Despite speaking to Abaco’s “bright future,” Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis faced numerous responses from locals concerned with a variety of infrastructural shortcomings that many believe are holding back the island’s economy.
Davis acknowledged the various issues facing Abaco businesses, particularly limited resources available for infrastructural projects, including roadwork, which is a notable problem in some communities.
“For Abaco and The Bahamas as a whole, however, it is no secret that there’s much room for improvement when it comes to increasing the ease of doing business,” he said.
Although Davis noted the progress of roadworks across Abaco, several attendees raised concerns about the state of the roads on Green Turtle Cay, which require grading and paving. A local tourism professional charged that the outstanding roadwork threatens the community’s tourism sector and had already resulted in several injured visitors.
The Deputy Prime Minister said that resources are limited, noting that the Ministry of Works was meeting with local homeowners for assistance with costs for the reconstruction of the roads.
Davis went on to say that the government needs to learn from previous “missteps,” including the delayed and over-budget Marsh Harbour International Airport, and do a better job in presenting a “holistic approach” to infrastructural improvements and making sure it is “evidence based.”
“When we reflect on the missteps and the incredible expense associated with that project and when we consider the difficulties agencies of government and representatives had with accommodations and equipment, we simply give thanks that the experience is behind us,” he said.
“There is yet opportunity at Treasure Cay, though. The jet runway has greater capacity and potential for airlift and there’s reason enough for us to consider further investment for the good of Abaco’s economy,” Davis said.
Davis stated that the average cost of electricity had dropped nearly 25 percent over the past three years to 34.4 cents per kilowatt hour as of August 2015, down from 40.49 cents per kilowatt hour in 2012. Recognizing the impediment of high energy costs on family island businesses, Davis said that he expected further savings once the U.S. energy firm PowerSecure International assumed managerial responsibility of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC).
To further ease the burden on family island businesses specifically, Mr. Davis encouraged Abaco business owners and residents to invest in alternative energy systems and register them with the government which could lead to a BEC credit.
However, another hotel industry professional questioned whether Abaco had benefitted from the reported decrease in electricity prices, noting that they had yet to see reduced rates despite government assurances.
Davis responded, “I am fully cognizant of the challenges that the cost of electricity has brought to businesses and how it inhibits their growth. We have been working assiduously, now I know that in New Providence it has gone down by 10 cents, it should have gone down across the islands.”
The Deputy Prime Minister was questioned further with concerns from local contractors regarding the involvement of Bahamians, particularly Abaconians, in the $39 million North Abaco Port Project currently overseen by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). It was suggested that Bahamian contractors were being sidelined by foreign workers. Davis indicated that he was due to meet with CHEC officials within the day to discuss the possibilities of more Bahamian involvement in the project.
The project was stalled for an environmental impact assessment following the discovery of a blue hole at the project site early this year. Davis noted that the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology (BEST) Commission had determined in June that there was “no reason to relocate or reconfigure” the port layout as the Ministry of Works previously feared.
“Since then, all systems supported the resumption of the project and the work is now in full swing,” he said.
Mr. Davis also spoke of the ongoing work on the National Development Plan 2040, stating that with the assistance of a grant from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) “We are now taking a structured and institutionalized approach to planning for development. Strategic planning across sectors and among stakeholders is essential to facilitating productivity and achieving goals at implementation.”
Regarding the Mini-Hospital, Davis noted that the facility is 90 percent complete and they are working to ensure that it is in place to accommodate any emergencies.
“Outstanding items include completion of floor finishes, locking devices, telemedicine modalities, acquisition and installation of a communication network, installation of equipment, and landscaping. This project, which is under the supervision of the National Insurance Board, is expected to open before this year’s end,” he said.
After touching on the increased investments upcoming from both Baker’s Bay and Winding Bay’s developments, Davis noted that there are additional foreign investments bringing the prospect of increased job opportunities for Abaconians. He said that high-end developer Aman Resorts acquired the 50-acre Matt Lowe’s Cay for construction of an exclusive property in the Abaco Cays which will generate about 800 jobs during the construction phase and about 200 permanent jobs when operational.
“Further, Seneca Industries (Bahamas) Ltd has acquired Baker’s Cay and Grand Cay in the Abacos for development of an eco-friendly resort and marina,” he said. “This would provide a much needed economic stimulus for the nearby North Abaco community of Grand Cay and other settlements.”
“In terms of investment, therefore, Abaco’s future is bright. For Abaco and The Bahamas as a whole, however, it is no secret that there is much room for improvement when it comes to facilitating the ease of doing business,” Mr. Davis added.