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House: OBA accused of wasting cash

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A prefabricated housing project in Dockyard needed a major redesign when the project’s size was cut under the One Bermuda Alliance, the Minister of Public Works said Friday.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch told the House of Assembly the original 2011 plan was build 100 homes at a cost of $36 million, but the number was cut to 20 at a cost of $25 million.

He added prefab units had sat neglected at the Sally Port in Dockyard and had suffered significant damage from the elements.

Colonel Burch said the leftover prefabs had now been “completely written off” and blasted the OBA for “an incredible waste of taxpayers’ funds”.

The housing, built from concrete slabs that lock together, was erected around the old Victoria Row development in Sandys.

Alternatives sites, including the grounds of the National Stadium, had been looked when the development was downsized — but Colonel Burch said the previous administration come up with a suitable location.

He also told MPs there would have been “cries from all quarters for the immediate dismissal of the minister responsible” if the same thing had happened under a Progressive Labour Party government.

The project was criticised by the OBA as a saturation of the market when the party was in Opposition, and it was scaled down in January 2013 by the then public works minister, Trevor Moniz.

Mr Moniz stood by the decision and said: “Bermuda has lost 6,500 work permits. There are empty houses everywhere. We have the Grand Atlantic development sitting as a white elephant.”

He added that if the minister wanted low cost housing, the empty Grand Atlantic development in Warwick could be used instead of turning it into a hotel.

Mr Moniz said that interviews given after Colonel Burch’s statement in the House of Assembly were “simply untrue”.

He added: “The minister stated that I had thrown away millions of dollars when I stopped the 100 homes project at Ireland Island South.

“He further stated in the his interview in the broadcast media ‘How do you justify the decision you made and keep it quiet?’ “

Mr Moniz said he announced the decision to cut back the project to 20 homes in the House six months after the One Bermuda Alliance took power in the 2012 General Election in a bid to save $11 million.

He added: “The OBA had questioned the wisdom of this project in the run-up to the 2012 election and that was well-known so the action that we took when we became Government was no surprise to anyone.”

Mr Moniz added that the West End Development Corporation at the time had seven empty housing units at Boaz Island, which were being refurbished.

He said he was also “very concerned” about the proposed density of the development that “would just re-create unhealthy housing conditions”.

Mr Moniz added: “So I am happy to confess to putting 20 homes where they intended to shoehorn in about 50.”

He said: “We now have a much more attractive entrance to the Dockyard than there would be with 100 homes.”

Mr Moniz added that the storage of the prefabricated panels was the responsibility of Wedco.

He pointed out he had been public works minister for the year up to December 2013.

Mr Moniz said that the panels “only came under my remit for less than six months from when they arrived in the summer of 2013 until I moved ministry in December 2013”.

Mr Moniz told the House last Friday there had been “challenges and that’s normal” in finding alternative uses for the prefab units.

Colonel Burch said the downsizing of the project had also affected the payment plan, with the Government now committed to paying off $2 million a year until the finance loan had been paid.

He added a total of $22 million still had to be paid off.

To read Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch’s statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”