THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS 25-29 MAY 2015…Continued
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When the House last met on the 20th May 2015, debate on the Petroleum Act was suspended pending the addition of amendments the opposition claimed were necessary to facilitate a full and proper debate on the bill. The amendments were delivered to opposition members but they claimed that they did not have sufficient time to review the amendments so debate on the Petroleum Bill was deferred.
The existing bill, number 138 on the House agenda, was withdrawn by its sponsor, the member for Southern Shores and the newly amended bill was introduced and read for the first time effectively paving the way for a full House debate on the Petroleum Bill. The long title of the bill reads as follows: “A Bill for an Act to provide for the exploration and production of petroleum and for matters incidental thereto.”
The State Minister for Finance and member for Golden Isles the Hon. Michael Halkitis tabled a resolution for a government guaranteed loan in the amount of $35 million for the Public Hospital Authority to improve the country’s health infrastructure in preparation for the introduction National Health Insurance (NHI). The first phase is scheduled for introduction in January 2016.
The member for Englerston paid tribute to the life and work of former Senator Mizpah Tertullien. Her body will lie in the foyer of the Senate on Thursday, 28th May 2015 and her remains will be funeralized and interred at St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral on Friday, 29th May 2015.
There was an animated exchange in the House during a presentation by the member for St. Anne’s and PAC chair Hon. Hubert Chipman. He accused the government of breaking the law, said the judgment of the chair was in error and bogus. His assertions were challenged by the member for Fox Hill who referenced the Privileges Act or the Immunities Act as support. The speaker characterized the presentation as contemptuous to the chair; disrespectful to the chair; ultra vires the rules of the House and that the presentation did cast aspersions on the chair.
The House was suspended until 10 am on Wednesday, 27th May 2015 where the Honourable member for Centerville and Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie delivered the budget communication for the government’s 2015/2016 fiscal year.
PM Christie delivers 2015/2016 budget communication
The highlights of the two and one half hours budget communication delivered by Bahamas Prime Minister and Minister of finance the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie on Wednesday, 27th May 2015 are as follow:
The GFS (Government Financial Statistics) deficit was reduced by $342 million or two thirds over the past three years from a high of $539 million during the 2012/2013 fiscal year. The Prime Minister stated that the Government will borrow only $182 million in the 2015/2016 fiscal year compared to some $670 million during the 2012/2013 fiscal year.
The Government’s projected GFS fiscal deficit for the current period was estimated at $198 million, down $88 million from the initial forecast of $286 million at the beginning of the current fiscal year. This is 31% lower than initially forecasted and the lowest in seven years.
Value Added Tax (VAT) receipts totaled $110 million for the first three months of 2015, reducing the GFS deficit to 2.3% of GDP, down from the forecasted percentage of 2.8%. Total receipts are expected to reach $150 million by the end of the current fiscal year which ends on 30th June 2015.
Excise tax on vehicles slashed from 85% to 65% and a ban was placed on the importation of vehicles that are ten years and older.
Stamp duty on real estate transactions slashed to an across-the-board and uniform rate of 2.5%.
Real property tax on commercial properties valued at less than $500,000 slashed by 25 basis points – from 1% to 0.75%.
Pensioners living in a home valued under $1 million will enjoy a 50% discount on their real property tax.
Excise tax exemptions on building materials for construction in economically depressed areas in New Providence.
No excise tax on medical equipment, audio/visual equipment and alarms.
National Health Insurance will be implemented in January 2016 at no additional cost to Bahamians. The budget provides $60 million to target improved quality and efficiency in the administration and delivery of existing health care services.
$20 Million allocated for youth jobs training through the Urban Renewal 2.0 Project.
The Bahamas Mortgage Corporation (BMC) to raise $100 million via a bond issue to finance the construction of 1,000 homes. This is a public private sector partnership in housing development.
Government to allocate “seed funding” to promote its $200 million public private partnership (PPP) in infrastructure development.
Government to construct a $20 million multi-service facility on Gladstone Road for adults with disabilities.
Public Hospital Authority to raise $35 million dollars to improve health infrastructure ahead of the implementation of National Health Insurance (NHI).
The College of The Bahamas remains on target to transition to the University of The Bahamas by December 2015.
Country’s first National Development Plan (NDP) to be unveiled in the 2015/2016 fiscal year.
Government to lease the former Bahamas Academy on Wulff Road for at risk students with low scholastic performances to give them the focused attention needed to address their specific needs. This includes a tracking system that will identify many of the root causes of their behavioral problems. This policy is part educational, social and is a pre-emptive strike against criminality according to Prime Minister Christie.
Debate begins on the 2015/2016 budget on Tuesday, 3rd June 2015 in the House of Assembly. Please tune in to 104.5FM or log onto www.znsbahamas.com for live coverage.
Bahamas and China sign air service agreement
Having signed an initial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in China on air services in January, The Bahamas and China inked a second MOU in Nassau on Thursday – a formal air services agreement for increased airlift from China. With an estimated 140 million Chinese traveling regionally and internationally each year, China is the world’s largest tourism market.
Commenting on the logic and significance of this agreement within the context of Baha Mar and increased airlift to both Cuba and the United States was Prime Minister Christie who reasoned that given this trend, “it follows that The Bahamas is making application for direct flights to The Bahamas.”
Expressing optimism about the future of the relationship, Mr. Christie felt that the future looked bright when it came to the relationship between the two countries “particularly in the context of Chinese tourists who spend a lot of money around the world. In our meetings, we anticipated that one day soon we would be having and receiving more of those tourists in The Bahamas” said the Prime Minister.
Also weighing in on the significance of the agreement on the economy of The Bahamas was Transport and Aviation Minister, the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin.
“If The Bahamas just got a small, tiny fraction of that, it would be an incredibly significant impact on the marketplace” noted the Minister.
Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe confirmed that the Ministry of Tourism is already engaged in negotiations with some of the 52 Chinese airlines on increased airlifts to The Bahamas. He envisions great participation by Bahamasair as part of the alliance, operating connecting flights in cities such as Washington DC and Houston Texas.
PM Christie breaks ground on home for the disabled
On the heels of a newly refurbished facility for autistic children at the former Our Lady’s Catholic School, both Prime Minister Christie and Minister Griffin participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for a multi-service center for adults with disabilities. The facility will be constructed on thirty acres of land on Gladstone Road at a cost of between $15 million and $20 million.
“Every child in our country has a fundamental right to share in equity of the country” said Prime Minister Christie, a father of a special child, Adam who reiterated that he is patently aware of the challenges that Bahamian parents of disabled children face.
Drawing the relationship between social dislocation and criminality, Mr. Christie pointed out that too many young Bahamians with developmental challenges have fallen through the proverbial social cracks in society and this circumstance can lead to a life of crime.
“There is more than a casual relationship between children who fall through the cracks and their descending into crime” said the Prime Minister and for that reason he is resolutely committed to personally seeing this project through.
Construction is slated to begin by year’s end and noting the urgent need for such a facility, Social Services Minister Hon. Melanie Griffin assured that the building will be completed before the 2017 general elections.
Minister Strachan addresses inaugural Standards Council meeting
Addressing stakeholders at the first Standards Council meeting, Minister of Financial Services Hon. Hope Strachan assured the gathering that her Ministry is moving full speed ahead with the implementation of the 2008 Standards Act and Weight and Measures Regime under a fully functional and effectual Bureau of Standards.
“While the country, by Acts of Parliament, officially established the Standards Act and the Weights & Measures Regime in February of 2008” said the Minister, “my Ministry is advancing full steam ahead to ensure that the Bureau of Standards is fully operational, effectual, and that this standards body is afforded the legislative teeth to ensure compliance with regional and 3 international treaties, and World Trade Organization (WTO) and Technical Barriers to Trade Agreements.”
The Standards Act articulates a number of provisions including the appointment of a Standards Council, the appointment of a Director, development of voluntary and compulsory standards, regulations, the use of standards marks, and a compliance
Minister Strachan revealed that to date, her Ministry has appointed the Director for the Standards Bureau and the Standards Council; created a 3 year Organizational Structure and Roadmap Plan for the establishment of the Bureau; redeployed a technical officer to work in standards development and are finalizing the process of contracting 3 staff members to work at the Bureau of Standards.
This inaugural meeting took place on Thursday, 28th May 2015
Toxicologist in Nassau to assist in Rubis health investigation
Making good on the government’s promise to identify expert assistance to support its ongoing Rubis health investigations, Minister of Health the Hon. Dr. Perry Gomez welcomed Netherlands born Toxicologist Dr. Rik Van de Weerdt to the team during a briefing session at the Ministry of Health today.
“I am pleased to note that a Toxicologist all the way from the Netherlands is here in The Bahamas to assist us in the issues surrounding the Rubis oil spill. The government is living up to its promises and we hope that we will be much better off as a ministry and a country as a result of these consultations” said the Health Minister. He also advised that an Epidemiologist with extensive experience in working with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is scheduled to join the team of health consultants shortly.
Also welcoming Dr. Weerdt was Chief Medical Officer Dr. Glen Beneby.
“We are very pleased to welcome the Toxicologist at the invitation of PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) at our request to help us prepare the road map going forward on the Rubis oil spill” said Dr. Beneby. He said that he was happy that Dr. Weerdt had started his work and pointed out that the Ministry has compiled information from the incident that will be shared with Dr. Weerdt to be used as a reference point in his consultative work.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) were instrumental in securing the services of Dr. Weerdt and according to its consultant – Social Determinants of Health for The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Kelly Kavanagh Salmond, PAHO seeks to achieve two main objectives during this process. One is to support the ongoing government protocols as requested and the other is to engage in dialogue with specific organizations to establish a road map going forward and incorporating their recommendations into the team’s overall strategy. Additionally, Ms. Salmond advised that under PAHO’s human resource regime, surveillance and response to chemical events and incidences are also taken into account when recommendations are made.
Grand Bahama gets new police fire station
“Today, I am very pleased to witness the execution of a contract in the amount of $6,109,999.75 between the Government of The Bahamas and Patrick McDonald Construction Company to construct the new Police Fire Station for Grand Bahama. The contract period is not to exceed 70 weeks. The terms of the contract (are) the standard Government Long Form contract with some modifications.”
With that announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development, the wait for a replacement to the metal pre-fabricated fire station that was irreparably damaged in 2004 when Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne landed in Grand Bahama is finally over. This is indeed good news for Grand Bahama.
Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell traveled to Ottawa, Canada to visit the Bahamas High Commission and to meet with the Bahamian Diaspora there.
BAMSI president Ambassador Godfrey Eneas and project director Dr. Omer Thomas were in North Andros on Monday to meet with Craig Symonette, take him on a tour of the campus and discuss potential business prospects.
Bahamas Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie travels to Bridgetown Barbados on Saturday morning to participate in the installation ceremony for the new Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. The ceremony will take place at the Usain Bolt stadium, Cave Hill campus of UWI. Accompanying the Prime Minister will be the Minister of Education, Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald; Director of Scholarship Loan Division of the Ministry of Education Reginald Saunders and Under Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Philip Turner and Security Aide and Media. The Prime Minister is scheduled to bring remarks during the ceremony.
Exuma and Ragged Island MP Anthony Moss was busy this week in Exuma sprucing up sporting facilities, especially basketball courts. This is part of the government’s plans to bring greater focus to youth development in the area of sports.
Former PLP Senator, psychologist and columnist the late Mizpah Tertullien was eulogized today at St. Frances Xavier Cathedral and interred in the catholic cemetery.
Urban Renewal, under Operation Love Your Country, conducted a massive community cleanup campaign and pep rally on Thursday of this week. Volunteers assembled at Bishop Alvin Moss Park, located between Toote Shop Corner and Sunlight Cottage, behind the Church of God Cathedral.
Prime Minister Christie hosted the president of Air China to dinner on Thursday night, hours after signing that huge air services agreement.
The $7 million recycling plant at the public land fill on Tonique Williams Highway was officially opened this week Thursday by Prime Minister Christie. This plant is the first of its kind in the region said its CEO Andy Wilson, making The Bahamas a regional leader in the export of recycled materials.
In its last commencement exercise as the College of The Bahamas, 557 students graduated on Thursday evening in a ceremony at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium. The vast majority of graduates were from the schools of Education and Business. Twenty-six percent of the graduates were males. The graduates were encouraged to be the vessels for national transformation.