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THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS….CONTINUED

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image003BAHAMAS GOVERNMENT RESPONDS TO STANDARD AND POOR’S DOWNGRADE

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On Tuesday of this week, Standard and Poor’s cut the sovereign credit rating of The Bahamas from BBB+/A-2 to BBB-/A-3, citing “depressed (economic) growth” and the ongoing Baha Mar dispute as the principal reasons. In its assessment, the credit agency predicted economic growth of less than one percent over the next several years and a greater than 33% chance of another downgrade over the next six to twenty-four months. The country’s bonds maintained investment grade status though.

In its response, the Bahamas government said that while S&P’s decision was not unexpected given the recent placement of The Bahamas on ‘credit watch,’ it did not “adequately reflect the improved economic and fiscal outlook for the Bahamian economy.”

“It is Baha Mar along with other projects throughout The Bahamas that will make healthy contributions to the economy over the medium-term,” said the government in a statement. Further, the government maintained that the achievements of its recent fiscal reform measures “are forecasted to cause a reduction in the debt burden in the near term.

“The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its most recent Article IV Consultation Report has noted that progress with reforms has outperformed its own expectations,” noted the statement.

Additionally, the statement pointed out that the success of the Government’s fiscal strategy is reflected in its ability to raise funds on more favorable terms both internationally and domestically; the May jobs survey showed a two percent reduction in the unemployment rate; and that “a strategic framework is being put in place, in partnership with Power Secure, to tackle the high cost of electricity and progress is imminent on initiatives to improve domestic credit conditions and boost confidence in the residential mortgages market.”

The statement concluded that The Bahamas continues to make progress on the fiscal front and that the Bahamas Government, “while being patient, will redouble its efforts to sustain improvements in this area, and advance reforms to bolster private sector confidence over the medium-term.”


NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTER: PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT COMING


Delivering a comprehensive and sobering national address on the state of crime in The Bahamas in all of its complexities and manifestations was National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage. The address was aired on Thursday evening on ZNS TV-13.

The Minister did not mince words. In addition to announcing the $20 million IDB funded anti-crime initiative and the $20 million national student tracking system, the at-risk youth jobs training and placement initiatives, the Minister foreshadowed legislation aimed at enforcing more parental discipline and responsibility regarding the behavior of their minor children. The Parental Responsibility Bill is currently in draft form and is expected to be brought to Parliament after wide consultation.

This is the latest in a series of “multi-tiered” and “intelligence-based” anti-crime initiatives implemented by the government to arrest this social menace. These initiatives include an anti-gang unit at the RBPF, a marine and canine unit at the Customs Department; more human and material resources and training for the uniformed branch and greater collaboration with US authorities in dismantling criminal enterprises involved in the trafficking of small arms, drugs and human cargo.

As a significant number of murderers and their victims are persons out on bail for serious offenses and therefore targets for retaliation, the issue of bail is critical to arresting the level of murder which currently stands at almost 25% above 2014, noted Dr. Nottage.

“Constitutionally, that power is only vested in the judiciary,” said Nottage, but applauded the efforts of the Attorney General’s Office in having ten criminal courts operating simultaneously to address case backlogs while administering justice swiftly.


WILCHCOMBE FAVOURS MORE DIALOGUE ON BAHA MAR


“I think we need a breakthrough. I think the breakthrough can come I think if we can put the minds of all concerned together and (if) we’re able to cause for a discussion – discussion based on what I believe is a committed level of determination to get the project completed and get the resort open.”

These were the words Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe as he weighed in on the legal dispute involving Baha Mar earlier this week.

Hinting that the developer has never directly participated in any of the mediated discussions, Wilchcombe believes that if all parties concerned are determined to resolve the impasse, a deal could be concluded and in his view is the preferred avenue as the route of the current legal battle can only cause further delay.

“If all the partners say they wish to do so then let’s get together and let’s talk and leave the legal wrangling or the legal discussion that’s taking place – that is now in our courts and the courts in the United States of American can only cause further delay.”

Even though the government has attempted mediated discussions before on several occasions, mediated talks must continue said the Tourism Minister because in the world of politics – policy makers are about making the impossible possible through determination and commitment. It is never over until it’s over.

“That’s why you need a mediator,” said Wilchcombe. (The) thing is, you can sit and talk and the fact is it is never over until it is over – until as they say the fat lady sings. Well she hasn’t raised her voice yet so it’s not over – you can in fact sit and talk. Nothing is over until it’s over and in the world that we operate in – politics – it’s the art of possibilities. We make it happen and we can turn the impossibility into the possible but it just requires someone sitting down, mediating, players being committed and demanding that we arrive at a conclusion.”

Wilchcombe said the country should avoid the pullout of brands such as Rosewood because it causes negative discussions to take place in the marketplace, making it difficult to attract premium brands to The Bahamas in the future. A brand pulling out is more dangerous than if there was no brand in the first place said Wilchcombe.

All in all Wilchcombe is confident that The Bahamas brand remains strong in the marketplace and does not want anything to interfere with that.


ATLANTA MAYOR HE KASIM REED VISITS THE BAHAMAS


Second-term Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed was in town this week on an official state visit. In a detailed program, the mayor met with civil society and high level government officials including courtesy calls on the Governor General and Prime Minister; discussions with the top brass of the Royal Bahamas Police and an address to the faculty and students of the College of The Bahamas. A wide range of national issues from crime fighting, youth development to the economy were discussed.

On Wednesday morning, Mayor Reed and his delegation attended a meeting hosted by the Hon. Bernard Nottage, Minister of National Security. Also in attendance were the Hon. Frederick Mitchell, Cabinet Ministers, Police Commissioner Mr. Ellison Greenslade and Senior Officers of the Royal Bahamas Police Force. Mayor Reed was credited with implementing a strategic plan that led to a measureable reduction in crime in the Atlanta.

He also met with business leaders of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation and the president and members of the Bahamas Christian Council at the Cousin McPhee AME Cathedral on Carmichael Road before delivering a major presentation to the college community on youth development. In his presentation, he urged the youth gathered to take advantage of educational opportunities as they prepare for their future; to fall in love with hard work or what he called “the grind” and to always do the right thing by standing up for the greater good – the majority of people, even when policy decisions are made behind closed doors and out of media glare and public scrutiny. The youthful crowd thoroughly enjoyed his presentation.

That forum on youth development was held on Wednesday at the Harry C. Moore Library and Information Center of the College of The Bahamas.

In a lighter moment, the mayor took in a basketball game on Freedom Park in the historic community of Fox Hill.

On Thursday he and his delegation paid a Courtesy Call on the Prime Minister Christie, accompanied by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration and Consul General to Atlanta, Georgia HE Randy Rolle before heading to the LPIA for his return trip to Atlanta.

MITCHELL HITS OUT AT GBHRA

Taking exception to comments by Joseph Darville of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) that he was on “a silly witch hunt” and using strong immigration policies to “deflect attention from all the failure of his government over the past three years..,” Immigration Minister Mitchell shot back, accusing Darville and his association of being “lost in space” and of “acting as cover for people who would destroy this country through illegal immigration.”

He also accused the GBHRA of defaming immigration officers by characterizing the Carmichael Road Detention Center as the Nazi death camp “Auschwitz,” of threatening to bankrupt The Bahamas and of national disloyalty.

Mitchell reiterated that as Minister, he is sworn to protect the borders of the country and its national security, a job he executes “without fear or favour.”

“Until the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association can decide where its loyalties lie and start speaking truthful commentary, they remain an organization which lacks creditability,” said Mitchell.

 

GIBSON AND MILLER MEDAL AT 15th IAAF CHAMPIONSHIPS

Our up and coming male track star, Grand Bahama’s Jeffery Gibson, is now an international star and an elite athlete after winning the bronze medal in the men’s 400 meters intermediate hurdles at the 15th IAAF Track and Field championships at the “Bird’s Nest” in Beijing, China on Tuesday evening, 25th August 2015. This feat came on the heels of his gold medal performance at the Pan Am games earlier this year and represented the first medal for The Bahamas in the games. With his time of 48.17 seconds, Gibson set a new national record.

The Bahamas’ top female track and field star, Shaune Miller, set a new national record of 50.12 seconds as she cruised into the finals also on Tuesday, 25th August. That time represented her second fastest time ever and the third fastest qualifying time where the stage was set for a showdown with American Allyson Felix in the finals on Thursday.

The young star did not disappoint her legion of Bahamian countrymen and growing international fan base when she captured the silver in a time of 49.67 seconds, setting yet another national record. Congratulations Shaune and Jeffery.

In a heart breaker though, our men’s 4×400 meter team was disqualified for a lane violation in the qualifying heat on Friday night. The Bahamas finished second in their heat.


The 15th IAAF Track and Field Championship end on Saturday, 29th August, climaxing with the women’s and men’s relays.


GOVERNMENT RELEASES FUEL PROCUREMENT POLICY


With the approach of TS Erika, the Ministry of Finance issued a statement on the government’s fuel procurement policy during this storm.

“The Ministry of Finance advises that in light of the approaching Tropical Storm Erika, added flexibility is being extended in the Family Islands to allow Government owned vehicles to obtain fuel on credit from service stations that are in close proximity to the offices or residences where the officers are stationed.

“Public officers should ensure that all invoices record the license plate number of the Government vehicle, the authorized driver and the tax identification number or TIN of the fuel supplier.

“All invoices must be forwarded to the Ministry of Finance for payment, either through the Family Island Administrator’s office or through the finance office of the respective Ministries and Department in Nassau.

“This convenience is for providers of essential services including, police, customs and immigration officers, doctors, nurses and other similar employees.”


PRESCRIPTION DRUG PLAN RELEASES HURRICANE READINESS GUIDELINES FOR MEMBERS


As TS Erika approaches The Bahamas, the National Prescription Drug Plan of NIB released specific guidelines for its members on early prescription refills.

“The National Prescription Drug Plan wishes to advise its members that should a Hurricane Watch or Warning be issued, NIB will allow early prescription refills.

“If you have less than a two week supply of medication, please present your ACE Prescription Card to any participating pharmacy to obtain a refill.

“For more information, contact the National Prescription Drug Plan at 356-2032 or toll-free at (242) 300-0001 and after hours at 502-1504.”


BAHAMASAIR RELEASES AMENDED SCHEDULE IN THE WAKE OF TS ERIKA


On Wednesday of this week, Bahamasair released an amended flight schedule for the weekend (29 – 30 Aug) until further notice:

“Bahamasair (August 26, 2015) wishes to advise the travelling public that due to the impending arrival of Tropical Storm Erika, our schedule will be adjusted as follows:

“On Saturday, August 29, all flights to Long Island, Acklins and Crooked Island will be cancelled.

“On Sunday, August 30, all fights to Long Island, San Salvador, Exuma and Providenciales (Turks and Caicos Islands) will be cancelled.

“Persons travelling to or from the affected islands may cancel or change their itineraries for an earlier or later departure without a penalty being applied. All other flights will operate as usual until further notice.

“Further advisories will be issued as new information about the storm becomes available.”

 

COB RELEASES AMENDED OPERATING SCHEDULE IN THE WAKE OF TS ERIKA

In the wake of TS Erika, the College of The Bahamas released an emended schedule of operations as follows:


OAKES FIELD AND GROSVENOR CLOSE CAMPUSES


The College of The Bahamas Oakes Field and Grosvenor Close Campuses, the Harry C. Moore Library and Chapter One bookstore will all close at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, 28th August until further notice. All essential service staff members in the Security Department, Office of Information Technology and Physical Plant Department are to report to work on Monday, 31st August.


NORTHERN BAHAMAS CAMPUS


The Northern Bahamas Campus in East Grand Bahama will close effective Saturday, August 29th at 12 noon until further notice.”


RESUMPTION OF OPERATIONS


Following the passage of Erika, the issuance of the “all clear” signal by National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), and an assessment of the college facilities, notice will be issued regarding the resumption of operations and classes at the respective campuses.

College faculty, staff and students are advised to monitor all official COB communication channels (website – www.cob.edu.bs, emails and social media channels) and the media for updates on the operations at The College.


WORKERS AT WATER CORPORATION INK NEW LABOUR AGREEMENT


The management of the Bahamas Water and Sewerage Corporation (W&SC) signed a new industrial agreement with the Bahamas Utilities Services and Allied Workers Union (BUSAWU) on Friday morning at the corporation’s headquarters on Thompson Boulevard.

The five-year agreement benefits 350 and the 453 corporation employees.

Highlights of the new contract include a salary review, merit pay system, hazard pay, and a statute of limitation on minor breaches. The new salary and emoluments package includes the following:

1.A $2,400 lump sum payment will be due at contract signing.
2.A review of salary scales effective January 2016.
3.An automatic increment will be due in July 2016.
4.2016 and 2017 Christmas bonuses will be $700 plus four (4) days pay.
5.Increments changed from anniversary date to January 2017.
6.A lump sum payment of one increment will be payable in March 2017.

Union president Dwayne Woods represented the union and Chairman of Water and Sewerage Corporation Bishop Lester Cox led the team from the Corporation.

BAHAMAS MAY BE SPARED WRATH OR ERIKA

Alert #17 issued at 8pm on Friday reported a coordinate and trajectory of TS Erika suggesting that on this current path, much of The Bahamas could be spared the wrath of this dangerous storm. Following is an excerpt from the National Meteorological Office.

“AT 8:00 PM EDT, THE CENTER OF TROPICAL STORM ERIKA WAS LOCATED NEAR LATITUDE 18.3 DEGREES NORTH AND LONGITUDE 72.0 DEGREES WEST OR ABOUT 25 MILES SOUTHEAST OF PORT AU PRINCE HAITI, 196 MILES SOUTH OF GRAND TURK, 210 MILES SOUTHEAST OF GREAT INAGUA, 338 MILES SOUTH-SOUTHEAST OF DEADMAN’S CAY, LONG ISLAND AND 510 MILES SOUTH-SOUTHEAST OF NEW PROVIDENCE.

“ERIKA IS MOVING TOWARD THE WEST NEAR 21 MILES PER HOUR. A TURN TOWARDS THE WEST-NORTHWEST OR NORTHWEST IS EXPECTED TONIGHT, AND TOMORROW WITH A DECREASE IN FORWARD SPEED THROUGH SUNDAY. ON THIS FORECAST TRACK, THE CENTER OF ERIKA WILL MOVE OVER WESTERN HAITI AND THE GULF OF GONAVE EARLY SATURDAY, AND WILL BE NEAR THE EXTREME EASTERN CUBA OR THE SOUTHEASTERN BAHAMAS ON SATURDAY NIGHT.”

To God then be the glory, great things He has done.
IN PASSING…

State Minister of Legal Affairs, the Hon. Damian Gomez, told the media this week that he is in a bid to have two seats vacated on the basis of conflict of interest. The seats are Killarney, held by opposition leader Dr. Hubert Minnis and Long Island, held by Loretta Butler-Turner. Both have been accused of having financial interests in companies that have government contracts, but failing to declare those interests in violation of the Public Disclosure Act.

Well it is now official. The PLP announced on Monday that it will host its national general convention during the first week in November 2015. The convention chairman is Labour Minister Hon. D. Shane Gibson and as usual, all positions become available for contest.

The Ministry of Education advised on Thursday of this week that due to the potential threat of Tropical Storm Erika in addition to ongoing school repairs, public schools will now open on Monday, 7th September instead of 31st August 2015. Public school administrators, teachers and custodial staff will report on Wednesday, 2nd September; orientation for 7th and 10th graders will take place on Thursday, 3rd September and 8th and 11th graders will have theirs on Friday, 4th September. All preschool, primary, junior and senior high school students will report to school on Monday, 7th September. This year school repairs are estimated to cost the government $7.6 million.

Against the backdrop of a 2012 decision by the European Union to provide $2miilion in funding for a multi-year project for CARIFORUM countries to strengthen their civil society involvement in regional policy matters, the National Bipartite Workshop on regional development became a reality. The workshop was held at the BCPOU Hall this week and delivering the keynote address at the opening ceremony on Wednesday was acting Labour Minister, Senator Keith Bell.

Wednesday, 26th August marked the 15th anniversary of the death of the father of the nation Sir Lynden Pindling. To mark this occasion his widow and current Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling laid a wreath at his mausoleum. She was accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell.

The Chamber of Commerce and the Employers’ Confederation are urging business owners to take all reasonable and necessary precautions to secure their properties and the safety of staff and customers and to be compassionate, resisting any temptation to price gouge customers.

Captain Randy Butler of Sky Bahamas has advised that all flights are on schedule as normal and decisions on flight cancellations will not be made until Saturday when the weather will be assessed and flights to the southeastern Bahamas could be cancelled at that time.

The Ministry of Tourism has advised that the final night of the four week Goombay festival series, scheduled for Friday, has been cancelled due to TS Erika. Noted local entertainers D-Mack and Veronica Bishop were scheduled to perform. The festival in Eleuthera has also been cancelled. The Ministry will announce the new dates at its earliest convenience.