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FOREIGN AFFAIRS BILL IS TABLED AND PASSED IN THE HOUSE

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fmitchellNassau, Bahamas – Intervention by Fred Mitchell MP, Member of Parliament for Fox Hill and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration in the House of Assembly delivered on Wednesday, 10th December 2014:

It is my honour to be able to present the legislation which I hope will govern the Foreign Service for the next generation and beyond.

Paula Tynes is ill; very ill. I wish her a speedy recovery. She is a great help to her husband Maurice.

I wish to say a word of thanks to the MP for Elizabeth for his service to the Cabinet.   Public Service is difficult. I don’t want people to put more on this than it is. This is an economic decision and everyone in here should understand that. We have inherited a broken system where MPs are hobbled in their work and it needs fixing. In this climate, there is no support for it. So we may live and leave yet another generation disabled by public service, left impecunious and down on their luck in death if we do not fix it. It is a rare thing to be a son serving in your father’s footsteps. I wish him well.

(I recall) the story of my first visit to Stuart Manor with George Smith and how the man (a constituent) said “I have done everything you asked of me and what more do you want for me to do. I gave you my children and my wife and all I ask is the road in Stuart Manor to be fixed. ”

The young officers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been waiting and are entitled to say “what more do you want from us?”Many are serving overseas and going fast into penury. (I also recall) the story of L. B. Johnson who was left stripped of everything because he served this country as ambassador overseas. This is my attempt to stop that from happening to another generation.

What is a foreign minister’s job?Yesterday we were in Cuba and spoke to the Haitian government and we expect a visit from the Haitian foreign Minister. We are watching political events in Haiti and there appears to be fast breaking developments there. We are always sensitive to political instability there.

We had a good meeting with the President of Cuba yesterday. Interesting bit of history told to us on the Flamingo. The President apologized for the sinking of the Flamingo, calling it a tragic mistake about which he was deeply embarrassed.

The Minister’s job is to foster good neighborliness.

Good relations with all countries around us. The US is our main trading and commercial partner and the country with which we have the closest ties.

Right now we have the talks in this generation of securing our borders. National security both inside and from outside threats is job one. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our neighbours.

This (piece of legislation) in fact creates for the first time a foreign service.

We are still not there yet in the sense that the foreign service in this legislation is a carve out of the public service but I believed that after years of wrangling over this subject we needed to make a beginning.

Today then I am proud to move the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bill 2014 which proposes to do what its long title says and that is provide for the continuation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the continuation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs as a Corporation sole; the establishment of a Department of Foreign Affairs; the appointment of a Director General in the Department of Foreign Affairs; the Administration and regulation of the Foreign Service; the repeal of Chapter 24 and for connected matters.

So today we are seeking to pass this bill to create a foreign service for the first time as a discrete part of the public service with its own rules, promotion procedures and governance and the allowances and benefit to which diplomats are entitled when they serve overseas or at home.

It creates some landmarks: the first of which is it creates for the first time a foreign service bill.

The Foreign Service in clause 6 is a disciplined force and therefore is not subject to the structures of the labour laws of the country as it relates to industrial action.

It creates a Department of Foreign Affairs for the first time in Clause 7 and the Office of Director General.

It establishes in Clause 10 a Foreign Service Committee in Clause 10 which Committee is to advice the Permanent Secretary and the Prime Minister and the Public Service Commission on grievances, disciplinary actions, and the appeals process in relation to an appointment and review remuneration and allowances.

In Clauses 11 and 12 the Governor General is empowered to make regulations governing the Foreign Service to be known as Foreign Service Orders.

We have circulated the draft orders and the Opposition was briefed by Foreign Affairs last week on Tuesday at the House of Assembly led by the Leader of the Opposition.

In Clause 14, the Minister may make regulations for the issuance of visas.

Those draft visa regulations are also done and have been laid before Parliament. It is proposed that they come into force on 1st February 2015.

The powers and the duties of the Director General are laid out in schedule pursuant to Clause 7 (6)

In moving the bill I would like to give a brief history of how this has come about and to thank those generally and some specifically who were responsible for making this possible.

I shall also go through each of the provisions of the act clause by clause.

I shall also address the financial implications of the bill and the coming into force of the orders.

I hope also to address some of the timely foreign affairs issues of the day.

The story of these Foreign Service orders begins way back in 1989 when the late Paul Adderley was the Minister. It has been a lot of work done since that day to come to this day.

I wish to pay tribute to all my predecessors.

I wish to thank the Permanent Secretary Philip Miller of his leadership in bringing this to its conclusion. He was joined by a team of young officers all of whom are in their twenties who crafted the initial drafts. There were senior officers who joined them. I wanted the younger officers to design these orders because these orders are to serve them and their careers far into the future. They are in fact setting the professional rules that will govern themselves and the generation after them.

The names of the people who worked on this current version:

Deputy Permanent Secretary Freddie Tucker
First Assistant Secretary Eugene Newry

First Assistant Secretary Kerry Bonamy

First Assistant Secretary Frank Davis

Deputy Chief of Mission Chet Neymour

The Core team of the Foreign Service Orders comprised:

Assistant Secretary(Acting) Krissy Hanna

Administrative Cadet Marjorie Julien

Administrative Cadet Mikhail Bullard

The former Ministers of Foreign Affairs/External Affairs

The Right Honourable Sir Lynden Pindling

Minister of External Affairs 1969-1973

Senator the Honourable Paul L. Adderley

Minister of External Affairs and Attorney General 1973-1983

Minister of Foreign Affairs 1983-1984

Honourable Clement T. Maynard

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister of Tourism and Minister of Foreign Affairs 1984-1989

Minister ofForeign Affairs and Public Personnel1990-1992

Honourable Edward Charles Carter

Minister of Foreign Affairs 1989-1990

Sir Orville Turnquest

Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs 1992-1994

Honourable Janet Bostwick

Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs 1994-2002

Minister of Foreign Affairs 2001-2002

Honourable T. Brent Symonette

Minister of Foreign Affairs

2007-2012

Honourable Frederick A. Mitchell

Minister of Foreign Affairs 2002 -2007

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration 2012- Present

We pledged in there PLP platforms to bring into force foreign service orders.

The Charter for Governance highlights that the present PLP Government will:

Introduce Foreign Service orders and established a Foreign Service Commission for the professional development of The Bahamas Foreign Service;

Introduce a sustained recruitment and training programme in Foreign Service to attract the brightest and best the nation has to offer through the establishment of a School of Politics and International Affairs at the University of The Bahamas;

Establish a balance between the appointment of political and career Ambassadors and Heads of Missions to ensure the professional development and promotion availability of career Foreign Service Officers.

At present, The Bahamas has twelve overseas missions:

The Bahamas Embassy,Washington D. C. USA
The Bahamas Embassy Consular Annex, Washington D. C, USA
The Bahamas Embassy, Havana, Cuba
The Bahamas Embassy, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
The Bahamas Embassy, Beijing, China
The Bahamas High Commission, London, U. K.
The Bahamas High Commission, Ottawa, Canada
The Permanent Mission to the United Nations, New York, NY
The Bahamas Consulate General, New York, NY
The Bahamas Consulate General, Miami Florida
The Bahamas Consulate General, Atlanta, Georgia
The Bahamas Permanent Mission to the UN
and other International Organizations, Geneva, Switzerland

In keeping with the Government’s mandate in the Charter for Governance the Missions in Beijing and Geneva are headed by career Foreign Service Officers.

I now wish to take the House through the clauses in the bill and some salient features in the orders.

It is proposed that the bill and the orders come into force on 22nd December. The calculation is some 2 million dollars in costs, which were already budgeted. No extra budgeting is required. The Ministry of Finance was part of the negotiations. People in the service have been living below standard and in penury and these allowances have not been adjusted since 1990s.

I wish to touch on the matters raised with regard to immigration in particular comments made by Fred Smith QC and Daphne Campbell, a Florida state legislation.

No meeting was ever scheduled for Daphne Campbell contrary to what she asserts. Before her press conference in which she called for a boycott of The Bahamas, the consulate in Miami reached out to her to disabuse her of the nonsense she was parroting to no avail. She has since been told after writing for a meeting that unless she withdraws her remarks and apologizes for them, there will be no meeting.

With regard to Fred Smith, he should learn to read. There is no policy which this government proposes which will require in law Bahamians to carry identity documents. You are all aware however that passports are a requirement of every modern state and the Bahamas is no different. Our measures are administrative and in no way infringe on the human or civil rights of anyone. He says he is taking legal action based on the fact of a mandatory identity document. He will in fact be going to court if he does – based on a fiction; a figment of his imagination.

For him to suggest otherwise is unbalanced lunacy and he should withdraw his slander of the Immigration department.

Imagine a Bahamian accusing the Immigration Department of “ethnic cleansing”. That is a crime against humanity. Is he mad? Has he taken leave of his senses? Where is the evidence?

 
( Since that time he has gone on to compare the detention to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. I have called this a criminal libel.)

Then there is the plethora of stories in the press about abuse? Remember now up until last week, there was not one single story about abuse. But isn’t it interesting that as soon as all the political parties congratulate the Department for their professionalism – suddenly there is an avalanche of stories about abuse. 

The interesting thing about them all is that each of those who complain is here illegally. One claimed she was Bahamian is not in fact Bahamian and the policy that is now being implemented (is intended) to solve the problem of no status. 

This is an interesting time. You have some people who have called up and said that we have lost our country to foreigners and they are glad the government is doing something to get our country back. That is the overwhelming sentiment. Then you have those who have hatched a vast conspiracy the ingredients of which we are somehow trying to target particular groups for elimination. 

The activist and some of the nationals of those groups specialize in creating victimhood as the means to sabotage the policy. There are genuine concerns and there will be anxiety but for the life of me how getting a passport of your nationality and a status which gives you the right to live and work here is so frightening and profound is beyond me. 

I said to someone who wrote me about abuse claims:in it the note said that before the matter gets to the international press we need to do something. I have a simple view. This is an open and transparent society. If anyone has a claim of any kind against any public official then you have several ways to deal with it: the press, the courts, the police and the department of immigration itself. There is nothing to hide and the truth will out. I am not afraid of the truth. 

Every immigration officer knows the standard for their conduct in the exercise of their duty: reasonable suspicion. There is no true Bahamian that will not support the efforts to ensure that our borders are secure. Those who do not have the right to live and work in The Bahamas must go home. 

There was a time when Americans and Canadians could waltz right into the Bahamas without a passport. That time has gone. You now have to have a passport. That is a universal standard. 

No other national group has complained about this (other) than our neighbours to the south or their representatives. The irony is most who are here have work permits and many already have passports. The same documents which they require to get citizenship or permanent residents of The Bahamas they need to get a Haitian passport. The Haitian government has indicated they will look at adjusting the price point of the passport. 

I would only say to the advocates of that community here: be proud of who you are. There is no intrinsic disgrace in being Haitian and no need to hide your identity. This is especially important for children. All that counts in this life is the content of your character. You are the descendants of Christophe and Toussaint and Dessalines. That is the real issue here, pride in yourself and not self hatred. Self hatred is a cruel thing and we must all in our lifetimes seek to rise above it. 

But national pride does not excuse breaking the law. The two are two different things. Everyone in this country is bound to follow the law without exception. 

I am once again asking all national groups to comply with the regulations and not be led astray by those who say they are for you but might just be looking for legal work at your expense. 

I am going to lay on the table the copy of the lecture which I delivered called What It Means to be Bahamian. It was the Pindling Lecture delivered on 5th May 2003. My views have not changed but I am not the Minister of Social commentary. I am the Minister of Immigration. The rules are what they are and the rules will be enforced. 

I am concerned that these statements by certain activists are being done to feed appetites for human rights reports which accept hyperbole and inaccuracies uncritically. They lack common sense and are misdirected. 

There is a need for public diplomacy in social media and apologies for the lack of response to calls and correspondence. The website has been recovered. Soon will be up and running. We are hiring new staff. There is an annual recruitment of at least five new officers per year. The Ministry has to become more sensitive and responsive to its public environment. We in the political directorate must become more sensitive and responsive to the needs of the careers of the officers that we send out to defend our country overseas. 

The call to patriotism:Explain the logic of immigration not showing up for work. One officer was hurt in an interdiction last Wednesday morning (3rd December) with cuts over the eye and nose. A police car was also damaged during an immigration check this morning. 

This is not easy work. It is dangerous work. We shall be moving into Abaco and Eleuthera and Exuma shortly. Thanks to the RBDF and RBPF

Thanks to the Immigration Department for its work. Right now here are the figures at the Detention Centre as of last week:

254 in the detention centre
177 Haitian
33 Cubans
20 Jamaicans
7 Dominicans
2 French’
2 Venezuelans
1 Ghana
1 Nigerian
1 St. Lucian
1 Eritrean
1 Ecuadorian
1 Kenyan
3 Chinese
2 Hondurans
1 Guyanese
1 Dominica

My view is that Foreign Affairs is to provide a seamless experience for Bahamians crossing borders whether for tourism, business or education. 

Why the visa rules. 

The current mode of visa requests and processing is based on a compendium of policies and common practices with the exception of an Act (Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Consular Services) (fees) Rules, 1989) stipulating consular fees which has not been amended since 1989

The objective of having visa rules/regulations is to formalize and harmonize the acceptance, processing, approval, denial and the appeal process involved in issuing visas, additionally ensuring that a standard visa application form will be used by all entities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs imbued with the authority of visa issuance, such as its embassies and consulates abroad. 

In summary then I wish to thank my colleagues for their support of this new chapter in the life of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I thank the Prime Minister for this appointment

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. I commend the bill to the House. And I so move. 

Additional statistics

BAHAMAS IMMIGRATION STATISTICS
JANUARY –NOVEMBER 1ST 2014

Foreign National Repatriated (Jan-Nov1st 2014)

Haitians———————-2,852
Other Nationals———————567
Grand Total————————3,419

Foreign Persons Repatriated (Jan-December 2013)
Haitians———————-3,033
Other Nationals—————835
Grand Total———3,868

Haitians interdicted at sea Jan –November 1st 2014—1,660

Haitians interdicted at sea January- December 2013—–1,550

Cost of Repatriation (Air Direct)
1st January 2014 to 30th June 2014—–$963, 977. 45
1st July 2014 to September 12th 2014—–$245, 450. 00

Grand Total———–$1, 209, 427. 45

The Department intends to continue its operations in every Island and districts of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas in ensuring that who does not have a legal right to reside or work in the Bahamas will be arrested and deported. 

November 1st 2014 the Enforcement unit with assistance of the Royal Bahamas Police Force continued its operation mainly in the Carmichael Road area. A total of 77 persons were apprehended inclusive of Chinese, Filipinos, Jamaicans and Haitians.