One year after vote, Abaco appears largely unchanged
Guardian News Editor
Published: Oct 15, 2013
COOPER’S TOWN, Abaco – The spotlight has long dimmed on North Abaco since the October 15, 2012 by-election.
There have been no more Cabinet meetings there since the historic meeting on that island just over a year ago, and while there are signs that Abaco is progressing in some areas, many residents told The Nassau Guardian that things are not happening quickly enough.
Outside a yard in Murphy Town, Jamal McDonald washes cars and sells “gully wash”, known more commonly as “sky juice”, to anyone who would buy.
McDonald, a father of three, said it is the only way he can make ends meet right now because finding a job has proven to be much more difficult than he had hoped.
“I’ve been on the cay at Baker’s Bay with all my documents trying to find something to do, month after month,” he said. “It just seems we can’t find anything to do. A lot of youths in the community are walking up and down with nothing to do.”
McDonald said since North Abaco elected a new Member of Parliament one year ago today, there has been some progress, but it has been only slight.
The plight of young people on Abaco is multiplied across the country.
Back in February, the Department of Statistics reported that unemployment among youths (15-24) continued to be considerably higher than any other age group. The overall rate was 30.7 percent as of November 2012.
McDonald, 34, said he has not had a steady job in about four months, and it is really hard to provide for his children, but he said, “I try to keep my hustle on and try to keep a positive attitude.
“We hope that the government will do something for us.”
McDonald said he voted for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in the by-election.
“I’m just going to give them a little more time to catch [themselves] and to do what they said they would do,” he said.
“I’m just hoping and waiting to see what’s going to change.”
Under a nearby tree in the same yard where McDonald washes cars, several other young men sat chatting. They echoed similar concerns to The Nassau Guardian. Some said they had no jobs to go to.
Murphy Town is the hometown of Renardo Curry, the member of Parliament. The constituency stretches around 100 miles, from Dundas Town in central Abaco to Grand Cay.
When he spoke to The Nassau Guardian last week, Curry said, “What we have been doing are mostly assessments of Abaco, looking at the economy of Abaco as a whole, what it comprises and finding ways in which we can generate more jobs.
“We have taken our time for the past several months, visited several properties. We understand that there is a downturn in the economy for The Bahamas. Abaco is one of those lucky places because we have a very strong second home base that keeps our economy sustained.”
A year ago, Curry noted that Abaco was fast outpacing the development of all other Family Islands. He predicted it may rival Grand Bahama one day and pointed to “untapped” potential.
Prime Minister Perry Christie told North Abaconians last year that Curry had “great plans” for them.
Christie pointed to Curry’s plans to “jump start the economy of Abaco through bold initiatives in construction, agricultural and marine initiatives, the attraction of investments to your shores and promotion of your shores to the world”.
Curry, meanwhile, invited Abaconians to “step into a bright new future” with him and “leave the past to the historians”.
The past he referred to was former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who had won the seat eight consecutive times before retiring last year.
In the May 7, 2012 general election, Ingraham won North Abaco with 2,235 votes. Curry had 1,856 votes and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) candidate Sonith Lockhart got 39 votes.
In the by-election that followed five months later, Curry won 2,367 votes to the Free National Movement’s (FNM) Greg Gomez, who picked up 1,513 votes. Ali McIntosh of the Bahamas Constitution Party got seven votes.
For some constituents, the bright new future in the post-Ingraham era is taking too long to materialize. Some of them expected to see more in Curry’s first year of representation.
Ferris Hanna, a resident of Cooper’s Town, said he voted for the PLP last year and has so far been disappointed.
“There is no progress,” Hanna said.
Others, however, said a year is not enough time to effect real change.
“I think any government needs time to balance themselves out in whatever they are doing, so just give the government time and they will do well,” said Ebony Rolle, a secretary at the primary school in Cooper’s Town.
“I’ve seen some improvements; in some areas they did stuff, but once again you have to give them time and everything will fall in place.”
Aware that a degree of impatience has set in among some constituents, Curry said, “You will find that many persons are not used to waiting a while for things to get rolling, and so you have some people that are a little agitated, but rest assured that I am doing whatever I can to create jobs and opportunities for my people.”
Asked if he has created any jobs yet, Curry said, “Because we know that the government system is limited as far as jobs are concerned, I’ve partnered with many of the private institutions like Baker’s Bay, for example, and whenever they have openings they would contact my office.”
He said his office has steered qualified constituents to Baker’s Bay and other developments where jobs have materialized.
Curry is the parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister in Abaco.
Hanna, the Cooper’s Town resident, said North Abaconians are hoping the PLP will soon deliver on its election promises.
“Where we were last year, we are still in that today,” he said. “The airport is not opened; the port is not started, and there is no employment.”
Hanna was referring to the new terminal at Marsh Harbour International Airport. It was originally scheduled to open more than a year ago, but remains closed due to “technical delays”.
A paper sign pinned to a fence at the current terminal advises passengers arriving at the facility that “Domestic Baggage Claim Is Here”.
The words are written in a black marker, and the sign is one of the most obvious reminders of why Abaconians are anxious for the nearby state-of-the-art terminal to open.
The airport is not located in the North Abaco constituency, but it is important to the economy of the entire island.
“We realize now that we have to make sure that Abaco has all the necessary infrastructure to attract investors,” Curry said.
“The airport is a big deal, and so we have spent a lot of our time with the airport, trying to get it up and running as soon as possible.”
Curry said he expects the airport terminal to open within two months.
The project has been ongoing now for 26 months.
Curry also pointed to progress on a mini-hospital in Central Abaco, and road works in some areas.
Many residents are also hoping for greater progress on the North Abaco Port, a couple miles north of Cooper’s Town. Under a loan agreement signed by the Ingraham administration, $15 million was to be accessed from the Chinese Export Import Bank for the project.
Curry said his focus is on helping to expedite these and other projects.
“Nothing happens overnight,” he said. “But we guarantee you that [things] will happen. We are very focused and very resolute in getting things done.”