I wish to thank again the people of Fox Hill for their vote of confidence in me. I have been out of the country for approximately two weeks. First, I had my annual physical at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. And then I went to Boston last Thursday to perform my last duty as the Chairman of my alma mater at Harvard, and then visit the office the offices of The Bahamas Government in Washington and New York.
For the few days in between those two events, I was here for the beginnings of the flood and was able to tour parts of the Fox Hill constituency, especially the Sans Souci area that suffered from the floods. The Ministry of Works has an engineer on the scene, and while in the cases of extraordinary rains it is not possible to eliminate the floods, with diligent work and expert engineering we should be able to limit the damage. As the representative I hope to say on top of this issue.
I would also like to address the Fox Hill constituents on the constituency office that has been under renovations for the past three weeks. The repairs are almost complete, and I am told that I should be able to conduct the weekly constituency clinics tomorrow from 7:30 p.m. at the new offices across the street from the park in Fox Hill.
Further, there is now a reconstituted Fox Hill Festival
Committee. An interim Chair has been elected. Eric Wilmot has
agreed to act as Chair and there are other officers. An office has
been donated by Kevin Dean of the Cotton Tree Plaza for the use of the
Committee and its offices should be open some time this week. The
Committee plans a week of activities from Emancipation Day to Fox Hill
Day. The period will be from Friday 2 August to Tuesday 13 August.
During the week we hope that Mr. Dean will officially open his building as will Derek Davis, another Fox Hill businessman who is building a brand new shopping plaza in the heart of the village. These two investments and the house construction in the Fox Hill area show the confidence that the people of Fox Hill have in their future.
In keeping with my philosophy as representative for Fox Hill, I do not serve on the Committee but I am here to assist the Committee with its work. The Festival has been celebrated for over 150 years in various forms. It will mark the freedom of the African slaves in The Bahamas but it is also a family time for Junaknoo, for music, for food. But it is also meant to draw the community together as it reaffirms its heritage. The Bahamian people at large and bistros have all come up to Fox Hill during the festival period and they are warmly welcome again.
The people of Fox Hill know that for the past five years, the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition attended the Fox Hill Day celebrations, visiting the various church programmes and we =expect to have him visit again this year.
But the difference in approach between last year’s efforts ad this year’s will be marked. I hope that the festival Committee is able to establish certain revenue targets so that the Festival can become an economic benefit to the people of the Fox Hill community and constituency. The Government has in the past provided a subvention for the Committee and I expect that this will be the case again this year. The Misters of Works and the Community Affairs have also pledged the assistance of their Ministries to make the Festival a success.
The Hon. Prime Minister, in his 30 May 2002 introduction to the 2002/2003 Budget, set out very clearly to this Honourable House and to the Bahamian Public the realities impacting upon the preparation of the Budget – a substantial fiscal deficit inherited from 2001-2002; expenditure commitments inherited from the previous administration (one might even be inclined to say reckless spending); and a short period of time in which to prepare the Budget Estimates.
The Honourable Prime Minister also described in detail the strategy to ensure the most effective utilisation of the resources outlined in the Budget. According to this strategy, steps will be taken, first and foremost, to progressively eliminate the deficit; to ensure that ongoing commitments are met; and to implement progressively the priority aspects of Our Plan: For a Stronger Bahamas and a Brighter Future.
A carefully considered philosophy guided the preparation of this 2002-2003 Budget, a philosophy that must be the watchwords of this first fiscal year of a new Administration. This philosophy will most certainly guide the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Public Service. The utmost care will be taken, to ensure that funds expended are for necessary and priority purposes; that ongoing commitments will continue to be met; and that initial and decisive steps towards implementing some of the new initiatives indicated in Our Plan, and that were pronounced in the Speech from the Throne.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Public Service
faces special challenges in the current climate of financial restraint.
The fundamental question that has to be asked of each Bahamian at this
time is, “Can we afford the kind and extent of Government and of the foreign
relations that we have? And if we want Government and our foreign relations
to do more, to achieve more, what will it take for them to do so? And how
much will it cost for Government and our foreign relations to do more?
And significantly, are we as Bahamians willing to pay that price?
For too many people, the answer to all questions will, of course, be “Yes”, without any regard whatsoever to costs. Those who frame public policy, however, have a special responsibility to apply another standard. In answering the questions posed by this Minister, we in the Honourable House must ask the key question, “Are we spending effectively?”
The questions are all the more critical in these lean times. As I look from where I sit today, I am amazed at the prophetic truth of the story of Joseph in the Bible. Joseph, as you know, was the Jewish Prime Minister in the Egyptian state of old. He contributed to the progress of Egypt by saving during the seven (7) years of plenty so that the country could make it through the seven (7) lean years.
We have done exactly the opposite in The Bahamas – the country has no savings; we spent the money as fast, or faster than it came in. The consequence was that as soon as 11 September 2001 hit, a decline that was in progress before those fateful events in the United States, became precipitous. The Government of the day failed to take any steps, or any adequate steps to address the problem. Instead, they concentrated on winning the election, to the detriment of the country.
Our opponents opposite excoriated Paul L. Adderley, when as Minister of Finance in the fall of 1991; he raised taxes in order to meet the exigencies that affected the Government in 1992. The PLP in part lost office as a result if it. The moral of the story is clear. It always pays in the end to do the right thing. You may not always be able to do the right thing, but you should try to do the right thing notwithstanding.
Our country is a small one, and the higher you get on the leadership ladder, the older you get, the more you find out just how small the country really is. It came home to me how small we are one day when I was being taken on a tour of one of Norwegian Caribbean Lines ships in Nassau Harbour. One of the Vice Presidents of the Company was talking about the fact that the ship cost five hundred million dollars. He stated that three (3) more were being ordered. That was a 1.5 billion dollar decision, and he was just the Vice President of the Company.
It is also instructional, Mr Speaker, the Annual Budget
for the City of New York is 40 billion dollars. The School Board’s Budget
for the State of New York is 8 billion dollars. In stark contrast, our
Budget is about one billion dollars.
I have placed the Budget before this Honourable House in perspective, Mr Speaker, to make the point that smallness makes life pleasant in many respects; but it also presents its difficulties. Let me say, in that regard, that I have been a part of the ritual of budget debates from at least 1977, when I first worked as the Director of News and Public Affairs of the Broadcasting Corporation. In those days we were sometimes up until 4:00 a.m., trying to get a budget passed. I never could understand why the blessed event could not be better managed, so that we ended the debate within the normal working hours of Parliament.
The plain fact is that much of what we say here does not affect the world in any earth shattering way. Yet, we spend days over a one billion dollar Budget. It must, Mr Speaker, be better to keep it brief, and conclude expeditiously. Of course the Budget is a serious matter. I believe, however, that we can improve the efficiency of this process, so that we can get on with the business of the country. One way would be to look at the time we spend in approving our budget of one billion dollars, versus the benefit we derive from that time.
Mr. Speaker, I have started my contribution with issues of financial constraints, the need to be prudent with public funds, the matter of what the Bahamian public wants and whether it would be willing to pay for it, and the need to make haste in debating and approving our Budget and moving on because of the varied and ambitious role the Ministry that I have the honour to superintend has to play in the business of Government. The excesses of Opposition politics now give way to the reality of being the Government.
In Foreign Affairs, the mission with which we are charged is to raise the profile of The Bahamas in the global community, to make the Ministry more relevant to Bahamians, and to facilitate the increase of trade and investment by ensuring that these two critical areas are integral and important elements of The Bahamas diplomatic and consular policy.
The Mission of the Ministry of the Public Service is to ensure that public policy can be adequately managed by those to whom it is entrusted. The Ministry of Public Service must ensure that the policies of Government are certain, fair and rational, and that they are implemented with fairness, and without favour.
Both for Foreign Affairs and for the Public Service, adequate human resources must be provided to carry out the job. The situation is critical in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Beyond the staff that is needed, appropriate training must be carried out, so that persons can do the job Government and the Bahamian Public expects them to do.
The key connection between the needs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Public Service, Mr Speaker, is education and training. Clearly, we need to invest more resources to ensure that a well-rounded and productive Bahamian becomes the product of our high schools. At minimum, we must focus on improving social skills, the ability to read and comprehend and to do basic math. I have found that in too many instances, simple social situations are beyond the comprehension of some of our highs school graduates. By this I mean how to answer the telephone or the door; how to deal with a visitor or an inquiry; how to take a simple message and ensure that it is delivered on a timely basis. The skills needed to deal with such simple social situations are important not only because so many of the entry-level jobs in the public service are at that level, but because they are skills for life.
The challenge to engage persons capable of dealing with simple social situations is also true in the private sector. I believe it is infinitely better for a new employee to come to the job with the experience of having sat down to a table and learned how to use knife and a fork and engage in conversation at table, than to resort to technical rules in training to show why a table is set in particular way or why one behaves a certain way at a table. The new hotel employee should come to the job with such skills already in his or her social experience.
This is an appropriate juncture to pay tribute, and to tell a story. The tribute is to a man named William H. Khalis who came to this country as an expatriate American, and who died years ago. Mr Khalis headed the Bahamas Tourist News Bureau, then the Government Information Services, and known since legislation in 1974 as The Bahamas Information Services.
I started at the Bahamas Tourist New Bureau as a writer in 1970, just after high school. My first job was actually as the messenger, while I was being trained as a writer in my spare time. I start off here because Mr Khalis was the one who introduced me to the New York Times. Just short of its sister publication, The International Herald Tribune published in Paris, the New York Times has got to be the finest newspaper in the world,
As writer-in-training in those days, the News Bureau allowed you to get one international newspaper a day, in addition to the daily Bahamian papers. The paper I ordered was the New York Times. And when I had to buy the Sunday Times myself, Felix Bethel, now lecturer and radio commentator, and me used to share the cost and reading it. Mr Khalis also told me about a book, called The Power and the Glory, which detailed the history of the New York Times family, the Sulzbergers. Former New York Times writer, Gay Talese, wrote the book.
It was through The Power and the Glory and through my reading of the newspaper that I was introduced to New York Times Columnists Scott Reston, his successor, Tom Wicker, and then to Flora Lewis. All of these Columnists were writers of foreign affairs. Anthony Lewis was yet another writer, who in spirit and philosophy is the one to which I am closest.
I raise the names of these persons today because it gives a key to the background of my interest in foreign affairs, and to the investment that others, and I, made to develop and hone that interest. I began reading the Bahamian papers on a daily basis since 1967, thanks to the insistence of my history teacher at St. Augustine's College, Paul Christofilis. By 1970, I had begun reading the New York Times on a daily basis. I have had a consuming interest in foreign affairs from those very early days.
What prompted me to share this account of the appeal foreign affairs has for me is that Flora Lewis, the former New York Times correspondent on Foreign Affairs, and one of the persons whom I just named, died last Sunday, 2nd June 2002, at her home in Paris at the age of 79. I have written a note to The Times to express my condolences.
I am also prompted to speak to this issue, in part, as a response to the criticism about the continuance of the website that bears my name. That website has been successful beyond measure, and I am enormously proud of its accomplishments – it has had some 232,000 hits for the month of May 2002. The criticism levelled is that it might conflict with Government policy. The Prime Minister has already announced what ahs been done in response to that criticism.
Returning to the story of The New York Times, what impressed me most was the closeness of the columnists in that paper to the powers in the U.S. Government. So one of the ways you could read policies or future polices without an official commitment was to read certain of the writers in the New York Times. Scott Reston was known to have access to the US State Department and the U.S. President. So if you saw something written in one of his articles, you could almost take it as gospel.
Mr Speaker, one of the columnists in The Times today is William Safire, who has the distinction of being a former speechwriter of US President Nixon. One of the more right wing or conservative columnists of the normally liberal leaning Times, Mr Safire decried the new powers of the U.S. Government to pry into the affairs of its citizens in the name of fighting terrorism, in an article he wrote in the Times of Monday, 3 June 2002. Mr Safire’s opinion is that the new powers are a failure. He commented that “Thus we see the seizure of new powers of surveillance is a smoke-screen to hide failure to use the old power”.
I thought it useful to cite Mr Safire here, because his view is a clear indication that many people, not just those who lean towards the left in the United States, are concerned about the use of state power that is being urged upon the world in order to fight terrorism. In Opposition, we have said this with regard to the new laws passed in this country in respect of financial services, which have eroded seriously the right to privacy and due process. We are deeply concerned that anyone who expresses concern with this trend is accused of being unpatriotic, or worse, terrorists.
At the Organisation of American States (OAS) General Assembly, held 2-4 June 2002, in Barbados, The Bahamas signed on to the new OAS anti-terrorism convention. That convention commits Governments to certain measures that must be carefully examined, before we can ratify it. We are also carefully reviewing other United Nations anti-terrorism instruments, some of which we have signed, before we ratify them.
We know that The Bahamas must play its necessary role in the war against terrorism - we have, and we will continue to demonstrate our unflagging commitment in that regard. However, we must take a prudent and cautious approach that takes full cognisance of the need to balance our actions in the fight against terrorism with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and The Bahamas’ national interests.
We must, as a Government, be sure that Bahamians are asked whether they are ready to commit to making declarations of money when they come into The Bahamas. We need to examine carefully if this is compatible with the kind of Bahamas that we have, marked as it is by the absence of regulation and an abiding respect for the right to privacy. Critically, we must ensure that it comports with our Constitution.
The importance of Mr Safire’s column is that anyone carefully studying the United States Government, and having the particular contacts, might be able to discern what United States policy is likely to be, and how far that Government is prepared to go on issues of national importance. Foreign Affairs is about obtaining the necessary intelligence and analysis to do just that, so that we may adjust our policies accordingly in our relations with the United States.
Importantly, I am hopeful that the level of sophistication develops in The Bahamas where people fully understand that public policy operates at several levels. There is the Government or state level - if you like, the level of statesmanship. Then there is the political level. The political level requires the release of trial balloons; it requires that persons close to the throne be able to float ideas, so that signs may be picked up in areas not directly Government, but which nevertheless give some indication as to where matters are headed. This strategy is important to Government, too, since Ministers will not have to try to sell policy themselves, but will be able to test the waters before official commitments are made.
Politics brought me to this Honourable House. Politics
will help to keep me here - I will not forget. So while I am pledged to
practice statecraft, I will not forget that ultimately, politics will protect
The approach of which I have spoken, Mr Speaker, is intellectualism at its best. It goes against the unfortunate time of anti-intellectual behaviour we have experienced over the past ten (10) years. One hopes that we can put that unfortunate era behind us.
I am still confident that the level of sophistication that is required for the conduct of a modern foreign policy and foreign affairs is a level to which we not only aspire, but also is a level we can reach. If we all understand this, there should be marked sophistication in the way in which our Bahamas conducts its foreign affairs.
Mr. Speaker, I have obtained the leave of the Prime Minister to explain how a recent public policy decision in foreign affairs was made. I do so because, in my view, it adequately explains the job that the Ministry has to do in conducting foreign affairs, and the resources it critically requires to do that job.
Having just come to office, we were called upon to sign the recently concluded OAS treaty on terrorism, which I referred to earlier in my communication. We were concerned, on the one hand, to do the right thing by the country, having come to office with a promise to consult the sectors affected by such treaties, and to consult before acting. On the other and, we did not want to be out of step with our international partners.
As it happened, Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister had to make a trip to Eleuthera on the day critical to the decision. Both the Minister of Financial Services and Investment, the Member for Pinewood, who led our team to the OAS meeting, and the Attorney General and Minister of Education and the Member for Fort Charlotte, were in Barbados, with our Ambassador to the United States and the OAS. I was in Rochester, Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic.
We all had to be in constant communication, and had several conference calls. The Prime Minister could barely be heard, because his cell service kept breaking up. Item number one - BATELCO or more properly The Bahamas has to improve its telephone service. We did not have the facilities to independently call and conference into each other.
I wish to give you another example. Let a citizen of The Bahamas come to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and ask for assistance in contacting a relative in Haiti. The Ministry has no independent means of contacting our Embassy in Haiti, beside the ordinary telephone system. Our Embassy in Haiti has no independent means of contacting our Ministry, besides the ordinary telephone system. If the system is down in Haiti - which more often that not it is - there is no means to communicate.
These are problems, Mr Speaker, which can only be solved by money - money to improve the communications equipment; money to ensure that we have the adequate staff to review the treaty obligations, so that a new Government would not come up short on advice, and have to make a decision precipitously. While the ordinary run of the mill decisions can be made with no problems, the inadequacies become painfully clear in critical times. We need to make the investment - in equipment, in human resources and other areas to meet the challenges of conducting foreign affairs in the contemporary global society.
The situation will be the same, should Government decide to move ahead with the establishment of a consular presence in Cuba and an Embassy in the People’s Republic of China. We need to be able to be in touch with our envoys in these countries, as they would need to be in touch with us.
It ought to be possible, Mr Speaker, to have an
intranet that links all The Bahamas Embassies, High Commissions and Consulate
Generals with secure communications; that we can pass information instantaneously
and instantly have the response from our Missions, so that we know what
is happening in our offices and overseas. In today’s modern foreign
service, even with the smallest of nations, the use of proper systems of
communication and technology and quick and reliable access to the Internet
is without question. Indeed I was shocked to find when I arrived at the
Ministry that the Minister had no computer and no connection to the Internet.
This is not the situation that exists today in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am quite frankly amazed at the level of work that officers of that Ministry are able to do with the inadequate tools that are at their disposal, and in the conditions under which they are obliged to work. But this way of doing business cannot continue ad infinitum – untenable conditions of service will no doubt be a significant factor in further attrition in the Ministry, if the situation is not arrested.
The Bahamian people are demanding more services of the Ministry. The Bahamas bilateral and multilateral obligations overseas are increasing rapidly, in the wake of globalisation, trade liberalisation and threats to international peace and security. The number of persons who work for the Ministry, both at home and abroad, stands at 212 of whom 70 are professional staff.
This small Ministry of our country, constituting Headquarters in Nassau, including the New Providence and Freeport Passport Offices and eight (8) Missions abroad – High Commissions in London and Ottawa, Embassies in Washington D.C. (which also serves as the Permanent Mission to the Organisation of American States) and in Haiti and Consulates Generals in Miami, New York and Hong Kong – are being called upon to do the same work for The Bahamas that the United States Department of State is charged with doing for the Government of the United States. To be sure, the Bahamian citizen expects his Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to perform at the same level as the United States Department of State.
No question, Mr Speaker, the scope and nature of the work is the same for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as it is for the United States Department of State. Like the Department of State, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must staff missions abroad; represent The Bahamas in regional and international organisations, conferences and other meetings; monitor and report on political, economic, trade and international security issues, including terrorism and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons; promote cultural exchanges; provide information to the public both at home and abroad; provide consular services, as varied as the issuance of visas, authentication of documents, protection of Bahamians in distress abroad and prison visits; follow and participate in issues including international narcotics control and the Law of the Sea; administer eight (8) foreign missions; contribute to Government’s consideration of refugee and migration issues; follow the drafting and passage of pertinent legislation; liase on legal issues, including extradition; provide protocol services for the entire Bahamas Government; liase with the diplomatic and consular corps, both resident and non-resident on issues of mutual interest; gather intelligence, conduct research and write reports and briefs; issue passports and travel documents to all Bahamians requiring them, and much, much more. It also includes attending to the protocol arrangements of Bahamas and non-Bahamian officials in their travel both here and abroad. Following my recent visit to the United States, I have number of issues that we have to raise with US officials about the reciprocity of treatment of Bahamian officials when they travel within the borders of the Unite States.
A vivid example of how our expectations are out of step with realities on the ground, Mr Speaker, concerns the Protocol Division, the Division that is most visible in interfacing with the public. It is sadly short staffed. The VIP Lounge at Nassau International Airport is to be available for high-level Government officials, foreign dignities and distinguished members of civil society, both Bahamian and visiting. The small staff at the VIP Lounge is overworked and the late hours they must work pile up. We need to have additional numbers of suitably qualified persons in the VIP Lounge.
Unlike the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United States Department of State has at its disposal a well trained cadre of Foreign Service Officers, local foreign service staff to support Foreign Service Officers, civil servants engaged in duties mostly in Washington D.C. and diplomatic and consular missions worldwide. We are, Mr Speaker, asking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to do a very difficult job with very little resources, to make the proverbial “blood out of stone”. This is not a complaint, Mr Speaker; it is just to demonstrate the significant scale of the problem.
Also, Mr Speaker, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one in which staff must have specialist skills and qualifications – foreign languages; knowledge of international law and international relations; good negotiating, analytical and writing skills; and a good grasp of modern technology for intelligence gathering, to name a few. Most of the staff having these attributes have been responsible for their own education, training and development. It may be time, Mr Speaker, for us to identify young people in High Schools and the College of The Bahamas for training as future Foreign Service Officers. It may be time, also, to begin to look towards the establishment of a Foreign Service Training Programme for persons who will join the officer corps of the Ministry, once the Foreign Service is established by law and regulation.
But right now, Mr Speaker, we need suitably qualified
persons throughout the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to bring relief to
the beleaguered staff. In the present climate, however, we have to ask
ourselves, can we hire additional staff? Is it possible to redeploy from
some other Ministries? I say this conscious that staffing problems are
not unique to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, they are
extremely acute in the Ministry. I say again, the Bahamian people will
have to decide at what level we want to conduct our foreign affairs, and
if we are ready to pay for it.
Another issue I wish to interject here, Mr Speaker, is the proactive approach our diplomats abroad must take to the business of foreign affairs. Contrary to popular myth, our high-level representatives abroad do not lead lives of leisure – they are called upon to perform an extraordinary service, with inadequate compensation, support and allowances. The nature of their work dictates that they must know and understand the major players in their host countries and in international organisations, and that they must conscientiously build mutually beneficial networks. Such a proactive approach requires more discretionary spending, for lobbying efforts and to ensure access to the right persons. Are we willing to pay for this more proactive approach?
And I wish to pay tribute to them, even those who now stand in the interim who were political appointments of our predecessors. In my visits to New York and Washington over the past week, I informed them that the Prime Minister would make a determination about diplomatic appointments before 31st August. And that in any event it is likely that the interim appointments will end by or before 31st December 2002. There are a number of factors which go into appointments. One is that the receiving state has to approve the choice. The new Ambassador has to get his or her house in order before leaving and we do not wish to leave the posts vacant. Each of the Ambassadors understands the position.
I wish, now to deal with an issue raised in an editorial of The Tribune There are a number of issues that have to be dealt with by that newspaper, but for now I confine myself to this one. I say by way of emphasis that a distinction must be made between The Tribune, The Nassau Guardian and The Bahama Journal and other papers. I presume that these three papers to be those referred to as “mainstream newspapers” that have a certain set of standards, which cause them to report in a certain way. It is also presumed that they are interested in balance, and seek to avoid prurient stories that cross the line of propriety.
On Saturday 1st June 2002, the Tribune reported the following story, with regard to remarks made by me about the Public Service: “
On Thursday 6th June 2002, The Tribune published the following under the headline: Country needs to watch expenditure,
“On Saturday Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Public Service, announced that government, instead of cutting back, plans to lift the FNM’s freeze on hiring new civil service staff. From what he said in making this announcement, Mr Mitchell, a lawyer, not a businessman, seems to believe that more personnel translates into more productivity. If this is the case, he has much to learn – reality has certainly eluded him. If as he says he wants a “well-oiled machine” that is able to carry on the business of running the country, we recommend he talk to Mr McWeeney.”
What the Tribune warns against in its editorials must be carefully compared to what was in fact said. When this is done, it will be clearly seen that any concern that the Public Service numbers are going to be increased precipitously and without prudence is without foundation. Establishment numbers and other matters relating to the Public Service have to be carefully reviewed by the Government.
And I now quote from their own news report by Denise Maycock of what I said: “ The Government will hire new people, he said, but the question is when. At the moment that continues to be the position (the hiring freeze by the FNM0 but the decision has been made to look at the question of new hires. The question is when is that decision going to be implemented… We can’t continue to finance those deficits by borrowing without significant productivity and growth in the economy… and so one has to take a prudent course with regard to the expansion of the public service. ”
Here are the facts, Mr Speaker, with regard to hiring in the Public Service. The Free National Movement (FNM) made an announcement through its Leader and the then Prime Minister, the Member for North Abaco, that as a result of the economic downtown consequent upon the 11 September incident in the United States, and the Hurricane of 5th November, promotions, pay increases and new hires in the Service would be put on hold indefinitely. The Prime Minister then said that when the situation returned to some normalcy the promotions and pay increases would be resumed. New hires would be dealt with at a later stage.
The more cynical amongst us knew, of course, that the economy would magically improve just about the time that an election needed to be called. And in February 2002, the Government announced that it was in a position to carry out the commitment to increase pay and resume promotions. A number of promotions were in fact announced in the Royal Bahamas Police Force. Subsequently protests led to the announcement of promotions for some officers in Prison Service. Other promotions were announced. Nothing, however, was said about the question of new hires.
The election took place on 2nd May 2002. The Government changed hands. A new Minister is appointed for the Public Service. He received a Minute with a Cabinet conclusion that indicated that the FNM’s Cabinet agreed prior to the elections to allow for new hires to take place. So this was a decision not of the PLP but of he FNM. It is now up to the new Minister whether or not the FNM’s decision is to be implemented.
The new Minister is then asked whether or not he ought to carry out the decision for new hires.
It is clear from this chronology that the Free National Movement’s Cabinet had decided, just before the election, to allow Ministries to hire new employees that were already budgeted for. I have administratively refused to carry out that decision because I want to be sure that colleagues in the new Government are aware of the full facts. One wonders whether the Cabinet was aware, prior to the decision to allow new hires that the country would likely run the largest budget deficit in its history - some 155 million dollars. A decision then has to be made having regard to the pressing needs of the service but in light of the new budgetary realities.
One thing is clear though is the need to have new hires from every birth cohort so that the service has some in put from each generation and brings fresh ideas and approaches into its work. If there is a stop on brining in new people, then the service will stagnate. The Department of the Public Service and the Government now finds itself in many situations however no one has been trained to under study the work of older employees, and as a result too many employees then become indispensable to the system. No system can work effectively for long in that way.
This leads to another issue that was raised another of The Tribune’s editorial that indicated that a reporter of The Tribune cold not reach me and that somehow I was practically begging The Tribune for coverage before the election but could not be found after it. I cannot speak for the particular reporter who had the difficulty or when this happened. I know of no such difficulty, since they speak to me all the time. Last week, I was expecting a call about a ministerial function so my cell phone was left on during a Cabinet meeting. The phoned rang and who was on the other end but a Tribune reporter and to the best of my knowledge she got the information she needed.
I have enquired of the Office; I have checked all notes of calls; I have checked my voice mail and my e-mail. The Tribune’s reporters, to my knowledge, all have access to my cell phone and my telephone numbers at home and at the office. At no time did any Tribune reporter try to contact me as far as we could discover and was not able to get me within a reasonable time. The Publishers, the Managing Editor and The Desk Editor all have my home telephone numbers. I find the complaint therefore misguided, and perhaps mischievously and politically motivated.
I add this because I believe in freedom of the press. I do not find that there are any great big secrets that The Bahamas has to hide. But there are some things that require a level of propriety. I have always implicitly trusted the reporters who work for the Journal, The Tribune and Guardian, even when I may not have trusted their editors or publishers. I wish to assure them that nothing has changed in that regard.
There are other matters, Mr. Speaker in the editorials but I dismiss it as political guff. As an important man once said, “Never argue with a person who buys their ink by the gallon”. But I add that I will not be left defenceless and I will defend myself if attacked.
I want also to reveal the extent of the decisions I adverted to in my last intervention in this place in the Debate on the Speech from the throne, and it also relates to the question of new hiring and promotions in the public service.
A new Government must also be careful about new hires, particularly in light of the events that unfolded just prior to the General Election where 40 promotions were confirmed at the senior levels in the public service. The Prime Minister has the right in law to promote at that level and one is loathe to cast a shadow on the competence of deserving individuals but the criticism from many within the service is that the matter was an act intended to tie the hands of the next administration. Perhaps, we ought to have rules in place to avoid this in the future.
There are two (2) items of expenditure that we at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs consider urgent. One has to do with the finding of new premises and the repair of the existing premises, so that we can be back in the old premises by the year 2004.
The present building, the former East Hill Club, has been condemned as a fire and safety hazard. It is also infested with rats. The roofs of both the main building and the Annex buildings leak, and we are unable to make sensible maintenance arrangements on the buildings.
The building is a historic landmark, and needs special care. Importantly, it does not have adequate space to house the entire Ministry. The intention is to renovate this historic building, to become the Ministry’s Meeting, Ceremonial and Protocol Building, and to contract to build a new multi story building on the site of the Ministry, to house the professional staff of the Ministry so that all personnel, with the exception of the Passport Office, can be housed in one building. The new building is slated to be built in a manner that does not disturb the historical buildings, and which will seek to preserve the gardens. The new Government will have to decide whether it is in a position to afford this.
The temporary relocation of the Ministry will be necessary if the decision is made to proceed and this will provide the opportunity for the buildings to be renovated, the wiring to be updated, the premises properly wired for internet, and its security needs, particularly fire escapes, assessed and met. It must be borne in mind, Mr Speaker, that the main building is the one in which we welcome high-level government officials and envoys from around the world, and is the standard by which we will initially be judged. Our Embassy Building in Washington has similar problems to the building in Nassau, and we hope to invite a Ministry of Works engineer to go to Washington to review the state of the building there.
An incident in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Headquarters Building on Tuesday, 11 June 2002, demonstrates beyond doubt the immediate need to renovate the East Hill Club and Annex Buildings, and for the Ministry to temporarily relocate to new premises. Just before noon time, the Fire Department of the Royal Bahamas Police Force was called to the Ministry, where the smell of smoke had become overbearing in the basement area. It was discovered that an old Air Handlier Unit in the air-cooling system had malfunctioned. Fortunately, it was a workday; staff were alerted; the Fire Department and the Ministry of Works were quick and efficient; and the Unit was removed from the building before it could burn any part of the building’s structure.
The second item of expenditure concerns our international obligation to provide for machine-readable passports by 1 January 2003, up to the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization. (ICAO). Currently, the Passport Office in New Providence can process as many as 165 passports per day, in peak season. All of these passports have to be handwritten. It is also required to issue and write a significant number of Certificates of Identity, also by hand. That Certificate of Identity is simply a folded single sheet of paper, with space for personal identity information. We need to have some resolution of the issue of issuing that document in permanent, and less fraud susceptible form.
The expenditure for important and necessary production of passports and other identity documents is expected to be around five million dollars. A bid has already been received for the machinery, and we ought to have made the decision in February 2002 if we were going to order the machinery. The decision was delayed by the previous Government's determination that bids should be elicited from two other firms. We are now completing that process, reducing the bids down to two - the one we have and one other - and then we will choose the better of the two. The urgency of the matter demands that action be taken as soon as possible.
It is important to note, Mr Speaker, that the United States has passed a law which requires all passports issued after 1 January 2003 to be machine readable if travellers are to be facilitated in entering its borders. Given the frequent travel of Bahamians between the United States and The Bahamas, we have to act quickly.
The central Passport Office in New Providence as well as the Passport Office in Freeport are both in need of new premises. The current premises are inadequate to the purposes for which they are used. Both locations have been declared fire and safety hazards. There are no restrooms for the public in the existing premises of the New Providence passport Office. The staff in Nassau and in Freeport are up in arms about their working conditions. We need to move expeditiously, if we are to avoid walkouts of the staff in these buildings.
Additional space has been identified in the Boulevard Building in Thompson Boulevard for the New Providence Passport Office, once the CID has moved to its new quarters. However, it will take one million dollars to repair those premises. The question I always ask in those circumstances is, if one is going to spend one million dollars on leasehold premises, is it not better for us to construct a building and house the office? And is this possible? Initial consideration on whether to construct a building to house the Passport Office was derailed by the events of 11 September 2001. These may need to be placed back on track in the future.
I have visited the Passport Office in Freeport as well, and such is the state of things that there is not even tea and coffee provided for a staff that has to work extraordinary hours in order to render the service the public expects and demands of them. I hope by now that at least that situation has been dealt with. Further, staffs are unhappy about the lack of confirmations, promotions, confirmations and the working conditions that they face. It is a slew of complaints that one is loathe to ignore, while at the same time pleading to the financial exigencies that we now face.
The Passport Office is an example of where enhanced procedures and conditions might improve the revenue stream into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and therefore, the Government. I was surprised to learn that there is no system of weekend and nighttime persons on call at the Passport Office. Neither are there standard procedures for the emergency issuance of passports, if one is required at nighttime or during the weekends. It seems to me that user fees can take care of the costs associated with providing such service. The matter is now being explored, with a view to enabling any Bahamian citizen to call from anywhere in the world, at any time of the day if there is an emergency, and for arrangements to be made for passport or consular services to be rendered to them.
Now remember, Mr Speaker, all of this comes with a cost. The public, if it wishes new and improved services such as those I have outlined, will have to consider whether or not the cost is worth providing the service. You will note that the Americans have now raised their visa fees to $65 from $45. We intend to review our visa and other charges as well to more accurately affect the costs of the services provided.
I believe, also, that the security at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is inadequate for premises that receive very important people, including from countries around the world. This matter, and the matter of security for all Government facilities has been brought up in the past. In my capacity as Minister responsible for accommodations of Government Ministries and Departments, I am not comfortable with any of the security arrangements for Government buildings and offices. Security is still too casual - it appears that no one takes the issue seriously. Perhaps that is good in a country this small.
Officers of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force provide security for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in much the same way that US Marines provide security for US Government premises. I am uncertain of the history of this, but I believe that the Defence Force wants to get its officers back. Given the role and functions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in conducting relations of The Bahamas Government with countries over the world, and in different time zones, and the need to work irregular hours in that regard, security will always be needed. It may be that we will have to form our own diplomatic protection service, that will provide security for the Ministry and for diplomats.
In the interim, I have asked that the RBDF Officers in the Ministry change their dress, as I do not think that the present military camouflage fatigues are appropriate dress for a Ministry receiving diplomatic and consular envoys.
It will also be necessary, Mr Speaker, to conduct a full assessment of the security situation and requirements of Bahamas Missions abroad, to ensure that the officers and their families whom we post in foreign countries are as safe as possible. I wish to remind you here that there was, in the 1980s a hostage taking incident in The Bahamas High Commission in Ottawa, which fortunately ended peacefully.
Other Ministries/Departments of Government depend on the Royal Bahamas Police Force and some on private security forces for their protection. Yet other buildings housing Ministries/Departments of Government have no security at all. The one that comes to mind is the Clarence Bain Building, where there is no security for employees that work at night, and little security during the day.
The security need is not so much to stop violent military type activity. We do hope that the threat to government buildings is not that severe. It is to stop the casual interference with the public as they come into the building, to assist with keeping order in offices such as the Passport Office and Road Traffic were the public receives services, to prevent the stealing of Government equipment and documents, and ultimately to ensure that our lack of formality does not imperial the safety of our personnel and the public. It may be that we will have to turn to private security forces for all the security needs, except where there is sensitive government material.
I wish to turn now to the other items of new expenditure that I envisage for the coming year in Foreign Affairs - that of the Council on Foreign Relations and new embassies and consulates.
I turn first to the Council on Foreign Relations. My proposal is that the Council should be a limited body comprised of seven (7) members from academia, the business community, the legal profession and civil society, having the knowledge and experience to advise the Minister and the Prime Minister on foreign policy issues. The Council will meet independently of the Minister, and each member will receive an honorarium. Members will be subject to the Official Secrets Act. In that regard, the Council may review papers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so as to provide advice in respect of action that has been, or is being taken, where further emphasis should be placed, and the overall direction of Bahamas foreign policy.
It is hoped that the Council will also hold seminars and public discussions, including on radio and television, to examine and discuss matters of foreign policy. By foreign policy I mean all issues, including treaty and other matters, for which other Ministries/Departments of Government have the lead in negotiations and issues of substance, but which ultimately will fall into the purview of the Ministry because it is the arm of Government charged with conducting relations between The Bahamas and foreign governments and regional and international organisations.
We hope that the Council will be able to work with The College of The Bahamas to develop its programmes related to public administration and to their Political Science classes. I hope, as well, that when foreign visitors come to call, they may think of the Council of Foreign Relations as a place where they may speak and give their country’s views on matters of relations between The Bahamas and their countries.
In short, Mr Speaker, the Council will constitute a permanent “think tank” and reservoir of knowledge available to advise and counsel the Minister and Prime Minister on critical issues on the international agenda that are of concern to The Bahamas or that may influence the course of events in The Bahamas. It will also be an important source of public information and a host for foreign visitors.
Senior staff of the Ministry will initially support the Council. We expect that the cost of the Council to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its first year should be less than $100,000. But we believe that the benefits will be enormous. We hope that eventually the Council will become a body corporate, with its own separate identity, able to sue and be sued and also with the ability to raise its own funds free of any subvention from the Ministry.
The Minister will choose the Chair of the Council, after consultations with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and will be responsible for the appointment of the remaining seven (7) members of the Council. In practice this will mean that the Council will be appointed like other Boards by the Cabinet. I hope that the announcement of the Council’s chair and members will be made before the Fall session of the United Nations General Assembly, so that we can get approval for its structure and mandate.
You will recall, Mr Speaker, my viewpoint that the Council should also advise the Prime Minister. I say so because we must never forget that the ultimate architect of the foreign policy of The Bahamas is the Prime Minster. This tends to be is reinforced by Article 111 of the Constitution, which reposes in the Prime Minister the right to choose those persons who will serve overseas on behalf of The Bahamas.
The Prime Minister has already received the resignations of all Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Consuls General, both resident and non-resident. The actual date of resignation remains open, and the diplomats and consular officers continue to serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. The exception to this is Sydney Poitier, who has been invited to continue to serve as Ambassador to Japan, and offered the additional job of being a Cultural Ambassador for The Bahamas to UNESCO. I hope to meet with Ambassador Poitier shortly to discuss how we see that role evolving. I thank him for agreeing to continue to serve. I have already said when the other decisions will be made. There is at present an investigation into an allegation of which I will have more to say later that may require some immediate action.
There is a constant tension between the decision to make political appointments and the need for appointments to be filled by professional staff. For example, it seems clear to me that despite the number of requests for the job in Cuba, if we go ahead, that job must be reserved for a professional diplomat. There are so many diplomatic and technical matters that the Envoy to Cuba will have to address to appropriately establish a Mission in Cuba.
The matter of establishing a mission in Cuba is one that I hope to bring to the House early in the session because of the inadequacy of the existing arrangements. Currently, the British Consulate General in Havana handles some of our consular matters for us, particularly the visa function. Consular visits are made at three to four month intervals by officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but these had been interrupted by 11 September events.
We have increasing numbers of Bahamian tourists visiting Cuba. A significant number of Bahamian students are studying there. Bahamians are seeking medical care in Cuba. Businesspersons are making trade and economic links with Cuba. And Bahamians are in prison there. All of them require the attention of full time consular officers.
There will, of course, be a cost associated with the establishment of that new mission in Cuba, should it go head. Although not presently reflected in the Budget, one can expect a supplementary request in the coming year, if we decide that is the way to go.
A similar situation exists in respect of the People’s Republic of China. The advice now is that we ought to proceed with a full-fledged Embassy and a resident Ambassador in China, in light of China’s growing influence and standing in the world, and the potential for trade and investment with this large economy. A mission in China would have to have a strong professional staff. However, given the importance of the business that we expect from China, it may be that the Ambassador ought to be a political appointment. A Consul General ought to be posted to China who is professionally qualified and experienced in the field.
There will be a cost associated with the established of a mission in China, which may also have to be met by way of a supplementary request, since this Budget does not reflect this priority of the current political directorate.
Her Excellency the Governor General, in the Speech from the Throne, spoke to the issue of the appointment of a Select Committee of the House and the Senate to review foreign affairs on a regular basis. This is yet another component of what should transpire in the efficient and effective conduct of foreign policy and management of a Foreign Service in the contemporary world. Such a Select Committee would also ensure that through their representative in House, the public would become better acquainted with foreign policy, and indeed, have a hand in shaping it.
I wish now to make specific comments in respect of the Ministry of the Public Service. Mr. Speaker there are some twenty thousand (20,000) public servants and some 4000 persons work for the parastatals. This makes the public sector, along with the state corporations, the largest single employer in the country. No other employer comes close, although more people are employed in the tourist industry generally.
Government’s position as the single largest employer imposes a special obligation on it in terms of its employment policies. Many employers follow the lead of the Government. The attractiveness of Government employment to Bahamians cannot be overestimated. The number one request from constituents is for a Government job. Government employment is attractive because it is difficult to be dismissed. It pays relatively well. The pay is steady and it has good pension benefits. There is also a belief that you don’t have to work hard, not withstanding the fact that public servants in the main are hard workers.
The Public Service must be congratulated for effectively
managing this country during the election campaign, and the run up to the
campaign. The transition from one Government to the next was seamless.
It appears that the Public Service took the necessary steps to ensure that
the records of the past Administration were properly protected, and that
the new Administration was able to walk into office with a fair prospect
for success in their administration.
We know that all is not well in the Public Service. The complaints have been loud and clear, and you have heard them – pay and working conditions. You have seen the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, the Member from St Cecilia, touring the facilities of the Courts, and were probably shocked by the dreadful conditions in which many public servants work. The point is that this has to be corrected. But how do we correct it in our present financial state?
Further, the need to reform the rules and regulations of employment is urgent, including a new set of orders, which will apply to Foreign Service officers alone. The fact that the Employment Act now allows public servants to access the Bahamas Industrial Tribunal means that changes have to take place in the Public Service Commission rules. I have not yet had an opportunity to meet with the Commission but I hope to do so within the week.
Those apologists who saw the Free National Movement as the model for efficiency and frugality in Government must now show us how the present state of the Government buildings and offices is an example of Government at its best. Clearly, the facilities are a disgrace, a prime example of Government at its worst. It appears that spending by the last Administration was like that of a drunken sailor – the lack of results is there to see in the public buildings. Nevertheless, it is our job of our Government to do something about it. But again, is the public prepared to pay?
There are going to be changes in the Public Service, but I do not think that those changes will be precipitous. Change is the mandate of the new Government. But what is clear is that the changes have more to do with policies aimed at making the Public Service more effective. The rules of procedure in General Orders will have to change, to make them more relevant to the public sector of the twenty-first century. Personnel and Human Resources Departments must be properly developed in each Ministry. Management of the Public Service will have to find ways to do more with less. This is not an easy job – the public is demanding more but seems unwilling to pay for what they demand. Some are even clamouring for layoffs in the Public Service; but that bridge is not one that anyone is at present willing to cross.
The Department of the Public Service will itself will move to new quarters in the Francis Adderley Building on Poinciana Hill, Meeting Street along with the Ministry of Health. Then, new quarters have to be confirmed for the temporary placement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry of Financial Services and Investment has new quarters in the Goodman’s Bay Corporate Centre. The Ministry of Housing and National Insurance needs to have permanent quarters. The Ministry of Tourism is in desperate need of space. Further, the present situation in which the Ministry is scattered over a number of locations is untenable. The Government will have to make a decision shortly on the rebuilding of the straw market.
It is anticipated that more resources will have to be put into staff development and training, both locally and abroad. We must invest in ensuring that the skills and qualifications necessary in the Public Service are developed as a conscious policy and strategy. And were appropriate, persons having skills and qualifications better suited to another Ministry or Department of Government could be considered for redeployment.
I am especially interested in the further development of The Public Service Training Centre, The College of The Bahamas, and the University of the West Indies and the University of Manchester. Each of those institutions provides training in public administration. I am also searching for a means to create fellowships to facilitate the education of qualified Bahamians at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
High priority will have to be given, Mr Speaker, to computerisation throughout the Public Service, but in particular, in Ministries in which instant communications is critical. Such Ministries include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am impressed by the extent of the computerization of the Department of the Public Service and wish that this were so service wide.
More will have to be done to ensure that the Public Service itself has good public relations, designed to show what true role is in our democracy, and the Herculean tasks it performs daily, more often that not without recognition or appreciation.
We intend to work for a more efficient, productive Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Public Service. We do understand that initially, an incremental approach would have to be taken, but this must be part of a strategic, pragmatic long-term process, which includes civil service reform. Our primary goal would be to enhance and maintain high standards in our conduct of foreign affairs and in the Public Service.
The intranet through which the Department of the Public Service is able to keep in touch with all of its officers should be expanded to include the Office in Freeport. An intranet should be developed for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The intranet has been a helpful tool in the management of human resources functions at the Department. Payroll and management reviews are able to be done in a more orderly and efficient manner through the purchase of a JD Edwards HR/Payroll System. And officers have just returned to The Bahamas where they have updated their information on the system and the intention is to do annual follow ups to ensure that the system is continuously updated so that it does not become obsolete. There has to be a commitment to training and upgrading. It appears to me that the Department of the Public Service is on the cutting edge of e business in the country and I would hope to keep it that way.
The Public Service is central to the conduct of the public affairs of The Bahamas and I pledge to work to ensure that it carries out its mission within the available resources. Its personnel and disciplinary matters have to be accomplished in a more timely manner. The interdiction of officers is far too long.
But the Public Service must become more responsive to the publics needs and I hope that the public will be able to say that telephone calls are deal with on a timely basis. We continue to get complaints from the public about the inability of staff to answer the telephone at the Ministry and I hope that after two rings the telephone will be answered.
I thank you Mr. Speaker.