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THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS BY ELECOTT COLEBY

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THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (1 – 5 MAY 2017)

COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT G. COLEBY

The controversy of 3rd May Advance Poll
The Advance Poll locations were published by the Parliamentary Registration Department and gazetted in the local newspapers according to local election laws.
The voting locations were the Kendal G. L. Gymnasium and the western grandstand of the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.

So far so good.

Then came the 3rd of May, the day of the Advance Poll, where those who are scheduled to work on Election Day get to vote. These voters include civil servants who administer and manage the electoral process; police and defence force officers who provide security and maintain law and order; and election agents from all political parties and representatives of independent candidates.

Supporters and workers arrived early with a strong show of support from the two major political parties, the governing Progressive Liberal Party and the opposition Free National Movement. Tents were all pitched and political paraphernalia were prominently displayed.

From that point on, the process went downhill. A decision was made not to use the western grandstand and to use only the gymnasium that all observers agree was inadequate for that purpose; there were thousands of voters from 24 New Providence constituencies to be processed. The polling station opened one hour and twenty minutes late (9:20am) and the voting process was slow. Tempers flared at times; voters were frustrated; some voters left, but except for a reported scuffle in Freeport, Bahamians exercised their constitutional rights.

When contacted for comment, Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlin Hall referred the media to his superior, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security Carlton Francis Smith.

Prime Minister Christie told reporters that the process, though long, was sound, dismissing charges of election fraud. He said that Mr. Hall’s ability to successfully manage the general elections was a “matter under review.”

Charles Albury named new Acting Parliamentary Commissioner
Within two days of the Advance Poll, the following statement was issued by the Cabinet Office – on the evening of the 5th May 2017:

“The Cabinet Office advises that with effect from 6th May 2017 Mr. Charles Albury will serve as Acting Parliamentary Commissioner until the post is substantially filled.

“Mr. Albury has served with distinction in the public service in various ministries for more than 30 years. His present substantive post is Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism.

“The government looks forward to drawing on his extensive experience in the public service and in particular his previous distinguished service in the Parliamentary Registration Department.”

Bahamas government releases Baha Mar Heads of Agreement
On Monday the Government of The Bahamas released the Heads of Agreement executed on the 25th April 2017 between the Government of The Bahamas and CTFE, an international business enterprise which owns the Rosewood brand and operates over 60 hotels worldwide and gaming investments and operations in Australia and other developments around the world.

Phase one of Baha Mar, now open and operating, comprises the 1,800 rooms Grand Hyatt hotel and Convention Centre; a 200,000 square feet Convention Centre; a
95,000 square foot world class casino, and the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Golf Course. Over 1,600 associates were hired in phase one.

Over the ensuing months said the statement, “other elegant brands and facilities, will be opened and completed, including the renowned brands of Rosewood and SLS, a luxurious spa, racquet club, restaurants, entertainment and attractive shops set in 60,000 square feet of retail space.”

“The usual concessions in ventures of this nature have been granted to CTFE” said the government. “These include exemptions under the HEA, joint marketing contributions, exemption from VAT on intergroup transfers and refinancing arrangements.” VAT exemptions extend to 2020 and the VAT on the sale of the property was deferred.

The statement outlined the three objectives pursued by the Government since Baha Mar’s 29th June 2015 US bankruptcy filing:
Ensuring immediate remobilization and resumption of construction, based on committed funding sufficient to complete construction and to open all parts of the Project (over $700 Million).
The opening of the Casino, Casino Hotel, Convention Centre, Convention Hotel and Golf Course prior to the end of the 2016-2017 winter season.
Settlement and/or payment of all valid claims of contractors and subcontractors, suppliers and employees and other Baha Mar and CCA creditors (an ex gratia payment of $101.5 Million).

New Carnival cruise ship port for east Grand Bahama
The Government of The Bahamas on Tuesday, May 2, 2017, signed a Heads of Agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines for the East Grand Bahama Cruise Port Development during a signing ceremony at the Grand Lucayan Hotel and Marina.

The $100 million project is expected to be completed in two years, once the necessary agreements are in place.

Present for the signing was Prime Minister of The Bahamas and Minister of Finance, the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie, along with other Cabinet Ministers: the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe, Minister of Tourism; the Hon. Glenys Hanna Martin, Minister of Transport and Aviation; the Hon. D. Shane Gibson, Minister of Labour and National Insurance; the Hon. Allyson Maynard Gibson, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs; and the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville, Minister for Grand Bahama.

Delivering the keynote address was Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie who spoke of the painstaking and lengthy negotiations between his Government and the principals of the Freeport Harbour Company to negotiate a Waiver of Exclusivity Agreement of their exclusivity rights on all ports in Grand Bahama, which had been granted by the previous administration.

Additionally, Mr. Christie outlined the economic benefits of this latest project designed to breathe new life into the challenged economy of Grand Bahama.

“Carnival has agreed to engage Bahamians in every aspect of construction and development of the new cruise port, valued at $100 Million, with added emphasis on Bahamian participation in the supply and sales of products and services, including retail, entertainment, art & craft, food production, sports and fitness,” said Prime Minister Christie.

“And, it is expected to have a significant impact on the communities of Eastern Grand Bahama, providing cruise visitors with Bahamian-owned products infused with Bahamian flavor, delivering natural attractions and historic sites and creating myriad entrepreneurial opportunities in fishing, farm products, local handicrafts, arts, entertainment, water sports, retail, fitness, logistics and administration.

Grand Bahama Minister Michael Darville said the government has implemented a ‘people first’ agenda on the island, “which has caused growth in our local economy, created entrepreneurial and employment opportunities, strengthened our social safety net, updated health and educational infrastructure, improved essential services, and solved problems that have plagued this island for decades.”

Grant Lyon comments on Baha Mar

Grant Lyon, a government consultant in the Baha Mar negotiations, offered commentary on a number of aspects of those negotiations, including the US bankruptcy filing, the benefits of Baha Mar and the concessions offered.

“These matters are complicated” wrote Mr. Lyons “and the Government of Bahamas wants the people to understand the details of how Baha Mar got to where it is today.”

US Chapter 11 Process

Mr. Lyon opined that in his experience, “the time it takes to process large Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases runs anywhere from 3 to 5 years in US courts.”

He further pointed out that if the Bahamas government had not pursued the winding up process in the Bahamas Supreme Court, “it is very likely that to date, no employees would have been re-hired, no additional construction would have been done, no payments to creditors, contractors, or employees would have been made and Baha Mar would still be closed.

“Instead, today, Baha Mar is open employing 1,600 Bahamians and $101MM has been paid to creditors, contractors, and employees.”

Payments to creditors, contractors, and employees

Details on the $100 million settlement with displaced workers and contractors are as follow:

-All Bahamian creditors with valid direct claims under $500,000 have been paid in full.

-All Bahamian sub-contractors with valid claims under $500,000 have been paid in full.

-All Bahamian contracts with valid claims over $500,000 have been settled for an average of 42%.

-The total number of Bahamian creditors receiving 100% of their valid claims was over 94%; in other words 306 Bahamian creditors out of 323 received 100% of their claims.

-Additionally all Bahamian Employees and their pensions have been paid in full.

Benefits of Agreement to The Bahamas

“This was a very good deal for The Bahamas – anyone saying something different simply does not understand how these large scale negotiations turn out” insisted Mr. Lyons.

On-going benefits to the country include the following:

-Creation of 1,600 direct jobs currently, increasing to 5,500 by the end of the year; the new owners must keep a minimum of 5,500 Bahamian employed.

-Over 300,000 new visitors a year and the associated airlift and taxes.

-$45 million of direct tax collections from the hotel.

-Gaming tax revenues.

-Millions of dollars in non-direct foreign money spent (tour guides, transportation, retail dollars).

-12% annual increase in GDP.

-Upgrade in average daily rate room portfolio for New Providence.

-Positive impact on Bahamian sovereign debt rating.

Concessions

According to Mr. Lyons, “the concessions (offered by the current administration) are almost identical to what the previous FNM government gave Mr. Izmarlian when he was the owner of Baha Mar. For instance, the same concessions on gaming taxes, property tax, and marketing support that were granted to Izmarlian were also granted in the new deal.

The major difference is a VAT concession; the only VAT that was waived was associated with completing the project which amounts to no more than $7.5 million. The settlement paid to displaced workers, contractors and creditors amounted to more than $100 million.

The VAT associated with the sale of Baha Mar was NOT waived, but deferred and will be collected as customers stay at the resort.

In Passing
At a rally in Grand Bahama on Monday, Prime Minister Christie announced the Heads of Agreement to be signed with Carnival Cruise Lines the following day. He said that the negotiations to sell the three hotels in Lucaya to a Canadian investment group was progressing rapidly. He also urged voters not to support the “Fake National Movement” and Dr. Minnis, who he called the most “reckless” and “unprepared” person to ever vie to lead the country.

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis presented his “record” of infrastructure development and social advancement in the Cat Island, San Salvador and Rum Cay constituency, including a modern $5.1 million primary school.

Meanwhile former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham on Monday told North Abaco supporters that he had information about a theft of nearly $1m from the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance responded that there was no evidence of this theft but invited Mr. Ingraham to forward his evidence to the police for investigations.

“Fake news” were the words used by PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts to describe the allegations made by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham that $860,700 was stolen from the Ministry of Finance.

FNM candidate for Golden Gates Michael Foulkes was assessed by the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and found to owe the US government $132,493.60 in taxes, including interest and penalties spanning several tax periods from 1999 to 2001, a document obtained by The Tribune showed.

The RBPF has promoted 851 officers, according to an announcement from Commissioner Greenslade on Monday as officers prepare to cast ballots in the general election’s advanced poll on Wednesday.

The University of the Bahamas is seeking to attain accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), a regional accreditation agency recognized by the United States Department of Education.

Two bids have been submitted for the New Providence Landfill’s management and remediation. Kenred Dorsett, Minister of the Environment and Housing added that he expects to receive a report on Tuesday.

Fyre Festival co-founder Billy McFarland assured the Ministry of Tourism that local vendors that assisted with staging the event would be paid amid claims that they have yet to be compensated for work performed, according to a statement from the Ministry of Tourism yesterday.

he special purpose vehicle called Perfect Luck, created to handle the assets of Baha Mar, has agreed to put almost $2 million in creating a wildlife sanctuary in the area of its back-of-house operations just off Gladstone Road – $700,000 was originally invested under Baha Mar’s former developer.

Calvin Ayre reports that the Government of The Bahamas has closed the sale of Baha Mar, under “highly favourable” terms for the Hong Kong buyer CTFE citing exemptions from value-added tax (VAT) through December 31, 2019, plus a 10-year exemption from real property tax following the opening date of each phase of the development.

Shane Gibson accused the FNM of “plagiarizing” a portion of Jamaica’s People’s National Party’s manifesto. He also explained to supporters his spending of $125,000 on various community initiatives including $50,000 each year on scholarships to constituents.

Tellis Bethel has been named commodore of the RBDF following a massive promotion exercise of 427 officers announced Tuesday, described as the largest ever for the law enforcement agency.

All four international organizations invited by the Government have confirmed their attendance to observe the electoral process on May 10th, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The first of the RBDF’s Bahamas class vessels to be able to dock at Coral Harbour base has arrived after an eight-month refit, adding a patrol craft to the active fleet.

National Congress of Trade Unions executives yesterday praised the Christie administration for advancing trade relations in the country while appearing skeptical of how labor issues would be resolved under a FNM government.

Bahamas National Festival Commission CEO Roscoe Dames Tuesday said local attendance for New Providence’s Bahamas Junkanoo festivities will not be negatively affected by the commission’s recent decision to postpone the event – then reverse their decision – due to possible conflicts with the general election timetable. Ofcials said tickets sales were strong.

The Christie administration’s revamped mortgage relief program has enrolled 479 homeowners as of March 2017. In its monthly economic report for March 2017, the Central Bank of the Bahamas said approximately 1,478 (88.4 percent) eligible homeowners were contacted.

Regulators have mandated that BPL alter its renewable energy interconnection agreement to give homeowners certainty of a 15-year payback, and make it clear that ‘fuel charge’ compensation is only temporary.

Multiple news outlets, including the Miami Herald, Travel Pulse, Travel Weekly, and Cruise and Ferry reported that up to one million cruise passengers a year will be transported to a new cruise port in The Bahamas to be developed by Carnival Cruise Line.

PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts fired back at former Prime Minister Ingraham’s claims that the Public Treasury does not have the money to pay police officers overtime, calling his comments “bogus”.

There is never a wrong time to promote law enforcement officers, State Minister for National Security Keith Bell said yesterday as he responded to criticism that this week’s mass promotion exercised in the RBPF and RBDF were politically motivated.

Prime Minister Christie assured on Wednesday evening that he would follow through on his promise to pay police officers who worked extended shifts in 2013.

The advance poll took place in New Providence and Grand Bahama yesterday, but not on the Family Islands as it did in past elections, leaving some Family Islands residents greatly disadvantaged.

Vice President of the Wynn Group Randy Hart said work is being done “aggressively” to finalize the arrangements for the sale and reopening of the Grand Lucayan complex in Freeport, Grand Bahama.

By Friday of this week, Project NHI Bahamas confirmed that the number of persons enrolled in NHI had exceeded 10,000.

Embattled Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall Thursday confirmed that his contract has expired and that he would not be seeking an extension, as he adamantly defended himself from harsh criticisms over his department’s abysmal handling of Wednesday’s advanced polling process.

Defense publication Jane’s 360 reports that HMBS Nassau has returned to The Bahamas after being refitted by Damen Shipyards Group, which the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) announced on May 3rd.

Travel Market reported that the Meliá Nassau Beach, which is close to Baha Mar, kept operating, never closed, and since its takeover by Meliá from Sheraton in 2013, has recently undergone a $19 million renovation with more improvements to come.

Betty North, 67, yesterday became the first patient treated under the Government’s NHI program. This critical milestone marks the start of NHI’s primary care phase where persons who enrol will receive care at no cost at point of service. This achievement came as officials tout that “in excess of 100 providers” are now associated with the program.

Dr. Delon Brennen, NHI Project Manager, Thursday said he expects the number of primary care providers to “easily hit 150-200”, which would “more than cover” the number of Bahamians expected to enrol.

The contract to manage the NHI program’s public insurer could be concluded “in the coming days,” according to NHI Project Manager Dr. Delon Brennen who said doctors will temporarily be paid directly via the NHI Authority.

The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce’ president has pledged to pursue the private sector’s demand for answers over Freeport’s new investment regime as a “priority”, even though the deadline for compliance passed yesterday.

A local advocacy group has filed a petition to challenge the Supreme Court order that sealed documents relating to the sale of the Baha Mar resort to CTFE. Transparency in Politics has petitioned the court to intervene in the commercial sale proceedings between receivers and the resort, in a bid to have the order sealing the documents lifted on the grounds that “open justice is a constitutional right”.

Former Court of Appeal judge Neville Adderley has disagreed with former Chief Justice Dame Joan Sawyer’s recent critique of the Supreme Court-sealed deal to open Baha Ma, further charging that only a “perverse mind” would interpret the court’s sealing of the documents as an attempt to protect a “secret deal” by the Government.

Inclement weather interrupted political rallies by both the governing PLP and opposition FNM who scheduled rallies on Friday (5th May) in North Eleuthera and Grand Bahama.