2017-2018 MID-YEAR BUDGET REMARKS
CHESTER COOPER, EXUMAS AND RAGGED ISLAND MP, PLP DEPUTY LEADER
MARCH 7, 2018
Good afternoon Mr. Speaker,
I rise on behalf of the great people of Exuma, the Exuma Cays and Ragged Island today to contribute to the government’s mid-year budget for 2017-2018. Mr. Speaker, it’s been about ten months now since the first budget debate. I truly wanted to give this administration a chance, but not much has changed since my first doubts.
I have no confidence in this government’s ability to manage public finances.
I have no confidence in this government’s ability to grow this economy.
I have no confidence in this government’s ability to execute a feasible economic plan on behalf of the Bahamian people.
And I have no confidence in the numbers the government has presented to this Parliament.
There has been pretty much no improvement in how I felt 10 months ago, and nothing has changed since two weeks ago when I
said that this mid-year budget communication is simply voodoo economics.
A patchwork of sleight of hand accounting tricks, politically motivated to distract from an underlying, underwhelming ocean of nothingness that this administration has so far offered the Bahamian people.
If you couldn’t tell by now, Mr. Speaker, I’m not particularly impressed with the mid-year budget communications and I’m going to tell you why.
But before I do that, please allow me to expound on an issue of grave national importance that has gripped national attention just through the absurdity and sloppy amateur hour sideshow antics that have surrounded it.
And that is the Oban Energies saga.
Mr. Speaker, the prime minister, the member for Killarney, has essentially embarrassed the Bahamian people on an international scale by parading a convicted criminal in front of the world as a partner with The Bahamas government in some purported multi-billion dollar oil storage and refinery project, all for the sake of a few hundred jobs that may or may not materialize over the next few years.
Mr. Speaker, Bahamians from all walks of life, and I’m not exaggerating here, are now seriously asking if The Bahamas government itself is engaged in a fraud on the Bahamian people.
They are wondering if we are selling our reputation for a bowl of porridge, Mr Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, on Thursday, March 1, 2018, the member for Killarney tabled a document that he said was the heads of agreement for the $5.5 billion deal the government signed with Oban Energies just over two weeks ago.
Surely, you must remember this grand announcement, Mr. Speaker. The prime minister announced the signing of the heads of agreement for the deal on the very day we debated a no confidence motion in the Speaker.
And sure enough, a few days later, on February 19th, the government signed a heads of agreement with one Peter Krieger, an American man convicted of fraud, involved in a multi-million-dollar scheme and shrouded in controversy even with the defunct CL Financial of Trinidad and a sister company of CLICO a company that saw the fortunes of so many hard working Bahamians dashed.
A criminal, Mr. Speaker, a convicted criminal, is who the government paraded before the country, photographed and videoed and livestreamed to the world as our partner in a multi-billion dollar venture.
This from the prime minister who said last week in this place, that corruption is the number one problem in our country. Yet, there he sat right next to a corrupt individual whose name would later become synonymous with our shame.
Of course, the government said not a word about Mr. Krieger when he sat next to the prime minister, the people’s prime minister, and among the National Economic Council, made up of several honorable members of this House.
It was the media, Mr. Speaker, who unearthed these revelations about Peter Krieger, and got him on record admitting to his corrupt past.
Some of it, anyway, much more came not too long after.
According to media reports, Mr. Krieger said he was not an official part of Oban; that he had no shares, no management role and made no decisions.
What, then, Mr. Speaker was he doing next to the prime minister signing a multi-billion dollar heads of agreement if he was only an ambassador for the project, as he told the media?
In the days to come, Mr. Speaker, not only did investigative journalists expose Mr. Krieger’s past, but they got the prime minister, the member for Killarney, on video admitting that he knew of Mr. Krieger’s criminal past, admitting that the government knew, yet told the Bahamian people nothing about Mr. Krieger’s dark past or his non-involvement with the company.
Then, Mr. Speaker, comes the member for Killarney to table the heads of agreement, though he indicated he would table the one we all were led to believe was signed by Krieger.
Instead, he tabled something purportedly signed by Satpal Dhunna, the would be president of Oban Energies.
Of course, we have never seen Satpal Dhunna, we do not know when he might have signed these heads of agreement, though if the HOA tabled in this place is accurate, it was signed on February 19th, the same day Krieger signed the other agreement.
So, there are, I’m just trying to put it all together myself here, two Oban Energies heads of agreement?
One, that Peter Krieger signed and one that Satpal Dhunna signed?
That is, of course, Mr. Speaker, an assumption on my part, as The Nassau Guardian revealed this week that Krieger did not sign his own name on the heads of agreement he signed while sitting next to the member for Killarney, but rather signed the name of Satpal Dhunna.
Mr. Speaker, are we to believe that though Krieger signed that document in the name of someone else, again, something the side opposite never disclosed, the document that the member for Killarney tabled was truly signed by someone we have never seen?
Given all the confusion surrounding this project in the past few weeks, I simply find this all hard to believe.
Mr. Speaker, though we have not seen Satpal Dhunna, we have a raft of reading materials about him that have been presented in the media, which have yet to be disputed.
In the Prime Minister’s communication to parliament he said “Oban Energies Management Team has been involved in large energy infrastructure projects around the world and brings over 30 years of large complex construction experience”
The Tribune newspaper said Mr. Dhunna was fired from a company called CreditSight for “gross misconduct”. CreditSight is a research firm not an oil company. The newspaper also reported that Dhunna was fired as a used car salesman.
Clearly if he wasn’t any good at selling used cars, Mr. Speaker, Oban thought, ‘we should now promote him as the big man who will operate our $5 billion oil refinery’.
Mr. Speaker, I have a few more questions about the Oban deal:
Where is the agreement signed by Mr. Krieger on February 19th, and why was that document not tabled in this House?
Did Mr. Satpal Dhunna ever visit The Bahamas, Mr. Speaker?
If so, when?
How did he get here?
On which island did he clear immigration?
Curiously, Mr. Speaker, in an ad that ran in the papers yesterday, Dhunna said he is now “on the ground” here in The Bahamas.
But where, Mr. Speaker? We want to see the man responsible for this purported $5 billion affair?
He can write flowery language about what we perceive to be fact or fiction and the entire fishiness surrounding this deal, yet he can’t be bothered to show up for a press conference or a photo op with the prime minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, Mr. Speaker? What are we to make of this? What does that say about him?
How and when did Satpal Dhunna sign the document the prime minister tabled in this House?
If it was on February 19th, why was he not at the press conference to sign his own name when Peter Krieger reportedly signed Satpal Dhunna’s name?
Will the government say when the Oban heads of agreement tabled on March 1st was signed?
And has Oban Energies as yet produced proof that it is indeed able to fund this project? I do believe at the press conference they said proof of funding will come in a few days. Well its 16 days and counting.
Again, please Mr. Speaker, show me the money.
Oban wrote in yesterday’s papers that the deal will grow the country’s gross domestic product by over 10 percent per year, Mr. Speaker!
This, of course, makes little to no financial sense.
Our economy has never grown by that much in a single year. Not even with Atlantis or Baha Mar. This claim raises more concerns about the wherewithal of Oban Energies.
This company that is exempt from import duties, value added tax and export duties, stamp tax, real property tax for 90 years; plus, they get hundreds of acres of crown land. It is expected to produce 600 jobs over the next six years, with the addition of 250 jobs over the next 12 years and they say they will grow our economy more than Atlantis, Mr. Speaker?
This member wants to see that calculation Mr Speaker.
I am pro-business, I am pro-investments, heaven knows the people of Grand Bahama need a break, but I wonder, Mr. Speaker. I don’t know that this is the one. I ask, have we given too much for a bowl of porridge?
According to the agreement, “the government shall not have the right to terminate these heads of agreement based upon any EIA report, but instead shall work with the developer to mitigate any concerns”. How incredible!
And Oban has the right to abandon the project, whenever it wishes. It also has the right to sell the project to another party and transfer the concessions,
Is this really a gamble we should be taking with our environment, Mr. Speaker?
It is a most serious question to which I have yet to see any suitable answer from anyone on the other side.
In any event, Mr. Speaker, I don’t expect much clarity on this to come from the side opposite. They’ve clammed up as of late. Maybe they’re still trying to convince us that we’re seeing holograms.
But let me see if I’ve got it right. People of checkered characters, gets concessions to build an oil refinery and don’t have to have a satisfactory environment impact assessment. In the Bahamas. Our pristine Bahamas. In East Grand Bahama where I understand there are many wild life sanctuaries. If it happens that the EIA says this is dangerous for the environment the government cannot stop them. Will the environmental laws permit the government to do this?
Then, in clause 5.4 of the HOA if something goes wrong, let’s say a massive oil spill, the maximum penalty is $3.5 million. So if it takes $5 million or $10 million or $50 million to clean up, Oban will only be responsible for $3.5 million, and I didn’t see any mandatory requirement for environmental insurance either.
Something smells with the deal, Mr. Speaker, and it ain’t oil.
Maybe they think that brining up contracts signed under the previous administration with three-year exit clauses will lead the public to forget the government’s solemn duty to operate above board and protect the interests of the country, as quickly as those elected seem to have forgotten theirs.
But we don’t all have the luxury of discarding our responsibilities, Mr. Speaker. Some of us must hold firm to the standards we espouse before coming to this place.
Unlike some of those on the side opposite. Particularly the member for Killarney, who in opposition blasted sweetheart deals, now signs one faster than a proper environmental assessment can be completed.
The same member, who in this very place, before the last general election, raged against a government having anything to do with those accused of fraud, yet now sits next to an admitted fraudster, who signs somebody else’s name to document while the entire affair is broadcast to the world.
Some of us, Mr. Speaker, actually have a care what we say, and consider the ramifications of promises we make before abandoning them for no other apparent reason than the day is different.
Mr. Speaker, you may or may not know that my leader, the member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador has pledged to call for a select committee to look into this Oban matter if the government does not at least table the quote – ceremonial heads of agreement that Krieger signed.
And I fully support that move.
Though, I’m a little more than skeptical, given how this issue has been handled so far, that we’ll see any genuine interest in exposing this matter further.
That being said, if that route is not successful in getting full transparency for the Bahamian people, we will have to probe this sordid affair through the Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member.
Again, something smells about this deal Mr. Speaker and it ain’t oil.
On the budget
Mr. Speaker, let me get back to this mid-year budget.
Again, there is no real vision here, no real plan and no real strategy. Unless that vision, plan and strategy is to present some manufactured picture of a robust financial situation.
But even if that is what has been achieved, the government’s own details and an inescapable narrative that surrounds the government’s performance indicates how flat the economic situation is and how this administration had no real grasp of what to do when out of power and even less of a clue what to do while in power, except complain that the PLP left bills for it to pay.
Well, news flash, this is what happens at the end of a government cycle. One administration undertakes commitments for the next to pay. This is the role of continuous government; this is what happens when you have cash accounting systems. You pay the bills as they come in.
Mr. Speaker, I would venture to say that the current administration is still paying for commitments undertaken during the last Ingraham administration, let alone the last Christie administration. Just as the next PLP administration will have to pay for all the debt restructuring and additional borrowing this government is undertaking and the commitments they make.
The difference is the PLP left you a means to pay your bills.
The PLP left a department of inland revenue, we left an incredibly well run value-added tax regime, we left a restructured Road Traffic Department, a new regulated gaming industry with tax revenues. We left you Baha Mar and The Pointe and we left you other projects in the pipeline, which will benefit the Bahamian people if only this government will do its due diligence.
A little less whining about paying the commitments of the country and a little creativity in actually growing the economy and facilitating job creation may put this bellyaching to rest.
Mr. Speaker, the minister of finance boasts of economic growth of 1.8 percent over the first six months of the fiscal year. This is wonderful! However, what he won’t tell you is that is attributable to the PLP.
Let’s think about this for a moment. What has the FNM done since coming to office to grow this economy?
Well, Mr. Speaker it certainly wasn’t the Commercial Enterprises Act. It wasn’t repealing the Grand Bahama Incentives Act and it surely was borrowing more than $800 million or eliminating thousands of jobs from the civil sector.
I can tell you what it was that led to this growth; it was mainly Baha Mar.
The same Baha Mar that the prime minister and his deputy said was a fake opening. The same Baha Mar he promised to sell. The same Baha Mar, whose Chinese owners the member for Free Town said were not to be trusted when the Christie Administration struck the deal.
Mind you, the member for Free Town is Baha Mar’s best friend nowadays. He can’t talk about it enough. It’s his pride and joy now.
He was just in the paper yesterday raving and gushing about it, Mr. Speaker.
He now says he’s “thrilled” about it, and it’s “wonderful” and how its “creating thousands of jobs”.
So, yes, the economy grew, but let’s all be honest about why. Especially when the DPM said that the cupboard was bare.
On the health of the numbers, Mr. Speaker, overall expenses are up, way up. About $1.79 billion so far, this fiscal year compared to $1.35 billion in the same period last fiscal year.
This, according to the minister of finance, is mainly due to debt redemption in the amount of $787 million. Up from $247 million in the previous year’s period. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the debt reduction amount in the period July to December of $787 million is nearly double the entire debt reduction amount of $432 million the previous year.
Being so eager to paint a pretty picture, he neglected to say how much of the expenses and the shortfall in revenues in prior year related to two most devastating, catastrophic hurricanes. He failed to tell the whole story.
As far as revenue, Mr. Speaker, while that is up $19 million, it should really be more, shouldn’t it?
Given the scale down on capital infrastructure spending, the sending home of thousands of government employees, the reneging on promises to eliminate categories of value-added tax, and only one hurricane with minimal impact on the archipelago, these numbers really, really should be more robust.
And then there’s the other side, Mr. Speaker. If, as the minister of finance said in this place, last May, that the cupboards were bare, then surely the situation should have been much worse. It’s hard work following the many inconsistencies, Mr. Speaker.
Also, regarding tax revenue, Mr. Speaker, just a few months ago, the minister was saying VAT revenue was down.
Now he’s saying that VAT revenues are up. Now he’s acting like he anticipated it to be that way.
See what I mean when I say, “no plan”?
With regard to overall revenue, Mr. Speaker, I cannot be the only person who’s noticed on page 11, the proceeds from borrowing for the period July to December for fiscal year 2018-2018 has exceeded the same period for 2016-2017 by one billion dollars.
I promise you I’m not making this up. Where $399 million was borrowed in the first six months of the previous fiscal year by the last administration, this government has, according this mid-year budget tabled in this House, borrowed more than $1.4 billion in the first six months of this fiscal year.
And it’s right here on page 11 of this book with all the pretty pictures, if anyone wishes to challenge it or better explain why the minster and the ministry insists it has not exceeded borrowing of just over $700 million.
This is nearly double, double, Mr. Speaker, the approved forecast of $755 million of proceeds from borrowing approved by this Parliament.
Double. He says it financial restructuring. I think this is something the Public Accounts Committee will have to examine more closely.
Why the glossing over of these important numbers when the Bahamian people have a right to full disclosure directly from the minister?
Does this include the new borrowing of $190 million for Bank of The Bahamas bailout money and the IDB loan of $90m they claim doesn’t impact borrowing levels this fiscal year?
It really is sad how they treat the Bahamian people, Mr. Speaker. Less than one year, and more than $1.4 billion dollars borrowed.
And what do the Bahamian people have to show for it?
Bad roads, failing infrastructure, and a busted healthcare system.
Surely sometime before the next general election will be the peoples time, Mr. Speaker.
Just no time soon. It doesn’t add up.
More borrowing, Mr. Speaker, yet thousands sent home.
And even that plan, their only plan, was an abject failure.
While overall spending is down around $67 million. Payroll is up. The attorney general, a member of the other place, says the government saved $75 million dollars with the people sent home from the public sector. Yet, now salaries are up by $15 million.
The minister calls this the results of union payments and other things coming due.
Again, I call it having no plan. It just don’t add up.
And then failing at the plan they tried to cobble together when they tried to make financial sense of bad political policy decisions.
I guess they’ll say this is part of the paying off bills the PLP left too.
Last year it was “hundreds of millions” in bills the PLP left, this year it’s “tens of millions”, I wonder what it will be next budget communication? It simply don’t add up.
I wonder when this administration will start taking ownership of its actions?
Speaking of bills, what about the bills they don’t pay, Mr. Speaker? Those that have nothing to do with what the PLP left?
What about basic maintenance that’s been neglected?
Why starve the economy to make the numbers look pretty, Mr. Speaker?
That is just terribly bad business. Why not grow the economy? Inspire confidence to improve revenues.
What does it matter if the books look good but the people are hurting?
It’s like owning a farm, Mr. Speaker and having a beautiful meadow, but your cattle go hungry. The grass looks greener but the cattle are starving.
What’s the point?
Is government not here to make sure the people get the best benefit from their tax dollars?
According to this budget, the grass is greener in Exuma, but the lunch vendors can’t get paid.
According to this budget, the grass is greener in Exuma, but the roads can’t get paved.
The grass is greener in Abaco, but the power company is on the brink.
According to this budget, the grass is greener in Acklins, yet the poor people on the government empowerment program can’t get paid.
I want the people of The Bahamas to take note, Mr. Speaker, that the minister of finance has bragged, bragged, that the government deliberately withheld the capital budget. And for no logical reason.
When public restrooms are broken, remember his boast. When public parks are in disrepair, remember his boasts.
When your car axle is snapped hitting a pothole deep enough to have struck the water table, be sure to remember his boast. When your clinics don’t have what they need. When the morgue in Cat Island is storing bodies in bathtubs. When we don’t have sufficient beds at Princess Margaret Hospital, remember his boasts.
A reasonable question would be: What are they waiting for, Mr. Speaker? Where’s the imaginary marker that tells them now is a good time to get to work and start taking care of business?
Was an arbitrary mid-year budget statement worth the suffering of the people?
I suppose they congratulate themselves, Mr. Speaker, that they spent $15 million less in public works, but Lord knows it shows.
The people can see where the savings are. I doubt the people are pleased.
$32 million less was spent on healthcare in the first half of the fiscal year, Mr. Speaker, while there’s a crisis at the hospital no less. It surely shows there.
Environment spent $4.3 million less than last year, and, of course, the dump burned again, inflicting untold health risks on residents of New Providence and even more untold damage on our tourism product.
Ministry of Grand Bahama spent $650,000 less than last year while those who didn’t get assistance after hurricane still get wet when it rains.
Ministry of Transport and Local Government spent $2.5 million less than last year whilst a potentially environmentally damaging derelict barge sits on the rocks at Long Island and Family Island local governments get scraps for garbage collection.
And what is all this posturing for, Mr. Speaker? Surely not to impress the ratings agencies.
They don’t believe a word the government says. They don’t believe, at least Moody’s doesn’t believe, and is not impressed with all the cash vs accrual and old PLP bills talks. After demonizing the PLP to make yourselves look good, Moody’s doesn’t believe the government will hit its deficit targets.
Moody’s doesn’t believe the Department of Statistics’ GDP revision numbers.
Moody’s doesn’t really believe your plan to reduce the public sector will pay off.
And as you fall over yourself to impress them, Moody’s didn’t blink an eye when it just said a few days ago, that it will still downgrade the country to “junk” if every, single, onerous mark isn’t met.
Dry eye, they call it, Mr. Speaker.
That’s what Moody’s was.
Frankly, I found the assessment insulting. I felt bad for my colleagues on the other side and my friend from East Grand Bahama – I believe his heart is in the right place. But I felt even more so, for the professionals in our government, who have to live with the bad decisions of our Cabinet, as the foreign ratings agency has the sword of Damocles hanging over their every action.
Perhaps the government should take a page from the PLP and how we stood up to RBC after one their executives insulted Bahamian professionals.
The minister should demand Moody’s clear up what reason it has to so doubt what the government is telling them.
I’m sure the Bahamian people would be keenly interested in knowing.
But, Mr. Speaker, after our own government has talked down our economy so consistently and our prime minister has branded us the most corrupt country and told the Haitian prime minister that we must endure more pain, maybe Moody’s just figures that’s how this administration views The Bahamas, and it’s all OK. If you talk down your economy, talk down your country, if you call yourselves as Bahamians corrupt every chance you get, how you expect the international community to believe you.
Wrapping up here, Mr., Speaker, let me point out that the public is not at all impressed by the bantering between the PLP and the FNM. They want progress. They want things they could touch, see and feel. They want progress for The Bahamas and they expect us to deliver.
The way out of this quagmire is simple – two words: “Economic growth”.
You can only fire so many people before service starts to suffer irreversibly.
You can only tax people so much until the burden becomes too much for them to bear and jobs and livelihoods are impacted. You can only cut so much without strangling the economy.
So, growth is the key.
I would say to the government, that an economic czar, as suggested in my first budget speech, is still needed to marshal the best ideas and the best talent from the private sector to move the country forward.
There’s still FDI in the pipeline to get out, Mr. Speaker.
Don’t do it like you trying to do with Oban, for goodness sake, but you could move with a little more speed. A good start would be to meet with those investors and encourage them to get on with it.
We must also unlock and mobilize domestic investments.
Also, Mr. Speaker, I honestly think it’s time we seriously consider a medical marijuana industry in The Bahamas.
I don’t personally buy into all this fearmongering over medical marijuana and the anxiety about what the Americans will say. They are doing it themselves and so is Jamaica whilst we miss a potential opportunity.
If we look at the adverse sociological, financial and health impacts that alcohol has on our country, while we twiddle our thumbs as other countries monetize this industry, I don’t understand why we’re not exploring a model that could work for us and provide lucrative taxes. I agree with the Minister of Health when he talks about more research of the potential social impact of decriminalizing, but medical cannabis is well studied. We should draw on the existing international body of work, but put in place the regulatory framework and make Phase I, the harvesting for medicinal export.
Next, we must get the this small business initiatives off the ground.
Again, stop waiting for arbitrary timelines to make yourselves look good. Just do what need to be done now.
Growing small businesses drives Bahamian empowerment and employment.
You’re killing two birds with one stone when you do this.
And also put more focus on tackling structural unemployment in The Bahamas. Launch programs swiftly to mobilize discouraged workers, additional training, self-starter initiatives, cottage industries that plug into tourism, and home-based businesses – low hanging fruit.
The Citizen Security Initiative is actually a pretty good example of this. Do more to get that going and then replicate it.
Agri-business is another way to get the economy going.
Aggressively pursue to food security right here at home. BAMSI is a good start. Ramp it up with more focus. Expand to other islands, perhaps. BAMSI for livestock farming might be located in Ragged Island for example.
Maybe the farmers will stop running after you if you do.
We must focus on government business development, spending in revenue generating sectors, like using Bahamasair to bring more tourists into The Bahamas.
And help smaller, commuter airlines to get reliable craft to service the Family Islands. It doesn’t take much to create an airline hub in Exuma, creating jobs, opportunity and industry.
Invest in local government. You’d be surprised what adequately funding these local councils and allowing them to properly function would do.
Take this stranglehold of central government off their necks and let them soar.
Explore the opportunities that present themselves with the Sovereign Wealth Fund, being creative with the development of new industries and harnessing our resources for the benefit of all Bahamians. When we give away our crown land or lease it for 90 years why don’t we have an equity stake in the business. Equity Mr. Speaker, Equity!
Ya’ll talked allot about it on the campaign trail. Y’all forgot about that one, eh?
Let’s examine and extract maximum value in industries like commercial fisheries, aragonite mining. Put in place quickly the enabling policies and permitting and get on with drilling an oil well to determine once and for all whether we have a commercially viable oil industry.
How about some BOLD initiatives and incentives under the industries encouragement Act and funding for entrepreneurs in solar and other renewable energy.
We have options. Use them.
And for the love of all that is holy, develop some sort of plan.
Right now, there’s nothing. It’s embarrassing, to be honest.
And stop blaming the PLP. The FNM has been in power for 15 of the last 25 years.
When do you stop blaming everybody else for what’s transpired in The Bahamas?
As if you’ve had no part in it?
Exhibit some agency.
Bahamian people want to hear your plans, they want jobs, they want opportunities – stop the mud-slinging and just get on with it already.
Are you going to spend five years blaming the PLP, then the next five saying you can do better than the PLP, only to blame them all over if you get the chance to govern again?
Just stop it. Just govern now. Take ownership now. Move the country forward now. That’s what the Bahamian people expect from us.
Revisit the National Development Plan. I see you’ve hijacked it to try to give this inner-city redevelopment thing some oxygen.
But it was supposed to be a non-partisan effort for long term sustainability of our country.
Surely the PLP and FNM can agree on broad principles – otherwise we risk being told what to do by the likes of IMF without local context. We must have our own plan here in The Bahamas.
This plan should include a debt reduction strategy, a liquidity strategy, an asset management strategy for government assets like buildings and a creative funding strategy to encourage private sector participation in economy.
Exuma & Ragged Island
Before I go, Mr. Speaker, let me say a few words about Exuma and Ragged Island.
On paper, Exuma is having her best year ever.
Again, the grass looks greener, but things aren’t as they should be.
Exuma continues to hold its own as a leader in the Foreign Direct Investment and the tourism space generally. We continue to employ Bahamians from Nassau, Grand Bahama, Long Island and Andros.
Sandals, our flagship property, has had a very good start to the year with robust occupancy and is very bullish about the remainder of the year.
There is also the recent re-opening and refreshing of the world-famous Peace & Plenty with an initial spend of $1m in renovations, which brings that product in line with many upscale offerings.
Children’s Bay Cay, although delayed, is still on the horizon. I am advised, that after full revision of the plans for the project that construction will begin in earnest by the end of the 3rd quarter 2018. At Grand Isle: The $4 to $5 million investment in the Emerald Beach Club is expected to be open for the American independence this year and with a 90% occupancy level they are experiencing their best year ever. This is good news for Exuma.
The Exuma Cays are also faring well.
However, we have major issues that the government should take note in order to not squander the opportunity that Exuma presents.
As far as infrastructure goes, the hospital continues to be plagued by the lack of both financial and human resources.
I have recommended to the Government to consider a full outsource of the Hospital to a management company that will not only fully resource the A & E but also facilitate a medical school and create an infrastructure where we can benefit from medical tourism as well as a training hospital.
I have also recommended to the Government and introduced people to the table who are keenly interested in a Private Public Partnership (PPP) to help in advancing the clinic network in mainland Exuma and the Cays, which will be beneficial to locals, tourist and the yachting community.
In short, Exuma’s economy is a bright spark for the Bahamas. We can do much more. We need more investment in infrastructure and I look forward to the commitment that the Minister of Local Government made to provide a percentage of revenues collected to Exuma’s local government for the management of the island. This is critical to continue our momentum.
As for Ragged Island, Mr. Speaker, nothing has changed. No school, no nurse, no police, no administration and no green plan. We ask that you keep the people of Ragged Island in your prayers.
On behalf of the wonderful people of Exumas and Ragged Island who I am grateful to represent. I thank you. Mr. Speaker.