THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (DEC, 15 – 19, 2014) COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY
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Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell flew to Washington DC on Sunday to attend a series of meetings that culminated in his address to the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) on Tuesday of this week.
The new administrative measures being taken by the government of The Bahamas to strengthen the country’s immigration policy and eliminate fraud took center stage during these meetings. These administrative measures that took effect on 1st November 2014 have been the subject of much commentary both locally and internationally, much of which were based on misinformation. The meetings and address were meant to clarify the misinformation and restate the policy of The Bahamas government.
While in Washington DC the Minister met with CARICOM’s OAS Caucus and the Secretary General of OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza al on Monday, 15th December and addressed the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States on Tuesday of this week.
The respondents to the Foreign Minister’s address were the permanent representatives from the Republic of Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia. The issue of xenophobia raised by the Haitian ambassador raised eyebrows at home and was quite interesting given the fact that the wealth of The Bahamas and its open and highly integrated economy are driven by international tourism and travel and international financial services; the Bahamas welcomed 6.2 million tourists in 2013. Additionally, foreign expertise and labour figure prominently in our education, construction and health service sectors.
371 promoted at the RBDF
In the largest promotions and advancement exercise in the history of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Minister of National Security, The Honourable Dr. Bernard J. Nottage confirmed the approval of promotions and advancements for 371 men and women in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force effective from the 1st October 2014.
Approximately one quarter of the entire Defence Force was affected. Promotions and advancements comprised 57 Officers, 3 Warrant Officers, 112 Non-Commissioned Officers and 199 junior enlisted personnel.
More good news for Grand Bahama
Prime Minister Christie was in Grand Bahama on Monday with more good news in the announced return of Bahamas Celebration cruise line to Freeport from the port of Palm Beach, Florida in February 2015. The cruise liner was out of operations since 31st October. Its return with the new and larger MS Grand Celebration promises to strengthen the tourism product with greater stopover visitors for Grand Bahama.
“The new Grand Celebration replacement ship comes with 50% increased capacity and projects some two hundred and eighty thousand I am told year round passengers with not less than one hundred thousand electing to purchase a two or more night stay in Grand Bahama combination with the cruise boosting room nights will take it from just under 50,000 in 2014 to 125,000 minimum in 2015.”
The Prime Minister went on to say that the first phase of the operations will create at least 300 local jobs and the ship’s owners are hopeful that Bahamians can qualify for 100% of the 632 jobs on this Grand Bahama based ship.
Further, the announcement of another vessel, a $100 million superfast ferry by Balearia Caribbean is also good news for Grand Bahama. The new cruise ferry has a passenger capacity of 1,000 which is almost triple the capacity of the vessel currently servicing Freeport from Fort Lauderdale. This operation can potentially create as much as 250 direct and indirect jobs because Balearia is also moving all of its call center sales operations from the US to Freeport in support of the Ministry of Tourism marketing initiatives.
Reiterating the Prime Minister and his government’s commitment to bringing about an economic turnaround in Grand Bahama was Tourism Minister Hon. Obie Wilchcombe. He said that the country’s executive team has the leadership, the ammunition and all that is required to get the job done.
“He (the Prime Minister) is here today because it represents the exaltation of his words. It represents what he believes in and he made a commitment to Grand Bahama that we will come and turn this island around. With his leadership we are mandated; with his leadership we are given the ammunition – we are given all that we require make this island great again” said the Tourism Minister.
New Zealand expert applauds government’s VAT efforts
New Zealand VAT expert Dr. Don Brash was in The Bahamas this week to assess the progress of the government’s preparation for VAT ahead of its implementation on 1st Jan. He told the media that they could expect some prices to go up, but significant reductions in the customs duties exemptions will, for the most part, offset these price increases.
“One way or another, Bahamians will be paying a little more tax in total but I think the government’s reducing the tax at a moderate level, 7.5%, that’s quite a lot less than the rate applying in most other countries which have a VAT system.”
He was also impressed with the work of the government in preparing for the 1st Jan VAT implementation date.
“I think the government has done a very good job indeed in getting ready for January 1 introduction. The business community is by and large very much aware of the tax. They know that they have some responsibilities; well over 4,000 people applied to register; the government has done a very good job in getting those registrations actually through the system” said Dr. Brash.
He revealed that he will probably be back in February 2015 when large businesses are filing their returns and that will give him the opportunity to view the VAT system in progress and how well businesses are coping with the process of filing returns.
“It will be interesting to see whether businesses are able to cope with their process in February. The VAT department has put out some very good material, explaining to companies how they fill in the VAT returns and I think for most accountants certainly that will be a straight forward exercise” said Dr. Brash.
The expert said that he intends to prepare another report for the attention of Financial Secretary John Rolle with suggestions that he believes will make it even easier for businesses to comply with the new tax regime.
Petroleum Bill tabled in Parliament
The Minister for the Environment and Housing Hon. Kenred Dorsett promised sweeping changes in the energy sector and landmark legislation to govern and regulate upstream petroleum operations in The Bahamas. To the layman, in industry terminologies, ‘upstream’ means drilling and refining crude oil and ‘downstream’ means the distribution of refined products such as diesel, kerosene and gasoline to terminals, service stations and marinas. He made this promise back in September at a press conference before boarding a flight to New York City to commemorate Climate Change Day at the United Nations. The government also released The Bahamas’ National Energy Policy on the eve of Climate Change Day.
On Wednesday of this week, the Minister tabled the much promised legislation and attendant regulations, partially setting the stage for the legislative work of Parliamentarians in the 2015 House session.
The compendium of bills comprises the Petroleum Bill 2014, The Petroleum Regulations 2014, the Petroleum (Health & Safety) Regulations 2014, The Petroleum (Offshore Environmental Protection and Pollution) Regulations 2014, the Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill 2014 and the Sovereign Wealth Fund (Petroleum) Regulations, 2014.
Of course a percentage of the revenue derived from commercially viable quantities of crude oil will be allocated to a Sovereign Wealth Fund for the economic benefit of all Bahamians.
PM Christie responds to US/Cuba diplomatic relations
Not surprised by the resumption of normalized diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba as announced by U.S. President Obama, Bahamas Prime Minister Christie said that he believed this new political development will be both “useful” and “good” for the hemisphere and that it was consistent with the foreign policy philosophy of his government.
Below is the full text of the statement issued by Prime Minister Christie on 18th December:
“The government of The Bahamas anticipated and welcomes this new hemispheric political development of normalized relations between the United States and the Republic of Cuba and believes this to be useful and good for the Inter-America system and the hemisphere generally.
“With this, all thirty-three countries in the hemisphere, from Canada in the north to Chile in the south now enjoy some level of formal diplomatic ties. This is consistent with the foreign policy philosophy of the Bahamas government – to have peaceful and good relations with your neighbours.
“We believe that this agreement will lead to a reduction in tensions in the region and as for The Bahamas, it is hoped the beneficial impact will manifest itself in the area of a reduction in illegal migration into this country from Cuba and greater opportunities for Bahamian businesses.
“This is a step in the right direction and one the Bahamas government had anticipated given the discussions between my government and our Cuban counterparts both in the Organization of American States and in Cuba during the CARICOM-Cuba Summit.
“In this new dispensation of regional diplomacy, the government of the Bahamas is committed to greater collaboration with all of our neighbours on national issues of mutual concern including tourism, health care, education, international trade and commerce including agriculture.”
US President Barack Obama made the announcement from the White House on Wednesday, 17th December.
Prime Minister Christie bullish on bail
With a ranking of 11 out of 20 countries with the highest per capita homicide rate, Bahamas Prime Minister Perry G. Christie told reporters on Wednesday that his government will become more aggressive in addressing the issue of bail for those charged with serious crimes like murder. This enforcement initiative he said has to be done in tandem with the government’s ability to offer better alternatives, mostly economic, to our most vulnerable demographic grouping – our young people.
“We are going to challenge the young people of this island, as more and more jobs become available, not to be distracted by whatever crime offers them and we are going to be much more aggressive in dealing with those persons who are out on bail and being able to reach them, not only from a law and order point of view, (but) convincing them that there is a better way.”
The amended Bail Act and the availability of ten criminal courts are deliberate policies of the Christie government to address the backlog of cases and bring cases to trial in a reasonable time period, thereby dispensing justice swiftly and eliminating the constitutional argument for bail.
The murder rate to date stands at 116; this is up from 109 year-to-date in 2013. There were a total of 94 murders in 2010, 127 murders in 2011, 111 murders in 2012 and 119 in 2013.
The Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture announced the results of the junior junkanoo parade held at the Queen Elizabeth Sports Center on Saturday, 13th December
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Melia Resort workers scored a victory this week in that public row with Hotel management over the handling of gratuities. The hotel reinstated the 15% gratuity that it earlier terminated and Hotel, union and government representatives are scheduled to meet to negotiate and agree on an amended gratuity system pursuant to the existing labour agreement.
The annual parliamentarian luncheon was held on Wednesday at the Hilton Hotel on Bay Street. At this event several parliamentarians showed off their musical talents. Melanie Griffin serenaded her colleagues with Christmas Carols while MICAL MP, V. Alfred Grey played guitar and Golden Gates MP D. Shane Gibson banged on the drums.
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was in town this week and paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Christie. Mr. Giuliani became famous for his tough anti-crime policies, his post 911 leadership, and his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination during the Primaries in the run up to the 2012 general elections.
A memorial service was held for colleague, Rhoan Rolle at the PLP Headquarters on Wednesday evening. He was eulogized by colleagues including Prime Minister Christie who spoke in glowing terms of Rhoan’s work ethic, competence at organization, his commitment to the tenets of the PLP and his unwavering loyalty to the party. For those who travelled in political circles, Rhoan would forever be known for his “on the ground” skills. He was a warrior’s warrior and will be missed. His funeral is scheduled for Saturday, 20th December at St. Agnes Anglican Church. May his soul rest in peace.
H.E. Sean McWeeney is officially the Bahamian ambassador to the Vatican. He presented his credentials to His Holy See, Pope Francis at a ceremony on Wednesday, 18th December 2014 at the Vatican.
The Ministry of Transport and Aviation confirmed this Thursday that the Departments of Civil Aviation and Meteorology ?have successfully relocated from the Teachers and Salaried Workers Cooperative Credit Union Building, Independence Drive, to the J. L.? Centre on Blake Road, off John F. Kennedy Drive. The departments are fully operational at the new location.
A State-Recognized Funeral was held for late Mr. Lawrence Hugo Glinton, M.B.E., former Senator, on Thursday, 18thDecember, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. at St. Mary The Virgin Anglican Church on Virginia Street. Further, Mr. Glinton did lie-in-state on Wednesday 17th December, 2014, in the foyer of the Senate, Parliament Square from 9:00am until the body departed for the church on Thursday.
The President of the Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) Belinda Wilson was suspended this week for a period of six months by the union’s executive team. The Secretary-General in announcing the decision declined to reveal the nature of the infractions because of the pending appellate process afforded the accused. The embattled president declined comment to the media, opting to address the matter at a later date.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a travel advisory for all Bahamians travelling to South Florida on Friday that protests will take place near the Bahamas Consulate in downtown Miami, near the Miami International Airport and near the port of Miami. The statement advised travellers to be cautious and to take all necessary security measures to protect their personal safety.
Prime Minister Christie was in North Bimini earlier today to commission the newly paved King’s Highway, the island’s major thoroughfare. This latest infrastructural development is an adjunct to the newly refurbished international airport that allows night flights and the jetty and pier to facilitate the embarkation and disembarkation of fast ferry passengers from Florida. This good news for the people of Bimini is welcomed.
Upon his return to Nassau, the Prime Minister will participate in the annual Centreville Urban Renewal Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony to be held at the Father Marcian Cooper Park, Mason’s Addition. This public event is scheduled for 6:30pm and the public is invited to attend.