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THE WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS BY ELCOTT COLEBY

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THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS
COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT G. COLEBY

Baha Mar opens
An investment journey that began in 2004 is nearing the finish line with a red letter day for The Bahamas in the phased opening of Baha Mar on Friday 21st April 2017.

This Cable Beach project, termed the Bahamian Riviera, drew international attention and extensive commentary as it suffered its share of difficulties including a bankruptcy filing on 29th June 2015 but rebounded under new ownership, the CTF Enterprise of Hong Kong, a multi-national conglomerate with assets including high end resort property developments and jewelry merchandizing.

Delivering the keynote address was Prime Minister Christie who restated the three major objectives of his government after Baha Mar’s June 2015 bankruptcy declaration.

“Firstly, ensuring immediate remobilization and resumption of construction, based on committed funding sufficient to complete construction and to open all parts of the Project;

“Secondly, the opening of the Casino, Casino Hotel, Convention Centre, Convention Hotel and Golf Course prior to the end of the 2016-2017 winter season, so that jobs would open up for Bahamians as soon as possible;

“And thirdly, settlement and/or payment of all valid claims of contractors and subcontractors, suppliers and employees and other Baha Mar and CCA creditors.”

The first phase amenities include the opening of the “1800-room hotel and the 200,000 square feet Convention Centre at Baha Mar being operated by the Grand Hyatt, as well as the 95,000 square foot, world class casino, the largest in the region, operated by Sky Warrior, and the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus PGA-rated Golf Course, together with other magnificent amenities” continued Prime Minister Christie.

More than 1,500 Bahamians were hired in the first phase. Baha Mar’s use of local art is extensive and this operation promises to boost airlift into New Providence by some nineteen percent or 315,000 more air passengers than 2015 figures.

“And there is even more to celebrate on the way” said Prime Minister Christie. “The coming months will see the completion and opening of the renowned brands of Rosewood and SLS, a luxurious spa, racquet club, restaurants, entertainment and attractive shops set in 60,000 square feet of retail space.”

Over 120 candidates nominate for the 2017 general elections
The mood was festive with the pulsating sounds of junkanoo and other themed songs as over 120 candidates from major political parties, fringe political parties and independents nominated on Thursday of this week as they vied for 39 electoral seats nationally.

It was a respectful, peaceful and wonderful display of democracy that took place without incident. The Bahamian people must be congratulated.

Nominating at the Centerville Primary School, Prime Minister Christie, the most senior parliamentarian, reflected on his “extraordinary” career as the representative in Parliament for the Centerville constituency, thanking them publicly for their longstanding support.

“Today is a very historic day in that this will be the final time that I nominate for the Centerville constituency. I have had, I think, by any accounts a wonderful, wonderful time as a representative. I have had extraordinary support from the people of Centerville notwithstanding the various changes that took place in the constituency and today I am really expressing my gratitude to the people because I expect that they will continue with my representation.”

NHI enrollment centers announced
The Ministry of Health advises that the public health clinics in New Providence can be selected as primary care providers for NHI enrolment.

Enrolment begins April 24, 2017.

You can register at South Beach Health Centre, Elizabeth Estates Clinic, Flamingo Gardens Clinic, and Fleming Street Clinic.

If you receive care at Coconut Grove, Blue Hill Road, Ann’s Town, or Fox Hill Clinics, register with Fleming Street Clinic.

If you receive care at Adelaide and Gambier Clinics, register with Flamingo Gardens Clinic.

Family Island Clinics patients should contact the clinic administrator for further information.

If you have any questions please contact the NHI Hotline or the Department of Public Health at 502-4831 or 502-4896.

Fitzgerald: “No contract with Baha Mar or any of its affiliates”
On the eve of the Baha Mar opening, a story appeared in the local press suggesting that Education Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald solicited business from Baha Mar.

The Minister released the following statement in response:

“I have no contract with Baha Mar or any of its affiliates, nor do I own any shares in Bahamas Cargo & Logistics, which is a company formed by my father many years ago.

“Nothing in today’s Tribune contradicts that.

“Sarkis Izmiralian and I have communicated on any number of matters over the past 8 years either in person or by email. Prior to my father’s illness he had engaged in discussions with Baha Mar to get some work. After my father’s illness I wrote to Sarkis to follow up on those discussions and seek his assistance. Nothing came of it and that remains the case today.

“When Mr. Izmiralian filed for bankruptcy in a US court, the Bahamian government moved quickly and decisively to bring the matter home to protect the interests of Bahamian employees and contractors.

“Tomorrow is a big day for our country. The opening of Baha Mar is bringing thousands of jobs for Bahamians, will strengthen our economy, and will raise our nation’s profile internationally. I’m very proud of the role the government played in saving the resort from bankruptcy and getting it the hands of a world-class operator with successful properties across the Caribbean and the world.”

Sir Lynden Pindling immortalized at the OAS Hall of Heroes
On Thursday of this week, the Organization of American States (OAS) honoured the Father of our Nation, our national hero, Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling.

In this hall of heroes, the House of the Americas, the legacy of leaders that have most contributed to the political economic and social advancement of our hemisphere is enshrined and celebrated. Sir Lynden has joined that elite group of national heroes and visionaries.

Representing The Bahamas and delivering its response was Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Senator the Hon. Allyson Maynard-Gibson as Prime Minister Christie and Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell were being nominated in New Providence for the upcoming general elections.

“He and our Founding Fathers were convinced of the virtue of fighting for the plight of the working man and against the unjust social and political oppression which for too long held at bay the opportunity for the average Bahamian to achieve his just aspirations. He was called affectionately the Black Moses. He was the trusted Leader who would lead Bahamians to the “Promised Land”. Majority Rule (the most significant historic event since the Emancipation) was obtained on 10 January 1967 and Independence on 10 July 1973. The Commonwealth of The Bahamas became a sovereign nation and her people embraced her citizenship” said Mrs. Maynard in her tribute to the legacy of Sir Lynden.

In Passing…
Transport and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna-Martin could not confirm whether disciplinary action will be taken against those air traffic controllers who engaged in a “sick out” over the Easter holidays as a form of industrial action.

A formal complaint has been filed with police after vandals destroyed and defaced PLP election posters in New Providence and several Family Islands. According to a statement from PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts, he made the complaint to Commissioner of Police Greenslade on Saturday.

The PLP’s campaign promise to cover the cost of electricity to the poorest 15% to 20% of Bahamians was published on the party’s website. Party Chairman Bradley Roberts said that to provide “free” electricity to customers who keep their residential use below certain limits coincides with the party’s core principle of helping those who need it most.

FNM Leader Dr. Minnis dismissed as “baseless, empty rhetoric” the promise by the PLP to give free electricity to certain people based on consumption should it win the next general election.

DNA Leader Branville McCartney slammed the PLP for its “loose peddling of dreams” with regard to its pledge to provide free electricity to certain consumers after the next general election.

The revelation that the PLP administration will provide free electricity for certain customers if the party is re-elected has created a stir, but Prime Minister Christie said that the party’s platform has not yet been formally agreed upon, although platform planks have been made public.

BPL has become the latest organization in the country to acquire electric vehicles for its company fleet. To date, BPL has purchased two 100 percent electric Nissan LEAFS from the local EV distributor, Easy Car Sales.

The PLP Charter 2017 promises to “constantly upgrade healthcare infrastructure” in New Providence and the Family Islands as healthcare evolves in the upcoming phases of NHI. In its plan, which was posted on its website last week, the PLP also pledges to hold a major recruitment exercise to find and retain healthcare providers at all levels.

The NHI Secretariat published a notification that NHI enrollment will begin in April 24th.

To reduce the debt burden on Bahamians, the PLP has pledged it will cap the level of interest that may be charged on loans taken out by government workers and paid through salary reductions if re-elected. While the specifics of the policy were not given, the pledge is contained in the PLP’s action plan posted on its website.

FNM candidate for Centreville Reece Chipman yesterday criticized the appointment of a “known” PLP supporter as the returning election officer for that constituency, claiming that the selection could have a negative impact on the “quality of the election process”.

If elected to office, the PLP plans to establish a “juvenile system and rehabilitation facility” to ensure that juvenile offenders charged with serious crimes are “separated” from adult criminals and other juvenile offenders. As part of its efforts to fight crime, the PLP plans to establish a new probation and parole program so that “in all cases, persons are not incarcerated where there is no need for incarceration”.

FNM Leader Dr. Minnis issued a press release on what he argued to be the “Government’s Failure to Pay Government Employees”.

PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts has accused Dr. Minnis of appearing to condone the “unwarranted and unlawful” industrial action that caused flight cancellations and lengthy delays at the Lynden Pindling International Airport as travelers were trying to get away for the Easter holidays.

V. Alfred Gray, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources has been presented with ‘Agri Vision 2021: A Five Year Food and Nutrition Security Plan to feed The Bahamas’.

Amid concerns about the integrity of the voter register after hundreds of discrepancies were discovered, National Security Minister Dr. Nottage said while he has “many concerns”, the Parliamentary Registration Department is “working to get it right, and we will do our very best”.

The PLP said in its recently released Charter 2017, it will ensure that issues at the New Providence Landfill are remediated by working with a strategic partner and “using scientific methods”.

The DNA issued a press release highlighting that they are “committed to fiscal responsibility”.

FNM Leader Dr. Minnis Tuesday night said his vision for agriculture is “broad” while pledging to “fix” the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) despite speculations from the governing PLP that a FNM led government would close down the agriculture based facility.

More than 174,000 Bahamians have registered for next month’s general election, nearly 2,000 more persons than in 2012, according to the latest numbers from the Parliamentary Registration Department.

BPL has announced the start of its small scale self-generation renewable energy grid tie-in program for residential customers, although per island limits are being imposed on the total amount that can be supplied.

“Certain parts” of the highly anticipated Freedom of Information Act are slated for enactment this week, according to Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald.

The Ministry of Finance announced that it will make direct interim payments to qualified policyholders of CLICO in a series of three tranches this year “to ensure that qualified policyholders receive the full benefits of their policies”.

The DNA has condemned an alleged sexual assault of a woman that was taped and circulated on social media over the weekend with the DNA’s women candidates calling for “immediate action” against the perpetrators and accomplices of the “malicious” attack. The participants were later charged in the courts for lewd public conduct when police investigations revealed that it was not a sexual attack.

The Government has given private sector groups just eight days to submit bids to take over the New Providence landfill’s management and remediation, a deadline that was described as “silly” and “ridiculous”.

The PLP plans to create “thousands” of direct and indirect jobs should it be reelected to government. In its Charter 2017, the party explains that it would create jobs and bring more money into the country’s economy by creating new sectors and further developing the Family Islands.

Bahamas Local reported that the PLP Charter 2017 promises to “constantly upgrade healthcare infrastructure” in New Providence and the Family Islands as healthcare evolves in the upcoming phases of National Health Insurance (NHI) and also pledges to hold a major recruitment exercise to find and train healthcare providers at all levels.

The Bahama Journal reported on Fred Mitchell’s claim that hedge-fund billionaire Louis Bacon is funding FNM Candidates in The Bahamas.

Freeport News reported on the PLP rally where supporters from Grand Bahama joined party candidates in an Easter Monday motorcade rally and Fun Day in West End.

PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts lashed out at his former party colleague Vincent Peet at a rally in North Andros on Wednesday night, accusing the former North Andros and Berry Islands MP of being a “political enemy” who mounted an independent campaign because he was denied a nomination from the governing party.

A recent national survey on the political climate in The Bahamas commissioned by the FNM, shows the FNM has a much higher favorability than the PLP and the DNA, but 32 percent of participants were undecided.

Fire department officials are yet to determine the cause of a Tuesday night fire at the public landfill; Environment Minister Kenred Dorsette suspects it was arson.

Prime Minister Christie Wednesday highlighted the importance of continued development of the Family Islands, namely Andros, while speaking at a groundbreaking for the multimillion dollar Blue Hole Marina Village and Andros Island Fuels in Fresh Creek, Andros.

Among unfinished business left by the PLP government was the plan to capitalize on aragonite mining and its advantages for the Bahamian economy. According to the unfinished House of Assembly agenda, a request to appoint a select committee to “inquire into and review the granting of licenses to mine aragonite”, never made it to the tabling stage.

The long awaited legislation to establish The Bahamas’ first credit bureau will not be tabled until after the general election, possibly by a new administration. Speaking with the Guardian Business, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis assured, however, that the legislation is completed and ready to go.

The private sector aims to tackle The Bahamas’ declining ‘ease of doing business’ rankings “head on” next month when all of this nation’s Chambers of Commerce gather for their annual conclave.

BTC, has formally sponsored the 2017 Bahamas Junkanoo carnival to the tune of $1 million in cash and kind, and took an extra bold step by sponsoring five bands over three years at $800,000.

Government officials commissioned the Marsh Harbour Healthcare Centre in Abaco on Wednesday, touting it as a long awaited boost to the island and the Christie administration’s NHI plans. The facility’s original contractor went bankrupt.

FNM Leader Dr. Minnis Thursday called on Prime Minister Christie to immediately “fire” Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald for allegedly “corruptly” using his position of power. This, Dr. Minnis added, should also be the fate of Attorney General Maynard-Gibson, charging that anything less than an immediate removal makes Prime Minister Christie complicit in this “fraud”.

At a mass rally at Arawak Cay on Thursday night, PLP leader and Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie urged supporters to stand firm and to brace for “nastier” and “dirtier” smear tactics from an increasingly desperate FNM.

Loretta Butler-Turner Thursday officially nominated to run in the 2017 general election as an Independent candidate for Long Island. According to the FNM rules, it means Mrs. Butler-Turner is no longer a member of that party.

PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts questioned whether FNM Leader Dr. Minnis has a sustainable energy reform plan for the country, saying with three weeks until the 2017 general election, the FNM is unable to offer viable alternatives to the “firm and solid” foundation already established by the Government.

If the FNM is elected to office next month, the party plans to implement sweeping changes to the country’s education system, including the increase of police presence on school campuses, CCTV and other technology for monitoring and an increase of teacher compensation packages.

After making a complaint to Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall about the appointment of a “known” PLP supporter as the returning election officer for Centreville, FNM candidate for the area Reece Chipman said the woman in question has been removed.

The termination of American HIV/AIDS relief funding for the country this year will have no impact on local efforts to combat the disease, Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez insisted yesterday.

The Ministry of Social Services and Community Development has expressed “grave concern” about the recent circulation of videos on social media of a man apparently engaged in sexual intercourse with an unconscious woman.

A new sales process has been initiated for the long closed South Ocean resort, Khaalis Rolle, Cabinet Minister describing the property’s revitalization as key to The Bahamas achieving higher GDP growth rates.

All three major political parties held rallies on Friday night. The PLP and the FNM rallied in Grand Bahama while the DNA rallied at Windsor Park in Nassau. The PLP takes its machinery to Exuma on Saturday night for a mass rally.