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THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS

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This day in Parliament

The Bahamas Parliament met on Wednesday, 17th February 2016 for the first reading of a bill for an Act to amend the Bail Act and the second reading and committal of a bill to extend for a further period of three months, specific tax concessions of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA).

The first reading of the amendments to the Bail Act was delivered by National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage.

Prime Minister Christie led off the debate on the second reading of a bill to extend for a period of three months, specific tax concessions contained in the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.

In his preamble, the Prime Minister chronicled the state of the Freeport economy and in particular, the tourism industry, pointing out that the industry “was in severe decline with low hotel occupancies; a number of 8 hotels had closed and there was inadequate airlift.” Government subsidies to Grand Bahama in marketing support totaled $29 million. He said that the policy actions his government took such as the arrangements with Sunwing of Canada to renovate and re-open the closed Reef Hotel cut in half “the $29 million being spent annually in subsidies and marketing support.” This resulted in the renovation and opening of the Lighthouse Point Property, “a significant turnaround in tourism and the creation of more than a thousand jobs,” expansion in airlift and employment opportunities for Bahamians in the cruise ship industry said Mr. Christie

The Prime Minister outlined other initiatives undertaken by his government:

  1. Negotiations with Hutchison and MSC to expand the container terminal and to provide them with the necessary assurance of continuing the concessions;
  2. Proposal now under consideration from Carnival for the construction of a new cruise port in East Grand Bahama;
  3. Re-negotiation of the exclusivity granted in 1994 to Freeport Harbour Company for the construction and operation of container and cruise ports in Grand Bahama;
  4. $110 million investment in expansion and development of a Six Sense Resort at Deep Water Cay;
  5. Enacted Stem Cell legislation and secured the completion and operation of Okyanos Treatment Center;
  6. Actively encouraging new investors for the Ginn project in West End;
  7. Major expansion of Pharmachem.

In insisting that there needed to be a paradigm shift in Grand Bahama with new leadership at the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), Mr. Christie again recounted the recommendations submitted to the Bahamas government by the HCA Review Committee ostensibly in exchange for extending the HCA tax concessions for another 20 years. The substantive recommendations included a new majority owner at the GBPA; a government seat on its board of directors; an equity interest by the government in the GBPA and PGL companies; a modern airport; deeper democracy for the port licensees including an appeals process; suitable partners for Hutchison Whampoa’s tourism assets and real property taxes on undeveloped properties.

Prime Minister Christie also outlined additional recommendations he said were designed to “increase the competitiveness of Grand Bahama as a location for global investment.” Those changes included the establishment of a one-stop-shop to manage all GBPA government approvals; the transfer of certain regulatory functions from the GBPA to public bodies; ongoing audits; improved labour and immigration matters; greater emphasis on skills training and the registration of land at the country’s public land registry.

“It has become abundantly clear that in order for the economy of Freeport to grow and develop in line with the original vision and purpose of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, large sums of new capital and top level management and promotion expertise are required to drive expansion of existing businesses and the introduction of new ones.” One such investor is the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) whom the Prime Minister met with last week in Geneva Switzerland. He characterized the meetings as “encouraging” and “fruitful” but was restricted in revealing the details of the negotiations at this time.

In concluding, the Prime Minister expressed confidence that in the ensuing three months his government will arrive at a successful conclusion to the HCA proposal that will lead to long-term growth and prosperity for Grand Bahama, a sound democratic environment, buttressed by international best business practices.

“We shall keep fully engaged in further negotiations in the ensuing months. With the assistance of our advisors and cooperation of stakeholders, we remain confident that we shall be able within the three-month extension contained within the Bill before us to bring the exercise to a successful conclusion, leading to sustained long-term growth and prosperity for Grand Bahama, within a sound democratic environment and in conformity with international best business practices” concluded Mr. Christie.

Prime Minister receives report on gender-based violence

Calling the report on gender-based violence a ‘landmark’ document, Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie lauded the work of Commission and its chair, retired Justice Rubie Nottage.

Mr. Christie officially received the report and recommendations at the Office of the Prime Minister on Monday morning during a press conference. The report listed ten programmes, dubbed “The Low Lying Fruit,” to be addressed early in the implementation phase.

The Prime Minister highlighted a few of the recommendations during his press briefing.

To “strengthen the family as a unit and empower the family to socialize our children” Mr. Christie announced the establishment of a Department of Family and Gender Affairs and that the plans for the Family Court System are well advanced.

The Prime Minister also foreshadowed a programme to address children exposed to domestic or community violence. This programme he said will be led by the Crisis Centre in partnership with the Ministries of Social Services and Community Development, National Security, Attorney General’s Office, Education and Science, Health and Youth, Sports and Culture. He believed that this “early intervention programme will be essential in providing the necessary tools to help children process the emotional aftermath of their exposure to violence.”

Turning his attention to our men and boys, Prime Minister Christie announced the mentoring program called project “Reclaiming our Boys” that will initially focus on “the sensitization of men as champions for change. The project will focus on training programs for men to empower them with the skills to mentor our boys effectively during this critical period of their development” said the nation’s chief.

The report also recommended the establishment of the Gender Based Violence Authority (GBV), a statutory public private sector body to provide supervisory oversight to the projects. A GBV Secretariat will also be appointed.

All of the projects said the Prime Minister will be implemented in collaboration with six Ministries (Social Services & Community Development; National Security; Education, Science & Technology; Attorney General’s Office; Health and Youth, Sports & Culture) and stakeholders that worked with the Task Force. 

PHA signs $7.5 million contract for health infrastructure upgrade

The first of the $42.4 million allocated for health infrastructure upgrades ahead of NHI implementation was signed on Tuesday between the Public Hospital Authority (PHA), International Med-X and Ports International. The amount was $7.5 million.

The Bahamas government allocated $60 million in the 2014/2015 fiscal budget to launch a very “aggressive health system-strengthening program” said PHA Managing Director Herbert Brown.

The contract signed was for the supply of advanced diagnostic imaging equipment, including state-of-the-art MRI and CT scan machines.

Mr. Brown said that additionally, the PHA will invest heavily in the “human capacity” of the PHA. He pointed to the engagement of 28 medical doctors for assignment not only in the hospitals but in community health services. He estimated the cost to engage these doctors, nurses and other support staff to exceed $2 million.

He added that in a matter of weeks, the PHA will invite tenders for the physical upgrade of the Princess Margaret Hospital’s (PMH) maternity ward and later in the year, a $14 million upgrade to the Accident and Emergency facilities of the PMH.

Strachan eyes “economic residences”

“Attracting HNWIs and UHNWIs can be tied to investment, home ownership, business ownership, education, infrastructure, commodities or even corporate social responsibility.” This was the view expressed by Financial Services Minister the Hon. Hope Strachan as she delivered the keynote address this week during a luncheon hosted by the Bahamas branch of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) at the Hilton Hotel.

The Minister foreshowed amendments and improvements to the country’s immigration policy initiatives in the coming weeks to facilitate this financial services sector initiative. Minister Strachan was outlining the government’s expanded Economic Permanent Residency (EPR) Program designed to bolster the levels of foreign direct investment and cause for broad and far reaching economic growth opportunities in the country’s economy.

Strachan said that this expanded policy initiative was the result of widespread consultations with the financial services sector including the industry’s board, the BFSB.

“We have a meeting scheduled with BFSB and other stakeholders from the industry. So over the course of the next – I would say – two to three weeks, you should be hearing from us on the final immigration proposals.”     

Under the current EPR program, applicants must invest in a home in The Bahamas valued at more than $500,000 or have beneficial interests in a growth category business in The Bahamas that supports the employment of Bahamians. The government is looking to expand on the requirements of this policy.

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