THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS – BY ELCOTT COLEBY
This day in The Bahamas Parliament
Parliamentarians met at 10am on Wednesday, 27th January 2016 to conclude debate on the resolution on the $33 million Public Financial Management System and Performance Management Project and the $20 million Citizen Security and Justice Program, both being funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The Minister of Health, the Hon. Perry Gomez began statements by Ministers by delivering a House communication on the Zika Virus. He said that the virus is carried by the aedes aegypti mosquito, the same mosquito that carries the dengue and chikungunya virus.
The Minister advised the House that to date there is no reported case of a Zika viral infection in The Bahamas but listed the 20 countries in the region with confirmed cases of the viral infection.
“As of Friday January 22, 2016, Mr. Speaker, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reported twenty (20) countries and territories with laboratory confirmed case(s) of Zika Virus including Colombia, Suriname, Puerto Rico, French Guiana, Martinique, Panama, Cape Verde, Brazil, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Bolivia, Saint Martin, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Barbados, and Guyana” said the health minister.
He also revealed that there was no specific treatment for a Zika viral infection including no vaccine, but if infected, the public was advised against the use of aspirin. According to Dr. Gomez, the symptoms of the infection include fever, skin rash, joint pain and headache with one in four infected persons developing symptoms of the disease.
“Persons with Zika virus infection most commonly have fever, skin rash, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). They may also have muscle and joint pain and headache. Symptoms usually begin 2 – 7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. Only one out of four to five infected people develop symptoms of the disease. Among those who do, the disease is usually mild and lasts 2-7 days” said Dr. Gomez.
The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie updated the House on a number of current topical issues including CLICO, the Hawksbill Creek Agreement and the stalled Baha Mar project.
The Prime Minister was wrapping up his debate on a resolution to borrow $33 million to finance the Public Financial Management System and Performance Management Project.
The Prime Minister foreshadowed a public/private sector steering committee to provide supervisory oversight of this project and to ensure its successful completion. Mr. Christie said this was very important to ensure accountability and transparency instead of the government acting “incestuously” with the use to public servants alone. He said that by doing so, his government was “institutionalizing transparency and accountability.”
According to the Prime Minister, an Inter-American Bank (IDB) report indicated that The Bahamas scored 0.8 out of 5 on an assessment measuring ‘Managing for results.’ Mr. Christie said that this public financial management and performance monitoring project is designed to address these institutional weaknesses.
“Both programs at this juncture are vital to transforming the Bahamian economy” said Mr. Christie as he concluded his debate. “And it is my belief that the implementation of these projects will achieve the desired results considering the support of the government and people of The Bahamas for change” said Prime Minister Christie.
The Prime Minister’s statement on CLICO is as follows:
“The previous administration at the onset of the liquidation of CLICO proposed to provide a conditional guarantee of $30 million to any entity which would have purchase the insurance operations of CLICO. This guarantee was conditional on the sale of the book and while affording comfort to a potential purchaser did not actually guarantee that the policyholders would be made whole.
“For two main reasons: namely concerns with respect to the information system; and the conditional nature of the guarantee (i.e. it was unclear what event would have triggered the calling in of the guarantee) was unsuccessful in the sale of the portfolio.
“The liquidator has proposed and the Government has agreed a plan to make all existing policyholders whole. This plan involves the creation of a special purpose vehicle to assume the insurance operations of CLICO and to pay out the policyholders who have been unable to receive the full pay out of their benefits subject to the policy not lapsing during the period of liquidation.
“In short order the Insurance Commission and the liquidator will announce the details of the plan including pay out dates. I know that there are many persons impacted by CLICO and these persons have grown impatient waiting for a solution but rest assured a solution is at hand.
“The transaction being proposed is complex and required time to ensure that all stakeholders, which would be the Insurance Commission, the policyholders, the liquidator and the Government arrived at a consensus position. This has now been achieved.”
National Security Minister the Hon. Bernard Nottage foreshadowed the establishment of Citizen Security Councils in criminal hot spots to provide a measure of supervision and to assist in the reduction in crime in those neighborhoods under the Citizen Security and Justice program. The Northern Pastor Alliance in the Kemp Road area headed by Rev. Dale Moss is a good model to replicate said the Minister.
He made this announcement during the first reading of a resolution to borrow $20 million from the IDB to fund a Citizen Security and Justice program being spearheaded by the Ministry of National Security.
The Minister pointed out that the rate of incarceration in The Bahamas stands at 379 persons per 100,000 persons, well above the Caribbean average of 277 persons per 100,000 persons. Nottage also noted that the rate of recidivism was on the increase and must be arrested.
He provided a breakdown of the four components of the program as follow:
- Social crime and violence prevention in New Providence ($4.8 million). With 70% of the population residing in New Providence, the program seeks to improve behaviors for non-violent conflict resolution in New Providence and includes evidence-based interventions (delivered in association with local NGOs, schools, and others local partners) in order to prevent violence in some of The Bahamas’ most troublesome communities. The program is heavy on social re-engineering, public private sector partnerships and community involvement.
- Youth employability, employment training and strengthening of the Public Employment Services ($4 million). This component aims to increase employability and employment among at-risk youth in The Bahamas (15-29 years old).
- Strengthening of the justice administration system ($5.5 million). Institutional strengthening and capacity building seek to address systemic bottlenecks and inefficiencies in the administration of justice. These inefficiencies sometimes prevent the successful and timely prosecution of and sentencing for crimes.
- Rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders ($3.3 million). This program component establishes a parole system complete with assigned parole officers. The objective is to improve the effectiveness of the Bahamian correctional services in reducing re-offenders or the rate of recidivism.
Dr. Nottage assured the House that the Citizen Security and Justice Programme also reinforces the ongoing work being undertaken by the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Office of the Attorney General to strengthen the Swift Justice Programme, which has seen widespread success in improving efficiencies in the administration of justice. These developments are helping the country move towards a safer and Stronger Bahamas.
Referring to the success in the Ministry of Education in securing bipartisan support in crafting a national education plan, Minister Nottage invited members of the opposition to reach across the aisles and work with the government on this national anti-crime and social development effort in the interest of all Bahamians.
Gibson: Resolution to “increase employability and employment of at-risk youth”
Debating the resolution to borrow 20 million dollars from the IDB for the Inter-American Development Bank funded Citizen Security and Justice Programme, Labour Minister Gibson pointed out the five overarching objectives of the program as follow:
- Lead to a reduction in Crime and Violence in The Bahamas.
- Promote non-violent conflict resolution in New Providence
- Increase employability and the employment of at-risk youth
- Strengthen institutional capabilities of justice services
- Reduce the recidivism rate among inmates at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services.
On the $4.08 million jobs training and employment component of the program that will fall under his portfolio, the Minister told the House that 2,600 at-risk youth between the ages of 15 and 27 will be positively impacted by this program.
“The Department of Labour, with the help of several non-government agencies, will identify 1,000 people between the ages of 15 and 27, who will be enrolled in an apprenticeship program hosted by the National Training Agency. Once participants have acquired new skills, they will have the opportunity to work at local businesses engaged by the Department of Labour and the National Tripartite Council.
“Secondly, the Department of Labour in conjunction with the National Training Agency and the Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute will identify an additional 1600 young people, who will participate in a comprehensive training program with special emphasis on the Hospitality and Retail sectors” said Minister Gibson.
NHI Bahamas Secretariat unveils new NHI website
At a press conference on Monday morning at the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bahamas Secretariat, Permanent Secretary Peter Deveaux-Isaacs and NHI project coordinator Dr. Delon Brennen updated the media on some significant milestones in the implementation of National Health Insurance as the new website was launched.
The website address is www.nhibahamas.gov.bs
The compelling evidence for NHI exists in the fact that 70% of Bahamians do not have health insurance said the NHI Secretariat. Further, only 47% of Bahamian households were found to have at least one insured person according to recent statistics and with households spending approximately $2,300 per annum on healthcare, accessing quality healthcare is beyond the reach of too many Bahamians resulting in premature deaths and high rates of non-communicable diseases. Research has shown that over 700 Bahamians die annually from preventable diseases and The Bahamas has the highest rate of diabetes in the region.
“Not being able to afford healthcare can result in illness and even death” said the NHI Secretariat. “Severe illness can be prevented often with a simple visit to the doctor, health education, and prevention activities. Modernizing our current health care system is essential to improving the health of our population.
“The new (NHI) program ensures that all legal Bahamian residents – no matter your income, age, island of residence or current health status – can receive health care free of cost at the point of service. Cost of health care is paid for in full or in part, by Government” said the NHI Secretariat.
Contract signed for maintenance of east Paradise Island Bridge
Prime Minister Christie, Deputy Prime Minister Davis and executives from the Bridge Authority met at the Hera Room of the Convention Center in the Coral Towers of Atlantis on Monday morning to execute a contract for the refurbishment and maintenance of the east Paradise Island Bridge.
The $5.359 million contract signed with local engineering firm Island Site Development is for the ‘immediate, comprehensive refurbishment of the eastern bridge with a scheduled replacement in 2042.’
“This is a very significant part of the mainstay of our country” said Prime Minister Christie during the signing ceremony.
“It is important that we pay attention to it and it is important that the hotel owners over on Paradise island, the properties on Paradise Island becomes a significant one where we are completely at one with them when it comes to protecting the future of the island” said Mr. Christie.
The chairman of the Bridge Authority, Mr. Rory Higgs, revealed an increase in the bridge toll for single axle vehicles from $1 to $2.
This and other projects under the purview of the Bridge Authority are part of a $28 million private placement bond being funded by shareholders through the Central Bank of The Bahamas.
According to Labour Minister Shane Gibson, 30 to 40 Bahamians will be employed during this refurbishment project.
Moores Island to get new infrastructure
Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis led a team of engineers, Technical Officers and ministry officials on Monday morning of this week to Moores Island Abaco to host a consultative Town Hall Meeting at Greater Bethel Baptist Church.
The purpose of the public meeting was to consult with and inform local residents of the construction of five miles of new roads; new seawalls; a new sports academy with dormitories; an upgrade to the municipal water supply network; and a new airport terminal complete with an additional 1,000 feet of runway.
In speaking with the residents, the Deputy Prime Minister said that he was not there to make empty promises but to demonstrate that the promises were being delivered as he spoke. This included the regularization of the long and vexing challenge inherent in the ‘generation property’ phenomenon. By first taking possession of the land through the Land Acquisition Act, the government would be able to issue clear titles upon submission of applications, clearing up much of the existing confusion.
Prime Minister Christie, in recognizing the contribution Moores Island has made in the area of sports, promised the construction of a sporting facility as a gift to the youth of that island. Moores Island has produced elite track and field athletes who have proudly represented The Bahamas in the international arena.
The infrastructure upgrades and amenities will assist in bringing the quaint settlement of Moores Island into the 21stcentury said area member the Hon. Edison Key.
San Salvador International Airport gets an upgrade
Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin led a delegation to San Salvador on Tuesday morning to tour the San Salvador International Airport as it undergoes an expansion and structural upgrades after the terminal suffered structural damage during the passage of Joaquin.
“It would not be unfair to say that San Salvador is getting a new airport” said the Transport and Aviation Minister, obviously pleased with the progress made to date.
With increased airlift to the island from France, Canada and the United States, Minister Hanna-Martin is confident that an enhanced airport, the gateway, will definitely enhance the island’s tourism product.
“An enhanced airport that more properly facilitates people to this island I think will enhance the (tourism) product” she said.
Having commenced on the 12th January, the $1.2 million airport expansion and upgrades are being carried out by World Construction and Development Company.
National Training Agency graduates its fifth cohort
The venue was the familiar Holy Trinity Activity Center on Monday evening and the speakers were the Labour Minister the Hon. Shane Gibson, the Executive Director Agatha Marcelle and Chamber Chief Edison Sumner.
The event was the fifth cohort of graduates from the National Training Agency where some 170 graduates were trained in disciplines ranging from the Microsoft Windows computer application to auto body work repair.
Minister Gibson congratulated the institution, saying that he was “impressed by the progress the agency has made over the years. To date, the agency and its work have brought about a paradigm shift in how vocational training is delivered” said Minister Gibson.
Director Agatha Marcelle assured the youngsters that the training agency was established to assist them in achieving their goals through the provision of second chances and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and the Employers’ Confederation Edison Sumner told graduates not to ever look back or harbor regrets for past mistakes, but to fix their past mistakes and move forward.
“Living life in the lane of regret gets you nowhere. The way to get over something that you regret doing is to find a way to fix it” said the Chamber Chief.
A ceremony was held on Thursday evening to honour the Employee of The Year for Nassau Flight Services. The ceremony was held at the Holy Trinity Activities Center and delivering the keynote address was Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin.
Governor General Dame HE Marguerite Pindling and Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Davis traveled to the South Central Bahamas this week to visit and encourage communities recently ravaged by category four Hurrican Joaquin. Stops were made in Crooked Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador and Long Island.
The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) was in Bimini on Thursday of this week to demonstrate its Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) or Flow TV as the telecommunications giant prepares to launch the product in Inagua and three other family islands. On hand to celebrate this achievement was Prime Minister Christie. The Prime Minister spoke about great job and entrepreneurial opportunities that will be created with the technological expansion in the communications industry. One such area of opportunity according to CEO Leon Williams is the establishment of Nassau as one of just three Smart Cities in the Western Hemisphere, the other two being New York and Toronto.
President of the Court of Appeal Justice Anita Allen defended the decisions of the court and warned newspaper editors about potentially contemptuous editorials recently published in the local dailies. She warned editors to take the time to educate themselves on all of the facts surrounding the cases before offering public opinions on the same.
Earlier this week, FNM Senator Lanisha Rolle called into a local talk show and attacked members of the Lower House. Former Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson criticized her while former Cabinet Minister Maurice Moore supported her. Opposition leader the Hon. Hubert Minnis held a FNM caucus meeting then issued a statement calling such attacks “unhelpful” and called for party unity. Central Grand Bahama Member of Parliament the Hon. Neko Grant demanded an apology from Senator Rolle who offered only a private apology.
The Bahamas Olympic Committee announced on Friday afternoon that The Bahamas was successful in its bid to host the 7th Commonwealth Youth Games here in Nassau scheduled for the 19th to the 23rd of July 2017. The games are under the auspices of the Commonwealth Games Federation. Over 1,000 junior athletes from 71 Commonwealth countries are expected to participate in seven events, namely athletics, boxing, cycling, judo, rugby, swimming and tennis.
Calling it a “red letter day” for our youth and for junior sailing generally, Agriculture Minister the Hon. Alfred Gray announced a junior national regatta competition as a stand-alone event as the government gives focused attention to this national sporting activity and the role young athletes will play in its further development. He made this announcement at a press conference at his ministry on Friday, 29th January 2016. The regatta is called the Sir Durward Knowles National Invitational Junior Sailing Regatta involving ‘E’ Class sailing sloops. This event is scheduled for George Town, Exuma during the Easter holiday weekend, or the 25th to the 28th March 2016. Until now the junior regatta was a part of the National Family Island Regatta that took place in George Town at the end of April each year.
Minister Gray also introduced a new initiative in the government led backyard farming program. Errington Thompson and Ian Hutchinson, two consultants within the Ministry of Agriculture will head up the new and expanded backyard farming program. In addition to managing farms at the Department of Corrections and the Ranfurly Home for Children, Thompson and Hutchinson are now tasked with expanding the program to include ten inner city properties as the government seeks to take backyard farming to a new level.