After more than one hundred amendments to the initial 2012 Act that never came into force, followed by its replacement with a new draft bill, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2015 was released on Monday of this week for public consultation.
Foreshadowing the release and outlining the objectives of the new bill was Education Minister Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald who spoke from the floor of the House on Wednesday, 13th May 2015. Some of the objectives and parameters of the new bill are as follow:
Expanding the right of access to information by bodies with Bahamian interests;
Expanding the class of accessible documents to include certain policy documents;
Narrowing the class of documents that were previously exempt from disclosure;
Recommendations for a stand-alone whistle blowing legislation;
A review of the official Secrecy Act.
The Minister (meaning the cabinet) no longer has veto power over the disclosure of information.
The bill sets the frame work for the establishment of an independent Information Commissioner
The “Whistleblower” section of the bill protects a person from illegal administrative sanctions or employment related punitive acts of reprisals (broadly called victimization in The Bahamas) if he or she releases information in breach of that person’s employment obligation or in violation of company policy (or general orders) so long as the person was acting in good faith in protecting the health, safety and welfare of the general public – or more broadly, acting in the public interest.
Also worthy of note is the Act does not apply to the judicial functions of a court, the Customs Department, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Financial Intelligence Unit and the Immigration Department in relation to their strategic and operational intelligence gathering activities. This structure is ostensibly in the interest of country’s national security.
Overall, the objectives of the FIOA are to give further effect to certain fundamental principles underlying the system of constitutional democracy – mainly government accountability, transparency and public participation in national decision making by granting the public greater freedom and rights to access public records.
The Office of the Attorney General plans to host a series of town hall meetings to educate and actively engage the public on this important piece of legislation.
PM Christie on the passing on Mizpah Tertullien
She enjoyed a long and fruitful life well into her eighties and touching many lives along the way, but nothing can fully prepare us for the inevitability of death. The nation was saddened this week to learn of the passing of former Senator, popular psychologist, commentator and columnist of the famed “Psychologically Speaking,” Mrs. Mizpah Tertullien.
Expressing condolences on behalf of the government and people of The Bahamas was Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie who recognized her national service and remembered the former Senator’s engaging personality, erudition, eloquence and patriotism and one who embraced the finality of death the way she embraced life – with grace and dignity.
“Mrs. Tertullien endured a lengthy illness with grace and dignity” said the Prime Minister. “Although she had not been a part of public life for many years, Mrs. Tertullien will be remembered for her engaging personality, erudition, eloquence, and patriotism. She was a respected commentator on a wide range of matters affecting the social and mental health of our nation. She was well positioned to do so based on her training and practice as a psychologist and family counselor.” May her soul rest in peace.
This week in Parliament
Debate in the House began on Wednesday of this week on the Petroleum Act and the Sovereign Wealth Fund Act and attendant regulations. The mover and lead speaker was the Minister for the Environment and Housing, the Hon. Kenred Dorsett who told House members that while these pieces of legislation seek to modernize and reform the country’s upstream petroleum sector, the regulations apply only to off shore oil drilling.
During his communication, Minister Dorsett advised the House of a number of amendments to the bill he wishes to include during the committal stage. The Opposition wished to have sight of the amendments prior to their debate so the leader of government’s business in the House so moved for a suspension of the House until Tuesday, 26th May 2015 at 10am.
The Speaker took the opportunity to lobby for increases in the constituency allowances and allocations for constituency projects. Members of Parliament have had to routinely foot constituency bills from their own pockets to “subsidize representation.” Both allowances stand at $18,000 and $50,000 per annum respectively. The Prime Minister responded that the Speaker’s request was duly noted and will be taken into active consideration during the upcoming budget preparation. He agreed that the costs to hire staff and keep the utilities on at constituency offices are “inordinate.”
Road Traffic Department to be fully automated
The contracts to modernize the vehicular registration, inspection and drivers licenses systems were signed on Wednesday of this week. The price tag is $8.3 million and the project’s duration is eighteen months. Specifically, the Road Traffic Department entered into agreements with the New Zealand based Information Technology and revenue management group Datatorque and the group local Network Security Consultancy Group. The contractual agreements cover a master service agreement, a project management consultancy and a project initiation contract.
Touting this upgrade as the most significant developmental initiative undertaken by the Road Traffic Department since its establishment was Minister of Transport and Aviation, the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin.
“Over the years has been a great deal of tinkering with the operation with various products, but this the first time an absolutely radical intervention in terms of overhauling the operational procedures of the Road Traffic Department.”
Explaining how this new system of automation will improve operational efficiency, accountability, reduce operating costs, and strengthen the management and internal controls regime was State Minister for Finance, Hon. Michael Halkitis.
“The Road Traffic modernization project will streamline road traffic department operations, realize significant cost savings; strengthen management controls and reports, generate increased revenue and facilitate integration, particularly in the area of information sharing between the Road Traffic Department and its internal and external stake holders.” These stakeholders include the police, banks, the office of the Attorney General, the courts, insurance companies and the Customs Department.
PM: Eleuthera “poised” for greater economic opportunities.
With some 28 operating hotels in Eleuthera and a robust second home market outpaced only by Abaco, Eleuthera has as many second home rooms in its rental inventory as hotel rooms. Further, there are great entrepreneurial opportunities in the areas of dining, retail shopping and sporting activities for young Bahamian investors to take advantage of. This was the message of Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie as he addressed delegates at the 3rd annual Eleuthera Business Outlook (EBO) at the French Leave Resort in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera on Thursday of the week.
“Eleuthera is ideally suited to this new niche product type, many of which, throughout The Bahamas, are Bahamian-owned” said Mr. Christie. “In fact, with 28 operating hotels, Eleuthera currently has as much second home room rental inventory as hotel rooms.
“When these home rentals are combined with newer resort developments such as the Cove and the Four Seasons, the Shaner Group here in Governor’s Harbour and other locally owned establishments, it will undoubtedly accelerate consumer demand for a plethora of commercial and retail enterprises to service this sector.
“There is, even now, a need for more cafes and dining and entertainment venues, sporting facilities, retail shops, food stores, etcetera; all of which deliver the kind of critical mass needed to generate economic activity and satisfy pent-up demand for more vacation experiences from consumers and Eleuthera is, now, certainly poised to provide these kinds of economic opportunities for its young entrepreneurs” said the Prime Minister.
The theme of the EBO was “Securing Eleuthera through Planning, Partnership and Productivity”.
PM Christie discusses BEC
During his trip to Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera on Thursday of this week to deliver the keynote address the Economic Outlook, Prime Minister Christie took the opportunity to discuss the way forward for BEC, especially the strategy for tackling and retiring the corporation’s $470 million debt going forward.
“It might be four hundred now and seventy and money counting and that we have been negotiating with about five different banks the basis of a rate reduction on that will in fact absorb that money and have it amortized over many years and people will pay for it by adding a cent of two to each of their bills” said the Prime Minister.
Concerning the management agreement itself and the government’s expectations, Mr. Christie confirmed that his government is engaged in “very advanced discussions” in settling the management agreement with PowerSecure and only added that PowerSecure “knows the importance for us moving (forward) because – I don’t want to talk out of hand – we have a particular principle in identifying someone to manage BEC as to how we want them to go about dealing with what people pay and that’s a matter for final negations” said the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister also expressed confidence in PowerSecure’s ability to generate alternative and cheaper forms of energy, especially in the family islands. He also referenced the Carbon War Room with whom his government has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding for the production of 20MW alternative power generation plants in eleven family islands to assist with the reduction in the cost of electricity and in the emission of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels.
Government presents single largest regatta subvention
It was all smiles today at the Island Traders Building on Bay Street when the Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government the Hon. V. Alfred Gray announced that the government will assist the All Eleuthera Regatta Committee this year to the tune of $45,000, the single largest public subvention to date for family island regattas. This year’s regatta will be held at Governor’s Harbour during the week leading up to the annual Independence Day celebrations.
“Let me say that regattas are very important to the economic landscape of these family islands” said Minister Gray, highlighting the government’s deepening commitment to this important cultural, economic and historic event. Minister Gray promised that as the Minister with responsibility for regattas, he will be “ensuring that this regatta be the biggest regatta in the history of Eleuthera.”
Minister Gray also took the opportunity to appeal to food vendors and restaurant operators to be especially sensitive to the financial circumstances of the participants in these regattas, pointing out that the allotted per diem for the boaters is around twenty-five dollars per day and the pricing schedule of some of the restaurants and vendors is prohibitive which creates challenges for the boaters.
Overall, few will argue that family island regattas have become the dominant domestic tourism product, stimulating the economies of virtually every major family island.
On hand for the presentation was Central and South Eleuthera Member of Parliament the Hon. Damian Gomez who went further, stating that the all Eleuthera regatta is part of an overall strategic plan to market Eleuthera as a family oriented water sports tourism destination.
“It’s intended that we will be promoting Eleuthera as a family water sports destination and regattas help to pass that message along and that’s what we hope to promote from a water sports tourism point of view” said Mr. Gomez. He also envisions a cultural component to this marketing strategy with Junkanoo and marching band competitions all as a prelude and build up to the country’s 42nd independence celebrations on July 10th of this year.
The committee for the Mangrove Cay regatta was also on hand to receive their government sponsorship of $5,500; their regatta begins this Friday, 22nd May.
BAMSI inks SUPER marketing deal
The commercial component of the Bahamas Agriculture Marine and Science Institute (BAMSI) just got a huge shot in the arm when BAMSI recently inked a marketing and distribution deal with the nation’s largest supermarket chain, Super Value. Under the agreement, Super Value would sell large quantities of BAMSI’s produce.
Structurally, BAMSI’s associated farmers grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits to BAMSI’s specifications. BAMSI collects, quantifies, sorts, grades, packages, distributes and markets the produce in addition to the ones grown on its commercial farm. Additionally, BAMSI offers technical assistance to its associated farmers.
Explaining the inherent “encumbrances” of reliability, uncertainty and quality that exist in the local agricultural industry and how BAMSI is determined to overcome these challenges was President of BAMSI, Godfrey Eneas.
“One of the encumbrances Bahamian producers have experienced is that even though you have producers like (Roberts) and George Meyers – and other local buyers – they had real issues with reliability, quality, dependability and sustainability” said Mr. Eneas who believes that with BAMSI’s structure and processes in place, the institute will eliminate uncertainties from the value chain.
Touting BAMSI’s competitive advantages was CEO of Super Value Rupert Roberts who believes that the freshness of the produce, the fact that the food is locally grown and the foreign exchange retention potential all add up to a win-win situation.
“They are going to be big growers and of course are going to have plentiful fresh – and fresh is the key word here – product that is picked today and on the boat to us tomorrow.” He went on to say that his team is “really looking forward to not only encouraging our customers to buy Bahamian, we’re buying Bahamian and we’re selling Bahamian, and instead of California being the breadbasket of The Bahamas, Andros is.
“And that money stays home to circulate and re-circulate among ourselves. It’s a win-win situation” said Roberts.
AEG to manage Bahamas’ national stadium
Building on the success of its public private sector partnership (PPP) policy that worked well at the Lynden Pindling International Airport and is being applied to reform BEC, the Bahamas government entered into an agreement with the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to manage and market the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium as an entertainment and sports brand. AEG is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anschutz Company that owns the Staples Center, Sprint Center, Citizen’s Bank Arena and Oracle Arena as part of a collection of companies. The agreement was two years in the making.
The agreement calls for AEG to promote and brand The Bahamas as a global sports and entertainment destination, effectively diversifying the country’s tourism product offerings. Having attracted major events to The Bahamas such as the Bahamas IAAF World Relays and Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Popeye Bowl football game, the government is looking to build on this success.
Explaining his government’s vision to diversify the country’s tourism product, driven by culture and sports was Prime Minister Christie.
“In The Bahamas we began our journey by expanding Junkanoo into Junkanoo carnival, and we found it was received in an extraordinary way by the Bahamian people and others who came in for it. The Ministry of Tourism articulated a vision for sports tourism, and so AEG tells me it is important for the sports authority, musicians’ union, aspiring musicians and sporting personalities to know we are establishing a platform on which they can build.”
On hand to sign the agreement was AEG representative Charles Steadman. Signing for The Bahamas was National Sports Authority Chairman Leroy Archer. Also on hand were Youth and Sports Minister, Hon. Daniel Johnson; National Sports Authority Board Member, Eldece Clarke; Financial Secretary, John Rolle; and Musicians and Entertainers Union President Percival Sweeting.
Services to the poor just got simpler
With the approval of an additional 1,501 clients from the Horseshoe Drive office of Social Services, life just got easier for the more than 4,000 persons on the government’s food assistance program. Specifically, there are 780 clients registered at the Wulff Road office; 874 at the Fox Hill office; and 1,660 at the Robinson Road office, bringing the total to 4,365 persons in possession of the pre-paid debit card for food assistance.
According to Social Services Minister Hon. Melanie Griffin, the debit card affords the needy “the ability to shop for needed food items with ease and comfort.”
“It was a long, hard road getting to this point, but with the addition of each center, we gained more experience and improved the process involved,” said Minister Griffin.
In addressing the Horseshoe Drive clients the Minister reiterated that the debit cards are not to be used in the numbers shops, the beauty shops, and hair and nail salons, but are intended to purchase healthy nutritious foods.
The implementation process is already underway in Grand Bahama as the focus of her ministry now shifts its attention to the needs in Grand Bahama and the family islands.
The Department of Immigration was busy this week in Grand Bahama conducting inspection exercises. Twenty-eight illegal immigrants were interdicted and transferred to the Carmichael Road Detention Center for further processing. Thirteen Brazilian nationals were interdicted in three separate hotel rooms. They claimed that they were awaiting transfer to the United States.
The Cyber Tech training institute is currently offering certificate courses in the allied health field in the run up to the implementation of NHI scheduled for January 2016.
Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell joined other CARICOM foreign ministers in St. Lucia this week to attend the 18th meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) at Runaway Bay. COFCOR is the Foreign Affairs organ of CARICOM.
Accompany Mitchell was CARICOM High Commissioner HE Picewell Forbes.