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colebyTHIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (28 NOV – 2 DEC 2016)

Bahamas government delegation head to Hong Kong to conclude Baha Mar
As more than 400 workers assess and recommence construction at the Baha Mar property and as unsecured Bahamian creditors receive payments for services rendered, a Ministerial delegation heads to Hong Kong to meet with Baha Mar buyer Chow Tai Fook Enterprise (CTFE) and conduct the requisite due diligence ahead of a deal consummation.

The delegation includes Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe; Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson; Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister Sir Baltron Bethel; and Gaming Board Secretary Dennis Martin.

The due diligence is expected to take four days according to Mr. Wilchcombe who also confirmed that the government has received a formal proposal to purchase Baha Mar and a list of proposed casino operators.

“We are going to meet with the potential owners of the property. We are going to take a look at their operations, and we are going to take a look at the casino operations also in Macau that they do run now.”

Minister Wilchcombe also revealed that CTFE expressed a desire in “running the casino” and has “listed the groups and individuals they intend to have who will run the business.”

In related news, it is being reported that CTFE is eyeing a phased in operations with up to 800 rooms becoming operational at the end of the winter tourism season or during March or April of 2017. There is also a scheduled “soft opening” of the resort.

The Public School Scholar Program expanding educational opportunities
In 2012 less than seven percent of local scholarship awards benefitted public school graduates. Additionally, the application rate for colleges was significantly lower among public school graduates than their private/independent school counterparts.

To date, the work of Education Minister Fitzgerald and his team led by Mrs. Monique Hinsey has shifted this paradigm, resulting in the establishment of a scholarship programme designed specifically for the empowerment of public school students.

Through Memoranda of Understanding with various colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, nineteen (19) public school students received scholarships in 2015. This year that number tripled to fifty-seven (57) graduates according to the Ministry of Education. Ministry officials hope that in 2017, at least one hundred (100) public school students will receive scholarships.

“I am deeply bothered when I hear of students who have applied and been accepted to colleges having to forfeit the opportunity simply because their families cannot afford it. I don’t think money should ever prevent a child from furthering their education” said Education Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald.

To date, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has established partnership agreements with the following colleges/universities:

1. University of The Bahamas
2. Middle Tennessee State University
3. Central State University – Ohio
4. College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University – Minnesota
5. State University of New York – Oswego
6. Holland College – Canada
7. University of Prince Edward Island – Canada
8. University of the Ozarks – Arkansas
9. St. Leo University – Florida
10. Monroe College – New York
11. Texas Southern University
12. St. Mary’s University – Canada
13. King’s University College – Canada
14. Taylor University – Indiana

Public school graduates are encouraged to take full advantage of this educational opportunity.

Bahamas eligible to access $50 million Renewable Energy Fund
At long last the international campaign by both Prime Minister Christie and Foreign Minister Mitchell appears to be bearing fruit for The Bahamas.

The Bahamas has a GDP per capita income in excess of US$20,000 and this relatively high Human Development Index has denied this country many types of grants or loans by any number of international institutions and governments at concessionary rates to fund any number of national development projects. With the latest round of funding announced by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – specifically a new $US 50 million Renewable Energy Fund for members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the fortunes of The Bahamas seem to be changing.

“This, the fifth round of funding for renewable energy projects in developing countries, is the first being made available to The Bahamas which in times prior was denied access to the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) due to having a relatively high GDP per capita” said the statement released by the Environment Ministry on Tuesday of this week.

“The grant funding will be administered through the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an agency already committed to increasing the availability of clean, affordable and reliable energy in the Caribbean, in order to drive sustainable development.”

As we well know, the Hon. Kenred Dorsett, Minister of the Environment and Housing and recently appointed Council Chairman of the 21-body IRENA Council welcomed this new funding.

“This new Fund which is accessible by the Caribbean Community, demonstrates the UAE’s commitment to establishing energy security and access in small island developing states while simultaneously sustaining economic growth,” said Minister Dorsett.

As Council Chairman, Minister Dorsett was instrumental in heightening the focus of IRENA on renewable energy initiatives in the Americas. His direct engagement with the Government of the UAE raised the profile of The Bahamas and facilitated the availability of this resource in support of the country’s energy sector reform initiative.

Education Minister calls for collaboration in national development
In response to the Black Friday March, Education Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald appealed to the marchers not to see government policy initiatives in political terms, but in national terms where the desired objectives are achieved through collaboration.

“The National Development Plan, The Shared Vision for Education 2030, The National Energy Plan and the National Youth Policy among others should not be perceived as PLP initiatives as they have not been derived in isolation but have incorporated collaboration from a wide cross section of stakeholders inclusive of politicians and civil society. We will not win until we are united in a shared goal of building a better Bahamas. This is the genesis of The National Development Plan!”

Fitzgerald also called for unity and a participatory democracy.

“I continue to encourage Bahamians to share their opinions; don’t lose the passion you have for this great country, and above all, don’t let politics and those with a political agenda blind you. We are all in this together and we all have a role to play if The Bahamas is to truly maximize its potential.”

Minister Dorsett touts government’s energy sector reform initiatives
Below is an excerpt from a press statement released by Environment and Housing Minister the Hon. Kenred Dorsett on Monday of this week in response to the march.

“Black Friday March event organizers, in their open letter, called for a policy to facilitate the use of renewable energy. I remind them that this has been done. The National Energy Policy speaks to our goal of a minimum of 30% renewable energy penetration in our energy matrix by 2033, and we have begun the national dialogue on the matter. The Government has also amended the Electricity Act to allow for renewable energy generating systems and interconnection to the grid as well as established the regulator for the electricity sector- the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA).

“The Residential Energy Self Generation (RESG) programme that will allow homes and businesses to use solar generating systems to connect to the grid under a net billing framework with BPL is currently before URCA for its review and finalization. We have been, and continue to be, committed to policies that deliver positive change.”

The Government is working tirelessly every day for a stronger Bahamas said Dorsett. “The National Development Plan, the National Youth policy, the Shared Vision for Education 2030 – these are all initiatives focused on building a modern and prosperous Bahamas.”

Hanna-Martin: Airspace negotiations to commence in two weeks
Just days ahead of the first ever International Civil Aviation Negotiation Conference to be held here in Nassau, Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin told the media that the Flight Information Region (FIR) negotiations with the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is scheduled to resume in two weeks.

“Those talks will resume in two weeks, and I hope to be able to give the Bahamian people an update at the end of the meeting.

“The last meeting held was very positive, but there are no specifics yet. I hope that by the end of this next meeting we will begin to see what the specifics will be” said the Minister.

The Bahamas government is seeking greater control over the use of the country’s airspace that was managed by the FAA for more than sixty years. Presently The Bahamas receives no financial benefit from the use of its airspace above a certain altitude.

The ICAN conference, scheduled for the 5 – 9 December 2016 at the Melia Resort, will attract more than 1,000 international delegates from 100 member countries and 10 international member organizations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The government of The Bahamas expects to sign six air service agreements during this conference with countries including Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Brazil while it negotiates similar agreements with twenty other countries.

In Passing…
The Grand Bahama Human Rights Association has called for Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell to be excluded from further discussions with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights over precautionary measures granted on behalf of Save The Bays (STB) members, citing his apparent connection to an anonymous political website

In its response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration clarified via press statement that Minister Mitchell “has not been involved in discussions with the commission. “As this is a legal case, all responses are handled by “the government’s lawyers and the professional staff at the Ministry, the Office of the Attorney General and other relevant agencies of The Government” said the statement.

Minister of Financial Services Hope Strachan said in a statement that the value added trade strategy would help to promote The Bahamas as a “crucial component in global value chains throughout North America, Latin America and the Caribbean”.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration expressed condolences to the Government and people of Cuba in response to the death of the island’s former President Fidel Castro, calling him an “ally” to The Bahamas.

The Chamber of Commerce’s Chief Executive has denied claims that it is “capitulating” to the Government, and that it is too close – and ‘in bed’ with – the Christie administration Edison Sumner said that the Chamber’s role as private sector advocate was being misunderstood, and just because it was “not bashing” the Government did not mean it was not holding it accountable.

The Ministry of Tourism is aiming to tap into a multibillion dollar global market when it launches bird tourism in The Bahamas this January. The Ministry held a town meeting in Matthew Town, Inagua, on November 21 to inform residents about bird tourism and introduce its ‘People to People’ programme on the island.

There continues to be a string of deficiencies surrounding anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorism financing (CTF) for some financial institutions. The Central Bank of the Bahamas (CBOB) asserted that given the global mandate for tax transparency, it will continue to review “licensees’ preparedness for the information gathering that may be required for automatic exchange of information”.

The Commonwealth Bank proudly donated $50,000 to the Cancer Society of The Bahamas, as part of its ongoing $500,000, 10-year pledge. Funds will be used by the Cancer Caring Centre, a home away from home for those undergoing treatment.

Moody’s is predicting that The Bahamas’ fiscal deficits over the next two years will be one percentage point of GDP higher than initially forecast, after Hurricane Matthew blew a hole in the government’s consolidating plans. The rating agency, in its November 2016 update in The Bahamas’s sovereign credit rating, said the damage inflicted by the Category Four storm means The Bahamas’ debt-to-GDP ratio will now not peak until 2017-2018 – a year later than originally thought.

Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez said on Monday that the first phase of NHI primary healthcare is still on pace to be rolled out in January 2017. His statement comes mere weeks after he said NHI might have to be “slightly” delayed because of Hurricane Matthew, which damaged public buildings including clinics in October.

The NHI Secretariat on Monday reiterated that three months was sufficient time given that a “timely roll-out” was required in the New Year. The Secretariat was responding to Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) President, Emmanuel Komolafe who said any further delay in selecting the public insurer’s manager could “impact implementation timelines” for NHI.

Only 65,000 people have registered to vote in the next general election, despite an increased push for improved registration numbers in the last month. Officials at the Parliamentary Registration Department said they expected to be well over 100,000 registered voters by now.

Aliv is boasted “thousands” of subscribers after a flurry of interest in its first four days as the country’s newest mobile provider, according to Damian Blackburn, CEO of NewCo, which operates the Aliv brand. The company is eyeing its next big launch in the nation’s second capital city by the end of this week.

The Office of the Attorney General issued a nolle prosequi on Monday against the two remaining defendants who were awaiting trial in connection with the armed robbery of Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis at his home.

Tax receipts for the first three months of the 2016/2017 fiscal year stood at $398.6 million, according to the Central Bank of The Bahamas. Meanwhile, the deficit during the period increased to $86 million, relative to the comparable period last year.

BPL released a statement late Tuesday after explaining that customers may have experienced higher-than-normal bills for November because October’s billing period was comprised of estimates based on historical data. The amounts, according to the company, were not errors in billing as assumed by many customers.

BPL owed the public answers regarding high electricity bills post Hurricane Matthew, and that report is due to the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) imminently, according to the regulator’s acting CEO Stephen Bereaux.

An excavation project for the discovery of additional ancient Lucayan remains in Long Island began this week, with local and international archaeological experts touting the excavation project as a big step towards the redefinition and subsequent better understanding of recorded Bahamian history.

With “extremely low” voter registration, the United States Embassy in Nassau is urging Bahamians to register to vote for the next general election and has organized a voter registration drive in conjunction with the University of The Bahamas.

Two senior police officers are set to retire this month, the Nassau Guardian has learned. Commissioner Greenslade announced the retirement of Senior Assistant Commissioners Leon Bethel and Stephen Seymour during a COMPSTAT meeting on Tuesday.

After a two year process to legalize the gaming industry, web shop operators gathered as a body in a meeting with the Gaming Board and Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe on Tuesday to receive their government granted licenses and express their concerns. Among those concerns was competition from illegal gaming operators.

A “major underground cable fault” caused a complete meltdown of BPL’s operations on Tuesday night, resulting in an island-wide blackout that impacted residents and businesses throughout much of Wednesday. New Providence was plunged into darkness after 10pm on Tuesday. Power was restored to some parts of the island yesterday morning, but many residents reported that they were without electricity until yesterday afternoon.

Seeking to address the power generation issues of BPL, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis told the media on Wednesday that the government was awaiting the outcome of negotiations by the Ministry of Finance over the purchase of new generation capacity for BPL.

President of the Bahamas Pharmaceutical Association (BPA) Michelle Finlayson is lauding the intention of NHI Secretariat to meet with stakeholders next week, to discuss compensation and primary care benefits packages related to the implementation of NHI. BPA members however did express concerns about the tight timeline as it related to their 2017 business plan.

Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) President Bernard Evans is the new president of the National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB). He replaces Bahamas Public Services Union President John Pinder.

Parliament’s Chief Clerk Maurice Tynes confirmed on Wednesday that the work of the PAC on two issues that have received major publicity in the past has come to a halt.

The Straw Market Authority this week officially launched its new day care centre and homework study area at the Nassau Straw Market, something officials said will finally do away with the concept of “cupboard babies” at the popular downtown locale.

Officials at the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre on Wednesday announced a new outreach partnership with the Shell Saxons Superstars, with the group now set to host the hospital’s annual holiday Junkanoo parade.

About 150 casino workers are expected to join the unemployment line in Grand Bahama this week due to the closure of Treasure Bay Casino on December 4. A source told the Tribune that workers are expected to be paid their severance packages on Friday, December 2.

The Bahamas recorded approximately 220 new HIV/AIDS cases in 2015, a 56 percent reduction since the year 2000, according to National HIV/AIDS Programme Director and Infectious Disease Consultant at PMH Dr. Nikkiah Forbes.

The Eurasia review published a positive analysis of the RBDF conducted by a member of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), a non-partisan, autonomous body dedicated to objective research and policy relevant studies on all aspects of defence and security. Highlighting that due to the re-capitalization efforts of the Government through the Sandy Bottom project, the force is poised for capability growth.

The union representing workers at the One & Only Ocean Club has submitted a request to the Bahamas Hotel Industry Management Pension Fund to solicit financial assistance and otherwise for displaced employees of the hotel, Bahamas Hotel Employers Association President Robert “Sandy” Sands said.

Popeye’s Bahamas is investing more than $2 million to launch its second restaurant on Carmichael Road before year-end 2016, a move that is expected to create 80 jobs.

Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said his ministry is working with the Gaming Board to identify people who will monitor what’s happening “on the ground” in an effort to clamp down on illegal web shop operations.

Immigration officials in the capital commissioned a new cohort of officers on Thursday during a ceremony at the Police Training College on Thompson Boulevard, where Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell implored the department’s newest class to do their best to protect the country’s sovereignty.

The Organization of American States has made a contribution of $25,000 to The Bahamas to assist with recovery efforts from the massive damage caused by Hurricane Matthew early in October.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Louis Bacon wants media boss Wendell Jones jailed for alleged contempt of court for publishing defamatory articles about Bacon in contravention of a 2012 court order.

A multi-sectoral team of researchers and scientists has begun the tedious work of excavating ancient remains buried in the sand dunes of Clarence Town, Long Island. The remains are believed to be those of Lucayans who inhabited the islands between 600 AD and the 1500s.

Carnival, in particular the Road Fever Parade, will go ahead as planned, even if the Government does not invest in Carnival 2017, President of the Bahamas Carnival Band Owners Association (BCBOA) Dario Tirelli said on Thursday.

The Best of The Best Regatta kicks off on Friday evening in Montague Bay. Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie will officially open the event.

Elcott Coleby
Deputy Director
Bahamas Information Services