Sunday, March 13, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas 7-11 March 2016

Commentary by Ellcot Colbey

Prime Minister Christie delivers mid-year budget statement

In this week in Parliament, Bahamas Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie delivered his government’s 2015/2016 mid-year budget on Monday, March 7, 2016. He characterized the budget as one integral component of his Government’s "overarching and targeted strategy and action plan" to bring better economic and social outcomes for all Bahamians.


"Since the very first day of our taking office in 2012, we have been steadfast in both our message and our resolve in respect of this plan," said Prime Minister Christie. This steadfastness has resulted in a 75% (or $398 million) reduction in the country’s GFS deficit from $539 million in 2012 to $141 million by the end of the current fiscal year. 

 The Prime Minister’s statement and supporting documentation set forth provisional expenditure and revenue estimates for the six-month period ending December 31, 2015.

Another significant announcement made was imminent relief to thousands of CLICO insurance policyholders, effectively making all existing policyholders whole through a special purpose vehicle. Under the agreement surrendered policies, death benefits, medical claims and staff pensions will be paid in full; flexible annuities and surrendered pension policies will be settled to a maximum of $10,000 per person and the total cash payouts are estimated at $16 million.

“The liquidator of CLICO has proposed and the Government has agreed a plan to make all existing policyholders whole. This plan involves the creation of a special purpose vehicle to assume the insurance operations of CLICO and to pay out the policyholders who have been unable to receive the full pay-out of their benefit, subject to the policy not lapsing during the period of liquidation.

“Under the plan, surrendered policies, death benefits, medical claims and staff pensions will be paid in full. Executive Flexible Premium Annuities holders and surrendered pension policies will be settled in cash to a maximum of $10,000 per person and the balance will be supported by 7-year promissory notes with interest at Prime payable quarterly. Cash payouts are estimated at $16 million” said the Prime Minister.

In concluding, Mr. Christie summarized many of the accomplishments of his government to date in creating a stronger Bahamas. These accomplishments include the establishment of the National Training Agency, Aviation upgrades nationally, tax reform, energy reform, petroleum reform, healthcare reform, welfare reform, BAMSI, education reform, the re-vestment of the majority economic ownership of BTC in Bahamians and the provisional award of a second cellular license.

“We have created the National Training Agency and are actively working with the private sector to create sustainable and permanent employment for our citizens.

“We have invested over $30 million in the upgrade of aviation infrastructure in New Providence and the Family Islands. In addition we have invested over 100 million to re-fleet Bahamasair.

“We have put The Bahamas on the map with the successful hosting of events like Junkanoo Carnival, the IAAF World Relays, the Popeye Bowl and next year we will host the Junior Commonwealth Games.

“We have passed legislation to govern the exploration of oil and develop new regimes for the export of salt and aragonite.

“We have created the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Institute, providing a roadmap for the reduction in our $1 billion food import bill.

“We have commenced an aggressive infrastructural upgrade programme in the Family Island inclusive of roads in Andros, airport facilities in Bimini and San Salvador. 

“We have invested over $250 million to modernize the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Fleet and bases throughout The Bahamas.

“We have passed legislation to modernize the Prison System to better address the chronic problem of recidivism and to better provide for rehabilitation.

“We have added 10 more courts and additional legal officers to address the backlog in the criminal justice system” said Prime Minister Christie.



Senate passes constitutional amendment bills
The Senate unanimously passed the four constitutional amendment bills on Thursday, paving the way for a referendum on gender equality before July 14 of this year, the date the current voter register expires.

The two bills of contention were Bills #2 and 4. Bill #2 allows for a Bahamian woman to secure for her foreign husband the rights of citizenship currently enjoyed by a Bahamian man married to a non-Bahamian woman. Many have argued that passage of this Bill will pave the way for marriages of convenience.

To this argument the Attorney General said “it can hardly be said that a couple who has been married for ten years, raised children, owns a home, (has) a job and (has) contributed to society have a marriage of convenience.”

It is worthy of note that marriages of convenience and other fraudulent marriages were made illegal by an act of Parliament last year.

Regarding Bill #4, the insertion of the word “sex” in article 26 of the constitution makes it illegal to discriminate against anybody because they are male or female. Some critics have argued that because sex can also be interpreted as “sexual orientation,” passage of Bill #4 can open the door for same-sex marriage.

To this the Attorney General said that there has been no such case in the Commonwealth where the insertion of the word “sex” in the constitution to eliminate discrimination has led to same sex marriage.

“No cases in Commonwealth countries in reference to constitutions where sex as a ground of discrimination has led to same sex marriage. No cases. None!” said the Attorney General.

“Same sex marriage is now illegal under Bahamian law and the passage of these bills and a successful referendum vote by the people will not change that” emphasized Maynard-Gibson.        



Griffin rolls out enrolment phase of R.I.S.E. program
Officials of the Department of Social Services, Ministry of Social Services and Community Development, on Monday, March 7, 2016 launched the Enrollment Phase of the RISE (Renewing, Inspiring, Sustaining, Empowering), the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme designed to elevate challenged Bahamians out of poverty.

With phase one covering registration, the third and fourth phases will cover Targeting and Payment.

“We are well on our way with the Targeting Phase,” said Minister of Social Services and Community Development, the Hon. Melanie S. Griffin. “Ultimately, the reform will ensure that – as an agency – we are more responsive, efficient and effective in meeting the needs of those we serve.”

The RISE Programme is an initiative of the Government of The Bahamas, which entered into an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank for the implementation of a Social Safety Net Reform Programme in The Bahamas.

The social welfare reform initiative is designed to strengthen the institutional capacity of the Department of Social Services; improve targeting through a Proxy Means Test (the Proxy Means Test is an instrument that ensures those in need are assessed objectively); provide a new payment delivery system for approved beneficiaries (this has been accomplished through the provision of the VISA Pre-Paid Card that was introduced in November 2014) and result in the installation of a state-of-the-art Management Information System to ensure the smooth processing of requests from registration to payment.

To date, over 10,000 persons have benefitted from the VISA pre-paid debit card.


Claims by American tourist Beiersdorf refuted by Bahamian Hospital
The interview that aired on Fox 9 News made the rounds on social media earlier this week. Fox News never contacted the Princes Margaret Hospital for comment, but in the interview, Minnesota resident Jake Beiersdorf related a horror story of being “butchered” and “gutted” during a routine appendectomy at the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) in Nassau in January of this year, leaving him with a foot long scar.

He said that when he visited doctors at home in Minnesota, he was told that his appendix was intact and perfectly healthy. Beiersdorf further alleged that the hospital was filthy, that he was placed in a room with 15 other patients and that his dressing was changed in a broom closet.

The American tourist was visiting the island Paradise when he fell ill.

The public hospital wasted no time in responding to the story. In its response the Medical Chief of Staff Dr. James Johnson suggested that Mr. Beiersdorf’s account of the story was inaccurate beyond the date of arrival at PMH and denied the doctors at the facility “butchered” Mr. Beiersdorf, stating that “the care provided was consistent with international standards and best practices.”

After arriving at the hospital on 7th January, “the patient was assessed and treated on arrival and later admitted to hospital for surgical intervention” said Dr. Johnson.

“At surgery the condition was consistent with the preoperative diagnosis. The care provided was consistent with international standards and best practice” continued Johnson.

He added that Mr. Beiersdorf appeared completely satisfied with the quality of care received during his five-day hospital stay and to date the Public Hospital Authority (PHA) has not received a verbal or written complaint relative to this matter.

“There is no indication that he was dissatisfied” said Dr. Johnson and “to date, the Public Hospital Authority (PHA) has received no verbal or written complaints relative to this matter.”

Dr. Johnson, who spoke in general terms, pointed out that due to legal reasons, the hospital was unable to release details of Mr. Beiersdorf’s medical information without his written approval. PMH was therefore very restricted and guarded in what they could reveal in their response to Fox News.


Minister Gray leads Potters Cay walkabout.
“Safety is first and if vehicles must pass this way and it will bring unsafe conditions to light, I think before anything happens, it is better you take pre-emptive action to avoid anything (from) happening. I should say they know of the necessity to be relocated temporarily.” These were the words of Agriculture Minister the Hon. V. Alfred Gray as he led a walkabout of Potters Cay as the government moves ahead with its $3.5 million upgrade of the iconic dock which doubles as an entertainment watering hole and marketplace for thousands of Bahamians.

Careful to avoid any further miscommunication between the Potters Cay vendors and his Ministry, Minister Gray said that dialogue between the two is ongoing to facilitate a seamless transition as the Ministry upgrades the Potters Cay environs with minimal impact to the livelihood of the fish, fruit and vegetable vendors  

“We have no desire to close any business down for longer than is required and we feel sure that we will be able to work out the relocation, the impact without any dislocation of their livelihood.”  

 The physical upgrades include the reconstruction and standardization of vendor stalls, better and safer access and egress traffic routes, sidewalks, sitting areas, improvement in the cleanliness of the environs and the preventative maintenance of the east Paradise Island Bridge.
  


Mitchell in the United Arab Emirates for bilateral talks
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates met in Abu Dhabi on 8 March 2016 and agreed on a number of bilateral initiatives.

Broadly, a bilateral agreement was made to deepen the bonds and ties of friendship and understanding between both countries and to build significant cultural, economic, educational and social opportunities and exchanges between both countries.

In a joint statement, both Governments also agreed to “work towards strengthening their cooperation to include strategic objectives such as job creation, investment, social development and tourism, and would memorialize their joint commitment in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding.”


Prime Minister Christie in Freeport for historic partnership agreement
Bahamas Prime Minister Christie was in Freeport on Thursday to preside over an historic partnership agreement that will increase the level of Bahamian participation in the shipping and industrial sectors on Grand Bahama in years to come.

The agreement with the Grand Bahama Shipyard called for greater job training and placement opportunities for as many as 600 young Bahamians in several technical disciplines through an apprenticeship program over the next four years.

In addressing the gathering, Mr. Christie benchmarked the successful institutional apprenticeship system in Germany as he praised the Grand Bahama Bahama Shipyard for designing a training program that is “something special.”

"It was important for me then to observe that when one looked at the system of apprenticeship, and one looked at a country like Germany where they have institutionalized training by apprenticeship that the shipyard was onto something special."

Clearly impressed with what he heard about 12 apprentices who had graduated recently, the Prime Minister suggested that his government would match the cost to train these young Bahamians so that the cluster of trainees could be doubled.

Also on hand for the signing ceremony were Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe; Minister of Transport and Aviation, the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin; Minister of Education, Science and Technology, the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald; Minister for Grand Bahama, the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville; and Executive Director of the National Training Agency, Agatha Marcelle, were all a part of the ceremony. Representing Grand Bahama Shipyard were Steve Jervis, CEO and Linda Turnquest, CFO.



Minister Gray officially opens 2016 National Agribusiness Exposition
“Progressing Towards food security, our food, our future, our Bahamas” was the theme as the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources hosted the 2016 National Agricultural Exposition at the Gladstone Road Agricultural Station on Wednesday, 9th March. The opening ceremony was held on Thursday of this week with Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources the Hon. Alfred Gray delivering the keynote address, reminding Bahamians of the country’s huge $1 billion food import bill, the need for import substitution, economic diversification, and to “grow what we can and import what we must.”

The expo is held every two years during the month of March where agribusiness vendors and entrepreneurs display their products and services from seedlings and fresh produce to value added sauces, jams and jellies. The expo closes on Sunday, 13th March at 4pm.


“Build a nation…through sports” says Christie
Bahamas Prime Minister the Right Hon. Perry Gladstone Christie officially opened the first ever Bahamas National High School Basketball Championships on Thursday morning, March 10, reminding Bahamians that regardless of their origins and station in life, we must all do what we can in terms of nation building.

“We are all Bahamians! We all ought to see ourselves as having something in common, that on occasion such as this there should be no difference between those who are FNMs, those who PLPs and those who are whatever,” he told a packed house attending the opening at the St. George’s High School Gymnasium.

Some 26 teams inclusive of seven female squads are in Grand Bahama for the classic. Islands represented include North and South Andros, Abaco, Cat Island, San Salvador, New Providence and Grand Bahama.

The nation’s leader reminded those assembled that “one of the ways of building a nation is through sports, through the connectivity and the linkage that sports give you. So we have some young men and young women from different schools, from different parts of the Commonwealth, but they have all come here for a championship” said the Prime Minister.


In Passing…
The Grand Bahama tourism product got a boost this week with the arrival of the Caribbean Princess, a 950-foot-long vessel owned and operated by Princess Cruise Lines. The ship, which operates seven-day cruises out of Houston, Texas, arrived at Freeport Harbour Wednesday morning, 9th March with some 3,210 passengers, before heading on to New Providence. It was the second visit to Grand Bahama over the past two months. Officials of the Freeport Harbour Company, the Ministry of Tourism and Princess Cruises commemorated the event with a plaque exchange.

There was yet another blaze at the Tonique Williams Highway public landfill earlier this week. Renew Bahamas, managers of a recycling operation at the public land fill acknowledged the need for greater security measures at the dump site as authorities extinguished the flames after several days. Residents in the immediate area complained that they had “had enough” of this vexing problem.  

The Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement on Friday morning advising of the landing of twenty-three Bahamians deported from the United States on Thursday 10 March. The statement explained that this landing “follows new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) procedures by United States authorities for the removal of persons no longer wanted in the United States.” As these Bahamians were not convicted of any crime in The Bahamas, they were released into the general population.

Under the theme “The Performance of the Bahamian economy, 2007 and beyond,” the Department of Banking, Economics and Finance at the College of The Bahamas hosted Business Week 2016 at the Harry C. Moore Library this week. Presenters included the State Minister for Finance, the Hon. Michael Halkitis (Fiscal Policy Perspective); Governor of the Central Bank, John A. Rolle (Monetary Policy Perspective) and a panel discussion on the Labour Perspective was led by labour leaders John Pinder (NCTU), Zane Lightbourne (BUT) and Robert Farquharson (Director of Labour).

Ten men were arrested and arraigned in court on Thursday for offences ranging from disorderly conduct to the destruction private property. The charges stemmed from a demonstration on Paradise Island last week that turned violent and escalated out of control as tempers flared, resulting in a fence being torn down on private property. The demonstration was in protest of beach access being blocked when Brookfield, owner of Atlantis Resort sold property to Access Industries. The court case has clearly turned political with Opposition leader Dr. Hubert Minnis promising to pardon and expunge the criminal records of the men if convicted and should he become Prime Minister.  

Roughly 1,000 residents of Pinewood Gardens Phase B will finally receive municipal potable water after many years of using their private wells. A Town Hall meeting between the residents and the Water and Sewerage Corporation was held this week in Pinewood to discuss the logistics of this project which is expected to be completed by November of this year.

Staying true to her pledge to use her good office to promote unity by reaching out to all sectors of civil society, Bahamas Governor General, Dame Marguerite Pindling, hosted the local media corps to the 2nd annual Media Luncheon at Government House on Friday afternoon. Her Excellency characterized the work of the Fourth Estate as an essential service in building an ordered and civil society and encouraged practitioners to always seek the truth as they build our nation through informing, educating and enlightening the citizenry.

Members of the Bahamas Urban Renewal Marching Band at long last have gotten their chance to represent The Bahamas on the international stage as they are in Washington, D.C., to participate in the 45th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown D.C., on Sunday, March 13, 2016. The team took time out from their practice schedule on Thursday to pay a courtesy call on the Bahamas Ambassador to the United States HE Dr. Eugene Newry at 2220 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. They were also welcomed by Deputy Chief of Mission Chet Neymour during brief addresses in the Embassy’s courtyard. The band is under the direction of Police Inspector Theodore Campbell and is scheduled to return to The Bahamas on Tuesday, March 15.

The Bahamas currently imports more than $30 million worth of honey annually, but has no Beekeeping/Honey Production industry. This is all changing as efforts are underway to build a Beekeeping industry, economically empower Bahamians and diversify our economy. The Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) joins with the Inter- American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to host the 'Buzz Me Honey BeeKeeping Workshop'. The workshop is being facilitated by Dom Lam, president of the Michigan Beekeeping Association and Dr. Solomon Ward, a Bahamian biologist.

When: Saturday, March 19, 2016
Where: BARTAD Building (BAMSI Campus), North Andros
Time: 8am - 4pm
Cost: $25.00
The public is invited to attend and join this empowerment effort.


The Bahamas Cabinet Office issued a general public notice this week that Daylight Saving Time will commence on Sunday, March 13, 2016 at 2:00 a.m. and will continue until 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 6, 2016. Be sure to turn your clocks one hour ahead before retiring to bed this Saturday night. Remember, it’s SPRING FORWARD and FALL BACKWARDS.

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