THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS BY ELCOTT COLEBY

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colebyPrime Minister Christie updates the  public on Baha Mar opening

Prime Minister Christie updated the media this past Monday on the progress of the completion and opening of the stalled $3.5 billion Baha Mar resort after a short walkabout of the property. His update came one month after the announcement of an agreement between the Government of The Bahamas and the Export-Import Bank of China on the remobilization, discount viagra completion, sale and opening of the Baha Mar mega mixed-use resort.

Reiterating that the Baha Mar deal has been approved by the Supreme Court of The Bahamas in a sealed order as is customary in commercial matters of this kind, “represent a signal achievement for The Bahamas and a milestone in the troubled history of Baha Mar.” Within the constraints of the sealed Court Order relating to the Heads of Terms Mr. Christie provided the following update.

“The Eximbank is meeting its commitment in funding remaining construction costs to complete the project, and a contract has been executed for China Construction to complete the project” said the Prime Minister. “Remobilization is well underway and construction works have commenced. China Construction is also in the process of resolving outstanding amounts owing its suppliers and contractors.”

Further, the Prime Minister communicated that Claims Committee was well on its way delivering the ex gratia payment by Eximbank to thousands of former Bahamian employees of Baha Mar “of outstanding amounts owed to them by their former employer  including unpaid salaries, severance pay, accrued vacation pay and notice payments due to termination. Additional sums deducted from employees and former employees’ salaries and pension contributions are also being repaid.”

“The Claims Committee is also now in the process of settling the claims against Baha Mar of Bahamian unsecured creditors including contractors and suppliers” continued Mr. Christie.

Admitting that the Baha Mar deal contained “many moving parts and complex issues”, Prime Minister Christie outlined the accomplishment of the Government’s three primary objectives:

1. “Resumption of construction, earliest possible completion of the project and its acquisition by a well-recognized world class resort developer.

2. “Every effort being made to ensure the phased opening of the casino, casino hotel, the convention centre and hotel, and the golf course before the end of the coming winter season.

3. “Payment of claims to Baha Mar creditors and contractors, and amounts owing to former Bahamian employees who had little or no prospect of recovering anything from Baha Mar.”

Mr. Christie promised to provide regular updates to the public “as continued progress is made in implementing the provisions of the Heads of Terms, with more detailed information becoming available to the public with the unsealing of the Supreme Court Order.”

Road Traffic cautions on plate and fee misinformation

Last weekend, erroneous images of purported new designs of Bahamas motor vehicle license plates appeared on social media accompanied by a false narrative about an increase in the fee schedule for the licensing of motor vehicles effective October. The Road Traffic Department responded denying both claims.

In a press statement released Monday evening, the Road Traffic Department was unequivocal in its denial, stating that the image of the License Plate circulated on the various Social Media platforms was “NOT the design of the NEW License Plate to be introduced as a part of the Department’s new modernization plan.”

The Controller also denied the claims of a rate hike and provided an update of the progress made to date.

“In this regard, the Controller informed that there will be no increase in fees as a result of the automation project, and nor is there any need for drivers to purchase new license plates, if they have already licensed their vehicles. The normal licensing fees remain in effect. The Controller advised further that the automation is progressing well, and details will be disseminated shortly on the project status, and the planned roll out of the new electronic workflow system to be utilized.”

The Controller also warned the public to be wary of false information posted on social media, and encouraged persons to pay attention to notices issued from the Department of Road Traffic via traditional media sources, which will provide accurate information on the transformative changes which are taking place.

October 11 is roll out date for Road Traffic Department automation

Road Traffic Department Controller Ross Smith and Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin were all smiles this week as Mr. Ross displayed a copy of the new computer generated motor vehicle decal.

This transformation was a long time coming as the department came under heavy criticism after audit reports revealed systemic weaknesses and vulnerabilities due largely to a manual system that was prone to abuse. The new $8 million automated system promises to streamline the department operations, reduce operating cost, eliminate much of the long lines and waiting time and provide for greater transparency and accountability.

The public is advised that come October 11, the department will be issuing motor vehicle license and inspection decals from three temporary locations: they are the eastern grandstand of the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium and its Bay Street and Carmichael Road locations. For the first time the registration decals will not bear the name of the vehicle owner.

Bahamasair Managing Director Henry Woods dies

He was a giant in the local aviation industry and the face of Bahamasair for many years, having spent more than forty years of his adult and professional lives building the country’s national flag carrier.

According to a statement from Bahamasair, Mr. Woods died at 12:07pm at the University of Miami Hospital in Coral Gables on Thursday 29th September 2016. He was credited with much of the growth and development of the national airline.

Offering condolences was Prime Minister Christie who was at Mr. Woods’ bedside with wife Gayle and daughter Phylicia when he expired, called Mr. Woods a towering figure in the Bahamian aviation industry, a superb professional and a dear friend.

“Mr. Woods was a towering figure in Bahamian aviation for decades” said Mr. Christie.

“He was a superb professional who led by example” continued the Prime Minister, “putting exceptionally long hours and demonstrating an unswerving commitment to productivity and efficiency.”

May his soul rest in peace.

Over 1,500 displaced Baha Mar employees paid

The Baha Mar claims committee said they expected between 600 and 700 persons to show up and settle their severance payouts, by the end of Thursday, 29th September at 5pm, the committee confirmed that more than 1,500 persons collected settlement checks this weeks.

Committee Chairman James Smith could not provide a specific dollar amount because come of the numbers changed during the course of the payout.

“They (the committee) were reporting numbers, rather than amounts, and the amount kept changing when they made adjustments. I don’t have that at my fingertips. Some workers worked overtime, some didn’t and others were classified as supervisors which resulted in adjustments in the amount of the payouts.

Smith revealed that former contractors, graduates of the training college and students of the training institute who were about to graduate. He said that the committee was working through these details on an individual basis as some of those who were in training were offered jobs and were on the pay sheet for the month preceding the October 2015 collapse of the company.

Smith said that his committee was on target to complete the claims settlement by 30th September 2016.

Zanaboni a no show at parliamentary committee hearing

Dr. Fabrizio Zanadoni, CEO of Stellar Waste to Energy and main witness, was a no show at Thursday’s scheduled parliamentary hearing by the standing committee on privilege over the controversial Letter of Intent (LOI) that led to the resignation of Bamboo Town MP the Hon. Renward Wells as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Works and Urban Development. Mr. Wells would later resign from the parliamentary caucus of the PLP and join the FNM.

“The main witness, who ought to have appeared today (Thursday), we have not located him as yet” said Maurice Tynes, Chief Clerk of the House. He said that the “committee continues to try to find out where he is,” adding that Dr. Zanaboni was summoned to appear from January of this year when he was out of the country indefinitely. Mr. Tynes said that the committee is “keen” to resolve the matter and if necessary, it will “forcibly” bring those key witnesses before the committee.

The particulars are that Stellar Waste had a $600 million waste-to-energy business proposal before the Bahamas government and an LOI in connection with the advancement of this proposed project was signed by then Parliamentary Secretary Renward Wells. This was deemed inappropriate and the Prime Minister said that Mr. Wells would at some point address the matter. This never happened, Mr. Wells joined the FNM and the leader of that organization, Dr. Hubert Minnis, told the media that he now fully understands the whole LOI matter and is no longer pursuing the issue as he earlier promised to.

Government establishes strategic partnership with IDB and GBPA

Readers would recall that by an act of Parliament earlier this year, specific tax concessions for port licensees were extended in the amended Hawksbill Creek Agreement that passed both chambers of the House. The agreement also called for greater participation by civil society including the central government, new port authority ownership and a business plan outlining the way forward for Freeport.

On Thursday of this week the government of The Bahamas provided more credit facility and technical support for Grand Bahama. It came in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding which was signed with the Inter American Investment Corporation (IIC) and the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) to make readily available the resources of the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) for private sector development on Grand Bahama.

“While this tripartite arrangement is merely an explorative initiative, I am confident that the Minister of Grand Bahama and senior staff from the Grand Bahama Port Authority will provide excellent assistance to ensure that there (are) positive outcomes from the MOU” said State Minister for Finance the Hon. Michael Halkitis.

GBPA Vice Chairman Henry St. George said “the overarching principle of the MOU is that where opportunities for major economic development exist in Freeport – a new innovative foundation for financing has now been put in place.”

Carnival’s economic impact revealed

In a statement released this week, the Bahamas National Festival Commission outlined the macro economic impact of the second annual Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival event given its mandate to stimulate economic opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SME’s).

The statement said that about 278 SME’s and 696 individuals directly benefitted from the commission’s expenditure, accounting for 85% of the commission’s expenditure.

Operationally and strategically, the commission claimed success in realizing significant cost savings including a 38% decrease in government subsidy amounting to $5 million. Additionally, the GDP impact was $70 million; tourism related expenditures were up due to a 79% increase in attendance by tourists; direct employment befitted more than 1,200 persons and indirect employment amounted to 1,600 persons. Of the 1,200 persons directly employed, 675 were solo artists, bands, entertainers and junkanooers.

Other financial metrics are $578,342 in ticket sales and other revenue; $1.2 million in total sponsorship; total expenses of $9.8 million; government subsidy of $8.1 million; $1.3 million in kick off expenses in Grand Bahama and direct attendees of 21,000 and 39,700 at Grand Bahama and New Providence events respectively.

“Overall the second annual Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival was a success that allowed the BNFC to continue working in fulfillment of its mandate” concluded the statement.

In Passing…

On Sunday Attorney General Maynard-Gibson dismissed rumors that her family has a business interest in the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort. The false reports circulated over the weekend as discontent continues to swell over her decision to issue a ‘nolle presequi’ to stop a private prosecution against the hotel and two of its senior executives. The Attorney determined that this private prosecution was an abuse of the judicial process. The union admitted that the private persecution was a “bargaining chip” against Sandals.

Bahamas Bar Association Elsworth Johnson defended Attorney General Maynard-Gibson against critics calling for her resignation over her decision to stop a private prosecution against Sandals Royal Bahamian resort. While he noted that the matter reinforces the argument for an independent director of public prosecutions, Johnson branded criticisms as “unfair” and suggested that the move could bolster public perceptions of her level of independence in the role.

Only two-thirds of the more than 600 employees who were terminated by Sandals Royal Bahamian in August reapplied to work at the hotel, with a resort official saying the severance payout from the surprise terminations “opened up opportunities” for former staff members. Noted Attorney Wayne Munroe indicated that the union launched a campaign to discourage terminated Sandals employees from reapplying. Mr. Munroe believed that a decision to lay off 600 persons for 2 months with no compensation while retaining their employment was poor decision making and amounted to “union busting.”

DNA leader Branville McCartney was returned to the post of leader at the party’s convention this week. The elections were held on Thursday. He invited all and sundry, including Greg Moss, to nominate for the post if they so desired. He has held that post since the organization was formed in 2011.

Malfunctioning air-conditioning units in the $100m Critical Care Block at the Princess Margaret Hospital have stalled surgeries in the last few weeks, prompting FNM Leader Dr. Minnis to criticize the Government for the “unacceptable” situation.

While he remained tightlipped over key details concerning the identity of the shortlisted potential buyer – Prime Minister Christie revealed that the “huge enterprise” has met the Government’s requirements for a world-class developer.

Prime Minister Christie said on Wednesday that compressors needed to fix a malfunctioning air-conditioning unit in the $100m Critical Care Block at PMH should be in the country by the end of the week.

Prime Minister Christie said that he does not think he can forgive the man who wrote an expletive-filled song about his family, which went viral on social media in August, although the singer tearfully expressed contrition.

Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival was never designed to work as a “profit exercise”, according to Bahamas National Festival Commission Chairman Paul Major. Responding to questions at a press conference this week in which the BNFC revealed its economic impact assessment of the event’s second year, Mr. Major condemned opponents of the festival who continue to look at the country’s annual investment, instead of the carnival’s “economic impact”.

Prime Minister Christie said this week that “under no circumstance” will the government compromise on NHI, despite objections from some doctors and several unions. Mr. Christie said that for far too long this country and hospitals have given priority to “those who have money, while those who don’t fall through the cracks”.

Prime Minister Christie said yesterday there is “no way” he is going to let an “obstetrician/gynecologist politician” force him to make a decision that is “not in the best interest of the people”. Mr. Christie was referring to FNM Leader Dr. Minnis who told reporters on Sunday that now is not the time for the government to begin renovations on the Maternity Ward.

With the full support of all of their respective affiliates, the country’s two umbrella unions Wednesday warned their members to “get ready for battle” over Attorney General Maynard-Gibson’s decision to stop criminal proceedings brought by union officials against Sandals Royal Bahamian and two of its senior executives.

The removal of popular radio talk show host Christina “Chrissy Love” Thompson from the airwaves during her “Reality Check” broadcast had nothing to do with any regulation violation, according to the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA).

Hurricane Matthew developed to a powerful category 4 hurricane on Friday and is expected to bring strong force winds and heavy rain when it passes over the central and southeast Bahamas early next week, with residents being warned to begin hurricane preparations as soon as possible.

The Bahamas National Festival Commission has clarified controversial statements from its Chairman, Paul Major, who on Tuesday told reporters that Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival was never designed to be a “profit exercise”, stressing that it focused on reducing government investment and increasing revenue.

The roughly 200 former Baha Mar employees hired by or through The Hobby Horse Company will have to wait out the ongoing payment process to learn their fate, as Claims Committee personnel deliberate over how best to handle the “precarious” group.

Although he did not get a re-nomination for his seat, Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn – one of the “gang of six” – said his “differences” with the FNM Leader Dr. Minnis have been resolved, telling persons on Thursday to “go elsewhere” if they did not support the party’s leadership.

The Miami Heat held media day on Thursday as it held training camp in Nassau this week; Prime Minister Christie and cabinet colleagues were in attendance. The NBA team also hosted more than one hundred kids to a truncated training camp at the Atlantis resort.

The annual Youth march is scheduled for Sunday, 2nd October at 3pm. The massive march will begin at iconic Clifford Park.

About the author: Elcott Coleby is a Deputy Director at the Bahamas Information Services. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry (B.Sc) and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). He provides frequent commentary on public policy and communicates the works of the government. Address all comments to the following email: egcoleby44@gmail.com