Land of the free: Minnis reveals Crown Land giveaway to fuel Dorian reconstruction


Tribune Staff Reporter

PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the government will provide Crown land for free in Abaco and Grand Bahama to construct low-cost homes for Hurricane Dorian victims.

The government will install utility infrastructure at the homes at no cost to eventual buyers.

“What it means is the populace will now have land free, which is theirs, and the infrastructure will be free, which is theirs,” he said at a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday. “We will then go out via RFP (request for proposals), inviting contractors to build homes meeting certain standards and requirements, therefore the cost of the homes will be greatly diminished by far less than $100,000 because people don’t have to pay for the land, don’t have to pay for the infrastructure and many contractors will build the homes and then sell to the various individuals.”

Dr Minnis, pictured, also gave details about the aid the government will give people rebuilding their homes. The money will be issued in a way that is transparent and accountable, he said, with people only receiving funds after satisfying certain conditions.

“We’ve committed $10,000 for the reconstruction and building of homes,” he noted. “An inspector from the Ministry of Works will go out and make assessments as to the conditions of homes. Individuals can receive $2,500, $5,000, $7,000 or $10,000.”

People whose homes have been completely destroyed will be eligible for the maximum of $10,000. The government is expected to specify the criteria to be eligible for that aid. The recently created Disaster Reconstruction Authority will establish The Bahamas National Recovery and Reconstruction Trust Fund, an independent body, which will help fund home and building repairs.

“The criteria may be, for example, if an individual has three children, if an individual has disabled persons living with them, if an individual is a single parent (they may be eligible and officials will) look at the individual’s income or combined incomes (in making an assessment),” Dr Minnis said. “It’s not essential for me to know your name. Meet the criteria, the trust fund will evaluate and decide yes, they are entitled, they will receive a given amount.”

Dr Minnis stressed that the funds won’t be paid directly to beneficiaries upfront.

“The monies are paid either by voucher to the hardware store and the balance paid to the contractor, but not to individuals,” he said. “Ten thousand dollars, both you and I know that if our homes are destroyed and government or anybody give you $10,000, that cannot build any home. The tendency as we’ve seen before in education, etc, has been to take that $10,000 and go shopping, go on a cruise and buy whatever you want. A policy will be enacted so that once an individual has commenced construction of their home, once they reach a certain level of progression, then they will receive the $10,000 which goes directly into the home and not to Miami or to the cruise industry. There will be complete checks and balances, policy guidelines and in addition to that the minister responsible for this ministry will report to the nation via cabinet and communication every three months as to the expenditure and progression.”

Dr Minnis noted water has been restored in Marsh Harbour and electricity has been restored to the government complex and clinic in that city. He noted Marsh Harbour’s airport also has power and has received approval to open by the US Transport Security Administration (TSA). He said the government has committed $5 million to making urgent repairs and improvements to the airport.

“In areas like Marsh Harbour, many places are not prepared for electrification,” he said. “This remains a central concern. Only buildings that can accommodate electricity will be re-powered. Power has been restored to Green Turtle Cay.”

As for some of the Abaco shantytowns, he said: “The clean-up at Sand Banks is 75 percent completed. The clean-up at the Mudd is 50 percent completed and is expected to be completed by Christmas.”

Dr Minnis noted the Grand Bahama airport is open and has started receiving international flights, with Silver Airlines and Bahamasair resuming services. The government is working to correct the water problem on the island because its salinity level is still too high.

Dr Minnis said the government is working to spur tourist arrivals to this country, but noted the Bahamas is beating some benchmarks for tourism recovery at this point following a major storm.

“It took Puerto Rico 15 months to reach 70 percent of pre-hurricane arrivals after being devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and it took St Martin 20 months after being hit by Hurricane Irma,” he noted. “Just one month after Hurricane Dorian, the Bahamas has reached 90 percent of pre-hurricane arrivals.”