HIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (27 FEB – 3 MAR 2017)
COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY
This Week in Parliament
The House of Assembly on Wednesday moved the second reading of an amendment to the Trafficking in Persons Prevention and Suppression Act 2008 to bring the legislation in line with the current standards of the United Nations. According to Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell, the change to the act will also ensure that all involved in related offences are punishable by law.
Prime Minister Christie rose to his feet to address the backlash and criticism over the gesture of sticking up his middle finger during a public meeting in Fox Hill on Monday in response to unsubstantiated claims against him. The Prime Minister expressed “regret” for his behavior, saying it is “not what I’m like”.
In other news in and around Parliament, Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett yesterday said the Government is committed to finding a “private sector solution” for the management of the New Providence Landfill as the Government continues to oversee the facility in the interim. He said that his Ministry was reviewing proposals by a Bahamian consortium and other groups in a bid to resolve the New Providence landfill’s environmental and health hazards “in the shortest possible time”.
Further, he said that the creation of the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP) will give teeth to Environmental planning and enforcement nationally.
Michael Halkitis provided another update on the Mortgage Relief Plan, saying that 441 troubled mortgage borrowers had qualified to have their loans restructured by February 2017, with six commercial banks participating in the Government’s Mortgage Relief Plan.
The latest financial audits of the Water and Sewerage Corporation were tabled in the House by Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis. The report revealed that the corporation continues to function with significant operating losses, recently accumulating a deficit of $147 million, according to the latest reports tabled in the House of Assembly on Wednesday. The Corporation’s revenues cover just two-thirds of its operating expenses because its prices have not been increased for 18 years, costing Bahamian taxpayers $159 million over a five year period.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed in the Senate on Thursday with one Senator, Rodney Moncur, voting against it. The bill is on its way to the Governor General for signature.
Foreign Affairs responds to Amnesty Int. Human Rights Report
In its 2016-2017 report on human rights in The Bahamas, Amnesty International has criticized The Bahamas for its “discriminatory” posture towards lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and for the country’s constitutional referendum on gender equality.
The following is in response to media queries to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs initiated by the Jones Communications Network. The responses were released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration on Monday for public information.
Question: In its newly released annual report on the state of human rights around the world, Amnesty International has highlighted, for the first time ever, concerns about infringements upon the right to privacy of citizens in The Bahamas.
Question: The report notes that local human rights groups have expressed fear regarding government surveillance online and made specific reference of the Supreme Court ruling that Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald had breached the constitutional rights to privacy and to freedom of expression of members of the environmental group Save The Bays (STB). Any comments on this development?
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Response:
Both questions refer to the section of the Amnesty report “the Right to Privacy” The Ministry reiterates without qualification there is no threat to privacy in The Bahamas. The reports of any such threat are entirely misplaced. Regarding the Supreme Court ruling in the matter pertaining to the Minister of Education, the ruling is being appealed. It is only then that we can say whether the law is correctly addressed. The position of the Parliament is that no court can injunct the Parliament or MPs in what they can say. That is the point of the case. There is no privacy issue involved. No one’s privacy was breached. We have cautioned these organizations not to uncritically accept information that is passed on to them, without more investigation.
The Parliamentary Privilege matter before the Court is improperly conflated with the state of the right to privacy in The Bahamas. Institutions and agencies of The Bahamas government do not undermine nor offend the conditions of privacy protection in The Bahamas. Bahamian civic society enjoys a tradition of stability, and the integrity and everyday protections of personal privacy are safeguarded by respect for the rule of law and guaranteed by entrenched constitutional rights.
Question: The 2016/2017 report also added a new section on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and highlighted the failed gender equality referendum, noting that, “the result maintained inequality in Bahamian laws so that women and men pass on citizenship to their children and spouses in different ways. The result put at risk the citizenship rights of families, in particular the risk of separation of families with diverse nationalities or children born outside of the Bahamas to Bahamian parents” Is this a major concern?
Question: Does this necessarily paint a negative picture of The Bahamas in the eyes of our international allies?
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Response:
The Ministry reaffirms the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas stands firmly for the equality of women. The Government takes no acts to discriminate against people based on their orientation, race, colour, creed, gender or religion. The Bahamas Government shows that it is an equal opportunity protector of all citizens and residents of this country. In addition, the Government takes all appropriate steps to ensure that its citizens of whatever description are safe. It is unfortunate, even in countries which are strong democracies with good human rights records, when there are public views espoused that are discriminatory. Nevertheless, The Bahamas Government is firmly committed to the protection of all its citizens.
Strachan urges Local Government officials to perform at the “highest level”
“Your role in providing assistance to those in need, especially in times of crisis such as the recent hurricanes which have ravaged our country, is especially important,” said Local Government Minister the Hon. Hope Strachan as she addressed Local Government officials at a one day training seminar on Friday, 3rd March 2017 at the Ministry of Health.
“It is equally important, however, that that service is provided at the highest level — not just ‘okay,’ but ‘outstanding,’” said the Minister.
Minister Strachan told participants that the training seminar provides a platform to motivate people and also highlights the importance of the services officers provide to the public in an ever-changing economic environment.
The seminar included an address by Clinical Psychologist Dr. Wayne Thompson, presentations, financial advice, group exercises and evaluations.
The PLP held a public meeting in Fox Hill on Monday night. In a night which saw sharp comments against political adversaries, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell described attorney Fred Smith as an “ass” for stoking the flames of public fear of the Interception of Communications Bill in a bid to rebound from racial remarks he made in January. Education Minister continued to tout the government’s achievements in education and Prime Minister Christie gave a certain “lunatic” the middle finger for unsubstantiated attacks on him and his family and excoriated the FNM and its leadership as divided, incompetent and unfit to govern.
The rollout of NHI in April forecasted by Prime Minister Christie is doable, provided the NHI Secretariat is able to get primary care service providers to continue to register with the healthcare program, NHI Project Manager Dr. Delon Brennen said Monday.
Attorney General Maynard-Gibson on Monday defended the independence of the judiciary and underscored the resources allocated by the Government for their protection, in the face of allegations that a former Member of Parliament was involved in efforts to intimidate a Supreme Court judge.
The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce’s President says he feels “more comfortable” with Freeport’s new ‘tax breaks’ regime following Friday’s meeting with the Government, although key private sector questions remain unanswered.
The Water and Sewerage Corporation is introducing paperless billing, in a bid to enhance service quality and customer billing. Months after successfully launching its WSCmobile APP for both Apple and Android devices, the Corporation is set to introduce its emailed bill notification system.
URCA aims to “take the Bahamas to the world” as a leader in information and communications technology (ICT), its top executive saying: “We have a very good foundation for ICT in the country”.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) recognizes the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) as a global innovation found nowhere else in the world, according to BAMSI President Godfrey Eneas.
A hotel union warned the Atlantis resort against allegedly seeking to terminate employees who have missed work for medical reasons, charging that it would “fight” the company “tooth and nail” to preserve the jobs of workers at the Paradise Island property.
BTC executives said it had incurred “significant” financial cost as a result of copper theft over the weekend, which resulted in 600 customers having their services affected.
The rollout of NHI in April forecasted by Prime Minister Christie is doable, provided the NHI Secretariat is able to get primary care service providers to continue to register with the healthcare program, said NHI Project Manager Dr. Delon Brennen.
Glenys Hanna-Martin said on Tuesday that the Nassau Airport Development Company’s (NAD) operator will bring “cutting edge” airport management to Abaco’s primary gateway, and ultimately create more opportunities for Bahamians in aviation management.
Exuma’s swimming pigs died from ingesting “sand material”, according to Agriculture Minister V. Alfred Gray.
Prime Minister Christie, along with members of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, celebrated the commissioning of HMBS Kamalamee, the eighth of nine vessels that have been acquired and delivered under the $232 million Sandy Bottom Project.
A study published recently by ResearchGate (a social networking site for scientists and researchers) concluded that The Bahamas’ dive industry is the largest in the world and contributes approximately $113.8 million in revenue annually to the economy in direct and value-added expenditures.
Labour Minister Shane Gibson Tuesday criticized the Ministry of Finance for failing to honor its commitment to pay custom officers money agreed to by the Bahamas Customs and Immigration Allied Workers Union by the end of February. Mr. Gibson also said he is “disappointed” in the “pace” at which the Government is providing assistance to persons negatively affected by Hurricane Matthew.
While the FNM candidate’s launch in North Abaco Tuesday night, party leader Dr. Minnis hit out at the Government and Prime Minister Christie for a proposal about a $2.1 billion China-Bahamas agri-fisheries project in Andros which sparked a major controversy last year.
Minister for Grand Bahama Affairs Dr. Michael Darville said on Tuesday that the economy of Grand Bahama is “rebounding”, despite the closure of two of its major hotels, one of which accounted for the loss of 591 jobs.
The Clearing Banks Association’s (CBA) chairman has conceded there is “room for improvement” in the industry’s relationship with its customers, adding that it needs to show Bahamians that they receive “value for money”.
Chairman of the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) Senator Jerome Gomez said Tuesday that he was “disappointed” with the move by Scotiabank Bahamas Ltd to increase banking fees for a number of its services effective April 1, 2017.
The new co-ed dormitory of the BAMSI is expected to be completed by September, Agriculture Minister V. Alfred Gray said yesterday.
Rosewood announced the opening of its 200 room Baha Mar hotel in the spring 2018, via a press release this week.
Five years after announcing his retirement from frontline politics, former Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette Tuesday revealed his intention to run on the FNM’s ticket for the St. Anne’s constituency, as he insisted that there were “no strings” attached to this decision.
Official Opposition Leader Butler-Turner said Wednesday that more “credible” FNM candidates like Brent Symonette are propping up the “weak” and “indecisive” leadership of Dr. Minnis in an effort to make the party appear to be a better option than the PLP.
In Grand Bahama, Freeport News reported that around 160 persons attended the first Customer Service Training Workshop for the My Grand Bahama Customer Service
Campaign hosted by the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) on Tuesday, February 21 at the Pelican Bay Hotel.
Freeport News reported that The Bahamas was one of the only destinations exclusively featured at the recent Miami International Boat Show, held February 16-20, at the Miami Marine Stadium Park & Basin.
CEO of Doctor’s Hospital Charles Sealey said people will have greater access to healthcare with the $100 million primary care phase under NHI – marking this as one of the reasons why the phase will have more to offer than what is currently available in the healthcare sector.
The FNM launched the candidacy of North Andros and Berry Islands hopeful Carlton Bowleg at a rally in North Andros on Tuesday night.
Ninety young people have been given a new lease on life and start intense training this week with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture’s Fresh Start Program. For the next four months, participants between the ages of 17 to 25 will be engrossed in a training schedule that includes skills training, Bahama Host, interpersonal skills and more.
Bloomberg News reported that the EU is mulling tax sanctions for companies operating in countries that they are considering branding as tax havens, including The Bahamas. According to apparent confidential documents, following a March 1 meeting, EU politicians are considering: withholding taxes; elimination of payment deductions, such as royalties; restrictions via new EU rules for controlled foreign corporations; and the elimination of the participation exemption rule.
Online travel websites Hotel Business, Travel Weekly, Travel Agent Central, and Meetings and Conventions, all reported that Rosewood Hotels & Resorts has officially recommitted to the Baha Mar resort with plans to open in the spring of 2018. Meetings and Conventions and Travel Agent Central both noted that the new 2018 opening date is further back than the previous reporting of an opening date of “by the end of 2017”.
Leader of the Official Opposition Butler-Turner on Thursday immediately announced the appointment of Senator Monique Gomez to the post of leader of opposition business in the upper chamber following the sudden resignation of DNA Leader Branville McCartney. As a parting shot, McCartney accused Butler-Turner of sowing seeds of confusion and lacking vision.
Former Mount Moriah MP and attorney Keod Smith said his detractors have unleashed “the hounds of hell” to assassinate his political and professional career as he rejected allegations that he was involved in efforts to intimidate a sitting Supreme Court judge as “absolute lies”. He also offered an apology and explained that he never intended to impugn the professional reputation of a judge through a series of affidavits he created in support of a recusal application from an ongoing judicial review to which he is a party.
At a public meeting of the Carmichael, Southern Shores and Golden Isles constituencies of the PLP on Thursday night, party leader and Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie turned his political guns at the FNM over the current divisions in the party, calling it “incredibly unreliable” as a choice for government. He characterized the PLP as competent, stable and unified as he reminded supporters of the “mess” the PLP inherited from the FNM in 2012.
FNM Leader Dr. Minnis said on Thursday night that the general election is between two parties – the FNM and the PLP. Minnis, who was speaking at the launch of the campaign of the FNM’s North Eleuthera candidate Rickey Mackey, also told the crowd that a vote for the DNA is a vote for the PLP. He also promised to pave roads, repair public buildings and construct a government administrative building.
Attorney General Maynard-Gibson condemned a photo of the Nazi symbol printed in The Punch with the words “kill the spy bill” written on it, as the Government continues to shoot down heavy criticisms over the Interception of Communications Bill. The bill has been the victim and subject of a barrage of misinformation, disinformation and fake news. The charge that the bill infringes on the privacy rights of ordinary law abiding citizens are baseless, without merit and cannot be supported in settled law.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis told the vendors that they have come a long way and applauded them for their efforts at a prayer breakfast on Thursday at the Crab House.
President of the Republic of Guyana David A. Granger arrived in Nassau on Thursday for an official state visit. His itinerary included a visit to the Hugh Campbell Primary School in Grand Bahama and a state dinner in his honour at government house.
James Smith, a former finance minister, on Thursday called for the Government to “push back more” on repeated US demands that The Bahamas implement a ‘public registry’ disclosing the owners of every corporate entity registered in this nation.
The Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) in its response to the new investment incentive act that ties tax breaks and incentives to business performance, indicated that it was negotiating with the Government to ensure the ‘tax breaks’ extended to port licensees were renewed on the same terms as before.
BAMSI is expected to take over management of the Gladstone Road Agricultural Centre “sometime this month”, government officials confirmed Thursday, with the facility to take on a new structure, function and developmental model.
RBC (Bahamas) announced Thursday that it would be merging four of its branches with four others as the commercial bank seeks to digitize many of its services. RBC, however, did not disclose how many employees would be impacted by this move. Residents of Bimini and Spanish Wells were in an “uproar” over the decision.
Atlanta-based tour operator Vacation Express said Thursday that it is “disappointed” to leave Grand Bahama, as it is the largest supplier of room nights on the island. It confirmed that its withdrawal was due to “insufficient” room availability triggered by the closure of the Memories Grand Bahama Resort.