On Tuesday night, legislators unanimously passed the latest iteration of the “Recovery to Development Plan” in the House of Assembly.
Before the official adoption of the plan — which government leaders have touted as a comprehensive roadmap for the territory’s recovery even as detractors have criticised its lack of detail — lawmakers debated the document for several hours.
Several politicians criticised the scope of the plan, as well as the Recovery and Development Agency itself, which will soon be tasked with implementing projects outlined in the document.
Opposition member Julian Fraser (R-D3) argued that legislators should not merely “whip the plan through the House” without sufficient scrutiny, pointing out that he voted against the Recovery and Development Agency Act in March.
“I could not in good conscience support an agency controlling $721 million — at the time that the agency was created — while the government elected by the people went into a state of paralysis,” he said on Tuesday.
Mr. Fraser also maintained that there should be information in the plan about when projects will be completed and who will have access to the contract bidding process, in order to ensure “our people benefit to the maximum.”
Marlon Penn, junior minister for trade, investment promotion and consumer affairs, commented that although he may still have concerns about the recovery agency, the body is currently better equipped to act than government.
“We need a vehicle that could execute — not to take over the process … [but] that has the capacity to be agile, to work in conjunction with the government, the ministries; to execute, but execute under specific rules, specific guidelines — which are the regulations and procurement rules — which we have not made,” he said. “I don’t know who we want to blame. We have to do our job. We have a responsibility to ensure that these things are in place, that the agency functions the way it should.”
Meanwhile, other lawmakers backed the current version of the plan without hesitation, while admitting the document is “not perfect.”
Deputy Premier Dr. Kedrick Pickering said it’s up to legislators to keep the power of the recovery agency in check.
“This is ultimately our responsibility to ensure that the Recovery and Development Agency acts as an agency of the government and not as an agency unto itself,” he said.
At the end of the lengthy debate, Premier Dr. Orlando Smith insisted that the agency will be a force for good in the territory.
“Most [lawmakers] are really accepting reality that this government, this country, has to recover and this is one way — through the RDA, through the systems of the RDA — that the recovery would take place,” he said.
Of the approximately $581 million the recovery plan lays out, about $227 million will go towards “human and social services,” $223 million to “infrastructure,” $79 million to “governance,” $35 million to “business and economy,” and $18 million to “natural resources and climate change.”
In the second appendix of the latest public document, various projects, programmes and initiatives are listed under the five sectors, along with rough dollar amounts. Not all projects under the plan’s jurisdiction are included in that monetary breakdown.
More projects — over 300 total — are listed in the back of the plan and range in specificity, though they do not include estimated costs.
Earlier this month, Cabinet also approved various principles to include in forthcoming regulations for the Recovery and Development Agency Act:
• a framework for interactions between the agency and government ministries;
• a requirement that the threshold for international bidding be set at $2 million;
• guidelines for procurement;
• a requirement for Cabinet to set out three-year priorities (and re-assess those priorities on an annual basis) and an annual letter of expectations for the RDA’s development;
• a requirement that the RDA develop an implementation schedule; and
• a stipulation that the lead minister can convene a committee of the HOA to discuss any aspects of the RDA’s implementation schedule and budget.
Cabinet also agreed that regulations should be developed “expeditiously” and submitted for Cabinet’s decision by Nov. 30.