THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (13 – 17 MARCH 2017)
COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY
This week in Parliament
The Bahamas Parliament met on Wednesday of this week to consider Trafficking in Persons and labour legislation.
Amendments to the Employment and Industrial Relations Acts were tabled by the Hon. D. Shane Gibson, the Minister of Labor Labour. These proposed employee friendly amendments will among other provisions, increase redundancy pay by 67%.
Also, readers would remember the recent passage of Trafficking in Persons (TIPS) legislation in the House. Well, that passage in TIPS law required amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code to complete the process. These two pieces of legislation dominated the debate in the House on Wednesday of this week.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis told House Members that Chinese nationals who entered the country to construct the $3.5bn Baha Mar resort had their passports and work permits withheld, adding that this was done as a means to “control” the foreign laborers.
Golden Isles MP Michael Halkitis accused FNM Leader Dr. Minnis of intentionally “provoking an altercation” between the FNM supporters and the campaigners for the PLP who were canvassing the Carmichael Road area on Tuesday.
An emotional speech by Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell heightened speculation that the Government will “ring the bell” for the general election very soon. Mitchell thanked his colleagues in the House for their years of dedicated service and foreshadowed a win for the PLP at the polls.
Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins delivered his farewell address. In a parting shot he suggested that FNM Leader Dr. Minnis had not shown he is ready to lead the nation, pointing to his attendance at House proceedings. Rollins further urged Prime Minister Christie to “call out” Dr. Minnis on his inadequate performance.
Christie: “Additional need for more Customs Officers”
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie has called on Assistant Comptroller of Customs in Grand Bahama, Sherick Martin to begin right away preparing another group of Customs recruits for another Customs Training program.
The appeal from the Prime Minister came during his address of the 22 new recruits who officially graduated on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, during a ceremony at the Bahamas Union of Teachers Hall.
Prime Minister Christie said his request for the formation of another immediate training program comes in light of the fact that the country’s expanding economy demands more Customs Officers, not just in Grand Bahama or Nassau, but throughout The Bahamas.
“In speaking with the Minister of Tourism and knowing the extent to which the economy is being expanded, which will create an additional need for even more Customs Officers, I’m minded to make policy right now on my feet,” the Prime Minister said at the beginning of his address.
“As I think of those areas where you only have one officer – which is even dangerous to that officer – you can see why there ought to be coverage that goes beyond one person.
“We’ve just indicated a new destination at Ocean Cay, which will require the appointment of more Customs Officers to that Port of Call. There are at least over 5,000 passengers a week on cruise ships going into that destination.
“By the Heads of Agreement we entered into with Baker’s Bay in Abaco, we have agreed to have a Port of Entry there at that destination as well. So, that also calls for more Customs Officers. From a pure necessity point of view, we have agreed that we would establish a port of call in Mangrove Cay and that too will call for more Customs Officers.”
Minnis proposes “real sale” of Baha Mar Resort
FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis suffered a huge backlash and a slew of criticism during the course of the week from many quarters when he pledged to execute a “real sale” of Baha Mar to a purchaser that has the Bahamian people’s interests at heart, should the FNM win the general election. Minnis posted on Facebook: “Your Free National Movement government will engage and execute a real sale of Baha Mar to a qualified and respectable purchaser who believes in Bahamians; a purchaser who will utilize only Bahamian labor to complete the resort, and will put Bahamians back to work with real jobs as quickly as possible.”
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis lashed out at Dr. Minnis, accusing him of plotting for the resort’s demise for political benefit while spouting untruths.
The Chamber of Commerce’s chairman warned all politicians to “not blow up the country for the sake of winning the election.”
Education Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald slammed Dr. Minnis’ coments as “disgraceful”, arguing that it would disrupt employment for hundreds of Bahamians. Fitzgerald further argued that the FNM leader’s assertions showed he was not fit to become Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Christie told supports at a joint constituency meeting that he hoped Minnis would come to the House to defend his comments but the FNM leader was a no-show.
FNM Chairman Sidney Collie said while an FNM government would execute a “real sale” of Baha Mar if the current sale process is not complete, if and when it becomes the next Government of The Bahamas, nationalizing the resort is not in the party’s plans.
PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts charged that the FNM’s policy position on Baha Mar “is to disrupt the lives of many and the Bahamian economy to satisfy one man who proved he was unable to finish the job in the first place”.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette however defended his leader, insisting that “fault” sits with the “untruths and half facts” produced by the Christie administration in recent months.
Hanna-Martin: Doppler Radars “significant thrust” for Meteorology Department
Four new Doppler radars are being installed to improve the functionality of the Department of Meteorology. The radar will be situated in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Long Island and Abaco. Currently, the only radar system, stationed on New Providence, is being refurbished and upgraded to be established in Ragged Island later. The contract for the radar system was awarded to Vaisala, a Finnish company, at a cost of $20 million. On completion, the entire Bahamas will be under full radar coverage. In addition, the company will install nine more weather stations.
Minister of Transport the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin made the announcement during a press conference held at the Weather Station at Lynden Pindling International Airport on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.
She said that this project puts the country on the ‘cutting edge’ of technology and is a ‘significant thrust’ for the meteorology department as it sets out to build capacity. She also said that this project is part of a larger vision by the government to protect and more effectively forewarn the Bahamian people against major catastrophes such as hurricanes and other storm systems.
The Doppler radar will use the SmartMet and SmartAlert system, which means that several features will be built-in, including: automatic generation of weather forecast products, integrated display of various weather observation and data sources, advanced weather situational analysis and weather warning tools. The SmartMet/SmartAlert system is already in use in 10 Caribbean countries including Cuba, Antigua, Jamaica and Barbados.
Chamber boss wants government to “reconsider” amended labour laws
The Chamber of Commerce has called the latest amendments to the labour laws “ultra vires” existing laws and has asked the Government to withdraw and “reconsider” the reforms as “not one employer” is in favour of the changes.
Bahamian employers were outraged at the proposed changes to the Employment and Industrial Relations Acts tabled in Parliament on Wednesday by Shane Gibson, the Minister of Labor. Criticism of the bills, which among other provisions, increases redundancy pay by 67%, employers argue that the amendments would deter Bahamian businesses from hiring and make it more difficult to tackle the 25 to 30 percent youth unemployment rate.
The Director of Labor however shot back that there was “no basis” to the Chamber of Commerce’s assertion that the labor law reforms were “ultra vires” because they had not been unanimously approved by all National Tripartite Council members. Mr. Farquharson pointed out that the 40% increase in the minimum wage was not unanimously agreed by the Tripartite Council as some members wanted a larger increase for workers. The minimum wage hike is now settled law.
Also weighing in was the Bahamas Hotel and Restaurant Employers Association (BHEA) who also expressed concern over the proposed amendments to the Industrial Relations Act and the Employers Act.
Elated union leaders said they were “ecstatic” over the reforms to the Employment and Industrial Relations Act, hailing them as a “victory for Bahamian workers”.
UB to host series of panel discussions on public affairs
The Social Sciences Department at the University of The Bahamas (UB) is hosting a series of panel discussions and public forums featuring representatives from every political party. The meetings will focus on national debate, political polling and scientific research. The first in this series was held this week at the Harry C. Moore Library on the administration of justice. Keith Bell, Marvin Dames and Stephen Greenslade represented the PLP, FNM and DNA respectively.
Dr. Christopher Curry, chair of the School of Social Sciences at UB, said the concept is a step in the right direction for the country and its political climate, adding that the inclusion of the public and media at this level of the election process should translate into a more involved electorate.
Government assessment underway after landfill fire
The Department of Social Services said that 290 heads of households applied for assistance out of the estimated 600 homes located in Jubilee Gardens. It was also reported that 1,200 persons are set to receive government assistance as a result of the fire.
Meanwhile Anthony Ryan, a public analyst at the Department of Environmental Health Services, said officials conducted air quality tests on 19 homes closest to the dump. He said that there was nothing alarming found.
In related news, Geltech Solutions, a fire-fighting specialist, has been contracted by the Government to assist in extinguishing the massive blaze at the New Providence Landfill.
Commenting on the landfill’s remediation cost, Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller pegged the cost at about $5 million.
Environment Minister, the Hon. Kenred Dorsett, said the government was preparing to move “full steam ahead” with both the privatization of operations at the New Providence landfill and “fine tuning” its remediation plan.
Freak storm damages Bahamasair ATR aircraft
A tornado hit the Lynden Pindling International Airport early Tuesday morning causing damage to the landing gear and fuselage of a Bahamasair ATR aircraft, parking lot booth and several cars at a nearby car rental agency.
Bahamasair’s Chairman expressed fears that its upcoming services for peak Easter travel period may be disrupted, after one of its 70-seater ATR planes was damaged by the early Tuesday morning tornado that struck the Lynden Pindling International Airport.
The Department of Meteorology did not issue a severe weather warning yesterday morning before severe weather around Lynden Pindling International Airport led to a tornado damaging a $20m Bahamasair aircraft, because the department did not “capture anything that would point to a severe thunderstorm warning”, according to Deputy Director of the Department of Meteorology Basil Dean.
Baha Mar on Monday held its first day of casino dealer training prior to the property’s soft opening on April 21. It said the 170 recently-hired casino employees had been enrolled in a four-week gaming course to perfect their skills and refine their customer service expertise.
Graeme Davis, President of Baha Mar and the Bahamian subsidiary of CTFE, commented that Rosewood Hotel’s 2018 delayed opening was not a construction issue, but rather, a design and programming concern. CTFE is expected to inject an additional $35 million dollars into the completion of the Rosewood Hotel.
The National General Council (NGC) of the PLP unanimously endorsed Wayne Munroe over Senator Frank Smith on Monday night, ratifying the attorney for the Free Town constituency. That action completed the ratification process as all 39 of the party’s candidates are now ratified. In his concession speech, Senator Smith said that he has not always won all of his battles in life. Party Chairman Bradley Roberts characterized the process as “free, fair, transparent, democratic and compliant with the provisions of the Party’s constitution.” In his victory speech, Munroe ridiculed the pledge made by FNM Leader Dr. Minnis over the sale of Baha Mar as dishonest and irresponsible, and accused the opposition party of pandering to the agenda of former developer Sarkis Izmirlian.
Transport and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna Martin hit back at the most recent US State Department’s advisory against jet ski operators, charging that if left unchecked, it could overshadow the “significant progress” her ministry has made to address the issues within the industry.
Five hundred jobs are expected to be created when the second phase of The Pointe opens in late 2018, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis said at the groundbreaking for the Downtown Nassau development. Phase 2 will include the development of a 150-room branded resort and spa and the development of a 100-room, eight story condominium complex.
A new cruise port in East Grand Bahama will be constructed on the north shore west of Stat Oil in an area that has been determined to suffer the least devastating environmental effects. PM Christie revealed that the cruise port will take two years to build and will significantly benefit the island.
Emmanuel Komolafe, chairman of The Bahamas Insurance Association has estimated that The Bahamas will benefit from a $300M foreign currency inflow from reinsurers as a result of Hurricane Matthew. He said that insurance claims incurred as a result of the hurricane stand at $176M and that the injection of foreign currency into The Bahamas through the industry could be seen as one positive from the storm.
Travel Daily highlighted that Royal Caribbean International formalized a multi-year agreement with the government of The Bahamas to grow tourism, increase the cruise line’s employment of Bahamian nationals, and invest in Bahamian hospitality training to develop talent at the recent signing ceremony attended by Prime Minister Perry Christie.
PM Christie said that relocating residents in Pinders Point is not something that government will consider as no such recommendation has been made to it. He said that studies were undertaken in relation to the industrial pollution in Grand Bahama many years ago and more recently by the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization in 2015.
The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce’s President has expressed optimism that the island’s economy can be revitalized, even though Freeport is much different from the days when it was named the “magic city”.
Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival was officially launched last Friday (10th March), with the Bahamas National Festival Commission committing to its mandate to hold the annual festival with a two million dollar reduction in this year’s budget, from $7 million to $5 million. Scheduled for the 4th through 6th May 20176, the Bahamas Carnival Band Owners Association is still hoping some money in the Government’s $5 million budget has been allocated for them to market themselves.
Prime Minister Christie had been ordered to pay the full legal costs incurred by Save The Bays (STB) after his recusal application was rejected by the Supreme Court. The Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister for Crown Lands – appear with several other senior officials and developer Peter Nygard – as a respondent in three Judicial Review cases brought by STB to challenge the environmentally destructive constructions works that were allowed to take place at Nygard Cay over the past three decades.
The Caribbean Journal reported that Silver Airways announced the launch of new nonstop flights between West Palm Beach and Bimini, the first flights to Bimini out of Palm Beach County.
Elizabeth MP Ryan Pinder had not attended a sitting of the House of Assembly for the year, according to the attendance records of the House of Assembly. According to the rules of the House of Assembly, a member of the House shall vacate his seat in the House if he is absent from sittings of the House for a period of 90 days without leave of absence from the House.
The business of tourism will be on display at the Baha Mar Convention Center on April 8 as the Ministry of Tourism presents the 17th Cacique Awards.
Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell met with the President of the University of The Bahamas Dr. Rodney Smith and the university’s student union president Keyron Smith on Thursday afternoon at the Harry C. Moore Library’s conference room. The courtesy call came upon the return of a group of university students from an exchange field trip to Atlanta. Accompanying the Minister was the Bahamas’ Consul General to Atlanta HE Randy Rolle and the Director General of the country’s Foreign Service, Mrs. Sharon Brennen-Haylock.
The governing Progressive Liberal Party held another joint constituency meeting on Thursday of this week. The constituencies were Garden Hills, Tall Pines and Golden Gates. Delivering the keynote address was party leader and Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie who admonished supporters to be energized and focused because of the critical importance of this election. The Prime Minister berated FNM Leader Dr. Minnis over his noticeable absence from the House of Assembly on Wednesday, telling a crowd of PLP supporters that the Killarney MP has opted to hide behind social media in the wake of yet another massive error in his leadership tenure.
Marco City MP Greg Moss announced on Thursday night that he will not be seeking a re-nomination in the upcoming general elections for personal and business reasons, and has resigned as leader of the United Democratic Party. Interim Deputy Leader John Pinder said that the party will march on.
As Grand Bahama builds its industrial sector, at the Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport from 26 March to 6 April, Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess is to be fitted with interconnecting staterooms, Ocean Medallion technology, and newly renovated areas for children and teenagers.
Shane Gibson, Minister of Labor and National Insurance says The Bahamas only has “minor examples” of child labor, as he opened a joint two-day seminar on the issue.
The Bahamas’ new mobile operator will bring a $50 million capital raising ‘Aliv’ next week, its advisers “a very successful offering”.
Days after Island Luck CEO Sebas Bastian announced that he is working towards releasing an initial public offering (IPO), Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Bahamas International Securities Exchange (BISX) Holland Grant explained the procedures for any company to enter the securities market.
Both the governing progressive Liberal Party and the opposition Free National Movement hosted candidate launch events on Friday night in Freeport Grand Bahama for that island’s candidates. The PLP worshipped at the Jubilee Cathedral while the FNM hosted their event at the former bowling alley.
On Friday FNM Chairman Sidney Collie accused the PLP government of using public funds to finance its election campaign, specifically charging that the BAMSI print ads were paid for by the public treasury. PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts “emphatically and unequivocally” refuted those claims, branding them as “patently false.” He stated that the PLP paid for the ads.