THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (6 – 10 MARCH 2017)
COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT G. COLEBY
Over $100 million spent on Grand Bahama
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie told delegates at the ninth annual Grand Bahama Business Outlook Conference that his Government has spent over $100 Million on specific capital and infrastructure improvements throughout the length and breadth of Grand Bahama to strengthen the economy of the second city.
The conference took place in Freeport on Thursday, 9th March 2017 at the Grand Lucaya Resort.
Referencing to the Hawksbill Creek Deep Water Amendment Bill, the Investment Incentive Bill and attendant regulations recently passed in the House to facilitate sustained economic growth and development, the Prime Minister said that those changes are designed to modernize Freeport, create greater transparency and eliminate the “boom and bust” experiences of the past.
“We are making historic changes designed to improve and modernize the governance structure of Freeport, which will provide transparency for licensees and greater efficiency in accord with international best business and regulatory practices.
“My Government is far along the path to resolving outstanding issues with Freeport’s stakeholders, which will give rise to more collaborative development strategies and the likelihood of more successful outcomes. We have articulated a more dynamic and proactive approach to sourcing, expanding and fostering investment in Grand Bahama.”
Some of those initiatives and programs include the following.
In East Grand Bahama, $7.8 million was spent on seawalls, docks, potable water, roadways, police station, school expansion, hurricane shelter and an administrative complex.
In Freeport, the Prime Minister said that $56.4 million was spent on a sports complex, BAIC Craft Center, the farmer’s market, Fishing Hole Road Causeway, refurbished government buildings, and a BAMSI tutorial farm:
“Thirty-Six million dollars of the $56 million was spent on improvements to the Rand Memorial Hospital, importation of new ambulances and diagnostic equipment, and on a new Freeport Community Clinic in Marco City,” added Prime Minister Christie.
$33 million dollars have been allocated for works projects in West Grand Bahama on a new high school, potable water project and renovations to several government buildings.
Additionally, private sector projects include multimillion expansions to Pharma Chem, Okyanos Treatment Center and Stat Oil.
“My Government has remained in dialogue with Hutchison Ports and MSC on the roll out of plans for Phase V expansion of the Container Port — of which, as a result of the damages and setback resulting from Hurricane Matthew, the objective is to incorporate the expansion into the repairs which are underway.”
Royal Caribbean Cruise to spend over $100 million on Coco Cay
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie announced, on Tuesday, March 7, 2017, that Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited, with the approval of the Bahamas Government, was poised to expand operations by constructing a “world-class” cruise port at Coco Cay, also known as Little Stirrup Cay, situated in the Berry Islands.
“Royal Caribbean Cruises had approached the Government with the idea to construct a fixed pier at the Cay to accommodate better and additional cruise stops to the Cay,” Prime Minister Christie said, during the press conference held at the Office of the Prime Minister.
A Heads of Agreement was also signed concerning the same, at the end of the press conference.
“The installation of the fixed pier will allow for the additional safety of the cruise passengers and employees on the Cay where they will be able to have direct access to the Island instead of tendering boats,” he added as rough seas cause too much down time in transferring passengers. Further, the fixed pier allows for the accommodation of larger cruise ships
“Royal Caribbean will also carry out an expansion of the services offered at the Cay by injecting a total of $150 million over a three-phase process, including the $40 million fixed pier development, which will lead off the improvements that we are speaking of,” he stated. “The completion of the pier is planned for the winter of 2017 and will pave the way for additional improvements to the island.”
Prime Minister Christie pointed out that, to date, the Company had invested some $235 million into the development of the Cay, which reportedly provides extraordinary visitor experiences to its clientele.
Prime Minister to select new landfill manager
The Prime Minister Monday confirmed he has become personally involved in selecting a new manager for the New Providence Landfill, with a well-known Bahamian financial executive involved in one of the groups the Government is talking to.
At a press conference at his office on Monday, the Prime Minister said that the safety, health and general wellbeing of the residents impacted by the fire at the New Providence landfill are of primary importance.
The blaze started on Sunday afternoon due to high winds from a nearby brush fire that propelled embers onto the landfill proper. The Prime Minister reiterated his government’s commitment to assisting those affected and ensuring that they return to a life of normalcy in the shortest possible time.
The Flamingo clinic was opened until 9pm on Sunday night and police went door-to-door evacuating residents in nearby Jubilee Gardens and by late Sunday, NEMA had activated its Emergency Management Plan. Also, the Kendal G.L. Isaacs Gymnasium was activated as a temporary shelter for evacuated residents. The fire burned for several days throughout the week with official assessments by government official scheduled for Monday, 13th March 2017.
This week in Parliament
Parliamentarians celebrated International Women’s Day on Wednesday, 8th March. In addressing House Members, Social Services and Community Development Minister the Hon. Melanie Griffin said that Bahamian women have done a “phenomenal job” as joint partners in building a better, stronger, more modern Bahamas, utilizing their roles in the workplace, sports, the family, culture, education, religion, business, politics and at the community level to help to achieve this.
Environment Minister the Hon. Kenred Dorsett delivered an update on the fire at the New Providence Landfill and the plans of the government going forward to remediate the landfill.
Parliamentarians blasted and assailed RBC’s decision to leave Bimini and Spanish Wells without banking services by closing its branch locations, warning that the impact could be “devastating”.
Greg Moss, the Marco City MP, tabled his own private members’ Bill saying he would not support the Government’s version of the Homeowners Protection Bill, saying: “We can do better than this”.
Official Opposition Leader Butler-Turner described the temporary accommodations provided by the Government at the Kendal G.L. Isaacs Gymnasium for displaced residents in the aftermath of a fire at the New Providence Landfill, as disgraceful. Mrs. Griffin pointed out that these accommodations were standard for temporary shelters and that persons affected were placed in local hotels.
In other news, Butler-Turner responded to speculation over the motive behind her part in ousting FNM Leader Dr. Minnis as opposition leader in the House of Assembly, saying women in this country are always criticized for “wanting more”.
Attorney General refutes BMD claims on Baha Mar.
As the handover date (21st March) and the soft opening date (21st April) of Baha Mar approach, the rhetoric in opposition to Baha Mar is sharpening. On Monday, the Attorney General responded to specific allegations made by Sarkis Izmirlian’s BMD Holdings with respect to the Baha Mar Resort development.
In her response Mrs. Maynard-Gibson said that the allegations were “not only inaccurate and unsubstantiated, but represent a persistent and unpatriotic attempt by the failed project developer to mislead Bahamians, detract from the tremendous accomplishments made by the stakeholders along with Government in turning the project around, and to conceal the fact that BMD failed and then failed to recover from failure.”
“Firstly,” said the statement, “The announcement of a soft opening date in April 2017 for several of the major components of the hotel (the Casino, Casino hotel, Convention Centre and golf course) remains unchanged.”
“Further,” the AG pointed out that “the proceeds of any litigation (against CCA, the general contractor, if successful) would have been payable to CEXIM Bank under its security and not, as BMD suggests, to Bahamian creditors. BMD would be well aware of this.”
In stark contrast to the finite handover and opening dates under the provisional liquidation and winding up proceedings pursued by the Bahamas government, the Attorney General suggested that BMD could not say when Baha Mar would open under their Delaware Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing pursued by Izmirlian’s BMD Holdings Limited; in the absence of an opening date, talk of job losses and tax revenue losses are essentially meaningless argued the Attorney General.
“In circumstances where BMD cannot state when the Baha Mar Resort would have opened (if at all) had the Chapter 11 process continued, its estimates as to the likely job losses and tax revenue losses are meaningless.
The AG said that BMD’s proclamations and protestations of delay fail to reflect the reality on the ground in The Bahamas, which is as follows:
As stated, the Casino, Casino hotel, the Convention Center, the Convention hotel and the golf course will all be open in April 2017.
The Baha Mar Resort is being completed at pace under the direction of Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, a world class hotel and casino operator.
Former Bahamian employees of Baha Mar have received their severance payments in full.
Bahamian creditors have shared in the $100m cash fund that was established in August last year to settle those creditors’ claims. More than 90% of all Bahamian creditors have been paid in full, with the balance having received (or having been entitled to receive) significant compensation in respect of their claims.
Despite being left in a perilous position by the original developer, Hyatt Hotels Corporation confirmed in its press release dated 28 February 2017 that it has renewed its commitment to the resort and has entered into a management agreement with the resort’s new operators ahead of the April 2017 opening.
Baha Mar is currently recruiting Bahamian citizens to fill more than 1500 jobs and it is anticipated that thousands more will be created over the coming months.”
Mobile Passport Unit in action
The Mobile Unit of the Bahamas Passport Office paid a visit to the home of 90-year-old retiree, Mrs. Florene Crawley of Seabreeze Estates on Tuesday, March 7. The unit was dispatched to process Mrs. Crawley’s passport on-site at her home.
The processing of passports by the Passport Office’s Mobile Unit is an expansion of a system that is already in place for Family Island residents who live in remote areas and are unable to come to Nassau for their passports.
The unit, which only operates in special circumstances, is mobilized once certain criteria are met.
Individuals wishing to have the service would have to meet those special requirements.
After three months of training, three persons have been sworn in to become Island Administrators on Monday, the 6th March 2017. The three newly-appointed Administrators are Mr. Earl Campbell, Mrs. Francis Hepburn Symonette and Mrs. Smith Ingraham. The three have worked in various agencies of the government.
Official Opposition members of Parliament yesterday filed a motion in the Court of Appeal to reverse Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder’s previous decision to reject their application to start judicial review proceedings over the Constitutional Commission’s report on constituency boundaries citing several issues where they believe the judge erred in his ruling.
Terreve College in Freeport is claiming its nursing students are being denied access to training at the Rand Memorial Hospital due to the continued delay in the signing of the memorandum of understanding by the Public Hospitals Authority.
A United States report on money laundering and financial crimes has pinpointed an alleged black market for “smuggling cigarettes and guns” coupled with money laundering trends, including the purchase of real estate among other things in The Bahamas.
Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) was named by Airports Council International (ACI) as the second best airport in the Latin American and Caribbean region.
Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard was convicted of contempt of court and fined $50,000 by a judge Tuesday for breach of the Supreme Court’s order concerning illegal dredging near his property in Lyford Cay.
FNM Leader Dr. Minnis Tuesday night said that negotiations for a coalition between the FNM and the DNA failed because DNA Leader Branville McCartney wanted 16 seats uncontested and an agreement for his party to have the final say on the makeup of the Government, including who would be named prime minister.
FNM Leader Dr. Minnis questioned the “waste money” paid to Renew Bahamas, the company previously contracted to manage the New Providence Landfill, insisting that this and other expenditures under the Christie administration will be investigated should the FNM be elected to office.
PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts called on FNM Leader Dr. Minnis to investigate the “apparent waste” of $33.5m earmarked for a solid waste management programme in New Providence.
Three days after a massive fire broke out at the New Providence Landfill, head of Police Fire Service Superintendent Walter Evans said that firefighters have made “some progress in extinguishing the blaze”, and the hazardous smoke that once covered Jubilee Gardens has been “significantly reduced”.
Minister of Agriculture V. Alfred Gray Tuesday said his ministry will await the results of tests ordered on a batch of feed from the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) Feed Mill as he pushed back against “speculation” that recent livestock death were linked to contaminated feed.
As an early Christmas present, BTC launched its mobile television service, Flow To Go. With just eight weeks since its launch, the company is elated about the public’s response.
The first round of physicians who will be signing on as primary care providers under NHI have until the end of this month to do so. While this process closes within weeks, Medical Association of the Bahamas President Dr. Sy Pierre pointed out that NHI officials “have not made clear” the terms of remuneration for physicians.
There has been an improvement in the pace at which the Government is providing assistance to persons negatively affected by Hurricane Matthew, Labor Minister Shane Gibson said this week after criticizing the slow pace with which applications for relief were being processed.
The Bahamas Journal reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it will take action to address the inaccurate U.S State Department’s 2016 Human Rights Report which criticized human rights in The Bahamas.
A judge this week refused to leave to appeal her ruling on Prime Minister Christie’s recusal application that argued that she, while awaiting an approval of her application to extend her tenure as a Supreme Court judge, cannot be perceived to be impartial in hearing an ongoing judicial review into allegations that Lyford Cay resident Peter Nygard illegally increased the size of his property.
Long immigration queues at the Lynden Pindling International Airport on Friday formed after weather conditions in Miami, Florida caused several large flights to land in Nassau in “unusually quick succession”, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration said.
Bahamian government officials “engaged in corrupt practices with impunity” as a result of inadequate enforcement, the US government has alleged. The assertion in the US State Department’s 2016 Human Rights report is not backed up by any hard evidence or specific examples.
The US Department of State has warned its citizens traveling to The Bahamas for spring break against using jet skis, as “jet ski operators continue to commit sexual assaults and other crimes against tourists, including US citizens”.
More than 130,000 people have registered to vote in the next general election, representing approximately 76 percent of the number of voters who registered in the last general election, according to data from the Parliamentary Registration Department.
Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett Wednesday said there is no definite date set for when Jubilee Gardens residents will be able to return to their homes, as he revealed details of the Government’s “comprehensive” plan to tackle the chronic issues at the New Providence Landfill.
DNA Leader Branville McCartney Wednesday denied Dr. Minnis recent claims that the third party wanted 16 uncontested seats and an agreement to have the final say on the makeup of the Government including who would be named prime minister.
Attorney Wayne Munroe, QC, has been recommended by the party’s candidate’s committee as the PLP’s candidate for the newly named Freetown constituency. The successful candidate will be ratified by the party’s National General Council on Monday night, 13th March 2017. It is widely expected that Senator Frank Smith will be nominated from the floor of the council. The PLP has precedent with this. The candidate’s committee recommended realtor Berkley Ferguson as the party’s choice for the Shirlea constituency in the 1977 general elections. Bradley Roberts was nominated from the floor of the council, Mr. Roberts won the nomination by vote and the rest as they say is history. Shadrack Morris died thirty days after the 1982 general elections and Bradley Roberts was ratified as the party’s choice in the Grants Town bye election. He would go on to serve for twenty-five consecutive years in Parliament.
The National Insurance Board and the Public Managers Union signed an industrial agreement that calls for a performance management system with merit-based compensation. The agreement brings to conclusion many months of negotiations between the two parties.
BTC said it expects to restore services to 99 percent of its Grand Bahama customers by month’s end.
DNA Leader Branville McCartney said a writ has been filed in the Supreme Court against Omar Archer Sr. for allegations made against him.
A judge determined this week that there were no reasonable prospects for success of Prime Minister Christie’s appeal to the country’s second highest court concerning a recusal application she rejected which asked for her to step aside in hearing an ongoing judicial review.
The Bahamas Real Estate Association’s (BREA) President confirmed realtors had rejected doubling the permanent residency investment threshold to $1 million, amid indications the Government may press ahead with the increase regardless.
The one-month extension for Freeport businesses to apply for renewal of their expired tax breaks has “taken the heat off”, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce’s President said yesterday, but numerous concerns remain.
Approximately fifty young persons started work at the Grand Bahama Shipyard Limited this week, thanks to a public private sector partnership (PPP) between the Bahamas government and the Grand Bahama Shipyard. They join approximately one hundred and fifty other young Bahamians trained and employed at the shipyard over the past year in addition to forty apprentices who joined recently. With a total of 240 persons employed there, this PPP triples the initial number of apprentices entering the training program at the shipyard.