Governor General Sir Cornelius Smith read the speech from the throne which outlined the Government’s objectives for the upcoming session of Parliament. He sat in chair newly refurbished which was used by Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband when he came to The Bahamas for his official visit in 1959
Nassau, The Bahamas – Governor General His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Cornelius A. Smith read the ‘Speech from the Throne’ at the Opening of the New Parliament, October 6, 2021 at Baha Mar. The Speech communicated the “Blueprint for Change” of the Progressive Liberal Party Government, which upheld commitment to good governance, established on the principles of Transparency, Integrity & Accountability.
The overall objective, the Speech conveyed, is a “partnership with the Bahamian people to bring about a healthier, wealthier, and wiser society,” towards ‘a New Day.’
The Governor General in delivering the Speech from the Throne stated that a priority of the new government is, in light of the weaknesses in the healthcare system that were exposed by COVID-19: the introduction of legislation and policies to address future major health risks and avoid the need for Emergency Orders. Also important is investment in healthcare infrastructure throughout The Bahamas that ensures that Family Island clinics are properly equipped, inclusive of the capacity for telemedicine; building of new hospitals in New Providence and Grand Bahama through public-private partnerships; prioritization of public health and wellness initiatives; and aggressive movement to introduce catastrophic healthcare insurance to make healthcare more affordable, and to address the mental health issues of the country.
Also a priority — despite the weak economic outlook, the government will amend the VAT Act to lower the rate of VAT across the board to 10%.
With respect to economic initiatives, the Governor General pointed out that there will be:
- Focus on issues that will rescue, restore, and strengthen the economy
- Pursuit of strategies to address infrastructural needs of the country
- Measures to stabilize public finances and increase public revenue
- Implementation of a Debt Management Plan to address the historic debt burden and deficit
- Amendment of ‘The Procurement Act’ to strengthen provisions for Bahamian participation in Government Procurement at all levels
- Amendment of ‘The Fiscal Responsibility Act’ to strengthen the independence of the Fiscal Responsibility Council
- Amendment of ‘The Public Financial Management Act ’to ensure full compliance with all existing legislation
- Amendment of the ‘Commercial Enterprises Act’ to ensure that when jobs are being filled, Bahamians receive the highest priority
- Introduction of measures to encourage renewable energy industries in solar, wind, wave and ocean thermal energy
- Recommitment of The Bahamas to a minimum reliance on renewable energy by thirty percent by 2030
- Introduction of a ‘Merchant Shipping Bill’ to bring the jurisdiction in line with its international obligations, contemporary practices, and to enhance competitive edge in the global maritime industry
- Promotion of Grand Bahama to harness the power of the maritime industry
There will be growth of the cultural and creative economy; a re-launch of “Sports in Paradise” for major international sports federations and leagues.
Also, a commitment to: Achieving greater food security and reducing reliance on imports as a matter of priority; introduction of a regulatory framework for the Cannabis Industry; legislation to facilitate a comprehensive programme of digitization for the country; restructuring of the Bahamas Investment Authority to streamline application processes and develop a new marketing strategy; consultation with key stakeholders to appropriately amend legislation to provide increased tax incentives and concessions for domestic investors; transformation of approval processes and launch of BahamasInvest to retain competiveness and mobilise local and international investors to grow the economy; a return of Tourism to pre-COVID levels by harnessing existing markets; development of an investment portfolio for the Family Islands to promote an investor-friendly environment with a focus on an investment portfolio for specialised industries; infrastructural upgrades throughout all of the Islands of The Bahamas in an effort to create investment portfolios; expansion of the provision of potable water and implementation of a national strategy for the management of water as a natural resource; introduction of a new and progressive Building Code to increase resilience in the face of Climate Change; and advancement of the airports in Exuma, Grand Bahama, and North Eleuthera and development of all major airports across The Bahamas through Public Private Partnerships.
With respect to improvement of social assistance programmes, the Speech declared that the government will collaborate with the private sector and non-governmental organisations to implement immediate relief measures for Abaco, Grand Bahama and Ragged Island.
Through partnerships with Social Services, Urban Renewal and Civil Society, including the churches, the government will work to ensure that every Bahamian has life skills, food to eat, clean water and a roof over their heads.
The government will increase the pension for Senior Citizens; increase the benefits for persons with disabilities and ensure that the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act are fully implemented and enforced. It will introduce legislation for the protection of consumers and increase the minimum wage phasing in a liveable wage.
In addition there will be re-introduction of the RISE programme “which provided substantial benefits to many families”; relief to mortgage and rent payers to prevent an increase in and reduce homelessness; legislation to provide for the establishment of an Urban Renewal Authority to improve the quality of life of residents throughout The Bahamas; creation of a national ‘Second-Chance’ jobs programme that allows those who have served prison time to enter the job market; and the expungement of records of those young people convicted of minor offences related to the use of marijuana, so that they may more easily re-join the formal, productive economy.
On crime, the Governor General stated from the Speech:
“My Government is fully committed to ensuring that the citizens of The Bahamas feel safe and secure and will address Crime and its associated social ills by adopting a holistic and multifaceted approach.
“My Government will continue to strengthen the Royal Bahamas Police Force to battle crime and preserve the peace; and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to better defend our territorial sovereignty.
“My Government will transform The Bahamas Department of Correctional Services into a rehabilitative institution in alignment with its mandate.”
The government, said the Governor General, “after the broadest consultation with stakeholders, will seek to reform the electoral process in The Bahamas.”
Referring to economic issues he detailed, from the Speech that the government will amend the Hotels Encouragement Act to provide better incentives for Bahamian-owned and joint venture boutique hotels and related tourism offerings; introduce legislation to create tax incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises owned by Bahamians; re-establish harmonious tripartite relations between Labour, Employers, and the Government; ensure that all labour issues are addressed as a matter of priority; advance the overall effectiveness of the Public Service through the expansion of training programs to assist in proper skill set placement customer service and revenue enhancement, also by implementing digitization to provide efficiency in clearing backlogs within the Ministry and Public Service Commission. In handling the accumulation of pending matters, the government will create room for new matters to be addressed immediately and consistently.
The government considers housing to be a basic right, and as such through programmes and policies it will increase access to affordable homes. New subdivisions will be developed using public-private partnerships; the government will return to building houses for Bahamians.
To ensure that the natural resources of The Bahamas benefit the people of The Bahamas, the government will strengthen legislation that established a Sovereign Wealth Fund and proposes that all of its non-financial assets be held in this fund for the benefit of generations of Bahamians. It will provide the legal, fiscal and regulatory framework with the creation of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. The government will also secure Carbon Credit payments for the country’s natural resources.
On the subject of education, the Governor General reported that the government strongly reaffirms that universal and equitable access to quality education is key to national development and to the fulfilment of each person’s potentiality. As such, it is fully committed to support every young person in overcoming obstacles to digital learning, and to restore in-person lessons as soon as it is safe and practicable with health guidance. Programmes will be established for monitoring and assisting high school dropouts so that immediate action is taken to ensure they continue to contribute to society as productive citizens, and measures will be introduced to expand the curriculum offering and incorporate educational models that build character, promote self-esteem and foster good citizenship for a deeper understanding and appreciation of our history. The gap in access to education caused by COVID19 prevention protocols must be closed with a comprehensive remediation programme to ensure that no child is left behind.
Magnet Schools and specialty institutes for science, technology, engineering, the visual and performing arts, mathematics, financial literacy and entrepreneurship will be created.
The Governor General relayed that “My Government will amend the Education Act to provide for universal pre-primary education for three- and four-year olds, consolidate the National Accreditation and Equivalency Council of The Bahamas (NAECOB) and the Preschool and Day Care Council, and specify home-schooling modalities.”
He also stated: “The good health and well-being of our youth is of prime concern to my Government. My Government will invest in their development, encourage and support their participation in national life, and provide and promote opportunities for their future.
“My Government will create national programmes that tackle new threats to the well-being of young people, including issues of mental health, lack of self-confidence and identity, excessive social media consumption, and national identity and unity.
“My Government will create a National ‘First-Job’ programme that allows young people between the age of 16–25 to gain a one-year Government subsidised placement in a field of national priority, including the new economies and trade.
“My Government will launch the Community Youth Service, and offer stipends for young Bahamians, to provide service to NGOs and community groups. This can build a vital bridge between school and the job market.
“My Government will establish a National Youth Guard in order for young people to receive technical training enabling them to serve in a Disaster Response Corps.”
“Madame President and Honourable Senators, Madame Speaker and Members of the Honourable House of Assembly: capitalize on the ongoing successes of the industrial sector on Grand Bahama and use the investment arm of the Ministry for Grand Bahama to create a one stop shop to attract new local and direct foreign investment by way of duty free concessions across the entire island.
“Family Island Affairs and Local Government are priorities for my Government.
“My Government will develop strategic plans for each island.
“My Government will work towards the finalisation of a Local Government Act for New Providence.
“My Government will empower Local Government with revenue-raising powers and share jurisdiction over local affairs and community management and development.
“My Government will increase the budget for Local Government Councils during our five-year term.”
“Madame President and Honourable Senators, Madame Speaker and Members of the Honourable House of Assembly: My Government will not tolerate corruption and is committed to introducing effective anticorruption legislation.
“My Government will govern for the many, not for the few, and promote the best interests of Bahamians and The Bahamas.
“My Government will increase accountability and transparency.
“My Government will fully implement the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Measures will be introduced to amend the rules of the House of Assembly to enable fixed sessions of parliament.”
The Speech continued that the government will pursue a foreign policy that promotes and upholds the founding principles of democracy, human rights, and non-interference; strengthen engagement with the international community, becoming more strategic and deliberative in participation in regional and international organisations. In collaboration with neighbouring countries, the government will work to strengthen maritime borders, and seek regional solutions to common issues such as migration.
The government will deepen relations with bilateral and international partners and bring focused attention to the promotion of trade and investment, and the provision of technical assistance.
It will expand its reach in the global community by opening Consulates and Embassies, including the appointment of Honorary Consuls and Non-Resident Envoys in key areas of the world to ensure that national interests are promoted and protected.
“Madame President and Honourable Senators, Madame Speaker and Members of the Honourable House of Assembly: These are the policies and plans upon which my Government will legislate in order to bring about a New Day in The Bahamas.
“We look forward to working in partnership with the Bahamian people to bring about a healthier, wealthier and wiser society.
“I pray that the blessings of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.”