Bannister: Notwithstanding constrained budget, capital works “will go on”

Bannister: Notwithstanding constrained budget, capital works “will go on”
Minister of Works Desmond Bannister speaking to members of the press outside Cabinet.

Cost overruns on STAR Academy, Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium “a tough pill to swallow”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Despite the “severe challenge” posed by its reduced budget for capital works in the upcoming budget, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said yesterday that “something has to give” as he sought to explain the planned infrastructural works over the next fiscal period and the prudent decisions the Ministry of Works has had to make with respect to certain projects.

“The work will go on,” he said during the 2019/2020 budget debate in the House of Assembly.

“The truth of the matter Mr. Speaker is that the government is committed to true fiscal reform.

“None of us want more taxation and we cannot afford to continue along the road to ruin that members opposite had us travelling.

“So, something has to give.

“That means prudent expenditure on projects that add value to our communities and to our country.”

Last month, Bannister indicated that his ministry needed over $200 million for its capital works budget in the upcoming fiscal year.

In the 2019/2020 budget, however, the government’s allocation was less than half that.

The government has allocated $93.73 million for the ministry’s capital expenditure for the upcoming fiscal period — $26.9 million less than the 2018/2019 allocation.

Yesterday, Bannister indicated that of the allocation for 2019/2020, around $53.5 million has already been committed to ongoing capital works.

Of that figure, just over $10 million was committed to completing the Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium, a project that Bannister said was mismanaged under the Christie administration and led to cost overruns in excess of $8 million.

The total cost of the project was budgeted at $17.9 million, inclusive of design fees of $1.44 million.

The minister said under the previous administration, the cost mushroomed out of control and to date the government has spent $25.9 million of the stadium, and it will take another $11 million expected to complete the project.

The finished projected cost of $35.9 million is more than double the original estimated cost.

Work on the stadium commenced in 2016, but came to a halt in early 2017 after the general contract, Woslee Construction, cited months of non-payment.

Work resumed last year.

When completed, the stadium is expected to boast a MLB-approved field, two supporting fields, a main grandstand, general seating area, international standard dugouts and state-of-the art digital scoreboards.

Bannister said the STAR Academy was another example of ripe mismanagement of capital works under the Christie administration.

He said the project was not properly planned.

To make the point, the minister said the former government authorized $6.89 million for demolition works and to undertake the first two phases of the project, but later approved over $20 million for the project, which sits on land not owned by the government.

The property is owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The government does not have a lease to the property and is still in negotiations with the church.

The cost of the project will now exceed $30 million, according to Bannister.

“The challenge is not only that government does not own the land, [but] government does not even have a lease on the land,” Bannister said.

“So, Mr. Speaker after we have spent more than $30 million of the people’s money on constructing a beautiful building, the government will have no right to occupy it.

“I wish the Honourable Minister of Education well in his negotiations to secure the right for the Bahamian people to have access to this building.”

Bannister noted that the contractors of both projects — the Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium and the Star Academy — were performing, but the dysfunction and poor planning of his predecessor will leave another burden on taxpayers.

Ongoing projects

The minister outlined several of the approximately 260 ongoing projects spread across the archipelago.

The government will spend $1.13 million on portions of the Queen’s Highway in North Abaco which was in danger of collapse.

The work has almost been completed, the minister said.

It will cost another $773,093 to upgrade the junction of S.C. Bootle Highway; $5 million to address the structural integrity of the highway is South Abaco; and a further $3.86 million to repair the damage to the edge of the Queen’s Highway.

In Long Island, improvements to Monument Road and replace Newton’s Cay Bridge will cost a combined $1.88.

Over on Eleuthera, the government will repair the Glass Window Bridge at a cost of $497,512.

This includes the construction of a new concrete retaining walls, reinforced concrete walkway, repairing 800 square yards of carriageway, replacing pavement marking and installing warning signs.

Last May, the bridge was closed and residents were warned to stay away due to large, dangerous swells.

Several people have been severely injured as they attempted to cross the bridge during the closure.

Cabinet has approved a contract for the reconstruction and enlargement of the dock in Harbour Island at a cost of $4.7 million.

Road works in Governors Harbour will cost over $472,000.

The airport in Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands will see an investment of $5.5 million — $2.22 million to construct a new terminal building and $3.4 million for the civil works.

Numerous other projects were outlined.