THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (3 -7 AUGUST 2015)
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“The Pointe” breaks ground on Bay Street
There is no question that Bay Street is an important tourism destination in itself. There can be no question that this part duty free shopping and entertainment district and historic cultural center was dying a slow economic and cultural death for decades and in desperate need of an economic stimulus. Well on Thursday Prime Minister Christie led a groundbreaking ceremony for the new $250 million hotel, “The Pointe” to be located on 6.1 acres of beachfront property adjacent to the British Colonial Hotel in downtown Nassau.
The Prime Minister thanked the developer, China State Construction and Engineering Corporation, and counted the number of new jobs this investment project would generate in the construction and operational phases.
“I would like to thank the Developer, China State Construction and Engineering Corporation, and Mr. Ning Yuan, its chairman, for the investment of $250 million in this harbour-front project, the 250 construction jobs being undertaken by Bahamians and the future employment prospects for 500 Bahamians in the operation and management of the hotel and residential units. This does not include the number of Bahamians who I expect will be employed by retail owners when the facility is fully subscribed and stores are operational,” said Prime Minister Christie.
Chairman of China Construction America, Mr. Ning Yuan said that this development acquisition was not only a first for China Construction in the Caribbean, but that China Construction America will be the “sole investor, developer and contractor for The Pointe Project.”
President of the Pointe, Mr. Daniel Liu said that the world-class residential development is designed to delight residents and visitors alike. Mr. Liu highlighted some of the resort’s amenities, which include a 200-room entertainment hotel, world-class shopping, fine dining and a 1,000-car garage.
This week in Parliament
The Minimum Wage Bill was debated and unanimously passed in the House on Wednesday evening of this week. Leading off the debate was the Bill’s sponsor, Labour and National Insurance Minister the Hon. D. Shane Gibson; the Bill was seconded by the member for South Beach the Hon. Cleola Hamilton. This new law increases the minimum wage in the private sector from US$150.00 to US$210.00 per 40 hour work week; this 40% increase in the minimum wage translates to US$10,920.00 per annum, US$42 per day or US$5.25 per hour. The minimum wage for government employees remains at US$250.00 per forty hour work week.
The Senate met on Friday (7th Aug) to debate and pass the Foreign Accounts Compliance Agreement (FATCA) and the Declaration of Currency Bills. These laws are designed to strengthen the level of compliance and the regulatory regime in our financial services sector while creating greater levels of transparency as the country strikes yet another proverbial blow against money laundering. Under the currency act, travelers leaving and entering The Bahamas will now be required by law to declare the value of the currency in their possession.
These pieces of legislation are on to the Governor General for final approval before becoming official law.
The Minimum Wage Bill and the Resolution to extend for a period of six months specific tax concessions to port licensees in Freeport under the Freeport Act 1993 are scheduled for debate in the Senate on Monday, the 10th August 2015 with the Minimum Wage Bill expected to become law on Saturday, the 15th August 2015.
Fox Hill celebrates Emancipation Day
The historic community of Fox Hill is arguably the most culturally rich and historically significant community in The Bahamas. Through the Fox Hill Festival Committee, the residents have preserved the history, character and culture of Fox Hill for many years so on Monday, 3rd August, Emancipation Day – the 181st anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire – the Fox Hill Festival Committee rose to the occasion once again under the Chairmanship of Maurice Tynes to organize an ecumenical service in observance of Emancipation Day. That day brought an end to the singular most important event in the African Diaspora and by extension, the development of The Bahamas.
Delivering remarks was the area member of Parliament, the Hon. Fred Mitchell who referenced the country’s successful work in the area of Trafficking in Persons (TIPS) to make the broader point that modern day slavery is a reality and we must all be ever vigilant.
He also maintained that in addition to the 1834 abolition, the Burma Road Riots, Black Tuesdayand other symbolic events that awakened the social consciousness of Bahamians were the most important dates in the modern political development of The Bahamas.
“The two dates 137 years apart are significant in that they both were an affirmation that the humanity of the African man and woman and their families were indeed part of the human family in this territory. It has been a long journey and hard struggle.
“In between there were many mileposts: the Burma Road Riots of 1942; the formation of the Progressive Liberal Party in 1953; the Citizens Committee and their fight to allow the first film of Sidney Poitier to be shown in The Bahamas in 1950; the General Election of 1956 that saw the first PLP representatives elected to office; the 1958 General Strike; the 1962 exercise by women for the first time to vote; Black Tuesday on the 27th April 1965 when the mace was thrown out of the window by Sir Lynden Pindling and then Majority Rule Day itself on10th January 1967. In 1973, we accomplished independence” said Mitchell.
Transport Minister responds to Air Traffic Controllers Union
Responding to union claims that the Bahamas government was guilty of abusing and withholding overtime payments due to Air Traffic Controllers on Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and Exuma, the Transport and Aviation Ministry reminded the union that issues of overtime were dealt with in accordance with General Orders, the statute guidelines for civil servants, and was applied without objection or complaint.
In a statement issued over the Emancipation Day holiday weekend, the Ministry said that it was advised that “in accordance with General Orders all controllers who worked overtime at Freeport Airport over the last two years have been credited with days off for time worked over and above regular work hours and further that no objection or complaint was raised during the past two years in respect of this protocol.”
However, in the interest of industrial harmony the Ministry invited union executives to a meeting on Tuesday of this week to discuss all “legitimate” disputes with a view to reaching an amicable settlement without the redundant vitriol or confrontation.
“The Ministry of Transport seeks to resolve all legitimate disputes in the interest of fairness and industrial harmony and would urge the Union’s President to seek to engage management stakeholders in an effort to arrive at amicable settlements of dispute without unnecessary vitriol or confrontation” said the Ministry’s statement.
Labour Minister responds to Melia on union dues
Recent actions by the management of the Melia Resort that some perceive as union busting drew a strong response from the Bahamas government.
On the heels of withholding employees’ gratuities based purely on a contractual technicality, the management of Melia has decided to discontinue the automatic deduction of union dues effective 31st August and restrict access to the hotel property by union representatives. The Minister of Labour responded this way:
“On behalf of the Government of The Bahamas, I wish to remind the Management of Melià as well as the principals of Baha Mar that the Bahamas Hotel Catering & Allied Workers Union is the statutory recognized trade union for all non-managerial workers at the property and as such the hotel has a legal obligation to treat and enter into negotiations, in good faith, with the elected officials of the Union. Failure to recognize this and to work in accordance with the legislation, is a violation of the Industrial Relations Act and if convicted, the Management of Melia and Baha Mar will be subject to a fine of five thousand dollars ($5,000.00), imprisonment of up to two years or both fine and imprisonment.”
The Minister cautioned Melia’s management to negotiate with the union in good faith and to remain cognizant of the country’s national sensibilities as they (foreign management) interact with their Bahamian workers.
DPM Davis provides update on capital works on Cat Island
Deputy Prime Minister and member for Cat Island the Hon. Philip Davis recently provided the public with an update on the development plans for Cat Island.
In addition to evaluating the bids, accessing funding and executing contracts by the end of August for the $33 million redevelopment of the New Bight airport, Davis said that his ministry was “remaking all of the clinics for the purpose of ensuring that its ready and being able to provide all of the health services that are necessary for the implementation of National Health Insurance.” “Those works” he said “are now ongoing and hopefully the signing of the contracts for the substantive works will occur within the next two weeks and those works will start.
“The roads have now been repaired, they’ve been fixed; a lot of the seawall work has been completed and we are now embarking on a feasibility study of a master plan for all of Cat Island that envisions us putting in what I call a spine road in the center of the island.” Mr. Davis envisions relocating the main thoroughfare from the shore line to the middle of the island and extending it from Old Bight/Port Howe all the way to Arthurs Town.
The Deputy Prime Minister said that the infrastructural upgrades are expected to boost the local economy as well as create some much needed jobs.
Commonwealth Bank donates to the Bahamas Cancer Society
Doing their part in the fight against the cancer, the principals of Commonwealth Bank presented the Cancer Society of The Bahamas with a check for Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($500,000.00), the single largest financial donation to the Cancer Society in its history; the sum covers a period of ten years. The check presentation ceremony took place at the Bank’s Corporate Headquarters on Mackey Street on Wednesday, 5th August 2015.
On hand for the presentation were Dr. Homer Bloomfield, Nicole Lewis-Rolle, Dr. Williamson Chea, Mr. J. Barrie Farrington, Mr. Ian Jennings, President of Commonwealth Bank; Lovern Wildgoose, President of the Cancer Society of The Bahamas, Ms. Marion Lewis, Ms. Mavis Burrows, V.P. of Operations for Commonwealth Bank; and Judith Higgs, Cancer Society Board Member.
Bonefish Pond access road paved
Demonstrating its commitment to the preservation of the environment, the Ministry of Works and Urban Development partnered with the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) to ease the access to Bonefish Pond National Park via a newly paved access road.
The BNT held a short ceremony to thank the Ministry for this important work. In his response, Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Davis said the gift of nearly 2,500 feet of asphalt finished roadway was paved at a cost of $142,246.01 and that the national park was one of New Providence’s best kept secrets.
He added, “I am very happy that my Ministry had an opportunity to participate in this venture. I encourage the work of the Bahamas National Trust as you continue your business of preserving essential wetland biodiversity throughout The Bahamas.”
Minister of the Environment and Housing the Hon. Kendred Dorsett; President, BNT, Larry Glinton and Executive Director, BNT, Eric Carey were also in attendance at the ceremony.
Minister Dorsett said he hoped that the new access road signals once again the commitment that this Government administration has to the ongoing work and efforts of the BNT.
He said individuals can experience an ecological Family Island transformation right in the city of Nassau by visiting sites like Bonefish Pond.
Bonefish Pond was designated a national park in 2002 to safeguard one of the largest remaining intact areas of near shore marine ecosystems around New Providence Island. It is the largest national park on the island covering 1,235 acres of mangrove lined creeks, seagrass meadows, and macroalgal beds.
Cooperatives YEES Pilot Program graduates sixteen young entrepreneurs
Calling it a “Red Letter Day in the history of Co-operatives,” Agriculture Minister the Hon. V. Alfred Gray congratulated sixteen (16) young participants who recently completed the ‘Youth Embracing Excellence Successfully’ or Y.E.E.S. Pilot Program after one month of intensive Cooperative training. He was delivering the commencement address at the Patrick Bain Training Room in the Bahamas Co-operative League Building on Thursday, 6th August.
In extolling the virtues of the Co-operatives movement, Minister Gray reminded the fledging entrepreneurs that they must “always foster equality among all members and the community by extension” and that the formation of Youth Co-operatives was “essential to the preservation of this important economic sector of our country.”
With the Department of Co-operatives tasked with the development of a Co-operatives business model, Gray assured the graduates that “young people are the future of the nation and hence it is important to always actively engage youth in nation building and succession planning.”
The Minister reiterated that Successful Entrepreneurs Leading the Future, or S.E.L.F., is indeed the “future of the Co-operative Movement in The Bahamas.”
Attorney General comments on Baha Mar
In these times no self-respecting column would be complete without some commentary on the ongoing Baha Mar saga. Bahamas Attorney General Senator shared some thoughts on this matter this week.
“For every day that enterprise…that project remains closed Bahamians are hurting; Bahamians who are connected to it and Bahamians who have put their hopes in it for their future. Now the important thing to note also is that the PM would like to see the disputes between these contracting parties to be resolved by themselves so they should arrive at a settlement” said the Attorney General.
But what about the “sovereign guarantee” request made by the developer and the government’s refusal to pay the salaries of foreign workers at Baha Mar, a decision Baha Mar characterized as “deplorable?”
The Attorney responded, “how is it that a billionaire is asking the Bahamian taxpayer to guarantee his debt, that’s what a sovereign guarantee is…the Bahamian taxpayer putting up a guarantee. That’s a very odd (request), it would be unprecedented as the Prime Minister said and a non-starter.”
Gibson referred to a certain newspaper headline that suggested that the government was acting in a deplorable manner for not paying the salaries of the foreign workers. She continued that a citizen opined to her that it would be deplorable if the Bahamas government had paid the salaries of the foreign workers. Gibson said “I adopt those words.”
It is now official. Bahamian Shaune Miller will face American Allyson Felix in the women’s open 400 meters at the IAAF Track and Field Championships in Beijing, China during August. Shaune is currently ranked #2 in the world and Allyson is ranked #4. The first and third ranked sprinters, Americans Francena McCorory and Sanya Richards-Ross are not contesting the 400 meters.
On Monday a busted underground water main on north Nassau Street near downtown Nassau caused some inconvenience to merchants operating in the downtown area. By Wednesday the Water and Sewerage Corporation reported the breeched line had been isolated and municipal water was being routed from elsewhere in the network. Operations were back to normal by Thursday.
In sports tourism news, the Ministry of Tourism is in negotiations with the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) to have the 2016 World Flag Football Championships held in Freeport Grand Bahama. This event will attract as much as 500 players, officials and supporters of the game.
The vision of developer Wallace Groves that gave birth to an economic free trade zone on Grand Bahama that would come to be called the “Magic City,” Freeport, the industrial capital of The Bahamas, legally enabled by the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, turned 60 on Tuesday of this week. Congratulations on a successful economic model.
Prime Minister Christie paid tribute to local businessman Frank Hanna on Wednesday when he attended a statue unveiling ceremony at the Headquarters of Frank Hanna Cleaning Company.
The $90,000 memorial constructed under the shade of the iconic and massive Silk Cotton Trees by the Bahamas government in memory of the four slain youngsters of Fox Hill was dedicated on Wednesday, 5th August 2015 at Freedom Park in Fox Hill. The four were senselessly gunned down on the 27th December 2013 as they awaited the results of the Boxing Day Junkanoo Parade on Freedom Park, Fox Hill. The honourees are the late Shanique Sands, Claudzino Davis, Eric Morrission, and Shaquille Demeritte.
Addressing the gathering were area MP the Hon. Fred Mitchell and Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis. Mitchell said December 27th was a horrible night and DPM Davis told family and friends that the Fox Hill community belonged to them therefore they must do all that they can to preserve its character, legacy and to build up the common life. This dedication ceremony was organized by the Fox Hill Festival Committee.
Another potential case of industrial unrest is brewing at the Pink Sand Hotel in picturesque Harbour Island. Management has apparently changed the traditional practice of guaranteeing the jobs of workers after the yearly closure for renovations during the slow months of September and October. Management now wants to terminate the employment of the hotel workers and have them apply for their old jobs when the hotel reopens in October. The announcement of this new practice did not sit well with the hotel union and the government. Director of Labour Robert Farquharson said that the government could be moved to enact legislation to outlaw this practice. Under common law, the original practice is a part of the terms and conditions of employment therefore the employees should be allowed to automatically return to work in their old jobs when the hotel reopens in October.
The government of The Bahamas hosted memorial services this week for the late entertainer Franklin “Count Bernardino” Ellis and renown Junkanoo results announcer Brian “Boldie” Gibson. The service for the Count was held at the Bahamas Center for the Performance Arts where Culture Minister Dr. Daniel Johnson paid tribute to the Count. May their souls rest in peace.
Craig Flowers, President of the Flowers group of companies donated $30,000 to the Cancer Society of The Bahamas on Friday, 7th August during a short ceremony at his headquarters on West Bay Street.