Contribution by Senator Dr. Michael Darville

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Senator, The Honorable Dr. Michael R. Darville

Contribution to the Speech from the Throne

Honourable Senate of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas

Thursday, October 12th, 2017 

Madame President, it is indeed an honor and a privilege to once again rise in this Honorable chamber to not only carry the banner of the progressive liberal party, but on behalf of the people of our nation the residents of Grand Bahama and to make my contribution to this resolution to thank her Excellency the governor general for her most gracious speech from the Throne. We all know the important role her excellency played in shaping the history of the modern Bahamas, but as the former minister for Grand Bahama I had the opportunity to work closely with her excellency in the after math of hurricane Mathew. She demonstrated love and compassion for the people of Grand Bahama and played an intricate role in sensitizing the business community it the much fund raising efforts that followed.

Therefore on behalf of all the residence on she touched during their darkest moments I wish to thank express our gratitude and thanks.

Madam President before getting into my substantive contribution with your leave, I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the residents of Pineridge for their support, as well as the many dedicated civil servants, and professionals from the private sector, who worked closely with the government in my capacity as the former Minister for Grand Bahama.

You know what madam president as bad as people talk about civil servants I was pleasantly surprised coming from the private sector to find many hard working public officers who were eager to work closely with the people’s agenda to bring about positive charge in the system.

I would also like to take this opportunity to send get well wishes to my good friend Stalwart councilor Mable Gibson, who unfortunately was in a serious traffic accident a few days ago in Freeport; and had to be airlifted to the Princess Margaret Hospital for further medical care. We are all praying for the family and for her speedy recovery and finally I extend our deepest condolences to the family of the late Ken “Motorboat” Ferguson; a cultural icon in our community and former officer in Charge of the Grand Bahama Road Traffic Department ; as well as the family of the late Jack Parker, Grand Bahama’s very own native Cowboy. May their souls rest in peace!

Madame President, after being grossly neglected by the Ingraham administration, from 2007-2012, the people of Grand Bahama cried out for focused and immediate attention. Our administration immediately implemented a comprehensive strategy that would improve health and educational infrastructure, enhance and simultaneously grow our tourism and industrial sector, train Grand Bahamians, and as a result, create employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for all.

Madame President, although Hurricane Mathew hindered our momentum , it did not stop our plans for diversifying the economy of Grand Bahama, through the  injecting of hard to find capital into the island’s economy, and investing in the training, employment of our young people. Evidence based research lead the way for the drafting of our 2030 charter of governance that was presented to the people of this country, outlining what we would implement from day one if given a second term in office. Our plan going forward was to continue with well funded capital works projects, the launch of our aggressive medical tourism strategy, focus our attention on attracting second home owners back to Grand Bahama, further expansion of our industrial sector and our world class ship care facility, capitalize on the new opportunities in the maritime industry and work with our private sector partners to establish a new air, sea break bulk logistic center. All these initiatives would have proved to be instrumental in the progressive liberal party’s strategic plan for economic reform over the next 15 years. Among the many capital works projects and infrastructural upgrades initiated by the Progressive Liberal Party were the reconstruction of  a new state of the art clinic in West Grand Bahama as  part of our plan to improve medical outcomes for the residents in West End and help in the sale of the Ginn property ( this state of the art facility was commissioned last week and clearly demonstrating that the foundation was already being laid ), then there was the  renovation and expansion of the High Rock Clinic, the construction of  the new fire station on Settler’s Way (which to my understanding was completed months ago but still not operational ), the construction of  the Fishing Hole Road Bridge, the construction of  the new junior high school in Holmes Rock, the construction of  a new government complex in Eight Mile Rock, and the construction of the Smith’s Point Sea Wall. All these and other capital works projects were designed to improve the quality of live for the residents and  prime our local economy.

Madam President, contracts were also awarded for renovations to the Rand Memorial Hospital, which included the relocation of the kitchen cafeteria facilities from the middle of the medical and surgical wards to the new site, which proved to be necessary for creating new critical bed space to compensate the current shortages that exist at the Rand Memorial Hospital and the construction of a new sixty two thousand (62,000) square foot Freeport Community Clinic, on a new green field site off East Sunrise Highway.

Madame President, under our watch, the Grand Bahama Shipyard Employment Program was created, which was designed to train and employ six hundred (600), young Bahamians; fifty (50) every three (3) months at that facility. Up to May, 2017, approximately two hundred (200) young Grand Bahamians were certified and employed at the facility just  prior to us leaving office. It is my understanding, however, that since then, no additional persons were hired and some 70 plus persons were terminated. I have spoken to at least twenty of these workers who lost their jobs in the last few months. The minister of state on his feet yesterday made mention to the labour issues with an independent contractor at the ship yard which was correct, but today I am speaking about the program between the government and the Grand Bahama ship Yard.

I was also informed from reliable sources  that no new apprentices were hired as customary in July 2017. My question to the government is what is happening with this state of the art program put in place by our administration and what will happen to the 40 young men and women that were hired last year.

Madam President while in office we also established the innovative Earn While You Learn Program in conjunction with public hospital authority, which was designed to train and employ young Bahamians in the areas of pre allied health, in order to fill the gaps at the mini hospital in Abaco and the nine primary healthcare facilities on Grand Bahama prior to the implementation of National Health Insurance. We also established the National Training Agency, reestablished the Trained Clinical Nursing Program and revamped the Fresh Start Program in conjuction with the private sector; all designed to provide training and employment opportunities for our young people! As a result of our collaborate effort our administration was able to reduce the employment rate from about 19.4% in 2012 when we came to office to just over 10%  prior to leaving office even in  tough economic times.

Madame President, under our watch, the tourism product on Grand Bahama was on the rebound. Prior to October, 2016, we had an active cruise ship market that was growing, and an increased number of flights that were bringing large numbers of stop over visitors to our shores. We attracted many international events and conferences, held two successful Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival Kickoff celebrations that proved to have an economic multiplier effect on our local economy, and had advanced plans to fill our island’s calendar with more offerings to showcase our unique Bahamian culture to the world.

Additionally, Madame President, prior to the 2017 general elections, we were in the advance stages of negotiating the sale of the hotels and casino on the Lucayan Strip, we signed the heads of agreement with Carnival Cruise line, after spending over one year negotiating with the Hutcheson Group of companies to lift their exclusivity of ports on the island of Grand that was put in place by the Free National Movement. These successful complex negotiations make way for the signing of the heads of agreements between the Hutcherson, carnival cruise lines and the government to construct a new cruise port in East Grand Bahama. We are asking the government to please be transparent and notify the Bahamian people what is happening with the new port.

Madame President, the history books would reflect that despite the sluggish global economy, and the difficulties we faced to grow the local economy in tough times, there is no question that the Progressive Liberal Party left the island of Grand Bahama and our country better than we meet it in 2012. Grand Bahama  was in a recovery mode; poised for growth, and ready to make a positive economic comeback; even in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew but the free national movement went on a five month vacation.

Madam President, as an administration we invested in the people and we laid a solid foundation to build upon. Unfortunately, Madame President, our agenda came to a grinding halt on May 10th, 2017, when the Bahamian people spoke loud and clear, and rejected us at the polls.

Madame President, the Free National Movement, in its political campaign, indicated to the Bahamian people that they had a master plan to turn Grand Bahama around and were ready to govern on day one. In the Speech from the Throne, Her Excellency articulated, very eloquently and I quote, that this administration would “launch the rebound of the island of Grand Bahama, in accordance with the template of a master strategic plan designed for Grand Bahama. Accordingly, the government will establish a tourism signature identity in the marketplace for the island of Grand Bahama.”  I wish to ask the minister of State for Grand Bahama what is this so called template that your administration is using and for the sake of transparency please outline some of the short term strategies of this plan.  Is it the same template that has been used over the past two decades, which took Grand Bahama on a roller coaster ride from boom to bust?

Madame President, “launching the rebound of Grand Bahama” and “having a master plan for Grand Bahama” as noted in the speech from the throne looks good on paper! And sounds good but all of us who have been around understand the political game of hide and seek and know the devil is in the details. However, the people of Grand Bahama are tired of the games and calling on this so called peoples government to be transparent and give us the details to your master plan, not the shake tank plan for selecting 10 micro enterprises a year for the next three years. Please explain why the short term strategies of your plan have not been implemented after five months in office in order to stop the down would spiral!

Madame President, I would venture to say that the majority of Grand Bahamians are indeed trying to determine where  are the five Members of Parliament, one of which is the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, two other cabinet ministers are doing other that dressing up and riding around in aircondoo while the people of Grand Bahama continue to suffer. What is this master strategic plan that the FNM said that they had for Grand Bahama? Asking for the people!

Madame President, the Cambridge dictionary defines a template as something that is used as a pattern for producing similar results. Madame President, the truth of the matter is, we don’t need an old template that continue to benefit the chosen few, what we need is a paradigm shift from the old into the new. The truth of the matter is madam president there is no workable template anywhere in the world that can be replicated for Grand Bahama; so a new strategic plan had to be created, and that is what we were established with technical support in the mist of great pushback form the powers that be during our term in office.  I ask again, what is this administration plans for the economic recovery for Grand Bahama island?  How do you plan to establish a tourism signature identity in the marketplace for the island of Grand Bahama? When will we start to see the benefits of this “master strategic plan?” Asking for the people!

Madam President, this FNM administration has been in office for over five months; and NOTHING tangible is happening on the ground in Grand Bahama, the people are tired of talk from this administration and a campaign has been launched by the people on the island by disillusioned and frustrated residents called Fix Grand Bahama!

But instead of trying to fix Grand Bahama, the FNM is once again in this honorable place playing politics with the Speech from the Throne; and using smoke and mirrors, as well as the blame game to distract the people  from the fact that they were not, and still not ready to govern.

Madam President, they are almost half way into their first year in office, and there has not been a single piece of legislation brought to this honorable place as part of their so called change agenda. It’s not only sad, but pathetic, and clearly demonstrates that this inept FNM government is lost and must find their way home. The Prime Minister, is obviously sleeping at the wheel, and we are watching as aggressive members of his cabinet are stepping forward trying to fill the gaps, while other are still having victory celebrations or still on vacation; while the country is riddled with violent crime, Bahamians are being victimized daily, businesses are closing down, and the borrowing of millions of dollars continue.

Madam President, I came to this honorable place today to bring a message; the people of the country are growing weary of the accusations and the political rhetoric. They want action, not talk!  So, ministers it’s time to put the pedal to the metal; and start governing!

Madam President, while on the campaign trail, the FNM said that they would be ready to govern, and they would bring immediate change to Grand Bahama, jump start our economy, and get people in the tourism sector back to work. On the contrary, Madam President,  instead of bringing immediate relief to Grand Bahama like they promised, they have created new layers of bureaucracy to collect taxes to  frustrate the people, trying to buy time.

Madam President, new policies and penalties are currently being implemented at the harbor, at customs and other government agencies without proper notification of the public; which are frustrating business owners and negatively affecting the ease of doing business in an already difficult business environment.

Madam President, I recently watched a video with small business owners from Grand Bahama, some of whom admitted to campaigning for the FNM, but are now experiencing, I quote, “the most difficult and trying times.”  I admonish this administration to address the people of Grand Bahama, and fix their concerns.

Madam President, the people of Grand Bahama have just cause for concern. The tourism numbers have plummeted, and those in the industry are describing its present state as the worst it’s ever been in the history of the island!

I was reliably informed by a concerned employee  recently, that at one point the largest hotel on the island, only had fourteen (14) guests checked into the resort. Further, the largest section of the Lucayan resort, remains closed and the hotel remained unsold; after the Wynn Group pulled out of a few weeks ago.

Madam President, The Grand Bahama International Airport remains barren and empty; with flights barely coming in and bringing hardly any visitors to our shores. As a matter of fact, I’ve also been advised that less than five hundred (500) tourists total if that are presently on the island.  To add insult to injury, I received a correspondence last night which confirmed that American Airlines has discontinued its direct flight from Philadelphia to Grand Bahama for this winter season! This is another blow to Grand Bahama’s already stagnant tourism sector!

Madam President, The Port Lucaya Marketplace, once a vibrant sprawling center of economic and tourism activity on the island of Grand Bahama,  now looks like a wasteland, a ghost town, and a mere shell of its former glory. I noted with interest the attempt of this administration to host a bimonthly event in Port Lucaya. I also note that while this event has been going on, businesses in the marketplace continue to hemorrhaging, and many were forced to shut their doors.

Madam President, the economy of Grand Bahama is now stagnant under this administration and now thousands continue to struggle to make ends meet, and are barely able to afford groceries at the end of the week. Long standing businesses that have been symbols of hope in the community are closing their doors, and sadly countless others have followed and/or are threatening to do so in short order. We are in a crisis I want to say that again we now in a crisis on the island of Grand Bahama, and the government must act now!

Madam President, during the 2017 Bahamas General Election campaign, the FNM painted a picture of doom and gloom under the PLP.” And for months and months, weeks and weeks, the FNM came to Grand Bahama and shouted, “It’s the People’s Time!” Today, however, the cries are loud and clear from residents that indeed nothing is happening under “Thompson, Turnquest, Pintard and the FNM;” and as a result, many more people on Grand Bahama are jobless and others homeless.

Madam President, the prominent attorney Terry Gape, in an article about the state of Grand Bahama, indicated that if we are not able to turn things around within the next few months on Grand Bahama, the damage would be so severe that it would be virtually impossible for the island of Grand Bahama to rebound within the next ten years.

Madam President, this administration must stop making excuses!  All Ministers must revisit those budget lines to find spending room for the people of Grand Bahama.  We have three ministers from Grand Bahama around the table. I admonish them to fight for a piece of the pie for Grand Bahama!

Madam President, as a former minister in the government, I too sat around the table when the cupboard was bare, and the pressures from the rating agencies were knocking at our door. Yet, Former Minister Wilchcombe and I fought for Grand Bahama’s share of the pie; and everyone can see the number of capital works projects and reform that is presently ongoing across Grand Bahama.

Madam President, the people of Grand Bahama are in need of immediate relief. Although we understand that the economic challenges on the island are the result of years of problems, some completely out of the hands of Government, we expect that this FNM Administration would deliver for the people of Grand Bahama. The people of Grand Bahama do not expect immediate solutions to every problem, but we do expect immediate action by the people’s government!

Madam President, I have read the FNMs promises for Grand Bahama, as outlined in their manifesto and wish to make a few suggestions to address the immediate crisis on Grand Bahama before I take my seat.

Firstly, Madam President, there should be a waiver placed on all government business license fees for all businesses in East and West Grand Bahama, to supplement the duty-free concessions put in place by our administration and sit with the Port authority to and ask them to follow suite

Secondly, Madam President, the hurricane home repair program and the social services relief efforts should beefed up as the safety net for the unemployed’ people need food now.

Thirdly, Madam President, there should be an immediate capitalization of the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund, with specific emphasis place on Grand Bahama. All grants should be processed locally through the Office of the Prime Minister, along with a small team of business leaders from the private sector.

Additionally, Madame President, grant funding and low interest loans should be given to those businesses affected by hurricane Mathew. This can be administered through the Ministry of Finance and the Bahamas Development Bank, to prevent serious political contamination, and the wastage that took place with the FNM’s last jump start program.

Furthermore, Madam President, the Ministry of Tourism must work closely with all hotel property owners, the local promotion board to solidify a workable marketable strategy to per mote tourism activity on Grand Bahama.

Finally, Madam President, the new investment promotion board for Grand Bahama needs to be established before the end of this month and dispatched to attract Foreign Direct Investments to the island.

Madam President, there is so many things that could have been done, to bring immediate relief for the people of Grand Bahama but the government went on a five month vacation.  The reality, however, is this administration is lost out to sea and so overwhelmed with the realities of governance, that they feel to comprehend the urgency of the challenges Grand Bahama faces; and they are still asking  for time in the midst of a real crisis!

Yet in the middle of this, there is indeed hope, Madam President. I find hope in the thousands of Grand Bahamians who are uniting under the call “Fix Grand Bahama” and holding this government to account for the promises they made to the people of our island.

I am inspired by the business owners who are coming together in unity to call on the Government to get to work and grow our economy again; and I am encouraged by the fact that our Administration left in place a working plan to stabilized our local economy in the aftermath of hurricane Mathew.

Overall, Madame President, this Speech from the Throne was eloquently presented by her Excellency but offers nothing more than fancy words on shiny paper that must be implemented.

Madame President, I certainly want to see our Government and country succeed and as a Bahamian I am prepared to put my politics aside, and work with the government and other stakeholders, to assist with the recovery of Grand Bahama. Finally, on behalf of the people of Grand Bahama I am asking all senators for your support for the people of Grand Bahama.

Finally madam president I would like to once again thank her Excellency.

Thank you and God bless the commonwealth of the Bahamas