Member of Parliament for North Eleuthera, Rickey Mackey, on Thursday, May 13th, 2021, in an interview with The Eleutheran, outlined some of the ongoing projects happening in his constituency, upcoming plans for the area, and shared thoughts on the upcoming election.
As the newly refurbished public clinic in The Bluff nears full completion, Mr. Mackey said how excited and proud he was about the success of that project. He also noted some of the other ongoing and upcoming projects in the North Eleuthera area, saying, “The road works have started here in Harbour Island, which the residents have been advocating for, for quite some time – and deservedly so. They are going to be here for five months, and by the time they are through, we should have impeccable roads.”
Airport Challenges and Opportunities…
“In addition to that, one of the things that we are concerned about in moving rapidly is the new North Eleuthera airport,” shared MP Mackey. “That is something we have been trying to get accomplished for quite some time. Unfortunately for us, the land where the airport is currently is known as ‘commonage land’, and our discussions with them have not been too favourable. Because of this situation with the commonage committee and us not being able to come to an amicable decision, the government will acquire the land, in the interest of the community.”
Describing the rebounding local economy and need for urgency with the airport project, Mackey continued, “Obviously, the amount of air traffic that comes through North Eleuthera is through the roof, and I dare to say that it is the North Eleuthera airport which is the gateway right now for the entire island of Eleuthera. If you traverse that area, you would see people all the way from the deep south, with their rental cars, coming to pick up guests. And the volume of international tourists here [in Harbour Island] is through the roof. Speaking recently with the general manager for Romora Bay, and I have had conversations with Valentine’s Resort as well. Last month – the month of April, was the best month for their marinas in the history of their operations.
“So, it gives you an idea of the level of business being generated in this area. And we are so grateful. That is why it is important to do the things that we have been doing – in straddling the fence with both health concerns and economic concerns – because, if we are unable to do this, it would put us in a worst state than where we now find ourselves as a country. So, I am grateful that North Eleuthera is doing quite well.
“The Exuma airport project broke ground on Friday, May 7th, and they will be mobilized and within a matter of weeks start construction. It’s a two-year project. I’ve spoken with the Minister on this, as I think Eleuthera should have been first – but I think we spent too much time trying to negotiate with commonage. Had we taken the position that we’ve now taken, we would have been well on our way. The legal framework through which we are acquiring the property should be completed shortly, after which we will move to find a contractor and to commence construction. It’s needed. I would say this should happen by the end of this year, or early in 2022.”
He continued, “We have people who are willing to invest in the airport, and wanting to spend – and I think that’s the way to go now – public/private partnerships. It keeps the government on its toes. We know that here in the Bahamas, when it comes to government run industries, we are not the best at it. We are not the best at maintaining government facilities. You can go to any part of this country and see a run-down, dilapidated government facility. If you partner with the private sector – the maintenance and upkeep, and even the business model will show you that it’s done so much better. NAD is an example of that, in how the government can partner with the private sector to run the LPIA airport, and they are doing quite well.
“As you ride around you would also see that construction is booming, tourists are all over the place, persons are all over the beach, and we are fortunate. It leads me into the discussions that I have had with my colleagues repeatedly about the importance of building up Family Island communities, and allowing them to grow and establish their own business interests. It would also decentralize a lot of the activity in Nassau. What Covid has shown us, is that while Nassau finds itself gripped by its ravages, we on some of the Family Islands have businesses that are booming, because people want to come to areas like this – where it is secluded, with the space to move around – not confined with all the things that you get in Nassau, and we are very grateful for the liberties we are now feeling because of where we are now during this pandemic.”
Having been ratified to once again represent the FNM as the incumbent candidate in the North Eleuthera constituency in the next general election, in response to being asked about his thoughts on the possibility of an early election, MP Mackey, siding with the camp of not calling it early, commented, “In my view, I think if the election is going to be called early, it will be called early, quickly… We are at a place where we are going to need to borrow a sizeable amount of money during the next budget to catch up on stuff that we wanted to have done and couldn’t do… Some take the view that if you go and borrow a bunch of money now, there would be all sorts of criticism – and would we be able to subside that talk within the next twelve months, before we get into an election? Then there is the trend of thought that says, look – call an early election, you win, then borrow big and its behind you. I would suggest that if we have to borrow, to do so. There will be people that don’t understand no matter what. Just like in life, there will be people who don’t like you, just because they don’t like you – they don’t have a reason. There are some people who are not going to support you, because they are not going to support you. I’m of the view that there is a 40% base of the population that supports the FNM, and another 40% base that supports the PLP. The 20% are where elections are won and lost, so you will just have to go out there and make your case – outlining the things we are dealing with, providing facts and figures. At the end of day the decision is that of the people.”
North Eleuthera projects…
Illustrating, in his opinion, the positive actions taken by the government during the current term of office, Mr. Mackey, shared, “We have spent a lot of money keeping people safe, feeding people, and providing essential services, in spite of the pandemic… In terms of what we have gone through – we have had to tighten our belt and try to get our country and our balance sheet in a good position. When we first came in, there were close to $400 million in unpaid bills – I’m not talking about overruns, but bills that had to be paid. Then we were hit with Irma in the southern Bahamas. Then we were hit with Dorian – which took 20% of our revenue, and hit our number two and number three financial streams – Abaco and Grand Bahama. So, when you look at that, followed by the coming of Covid, which took out 50% of revenue, we’ve been doing a lot of stuff, in terms of feeding and supporting people – and still doing a lot of projects.
“Just through the Ministry of Works in this constituency, the government has spent $497,512.20 on work done at the Glass Window Bridge (contract awarded to Triple ‘A’ Marine) ; $2,440,840 contract awarded to Engineering Technical Services on the technical study for replacement of the Glass Window bridge; $687,691.20 contract awarded to Nu-View Construction and $714,285.71 contract awarded to Quick Fix Construction for road works on Spanish Wells; $3,283,102.40 contract awarded to Waugh Construction for the Russell lsland replacement bridge; $2,658,667.20 contract awarded to Rowdy Boys for road works on Harbour lsland; as well as the cost of completing the Water Plant in North Eleuthera, which was approx. $3,000,000… That is more than $13 million spent, just on road works and infrastructure, and some people still say that nothing was done.”
Remarking on the recent visit to the South Eleuthera Water Plant by Minister Adrian Gibson, who visited the three islands threatened with cuts to their water supply over payment disputes between the government and the private operator, Mackey said, “They are looking at putting in their own equipment. The ones for Inagua are already on the ground, and the same thing in San Salvador. I guess at some point they will look at the South Eleuthera Plant… I can tell you that they have been having issues with Aqua Design for quite some time now. We are of the view that they have been price gouging, so the government’s intent is to put in their own plants. That of course is a two-edged sword. While Aqua is price gouging, they would have maintained the facility. You and I know that government-run facilities are historically poorly maintained, and that’s the other issue we will have…”