Contribution by Glenys Hanna Martin –Member of Parliament for Englerston: Mid-Term budget Debate- House of Assembly; Monday March 12th., 2018
Mr Speaker, I am privileged to rise once again on behalf of the good people of Englerston who despite all odds as manifested in the last General Election results, sent a Member of the Progressive Liberal Party to be their voice in this House.
I have vowed to be faithful to the principles of this great Party, the Progressive Liberal Party.
To advocate for and fight for the interests and the advancement of the Bahamian people; such that we realize the true and immense potential of our people and in particular our children whether they live in Lovely Bay, Acklins or True Blue, Crooked Island or Rose’s, Long Island or Pleasant Bay, Andros or the Forest, Exuma or Spanish Wells, Eleuthera or on Podoleo Street in Englerston.
To insist upon a society built upon sustained fairness and equity for all of our people and achieved in particular through the vehicle of Education by stimulating creative and independent thought ;by providing liberal access to a premiere healthcare system which not only treats illness but which aggressively promotes healthiness, by securing a timely and responsive social safety net infrastructure to alleviate suffering and extreme want, and by providing an overall vital atmosphere which awakens collectively the physical, spiritual , cultural and intellectual talents of our people.
This is my commitment. This is my desire. It is why I stepped up for a political life.
I am not interested in sitting in this House all day and calling someone “teef” , or in pointing cheap political fingers at the next side, while at the same time fundamental needs are being neglected throughout our country, and unfortunately our country stagnates.
You see, Mr Speaker, this is the dilemma we currently face in The Bahamas.
This great country of so much promise is stuck in a quagmire of rancid political rhetoric, stuck in a singular preoccupation when we face a myriad of challenges which are unchecked, and all of which are lowering the morale of the Bahamian people and endangering our progress.
Mr Speaker, the people of Englerston, and indeed the Bahamian people are really not too much interested in the politicking.
A lot of people are out of work and are catching almighty hell trying to survive from one day to the next.
It has not helped that this government itself put hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people on the unemployment line since they took office.
They have provided some alleged rationale for these terminations but in light in what is now becoming a sordid track record we must take everything this government says with a grain of salt.
We do know, however, that the process of choosing who will be terminated across the public service does not appear to be based upon any transparent or declared criteria.
Questions must be raised about the firing of the employee of 15 years at BAIC (with apparent known affiliation to the Progressive Liberal Party which is his constitutional right) and who worked harmoniously and professionally under administration after administration, PLP and FNM, but under this particular administration has been deprived of his right to earn an income and care for his family; again the reason is becoming clear as to why the two young Bahamian women who served with distinction and with a high degree of professionalism with the Airport Authority as managers at airports in Eleuthera , ( with ties to the Progressive Liberal Party (which is their fundamental right and freedom), namely Danielle Gibson and Holly Pearce Barrett, were unceremoniously sent home (newspaper article).
This pattern is very disturbing.
And We are left to be gravely concerned about what criteria is being applied in the brute application of state power to deprive citizens of a livelihood.
Mr Speaker this government claims it is firing Bahamians in the “public good” but at the same time they are hiring, is that in the public good too?
Is there anything of interest in the political antecedents of these persons becoming gainfully employed?
Members opposite who criticized the former administration for engaging the consultancy services of Sir Baltron Bethel in the Office of the Prime Minister because of his advanced years, bust now explain how this principled position coexists with the hiring since May of 2017 of not one or two but several “consultants” of advanced years?
What happened to that solemn pledge to the Bahamian people that no person would be engaged under contractual terms in excess of $100.000 ? How do members opposite explain that since May 10th of last year you did precisely what you said you would not do?
Was the Member for Killarney as Leader of the Opposition said he could not on principle support a pay increase for MP’s was he serious because as soon as he took the helm of government, he declared his intention to increase salaries for MP’s. Even the former Chairman of the FNM could not be restrained when he accused this government of sending the message of “me first, you last”
Clearly consistency is lacking with this , unless it is consistency in displaying disingenuousness, consistently failing to reveal a progressive agenda, consistently contradictory, consistent in untrustworthy the rhetoric, consistently flip flopping
This consistency is fostering a growing lack of confidence in and a loss of credibility for this government even after only a few months in office.
None of this would have mattered that much if the people could feel that this administration had any sort of concrete agenda that would advance the interests of the Bahaman people.
But to date there is no evidence of this.
We are seeing that this is a government of straw, un-substantive.
Grossly hypocritical, so consistently hypocritical that it is almost unbelievable.
In Opposition led by the member for Killarney, they attacked and criticized virtually everything, they virulently opposed the implementation of Value Added Tax (VAT) calling the tax one of the worst forms of taxation, “regressive”, yet just a few months ago the same objector using those words, the Member for East End lavishly commended VAT as being wonderful.
In Opposition, they said that VAT revenue had been misappropriated or was not accounted for, The now MP for Freetown said at one of their rallies that we “teef” the VAT money but now they are saying they never said we actually teef the VAT money.
But here they are today pointing to VAT as a continuing primary source of revenue to the State all of which is duly accounted for as would be expected in a modern state and not the banana republic they were suggesting.
We can never forget the vigorous undermining of the very sensitive negotiations surrounding Bahamar a multibillion dollar project so important to the economy of The Bahamas and where so much was at stake which was then embroiled in legal wrangling internationally with pending bankruptcy proceedings.
Never mind that a few of the vocalists had apparent conflicts of interest in the matter.
But those opposite are telling the world that now everything is ok: what a photo moment to see the Member for Killarney smiling from ear to ear, ringing that bell at the SLS opening at Bahamar; the member for freetown could not be more pleased with bahamar these days.
One can only listen in stunned silence at the Prime Minister in one of his famous national addresses declare that the “ success (of Bahamar) is the Bahamas’ success. We will do all we can to aid them in attaining this success”.
It is of note that the member for Killarney previously severely criticized and chastised the former Prime Minister for not Firing the MP for Bamboo Town over the Letter of Intent saga while the PM since May 10 saw fit to Promote him to Leader of Government business in this House.
We are quickly learning that much of what we are being fed in these National Addresses cannot be taken to the bank.
Last year in one such National Address the Prime Minister claimed that the government was involved in negotiations with the owners of the Grand Lucayan in Grand Bahama for a joint ownership in partnership with a number of investors. He said they identified a number of travel and hospitality companies that can bring quality brands to Grand Bahama but also much needed air transportation. He claimed that the government would “resuscitate” and “grow business” and thereafter sell the government’s equity to investors. He claimed renovations at the resort would begin within a month and the facility ready for business for the “winter season”.
The winter season has come and gone and the hotel building remains idle.
But they had so much things to say about Grand Bahama now all we hear is silence.
But then again there were so many grandiose promises, some of which feel certain will go the way of all flesh. There was the promise of free tuition and board to every student throughout the country, the promise of removing VAT from breadbasket items.
But we must remember that while these promises have been deferred , the first budget of this new government gave tax breaks to the wealthiest groups in country and Mr Speaker you will recall questions raised about self-serving tax breaks – tax relief for businesses which senior members of the FNM owned or have interests in.
One of the vexing issues plaguing our country is the state of healthcare in this country and it is now a matter of grave concern for most Bahamians:
As an aside and Interestingly the Member for Elizabeth before being elected to this House in one of his many TV interviews described this member’s ministerial performance as incompetent.
I thought him most unkind as I was trying very hard and was of the view that much fundamental reform had been undertaken; we had launched the modernization of the aviation sector, completed the automation of the Road Traffic Department, initiated the redevelopment of Potters Cay Dock, finalized a first time comprehensive Review of the 1958 Road Traffic Act, drafted legislation for a modern maritime sector, oversaw the completion of 2 of the 3 phases of LPIA, marshalled the redevelopment of the San Salvador Airport, procured a new runway for Staniel cay and Mayaguana airport and the recommencement of Bahamasair flights, , completion the installation of emergency runway lighting stystems on every government runway, Advanced to end stage the preliminary plans for the redevelopment of the North Eleuthera and Exuma airports, partnered for the Redevelopment of the Bimini airport inclusive of facilitation of night flights . We were esteemed to drive the modernization and strengthening of capacity of the Department of Meteorology including the acquisition of a network of Doppler radars along the archipelago for comprehensive coverage, now installed in Nassau and Abaco and continuing throughout the country, acquiring a state of the art Air Traffic Management system and related technology and infrastructure, and we were able to far advance the reform the public transport sector including a pilot project which upon demitting office was ready for rollout., and of course, the historic signing of the Declaration of Intent between The Bahamas and the United States of America for the management and control of our sovereign airspace which resulted in the immediate cessation of Bahamian aircraft paying fees to the FAA to fly within our own airspace (see)
But here we have now the shoe on the other foot and the member Englerston wants to know what that member for Elizabeth is doing as Minister of Health to address the dire circumstances in the country’s healthcare sector.
We not only have a shortage of beds but are experiencing a systemic crisis that goes beyond beds of which I believe the Minister is well aware. But on the issue of shortage of beds in the public health system, will the Minister advise whether space is being utilized to create a private surgical ward under the management of Physician’s Alliance and will he advise what effect this will have on the already critical shortage of beds for public patients, poor people? And will he advise further who are the beneficial owners of the shareholding in Physician’s Alliance?
We know that we have serious health challenges, we know we rank high on so many lists for so many diseases. We would need more than chronic descriptions of the problems we face, We demand a real plan of action leading to tangible solutions on an urgent basis.
The Member for Elizabeth must be careful that the very word that he used to describe my ministerial tenure does not come back and bite him in the posterior.
He like the others in this government will quickly learn that political opportunism requires little skill or minimal aptitude but the mandate to deliver in a tangible way , to advance the cause of a people requires substance.
This government has proven to be grossly deficient and incompetent in the execution of these necessary objectives,
On the economy, the chief spokesman, the member for East End the Minister of Finance has in my view failed to bring an objective analysis, indeed he has engaged in much political rhetoric superimposing on the economic data and the Member for Exuma and Ragged Island would have highlighted some fo this already
I was interested to read the Central Bank quarterly report (see) which stated :-
Over the past three years, The Bahamas has performed fairly well compared to the other countries in its credit rating peer group, albeit amidst low growth. (see)
And it is disappointing to see a Minister of Finance not give the full weight to the effect catastrophic hurricanes must have on an economy even one as large as the State of Florida, for example.
Instead we see what is in my view the downplaying of the economic effects of Joaquin, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever on record which dealt a full assault on The Bahamas and Matthew which impacted our population centre in New Providence, Grand Bahama and North Andros among other areas.
Ironically this government has yet to adequately respond to the devastation in Ragged Island caused by Irma as pointed out by the MP last week.
But our Prime Minister is expanding his reach all over the region – in Dominica and even most recently in Haiti where he touted agricultural trade with Haiti, the famous banana speech, compared to when it was alleged that he was faster than Usain Bolt in ducking local farmers.
When you consider the stances taken in Opposition, it is interesting that all of the revenue gains proudly touted by the Minister of Finance emanate from implementations by the former administration none of which he nor his colleagues in Opposition supported whilst in Opposition namely Gaming, VAT and the newly reformed Road Traffic Department.
It seems, however, that there is some contradiction on the performance of VAT revenue as the Minister of Finance in a recent newspaper article suggests VAT receipts are underperforming . In this article you see what has become the characteristic hedging as to the reason for this (see)
I am advised that the real reason for the underperformance is that the Unit established to focus on VAT collection under the prior administration was dismantled and trained personnel sent home.
Unfortunately, it inconsistencies such as I have highlighted and the consistent flip flopping , the constant backtracking and the inelegant moonwalking, the varied and multiple hypocritical stances that the word “fraudulent” is now creeping into our national dialogue.
Nowhere has this word resonated more or become so rooted as in the last several days when the country witnessed an alarming display for which there is yet to be an explanation in what is becoming known as the Oban debacle
We have learned that the foreign investors touted to invest in our Bahamaland are of dubious character. The face of the investment, someone whose role has been shifting before our eyes and more lately self-described as an Ambassador has been convicted of fraud and barred by the SEC from engaging in a multiplicity of activities.
This Ambassador was seen on our national TV , seated next to our Prime Minister, purporting to execute a $5 billion Heads of Agreement while signing someone else’s name ,said to be the President of the Company ( who himself is reported to be of dubious past behavior}.
A document was laid in this House said to be the Heads of Agreement , however, this is not the same document the country witnessed being executed in the formal ceremony touted as the execution of the Heads of Agreement.
The document laid in this House , however, was apparently signed by another person allegedly on the same day which in itself raises questions.
Has this House been misled?
Was the country purposely misled?
Why have there been no answers to date for the questions and concerns. Where is the mandated accountability to this Parliament?
And while the government is silent , this foreign company released what was clearly a sponsored public relations piece in the daily newspapers which I found offensive. I abandoned it after reading only the first paragraph.
We do not want the principals of this Company to believe the Bahamian people are stupid even if they may feel they hoodwinked this government.
In light of the bizarre happenings surrounding this Oban deal, we need to know if Bahamians are associated with this Company and if so, who are they?
Because it is not just the suspicious circumstances surrounding the deal, not just the cornucopia of criminals associated with the deal, but of even greater concern is the substance of the deal.
First we note that the BEST Commission was surreptitiously removed from the portfolio of the Minister of Environment and placed in the Office of the Prime Minister , it is at his feet therefore that we lay squarely the grotesque and unprecedented departure of standard provisions in such arrangements for the protection of our environment .
It is stunning to see that under this deal, the Developer may simply abandon the project if it does not wish to take steps which are” commercially reasonable” to ameliorate environmental concerns. The government , however, cannot walk away even if the environmental impact assessment is unfavourable.
Under this agreement penalties for damage to the environment caused by failure to remediate infractions are capped at $3.5 million.
Remarkably, the agreement ( in Clause 17: 12) gives the developer immunity and/ or exemption from any future laws or regulations , approval or other legal requirement which is applied including any changes in the conditions applicable to the issuance of any approval: this will include environmental laws. This is unheard of.
The Prime Minister who now has responsibility for the BEST Commission must explain to the Bahamian people why such peculiar provisions have been agreed to and why our interest has not been jealously guarded in this agreement. He must explain why the fate of the Bahamian people has been tied to this Company with associates of such dubious repute.
Why have our national resources been locked into this 90 year agreement with such unusual provisions?
Why are these constraints placed upon the State in clause 13 which prohibits the government taking any action over the seabed lease or the Crown land but no corresponding obligation placed on this foreign entity.
Why does the agreement mandate that the government give a right of first refusal of neighbouring crown land measuring 500 acres to this Foreign Developer? (clause 13 g).
And what is the true economic impact to The Bahamas of this project which is described as being “in the substantial economic interest of Bahamian people and will provide employment benefits”? described in the agreement as having “significant economic benefit:”
The agreement stipulates there will be 600 direct jobs and 1,000 indirect and induced jobs during construction and 250 direct full time jobs at a ratio of 80 per cent Bahamian to 20 per cent foreign although there are wiggly provisions which could shift this ratio (clause 8);
The agreement states the Developer will apply $100,000 annually on the job technical skills training and periodic assistance towards curriculum development at University of The Bahamas. It provides for a one off payment of $150,000 for marine research and the sum of $100.00 per annum for community projects and the development of East Grand Bahama.
When you consider objectively the alleged multi billion dollar nature of this enterprise and its potential leverage in the global market and when you weigh in the balance the enormous concessions being given including crown land (with no disclosure on the scope and size or location nor any reference to a purchase price , additionally a lease of the sea bed, again the size, scope and location not disclosed); the commitment to expeditiously change our law for the sole benefit of this Investor in amending the Industries Encouragement Act : the country is left speechless.
This is a first .
and the agreement is not just for oil, it allows for the construction, lease and sale of houses on what is described as “private lands” for the housing of workers during construction and for the involvement of foreign real estate agents even though it states (clause 10) the developer shall insure the inclusion of Bahamians.
This substantial divestment has been made by this Government to this now controversial company which now indicates that they can take our agreement and go out and raise funding…. why would this government do this to the Bahamian people and for 90 years at that ?
I raise two final concerns: has this project received an exemption to the exclusivity clause on the construction of Ports vested in the Freeport Harbour Company as was necessitated for the development of the Carnival Cruise Port in East End which raises the second question of the status of that deal the Carnival Cruise Port negotiated with the previous administration, which as I recollect had restrictive clauses prohibiting the approval of this type of development , a large industrial oil refinery plant within a designated range of the Carnival location. What is the status of this? Are we confronting a potential collision of vested interests?
If this is the nature and quality of what the Bahamian people can expect from this government, all things considered thus far, then we have much to be concerned about over this five year term or as one distinguished jurist lately expressed “if they last that long”, Mr Speaker,.
I end by expressing my grave concern that this duplicitous government has placed our country in a quagmire of a web.