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THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (2nd – 6th March 2015)

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elcottCOMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY

Prime Minister Christie dominated the news this week as he seemed ubiquitous. He made an appearance in South Andros with the Governor General; he opened the ILO Conference; he launched the COB transformation Project and the opened the Nationals; he flew to Freeport to open the Grand Bahama Business Outlook Conference and named the Hawksbill Creek Committee before hopping a flight back to Nassau just in time to open the Agri-Business Expo on Gladstone Road. That is why he was called “LORD BULLET” in his track days.

PM Christie launches COB transformation Project

Asserting his conviction and excitement that a University of The Bahamas will spur greater accountability and a deeper understanding of The Bahamas, buy viagra for sale its development, sildenafil cialis its history and its economy through research, Prime Minister Perry G. Christie officially launched the $16.18 million COB Transformation Project at the Harry C. Moore Library on Wednesday evening.

 

“This is why I want a University of The Bahamas because I believe the lecturers, the professors will be obliged to understand their country, to write about their country, to analyze the economy of their country, and to do it publically, to research the country and therefore I believe that degree of accountability that the country needs will come from the University of The Bahamas. And that is why I feel good about the process that we are involved in. I feel good that we are reaching that point where, here, there will be this excitement,” said Prime Minister Christie.

Funded through the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the USD$16.18 million loan will focus on capacity building through enhanced human resource management, enterprise risk management and business finance systems. New dormitories will be constructed; the Keva Bethel Administrative Building will be upgraded; a Quality Assurance System will be institutionalized and the loan will also provide for an upgraded security system in collaboration with the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

Additionally, College Of The Bahamas (COB) stakeholders will assist with drafting the University of The Bahamas Bill and provide for consultancies in the construction of the University of The Bahamas’ infrastructure. The Minister of Education, Science and Technology, the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald told those in attendance that the College is on schedule to become a University by the end of 2015

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PM at Grand Bahama Business Outlook

Touting increased tourism arrivals and more than $500 million in investment projects in the pipeline, Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie told delegates that the future for Grand Bahama is bright. The Prime Minister said these words while delivering the keynote address at the Grand Bahama Business Outlook at Grand Lucayan on Wednesday.

Reassuring Grand Bahamians of his government’s unswerving belief in the resilience of and future prospects for Grand Bahama, the Prime Minister repeated a familiar refrain – that the economy is getting measurably stronger with each passing year.

“My government is unswerving in its belief that the future of Grand Bahama is bright and that its best days still lie before it, not behind it. Progress may not always be attained or sustained at the pace or in the manner we want it to be but rest assured that step by step the economic revitalization of Grand Bahama is steadily gaining momentum.”

The theme of this year’s Business Outlook, ‘Securing The Bahamas through Planning, Partnership and Productivity’ has been at the forefront of the government’s work, “as we promote the development of a more dynamic national economy, Bahamian entrepreneurship and ownership, domestic and foreign investment, a better quality of life for Bahamians and an environment that attracts the wealthy of the world and unprecedented numbers of tourists.

The Prime Minister acknowledged the stubborn and persistent challenges of a protracted global economic recovery, high public debt, poor revenue performance and crime as “prevailing headwinds” that have contributed to the country’s fragile and protracted economic recovery.

“While on a steady course to a brighter tomorrow, the prevailing headwinds and aftermath of protracted worldwide economic recession still persist. It is still a fragile and protracted recovery and most governments, particularly in this region, have had to re-calibrate their efforts and initiate creative partnerships in light of still stagnant global growth, unprecedented levels of unemployment, high public debt, fiscal deterioration and a plethora of social ills, especially escalating crime.”

 

Hawksbill Creek Committee named

As the August 2015 expiration date approaches for specific tax incentives currently enjoyed by Port Licensees in Freeport under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, Prime Minister Christie was in Grand Bahama on Thursday of this week to name the six member committee who will be tasked with reviewing and making recommendations on a future and sustained economic developmental strategy for Grand Bahama in addition to reporting on future schedules of annual business license fees and real property taxes for Port Licensees.

 

The main objectives of the Hawksbill Creek Committee according to Prime Minister Christie include the following:

“Agree with the Grand Bahama Port Authority and principal licensees a long term economic development plan which both protect and promote the shipping, industrial, logistics, tourism, real estate and other commercial sectors as the focus for Grand Bahama Island;

 

“Create a framework for immediate and long-term investment promotion on the island to attract investors which can operate assets competitively at a world class standard, and effectively and efficiently utilize the land resources with proper environmental safeguards;

 

“Ensure that the mechanisms are in place to align the Grand Bahama Port Authority’s quasi-regulatory authority with the policies of the Government and that a regulatory framework exists in keeping with present and changing international business best practices.

 

“Agree a suitable framework for property tax and business license that would not impede economic growth, and contribute along with other suitable measures to the enhancement of the Government’s revenue base.”

 

The members of the committee are Dr. Marcus Bethel, Chairman; Sir Baltron Bethel; Mr. James Smith; Mr. Kevin Seymour, President Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce; Mr. Maurice Moore and Ms. Cassietta McIntosh.

 

PM opens agri-business exposition

The agri-business exposition on Gladstone Road was officially opened on Thursday by Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie. The expo provides an opportunity for farmers and agri-business persons to market their agriculture and value-added products to the general public. Many Family Island farmers and local schools were represented.

 

In addressing stakeholders at the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Christie charged both the Ministry of Agriculture and the Bahamas Agriculture and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) to recognize the value of the country’s national assets and locally manufactured authentic Bahamian products for their export value.

“I have advised the chairman or President of BAIC to move immediately into a joint venture with Bahamians on ornamentals because millions of dollars are spent buying trees that grow here. Do not approve anyone buying coconut trees in Miami where the coconut tree could be bought here” said Mr. Christie.

He further said that the millions of tourists that visit our shores each year must be able to enjoy our locally grown and manufactured products as he pointed out that our rate of leakage of foreign exchange earned from tourism is excessively high at more than 90%, making The Bahamas the highest in the region.

“The weakness of the industry has been that 90 cents out of every dollar plus leaks out of the economy. We are one of the leading countries in the leakage of foreign exchange earned from tourism” said Mr. Christie.

 

Amended Banks and Trust Companies Bill tabled

Leading off the debate on Wednesday at the second reading of the Amended Banks and Trust Companies Bill 2015 was State Minister for Finance, Hon. Michael Halkitis. According to Mr. Halkitis, these amendments “seek to strengthen the regulatory frame work of banks and trust companies licensed by the Central Bank of The Bahamas.”

 

Further said the Minister, the bill seeks to “afford the Central Bank more powers of flexibility to address supervisory issues and to meet evolving international standards and best practices and to facilitate better understanding of the regulatory requirements by clarifying certain provisions of the Banks and Trust Companies Regulation Act.”

 

The State Minister also told the House that the above amendments together with other tentative legislative proposals, namely the Banks and Trust Companies Monetary Penalties Regulations, are intended to keep the country’s banking sector modern, up to date and on the cutting edge by ensuring that The Bahamas has a stable, competitive and growing second (financial services) industry which contributes to the country’s economy and the overall wellbeing of all Bahamians.

Debate continues on this bill on Monday, 9th March 215 at 10 am.

 

Mitchell addresses Human Rights Council in Geneva

Addressing delegates at the 28th Session of the High Level Segment of the Human Rights Council on the 2nd of March, Bahamas Foreign Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell reiterated the three areas of priority of the Bahamas Government. They are “illegal immigration into The Bahamas, climate change and fighting crime” said the Minister and expressed happiness that those priorities were to be addressed in some form during the session of the Council.

 

Turning his attention to the government’s fundamental philosophy on migration, Mitchell said that while The Bahamas appreciates that migration is a “natural state of mankind” and “a necessary phenomenon” where in some cases “environmental hazards” compel people to relocate in search of “political stability” or “improved economic conditions,” such movements “should be documented to ensure the safety and security of the nation state.” He reiterated that the Bahamas Government is resolute in its task to ensure orderly migration and to prevent irregular migration.

 

The Minister went on to explain to the delegates the necessary steps the Bahamas Government has taken to date to ensure compliance with its local Immigration laws. The measures included the requirement that all persons working in The Bahamas have a valid work permit authorizing them to reside and work in the country and that persons who reside in The Bahamas must be in possession of proof of residency.

 

The meetings took place in Geneva Switzerland between the 2nd and 5th of March 2015.

 

 

BTVI to offer FAA Private Pilot Certification.

The Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) and Beach Aviation’s Bahamas Aviation Academy have partnered to launch the first and only comprehensive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Private Pilot Flight Training course offering in The Bahamas.

In a released statement, BTVI characterized this partnership as “historic,” pointing out that the course offering was in fulfillment of its mission, which is “to provide opportunities that enable individuals to be globally competitive and economically independent.” This historic partnership will provide students with the opportunity to be trained in a wide range of FAA approved courses while remaining in Nassau.

The theory or classroom component of the course will take place at BTVI in Nassau over a fifteen week period, followed by the practical component comprising at least 40 hours of flight time at Beach Aviation in Florida.

Commencing on April 27th of this year, the BTVI curriculum will include Air Law, Astronomy and Navigation to Physics, Meteorology, Geography, Technical English and Mathematics.

On hand from Beach Aviation to announce the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Private Pilot Flight Training course launch were Captain Charles Brady, Dr. James R. Eddy and Dr. Kenneth Romer. BTVI was represented by its Manager and Consultant, Dr. Iva Dahl.

 

In passing…

Continuing her pledge of national unity, Governor General HE Marguerite Pindling visited Central and South Andros this week. She toured the Lynden Pindling Public Library; visited he former dwelling place; addressed the students in the South Andros district at a special assembly and hosted lunch for community leaders at the Pointe Hotel. Prime Minister Christie was also present. On Friday, 6th March it was off to Mangrove Cay where the Head of State addressed and encouraged school children in the Mangrove Cay School District and met with local community leaders there.

 

Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon Perry Christie officially opened the ninth International Labour Organization Meeting of Caribbean Labour Ministers on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at the British Colonial Hilton. Host Minister, the Hon. Shane Gibson, Bahamas Minister of Labour delivered a statement to delegates. It was the view of the Bahamas government that hosting this conference was a testament to the excellent working relationship between The Bahamas and that world body. Also addressing the opening ceremony were Guy Ryder, Director General, ILO; Giovanni di Cola, Director, ILO Decent Work Team and Office for the Caribbean; Dr. Douglas Slater, Assistant Secretary, General Human and Social Development, Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

 

The deadline for filing the paper work on VAT collected by businesses with revenue turnover in excess of $5 million annually was Monday, 2nd March 2015. Financial Secretary John A. Rolle, who also serves as the VAT Controller, revealed that as of Saturday, the 28th February 2015, less than half of the eligible companies had filed VAT returns but expressed confidence that the VAT Department would not have to issue heavy fines for non-compliance at this time; as this was the adjustment period, violators would receive just a “tap on the wrist.” It is estimated that 70 to 80 percent of the projected VAT revenue would be generated from large companies that are required to file their VAT returns monthly.

 

The replacement for former PLP Senator Cheryl Bazard was named this week. She is Robyn Dawn-Lynes, an Attorney-at-Law, a community leader in the over-the-hill area and an activist for the economically and culturally disadvantaged.

 

Utilities Regulation & Competition Authority (URCA) executives and the Former US Ambassador to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Ambassador Bradley Holmes paid a courtesy call and held discussions with Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Senator the Hon. Allyson Maynard Gibson on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Developments in The Bahamas. The meeting took place on March 4 at the Ministry of Legal Affairs and in attendance were  Randol Dorsett, Chairman of URCA; Kathleen Smith, CEO of URCA; Senator the Hon. Allyson Maynard Gibson; Cynthia Gibbs, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Legal Affairs; and Antoinette Bonimy, Director of Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

 

Under the theme “Jesus said to them ‘do you know what I have done to you?’” World Day of Prayer or WDP 2015 was observed in The Bahamas on Friday, 6th March 2015. Hundreds of thousands Christians in more than 170 countries around the world prayed for The Bahamas on this day as they experience services written by Bahamians. The Bahamas Postal Service released commemorative stamps in observance of World Prayer Day 2015.

 

The Ministry of Finance announced on the 4th March that the government has moved to a new stage in the development and rollout of its Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) Model 1 Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA). In a press statement, the Ministry said that after a highly competitive bidding process, The Government of the Bahamas has awarded its FATCA project to EY.  In partnership with EY and Convey, a leading tax software provider, the Ministry of Finance will design and deploy the Bahamas FATCA solution, which will include a secure FATCA reporting system, the establishment of the Bahamas Competent Authority and a number of other elements to effectively manage compliance with FATCA Model 1 IGA requirements.

 

Social Services and Community Development Minister the Hon. Melanie Griffin will lead a Bahamian delegation of approximately seventy women to the United Nations in New York to participate in the Commission on the Status of Women; she will also deliver the Bahamas statement. This UN conference will address critical areas of development for women such as poverty, education, health care and income inequality. The delegation leaves on Sunday, the 8th of March 2015 for the one week conference.