In a heated session of Parliament on September 19, 2023, the ongoing debate over the controversial $21 million beach renourishment project for Seven Mile Beach took center stage. The project, initially announced in December 2021, has faced scrutiny, primarily due to the shifting responsibilities and financial complexities surrounding it.
MP Joey Hew initiated the discussion by inquiring about the status of the project, which had been earmarked for a budget allocation of $21 million with an expected commencement in the first half of this year. However, the responses from two prominent figures in Parliament, Honourable Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and MP Sir Alden McLaughlin, unveiled a web of financial uncertainties.
Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, Deputy Premier and Minister responsible for District Administration and Lands, began by revealing that the Seven Mile Beach Renourishment Project had been transferred to her ministry. However, she emphasized a significant discrepancy – the budget allocation had not been transferred along with the project.
“Due to the estimated size of the project, the necessary business case work, including three-stage business cases, is currently in progress,” she explained. “Provided funding is approved in the 2024-2025 budget, the project will move forward accordingly.”
In essence, this statement clarified that despite the initial announcement of a $21 million budget, O’Connor-Connolly’s ministry did not currently possess the funds for the project, as the budget had never been officially transferred.
MP Sir Alden McLaughlin then raised concerns about a statement attributed to MP Kenneth Bryan, the Minister of Tourism and Ports, who allegedly opposed the expenditure of $21 million on the beach renourishment project.
McLaughlin argued, “Given that the Government announced the policy in relation to beach renourishment and indeed Finance Committee appropriated a budget of 21 million, therefore, I wonder if the Minister, a Deputy Premier who is in most unfortunate position, at this stage in relation to this matter, if she can explain or indicate if government’s policy in relation to this has changed.”
In response, O’Connor-Connolly referred to constitutional provisions, suggesting that if a Cabinet Minister wished to deviate from the government’s policy, there were options available. She also noted that she had not received any briefing from Minister Kenneth Bryan on the matter.
The discussion then shifted to whether the Beach Erosion Committee had consulted with properties from the Marriott Beach Resort north to Coral Beach. O’Connor-Connolly promised to gather this information, emphasizing the complexity of responsibilities surrounding the project’s transfer.
As the government prepares for discussions on the 2024-2025 budget, the public eagerly awaits to see if the budget allocation of $21 million for beach renourishment will eventually find its way to O’Connor-Connolly’s ministry.