Senator Clay Sweeting Contribution to the Senate
Madame President, it is indeed and privilege an honour that I stand on behalf of the people of North, Central and South Eleuthera as a Senator and more importantly, the people of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas to thank Her Excellency the Governor General for her most gracious speech from the Throne. She was looked most eloquent and beautiful as she delivered a speech like no other. Lady Pindling, along with Sir Lynden Pindling and my grandmother and grandfather spent time together in North Eleuthera when Hon. Peter Bethel won the seat for the St. Johns Constituency in 1982. They always spoke of her humbling personality and incredible demeanour.
It is only by God’s grace and his blessings that I am able to be here and contribute to the further development of this great country of ours. Madame president, we were sent here to do the people’s business and to act on their behalf and in the best interest of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. I do not take it for granted.
I would like to offer condolences to the family and friends of Ms Angela Elden from Current Eleuthera especially her brother Mr. Derek Elden. She was a great women and someone that was loved by all in the Current and Eleuthera. She had strong ties to all the communities and showed her love throughout.
I would also like to offer condolences to the family and friends of Keisha Roberts especially her mother Ms. Midred as well as the Roberts and Percentie families.
Lastly, I must offer condolences to the family and friends of Mr James Rolle of James Cistern. He was a nation builder and community activist. A proud member of the Progressive Liberal party and part of our country’s social, cultural and economic reformation. Mr. Rolle was a pillar of his community and of the country.
May their souls and the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace.
I am a former fishermen and a young businessman. My grandparents and parents raised me to toil and to work hard. The Bible says by their fruits you shall know them. I don’t pretend to be the most eloquent speaker or flamboyant, but one thing I am, is a dedicated hardworking Bahamian. One who wants to see the best for my country, for Eleuthera, for my home. I want my family to be able to live in an economically robust community with proper education, proper health care, a crime free and safe environment. While I enjoy my time here in the Senate, I am here to work.
However, Madame President, I’m not sure the Government is! I share in the sentiments of my leader when he said that it seems to becoming very clear and painfully obvious that this FNM Government has no plan and no vision for this country’s future. This is both unfortunate and unacceptable. Our primary purpose in this Place is the passage of laws for the good governance of the Bahamas.
Many times during the campaign we reminded the Bahamian people about the FNMs stop, cancel and review policy and well here we are. There are numerous persons in Eleuthera that were hired on the Job Empowerment Program that have not been paid in weeks and months. These individuals wake up every day, get dressed, drive miles or hitch hike to work religiously, day in and day out and still are not getting paid. There are individuals that are working at the administrator’s office, social services, the airport, and other government offices in Eleuthera that have not been paid in months. They call me almost everyday, wondering what has happened to the so called People’s Time Government. Are they not the same people the FNM campaigned about, or is it something we’re missing? All I ask is pay the people. They worked for it, they have earned it.
Madame President, I read the speech from the throne thoroughly, but for some unknown reason the fishermen and the fishing industry was not even mentioned. Maybe there is an appendix that I didn’t receive.
Does this show the Government’s dedication to the fishermen of the country?
Have they been forgotten by this People’s Time Government?
The last time we met in this Honourable House, I spoke about my unequivocal care for the fishing industry and my unwavering support for the fishermen. As the shadow Minister for Agriculture and Marine Resources, I made a commitment to be the voice for them and do to whatever I can on their behalf. I spoke about their plight and how the fishermen of this country are hardworking and resilient people. I spoke about the hopes that the Government of this country continues with the PLPs initiatives to patrol the Grand Bahama Banks.
Unfortunately, the fishermen are now faced with another harsh reality. Hurricane Irma swept across the Caribbean causing devastation to a number of countries and wreaked havoc on our country especially Ragged Island. My prayers and thoughts are with the people of these communities and their families.
The fishermen of this country are now faced with the single most devastating natural disaster that has ever faced the fishing industry. I have spoken with many fishermen in this country and according to them they fear that the industry as they know it has a rocky road ahead. The fear that they may not be able to provide for their families is overwhelming. Some fishermen will have to build their companies from the ground up. Most of these has been established for 30+ years. Lobster Processing for this year up to date is down 40% with a steady decline. If something is not done to assist the fishermen of this country, we may see communities that were once lavish and successful become another economy horror story.
I issued a press release a few weeks ago in response to the Minister of Marine Resources’ statement that they were reviewing the possibility of extending the grouper season to allow the fishermen to make the monies lost in the crawfish season as a result of the hurricanes during the summer.
However, extending the grouper season would not be able to even come close to recoup the money lost because of the category 5 storm. It is not possible to substitute the collection of grouper to counteract the effects of Hurricane Irma on the fishermen of this country. The fishermen have immediate financial needs, so they need immediate assistance. We must think logically when disasters occur and the most efficient way to deal with disasters is not always the quickest.
Fishermen across this country have lost a significant amount of hardware including condos and traps which damages their ability to harvest crawfish. A few vessels have explored the bank since the press release and the report is much worse than anticipated. Fishermen across this country have lost millions of dollars in revenue as well as in condos and traps. In order for the fishing industry to continue to thrive, fishermen will have to replace their hardware as soon as possible.
The Government of the Bahamas has made the commitment to restructure the Bahamas Development Bank. In September, at a Eleuthera Business Outlook meeting, the Deputy Prime Minister stated that the Government was exploring the possibility of providing entrepreneurs with grants for their startup businesses. With that being said my recommendation is for the Government to make funds readily available for the fishermen of this country to replace the equipment lost during the storm instead of exploring the opening of the Grouper season.
This can be in the form of short term loans or government grants to assist the fishermen to replace their condos and traps as soon as possible. Senator Thompson spoke yesterday about the possible restructuring of the Bahamas Development Bank and it is my hope that they will extend a helping hand to the fishermen of this country as well.
I also heard the Member for Killarney in the lower chamber speak to an exigency order for the fishermen and farmers of this country. I haven’t seen the order, however for the record, I will say this. There is no use insulting the intelligence of the fishermen and farmers of this country with an exigency order, if it provides duty free exemption for fishing equipment or farming equipment because they are ready able to bring in such equipment duty free.
Don’t try and make political brownie points spewing rhetoric that has no significant impact on the lives of the people affected.
The Fishermen need cash to get restarted.
I would also like to address an issue that has been brought to my attention in regards to foreign fishing. The Government must review regulations and provide better oversight of pleasure crafts entering and leaving this country to protect fishing stock. The regulations provide for 6 fish of each species to be caught per person per day. Imagine if a crew of 10 is in the Bahamas for 10 days. In any event, I am reasonably advised that yachts with walk in commercial freezers frequent the Exuma Cays, North Eleuthera and the Berry Islands in particular. They then go back home with freezers full of fish paying no mind for legislation or policies. This has been a continuing issue under both governments but we must provide better oversight and enforcement; even of the existing regulations.
There is also a policy that was implemented by the former government that makes it mandatory for foreigners who wish to bone fish to acquire a Bahamian guide as well as a license. I do support the inclusion of Bahamian guides in the industry but the process of acquiring a permit is cumbersome. It is my suggestion and personal opinion that the government implement an online licensing program whereby guides wishing to fish on the weekends can acquire a license through an online portal, pay with a credit card and print the license at home. This will increase local bone fishing charter activity as persons will not have to wait until the weekend is over to acquire a license.
Inquiring Minds Want To Know
- Before the Progressive Liberal Party left office, the then government executed a contract with funding from the IDB to construct and install a reverse osmosis plant in North Eleuthera. This would in turn provide potable water to all the residents and citizens of the island. They need it and I hope that the project continues. I have not heard much about it in recent months, so inquiring minds just want to know, is the project still progressing?
- Inquiring minds want to know…what is the government going to do to promote local land ownership and development in the family islands? Will they make available, Crown Land to qualified Bahamians at concessionary rates in communities such as Bogue and the Bluff? I do support these type of initiatives as these communities do not have access to purchase personal property and it is of my opinion that we must find ways to encourage Bahamian ownership. There is an old adage that states that land is wealth. Even in the past, you couldn’t vote without owning property and you were able to cast your votes according to how much property you owned.
- Inquiring minds want to know…what is the government going to do for local farmers? Will there be measures and programs put in place to encourage local farming with youth initiatives with the possibility of canning factories and processing plants. You will provide tax incentives to industries associated with farming in order to further promote the industry and so we can get one step close to feeding ourselves.
- What is the government doing with NHI? In the speech from the throne the government promised to extend the focus of NHI to secondary and tertiary health care as well as oversee the incremental implementation of a progressive and functional National Catastrophic Health Insurance Programme. In July the Minister of Health stated that the government has made it very clear to the Bahamian people that NHI will be improved. He said that he made a commitment to the Bahamian people to make it work. I find this so odd that in July the Government made a commitment to continue to enrol people with NHI and here were are only three months later and persons contracted with NHI are being let go.
How can the Peoples Time Government properly roll out NHI without proper staffing. I am told that employees contracted under NHI has been released in North Eleuthera and all staff in Grand Bahama were released yesterday. I am sure the government may make the assertion that there is a difference between expiration of contracts and termination. That is all well and good but at the end of the day the people are without jobs. We just spoke in depth yesterday about Freeport and saving Grand Bahama. You cannot allow people to go without a job and expect to save the economy.
If the government was serious about providing proper healthcare for citizens of this country, let me ask…how can they do it without adequate staffing and resources? Inquiring minds want to know.
- Will the government abide by its promise to construct, upgrade and expand state-of-the-art facilities and services throughout New Providence and the Family Islands, inclusive of a mini hospital on the island of Eleuthera? The Progressive Liberal Party laid the framework, architectural renderings and the initial phase of the mini hospital in Eleuthera. I am told that the project is put on hold…. inquiring minds want to know. Will they enhance the conditions of service for all health care staff.
- In Harbour Island, the former administration approved a public private partnership to demolish the old Government administration office and construct a new one in Harbour Island. This new administrative complex would house a new police station, magistrate court, administrator office, and other government entities. Trailers were sent to Harbour Island to serve as temporary office locations for these entities while the old complex was demolished and a new one constructed. Unfortunately, this project too seems to have fallen to the government’s stop, review and cancel policy. If the Government supports the people of this country and the people of Harbour Island, than why is the project sitting on the shelf or is it cancelled. Inquiring minds want to know. The people of Harbour Island want to know. I am sure that the Member of Parliament for North Eleuthera will not sit by and let that project be cancelled. Just because it was a so called PLP project doesn’t mean that the government shouldn’t complete it. Let’s not play politics with the lives of the people of this country. Let’s not be political when it comes to the betterment of our family island communities.
- In the speech from the throne the government dedicated themselves to provide a one-stop shop for the ease of doing business in this country. In the later part of September, I was invited along with the Deputy Prime Minister to speak at the Eleuthera Business Outlook. I listened attentively as he spoke about the Governments initiative to provide the one-stop shop for doing business. I do support this and I feel that businesses especially on the family islands are disadvantaged and the red tape seems never-ending. As long as it is initiated correctly and efficiently, I support it. Businesses should not have to wait three to four months just to get a business license because of the paperwork involved. All inspections and procedures should be procured from one location in order to speed up the process and in turn encourage Bahamians to become business owners. I’m a family island boy so I understand their frustrations. It is time that the Family Islands are no longer treated like Out Islands but as piers with Nassau.
Madame President, I have seen on social media that some supporters of the side opposite calling members of the Progressive Liberal Party salty which I assume means bad sportsmanship. This side, the opposition, has said on numerous occasions that election is over, we lost, get on with governing. We are looking for a bigger, brighter future in the PLP as we renew, rebrand and revamp the party.
If you want to say we’re salty……You right we’re Salty.
We’re salty on behalf of the young lady who’s working everyday as a janitress, traveling miles, hitch hiking to work just to ensure that her father can buy medication.
You right we’re salty. Salty on behalf the young mother who is working two and three jobs just to get by. Hoping to provide for her children to give them a quality education.
Salty…you right we’re salty. Salty on behalf of the people of this country that were promised VAT exception in bread basket items but are still waiting.
Salty…you right we’re salty. Salty on behalf of the young men and women of this country that were promised a free college education but has yet to be offered it.
I’m Salty on behalf of the fishermen and farmers of this country that have not seen any hurricane relief assistance from the government.
I’m Salty on behalf the thousands of people that need proper health care but cannot afford to receive it.
Madame President, I will close with this. In the book of Ecclesiastes in states that:
3 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
This is the FNM’s time. They say this is the People’s Time. We all have our time, so People’s Time Government, don’t waste the Peoples Time.
God Bless you and God Bless the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. I support the resolution.