THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (13 – 17 FEBRUARY 2017)
COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT G. COLEBY
THIS WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
The Bahamas Parliament met Wednesday of this week to continue debate on Boundaries Commission Report resolution. Amidst much back and forth on the report about its “late” tabling, calls for a delay in the debate, charges of changes to the report and gerrymandering – the resolution was passed into law and is on its way to the Senate.
Deputy Prime Minister promised not to allow the matter to rest until St. Annes MP Hubert Chipman could explain to the House what aspects of the report were changed after members would have signed it.
In the wake of a spate of murders over the past weekend, National Security Minister the Hon. Bernard Nottage outlined a number of anti-crime strategies including the use of defense force officers, “lock-downs”, and mobile police vans and armed forces partnerships as he admitted the killings are affiliated with people connected to “gangs, drugs and guns”. The Minister told the House that the government is not presenting the strategies as the solution to crime but strategies the government believes will assist in its efforts against this social menace. Nottage also called on all citizens to play their part in this national fight.
State Finance Minister Michael Halkitis lauded the accomplishments of the Government’s new mortgage relief plan, noting that almost 1,744 persons have been deemed eligible under the plan as of January 2017. To date the banks have contacted 1,400 and 408 applications have been processed. Halkitis however emphasized that this – and other legal changes such as the Homeowners Bill 2017 – were “not a panacea” for The Bahamas’ housing crisis.
As a clear signal that the House’s current legislative agenda is coming to an end, the Christie administration introduced the Home Owners Protection Bill, touting its commitment to deliver relief to those affected by the Bahamian mortgage crisis and for families who fall on hard times during the life of their mortgage.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis revealed that the Government had considered pushing for 47 seats to be contested in the next general election, up from the current 38, and eventually recommended 41.
Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald continued to tout the “success” of efforts of his ministry’s to improve education in The Bahamas.
PM Christie “pleased” with One and Only’s confidence in The Bahamas
On Monday of this week, Prime Minister Christie attended the reopening of the One and Only Ocean Club after some $12 million in capital investment in the renovation of 55 rooms and suites in the Hartford Wing, expansion of the Dune Restaurant, upgrade of technology systems and improvement to landscaping, water features and other support infrastructure.
An additional $16 million were expended in repairs to the roof, flooring, walls and kitchen and the re-launch of marketing and public relations events in New York and Toronto as a result of hurricane damage in the wake of Category 3 Matthew.
The project generated 100 construction jobs and 435 permanent jobs in the hotel’s operation.
In addition to indicating that he was “pleased” with the confidence the hotel principals continue to repose in the Bahamian economy, Prime Minister Christie told those in attendance that the country was proud to have such a global luxury brand as part of the country’s tourism product offerings.
“We in The Bahamas are very proud of the fact that this fifty-five year old, magnificent estate, which has become synonymous with the name Paradise Island, continues to be a fixture of the Bahamian landscape and that the resort, like its sister properties in other parts of the world, maintains its brand standard that is unrivaled, with a unique and distinctive flair.”
Prime Minister Christie: “…so many of us are still hurting”
Speaking at a joint meeting of the Elizabeth and Yamacraw branches of the Progressive Liberal Party, Prime Minister Christie told supporters that the country was a mess in 2012 when he assumed office and although his government accomplished much and laid a strong foundation in just under five years, there is much more work to be done.
“Back in 2012, we took office and – well, you know. Things were a mess. And not just our finances, our infrastructure, or our torn-up roads. I’m talking about people – it’s always about people – and too many children were left out, forgotten, falling behind. From 2007 to 2012, decisions were being made on behalf of the powerful, the already-comfortable, not the people, not the people who needed opportunities.”
Echoing the sentiments of Social Services and Community Development Minister and Yamacraw MP the Hon. Melanie Griffin, Mr. Christie said the government has laid a strong foundation, but that the work remains unfinished.
“PLPs…listen to the wise words of the always-extraordinary, always- compassionate, always-unmatchable Melanie Griffin, who told you that we have put in place a strong foundation, but the work is unfinished” said Mr. Christie.
Listed among his government’s many accomplishments that form this strong foundation were education, training, food security, border control, air space management, national security strengthening and the preparation for National Health Insurance.
“We started a Public School Scholars Programme to reach children who had been overlooked. We made the largest investment in technology in our nation’s schools ever. We created a new school for children with special disabilities. We expanded the National Training Agency to reach thousands. We refurbished health clinics across The Bahamas to get ready for National Health Insurance. We worked to create an apprenticeship programme at the Grand Bahama Shipyard that recruits and trains Bahamians to replace foreign workers. We pioneered the transition to the University of The Bahamas.”
“It isn’t enough” however, said the Prime Minister – “it will never be enough, until every Bahamian who needs a job has one, until every child is performing at their full potential, until all our homes and streets are safe. But we are on the way – and we can’t afford to turn back.”
Commissioner Greenslade: Bahamas not in state of “crisis”
“Persons who insist on committing serious crimes should be, and should remain, incarcerated,” said Ellison Greenslade, Commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force during a press conference Monday, February 13, 2017.
The press conference was held to update the public on the police force’s efforts to eradicate crime from the streets of New Providence and the country in the wake of 13 homicides in 13 days. Mr. Greenslade said it is only a few prolific criminals known in the court system and known by police who are committing these crimes. For the year to date, a total of 46 firearms were seized throughout the country — 38 in New Providence, 5 in Grand Bahama and 1 each in Abaco, Bimini and Eleuthera. He said, in addition 795 rounds of assorted ammunition were confiscated.
Commenting on the electronic monitoring program, the Police Commissioner suggested that monitoring programs in The Bahamas are ineffective and that ankle bracelets do not stop criminals from killing or being killed.
The Police Commissioner reiterated that The Bahamas is not in a state of “crisis” and the average Bahamian can continue to “go about their day as a normal day” without the fear of being attacked.
He however appealed again to citizens to provide information on crime to the police “no matter how small or insignificant the tip may seem”
National Training Agency opens its Convention Center
Extolling the virtues and the redemptive powers of second chances, Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie said that the National Training Agency (NTA) came into being because he wanted young persons who may have had to drop out of school to have a second chance at training so that they could make a difference.
“In my own life I had to go through the misfortune as a young boy of being expelled from school and being deemed incapable of attaining an academic education. There was an intervention in my life and I went on to prove that the devil is a liar” said Mr. Christie.
The Prime Minister was speaking at the NTA’s ‘Inaugural Ceremony of the Vocational Activities & Convention Centre and the Bestowing of Special Honours’ at the Gladstone Road Business Complex, Thursday, February 16, 2017.
He was honoured for being a visionary leader with a caring, compassionate heart, whose dream and belief in the potential of Bahamians, from all walks of life is manifested through the creation and success of the NTA.
Also addressing attendees was honouree Minister of Labour and National Insurance and Minister of the Public Service the Hon. Shane Gibson who said, “Over 3,000 young persons have graduated from the NTA, and 68 per cent of them have all been employed as a result of the NTA.”
Also in attendance at the ceremony were Governor General of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas Her Excellency Dame Marguerite Pindling; wife of the Prime Minister, Bernadette Christie; Chairman, Board of Directors for the Agency, Elizabeth Keju and Deputy Chairman, Board of Directors for the Agency, Dr. Cecil Thompson.
Government’s Financial Secretary eyes balanced budget in four years
The Government believes it can “achieve a balanced budget” within the next four years, Simon Wilson, top finance official said Thursday, while warning this forecast could be undermined by unexpected events such as the $100 million in revenues lost to Hurricane Matthew.
He accused some courier companies of “stealing” from the Public Treasury, revealing three had recently agreed to pay a collective $7 million in outstanding taxes.
The Government’s top financial official conceded to problems with both Tax Compliance Certificates (TCCs) and Business License fees, agreeing that the latter’s rates “have to be lowered over time”. He said the Government is hoping to collect 90 percent of due tax payments electronically before the 2016-2017 fiscal year-end, promising it was being “very aggressive” on spending controls.
Further, the Financial Secretary said he thinks the growth rate projected for the Bahamian economy is inaccurate and suggested that it should be higher than where it currently stands.
Bahamas participates in 28th CARICOM Heads of Government meetings
The Bahamas is taking part in the 28th Inter-Sessional Meeting of CARICOM HEADS OF GOVERNMENT CONFERENCE currently being held in Georgetown, Guyana.
Head of delegation Hon. Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration is shown along with the shadow Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Hubert Chipman M.P.; His Excellency Ambassador Stan Smith; Foreign Service Officer Mrs. Charlene Johnson, hidden is Dr. Monica Davis Bahamas Honorary Consul in Trinidad.
Among critical issues expected to be discussed at the conference are the CARICOM Council for National Security and Law Enforcement and Implementing Agency for Crime and Security and the issue of correspondent banking in which The Bahamas has a vested interest. Minister Mitchell is also expected to raise other matters of specific importance to The Bahamas. Minister Mitchell also met in the margins with Mr. Jovenel Moïse, newly elected President of Haiti.
The delegation returns to The Bahamas at the weekend, following the conclusion of the conference.
“Set goals, draft strategic plans to attain them and demonstrate fiscal prudence,” said Prime Minister Christie to public servants attending the 17th Annual National Public Service Week Awards Luncheon, on February 12, 2017, at Atlantis that the event’s theme, “The Public Service: In Pursuit of Productivity and Accountability.” He also told them to “be prepared to work in and out of Nassau, to interact with your international counterparts and to base your work, through research and sound data, upon the best practices suited to The Bahamas.”
The select committee appointed to probe the 2011 sale of BTC is making “steady progress” despite a rocky start, according to Golden Gates MP Shane Gibson on Friday, 10th February.
The Bahamas Olympic Committee President Wellington Miller, on Monday, applauded the Christie Administration for its “Intense and proactive approach” to sports development and commented that largely because of this central administration, the historic Commonwealth Youth Games will be a “huge” success” in The Bahamas.
Sandals Emerald Bay General Manager Jeremy Mutton said Monday the occupancy rate at the resort is high and is expected to continue until the summer months, showing that occupancy is picking up to its normal pace following the resort’s closure after Hurricane Matthew.
Attorney General Maynard-Gibson on Monday clarified the Interception of Communications Bill as an important anti-crime tool that would enhance the privacy of law abiding citizens rather than encroach upon it, as detractors claim. It enhances the privacy of citizens because the authority of the interception was taken away from the Minister in the case of the Listening Device Act and placed in the authority of the Commissioner of Police and the courts. The Attorney General’s statement was carried in the international press with the Caribbean News Now! noting that Mrs. Maynard-Gibson addressed concerns about the Interception of Communications Bill, 2017 (ICB), by noting that the proposed legislation is a very important tool in the fight against crime, much of which is gang-related, transnational and involves guns and drugs.
Prime Minister Christie likened The Bahamas’ crime situation to the “Wild West” as he said the recent wave of murders in the capital must solicit a “major” and “continuous” effort by his administration to “flood the streets” with officers in a bid to do “all that is necessary to bring this madness to a halt.” The Prime Minister also said that the criminal activity was confined to a small number of gang members. While acknowledging his administration’s efforts to deal with crime, Mr. Christie admitted that fighting crime “demands more” from his government and the general public.
New cruise lines are looking at the Bahamian market, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe told Guardian Business on Monday, as he and his ministry seeks to introduce upgrades to the cruise product in order to keep the country’s cruise industry attractive.
Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis said recently that The Bahamas has arrived at a significant milestone in implementing the Electronic Single Window (ESW) in the “action phase” of a trade sector support program. The contract between the Ministry of Finance, Crimson Logic and the Customs Department was signed at the Ministry on 31 January 2017.
Brian Moree, QC, yesterday backed calls for The Bahamas to switch to a ‘low tax’ business model, warning: “The survival of financial services is not an option.” He urged the OECD to “take notice” of The Bahamas’ progress in meeting its automatic tax information exchange commitments, adding that further attacks on this nation would “benefit no one”.
As the Government begins to seriously consider privatizing Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival, the Bahamas Carnival Band Owners Association (BCBOA) is insisting it should get first opportunity at becoming the franchise owner of the festival. One carnival band owner has asked for $1million in government subsidy for the 2017 event.
Air Canada Vacations (ACV) recently met with members of the Bahamas Tourist Board to enhance its current product offerings and explore the expansion of access to the island.
Official Opposition members of Parliament took legal action against the Government over the recently passed boundaries report resolution, filing an application in the Supreme Court on Tuesday that seeks leave to begin judicial review proceedings of the order. The plaintiffs, Montagu MP Richard Lightbourne and Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins are represented by Attorney Michael Scott. Arguments were submitted on Thursday before Justice Ian Winder and a legal judgment is expected at 2pm on Tuesday, 21st February 2017.
Yamacraw MP Melanie Griffin referred to the FNM as “weak and divided” as she urged Bahamians to entrust the PLP and Prime Minister Christie with another five years of governance.
The “full-scale” taxpayer bail-out of Bank of the Bahamas (BOB) has deepened, with the Government taking up its entire $10 million bond issue amid a 51.3 percent increase in half-year losses.
The Bahamas’ new mobile operator has pledged to “redouble efforts” to introduce number portability as rapidly as possible, after yesterday’s planned launch was pushed back to March 2017.
Bank of the Bahamas Acting Managing Director Renee Davis acknowledged that the bank’s return to profitability is largely dependent on the performance of its loan portfolio, meaning a great part of the bank’s focus will have to be on resolving its non-performing loans.
Obie Wilchcombe, Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), chaired his first meeting of the Council of Tourism Ministers and Commissioners since being elected chairman last September.
Baha Mar has received more than 11,000 applications for employment as progress is being made with the hiring process, with the company’s new Vice-President of Human Resources Kristy Cowper yesterday expressing “excitement” with applicant turnout on the weeks since the once stalled hotel property resumed activities last month. Meanwhile, in an interview withThe Miami Times, Graeme Davis, president of Chow Tai Fook Enterprises Limited’s (CTFE) Bahamas subsidiary, said the convention center, golf course, casino and Grand Hyatt hotel at Baha Mar will open on April 21. Davis also noted they are “in the process of hiring more than 1,500 associates and it will grow quickly. We are expecting over 5,000 jobs and more than that in the indirect and induced jobs which will be close to 10,000.”
Calls to have labor laws in The Bahamas reformed to limit and repeal the powers of local trade unions by Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) Chief Executive Edison Sumner earlier this month were branded as “disturbing” by the National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB).
Labor leaders struck back demanding that employers be held to the “same standard” over their calls for trade unions to be struck off if they are insolvent or fail to file their annual returns.
Government lawyers argued in the Supreme Court Thursday that the court should reject the request from members of the Official Opposition for leave to begin judicial review proceedings of a parliamentary order on constituency boundaries because the judicial review attempt is doomed to fail even if leave is granted.
As part of an ongoing collaboration, the IDB Group and the University of the Bahamas (UB) hosted the launch of ‘Development in the Americas’ on Thursday at UB’s Harry C. Moore Library Auditorium.
The Government is targeting an extra $400 million within two years from its crackdown on tax cheats, a top official revealing enforcement efforts were already yielding mllions per month.
The IDB grant funding portfolio for The Bahamas is well over $5 million, a bank executive noted on Thursday, hinting that plans for an historic and touristic attraction for San Salvador, which will bring focus to the European discovery of the new world by Christopher Columbus in 1492, are in the works.
Central Bank Governor John Rolle on Thursday outlined several industries which will be afforded more flexibility to raise financing from foreign sources should the Central Bank’s latest proposed exchange control relaxations be approved.
The Parliamentary Comissioner Sherlyn Hall has reported that voter registration is in excess of 111,000 as of Friday 17th February 2017. With the passage of the resolution to adopt the current Boundaries Commission Report, his office will begin distributing voters cards for the upcoming 2017 General Elections.