receiving a shipment of fuel on Sunday (9th October) during the NEMA press conference.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration has announced that Diplomatic week will take place next week here in Nassau. The event is scheduled the third week in October and it “provides an opportunity for the diplomatic corps to meet in The Bahamas to discuss issues of mutual interest and to deepen relations between The Bahamas and the respective countries” according to a ministry statement.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement confirming the legitimacy and authenticity of The Bahamas Hurricane Restoration Fund. This was in response to an “inaccurate and unauthorized social media post by one of our staff members concerning the legitimacy of The Bahamas Hurricane Restoration Fund.” The statement said the inaccurate post was removed from the Ministry’s facebook page but “shared copies may still appear online.”
Due to numerous rumors of price gouging, the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) released a statement on Thursday cautioning businesses “not to take unfair advantage of consumers following the devastation left behind by Hurricane Matthew.”
Prime Minister Christie branded Opposition leader Dr. Hubert Minnis’ criticism of his handling of Hurricane Matthew “idiotic.” “It rates as one of the most idiotic things I’ve heard during a disaster for the leader of the opposition, the alternative Prime Minister, to be able to make that kind of commentary. It disappoints me” said Mr. Christie.
Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) confirmed via press release this week that a one of its generators suffered a fire, but assured its 80,000 customers that the fire was small, was contained to a single generation unit and would not delay its power restoration efforts.
Dominica and Commonwealth Bank both donated $100,000 to The Bahamas Hurricane relief efforts.
With resource assistance from their US partners, Freeport Power was able to restore power to 20% of its customers. It was reported that about 1,000 utility poles were downed during the passage of Hurricane Matthew.
Bahamas Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling read and released a message this week from Queen Elizabeth II in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. In her message, the queen conveyed her sympathy to those whose property or livelihoods were adversely impacted by Matthew and expressed thanks and appreciation to everyone who is working on the recovery effort.
Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) Chairman Emmanuel Komolafe revealed that insured losses in the wake of the Matthew devastation could exceed $400 million.
Stuart Bowe, head of the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) confirmed that the tourism physical plant, by and large, held up well during the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew. The statement said that with the exception of properties on Grand Bahama and Andros, most hotel properties suffered “minor damage” throughout the country.
Raymond Winder, a Baha Mar receiver manager confirmed this week that Hurricane Matthew would not delay the remobilization and reconstruction efforts at the Baha Mar resort “at this stage” and everything is “on schedule.” He said that a 200-strong CCA team is at Baha Mar, aiding assessments.
Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma will close for two months while the property undergoes hurricane repairs. Its reopening date is the 15th December 2016.