THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (20 – 24 MARCH 2017)
COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY
This Week in Parliament
The Bahamas Parliament met on Wednesday of this week and the highlight of the sitting was a presentation by Prime Minister Christie on the handover and status of Baha Mar.
The Prime Minister told Parliamentarians that the handover will ensure adequate preparations for the smooth opening next month on April 21st of the following components of this world class resort:
The new 1,800 room Grand Hyatt combining both the Convention and Casino Hotels.
The new 200,000 square foot Convention Centre, one of the largest such facilities in the Region, to be operated by Hyatt.
The new 95,000 square foot casino, the largest casino in the region
The new 18 hole Jack Nicklaus Golf Course.
The new luxurious spa, racquet club, enticing restaurants, and entertainment, attractive branded shops set in 60,000 square feet of retail space, and other amenities.
The Prime Minister also noted that the new Purchaser, the Chow Tai Fook Enterprise of Hong Kong, has significantly increased their capital, marketing and pre-opening investment from $200 million to $250 million.
“Over one thousand (1,000) Bahamians have already been hired at Baha Mar and fifteen hundred (1,500) employees will be hired by the April 21st opening” said Mr. Christie. “Baha Mar, like Atlantis will then open in phases – with more job opportunities at every phase. No one knows better than I do how these jobs will change lives – these new opportunities are going to bring meaningful change for a lot of Bahamian families. That is why we have worked so hard to make sure Baha Mar was delivered to successful and safe hands.”
Prime Minister Christie tabled a resolution for the acquisition of more than 460 acres of land in Moore’s Island, Abaco. The resolution approves the conveyance of the land.
The Prime Minister also pledged to keep all promises he has made with respect to Parliament, including the full reporting on VAT revenue and suggested this would be done before Parliament dissolves.
Minister D. Shane Gibson told the House that debate on amendments to the Employment Act and the Industrial Relations Act were deferred until Monday, 27th March 2017 to allow union members and employers an opportunity to make recommendations for additional changes to the bills.
In other Parliamentary news, the Senate also met on Wednesday and completed the first reading of TIPS, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Homeowners Bills.
Prime Minister Christie highlights critical issues at UB lecture
Prime Minister Christie delivered a lecture at the University of The Bahamas (UB) on Wednesday night as part of the UB’s presidential lecture series. He addressed issues of our national development and our work with CARICOM.
The Prime Minister highlighted the ways in which regional cooperation can be so important on critical issues like shutting down illegal immigration, sharing data to increase our security, and standing together on climate change.
In light of proposed budget cuts by the US affecting environmental research programs and the Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Christie told students that small island nations around the world threatened by these policy changes must work together.
Making the point about the threat of climate change, the Prime Minister noted that the devastation of two major hurricanes, Joaquin and Matthew, threw the country’s budget off course by 400 million dollars.
So our voices must be heard internationally said the Prime Minister – we must be able to stand with others and have an impact on the global stage.
Prime Minister Christie has addressed the United Nations; met with the President and the Vice President of the United States and the Premier and President of China; served as Chair of CARICOM; negotiated the Paris Accord; met with the Pope and remains a staunch advocate on climate change and accessing international funding at concessionary rates for national development.
Bahamas Government inks landmark airspace agreement with the FAA
In a milestone moment for the country, The Bahamas Government entered into an unprecedented agreement with the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to regain control of Bahamian airspace.
Prime Minister Christie and Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin began intensive negotiations with the US government starting in 2014. Because of their skill and tenacity, and their decision to prioritize the negotiations, The Bahamas will begin collecting overflight fees from transiting aircraft. Another aspect of the agreement includes technical assistance and training for Bahamians, as The Bahamas seeks to further develop its air traffic management capacity and enhance the aviation sector.
As part of the agreement, all Bahamian aircraft operators will be exempt from paying overflight fees to the FAA on flights which take off and land in British Commonwealth nation. This exemption will translate into significant savings for local aircraft operators as in the last three years alone, Bahamasair has paid overflight fees in excess of $1 million per annum.
The government believes this is a significant victory for The Bahamas — it will increase national revenues, benefit Bahamians who own airlines, benefit Bahamasair, and create an entirely new area of opportunities and jobs for Bahamians.
196 young Bahamians graduate during the NTA’s 16th cohort
The National Training Agency, established on the 15th July 2013, held graduation ceremonies of its 7th New Providence cohort on Thursday of this week. Delivering the keynote address was Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie. Mr. Christie was quick to recount the success of the NTA, listing the number of Bahamians trained to date and the corporate partners involved.
Mr. Christie pointed out that the 2,300 trainees in New Providence received certified soft skills training “from internationally renowned qualifications providers such as the City and Guilds Group, the International Institute of Health Care Professionals, Inc. (U.S.A) and the London Guild of Professional Butlers.”
“In Grand Bahama” continued Mr. Christie, “five (5) cohorts have been trained, approximating four hundred and seventy (470) trainees and in Exuma and Eleuthera three (3) cohorts approximating one hundred and twenty six (126) and one (1) cohort of 36, respectively. All of these trainees receive soft skills training and on the job internships at participating organizations and businesses.”
This brings the total number of cohorts to date to 16.
Additionally, the NTA provided soft skills training for “an additional twelve hundred and sixty (1260) Bahamians preparing them for the government / International Development Bank sponsored Job Empowerment Apprenticeship Program and the Citizens Security and Justice (at risk) youth apprenticeship programs.” The PM said the Agency also provided job retooling skills for over five hundred and sixty (560) persons for possible employment with Baha Mar.
Also on hand to support the event was Labour, National Insurance and Public Service Minister the Hon. D. Shane Gibson.
Nation’s Chief Addresses “Crowdfunding” Seminar
Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie addressed a seminar sponsored by the Securities Commission of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC) on “Crowdfunding & SME: A New Way to Fund Your Business” at the British Colonial Hilton on Thursday, 23rd March.
The seminar aimed to further assist entrepreneurs of small and medium business enterprises as the Securities Commission completes the regulatory guidelines governing this online investment vehicle.
Among those in attendance were Minister of Financial Services and Local Government the Hon. Hope Strachan, Executive Director of the Securities Commission of The Bahamas Christina Rolle, Chairman of BCCEC Gowan Bowe, CEO of BCCEC Edison Sumner and Deputy Manager, Policy and Compliance, Securities Commission Christian Adderley.
South Beach and Flamingo Health Clinics to be refurbished
Pursuant to the government’s continued preparation for the rollout of National Health Insurance (NHI), Grand Bahama Affairs Minister Dr. Michael Darville executed two contracts on Tuesday of this week for the refurbishment of the South Beach and Flamingo Gardens Health Clinics. Joining the Minister was the Managing Director of the Public Hospital Authority (PHA), Mr. Herbert Brown
“These renovation works will entail several phases” said Dr. Darville. “The first phase encompasses repairs to the roofs at both South Beach and Famingo Gardens. Exam rooms, bathrooms and the interior of both clinics will be upgraded to meet modern standards. Lighting damaged by Hurricane Matthew will be restored and exterior walls and boundary walls will be repaired and refurbished for both clinics. At the South Beach Health Centre, the ambulance driveway will also be completely refurbished.”
The contract for the South Beach health Centre is valued at $500,000 and was awarded to I.G. Builders Construction Company. The Flamingo Gardens Clinic is valued at $300,000 and was awarded to Ralph Hanna II, Construction Company.
The contracts were signed during a short ceremony at the South Beach Health Clinic and followed the execution of contracts valued at approximately $1.8 million for the renovation of community clinics in Spanish Wells ($293,000), Harbour Island ($325,000), Acklins, Crooked Island, Inagua and Mayaguana earlier this month.
BAMSI signs contract for locally produced animal feed
Executives of the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) on Monday of this week signed a contract with Androsian entrepreneur Cerone Dean to provide the Institute with animal feed produced using specialized techniques.
The technology used by Mr. Dean involves the production of highly nutritious fodder in a protected agricultural environment – which is an important element in overcoming the challenge of feed shortage during times such as the dry season when pasture growth is constrained.
“Feed is critical to livestock production, however in the Bahamas feed represents a major constraint to livestock development,” said Dr. Jason Sands, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Gladstone Road Agricultural Center (GRAC).
Feed is traditionally grown in open pastures which are susceptible to environmental challenges, Dr. Sands said. Conditions, such as low levels of rain, may result in an insufficient and nutrient deficient feed supply. As a result of these difficulties, BAMSI fully supports Mr. Dean, whose methods promise a consistent supply of feed which can be used as a supplement to feed produced at the BAMSI demonstration farm.
BAMSI veterinarian Dr. Keith Cox described Mr. Dean’s product as very exciting, adding it presented his team with the opportunity to fulfill their goal of demonstrating the productive capabilities of livestock operations in the Bahamas under conditions where nutrition is not a constraint.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
Attention all Omni Bus Franchise holders, owners/operators and drivers. In preparation for the launch of the Pilot Bus Project in April, 2017, the Public Transport Representatives group will be holding interviews for prospective bus drivers at the Western Grandstand of the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium on Monday March 27th through 31st between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm.
All interested persons or their representatives are invited to apply for the bus driver positions, and are asked to bring a Valid Driver’s License, Public Service Driver’s License, NIB Card, and a Passport or Voter’s Card to the interview. All holders of valid Public Service Licenses are eligible to apply for the driver positions. The Pilot project will run for a period of six months.
On Monday of this week, Education Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald and Grand Bahama Affairs Minister Darville toured the construction site of the new $11.5 million Holmes Rock Junior High School (HRJHS) and expressed pleasure with the rapid pace and quality of work executed during the first phase of development.
Former Prime Minister Ingraham Monday criticized the Government’s lack of transparency over the economy this term. Deputy Prime Minister responded by attacking the former Prime Minister over claims by Dr. Minnis that he left the country’s economy in a wheelchair and was in no position to lecture anybody on public finances or managing the economy.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis at a public meeting in South Beach on Monday night cautioned voters to be wary of voting for the FNM, claiming that former Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette’s return to frontline politics is proof that the party is representing the interests of the “Bay Street Boys” as opposed to “ordinary people.”
With We March Bahamas now finalizing plans for its third protest march, one that will see the group make stops at his home and office, Prime Minister Christie has warned that the organization’s “poor judgment” could “ignite something that they least expect to happen”. March organizer Ranard Rigby later denied this.
If re-elected, Prime Minister Christie on Monday vowed that his administration will legislate its current model of public-private partnerships to ensure “maximum protection” for investors seeking to aid the Government in future projects.
Claims by the FNM that the Government is using “tax payer money” to fund its 2017 electoral campaign were Monday blasted as “fake news” by both Prime Minister Christie and Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis.
The Privy Council on Monday paved the way for a battle over assets allegedly belonging to convicted drug trafficker, Samuel ‘Ninety’ Knowles, after it ruled that the US government’s $13.9m confiscation order against him can be registered in The Bahamas.
Bahamas Carnival Band Owners Association President Dario Tirelli on Monday blasted We March Bahamas organizers for calling for Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival to be postponed less than six weeks before bands hit the streets.
The fire at the city dump is about 90 to 95 percent extinguished, Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller said Tuesday, adding that 95 percent of Jubilee Gardens residents are back in their homes.
Education Minister and Marathon MP the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald told the media on Tuesday that when Baha Mar opens on April 21, FNM Leader Dr. Minnis must resign because of his continued negative pronouncements – in particular Minnis’ prediction that the West Bay Street project would not open.
CEO of BTC Leon Williams revealed Tuesday that third-party insurance claims for damage incurred following the passage of Hurricane Matthew have yet to be received; the company is approaching about $42 million in total damage from the Category 4 storm. He also said that with mobile number portability expected to launch on April 25, despite being delayed by nearly two months, the company “will try its hardest” to make the date.
BTC has announced that following a recent customer survey, it will be unveiling an upgraded suite of mobile offers.
The Government on Tuesday extended the deadline for an oil exploration company to drill its first Bahamas test well by 12 months to April 2018, giving it extra time to comply with its new regulatory regime.
Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis defended the Government’s decision to enter into several deals “with the Chinese government”, explaining that The Bahamas, like many countries, is just “taking advantage of opportunities” created by Chinese investment.
V. Alfred Gray Tuesday said he was “not really” concerned about continuing opposition to the new Fly Fishing regulatory regime, arguing that this nation “will be better” off because of the new regulatory regime.
According to the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, The Bahamas is still a “jurisdiction of concern,” singling out money laundering as a continuing concern.
The FNM called the transfer of Baha Mar to Hong Kong CTFE Ltd on Tuesday a “great public relations exercise” with no “real significance”. In a press statement, FNM Leader Dr. Minnis questioned how the PLP could “turn over a set of keys to a property they claim they don’t own.” Prime Minister Christie shot back, questioning Minnis’ understanding of the developments at the resort and invited him to visit Baha Mar to see for himself.
North Abaco MP Renardo Curry Wednesday said his low attendance record at House of Assembly proceedings to date was due to him being “challenged” by the conflicting nature of his jobs as both MP and parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister in Abaco. He was criticized in the media for his attendance record.
At least six families are displaced after a fire devastated a shanty town Tuesday night. Fire Chief Superintendent Walter Evans said police did not have an official count at the scene of how many people had lost their homes in the blaze but up to press time, four homes had burned to the ground.
National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage expressed “regret” Wednesday over the “traumatizing” armed robbery of several Parliamentary Registration Department officials who were wrapping up voter registration activities at the St. Barnabas Church Activity Center on Tuesday night. He also said that in a matter of “weeks, if not days” the House of Assembly is likely to dissolve, implying that an election date is soon to be announced.
The Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) is getting set to release its Agribusiness 2021 plan, which its president on Wednesday pledged will put Bahamians “on a path to sustainability.”
Several local pastors have petitioned United States President Donald Trump to revoke any US executive orders and policies that enable the promotion of same-sex marriages in the Caribbean region as part of its foreign policy.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette indicated that he has no intent in usurping FNM Leader Dr. Minnis if the party is victorious at the polls in the upcoming election.
A simulator which will allow RBDF personnel to train for difficult and dangerous real life situations will be the latest equipment to be delivered as part of the force’s $232m Sandy Bottom Project.
In recent weeks, the PLP has repeatedly said FNM Leader Dr. Minnis would be a poor representative for The Bahamas on the world stage. Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis repeated his claim in a statement released to the media.
Despite regional conglomerate GraceKennedy saying that its Brazilian corned beef suppliers are not under investigation, Minister of Agriculture V. Alfred Gray said the precautionary ban issued by the Bahamian government on meat products from Brazil still stands until more information is directly acquired from the Brazilian government on the matter.
The Parliamentary Commissioner’s Office revealed that as of 21st March 2017, over 142,000 Bahamians had registered to vote in the upcoming general elections.
The FNM held a rally in Winton on Thursday night and the PLP held an all Eleuthera joint meeting at the P.A. Gibson Primary School in Hatchet Bay on Friday evening. In speech after speech the political rhetoric and verbal sparring stiffened as both parties gear up for the upcoming general election.