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COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY 16th JANUARY

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discount viagra online times;”>Ministers update the House

viagra cialis times;”>The big event last week of course was the Prime Minister’s trip to China both as the chairman of CARICOM and as Bahamas Prime Minister to seek greater trade opportunities for the Bahamian people. Ministers of his delegation and others used the occasion of Parliament to update members about that trade mission and other policy initiatives.

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Hon. Obie Wilchcombe, Tourism Minister reported to the House on a number of important tourism related items Prime Minister Perry G. Christie covered with the Chinese leaders that were of particular importance to The Bahamas in fostering economic, social and cultural ties between our two countries. They included the following:

1.    Specific initiatives and strategies in conjunction with the Chinese Government, relevant agencies and Chinese companies to grow tourism and direct flights from China to The Bahamas

 

2.    Chinese investment by China Construction and Engineering Company of $150 million in Baha Mar Resort project, funding of Baha Mar ($3.5billion) resort project by China EXIM Bank, and the acquisition and $200 million redevelopment expansion of the Hilton Hotel property by China Construction Company.

 

3.    Opportunities for further infrastructural investment in The Bahamas through concessionary loans and public/private sector partnerships.

 

4.    Grant funding of a multipurpose auditorium to facilitate various indoor sports, vital to the development of the country’s youth, sports and sports tourism.

 

5.    The allocation of the $8 million grant from the Chinese Government to fund various public sector projects with social, economic and touristic benefits. 

 

6.    The completion of a Memorandum of Understanding between Ocean University, one of the world’s leading marine science centres of research and The Bahamas Agricultural and Scientific Institute.  The Memorandum of Understanding was also executed before departure from China.  This initiative has direct benefit for the linkages between agriculture, fisheries, and educational tourism and skills development.

 

7.    Confirmation of the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding concerning the Provisions of Goods and Services addressing climate change with a grant of $3 million by the Chinese Government to the Government of The Bahamas. The MOU is now ready for execution by the respective parties.

 

 

Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin announced the signing of a reciprocal air services agreement between the Civil Aviation Authorities of The Bahamas and China which paves the way for direct flights between the two countries. The Minister pointed out that many countries, including the US, have signed similar agreements with China to improve airlifts into their respective countries and therefore this was a beneficial policy option for The Bahamas.   

 

Reporting from the foreign policy perspective, Hon. Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs apprised House members of the dual components of the China trip.

“There were two components to the trip” said Mitchell. “The principal reason that took The Bahamas to China was for our participation in the First Ministerial Forum of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the People’s Republic of China in Beijing on 8th-9th January, 2015; the second and equally important reason was to take advantage of the presence in China of the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, to conduct high-level bilateral talks with the Chinese President, Mr. XI Jinping, and the Chinese Premier, Mr. LI Keqiang (pronounced lee-kay-tchee-ung), as well as with Chinese leaders of industry, all to attract their attention to possible business investments on their part in The Bahamas.”

 

Providing the House with an update on the implementation status of Value Added Tax (VAT) that became effective on 1st Jan, Hon. Michael Halkitis, State Minister for Finance told House members that as at January 12th, 2015, a total of 5450 or about 950 more than projected had registered for VAT. He said that the registration process continues.

 

On the issue of compliance, Halkitis said that The VAT Department has conducted a series of field visits in response to taxpayers’ complaints as well as to provide assistance to the VAT registrants.

 

Listed among the complaints according to Halkitis were “non-display of VAT certificate, issuance of proper invoices and sales receipts, overcharging of VAT and a general increase in commodity prices far above what is justifiable to account for VAT and associated administrative costs.” He cautioned businesses against increasing prices over and above the required amount. 

 

 

He said that the government is extremely pleased with the vigilance of consumers.

 

“We are extremely pleased that the consumers are being so vigilant. This level of awareness speaks to the quantity and quality of work done by the VAT Department in preparing not only the business community but the consumers as well” said the State Minister.

 

 

Hon. Melanie Griffin, Minister of Social Services and Community Development reported to the House that in light of the overall increase in the cost of living due to VAT, the government had approved a 5% increase to Bahamians on the government’s social assistance program. She stated that this allocation increase was in line with research findings from other countries that had implemented VAT.  

 

Debate resumed on the Electricity Act

Parliament resumed on Wednesday of this week following the Christmas break. The pending piece of legislation tabled just before Christmas was the Electricity Bill which forms the legislative framework for a reformed energy sector. These include the use of solar and wind energy sources and reverse net metering facilities.

 

Touting the government’s commitment to reducing the cost of electricity through the usage of alternative sources in its Charter for Governance, Environment Minister Hon. Kenred Dorsett summarized the objectives of the amended bill.

 

“Today, we are bringing that commitment to fruition by proposing an amendment to the Electricity Act which will provide for persons and businesses generating energy through alternative energy sources to tie into the current electrical grid and to receive a credit for excess electricity fed into the grid.”

 

Financial Services Minister and MP for Sea Breeze Hon. Hope Strachan and Tall Pines MP Hon. Leslie Miller both supported the bill while Long Island and Central Grand Bahama MP’s questioned the government’s ability to implement the new law effectively.

 

 

The latest unemployment numbers

Prime Minister Christie said that the latest unemployment numbers announced last Friday will drive his government’s investment program to ensure greater employment for Bahamians.

 

“I have to accept what they (Statistics Department) say…because I want to use it to drive the investment program I am responsible for because I know that beginning virtually now, there is going to be significant employment taking place.”

 

He went on to say that while in China, he and Baha Mar CEO Sarkis Izmirlian met with both the China Export Import Bank and the China Construction Company where there was unanimous agreement that Baha Mar would commence operation at the end of March 2015. “That means a few thousand people will be employed. That in itself will trigger off better statistics, so whatever the position is today, the position will change dramatically in a few weeks…in a few months” said Prime Minister Christie.

 

The Department of Statistics announced that the unemployment rate had increased from 14.3% to 15.7% between May and November 2014, the period covered. The labour survey was conducted between 27th October and 2nd November 2014.

 

 

The start of the legal year

With the traditional ceremony, pomp and pageantry, the legal year officially opened on Wednesday. Jurists marched from the Supreme Court to Christ Church Cathedral for a service of thanksgiving before returning to the Supreme Court for the opening ceremony.

 

In addressing leaders in the justice system, Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson, QC, focused on the theme of communication, cooperation and collaboration at all levels of the justice system. 

“We must work to create a safer and better Bahamas for our children and our children’s children,” said the Attorney General. “Only through communication, cooperation and collaboration can we succeed. Each of us has a responsibility to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate to ensure Swift Justice and work towards a better Bahamas – a safer, more secure Bahamas.”

The Attorney General also shared empirical data as examples of improvements as a result of Swift Justice:

·         A 46% decrease in time required to present a Voluntary Bill of Indictment (VBI) from laying of charges.

·         The number of cases heard has increased from 118 in 2012 to 200 in 2014

·         Bails, remands, case management, and presentation of evidence are being done by videoconference, saving time and money.

·         97 cases of murder and related offences were denied bail, where 55 cases were granted.

Senator Maynard-Gibson told jurists that the Government is aiming to dispose of 350 matters before the Supreme Court in 2015, which will significantly impact the backlog of cases.

 

Stem Cell industry officially launched

Prime Minister, the Right Hon. Perry G. Christie, addressed medical industry experts during a ceremony marking the official launch of the Stem Cell Therapy Industry in The Bahamas. The event was held on Wednesday evening, January 14, at Melia Nassau Beach Resort. In 2013 the government passed the Stem Cell Research and Therapy Act 2013; and in 2014 the Stem Cell Research and Therapy Regulations were officially brought into force. According to the Prime Minister, the experts involved in the newly introduced industry will ensure the highest professional standards and best practices in this highly sophisticated biotechnology industry. Mr

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. Christie said that it is expected that with the introduction of this industry, The Bahamas would attract clients (patients) from many different geographical territories with the potential development of a significant associated Medical Tourism component.

 

 

Prime Minister clears the air on Bank of The Bahamas

Montague MP Hon. Richard Lightbourn raised the issue of the $100 million bailout of the Bank of The Bahamas. He wanted the names of the default loan recipients and an explanation of how the government would recover the money because he said it appeared as though the security guarantees were inadequate.

 

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis was quick to point out that the loans were granted during the governance of the FNM, therefore the PLP government had nothing to do with it and could not be held responsible.

 

“The loans were granted under their (the FNM’s) watch. Not one of the board members today was on the board then. Those loans were granted when they (the FNM) were in office” said the Deputy Prime Minister. Of course this was a political answer to a political point raised by Lightbourn.

 

Speaking on the issue from a purely policy and governance standpoint was State Minister for Finance the Hon. Michael Halkitis.

 

“In order to restore proper capital ratios, this (the $100 million bailout) was the best course of action to take to remove the loans from the books of the bank. Give the bank a promissory note of $100 million on which the bank will be paid interest and have a firm, an accounting firm – a leading accounting firm solely dedicated through Resolve Bahamas to collecting on the debt” said Halkitis.

 

Wrapping up the rebuttal in defense of the bailout was Prime Minister Christie who said that his government will not compromise on doing the right thing to protect the investment of the bank’s shareholders.

 

“I want to make it clear to the Bahamian public as the sitting Minister of Finance (that) the government of The Bahamas is not going to compromise on doing the things it has to do to ensure that the bank of The Bahamas is secure, is safe, and continues to be a safe investment for its shareholders.”      

 

Dormitory at BAMSI burns

First a call from the Director General of BIS, than another call from a colleague, then social media went into overdrive with the posting of photos and videos of the BAMSI dormitory building on fire with speculative commentaries about the cause of the fire that destroyed the roof one of the dormitory buildings at the Bahamas Agriculture Marine Science Institute (BAMSI).

 

Head of the Fire Branch of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, Supt. Walter Evans and his team of CDU experts arrived in North Andros around 10pm on Thursday night and provided the following update:

 

“The Central Detective Unit (CDU) arrived here in Andros around 10pm last night and when we got here we traveled to the site where we met the top section – that’s the roof – the entire roof – of what we know as the dormitory of BAMSI, the entire roof was destroyed by fire. At this point we are looking at investigating this matter to determine exactly what would have been the cause of this blaze – we are not sure at this point and investigators are on the ground and we are looking at things from several different angles” said Supt. Evans. No other building on the campus was damaged by the blaze.          

 

 

In Passing…

The government of The Bahamas offered condolences to the government and people of Nigeria earlier this week following a terrorist attack by a group called Boko Haram.

 

The latest squad of graduates in airport security got their marching orders from Transport Minister Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin during their graduation ceremony on Thursday afternoon at the New Providence Community Center on Blake Road.

 

Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell and CARICOM Ambassador HE Picewell Forbes traveled to Georgetown Guyana on Wednesday to attend the meeting of the Community Council, the second highest body in CARICOM where Mitchell chaired the meeting. Agenda items included increased investment in young people, planning for the Nassau CARICOM summit next month and the terrorist situation in Nigeria relative to the instability being caused by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

 

The project funded by a $650,000 IDB grant to conduct feasibility studies on coastline and coastal infrastructure and the negative impact of climate change on this infrastructure was launched yesterday at the Ministry of Finance. Ultimately, the objective of the study is to implement a “climate-risk resilient” Integrated Coastal Zone Management Program (ICZM) to properly manage and protect the country’s coastline and related infrastructure.

 

The first field marine research project of the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) was initiated during the first week of January 2015 at the well known Nassau grouper aggregation off High Cay, Andros. This project is designed to investigate the dispersion and fate of mature Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) for the next year after participation in a spawning aggregation. This initial project will investigate this marine resource which is very important to the marine ecosystem as well as the culture and diet of Bahamians.

     

Sir Jack Hayward, owner of the Grand Bahama Port Authority passed away this week at the age of 91. He was instrumental in the development of Freeport/Lucaya in Grand Bahama. In expressing his condolences, Prime Minister Perry G. Christie said that he was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing this morning (Tuesday) of Sir Jack Hayward” and that Jack “was by common acclaim the single most important figure behind the economic development of the city of Freeport, Grand Bahama, in the post-Independence era, having succeeded to the leading position held by his late father, Sir Charles Hayward, in the Grand Bahama Port Authority.” May his soul rest in peace.

 

Not since Elisha Obed TKO’d Miguel De Oliveira in the 11th round in Paris on the 13th November 1975 to win the World Boxing Council (WBC) Middleweight world title has The Bahamas produced a fighter as celebrated as the 2008 Olympian Tureano Johnson. He pounded Colombia’s Alex Theran into submission enroute to a sixth round TKO and in the process captured the World Boxing Association’s International and silver or interim titles. He also captured the World Boxing Council’s Continental title. A hero’s welcome has been planned to celebrate his achievement.