The government intends to spend up to $200 million in order to make physical and equipment changes to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF), National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage announced in the House of Assembly yesterday.
The minister said the RBDF plays the key role as the first line of border defence against illegal immigration, drug trafficking, human trafficking, illegal firearms and poaching.
He said the defence force is seeking the acquisition of four classes of vessels comprising 11 craft estimated to cost $119 million.
They include four 70-foot inshore patrol vessels, four 108-foot coastal patrol vessels, two 140-foot offshore patrol vessels and one 170-foot landing craft utility.
“This administration has assessed the situation and has taken the decision to assign officials in the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of National Security to provide the planning and coordination services for the capital works and asset procurement exercises that are critical to realising optimum results from the acquisition exercise,” Dr. Nottage said during his contribution.
“The proposed Defence Force Vessel Acquisition Programme will represent a major investment by the government and would dramatically alter the defence force’s culture operation and finances. The projected direct capital expense for purchasing the vessels represents 1.3 per cent of the country’s current GDP and this could likely lead to a doubling of the defence force’s budget within five years.”
The minister said the proper project management is the key towards managing this transition and that normal project management costs would be between five to 10 per cent of the project.
“In the case of the defence force acquisition, the total cost of the acquisition including project management cost and the complete infrastructure improvement could be in the order of $200 million as the defense force acquisition also involves substantial upgrade to the infrastructure at several locations,” Dr. Nottage explained.
He said that these infrastructure improvements include dredging and ancillary bulkhead works at Coral Harbour base – estimated at $20 million; construction of base facilities at Gun Point, Ragged Island including aircraft hangar and small boat ramp; construction of base facilities at Freeport, Grand Bahama and improvements of base facilities at Mathew Town, Inagua including harbour expansion and aircraft hangar.
Dr. Nottage said additionally there are costs associated with retraining of officers and an increase in the fixed cost of maintenance support.
The government plans to establish an overall project management committee to oversee all aspects of the acquisition; of sub-committees focusing on ship acquisition, port infrastructure upgrade and logistics and training.
The RBDF now employs 1,164 workers.
But, it is expected that over the next five years it will employ 1,348.
“I am pleased to report that in June of this year 62 marines were added to the ranks of the defence force. Further, plans are in place to commence training of an additional 60 recruits in mid-September. Plans are to recruit some 240 over the next five years,” Dr. Nottage said.
“The livelihood of our people and a significant part of our economy are tied to our marine resources. The poaching of our marine resources has been a matter of much concern for many years. The defence force plays a pivotal role in protecting our marine resources from poachers and thus the provision of the requisite resources of equipment and trained manpower is essential. This government will not waiver in ensuring that the necessary resources are provided for them to effectively carry out their responsibilities.”