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Budget Contributions

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cialis times;”>Philip Davis, generic cialis Deputy Prime Minister

CONTRIBUTION 

OF                                                                    

HON. PHILIP E. DAVIS, Q.C.

MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

(CAT ISLAND, RUM CAY, AND SAN SALVADOR)

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

 AND

MINISTER OF WORKS & URBAN DEVELOPMENT

 

TO THE

 

 

 

DEBATE ON THE MIDYEAR BUDGET REVIEW:

FISCAL YEAR 2015/2016

 

 

 

23rd MARCH 2016

 

 

HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY

COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS

NASSAU, NEW PROVIDENCE

 

As Delivered        

 

 

  1.  Speaker

This is the midyear budget review and the contributions have been hijacked by many distractions.  I will not allow myself to be distracted but obedient to the reason that we are here.

I rise again to honour the constituents of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador and in absolute support of the good news presented on the 7th of March by our Prime Minister, the Rt. Honourable Member for Centreville. 

I add my congratulations to those from my colleagues to the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, the Member for Golden Isles, who remains steadfast in his duty to balance our fiscal affairs and to shore up responsible expenditure.

All of the prudent fiscal management measures announced at the premiere budget exercise for this Administration have caused an optimistic stemming of what I call “the great haemorrhage”.  The Member for Montagu alluded to the spending of a “drunken sailor”.  I thank God that that sailor is not the captain of this ship.

  1.  Speaker

It must be a nightmare for them that this side can announce that “we have […] succeeded in reducing the Government Deficit from $539 million three years ago to the projected $141 million this fiscal year.” 

It must be like a nightmare for them to know that this “Do Nothing Government” has realised “a Deficit reduction of almost 75 per cent or $398 million”. 

I think the Member from St. Anne’s challenged those figures.  He said that our assertion is premised on the fact that our projected deficit differs from theirs.  Even with the disagreement, the figures put into a distant past, the “drunken sailor” spending.

  1.  Speaker

With prudent leadership and an unyielding focus, we are yet again executing a fiscal management plan that works. 

  1.  Speaker

When I say that it is an honour to stand in this Place, I do not take that lightly.  Beyond honour though, this privilege that we all share – this responsibility that has been vested in us through the casting of votes – is no trivial matter. 

As Members of this House, we are called to a higher standard – particularly by our constituents.  Let me affirm here and now that I will continue to listen to the concerns of our people and do my best to return their trust by working hard to make life better for all.

  1.  Speaker

This circumstance of privilege has been the impetus behind the work of my Ministry.  Our actions enthusiastically consider our human capital – that is, the Bahamian people. 

In doing so, we remain committed to do all that we can to assist Government to keep on track to eliminating the primary deficit and foster the ideal of value for money as an adjunct to fiscal prudence.

Along with that, we are intent, as far as possible, to secure private sector involvement in building roads, bridges, airports and other structures – the physical underpinnings of a modern Bahamas that will lead to better quality services, lower cost services, and enhanced value for Bahamians.

We have continued the planned infrastructural development for each island that will facilitate the acceleration of job creation, enhance standards of living, and strengthen our competitiveness in the Caribbean and, indeed, around the world. 

Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador

  1.  Speaker

My constituents are my first responsibility when I stand here.  I, therefore, begin with them as I account for my stewardship for the first six months of this fiscal year.  The October 2015 passage of Hurricane Joaquin severely affected my constituency – particularly the islands of Rum Cay and San Salvador.

Rum Cay sustained severe damage to the public dock and the Sir Milo Butler Park.  The sea surge destroyed about 85% of the rock wall that lined the boundary of the cemetery on the sea side.  Fallen trees and debris littered the settlement.  Twenty-three (23) residences were adversely affected and the electricity infrastructure was badly damaged.  Fortunately, the public roads wore the storm well. 

With the post hurricane remediation works, plans for the Health Clinic have understandably been delayed.  Notwithstanding, construction documents are awaiting only the quantity surveyor’s Bill of Quantities.   

Rum Cay All Age School was undergoing major renovations prior to the storm and the students were already being housed at a local church on the island.  The church was water damaged and BTC graciously permitted the use of some of its space to conduct classes for the students and for afterschool activities for students.  This provision will remain in place until those renovations are completed.

This spirit of community is refreshing in today’s world.  I thank all of the stakeholders involved for their assistance.

  1.  Speaker

In San Salvador, 223 homes were damaged by Hurricane Joaquin.  Works are well underway to ensure that every home is repaired. 

United Estates Primary was also damaged.  The students returned to school on the 21st of October 2015 thanks in part to the Adventist Church that provided facilities for two grades at the local church.  The San Salvador High School reopened a week later as repairs were completed.  The process toward the award for the construction of a new primary school is underway and a contract should be executed within the coming weeks.

  1.  Speaker

The residents on the islands of San Salvador and Rum Cay have expressed great appreciation to BEC, BTC, and WSC for their urgent work to restore some semblance of normalcy to their lives.  Today, I again add my thanks.

I also thank Ms. Melony Roach, who has responsibility for the restoration efforts in the affected islands.  She is doing all that she can to ensure that Bahamians are afforded quality assistance in a timely manner.

Government has already authorised the award of contracts in excess of $30 million to repair damaged buildings on all of the affected islands.

  1.  Speaker

The project to rehabilitate the airport at San Salvador has enlarged in scope to cause the elimination of the modular building that existed.  With the input of Club Med and the international airlines, the construction of a full concrete structure is underway and was operational to coincide with the reopening of Club Med.

  1.  Speaker

Apart from that, my Ministry has rehabilitated over 10 miles of the Queen’s Highway on San Salvador and constructed over 3,000 feet of seawall. 

We have not abandoned the project to construct San Salvador’s Primary School.  In fact, the Tender Evaluation is complete, awaiting presentation to the Tenders Board.

For Cat Island, Mr. Speaker

Comprehensive infrastructural developments are afoot.  We have constructed over 4,500 feet of seawall and carried out sand seal repair works to the roadway in New Bight.

I am pleased to advise that my Ministry is progressing toward completing a Master Plan for the development of all of Cat Island, which includes the Spine Road, which will be funded by the Caribbean Development Bank (CBD).

My Ministry has cooperating with the Ministry of Health to complete assessments of the health infrastructure for the island.  Government has already approved the issuance of a contract to demolish the Clinic at Orange Creek and construct a new one and a Clinic at Old Bight.

The other clinics on Cat Island (Old Bight and Smith’s Bay) have been targeted for upgrading as a component of Health System Strengthening in preparation for National Health Insurance.

Just this weekend, the Police and technical officers from my Ministry have agreed a site for the Police Station at Arthur’s Town.

Additionally, Government has agreed to issue a contract to Woslee Construction for the new airport terminal and runway rehabilitation at Old Bight.  This airport is critical to facilitate the PGA development and is intended to commence simultaneous construction. 

  1.  Speaker

Smith’s Bay’s packing house upgrade is nearing completion to facilitate farmers’ benefitting from participation in BAMSI.  A site is being decided for a processing kitchen to allow them to process their produce to add to the value of their product.  It is also intended that the Smith’s Bay Dock will also be reconstructed.

Updates

  1.  Speaker

For the most part, other Members have accounted very well for the infrastructural improvements throughout The Bahamas that have been facilitated by my Ministry.  Our resources are limited but we do as much as we can to use funds efficiently.

I will, however, draw to your attention that my Ministry is implementing its Road Maintenance and Management System as advocated by the IDB-funded Institutional Strengthening component of New Providence Infrastructure Improvement Programme. This approach has been partially effected by awarding relatively small contracts on a local area-by-area basis to offer diverse employment opportunities.

Small contracts have also been let for the rehabilitation of roads that have fallen into varying degrees of disrepair.  The same level of contractors has qualified for these works and my Ministry is happy to supervise them.  All of these initiatives have proven good as we are able to facilitate wider employment opportunities.

We know that these contractors are, in many cases, unable to insure their projects.  For this reason, my Ministry (including the Urban Renewal Commission) maintains Contractors’ All Risk Insurance for small contracts under $50,000.00. 

In that way, the Ministry’s interests are protected in the event of unsatisfactory results and this represents one less hurdle for small contractors to clear.

These are very important things that are happening in my Ministry because they offer opportunities that are ordinarily unavailable to the average man or woman.  Some are of the view that this is not the better path, but I hold fast to ideal that small businesses form the crux of economic growth in The Bahamas and we should do all that we can to encourage it.  

Bearing in mind the limitation of time, I will update this House on other, so to speak, hot button issues within my portfolio.

Planning and Subdivisions Act

  1.  Speaker

I am happy to report that my Ministry has completed its revision of the Planning and Subdivisions Act.  This action has a well thought out rationale that was long articulated in our Charter for Governance. 

There, we noted the significant inefficiencies, burdensome costs, and prohibitive requirements for people building homes, which were worsened by passage of The Planning and Subdivisions Act in 2010.  We committed to streamline approval procedures.

The draft has been widely circulated and has secured the opinions of several individuals and organisations.  Our Technical Team and the Law Reform Commission has had the opportunity to carefully consider every opinion. Earl Deveaux, former Minister of Environment who had responsibility for its 2010 revision was invited and provided a view.  Law firms engaged in the real estate development and conveyancing practice also provided comprehensive reviews with recommendations. 

  1.  Speaker

My Ministry has also had the opportunity to review a letter addressed to you and others and copied to me and many others from Frederick R. M. Smith, QC from the law office of Callenders & Co., acting on behalf of “the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay, also known as Save the Bays.” 

The letter is the seed for what this side views as a super-funded media campaign.  The campaign misleads the public by suggesting that the Government is “taking [something] away” and raises questions as to “who will benefit”.  In the same way that Smith’s letter conjoins Peter Nygard and Koed Smith as the primary beneficiaries of the revisions, the media campaign carries suggestion on radio and in the press.[1]

The Department of Physical Planning has always maintained that the Planning and Subdivisions Act 2010, provisions are sound, but not practical for implementation in this jurisdiction. 

The first issue stems from the fact that the current legislation is premised on a land-use-plan and zoning-by-laws system.  It is almost impossible to implement the system as specified under the current legislation because there are no clearly articulated policies, merely broad statements left for indiscriminate interpretation.  Those broad policy statements have proven insufficient to guide the Department. 

In its current form, the beneficiaries of the legislation are primarily those who gain from legal fees and certain advocacy groups in society. 

This Government, though, has the resolve to ensure that planning benefits all of our citizens – not only the moneyed few – it will benefit all people in all areas of The Bahamas. 

I think that it is necessary to illustrate this by taking on some of the Save the Bays assertions. 

Their first allegation is that Government Wants to Avoid Public Consultation.  Nothing can be further from the truth.   The proposed Bill continues the requirement for public consultation.  What it does, though, is simplifies the process by making it mandatory for projects of significant sizes and likely impacts to automatically be subject to public consultation, while simple applications (like severances or site plan approval) are exempt. 

In fact, the proposed Bill goes further to identify projects that will require Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and all such projects will require public consultation. 

Even further, Mr. Speaker, after consultation with the BEST Commission, the new proposal gives the Director discretion to subject other applications to the public consultation process.  Certainly, this cannot be classified as an avoidance of public consultation.

Secondly, Mr. Speaker

They say that Government Wants to Allow Unregulated Development.  They suggest plans to completely remove rules to permit the haphazard development of land, thereby creating and unfair and inefficient planning for land development. They further assert that the revision could permit developments that were previously rejected or stopped. 

Again, this is not true.  The proposed Bill continues to require that all development must still go before the Town Planning Committee and the Rules of the Committee will not change.

Save the Bays says that Government Wants to Reduce Environmental Protection, saying that what the Government proposes will permit certain developments without any EIA. 

In fact, Mr. Speaker, the present Act does not specify which projects require EIA.  What is proposed, however, is actually less discretionary than what obtains in the 2010 Act. 

Further, actions always speak louder than words.  Take for example the fact that this same Government that they say has no concern about the environment and will reduce environmental protection just recently set aside 7.5 million acres of land, nearshore, and marine environment on 8 islands.   To the objective eye, that smacks of environmental protection.

  1.  Speaker

They say that Government Wants to Put Our Communities at Risk by completely removing Land Use Plans (LUP) from the legislation, thereby threatening the safety and prosperity of our families and placing traditional communities at risk. 

To the contrary, Mr. Speaker, the requirement for Land Use Planning will not be removed.  What has been proposed, however, is to transfer the details of the requirement for Land Use Plans to Regulations. 

This has been proposed because the cost and time involved in the preparation of these plans and by-laws, the limited institutional capacity, and the unavailable data challenge enforcement of the Act. 

  1.  Speaker

The assertions become even more preposterous, but I will speak to the one that seems most laughable.  They say that Government Wants to Let Illegal Developers off the Hook.  Here, they tell the truth of their motivation.  In the final analysis, this target – super rich to super rich – is the only interest of the same cast of characters. 

It is nothing to do with our mangroves, nothing to do with our grouper, nothing to do with our ecosystem.  It is all about what Marathon has aptly described as the “Bahamian hustle”.

  1.  Speaker

This revision is no whim.  The changes proposed are research-based considering the numbers, types and processing of planning applications. 

We have gone through the consultative period and have taken into consideration all of the opinions provided to us.  Now, we proceed to Cabinet.  In the short-term, therefore, I will return to this Place with the legislation.  We are not distracted.  We are not deterred.

  1.  Speaker

I now turn to the issue of the Pointe property that has been the subject of questions in newspapers and in this House.  

Development issues are always complex and there are times when small changes that will lead to a more sustainable development may be initiated when existing ordinances may be outdated, overly complicated, contradicting innovative building, landscape, or site designs.

Many existing zoning laws restrict designs that incorporate sustainable development techniques.   Arguably, existing ordinances are the most significant barrier to sustainable development projects.   History has shown us that conflicts and delays often discourage developers from battling governments for approval.  

I mention ordinances and laws and zoning rules here only because the Member for Montagu intimated in his contribution that decisions in respect of the Pointe are in violation of the law.  I have seen no written ordinance, no legislation, no written policy that prescribes heights for downtown Nassau.

I am advised, though, until the enactment of the Planning and Subdivisions Act 2010, there was a Special Architects Committee that, since the 1960s, considered the height of “45 feet to the eave (or four stories)” as a guide for recommendations to the Town Planning Committee for construction in that area.

Notwithstanding that guide, I can point to the Post Office Building, Maritime House on Frederick Street, and the existing British Colonial Hilton – all are well beyond four (4) stories.

  1.  Speaker

Recall that I said that the Special Architects Committee existed until the coming into force of the 2010 Planning and Subdivisions Act.  With that, the Committee was abolished.  Architects were insulted by that action.  They called it a travesty!  We recognised this great faux pas and have proposed the Committee’s reconstitution in the new Bill. 

Downtown redevelopment is a must to ensure the viability of our tourism product.  With this in view, the Department of Physical Planning and the Town Planning Committee are guided to prudent decisions.

Fishing Hole Road

  1.  Speaker

On the 18th of December 2015, my Ministry entered into a contract with All Bahamas Construction Company Limited for design/build works for the Fishing Hole challenge following a competitive bidding process. 

For many years, successive governments have known the need to find a solution for the Fishing Hole area as it represents great travail for the people of Grand Bahama.  This represents the fulfilment of a commitment that dates as far back as the 1990s. 

What may be perceived as a delayed response can be attributed to the fact that, when a supposed solution was determined in 2004, three devastating hurricanes caused technical officers in my Ministry to revisit their options.  What was planned was simply insufficient because waters rose to double the height of what was originally provided for.

To this end, All Bahamas Construction has provided an engineering innovation to withstand normal to extreme environmental conditions, with minimal negative impact on the settlement of Queen’s Cove while providing for the environmental preservation and restoration of communication between the Hawksbill Creek and the Freeport Harbour. 

We are happy to have the buy-in of area residents who participated in several town meetings to discuss the solutions.  Now, we move to provide the appropriate answer to improve access to all of Grand Bahama.  The project duration is sixty-one (61) weeks.

  1.  Speaker

The Member for Pineridge, who is the Minister Responsible for Grand Bahama, has announced all of this Government’s work in and plan for Grand Bahama.  My Ministry is very proud to be able to facilitate all of those works.

Beyond Grand Bahama, Mr. Speaker

My Ministry is reviewing feasibilities studies for remediation to the challenge at the Glass Window Bridge in North Eleuthera.  Once complete, I will bring a report to this House.

Urban Renewal

  1.  Speaker

For me, progressing our human capital equals or betters the weight of physical infrastructure.  That is why I am always happy to turn my attention to Urban Renewal. 

  1.  Speaker

Bahamians are a strong and resilient people.  We, for the most part, were brought up to be proud, even if we do not have adequate financial means; and we were taught to hold fast to an Anchor, which is God – firm in our faith so as to maintain our traditional morals and values, our culture, our rich heritage, remembering that we are one people. 

  1.  Speaker

The Urban Renewal 2.0 Programme will celebrate its fourth anniversary this year and continues to give focused attention to the implementation of holistic and integrated strategies to renew inner city communities. 

For all of the detractors, for all those who question the efficacy of Urban Renewal, for all those who say that we are not getting value for money, I say, let the people speak.

Go and ask the poor, the disenfranchised, the unemployed, the at-risk youth, the children, and the elderly about the Urban Renewal Programme in their neighbourhoods. 

They will tell you about the Urban Renewal Band and its transforming impact on hundreds of young lives – how these children are empowered through the discipline of music.  Just under two weeks ago, the Urban Renewal Band was showcased at the St. Patrick’s Parade in Washington D.C. – 90 minutes at the grand stand! 

  1.  Speaker

The Bahamas had 103 representatives in this magnificent event and the exposure for the band members was phenomenal.  Incredibly, from among the over 100 units participating in this year’s parade, the Urban Renewal Music Masters Youth Band snatched the Best in Parade Award.

I congratulate Inspector Theodore Campbell for the magnificent work that he does with the Urban Renewal Band.  The band members are also to be commended for their commitment to making The Bahamas great through the medium of music.

  1.  Speaker

They will tell you that since November 2013, Urban Renewal, through the Small Homes Repair Programme, has been on pace to totally transform the inner cities.  Since taking office, we have repaired over seven hundred (700) houses through this bold initiative; and it is anticipated that another three hundred (300) houses will be repaired before the end of this fiscal year.  

  1.  Speaker

They will tell you that small contractors, tradespersons, and semi-skilled persons (carpenters, plumbers, masons, tile layers, helpers, and the like), this means employment – employment that many of them would not ordinarily be able to secure; the ability to be the breadwinner in the home; to pay bills and save a little for a rainy day.

  1.  Speaker

They will tell you that small businesses in the inner city and traditional communities, the Small Home Repairs Programme is a much needed economic injection.

  1.  Speaker

This is a good a time as any to make reference to the goings-on in this Place over the past week.  I preface it by saying that I make every effort daily to remain grounded. 

While I have high regard for the Office that I hold, I know that the Office does not make me.  I continually remind myself of my parents’ admonition to me: “But for the grace of God, there I go.”  I remain ordinary in my daily life to enable me to do extraordinary things for some ordinary folks.

Much has been done to attempt to besmirch my character.  While I will not take too much time with it, I will not ignore the political mischief that too many are engaging to destabilise this Government. 

It is very clear to us that we are on the right track when the game shifts to distraction.  As a Government, we remain focused and will not misstep because of the noise. 

  1.  Speaker

Nobody should be surprised that I have associations with a many young men with a central purpose of getting them to understand that antisocial behaviour and lives of criminality are harmful to them, their families and their communities.

In my discussions with them, it is almost invariably suggested that men released from prison without some intervening socialisation is a disservice to that person and society, as many “demons” continue to exist in their heads and adjustment to freedom is a journey with many challenges and temptations. 

They argue that any realistic assessment of the challenges and temptations confronting released prisoners who have no institutional support to assist in their adjustment to society would help in our understanding of why these men become repeat offenders and often with violent consequences and high recidivism rates.

There are many similarities among despondent young men.  Many have brushes with the law and many had previous convictions ranging from serious to misdemeanours.  Many are unemployed and claim to be unable to find work primarily because of their criminal history.  Many feel abandoned, neglected and valueless.  They are all clearly suffering and despairing. 

This is the reason why the PLP Government’s Urban Renewal 2.0 is advanced as a priority.  There is no doubt that Urban Renewal Programme is the right vehicle to convey the anguish and despair from the various communities; and without elaborating on all of its components that are well known, the engagement of youthful persons of influence upon the despairing youth has been a resounding success.   

I therefore acknowledge and thank the Urban Renewal Commission, Christian Council, and various groups within communities for their urgent dialogue to agree a mechanism and even more urgent action to make our young to feel more valuable, wanted, loved, and meaningful to our society.

Bahamas Power & Light Company Ltd (BPL)

  1.  Speaker

I now turn to the Bahamas Power & Light Company Limited (BPL).  On the 9th of February this year, I had the pleasure to witness BPL entering into a Management Services Agreement withPowerSecure Inc.  That exciting step poised PowerSecure to assume management control of BPL, enabling The Bahamas to enter the next phase of its energy sector transformation.

BPL customers continue to enjoy the fact that energy costs have reached its lowest in more than a decade.  We see this demonstrated by the residential customer who consumed 500 kWh of electricity in October 2014 being billed $196.29.  The same customer consuming the same 500 kWh of electricity in February 2016 paid $99.65 (excluding VAT). The savings is almost $97.00 – that’s progress.

BPL’s primary objective is to improve customer experience and ensure that the company gains.  Major efficiency gains are expected with the upgrade and more efficient management of generation, transmission and distribution equipment, and in particular using less fuel to generate the power that the country needs, as well as generation plant that is able to use cheaper more efficient fuels such as natural gas. 

Another significant cost is human resources. There has been much said about the scale of potential downsizing at BEC.  I have already put it on record that the Government, the Board, andPowerSecure are extremely sensitive to this issue. 

  1.  Speaker

We do not expect any staff reductions in the near future, and if there are to be any later on, this will be done over time in a manner that is fully open with key stakeholders and employees themselves.

Water and Sewerage Corporation

  1.  Speaker

I move to the Water and Sewerage Corporation.  During this fiscal period, Mr. Leslie Miller, the Member for Blue Hills, was appointed as Chairman of Board of the Corporation.  I congratulate him in the same breath that I thank the outgoing Chairman Lester Cox for his fine service to the Corporation.

  1.  Speaker

Revenue for the Corporation showed modest growth during the period.  This is attributed to the fact that WSC launched an aggressive Customer Win Back campaign in October 2015.  This campaign aims to capitalise on ample water supplies and consistent improved pressures to regain the confidence of former customers and to attract new customers. 

Since the beginning of March 2016, tenants are also able to apply for their own accounts so that safe potable city water is readily accessible to them.

  1.  Speaker                     

Government approved $29.26 million in subventions to WSC for 2015/16, compared to $35 million in the previous year.  This reduction has challenged the Corporation to responsible fiscal programmes geared toward reducing costs and improving efficiency.

  1.  Speaker

The Government of the Bahamas and the Corporation have secured a $28.33Mn loan from the CDB with the Government/WSC committed to a further $13.3Mn in counterpart funding.

This programme includes potable water distribution systems for Coral Lakes, Boatswain Hill and Pinewood Gardens Phase “B” subdivisions in New Providence and new water supply systems and improvements to existing systems for communities in Crooked Island, Eleuthera, Cat Island, San Salvador, Long Island and South Andros.

The New Providence works have commenced and it is anticipated that the South Andros works will commence by early this summer and the other projects later this year.

  1.  Speaker

There are a number of Government-funded projects facilitated by the Water and Sewerage Corporation within this fiscal period.  In  Mayaguana, new water transmission and distribution systems including desalinated water plants were completed in January 2016 and are now operational in the communities of Pirates Well, Betsy Bay and Abraham’s Bay providing these communities with high quality piped potable water.

In Central Eleuthera, works are in progress to rehabilitate the existing storage tanks to improve the available storage and thereby improve the reliability of our Central Eleuthera Water Supply System.

Additionally, the 1 million imperial gallon per day tertiary wastewater treatment plant at Gladstone Road is 90% complete. 

  1.  Speaker

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) funded non-revenue water reduction (NRW) project continues to be successful and exceed its short term targets, having saved WSC almost $9 million to date.  The Corporation is taking lessons learned to realise great results, particularly in South Eleuthera. 

  1.  Speaker

While it may not be good news to Consolidated Water, Neil Hartnell’s story in the Business Section of the Tribune on Thursday, 17th March 2016, was certainly good news for me and the Corporation.  Hartnell began his story by saying that Consolidated’s “revenues have decreased by more than $8 million over the past two years, as the Water & Sewerage Corporation’s leak and loss reduction programme bears fruit.” 

  1.  Speaker

This is wonderful news that all The Bahamas should celebrate. 

  1.  Speaker

Draft legislation now rests with the AG’s Office to reform the allowing URCA to assume responsibility for economic regulation of the water sector as it has with telecommunications and more recently with electricity.  This will cause URCA to have the robust oversight intended from its creation.

Bahamasair

  1.  Speaker

I now move to the national flag carrier, Bahamasair.

  1.  Speaker

I am pleased to report that Bahamasair is making good steps toward profitability.  Though revenues are still not where they should be, The National Flag Carrier has reduced expenses in all areas.

I congratulate Bahamasair as it has executed Industrial Agreements with its four associated trade unions.  The agreements call for retroactive payments of almost $1.5 million ($1,459,076). 

  1.  Speaker

Government gave priority to the National Flag Carrier shoring up its services through the purchase of five new ATR aircraft to replace the Dash-8 fleet.  Bahamasair’s management negotiated the terms of the ATR Sales and Purchase Agreement at very good unit prices. 

  1.  Speaker

Bahamasair was also a tremendous support in the Hurricane Joaquin relief efforts by transporting NEMA officials, volunteers and supplies to the devastated islands of San Salvador, Long Island,Acklins and Crooked Island. 

Currently, Bahamasair’s maintenance hangar is undergoing comprehensive refurbishment.  No major repairs have ever been carried out on this 45 year old structure, and its condition has deteriorated to a point of safety concerns as expressed engineers within my Ministry.

Once the repairs are completed, this facility will be able to house a few of Bahamasair’s turboprop aircraft during hurricane events, which will lessen the burden of having to evacuate the entire fleet.

Costs evaluation and work-in progress are being monitored by Technical Teams in the Ministry of Works.

The Straw Market Authority

  1.  Speaker

The Straw Market Authority (SMA) continues to work with service providers to ensure that the markets operate in the most efficient manner and are first class facilities.

  1.  Speaker

The Authority is also making in-roads by systematically addressing vendor attrition as a consequence of death, retirement, and transfers around the markets.  The training programmes for staff and vendors have been enhanced and are continuing.

  1.  Speaker                             

The unfortunate reality is that World Famous Downtown Straw Market, which is relatively new, is in a serious state of disrepair.  Urgent works are being carried out to avert disaster, particularly during the hurricane season. 

The Authority will also work in conjunction with BAIC and the various handicraft associations toward the development and implementation of the use of natural Bahamian materials in souvenir and craft items. 

Conclusion

  1.  Speaker

Before I conclude, I draw your attention to an observation by Sociologist Max Weber.  He was convinced that one’s opportunities are shaped by our class and status.  While we tend to link success solely to our talent and our efforts, our social position is in large part dependent on our family’s social status.

  1.  Speaker

Earlier in my presentation, I referred to my lifelong efforts to reach out to groups of young men who have run afoul of the law and are experiencing difficulties adjusting socially as a result.

While I have undertaken with the police not to discuss the matter that is causing all of this controversy, there is much that is in the public domain flowing from the disclosures of several conflicting affidavits.  I honour that undertaking.

Until such time that these conflicting accounts have been tested, our minds should remain open.  Keeping an open mind is a difficult thing particularly if it is not profitable to kill a good story with the truth.  Some misguided soul once said that a good story always trumps the truth. Misguided, I say because, in the end, the truth always trumps a good story.

  1.  Speaker

In spite of all the detractors, this Government remains committed to the increase of life opportunities to everyone – no matter what age, race, gender, religion, physical or mental disability, medical condition, or marital status.  This is essential to building a Bahamas that our children and theirs can have pride.

We have taken faith, hard work, courage, and above all persistence for the journey; and we are taking bold and calculated decisions to sustain us.  Accordingly, I stand with my Leader and wholeheartedly support the statement for the half-time review on behalf of the people of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador. 

 

Perry Gomez, Minister Of Health

 

Nassau, Bahamas – 2015/2016 Mid-Term Budget Review Contribution by the Hon. M. Perry Gomez, M.P., Minister of Health in The House of Assembly on 14th March 2016:

Mr. Speaker, I wish to begin by thanking the Almighty God for the wonderful privilege and opportunity to represent the Great People of North Andros and the Berry Islands in this Honourable House. As the Minister of Health with responsibility for the Department of Public Health inclusive of the Community Clinics throughout The Bahamas and the Public Hospitals Authority inclusive of the Prince Margaret Hospital, the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre; the Grand Bahama Health Services National Emergency Medical Services; Bahamas National Drug Agency and the Materials Management Directorate, I hereby rise Mr. Speaker to provide an account of the on-going developments, and successes which we have achieved in the first half of the 2015/2016 fiscal year. 

However, Mr. Speaker, I would be remiss if I did not take a minute or two to comment on the fiscal situation we inherited upon assuming Office in May 2012. Mr. Speaker, as you would recall, this government led by the Rt. Hon. Perry Gladstone Christie inherited a fiscal situation where there was a little over $4 million in the Budget and to exacerbate the situation the public wage bill stood at  $50 million which meant we started with a deficit of $46 million alone with respect to payment of salary for our public servants. 

Unfortunately, this fact, Mr. Speaker, is often lost when we talk about the very poor state that the side opposite left the Public Treasury in and surely no caring government could ever be proud of leaving the state of our public finances in such a poor state. 

Mr. Speaker, I wish to commend the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance for the commendable job that he is doing in restoring discipline to the management of public finance. As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, the government’s Medium-Term Fiscal Plan comprises the following: (i) restraining the growth of public expenditure; (ii) modernizing and enhancing revenue administration; (iii) securing new resources of revenue; and (iv) growing the economy.  

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to state that the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance is on the right track evidenced by his declaration during the Mid-term Budget Review on Wednesday last, in this House, that the government has succeeded in reducing the fiscal deficit from $539 million three (3) years ago to the projected $141 million this year representing a deficit reduction of $398 million or 75 percent. Mr. Speaker, this is a sentinel moment marking an incredible feat in three (3) years under the government’s Medium-Term Fiscal Consolidation Plan.

I make this point, Mr. Speaker, because it clearly demonstrates that the government led by the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance is headed in the right direction in containing public expenditure thereby reducing the growth in both the Recurrent Account and GFS deficits. Thus, I commend the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance for the improved management of our public finance and have every confident that he would continue to stay the course.

CLICO Bahamas Liquidation
Mr. Speaker, I wish to commend the government for having agreed the CLICO Bahamas Liquidation Plan proposed by the Liquidator of CLICO to make all existing policyholders whole through the creation of a special purpose vehicle under which surrendered policies; death benefits; medical claims; and pension policies will be paid in full. Further Executive Flexible Premium Annuities holders and surrendered pension policies will be settled in cash to a maximum of $10,000.00 per person and the balance will be supported by 7 – year promissory notes with interest at Prime payable quarterly. Mr. Speaker, the total cash payouts under this plan is estimated at $16million and as such, I join the Prime Minister and Minister of Financing in stating that this is yet another demonstration of a caring and compassionate government. 

The Ministry of Health
Mr. Speaker, I now turn to the activities of the Ministry of Health. It gives me great pleasure to address this Honorable House at this time during the mid-year budget exercise. The Bahamas has been awaken by the clarion call from the team of healthcare providers who are in preparedness mode to readying the nation for a much healthier Bahamas by 2030. Therefore it is with pleasure that I am presenting the many initiatives we have been able to initiate in the first half of the budget year 2015 – 2016.  

Mr. Speaker, as we progress further with this communication it would become increasingly clear that the Ministry of Health is well on the way to putting the government mandate for implementation of NHI in place, this year, throughout our country from Abaco in the North to Inagua in the South. All of the relevant stakeholders are being engaged at every step in the process and the differences which previously divided them, because of differing of opinions, are now far less with the gaps closing considerably. What is very clear, Mr. Speaker, is that all concerned people agree with the concept of Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC). The understanding of the value of National Health Insurance (NHI) as the funding mechanism for the healthcare initiative is becoming better understood amongst the citizenry and residents in the Bahamas. 

Mr. Speaker, the majority of the population has expressed feedback that supports the introduction of NHI. However the input is in support of a gradual process being implemented giving optimal consideration to the best utilization of all of the resources available. Thus, the Ministry of Health System Strengthening team has been inclusive to ensure the quality of the processes and infrastructural upgrades that are being introduced are sound and culturally suited for the delivery of healthcare in our archipelagic environment. This is necessary to satisfy the health needs of the nation with particular emphasis on the most vulnerable groups such as the children, elderly and the poor.

Mr. Speaker, in the new model of healthcare moving forward the emphasis will be on staying healthy: Prevention, Promotion, Protection and Ambulatory Care. The aim being to keep communities healthy and when people become unwell to limited the institutional in-hospital care to as short a period that this appropriate in keeping with the recommended therapy regime. In order to achieve these goals which are recommended and endorsed by the WHO/ PAHO “Health in All Policies” Resolution the Ministry of Health has strengthen the relationships in policy development with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology; the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources; the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development; the Ministry of National Security; The College of the Bahamas; Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture; the Ministry of Works and Urban Development; the Ministry of Environment and Housing; the Ministry of Tourism; the Ministry of Transport and Abiation; the Ministry of Finance; the Bureau of Standards, Ministry of Financial Services and Local Government; and made a substantial contribution to creation of the National Development Plan. 

The Ministry of Health partnering in this manner with its sister Ministries and other Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s), such as religious organizations, will play a significant role going forward in the transformation of The Bahamas to the Vision of the peoples residing in The Bahamas to being classified as ranking amongst the top ten healthy nations globally by the year 2030.

Mr. Speaker, in order to set the stage for the implementation of National Health Insurance in the coming months we shall be “rolling out” what is referred to as the Ministry of Health Health Systems Strengthening “Quick Wins” in the weeks and months ahead; indeed the process is already a reality in some of the areas:- 

    •    Nationwide Community Town Hall Meetings to receive feedback from the communities to tweak the delivery of the upgraded health services started with the draft legislation

    •    Training of a new cadre of allied healthcare workers in several different categories e.g. Patient Care Technicians, Operating Surgical Technicians, Emergency Medical Technicians, Anesthesia Assistant Technicians and Cross Training of the technicians to improve efficiencies and effectiveness of services. A series of graduation ceremonies are now being scheduled to begin in the next two months. Once the graduations are completed the allied healthcare workers would be available to be strategically deployed in particular aspects of the healthcare system to fill the gaps for the change to an Ambulatory Community Driven Model of Care with the focus on prevention and wellness

    •    The decongestion of the Accident and Emergency sections at both the PMH and the Rand would have relief with movement of suitably selection of patients being removed into residential homes for care

    •    The Ministry of Health will establish a Bahamian version of N.I.C.E. (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) with the formation of a partnership with the United Kingdom National Health Service. This is expected to further upgrade the overall quality of healthcare being delivered in the country.

Mr. Speaker, at the end of April, 2016 the Bahamas Healthy Lifestyle Coalition will be launch which is a preliminary feature in the introduction of the NHI program because it is a significant National inclusive exercise. This will benefit all sectors of the society in a well-organized national program that will provide indicators for measurements of national, regional and global benchmarking to be able to create evidence based policies to address the trends with the results obtained throughout the life years of the NHI Initiative.

In keeping with the Universal Healthcare principles, Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Health will remove the need to pay for services at the point of care which will create easier access to all healthcare services; without the financial barrier to care. This will include a mechanism to address cost for emergency air transport services which can be a considerable burden to residents in the Family Islands

Mr. Speaker, today, my Ministry and the Public Hospitals Authority will execute a Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine and the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller Schoool of Medicine Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute (MOU); and my Ministry also executed a Consultancy Services Agreement with Dr. Joshua M. Hare, M.D., Consultant (CSA) which are designed to strengthen and improve the overall capacity of the Ministry of Health to delivery advance medical services in the area of Stem Cells and other highly specialized tertiary care services. This MOU and CSA will “Frog Leap” The Bahamas into a higher plane in the global health arena with significant potential for the local healthcare industry to introduce more sophisticated services in country; and to enhance research and therapy in the emerging Stem Cell Industry.

Mr. Speaker, to maintain balance as we increase the capacities in the healthcare infrastructure with the human resources, the Ministry of Health is re-engineering the Monitoring and Evaluation capabilities of the Ministry at this transformational juncture in our history. To this end and with the support of PAHO, we have retained the services of one of the top epidemiologist and researcher in the Caribbean Region namely Dr. Donald Simeon, who have already joined the team at the Ministry of Health for the next six months to enhance the preparedness phase. 

The whole area of Research and Development which we have talked about previously for years with respect to the potential of the many additional benefits that can accrue has now been addressed. As healthcare providers we could make better use of the vast amount of good information material available in The Bahamas; with “professional packaging” to bring it to the World Stage. The process to achieve this goal is a reality and we look forward to the alignment of the healthcare indicators nationally, regionally and globally in a manner that will make The Bahamas a model for the Developing World.

HIV/AIDS
Mr. Speaker, The Bahamas has seen major declines in new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths since the start of the epidemic in 1983. This success demonstrates the commitment of the Government directed at the epidemic. In 2014, 279 persons were diagnosed with HIV infection in The Bahamas, a decrease of 25% between 2004 and 2014. Fewer people are dying of AIDS-related causes – the age adjusted death rate has decreased from 38 to 22 deaths per 100,000 in this time period. The work and success of the Ministry has been large part due to the strong partnership with the National HIV/AIDS Programme and other community groups and leaders.

The Bahamas is known for its strong Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV Programme and was a regional best practice. Further, we have an active and successful programme over the past decades to control and eventually eliminate the mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Since 2001, antiretroviral treatment for HIV positive pregnant women has been introduced to our antenatal and delivery services. With this positive approach, the rate of perinatal transmission of HIV has decreased over the period to elimination levels. In addition, we have not recorded a single case of congenital syphilis in the past five years.

Mr. Speaker, my Ministry has recently sent a request to PAHO to be included in a validation exercise of the local EMTCT programme. The validation team is expected to be in country during mid to late 2016. In order to prepare for the aforementioned validation exercise, my Ministry has established a committee to coordinate all activities necessary in the pre-validation process. 

It is, therefore, evident that the National AIDS Programme continues to successfully coordinate the country’s response to HIV/AIDS, despite the National HIV/AIDS Centre operating at a 75% staff complement.

Most notably, Mr. Speaker, during the first part of the 2015/2016 fiscal year, my Ministry has drafted of a new Strategic Plan 2016-2020, which is aligned with the World Health Organization, Global Health Sector Strategy on HIV 2016-20121, Universal Coverage and the UNAIDS Strategy 2016-2021. It is also aligned with additional regional health strategies, including the Pan American Health Organization Regional HIV/STI Plan for the Health Sector. I am proud to report that this draft plan is now in the final consultation phase with various civic society and other stakeholders, and should be signed off by my Ministry by the end of this fiscal year.

Mr. Speaker, I must make my colleagues aware that this work is being done under the able leadership of the Director for the National AIDS Programme, Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, who at the end of 2015, was qualified as an Infectious Diseases Physician – only the second one, besides myself, in country. This builds the capacity of the National Programme to deal with changes in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as well as anticipate and adapt to new technologies regarding prevention, testing, treatment, care and support.

The Bahamas stands in unity with the UNAIDS Global Action Plan of embarking on Fast-Track Strategy to end the epidemic by 2030. My Ministry is committed to achieving this goal, and is taking steps to scale up activities and making sure that no one is left behind. We are in the process of strengthening systems, upgrading facilities and dedicating additional resources to this effort.

A partnership between the NAP and ICF, a PEPFAR recommended partner, has been extremely successful with a curriculum being completed that has sixteen (16) modules, dealing with Provider-Initiated Testing Counselling (PITC), stigma and discrimination, key populations and rapid testing, among others. This curriculum is now used for the training of healthcare workers in both the public and the private systems. 

During the fiscal year Ministry conducted training sessions in Level 1 of the Caribbean Regional Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme (CR-FELTP) which included lectures on basic bio-statistical measures, principles of information representation and distribution, principles of surveillance and outbreak investigations, and the use of Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word and the Internet in public health activities.

Mr. Speaker, the Reference Laboratory successfully completed a re-accreditation exercise by the esteemed College of American Pathologists, in September 2015, and remains the second lab of its type in the Caribbean. The Lab commenced a HIV Drug Resistance and the associated HIV Genetic Research Programme. Preparation is underway to commence other diagnostic and prognostic tests (outside of HIV), including for Zika,Chikungunya, Dengue, and breast cancer tumour markers (that is, the BRCA gene identification). Ground work has been laid to participate in the Caribbean Public Health Lab Network (CarPHLN).

To better assist with this important work, my Ministry increased the Reference Lab staff complement by four (4) persons (a driver for specimen transportation, receptionist, technologist and phlebotomist) supervised by Reference Lab Manager, Dr. Indira Martin. This lab continues to act as an External Quality Assurance (EQA) site for HIV diagnosis, through the provision of Dried Tube Specimen-EQA and DNA-PCR used for early infant diagnosis. Further, the lab plays a major role in the ongoing decentralization process. The Reference Lab has also extended HIV lab services (including the logistics of blood transport and data management) to several new decentralized sites in the Family Islands. 

Department of Public Health
Mr. Speaker, I turn to the Department of Public Health. The decision of the Government and my Ministry to pay focused attention to the reform of the health care system and in particular to the strengthening of the primary Health Care System is due to several key factors:
    •    Primary Health Care Services has been and will continue to be the best and the most cost effective and equitable strategy for improving the population’s health especially in a community such as ours and to implement the Universal Health Coverage.

    •    Our statistics for the past five (5) years has shown that 80-85% of all visits to public health institutions are made at the primary health care level with over 400,000 visits being made at health facilities in New Providence, Grand Bahama and in the Family Islands in 2014.

    •     Primary health care is also the most effective strategy for the engagement of citizens in the participation of the development, planning, implementation and evaluation of services which best meets their needs and has shown to yield the best outcomes through this collaborative effort. 

To begin this process of improving the delivery of health care services at the community level, my Ministry through the Department of Public Health, has embarked on several strategies to advance Universal Health Coverage, these includes the improvement of access to non-urgent and urgent health care services in New Providence and the Family Islands. Toward this end, we have recommended the extended hours of service at the Elizabeth Estates Clinic.  

Mr. Speaker, for the first time since the construction of the Fleming Street Clinic in 1989, this clinic is providing extended hours of services from 9:00 a.m. – to 9:00 p.m. which means that all the four (4) poly clinics are providing services between the hours of 9:00 a.m. – to 9:00 p.m., Monday to Friday. Secondly, we have recruited and employed additional Pharmacist and Pharmacy Technicians to ensure that persons attending these facilities are able to access medication after being seen by their Doctors. Mr. Speaker, so far the recruitment of these persons, have resulted in clients being able to receive their medication during their visit to the clinics and or data has shown a 15% increase in the number of prescriptions being filled at the Fleming Street Clinic between the hours of 5:00 p.m.  and 9:00 p.m.

Thirdly Mr. Speaker, we have recruited and deployed additional physicians to clinics in New Providence and the process is continuing to provide an effective appointment base system to reduce the rush to the clinics early in the mornings and to reduce the waiting time for persons seeking care.  Toward this end, I have issued instructions to ensure that clients are no longer waiting outside in the elements nor are they waiting excessively for services at our facilities.

I am indeed pleased, Mr. Speaker, to announce that presently we have deployed Doctors to all of the Islands who in the last budget period were without a resident Doctor.  These Islands include (i) Kemps Bay, Andros; (ii) Cat Island; (iii) Fresh Creek, Andros; Bimini; and San Salvador.

Mr. Speaker, it has been along time coming and, for the first time, we have employed a resident Doctor to the Berry Islands and will continue our recruitment of Doctors for (i) Spanish Wells; (ii) the Exuma Cays; (iii) Sandy Point and Moore’s Island, Abaco; and Crooked Island andMayaguana…..to ensure equitable access to health care services.

In addition to the recruitment and deployment of Doctors and Nurses, Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to state that, for the first time, we have embarked on one of the more aggressive recruitment of health care workers in the Allied Health Profession to improve and sustain access to diagnostic services during routine and extended hours. These categories include (i) Pharmacists and Pharmacist Technicians; (ii) Laboratory Technologists and Technicians; (iii) Radiographers and Technicians; (iv) Ultra-Sonographers; (iv) ECG Technicians; (v) Physiotherapists; (vi) Nutritionists; and (vii) Health Educators.

These individuals will not only be deployed in New Providence but to the Family Islands as well to ensure that we provide equitable opportunity for self-improvement and the right to information and services to maintain health and quick recovery from illness.

By April 2016, Mr. Speaker, there will be sustained access to Laboratory and X-Ray services at the South Beach Health Centre between the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., so clients visiting any of the public health clinics can receive urgent laboratory testing and x-ray taking, instead of going to the hospital.  This, Mr. Speaker, will reduce unnecessary burden on the Accident and Emergency Department of Princess Margaret Hospital.

Mr. Speaker, my Ministry is cognizant of the need, to improve the experience that clients receive when they visit our institutions.  In addition to ensuring that clients will no longer wait outside in the elements, my Ministry, has begun a Customer Service Training for all categories of staff to ensure that there is complete understanding that the patient or the clients and their families must be the centre of the care we provide for them.  Toward this end, we have already commenced training of health care workers in New Providence and the Family Island to strengthen the capacity of providers to teach clients and their families in regards to strategies to improve and maintain their health.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform you that by April 2016, the New Community Primary Health and Specialists Health Care Centre in Exuma will begin offering services and by June 2016, the New Facility in Abaco will begin delivery of services at their new site. The construction of these two Modern Advanced Primary Health Care and Specialists Centres are not only in  response to the needs of the population for whom they will serve, but these facilities are said to be the Jewel of the Caribbean, as the infrastructural  capacities allows the health system to provide Out-Patient Specialists Services normally provided in hospital at the community level and as a result, there should be a 50-60% decline in the number of clients being referred to the PMH and RAND hospitals due to the availability of Diagnostic Services, Telemedicine Services and Visiting Specialists Services.  The operation and delivery of services at these two modern health centres will also facilitate access to services for persons in the Cays and adjacent Islands, creating a Local Health System Network.

Further, Mr. Speaker, one of the Special features at these facilities, is the ability of doctors to admit persons for short periods of less than 48 hours for non-urgent care, due in part to the availability of diagnostic services and “real time” specialists services via telemedicine technology. 

Infrastructure Development 
Mr.     Speaker, there are some 100 Primary Health Care Centres providing various levels of care throughout The Bahamas.  Unfortunately, the maintenance and upkeep and the expansion of these facilities to meet the population needs or to provide for access to e-health and Specialists services has been lagging.  Toward this end, we have engaged the services of four (4) private Architects in addition to the team from the Ministry of Works to assess these facilities, develop Architectural drawings and scopes of works to affect the necessary repairs or expansion as well as the construction of new facilities.  It is anticipated that over the next three years these projects will be completed.

However, Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform that for the Island of New Providence the following has occurred:
    •    A new clinic has been formally provided for the residence of the Adelaide District on a daily basis.

    •    Architectural Plans to provide for the redesign of the Elizabeth Estates and Flamingo Gardens Clinics by Mr. Alvan Rolle of Alvan Rolle and Associates are near completion and will be submitted shortly to the Ministry of Health and Works for the necessary approvals.

    •    Planning for the South Beach Health Centre will be more detailed, as this facility will also provide for an Advanced Out-Patient Specialistcentre; an Infectious Disease Wing; a centralized storage capacity for pharmaceutical and other supplies to reduce supply outage; and a biomedical worksite to affect immediate repairs and timely return of equipment to health care facilities in New Providence and the Family Islands.  The expansion will also result in a layer laboratory and other diagnostic services.

    •    Repairs for the Fox Hill Clinic have been completed and services has recommenced.  It is anticipated that the official re-opening will occur by May 2016.

    •    Plans to provide for the redesign, and repairs of the Ann’s Town Clinic is near completion and should be submitted to the Ministry of Works for approval within another week.

Mr. Speaker, I now wish to inform of the tremendous amount of infrastructural work being carried out in the Family Islands. As you are aware, a number of facilities were damaged by hurricane Joaquin.  Presently contracts have been signed for the repairs to the Government Clinics in Acklins and Crooked Island.  Contracts are being revised to affect repairs at Government Clinics in Roses and Deadman’s Cay, Long Island and the scope of work to affect repairs and correct design flaws to the roof at the Cockburn Town Clinic in San Salvador will be completed next week. 

Acklins & Crooked Island 
Notwithstanding these repairs, Mr. Speaker, the Architects have visited these Islands impacted and architectural design to facilitate the conversion of the existing Doctor’s residence in Spring Point, Acklins to a clinic is near completion. This building is larger and able to provide for expansion of services and an overnight room.  The construction time is 6 months.  In the meantime, the Government residence in Delectable Bay will be renovated to provide accommodation for the Doctor, followed later by conversion of the old clinic to a residence. 
Mr. Speaker, plans are also underway to convert the existing Government Clinic in Salina Point, Acklins to a Nurse’s residence to provide for a resident Registered Nurse to this population of over 200 residence who live some 40 miles away from the main facility in Spring Point.  I wish to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Koli Roa, the former District Medical Officer for Acklins, Mrs. Ethlyn Bain, retired Trained Clinical Nurse and Mrs. Pandora Williams, the current Trained Clinical Nurse in Salina Point for the tremendous work they have done in providing care and services under these challenging conditions. The impact of these repairs and posting of officers to Salina Point by the end of the year will result in the relocation of the Salina Point Clinic closer to where the community lives.  Also plans are being carried out to improve access to residence in the Lovely Bay, Mason’s Bay and Chesters communities through the posting of a full-time residence Nurse at the Chester’s Bay Clinic.  

Cat Island 
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform that approval has been granted for the improvement of infrastructure at the Old Bight and Orange Creek Clinics in Cat Island and designs are being finalized for the renovation and upgrading of the Smith’s Bay Clinic to provide for onsite, point of care laboratory testing and x-ray taking. San Salvador & Rum Cay In addition to the repairs and redesign of the Cockburn Town Clinic, architectural design for the construction of a new clinic in United Estates, San Salvador and Rum Cay has been completed. Long Island Mr. Speaker, in addition to repairs being done to facilitate post hurricane repairs, plans are also underway to construct a new clinic for the residence of Clarence Town. Redesign and expansion will be carried out at the Deadman’s Cay Health Centre and Simms Community Clinic; and it is hoped that collaboration with local residents will result in an agreed site for the construction of a new facility in the Deep North Long Island District. 

Andros 
Mr. Speaker, assessment has occurred at all of the clinics and residence in the North Andros, Fresh Creek, Mangrove Cay and Kemp’s Bay Health Districts. Priority attention is being given at the Mangrove Cay Clinic at this time. However, plans are underway to expand the Nicholl’sTown Clinic to provide for onsite laboratory testing, x-ray and other diagnostic services in anticipation of the population growth. In addition, renovation, redesign and upgrade of the Fresh Creek, Kemp’s Bay and all Satellite Clinics and residences throughout Andros will begin shortly and a new clinic is proposed for the Red Bays Community.

Berry Island 
Mr. Speaker, one of the strategies being used in the design and expansion of these facilities is the creation of a template clinic based on population size and health needs which can easily be adapted to facilitate easy construction of a health care facility.  Therefore, a green space is being sought to facilitate the immediate construction of a new facility in the Berry Island within the next few months. 

Eleuthera 
Mr. Speaker, the assessment of health care facilities in North Eleuthera, in particular Spanish Wells, Harbour Island, Lower Bogue, The Bluff and Gregory Town has been completed.  Scopes of work for the Spanish Wells Clinic has been completed and Harbour Island Clinic scope of work will be completed by next week.  Both of these scopes will go to tender by the end of the month. Further, assessment has also started in the South Eleuthera District, with plans to construct a new facility in the Rock Sound Health District. 

Exuma Cays, & Ragged Island
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report that the assessment of the old George Town Clinic has been completed and plans are being drawn for the conversion of the George Town Clinic into residences to provide accommodations for the deployment and new health care workers.  Scopes of works are also near completion for the renovation of the old Doctor’s residence in George Town and existing residence in Forbes Hill to provide accommodations for almost 20 new health care workers. 

Mr. Speaker, while the assessment has not been completed for the Exuma Cays and Ragged Island, recommendation has been made for the construction of new facilities in Black Point, Farmers and Staniel Cay and Ragged Island. As stated earlier, the template architectural plans will be adapted to facilitate the timely construction of these facilities. 

Abaco 
Mr. Speaker, my Ministry is in discussion with an additional Architect to affect repairs to health care clinics and residence in the Abaco District. These, Mr. Speaker, are just some of the highlights of health system strengthening initiatives which are being carried out by the Department of Public Health to strengthen the health care delivery system to provide safe-high quality and equitable health care services to our residence throughout The Bahamas.

Public Hospitals Authority
Mr. Speaker, I now wish to address matters related to the Public Hospitals Authority, inclusive of the Princess Margaret Hospital, Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, Grand Bahama Health Services, National Emergency Medical Services and the Materials Management Directorate.

I am pleased to report, Mr. Speaker, that the PHA has been aggressively engaged in the implementation of important strategies for achieving the targets being set for health systems strengthening in preparation for NHI. These strategies are focused on strengthening our systems for clinical care; addressing fiscal stewardship and management efficiency responsibilities; improving information systems; and improving the infrastructure and physical environment of our health facilities. These strategies are progressing extremely well, as members will appreciate from my presentation.

Mr. Speaker, the PHA was allocated a total budget of just over $201.1 Million Dollars for this fiscal year 2015/2016; and for the first six months ending December 2015, a total of $115.34 Million Dollars was spent.  As expected, we continue to see increases in expenditure for Drugs (at $2.9 Million Dollars), Medical Supplies (at $2.4 Million Dollars) and Dialysis Services (at $1.3 Million Dollars).  These increases are the result of more patients requiring services at our public institutions.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, the government is projected to spend $17.5 million dollars on drugs for its three hospitals and 94 clinics throughout the country; and a further $13.5 million will be spent on Medical/Surgical Supplies and Medicines required for our public facilities, by the end of fiscal year 2015/2016.  

Systems for Clinical Care
Mr. Speaker, with respect to our efforts for strengthening our Systems for Clinical Care, I am pleased to advise of the significant initiatives underway within the Public Hospitals Authority for the Digitization of Radiology Services. 

When I became Minister of Health, Mr. Speaker, my government spoke of the challenges that we found in the Diagnostic Imaging and Radiology Services in our facilities. There was a critical need to provide upgraded and new equipment in these areas to improve the efficiency and quality of clinical care. 

Mr. Speaker, I can report that in the first half of this fiscal year, the PHA completed a Radiology Services Needs Assessment to inform the development of a Strategic Plan for the replacement and upgrade of radiology & imaging equipment at the Princess Margaret and Rand Memorial Hospitals.  I can further advise this Honorable House that in February 2016, a contract was executed for the procurement and installation of those items targeted for deployment in the first year of this plan, at a cost of $7.5 million. These sets of equipment that will be implemented over the remaining course of this current fiscal year are Digital X-Ray Systems, CT scanners, Ultrasound Machines and MRI Scanner. Additionally, the associated items of a Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) and a Radiology Information System (RIS) will also be included.

There are many benefits, Mr. Speaker, to be gained with this investment all of which leads to improved quality of clinical care to our patients and operational efficiencies. These benefits include:
    •    Increased access to consultation with other radiologists within The Bahamas and internationally (via tele-radiology)
    •    Faster and more reliable access to diagnostic images among health care providers and to archived diagnostic images and results
    •    Reduced wait-times and turn-around times through digital transmission rather than film and by improving throughput and workload efficiency
    •    Reduction of duplicate tests

This phased digitization of Radiology Services within the PHA, together with the implementation of PACS and RIS systems will allow for the early roll-out of the proposed TELERADIOLOGY PROGRAMME within the public healthcare system. This is a critical development for improving access to critical diagnostic services, especially by Family Island patients.  In fact Mr. Speaker, this investment in our Radiology and Imaging Services is the single largest expenditure ever, in the long history of our public healthcare system. 

Mr. Speaker, members may recall that another quality improvement initiative that was planned, linked to the commissioning of a Core Laboratory in the new Critical Care Block at the Princess Margaret Hospital, was the achievement of international accreditation of our laboratory facilities at PMH. I am pleased to note that this exercise is actively continuing with all expectation of attaining this goal through the regional accreditation body, ISO o15189. This accreditation will be another feather in our cap and will advance our health system further along the path of accreditation of all the clinical care areas of our health facilities. This is a goal that we must always strive to reach and maintain.
Management Efficiency/Fiscal Stewardship
Mr. Speaker, my Ministry and its agencies are continually assessing the services we provide, to identify opportunities to optimize the use of all our available resources. Members will note that an in-depth review and evaluation of the public sector supply system for medicines and medical/surgical supplies was completed in June 2015, which resulted in several strategies being recommended for strengthening the supply chain management systems for our hospitals and community clinics. Since then the government, through the Public Hospitals Authority, has begun the implementation of several initiatives to address some of the challenges facing the system. 

The process towards the regularization of contracts with suppliers for medicines has begun in earnest supported by the full implementation of an Online Tender Management System. This system serves to greatly enhance the transparency, confidentiality and fairness of the tender process thereby evoking the confidence of our local vendors and overseas manufacturers in the integrity of the bidding process. This online system also significantly reduces the turnaround time for the decisions relating to the award of contracts. These benefits augur well for a high level of participation in the bidding process and the government’s ability to obtain competitive prices for high quality medicines, medical/surgical supplies and other health commodities.  

Another critical initiative is the soon to be published National Medicines Formulary. The compilation of the Formulary has received broad based input from both general practice and specialist clinicians and pharmacists to ensure the accessibility of good quality essential medicines that are affordable and are rationally used. This marks an important contribution to the establishment of a reliable and good quality health service for the citizens of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. I must hasten to say, that we are keeping pace with technology by ensuring that the Formulary will not only be available in printed form, but will also be accessed online by our healthcare team from a computer and even from their mobile phone.

Mr. Speaker, another initiative of the Public Hospitals Authority that I must mention, relates to the steps that are underway for streamlining our procurement and supply chain management services through the consolidation of existing agencies into a single Supplies Management Agency that will be responsible for the supply chain from end-to-end. This will serve not only to optimize the use of our resources, but provide the necessary checks and balances to improve accountability, standardize supply chain operating procedures and practices including storage and distribution, and ultimately eliminate stock-outs and wastage. We have already identified premises to house this consolidated Supplies Management Agency and started to put the restructuring apparatus in motion. 

The premises for the housing of the new Supplies Management Agency will also provide space for the establishment of a centralized warehouse for vital life-saving medicines to complement the warehouse we already have in operation for our medical and surgical supplies.  The establishment of this centralized warehouse is just one of a set of critical initiatives being pursued towards overcoming the challenge we face with stock-outs. Others include more effective monitoring of suppliers to ensure compliance with contractual agreements and the establishment of appropriate inventory management practices at all of our health facilities throughout the country.  

Human Resources Management and Training
Mr. Speaker, let me emphasize that this government placed, among its highest priority, those strategies that seek to ensure that for our most important resource – the 4,000 odd employees of the Public Hospitals Authority – positive worker relations and effective staff development programmes are in place. 

Members may be aware that on October 29, 2015 the Public Hospitals Authority has executed new Industrial Agreements with the Bahamas Nurses Union. The first is for the period 16th November 2010 until 15th November 2015; while the second cover the period 16th November, 2015 to 15th November, 2020. These have been registered with the Labour Department effective February 15, 2016 and provide many benefits for our dedicated nurses. 

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to report that, one of the strategies being undertaken for strengthening our healthcare system, include the recruitment of additional staff to reduce critical shortages, where required.  It should be noted there is a significant shortage of available Bahamian health professionals in a number of areas of need; and recruitment from abroad is often required.  I therefore take this opportunity, to advise members that during the month of April 2015, a special recruitment exercise was undertaken to engage forty-one (41) healthcare professionals in areas where the entire public healthcare sector is experiencing serious deficits, including: Medicine, Pharmacy, Biomedical Equipment Engineering, Rehabilitation Therapy and Information Technology. To date, eighteen of these professionals have been recruited and it is anticipated that the balance of these much needed professionals will be in place before the end of this budget year.

Mr. Speaker, The Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) in its committed effort to assist employees in career training and professional development, affords opportunities for them to matriculate in diverse educational settings and skills upgrading. Participants enroll in training and professional development programs offered In-house and externally including university accredited programmes. Millions of dollars are spent annually for staff training and professional development; in fact, Mr. Speaker, the Public Hospitals Authority, over the past three years, spent almost $6million dollars on training alone. 

A noteworthy example of our training initiatives in this regard is the programme leading to the creation of the new cadre of health workers known as Patient Care Assistants. This category of worker is expected to elevate our nursing support services at the front line of care to the benefit of our patients and health outcomes.

It is also noted that with the timely facilitation effort of the Public Hospitals Authority, five (5) family Medicine Specialists were deployed in September 2015, to the Berry Islands, Exuma, San Salvador, Bimini and Marsh Harbour, Abaco. This marks the first time in Bahamian history that physician specialists have been posted to the Family Islands. The implementation of the extended hours of the pharmacies at PMH, Rand and selected Community Clinics have commenced and others are on stream to commence during this fiscal year, with the engagement of twenty-two (22) pharmacists shortly.  Mr. Speaker, this is indeed significant progress. 

Health Information Management Systems (HIMS)
Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to report that the Public Hospitals Authority is working hard to upgrade and standardize the Patient Information Systems across all public healthcare facilities. There is an important goal of achieving the “One Patient: One Record” approach to patient care. Specifically, it is our vision to have a single integrated electronic patient health record across all locations and settings of care in the public health system of The Bahamas.  Against this backdrop, the PHA has continued over this fiscal year the process for the procurement and implementation of an integrated Health Information Management System (i-HIMS) with EMR which would be used at all public hospitals and the community-based Clinics. With this approach no matter where the patient accesses the service within the public sector, the patient’s information would be available, in real time. 

The selection process is being finalized at the policy level of my government; and it is anticipated that implementation will begin shortly, with completion over 18 months.  

Princess Margaret Hospital
Mr. Speaker, during my last address, I advised that a Master Planning exercise is underway at the nation’s premier health facility, the PMH.  This exercise encompasses the preparation of a functional programme and site plan for redevelopment of the hospital on its existing site, leading to a modern, efficient, economical, and adaptable health facility that will support the delivery of high quality patient care well into the next century.   I am pleased therefore to report, that the first draft of this plan is now in hand.
Additionally, Mr. Speaker, it is noted that an architectural firm has been engaged by the PHA to undertake assessments for urgent renovations and expansion works to two specific areas of the PMH, the Maternity Ward, A&E Department and several other areas of the hospital. This is seen as an interim solution to address the severe space constraints and infrastructural deficits in high volume areas of care.   The key objective of the Maternity Ward renovation project is to create an improved and more efficient space for clinical services as well as general support connected to these areas.  It will also provide an opportunity to upgrade essential life safety systems and provide for a more comfortable and aesthetic space for our patients and care providers. The Tender for this area will be executed before the end of this month and work is expected to begin in July of this year. 

Accident & Emergency Department
Mr. Speaker, with respect to Accident & Emergency Department, we will be seeking to increase the footprint of this area to relieve the severe problem of overcrowding, improve patient waiting times, enhance the environment of care and improve patient satisfaction. 

Following completion of the planning, design drawings and tender within the next two weeks, it is anticipated that construction will begin in August of this year.  

In light of the above major infrastructural works, it is important for the PHA to address operational issues for improved efficiency and quality of care in these areas.  For this reason, the PHA has undertaken an ancillary project, assisted by an operational consultant, which will review the above and other relevant service areas to identify opportunities for optimizing efficiency, strengthening quality of care (including policies, procedures and work flows), for improved patient and staff satisfaction and health outcomes.  This exercise will produce an Action Plan for implementing the recommended improvements, beginning within this fiscal year.   

Grand Bahama Health Services
Mr. Speaker, the Rand Memorial Hospital has limited patient care areas.  With a view to addressing these challenges in a comprehensive and sustainable manner, the Public Hospitals Authority in collaboration with the Ministry for Grand Bahama, engaged GESAworld USA, a Health Facilities Planning firm, to provide consultancy services on the redevelopment of the Rand Memorial Hospital.  The scope of services in this regard included:

    •    Updating of the Master Plan for the Redevelopment of Rand Memorial Hospital prepared by Dorset Management Consulting;
    •    Updating of the Freeport Community Clinic Plan; and
    •    Development of general recommendations for the future use of the current hospital

In this vein, my Government has agreed to the first phase of the redevelopment of the Hospital, with the construction of the most modern and much needed Primary Healthcare Clinic for the Freeport Area on fifty (50) acres of land located on the western side of Sunrise Highway in Grand Bahama.    Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt that the Minister for Grand Bahama will share more on this significant accomplishment when he makes his contribution. 

Additional capital works planned include:
    •    Construction of an eight-bedded Private Ward;
    •    Two (2) four-bedded Public Wards; 
    •    On-Call facilities for our Doctors; and
    •    A mall to connect the existing Rand hospital to a New Kitchen and Cafeteria.  
It is anticipated that these works will be completed within eight months of contract signing.  

Community health needs are also being addressed in the form of renovations and expansion of the clinic located in West End to better serve clients in that district of Grand Bahama.  Upgrades will also be undertaken at a leased facility to accommodate expansion for much needed clinical spaces within the existing hospital facility. 

Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report that efforts are underway to improve the patient care experience of our long term clients residing at the Geriatric Hospital.  The Culmer’s Ward, a male geriatric ward, will be undergoing extensive renovation to provide additional patient support areas and accommodate the reorganization of the bed space.  Work is expected to be begin in April and will be completed within four months.  This improved facility will allow residents to move into a more inviting and comfortable living space.

I am also pleased to advise that after much searching and due diligence, a new space has been identified on Collins Avenue to accommodate the relocation of the Community Counseling and Assessment Centre on Market Street that provides outpatient mental health care services.  This augurs well as we have a duty to provide publically acceptable outpatient services to residents in need of our assistance, particularly in the current social and economic climate.

Emergency Medical Services
Mr. Speaker, in support of the pending launch of NHI, the PHA has sought to procure additional emergency units for distribution to the poly clinics in New Providence, in Grand Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera, Exuma and Andros.  This is in keeping with the Government’s approved commitment to resource identified zones in an effort to decrease response times to an acceptable standard of 10 minutes from receipt of call to arrival on the scene in New Providence and Grand Bahama.  To this end, ten (10) ambulances have been ordered and are expected to be in country by the first week in May, 2016.  An additional fifteen (15) ambulances will be ordered shortly, to meet the ever increasing demand on our pre-hospital services. 

Mr. Speaker, these are exciting times for Healthcare providers, stakeholders as well as the general public to be a witness to this positive transformation of the Healthcare System; “right before your eyes”. Over the coming months, the buzz started within the Bahamian households will get louder as people in various sectors of the country begin to experience the tangible positive changes in healthcare that will modernize healthcare, make healthcare more accessible while removing all barriers to equitable delivery of quality healthcare services. The perceived inequities of the quality of healthcare services between the private and the public sectors are being addressed and all the perceived gaps will be closed. 

Mr. Speaker, this is the dawning of a new era in healthcare delivery, the history of healthcare is being written with the emphasis on wellness, prevention and a holistic approach to healthy living and quality of life years. The old adage: “The Health of the Nation is the Wealth of the Nation” is still very true but I close with a thought shared by the Indian Guru Mahatma Ghandi:- “ Your Health is your Wealth”. Fellow Colleagues and Peoples in the Bahamas I wish you all improved quality of Life years and May God Bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support the 2015/2016 Mid-Term Budget review presented by the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Minister of Finance, the Right Hon. Perry Gladstone Christie in building a better Bahamas.

Shane Gibson, Labour Minister

CONTRIBUTION

 

OF

                                                                    

HON. PHILIP E. DAVIS, Q.C.

MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

(CAT ISLAND, RUM CAY, AND SAN SALVADOR)

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

 AND

MINISTER OF WORKS & URBAN DEVELOPMENT

 

TO THE

 

 

 

DEBATE ON THE MIDYEAR BUDGET REVIEW:

FISCAL YEAR 2015/2016

 

 

 

23rd MARCH 2016

 

 

HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY

COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS

NASSAU, NEW PROVIDENCE

 

As Delivered        

 

 

  1.  Speaker

This is the midyear budget review and the contributions have been hijacked by many distractions.  I will not allow myself to be distracted but obedient to the reason that we are here.

I rise again to honour the constituents of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador and in absolute support of the good news presented on the 7th of March by our Prime Minister, the Rt. Honourable Member for Centreville. 

I add my congratulations to those from my colleagues to the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, the Member for Golden Isles, who remains steadfast in his duty to balance our fiscal affairs and to shore up responsible expenditure.

All of the prudent fiscal management measures announced at the premiere budget exercise for this Administration have caused an optimistic stemming of what I call “the great haemorrhage”.  The Member for Montagu alluded to the spending of a “drunken sailor”.  I thank God that that sailor is not the captain of this ship.

  1.  Speaker

It must be a nightmare for them that this side can announce that “we have […] succeeded in reducing the Government Deficit from $539 million three years ago to the projected $141 million this fiscal year.” 

It must be like a nightmare for them to know that this “Do Nothing Government” has realised “a Deficit reduction of almost 75 per cent or $398 million”. 

I think the Member from St. Anne’s challenged those figures.  He said that our assertion is premised on the fact that our projected deficit differs from theirs.  Even with the disagreement, the figures put into a distant past, the “drunken sailor” spending.

  1.  Speaker

With prudent leadership and an unyielding focus, we are yet again executing a fiscal management plan that works. 

  1.  Speaker

When I say that it is an honour to stand in this Place, I do not take that lightly.  Beyond honour though, this privilege that we all share – this responsibility that has been vested in us through the casting of votes – is no trivial matter. 

As Members of this House, we are called to a higher standard – particularly by our constituents.  Let me affirm here and now that I will continue to listen to the concerns of our people and do my best to return their trust by working hard to make life better for all.

  1.  Speaker

This circumstance of privilege has been the impetus behind the work of my Ministry.  Our actions enthusiastically consider our human capital – that is, the Bahamian people. 

In doing so, we remain committed to do all that we can to assist Government to keep on track to eliminating the primary deficit and foster the ideal of value for money as an adjunct to fiscal prudence.

Along with that, we are intent, as far as possible, to secure private sector involvement in building roads, bridges, airports and other structures – the physical underpinnings of a modern Bahamas that will lead to better quality services, lower cost services, and enhanced value for Bahamians.

We have continued the planned infrastructural development for each island that will facilitate the acceleration of job creation, enhance standards of living, and strengthen our competitiveness in the Caribbean and, indeed, around the world. 

Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador

  1.  Speaker

My constituents are my first responsibility when I stand here.  I, therefore, begin with them as I account for my stewardship for the first six months of this fiscal year.  The October 2015 passage of Hurricane Joaquin severely affected my constituency – particularly the islands of Rum Cay and San Salvador.

Rum Cay sustained severe damage to the public dock and the Sir Milo Butler Park.  The sea surge destroyed about 85% of the rock wall that lined the boundary of the cemetery on the sea side.  Fallen trees and debris littered the settlement.  Twenty-three (23) residences were adversely affected and the electricity infrastructure was badly damaged.  Fortunately, the public roads wore the storm well. 

With the post hurricane remediation works, plans for the Health Clinic have understandably been delayed.  Notwithstanding, construction documents are awaiting only the quantity surveyor’s Bill of Quantities.   

Rum Cay All Age School was undergoing major renovations prior to the storm and the students were already being housed at a local church on the island.  The church was water damaged and BTC graciously permitted the use of some of its space to conduct classes for the students and for afterschool activities for students.  This provision will remain in place until those renovations are completed.

This spirit of community is refreshing in today’s world.  I thank all of the stakeholders involved for their assistance.

  1.  Speaker

In San Salvador, 223 homes were damaged by Hurricane Joaquin.  Works are well underway to ensure that every home is repaired. 

United Estates Primary was also damaged.  The students returned to school on the 21st of October 2015 thanks in part to the Adventist Church that provided facilities for two grades at the local church.  The San Salvador High School reopened a week later as repairs were completed.  The process toward the award for the construction of a new primary school is underway and a contract should be executed within the coming weeks.

  1.  Speaker

The residents on the islands of San Salvador and Rum Cay have expressed great appreciation to BEC, BTC, and WSC for their urgent work to restore some semblance of normalcy to their lives.  Today, I again add my thanks.

I also thank Ms. Melony Roach, who has responsibility for the restoration efforts in the affected islands.  She is doing all that she can to ensure that Bahamians are afforded quality assistance in a timely manner.

Government has already authorised the award of contracts in excess of $30 million to repair damaged buildings on all of the affected islands.

  1.  Speaker

The project to rehabilitate the airport at San Salvador has enlarged in scope to cause the elimination of the modular building that existed.  With the input of Club Med and the international airlines, the construction of a full concrete structure is underway and was operational to coincide with the reopening of Club Med.

  1.  Speaker

Apart from that, my Ministry has rehabilitated over 10 miles of the Queen’s Highway on San Salvador and constructed over 3,000 feet of seawall. 

We have not abandoned the project to construct San Salvador’s Primary School.  In fact, the Tender Evaluation is complete, awaiting presentation to the Tenders Board.

For Cat Island, Mr. Speaker

Comprehensive infrastructural developments are afoot.  We have constructed over 4,500 feet of seawall and carried out sand seal repair works to the roadway in New Bight.

I am pleased to advise that my Ministry is progressing toward completing a Master Plan for the development of all of Cat Island, which includes the Spine Road, which will be funded by the Caribbean Development Bank (CBD).

My Ministry has cooperating with the Ministry of Health to complete assessments of the health infrastructure for the island.  Government has already approved the issuance of a contract to demolish the Clinic at Orange Creek and construct a new one and a Clinic at Old Bight.

The other clinics on Cat Island (Old Bight and Smith’s Bay) have been targeted for upgrading as a component of Health System Strengthening in preparation for National Health Insurance.

Just this weekend, the Police and technical officers from my Ministry have agreed a site for the Police Station at Arthur’s Town.

Additionally, Government has agreed to issue a contract to Woslee Construction for the new airport terminal and runway rehabilitation at Old Bight.  This airport is critical to facilitate the PGA development and is intended to commence simultaneous construction. 

  1.  Speaker

Smith’s Bay’s packing house upgrade is nearing completion to facilitate farmers’ benefitting from participation in BAMSI.  A site is being decided for a processing kitchen to allow them to process their produce to add to the value of their product.  It is also intended that the Smith’s Bay Dock will also be reconstructed.

Updates

  1.  Speaker

For the most part, other Members have accounted very well for the infrastructural improvements throughout The Bahamas that have been facilitated by my Ministry.  Our resources are limited but we do as much as we can to use funds efficiently.

I will, however, draw to your attention that my Ministry is implementing its Road Maintenance and Management System as advocated by the IDB-funded Institutional Strengthening component of New Providence Infrastructure Improvement Programme. This approach has been partially effected by awarding relatively small contracts on a local area-by-area basis to offer diverse employment opportunities.

Small contracts have also been let for the rehabilitation of roads that have fallen into varying degrees of disrepair.  The same level of contractors has qualified for these works and my Ministry is happy to supervise them.  All of these initiatives have proven good as we are able to facilitate wider employment opportunities.

We know that these contractors are, in many cases, unable to insure their projects.  For this reason, my Ministry (including the Urban Renewal Commission) maintains Contractors’ All Risk Insurance for small contracts under $50,000.00. 

In that way, the Ministry’s interests are protected in the event of unsatisfactory results and this represents one less hurdle for small contractors to clear.

These are very important things that are happening in my Ministry because they offer opportunities that are ordinarily unavailable to the average man or woman.  Some are of the view that this is not the better path, but I hold fast to ideal that small businesses form the crux of economic growth in The Bahamas and we should do all that we can to encourage it.  

Bearing in mind the limitation of time, I will update this House on other, so to speak, hot button issues within my portfolio.

Planning and Subdivisions Act

  1.  Speaker

I am happy to report that my Ministry has completed its revision of the Planning and Subdivisions Act.  This action has a well thought out rationale that was long articulated in our Charter for Governance. 

There, we noted the significant inefficiencies, burdensome costs, and prohibitive requirements for people building homes, which were worsened by passage of The Planning and Subdivisions Act in 2010.  We committed to streamline approval procedures.

The draft has been widely circulated and has secured the opinions of several individuals and organisations.  Our Technical Team and the Law Reform Commission has had the opportunity to carefully consider every opinion. Earl Deveaux, former Minister of Environment who had responsibility for its 2010 revision was invited and provided a view.  Law firms engaged in the real estate development and conveyancing practice also provided comprehensive reviews with recommendations. 

  1.  Speaker

My Ministry has also had the opportunity to review a letter addressed to you and others and copied to me and many others from Frederick R. M. Smith, QC from the law office of Callenders & Co., acting on behalf of “the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay, also known as Save the Bays.” 

The letter is the seed for what this side views as a super-funded media campaign.  The campaign misleads the public by suggesting that the Government is “taking [something] away” and raises questions as to “who will benefit”.  In the same way that Smith’s letter conjoins Peter Nygard and Koed Smith as the primary beneficiaries of the revisions, the media campaign carries suggestion on radio and in the press.[1]

The Department of Physical Planning has always maintained that the Planning and Subdivisions Act 2010, provisions are sound, but not practical for implementation in this jurisdiction. 

The first issue stems from the fact that the current legislation is premised on a land-use-plan and zoning-by-laws system.  It is almost impossible to implement the system as specified under the current legislation because there are no clearly articulated policies, merely broad statements left for indiscriminate interpretation.  Those broad policy statements have proven insufficient to guide the Department. 

In its current form, the beneficiaries of the legislation are primarily those who gain from legal fees and certain advocacy groups in society. 

This Government, though, has the resolve to ensure that planning benefits all of our citizens – not only the moneyed few – it will benefit all people in all areas of The Bahamas. 

I think that it is necessary to illustrate this by taking on some of the Save the Bays assertions. 

Their first allegation is that Government Wants to Avoid Public Consultation.  Nothing can be further from the truth.   The proposed Bill continues the requirement for public consultation.  What it does, though, is simplifies the process by making it mandatory for projects of significant sizes and likely impacts to automatically be subject to public consultation, while simple applications (like severances or site plan approval) are exempt. 

In fact, the proposed Bill goes further to identify projects that will require Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and all such projects will require public consultation. 

Even further, Mr. Speaker, after consultation with the BEST Commission, the new proposal gives the Director discretion to subject other applications to the public consultation process.  Certainly, this cannot be classified as an avoidance of public consultation.

Secondly, Mr. Speaker

They say that Government Wants to Allow Unregulated Development.  They suggest plans to completely remove rules to permit the haphazard development of land, thereby creating and unfair and inefficient planning for land development. They further assert that the revision could permit developments that were previously rejected or stopped. 

Again, this is not true.  The proposed Bill continues to require that all development must still go before the Town Planning Committee and the Rules of the Committee will not change.

Save the Bays says that Government Wants to Reduce Environmental Protection, saying that what the Government proposes will permit certain developments without any EIA. 

In fact, Mr. Speaker, the present Act does not specify which projects require EIA.  What is proposed, however, is actually less discretionary than what obtains in the 2010 Act. 

Further, actions always speak louder than words.  Take for example the fact that this same Government that they say has no concern about the environment and will reduce environmental protection just recently set aside 7.5 million acres of land, nearshore, and marine environment on 8 islands.   To the objective eye, that smacks of environmental protection.

  1.  Speaker

They say that Government Wants to Put Our Communities at Risk by completely removing Land Use Plans (LUP) from the legislation, thereby threatening the safety and prosperity of our families and placing traditional communities at risk. 

To the contrary, Mr. Speaker, the requirement for Land Use Planning will not be removed.  What has been proposed, however, is to transfer the details of the requirement for Land Use Plans to Regulations. 

This has been proposed because the cost and time involved in the preparation of these plans and by-laws, the limited institutional capacity, and the unavailable data challenge enforcement of the Act. 

  1.  Speaker

The assertions become even more preposterous, but I will speak to the one that seems most laughable.  They say that Government Wants to Let Illegal Developers off the Hook.  Here, they tell the truth of their motivation.  In the final analysis, this target – super rich to super rich – is the only interest of the same cast of characters. 

It is nothing to do with our mangroves, nothing to do with our grouper, nothing to do with our ecosystem.  It is all about what Marathon has aptly described as the “Bahamian hustle”.

  1.  Speaker

This revision is no whim.  The changes proposed are research-based considering the numbers, types and processing of planning applications. 

We have gone through the consultative period and have taken into consideration all of the opinions provided to us.  Now, we proceed to Cabinet.  In the short-term, therefore, I will return to this Place with the legislation.  We are not distracted.  We are not deterred.

  1.  Speaker

I now turn to the issue of the Pointe property that has been the subject of questions in newspapers and in this House.  

Development issues are always complex and there are times when small changes that will lead to a more sustainable development may be initiated when existing ordinances may be outdated, overly complicated, contradicting innovative building, landscape, or site designs.

Many existing zoning laws restrict designs that incorporate sustainable development techniques.   Arguably, existing ordinances are the most significant barrier to sustainable development projects.   History has shown us that conflicts and delays often discourage developers from battling governments for approval.  

I mention ordinances and laws and zoning rules here only because the Member for Montagu intimated in his contribution that decisions in respect of the Pointe are in violation of the law.  I have seen no written ordinance, no legislation, no written policy that prescribes heights for downtown Nassau.

I am advised, though, until the enactment of the Planning and Subdivisions Act 2010, there was a Special Architects Committee that, since the 1960s, considered the height of “45 feet to the eave (or four stories)” as a guide for recommendations to the Town Planning Committee for construction in that area.

Notwithstanding that guide, I can point to the Post Office Building, Maritime House on Frederick Street, and the existing British Colonial Hilton – all are well beyond four (4) stories.

  1.  Speaker

Recall that I said that the Special Architects Committee existed until the coming into force of the 2010 Planning and Subdivisions Act.  With that, the Committee was abolished.  Architects were insulted by that action.  They called it a travesty!  We recognised this great faux pas and have proposed the Committee’s reconstitution in the new Bill. 

Downtown redevelopment is a must to ensure the viability of our tourism product.  With this in view, the Department of Physical Planning and the Town Planning Committee are guided to prudent decisions.

Fishing Hole Road

  1.  Speaker

On the 18th of December 2015, my Ministry entered into a contract with All Bahamas Construction Company Limited for design/build works for the Fishing Hole challenge following a competitive bidding process. 

For many years, successive governments have known the need to find a solution for the Fishing Hole area as it represents great travail for the people of Grand Bahama.  This represents the fulfilment of a commitment that dates as far back as the 1990s. 

What may be perceived as a delayed response can be attributed to the fact that, when a supposed solution was determined in 2004, three devastating hurricanes caused technical officers in my Ministry to revisit their options.  What was planned was simply insufficient because waters rose to double the height of what was originally provided for.

To this end, All Bahamas Construction has provided an engineering innovation to withstand normal to extreme environmental conditions, with minimal negative impact on the settlement of Queen’s Cove while providing for the environmental preservation and restoration of communication between the Hawksbill Creek and the Freeport Harbour. 

We are happy to have the buy-in of area residents who participated in several town meetings to discuss the solutions.  Now, we move to provide the appropriate answer to improve access to all of Grand Bahama.  The project duration is sixty-one (61) weeks.

  1.  Speaker

The Member for Pineridge, who is the Minister Responsible for Grand Bahama, has announced all of this Government’s work in and plan for Grand Bahama.  My Ministry is very proud to be able to facilitate all of those works.

Beyond Grand Bahama, Mr. Speaker

My Ministry is reviewing feasibilities studies for remediation to the challenge at the Glass Window Bridge in North Eleuthera.  Once complete, I will bring a report to this House.

Urban Renewal

  1.  Speaker

For me, progressing our human capital equals or betters the weight of physical infrastructure.  That is why I am always happy to turn my attention to Urban Renewal. 

  1.  Speaker

Bahamians are a strong and resilient people.  We, for the most part, were brought up to be proud, even if we do not have adequate financial means; and we were taught to hold fast to an Anchor, which is God – firm in our faith so as to maintain our traditional morals and values, our culture, our rich heritage, remembering that we are one people. 

  1.  Speaker

The Urban Renewal 2.0 Programme will celebrate its fourth anniversary this year and continues to give focused attention to the implementation of holistic and integrated strategies to renew inner city communities. 

For all of the detractors, for all those who question the efficacy of Urban Renewal, for all those who say that we are not getting value for money, I say, let the people speak.

Go and ask the poor, the disenfranchised, the unemployed, the at-risk youth, the children, and the elderly about the Urban Renewal Programme in their neighbourhoods. 

They will tell you about the Urban Renewal Band and its transforming impact on hundreds of young lives – how these children are empowered through the discipline of music.  Just under two weeks ago, the Urban Renewal Band was showcased at the St. Patrick’s Parade in Washington D.C. – 90 minutes at the grand stand! 

  1.  Speaker

The Bahamas had 103 representatives in this magnificent event and the exposure for the band members was phenomenal.  Incredibly, from among the over 100 units participating in this year’s parade, the Urban Renewal Music Masters Youth Band snatched the Best in Parade Award.

I congratulate Inspector Theodore Campbell for the magnificent work that he does with the Urban Renewal Band.  The band members are also to be commended for their commitment to making The Bahamas great through the medium of music.

  1.  Speaker

They will tell you that since November 2013, Urban Renewal, through the Small Homes Repair Programme, has been on pace to totally transform the inner cities.  Since taking office, we have repaired over seven hundred (700) houses through this bold initiative; and it is anticipated that another three hundred (300) houses will be repaired before the end of this fiscal year.  

  1.  Speaker

They will tell you that small contractors, tradespersons, and semi-skilled persons (carpenters, plumbers, masons, tile layers, helpers, and the like), this means employment – employment that many of them would not ordinarily be able to secure; the ability to be the breadwinner in the home; to pay bills and save a little for a rainy day.

  1.  Speaker

They will tell you that small businesses in the inner city and traditional communities, the Small Home Repairs Programme is a much needed economic injection.

  1.  Speaker

This is a good a time as any to make reference to the goings-on in this Place over the past week.  I preface it by saying that I make every effort daily to remain grounded. 

While I have high regard for the Office that I hold, I know that the Office does not make me.  I continually remind myself of my parents’ admonition to me: “But for the grace of God, there I go.”  I remain ordinary in my daily life to enable me to do extraordinary things for some ordinary folks.

Much has been done to attempt to besmirch my character.  While I will not take too much time with it, I will not ignore the political mischief that too many are engaging to destabilise this Government. 

It is very clear to us that we are on the right track when the game shifts to distraction.  As a Government, we remain focused and will not misstep because of the noise. 

  1.  Speaker

Nobody should be surprised that I have associations with a many young men with a central purpose of getting them to understand that antisocial behaviour and lives of criminality are harmful to them, their families and their communities.

In my discussions with them, it is almost invariably suggested that men released from prison without some intervening socialisation is a disservice to that person and society, as many “demons” continue to exist in their heads and adjustment to freedom is a journey with many challenges and temptations. 

They argue that any realistic assessment of the challenges and temptations confronting released prisoners who have no institutional support to assist in their adjustment to society would help in our understanding of why these men become repeat offenders and often with violent consequences and high recidivism rates.

There are many similarities among despondent young men.  Many have brushes with the law and many had previous convictions ranging from serious to misdemeanours.  Many are unemployed and claim to be unable to find work primarily because of their criminal history.  Many feel abandoned, neglected and valueless.  They are all clearly suffering and despairing. 

This is the reason why the PLP Government’s Urban Renewal 2.0 is advanced as a priority.  There is no doubt that Urban Renewal Programme is the right vehicle to convey the anguish and despair from the various communities; and without elaborating on all of its components that are well known, the engagement of youthful persons of influence upon the despairing youth has been a resounding success.   

I therefore acknowledge and thank the Urban Renewal Commission, Christian Council, and various groups within communities for their urgent dialogue to agree a mechanism and even more urgent action to make our young to feel more valuable, wanted, loved, and meaningful to our society.

Bahamas Power & Light Company Ltd (BPL)

  1.  Speaker

I now turn to the Bahamas Power & Light Company Limited (BPL).  On the 9th of February this year, I had the pleasure to witness BPL entering into a Management Services Agreement withPowerSecure Inc.  That exciting step poised PowerSecure to assume management control of BPL, enabling The Bahamas to enter the next phase of its energy sector transformation.

BPL customers continue to enjoy the fact that energy costs have reached its lowest in more than a decade.  We see this demonstrated by the residential customer who consumed 500 kWh of electricity in October 2014 being billed $196.29.  The same customer consuming the same 500 kWh of electricity in February 2016 paid $99.65 (excluding VAT). The savings is almost $97.00 – that’s progress.

BPL’s primary objective is to improve customer experience and ensure that the company gains.  Major efficiency gains are expected with the upgrade and more efficient management of generation, transmission and distribution equipment, and in particular using less fuel to generate the power that the country needs, as well as generation plant that is able to use cheaper more efficient fuels such as natural gas. 

Another significant cost is human resources. There has been much said about the scale of potential downsizing at BEC.  I have already put it on record that the Government, the Board, andPowerSecure are extremely sensitive to this issue. 

  1.  Speaker

We do not expect any staff reductions in the near future, and if there are to be any later on, this will be done over time in a manner that is fully open with key stakeholders and employees themselves.

Water and Sewerage Corporation

  1.  Speaker

I move to the Water and Sewerage Corporation.  During this fiscal period, Mr. Leslie Miller, the Member for Blue Hills, was appointed as Chairman of Board of the Corporation.  I congratulate him in the same breath that I thank the outgoing Chairman Lester Cox for his fine service to the Corporation.

  1.  Speaker

Revenue for the Corporation showed modest growth during the period.  This is attributed to the fact that WSC launched an aggressive Customer Win Back campaign in October 2015.  This campaign aims to capitalise on ample water supplies and consistent improved pressures to regain the confidence of former customers and to attract new customers. 

Since the beginning of March 2016, tenants are also able to apply for their own accounts so that safe potable city water is readily accessible to them.

  1.  Speaker                     

Government approved $29.26 million in subventions to WSC for 2015/16, compared to $35 million in the previous year.  This reduction has challenged the Corporation to responsible fiscal programmes geared toward reducing costs and improving efficiency.

  1.  Speaker

The Government of the Bahamas and the Corporation have secured a $28.33Mn loan from the CDB with the Government/WSC committed to a further $13.3Mn in counterpart funding.

This programme includes potable water distribution systems for Coral Lakes, Boatswain Hill and Pinewood Gardens Phase “B” subdivisions in New Providence and new water supply systems and improvements to existing systems for communities in Crooked Island, Eleuthera, Cat Island, San Salvador, Long Island and South Andros.

The New Providence works have commenced and it is anticipated that the South Andros works will commence by early this summer and the other projects later this year.

  1.  Speaker

There are a number of Government-funded projects facilitated by the Water and Sewerage Corporation within this fiscal period.  In  Mayaguana, new water transmission and distribution systems including desalinated water plants were completed in January 2016 and are now operational in the communities of Pirates Well, Betsy Bay and Abraham’s Bay providing these communities with high quality piped potable water.

In Central Eleuthera, works are in progress to rehabilitate the existing storage tanks to improve the available storage and thereby improve the reliability of our Central Eleuthera Water Supply System.

Additionally, the 1 million imperial gallon per day tertiary wastewater treatment plant at Gladstone Road is 90% complete. 

  1.  Speaker

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) funded non-revenue water reduction (NRW) project continues to be successful and exceed its short term targets, having saved WSC almost $9 million to date.  The Corporation is taking lessons learned to realise great results, particularly in South Eleuthera. 

  1.  Speaker

While it may not be good news to Consolidated Water, Neil Hartnell’s story in the Business Section of the Tribune on Thursday, 17th March 2016, was certainly good news for me and the Corporation.  Hartnell began his story by saying that Consolidated’s “revenues have decreased by more than $8 million over the past two years, as the Water & Sewerage Corporation’s leak and loss reduction programme bears fruit.” 

  1.  Speaker

This is wonderful news that all The Bahamas should celebrate. 

  1.  Speaker

Draft legislation now rests with the AG’s Office to reform the allowing URCA to assume responsibility for economic regulation of the water sector as it has with telecommunications and more recently with electricity.  This will cause URCA to have the robust oversight intended from its creation.

Bahamasair

  1.  Speaker

I now move to the national flag carrier, Bahamasair.

  1.  Speaker

I am pleased to report that Bahamasair is making good steps toward profitability.  Though revenues are still not where they should be, The National Flag Carrier has reduced expenses in all areas.

I congratulate Bahamasair as it has executed Industrial Agreements with its four associated trade unions.  The agreements call for retroactive payments of almost $1.5 million ($1,459,076). 

  1.  Speaker

Government gave priority to the National Flag Carrier shoring up its services through the purchase of five new ATR aircraft to replace the Dash-8 fleet.  Bahamasair’s management negotiated the terms of the ATR Sales and Purchase Agreement at very good unit prices. 

  1.  Speaker

Bahamasair was also a tremendous support in the Hurricane Joaquin relief efforts by transporting NEMA officials, volunteers and supplies to the devastated islands of San Salvador, Long Island,Acklins and Crooked Island. 

Currently, Bahamasair’s maintenance hangar is undergoing comprehensive refurbishment.  No major repairs have ever been carried out on this 45 year old structure, and its condition has deteriorated to a point of safety concerns as expressed engineers within my Ministry.

Once the repairs are completed, this facility will be able to house a few of Bahamasair’s turboprop aircraft during hurricane events, which will lessen the burden of having to evacuate the entire fleet.

Costs evaluation and work-in progress are being monitored by Technical Teams in the Ministry of Works.

The Straw Market Authority

  1.  Speaker

The Straw Market Authority (SMA) continues to work with service providers to ensure that the markets operate in the most efficient manner and are first class facilities.

  1.  Speaker

The Authority is also making in-roads by systematically addressing vendor attrition as a consequence of death, retirement, and transfers around the markets.  The training programmes for staff and vendors have been enhanced and are continuing.

  1.  Speaker                             

The unfortunate reality is that World Famous Downtown Straw Market, which is relatively new, is in a serious state of disrepair.  Urgent works are being carried out to avert disaster, particularly during the hurricane season. 

The Authority will also work in conjunction with BAIC and the various handicraft associations toward the development and implementation of the use of natural Bahamian materials in souvenir and craft items. 

Conclusion

  1.  Speaker

Before I conclude, I draw your attention to an observation by Sociologist Max Weber.  He was convinced that one’s opportunities are shaped by our class and status.  While we tend to link success solely to our talent and our efforts, our social position is in large part dependent on our family’s social status.

  1.  Speaker

Earlier in my presentation, I referred to my lifelong efforts to reach out to groups of young men who have run afoul of the law and are experiencing difficulties adjusting socially as a result.

While I have undertaken with the police not to discuss the matter that is causing all of this controversy, there is much that is in the public domain flowing from the disclosures of several conflicting affidavits.  I honour that undertaking.

Until such time that these conflicting accounts have been tested, our minds should remain open.  Keeping an open mind is a difficult thing particularly if it is not profitable to kill a good story with the truth.  Some misguided soul once said that a good story always trumps the truth. Misguided, I say because, in the end, the truth always trumps a good story.

  1.  Speaker

In spite of all the detractors, this Government remains committed to the increase of life opportunities to everyone – no matter what age, race, gender, religion, physical or mental disability, medical condition, or marital status.  This is essential to building a Bahamas that our children and theirs can have pride.

We have taken faith, hard work, courage, and above all persistence for the journey; and we are taking bold and calculated decisions to sustain us.  Accordingly, I stand with my Leader and wholeheartedly support the statement for the half-time review on behalf of the people of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador. 

 

Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Check against delivery. And i am not sure when I will speak
   
 
NOTES  FOR FRED MITCHELL MPMID YEAR BUDGET DEBATEMINSITER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND IMMIGEATION

Nassau

House of Assembly

21 March 2016

 

Mr. Speaker:

 

I wish to say that I do not propose to read this document in extenso but to highlight some of the more important aspects.  I will then lay the entire statement on the table for the examination of members and for the edification of the public.

 

The statement to be laid will contain the budget performance of the Ministry to the mid year.  There are no surprises.  Some of the operational matters I have already shared with my opposite number in the House the Opposition’s spokesman on Foreign Affairs and Immigration.

 

I want to thank the people who run the Ministry: our Permanent Secretary Sheila Carey, the new Director General Sharon Haylock and in particular I would like to welcome to the team at this time publicly Superintendent Clarence Russell of the Royal Bahamas Police Force who is now the Chief Passport Officer.

 

At the same time, I would like to thank the outgoing Chief Passport Officer Superintendent Franklin Dames and the outgoing Permanent Secretary Philip Miller for their work in managing the ministry in the earlier years of my term.

 

Mr. Speaker,

 

I wish also to speak to my constituents for a bit on the proposed amendments to the constitution and why I intend to vote  yes to all of the questions if they are put to the country.  I am inviting my constituents to vote yes.

 

It starts off with this simple proposition.  Being born male in The Bahamas, I  have certain privileges in this constitution which women do not have.  I wish to confer and to provide that women have the same rights as men in the constitution. That is all these amendments seek to do.  Nothing more or less.

 

 

On the 14 March, I issued the following is a statement:

On behalf of the people of Fox Hill, I was pleased today to cast a vote for the four constitutional amendment bills in the affirmative, and to support the rights of women to equality in our country.

I am asking all the people of the Fox Hill constituency to vote yes when the proposition is put to the electorate later this year.

I will support its passage by my own yes vote.

I dedicate this vote to my late mother Lilla Mitchell who was in every way equal to my father and held our family together through thick and thin. I can think of no finer tribute to her.

I also recall all the many women who run our institutions and are the engines of our country and particularly those in Fox Hill. My own party branch is run by women. Many churches in Fox Hill are headed by women and certainly without the support of women our institutions would be in serious trouble. Neither the church nor the state can be run effectively without them and they should not be second class citizens in our land.

To the women in our country: in 2012 there were 15,000 more women on the electoral register than men. This means that in this referendum, women have the power to ensure the passage of these acts by their sheer numbers alone.

I thank all my Parliamentary and Cabinet colleagues and those who headed the Constitutional Commission for all their work in advancing the cause of freedom and equality in our country.

I will do all I can to support it.

I wish to solicit your support for the yes vote and particularly those who are women and girls in this audience.

Women got the right to vote in my lifetime. Before 1962, women could not vote. I remember my mother casting her first vote in 1962.

Today no one thinks that is unusual.

But we need to do one more thing. The rights that men have in the constitution do not apply to women. We have an opportunity to change that and we should.

I do not want anyone to think of it as any more than it is. It is a simple value proposition. The rights that men have, women should have and the rights that women have, men should have. The answer then to the question should clearly be yes.

I want all of you young girls, the girls’ basketball team, women, the female teachers, the mothers and daughters and sisters everywhere to know, I will be voting to give you equal rights in our Bahamas.

People will try and confuse the issue but that is all the amendments seek to do.

There are 15,000 more women than men on the election register. So even without the votes of men, women can pass this by themselves if they stick together. I hope they do.

Women run everything in our country: the home, the school, the government and the church. The constitution should reflect that reality.

My mother carried our family when my father lost his job in 1970, just as I was going into College. He did not work for three years. She kept the family together with her one income. I want to do this for her. She was equal in every way and I would do her a disservice if I voted no.

One Saturday I went to seven funerals between the hours of 10 a.m. and one p. m. and in the church every role except the preacher was a role executed by a woman. There is nothing that should be denied women.

So today as we think about the theme of inclusiveness, let us remember the women today and let us commit to doing something to make them more equal in our law.

 

Mr. Speaker,

 

I approached you last evening with regard to a more general concern I have about the swirl of claim and counter claim in this House and in the wider public domain about some time residents in The Bahamas Louis Bacon and Peter Nygard.

 

I was interested yesterday to hear now that the Opposition or at least some members of them agree that there can be a case when someone acts contrary to the pubic interest that their permanent residence can be revoked.  They went further and called for them to be revoked.

 

I want them to know that as a matter of law, if they wish to initiate a complaint then they need only write the Director of Immigration with the reasons that they wish for such an action to be taken.

 

I wish to announce that after a long period of review, the Immigration Board has decided to revoke the permanent residence of Howard Obrunt and his wife.  Mr. Obrunt is a developer in Exuma who reportedly bilked some 100 investors of funds associated with a real estate development in Great Exuma. 

 

I also want to say that proceedings are in train with regard to Derek Turner.

 

The actions in this regard are based on Section 18 of the Immigration Act.

 

 

 

Mr. Speaker, I now lay the statement over and end by saying I support the resolution.

 

The budget performance of MFA to date and major outlays 

 

The Ministry’s total budget for this fiscal year is $29,623,118.  This supports the operation of the Ministry, the Passport Office, the Consular Division and the 12 overseas missions (Embassies/ High Commissions/Permanent Missions in Washington, Ottawa, London, Havana, Geneva, Port au Prince, New York, Beijing and Consulates in Miami, Atlanta, New York, Washington). 

 

Some $14,117,745 or 48% of the budgeted amount is for personal emoluments. 

As of December the Ministry had spent 43% of its allocation and the Ministry remains on its spending target.

 

The chart below provides information on the Ministry’s spending by block. 

 

Expenditure by block
Block 1: Original estimates Expenditure to December 2015 Expenditure as of 11 March 2016
Personal Emoluments and allowances $14,117,745.00 $6,351,890.25 $8,128,181.34
Block 10:
Travel and Subsistence $250,000.00 $105,842.39 $117,949.59
Block 20:
Transportation of things $30,000.00 $12,977.41 $16,660.89
Block 30 :
Rent Communication and Utilities $1,004,200.00 $329,538.00 $408,795.95
Block 50:
Other contractual services $7,052,032.00 $3,093,297.61 $4,598,737.06
       
Block 60:
Supplies and materials $149,750.00 $55,504.16 $77,893.41
       
Block 80:
Repairs, Maintenance, etc $47,000.00 $9,405.98 $12,056.03
Block 90:      
Grants, fixed Charges $6,822,391.00 $2,876,648.12 $5,178,005.33

The Ministry collected $13,161,978 in revenue from July to December 2015.   This breaks down as follows:

 

  Total Bahamas Missions
       
Autec – $11,271,000 $11,271,000 NA
Passport fees 1,174,340 1,158,350 $15,990
Visas 533,180 30,490 502,690
Notary fees 183,458 136,320 47,138

 

The Ministry anticipates an increase in revenue collected during the second half of this fiscal year given the increase in the Consular Fees which is discussed in a later section and the introduction of the rush passport fee.

 

 

Passport Office

The passport office expenditures, difficulties numbers processed, the back log, the revenue performance

 

As indicated above, expenditure on the Passport Office is covered in the Ministry’s budget.  It is not possible to say what was spent on them compared to the other areas of the Ministry. 

 

$113,335 was paid in overtime to help reduce the backlog at the passport Office.

 

Well over 4000 passports were finalized and signed off on by the designated signatories during the first half of the fiscal year. It should be noted that Passport Office reduced the backlog of passports from three and a half months at the start of the project to now, where the Office is only three weeks behind.  In regards to the data section, the backlog in that section was reduced from over a month behind to where they were less than a week behind.

 

Despite this however, it is noted that with the announcement of the final deadline  for manual passports, that the Passport Office has experienced an exponential increase in clients coming in to apply for their passports in February. And as you may be aware with the upcoming Easter Holidays, we anticipate another ‘surge’ in clients coming in to apply.

 

This has placed an inordinate amount of stress on the signatories and final level officers especially given our ’limited human resources’. In this regard given the need for individuals to have their ‘E” passports for a variety of reasons (i.e travel, upcoming election, Public Service Requirements, financial institutions, job purposes..etc), it is anticipated that another OT exercise will have to be conducted in April or May before this present budget year ends.

 

In August 2015, there was a change in leadership in the presence of Mr.Clarence Russell, CPO and Mr. Garth Strachan who serves as HR/Administration Manager and also is the Second in Charge.  The CPO has sought to bring more focus to the management/administration of the Passport Office. 

 

The Passport Office issued 20,725 passports from July to December 2015; some 15,866 for persons who applied directly to the Passport Office and the remainder for persons who applied at one of the satellite offices either in The Bahamas or overseas.  Since January, 2016 to 11 March, 2016 the passport office has issued 5,753 passports. 

 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration
Passport Office Issuance Report 1 Jul 2015 to 10 Mar 2016
2015 2016 TOTALS
ROW LABELS Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec 6 month Totals Jan Feb Mar
ABACO CENTRAL 91 104 90 66 110 119 580 60 88 20 748
ABACO NORTH 22 7 13 8 15 1 66 11 1 78
ABACO SOUTH 6 11 5 2 12 7 43 3 5 4 55
ANDROS NORTH 2 46 88 136 116 37 5 294
ATLANTA CONSULATE 23 13 22 27 22 36 143 17 30 10 200
CANADA HIGH COMM 7 13 9 10 4 43 4 9 1 57
FREEPORT, GB 522 539 433 392 602 485 2,973 297 324 94 3,688
LONDON HIGH COMM 10 5 2 6 23 5 2 4 34
MIAMI CONSULATE 70 84 60 73 108 76 471 36 67 41 615
MOBILE UNIT 3 9 3 6 93 127 241 151 28 5 425
NEW PROVIDENCE 3,178 2,785 2,086 2,086 3,152 2,579 15,866 1,753 1,831 653 20,051
NEW YORK 18 16 14 14 20 15 97 13 16 120
BEIJING 1
WASHINGTON 8 4 4 4 14 9 43 2 7 3 62
GRAND TOTAL 3,958 3,590 2,691 2,680 4,204 3,552 20,725 2,457 2,455 841 26,428

This table provides a breakdown by Office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The table below provides figures for the revenue collected at the Passport Office from July to December 2015.  An additional $456,600 was collected from Bahamians wishing to have their passports issued within 48 hours of application.

 

MONTH TOTAL AMOUNT COLLECTED FOR ADULT PASSPORT TOTAL AMOUNT COLLECTED FOR CHILD PASSPORT TOTAL AMOUNT COLLECTED FOR C/I PASSPORT TOTAL AMOUNT COLLECTED FOR RUSH FEES/LOST PASSPORT
JULY $82,650.00 $24,675.00   $82,800.00
AUGUST $63,850.00 $17,625.00   $82,000.00
SEPTEMBER $71,800.00 $10,900.00   $56,200.00
OCTOBER $75,700.00 $16,625.00   $65,400.0
NOVEMBER $78,850.00 $12,950.00   $95,200.00
DECEMBER $56,050.00 $12,125.00   $75,000.00
               TOTAL $1,009,200.00 $240,825.00 $25.00 $456,600.00

 

 

 

The new passport contract time lines and costs

 

In keeping with the Government’s initiative to enhance border security, approval has been given for CBN to proceed with the development of a new Electronic Visa and ePassport issuing system and new design passports having the latest security features.  CBN have designed a solution that offers a well secured, paperless, flexible, friendly ePassport application.  The new ePassport will utilize polycarbonate, laser-engraved technology on the information page which represents cutting edge security features.  The proposal includes a paperless eVisa issuing system designed to eliminate the need for paper-based Visa Travel documents.

 

A letter of intent has been signed with CBN and the Government is reviewing the proposed contract with a view to signing the same by the end of this month.  The new system will launch in January 2017. 

The new system will cost in excess of $14million ($14,905,000) including the approved upgrades i.e. digitization of legacy files -USD$173,000 (this allows for the remaining Passport files to be added to the electronic registry); automated fingerprint identification sub-system – USD$52,000 (enables applicants to be matched against their previous record during enrollment and issuance); dashboard module – USD$101,600 (allows staff and management to monitor the productivity at the main personalization centre) and Spark Live OVI – USD$20,000 (a special type of ink to serve as an additional security feature).   Specifically, these features aid in eliminating the need for Bahamians to present their documents each time they apply, search the fingerprint database to ensure that the applicant is actually who they purport to be, allow managers to determine at a glance where applications are in the process to facilitate deployment of staff for maximum efficiency and enhance the security features of the passport book, respectively)

In delivering services such as passports and visas, the government needs to move towards cost recovery for the provision of the service.  The Ministry is therefore in discussions with the Ministry of Finance and other relevant agencies with a view to creating a new mechanism which would allow the revenue collected from the ePassport and eVisa systems to be earmarked to pay for the new system.   

 

 

Visas numbers, costs  revenue

 

The Ministry issued 4,753 visas from July to December, 2015 for total revenue of $533,180.  The accompanying charts shows the number of visas issued by post, with the Embassy in Haiti (1,227) and the Consulate in Miami (1,099) issuing the most visas.  The New York Consulate is a close third with 960 visas.  With the visa abolition agreement in place with China, the Embassy in Beijing issued the fewest visas.  

 

Office July August Sept Oct Nov Dec TOTALS July to Dec. 2015 Jan Feb As of 10 March Totals Year to date
ATLANTA 78 52 44 52 105 45 376 17 43 14 451
BEIJING 1 1 1       3       3
HAITI 286 204 229 133 149 226 1,227 134 193 91 1,646
LONDON 30 28 19 15 25 27 144 18 12 7 182
MIAMI 259 225 126 173 153 163 1,099 130 108 59 1,396
NEW PROVIDENCE 54 60 43 20 30 36 243 24 25 22 314
NEW YORK 173 198 75 191 172 151 960 107 121 65 1,253
OTTAWA 4 15 6 10 14 20 69 15 17 6 107
WASHINGTON 149 100 62 88 122 111 632 36 107 55 830
Grand Total 1,034 883 605 682 770 779 4,753 481 626 319 6,182

 

 

The Consular Division moved in October to the Charlotte House on the ground floor.  This relocation to the downtown area should make that division more accessible to the general public. 

 

The increase in visa fees became effective January, 2015. 

 

The other consular fees were increased in January 2016.  This is the first increase in these consular fees in more than 10 years.  The major change is the increase in the fees for the legalization of documents.  Our fees for legalization of documents are now more in line with those charged in other countries. 

 

The fee for overseas Missions to administer an oath or receive a declaration is now $150.

The fee for the Consular Division to prepare and apostile/legalize a document is now $120 per document.   It normally takes 3 days for this service.  The changes to the fee schedule allowed for the imposition of  rush fees for legalization of documents: an additional $150 for documents received by 11am and returned 2:30pm or an additional $300 for documents ready in 2 hours.

 

 

 

Changes in Canadian procedures:

 

Canada has implemented a new Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) which is requirement for all persons from visa exempt countries, like The Bahamas.  As of 15 March 2016, Bahamians must apply online for an ETA before entering Canada.   The vast majority of ETA applications will  be auto-granted by an electronic system within minutes of submission.  All ETA refusals will be made by an officer only. Persons refused an ETA would be persons with a criminal record and/or known to Canadian authorities (immigration, police etc). The Canada Border Services Agency’s (CBSA)  will provide a “board/no board” message to airlines prior to departure to Canada.

 

I would like to introduce a similar procedure for all visitors entering The Bahamas.

 

 

immigration:

 

Budget performance to date

 

Revenue: $31,747,656 or $2,591,895 under projections.

 

The Department of Immigration received a total budget allocation of $17,245,158  for this current fiscal year.  As of December 2015, some  47% of the total allocation had been spent.  The budget performance to date is within established parameters with the exception of the Repatriation item (10260011) and the Detention Center (54325011). 

 

Funding in those items are just about depleted and will require contingency funding to meet commitments to June 2016.

 

 

Costs of repatriations, special issues if any

Repatriation costs for 2015:  $1,220,420 to date of a $1,500,000 budgeted.

 

Numbers repatriated

July to December, 2015 – 2,098 persons were repatriated.  The Chart below provides a breakdown based on major nationalities.

 

Repatriations 2015/2016
Totals Haiti Jamaica Cuba Dominican Republic Brazil China
July 264 181 27 7 12 14 8
August 267 164 26 60 4 4 0
September 531 439 19 19 20 9 18
October 126 79 28 0 1 2 7
November 463 362 37 20 5 24 0
December 447 343 35 1 27 4 16
Totals 2,098 1,568 172 107 69 57 49
Jan 539 441 19 51 0 13 3

 

 

 

Numbers in the detention centre –

 

As of 9 March,  there are 86 persons are in the Centre.   There are 44 Haitian nationals (32 men 12 women), 23 Cubans (19 men, 4 women) 8 Jamaicans (5 men 3 women).  There are 2 Ghanaians, and 2 Hondurans and 1 Chinese, Colombian, Gambian, Kenyan, Eritrean, Nigerian and Dominican respectively.

 

During this budget period we formalized the arrangements to allow us to house women and children at a safe and secure facility run with the assistance of the Department of Social Services.  At present 10 persons are in the safe house (4 women and 6 children).

 

IIMS –

 

The Department of Immigration is in the process of developing an Immigration Integrated Management System (IIMS) which comprises of the following systems:

  • Border Control Management System(Phase I)
  • ID Management System (Phase II)
  • Document Management System (Phase III)
  • Watch List Management System (Phase I)

The vision for this system is to allow all of the various computerized functions of the department to seamlessly communicate and work as one overall management resource. In addition, the IIMS will also integrate seamlessly with the new Passport and Visa System that is also being developed by the same vendor.

A supplementary module of the Border Control System is the Automatic Passport Control (APC) which will consist of five Kiosks that would allow authorized travelers to do self-check-ins by using the APC systems that will be linked to the Border Control.

Phase I of the project is on schedule for deployment in May 2016. Three members of our IT team, which is headed by Superintendent Phillip Forbes,are scheduled to go to Ottawa next week for the Customer Acceptance Tests.

Even though deployment is imminent we have challenges with implementing the surveillance and inspection tools that will facilitate the efficiency of the border control system.  These issues are caused by the inability to get the RBPF to grant INTERPOL permission to deal directly with CBN and also the failure of the government to legislate the requisite Advance Passenger Information Bill. The effectiveness of our system will be depreciated without the use of the advanced passenger information screening and INTERPOL access. 

Phase II of the project began a month ago and we are currently in the planning stage of developing the ID Management System.This module will revolutionize the way the department processes and issues all of the various identity and status documents. This phase is scheduled for deployment in February 2017.

During the development of Phase II work will also be started on the development of the remaining phase and modules including the Detainee Management Module and the Apprehension and Deportation Module.

The vision of the developer (CBN) dictated that multiple modules would be in the development phase simultaneously thereby reducing the waiting time that would have been unavoidable if these modules had been developed consecutively. The deployment plan calls for a phased process in order to effectively conduct the requisite staff training in a more controlled and less stressful manner.

The Immigration Integrated Management System (IIMS) project is currently on schedule and completion of the Border Control Management System will meet our deadline date.

 

The budget performance of MFA to date and major outlays

 

2015 was quite a year for the Foreign Service and 2016 is already proving to be equally active.

 

Modernization of the Foreign Service

  • The new Foreign Affairs Act came into force in January, along with the new Foreign Service orders.  The modernization consisted of a three-pronged approach, over a span of two fiscal periods.

 

  • Phases One and Two of this approach, Codifying Foreign Service Orders, and, Revising the Allowances Package for Foreign Service Officers, respectively, have been completed through the promulgation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Act, 2014, which came into effect, 23rd December, 2014,  and, the Public Service Commission (Foreign Service Orders) Regulations, 2014, which came into effect on 30th December, 2014. 

 

  • The Director General of the Foreign Service, Mrs. Sharon Brennen-Haylock, has been appointed in accordance with sections 7(3) and (4) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Act, 2014; she commenced work January 2016 and has begun preparations for the third phase of modernization, to complete and implement a Distinct Foreign Service Career Path and Salary Scales during the next fiscal year.

 

  • The Foreign Service Committee has been fully constituted as prescribed by section 10 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Act, 2014. The Committee, which is chaired by the Director General, is now charged, inter alia, with completion of the aforementioned phase three of modernization and the transition to a Department of the Foreign Service. It will also, under the leadership of the Director General, have oversight of knowledge management, capacity building and training and provide advice on foreign policy.  The members of the Committee are two technical officers from the MFA, Frank Davis and Eugene Torchon-Newry, a representative of the Ministry of the  Public Service, Bridgette Hepburn, former career Ambassador, Marilyn Zonicle and the Heads of Accounts and Human Resources in MFA, respectively, Sharon Isaacs and Michelle Wring.  The latter two persons serve in an ex officio capacity.

 

  • It has been challenging to attract and retain young professionals interested in the Foreign Service, and in the required numbers, primarily because the remuneration granted to Foreign Service Officers is not as competitive as other specialized areas of the Public Service, such as in the Ministries of Finance, Financial Services, Tourism, and, the Department of Education

 

  • However, with the work that has been done so far, and the path now underway towards further implementation, we will soon see a vastly different situation.  The transformation of the Foreign Service is by no means an overnight process, but I can safely say, at this mid-year budget period, that we are well on our way to having a Foreign Service with staff of superior caliber and specialization that is needed in aglobalised World.  Foreign Service Officers are in the vanguard of the Nation’s interaction with a complex and changing World. A balance between unique professional qualities and adequate, supportive conditions of service is, therefore, indispensable.

 

  • MFA will remain in close contact with the Ministry of the Public Service, the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Finance and other arms of government as the work continues.

 

  • While we make progress on the road towards modernization of the Foreign Service, seven Foreign Service Officers were posted overseas during 2015/2016 and three others will be posted by the end of March.  Training to improve the skills and expertise of officers continues in areas such as human rights and diplomacy in countries such as Chile, Switzerland, Republic of Korea, People’s Republic of China and the Netherlands.

 

 Bilateral Relations

 

Strengthening of diplomatic relations and ties with other countries

 

 

  • The accreditation of Her Excellency Rose Iremia as Non-Resident Ambassador of the Hellenic Republic to The Bahamas, in February, 2016.

 

  • The accreditation of His Excellency Bockari Kortu Stevens as Non-Resident High Commissioner of the Republic of Sierra Leone to The Bahamas this month.

 

  • Mr. Andy Gomez was appointed Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, where he presented credentials to the President,  29 February 2016, further cementing our strong relations with that country. I thank  Amb. Yuan Guisen, who will soon demit office, for  his immense contribution towards the continuation of the strong ties we have with China and for the immediate assistance he provided in the wake of Hurricane Joaquin

 

  • New diplomatic envoys were named to represent The Bahamas in Sweden, Japan, India and Mexico, and hopefully soon in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  I have just returned from the UAE, where I met the Foreign Minister and we agreed to work towards strengthening cooperation between our two countries to include strategic objectives such as job creation, investment, social development and tourism.   Concrete steps are underway to formalize this agreement in the coming months.  We also discussed The Bahamas’ participation in the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.  I expect to visit Qatar shortly and will discuss the strengthening of relations between our two countries.

 

  • New honorary consuls were named in Malta, California and Colorado, and Australia is in the pipeline.

 

  • The Cabinet approved the establishment of new diplomatic relations with twenty countries, which are now being finalized.

 

Wider International Arena

 

In the wider international arena, including the regional level, we participated as planned in a number of important conclaves such as:

 

  • The 1st Ministerial Meeting of the Forum of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and the People’s Republic of China in Beijing, China, in January 2015.

 

  • The Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, in April 2015, at which US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met for the first time since the  re-establishment of diplomatic relations between these two countries in some fifty-four years.

                                                                                            

  • The 2nd Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, in June 2015.

 

  • The UN Conference on Financing for Development in Ethiopia June 2015.

 

  • The UN Development Summit in New York in September 2015, where new global development goals were approved by world leaders.

 

  • The 70th UN General Assembly in New York in September 2015.

 

  • The 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Paris Conference on Climate Change) in December 2015, which resulted in the adoption of a historic accord on climate change – World leaders will gather at the UN 22nd April, 2016, to sign the legally-binding accord, and The Bahamas will also be present.

 

  • MFA is already working with other arms of government towards implementation of the new development goals and decisions taken at the conferences and meetings just mentioned, as well as others that took place during 2015.  On Climate Change, we need to ensure that we access international funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation to fight against extreme weather and other adverse impact.  This should be free or at concessional interest rates.  We will continue to entreat international financial institutions to drop GDP per capita as the main determinant for deciding whether or not a country gets concessional interest rates to obtain money to put up infrastructure to defend against extreme weather.  

 

  • A significant milestone was seen in the work undertaken to secure The Bahamas’ re-election to Category C of the IMO Council, where MFA and MoT worked closely together towards this achievement.

 

  • We continue to be very closely involved in the work of the Commonwealth, and at the Heads of Government meeting last year, we saw the successful election of Baroness Patricia Scotland as Secretary General of the Commonwealth, a candidate who was supported by The Bahamas.  I recently had the pleasure to meet Baroness Scotland and other senior staff of the Commonwealth where I reaffirmed The Bahamas support and appreciation for their work.  We discussed a number of issues including the importance of Gender Equality, ways to strengthen our collaboration with the Commonwealth and the need to increase the representation of Bahamian Nationals in the Secretariat.  The Bahamas, as you know, will host the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2017.

 

  • The Bahamas was elected November 2015 to the one-year Vice-Chairmanship of the OAS’s Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) for 2016, which will lead to our Chairmanship for one year in 2017.  As of July 2016, The Bahamas will assume the Presidency of the OAS  Permanent Council for a period of 3 months.  The PC is a body that carries out the decisions of the General Assembly and, inter alia, has oversight  over the maintenance of friendly relations among the member states and assistance in the peaceful settlement of any disputes that might arise. 

 

  • In 2016, The Bahamas will serve as Coordinator for the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean States (GRULAC) in Geneva on matters pertaining to World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and later in the year, as GRULAC Co-ordinator for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Efforts to advance the WTO accession process in the Third meeting of the Working Party are also anticipated.

 

  • During January, we participated in the XXI Ordinary Meeting of the ACS Ministerial Council in Haiti, the IV Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Ecuador and the Heads of Government Meeting in Belize in February.  The CELAC meeting resulted in a decision to send a political Mission to Haiti, at the request of the former President Michel Martelly, to lend assistance to the country at a time when an electoral impasse was threatening the democratic process and the presidential transition, and which could easily have led  to a deeper political crisis. The Bahamas is paying particularly close attention to the current situation, which was alleviated somewhat with an interim arrangement by the principal parties, which will hopefully see a new President elected a few weeks from now.

 

  • The Bahamas Ambassador to Haiti, Godfrey Rolle, participated in the Mission, which also consisted of the Foreign Ministers of Venezuela and Ecuador and the Ambassador of Uruguay to Haiti.

 

  • Members of the Mission met with the then-President of the Republic, Michel Martelly, and with the Senate President, Mr. Jocelerme Privert, and saw a willingness by both functionaries of the state to find a solution to this electoral situation. Both sides agreed on the need for a solution founded on the maintenance of stability, peace, democracy and a continuation of the electoral process thatbegan last year.

 

  • As we all know the second round of Presidential elections did not take place as planned.  President Michel Martelly demitted office as planned and an interim government, led by the Interim PresidentJocelerme Privert will rule until an elected leader can take office May 14, and for now Prime Minister Evans Paul remains in office.   We continue to monitor this situation very closely, in particular with respect to the safety and security of diplomats and personnel in The Bahamas Embassy in Port au Prince.

 

  • The Bahamas is poised to host the 9th Annual CARICOM/UK Forum late April.  The  Ninth Forum provides the opportunity for Foreign Ministers of CARICOM and the UK to discuss a range of important issues including key policy issues, ways to further strengthen the special relationship between the UK and the Caribbean, ways to help promote prosperity in priority sectors in the Region and bolster the partnership on security issues, energy, education, combating drugs and crime, trade and investment.  I have proposed that this meeting take place in Freeport, presenting an opportunity to show our friends and allies all that The Bahamas has to offer.

 

  • The Bahamas has nominated a distinguished woman, Ms Marion Bethel, for a seat on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  This is indeed an honour, and the first time we have fielded a person for an expert body of the United Nations.  I can think of no better candidate than Ms Bethel, and if elected, which I sincerely hope will be the case, I have no doubt that  she will do The Bahamas proud.  MFA will work closely with MOSS to secure her election, which will take place at the United Nations, June 2016.

 

 

Bahamas House NY – Unfortunately, the building in NY that houses the Bahamas UN Mission, the Consulate General and the Maritime Authority recently sustained extensive damage as a result of broken pipe.  I was able to inspect in person the water damage at the building and there exists the potential for significant occupational and safety issues if we do not move quickly to address those issues. In the meantime the officers are operating from reduced quarters.  We expect to know in two weeks the full extent of the issues.

On Diplomatic Week 2015 – As you know, Diplomatic Week is fast becoming an annual occurrence on The Bahamas’ diplomatic calendar. It presents an opportunity for the country to strengthen bilateral ties and further the social, cultural and economic exchanges between The Bahamas and accredited States and International and Regional Organisations with resident and non-resident representation. Diplomatic Week also presents an opportunity for public education and exchange on the role of diplomacy, the Foreign Service and the variety and importance of the services offered by the Ministry; beyond those of the Ministry’s passport and consular departments. The 2nd diplomatic week took place the third week of October, where we witnessed an increase in non-resident participants, including the majority of The Bahamas’ contingent of Honorary Consuls, enabling fruitful exchanges on topics such as the relief efforts following the devastation wrought by Category 4 Hurricane Joaquin in the Southeast, the National Development Plan, the ongoing transition to university status of the College of The Bahamas, youth development and employment and developments within The Bahamas’ Financial Services sector.  Plans are now underway for Diplomatic Week of 2016.

Foreign Service Inspections of Overseas Offices – The Foreign Service Regulations require periodic inspection visits of all overseas missions.   These inspections will be conducted on a biennial basis as provided for in the Foreign Service Regulations.   The visits to the missions are for the purpose of inspecting the Chancery and other government owned or leased premises, reviewing the work of the Missions in the context of the goals and objectives set by the Government, exploring with the Heads of Mission ways and means whereby the work of the Missions may be enhanced and consulting with staff.  The Director General, Mrs. Sharon Brennen-Haylock and the Financial Comptroller, Mrs Sharon Isaacs will commence the first of these inspections this year, to be done in stages. The first such visit will be to missions in North America, during the period 27th March through 9th April, 2016 covering Miami, Atlanta, New York, Washington D.C. and Canada.  The inspection team will later in April or May visit  the offices in London,  Geneva and Beijing, and third  stage would be visits to Haiti and Cuba.  

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.