Sunday, March 27, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas

By Elcott Colby

Mid-Year budget debate concludes
The 2015/2016 mid-year budget debate concluded late Wednesday night after much controversy unrelated to the fiscal affairs of the country.

In his wrap up Prime Minister Christie again defended his reputation in telling House colleagues that Diane Philips and Joseph Darville of Save the Bays were wrong for being a part of a campaign that held the office of the Prime Minister up to ridicule on allegations not based in facts. He also reasoned that the Supreme Court injunction against Mr. Nygard’s application should have been lifted to make way for a public hearing on the particulars of Clifton Bay where the contents of an environmental assessment and an environmental management plan he commissioned could be fully scrutinized and conclusions drawn based purely on facts.

On the critical issue of jobs, the Prime Minister announced that the $20 million allocated in the current budget for jobs training and placement will now be used under an apprenticeship template currently in practice at the Grand Bahama Shipyard. Prime Minister Christie said he expects this template to be utilized at Baker’s Bay in Abaco, on projects in Exuma, Eleuthera and throughout the family islands as the jobs created must be tied to training and must empower young Bahamians.

“We want a training program that is an empowering program where people will go to work – they will be making a stipend or minimum wage as the case might be – and they will be empowered to fill vacancies as they come on stream. It will be based on the needs assessment as it exists out there so I expect the Minister of Labour to be very busy to be identifying those areas where these people will go to work. I want to begin to employ people on the basis wherever they are that they will be trained.

“They (the Grand Bahama Shipyard) have brought about now where the twelve they have become forty. They will train forty a year over four years but in addition to which they recognize that they have 600 to 700 work permits. They have agreed they would replace all of those semi skilled people by initiating 200 – a training program for 200 people a year starting in April. (This is a) template that we have created - that we support and we had a meeting with Baker’s Bay where we indicated we want to do the same thing with Baker’s Bay; we will do the same thing in Eleuthera; the same thing in Exuma; we want to be able to get directly involved” said the Prime Minister.   

Mr. Christie also told the House that the IMF has warned during their Article IV Consultations that tampering with the structure of VAT will create difficulties and increased costs for the business community as they would have to create a separate accounting system to track VAT-exempt items at greater operating expenses to their business. This was in direct response to opposition leader that if the FNM wins the next general election, they would eliminate VAT on a number of items in various categories.

On the issue of jobs, Labour Minister the Hon. D. Shane Gibson presented data from the Department of Statistics to support the fact that 20,170 jobs were created between May 2012 and November 2015. This was in response to charges by opposition members that unemployment was high and worsening.

Both Mitchell and Nottage confirmed to the House that bombing suspect, Khakid el-Bakraoui was listed by INTERPOLE as a Bahamian in error and that he was in fact a Belgian.   

Mitchell also responded to Mrs. Sharon Adderely a second time on the death of her son, Christopher Adderley, who died in a Haitian prison and the handling of funds the family submitted to the embassy to defray Mr. Adderley’s legal fees. He reiterated that the funds were turned over to Mr. Adderley’s lawyers who signed for the checks but he and embassy staff do not know of any bribes paid to Haitian officials. He presented copies of receipts signed by the Haitian lawyers who collected the checks. Mitchell was responding to a letter purportedly written by the mother of the deceased where she claimed that the monies paid through The Bahamas embassy in Haiti were to facilitate bribes to Haitian officials ostensibly to secure the release of her son.

The mid-year budget resolution was unanimously passed in the House late Wednesday night.

Government implementing NHI “the right way”
Essentially confirming a delay in the implementation of the primary health care phase of National Health Insurance, the NHI Secretariat called a press conference on Tuesday to update the media on the status on NHI and to say that the government is committed to getting NHI Bahamas “right.”

“Over the last several months, the Government has been working hard to come together with stakeholders and agree on the NHI model that works for us. It must be the right one, not the quickest one. We are not going to rush something so important for us and our country,” said Permanent Secretary Peter Deveaux-Isaacs.
The Permanent Secretary announced that the Government has been working with KPMG Advisory Bahamas and engaged the expertise of its global network of health care experts to engage with key stakeholders, serve as advisors on implementation and to ensure due diligence on mapping out the final costing model for the programme. KPMG has already confirmed that the Government’s estimation of $100 million per year for the primary care package of NHI Bahamas is “reasonable and responsible.”
KPMG Bahamas is also advising on the creation and administration of the public insurer, which will be set up as part of the NHI Bahamas programme and managed by a third party to ensure accountability and transparency. The Cabinet approved this recommendation on Tuesday
Other presenters were Dr. Kevin Bowe, Deputy Director at NIB for NHI and Special Projects, KPMG Global Health Practice Chairman Dr. Mark Britnell and Dr. Anuschka Coovadia, Head of Healthcare Markets, Africa and Associate Director at KPMG.

Bahamas government condemns “horrific” Brussels’ bombings.
The Government of the Bahamas through its High Commission in London issued a press statement on Wednesday of this week in the wake of the horrific bombings at an airport terminal and subway in Brussels, Belgium that claimed the lives of thirty-one people and injuring more than two hundred and seventy others.

The Bahamas High Commission in London said it was “closely monitoring the situation and extends its deep condolences and regret to the Belgian Government and All those who have fallen victim today (Wednesday).”

The Bahamas High Commission further stated that they were in touch with the country’s Honorary Consul in Brussels and recommended all Bahamian Nationals in Brussels to take shelter in secured locations and avoid all public transportation. 

“Bahamian citizens are urged to be aware of local events, follow local authority instructions and to monitor local media for further developments” said the Commission. 

“The Commonwealth of The Bahamas stands with the people of Belgium in this morning's (Wednesday morning) horrific attacks” concluded the statement.

Jet Blue makes emergency landing at Nassau Airport
The Bahamas Department of Civil Aviation issued the following statement on the emergency landing of a Jet Blue 29 Embraer 190 at Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) on Friday, 25th March 2016:

“The Civil Aviation Department advises that at 3:25 pm today, a Jet Blue 29 Embraer 190, inbound to LPIA from Washington Dulles Airport (KIAD), with 97 souls on board, declared an emergency to Nassau Approach control, due to a landing gear problem.

“It was initially determined by CAD and LPIA officials that only the right main gear was extended, and that both the left main gear and the nose gear were not. The pilot in command made a decision to attempt a landing at LPIA , and after burning some fuel, executed a safe landing at 4:36pm, with the use of both the left and right main gear only. The nose gear was not extended. All passengers and crew were determined to be uninjured.

“As a result of the incident, the main runway at LPIA, 14 / 32 is temporarily closed, until the aircraft can be removed. Aircraft operations continue on runway 09 / 27 with minimal delays

“The Department of Civil Aviation commends the pilot, the Air Traffic Control staff, the Airport Authority, the Nassau Airport Development Company, the Airport Crash, Fire and Rescue officers at LPIA, and the Royal Bahamas Police Force firefighters, for a job well done.

“The public is informed that the Accident and Investigations Unit of the Flight Standards Inspectorate will immediately conduct an investigation into this incident, with a view to determining the circumstances which led to its occurrence.”

Komolafe resigns as Managing Director of Bahamas Development Bank
The Bahamas Development Bank’s Managing Director Mrs. Arinthia S. Komolafe announced her resignation this week after a short tenure at the helm of the public bank.

In her letter to Prime Minister Christie, Mrs. Komolafe expressed hope for a seamless leadership transition at the bank and that her successor continues the “good work” of policy reforms, the strategic plan and a more effective framework for corporate governance that she and her staff advanced, sometimes under difficult circumstances and with limited resources.

"I am hopeful that the good work that we began by seeking to create a culture of professionalism, implementing appropriate internal controls, putting in place a robust provisioning policy, devising a strategic plan, proposing an effective corporate governance framework, spearheading a focused initiative to clean up the loan portfolio, pursuing legal action against chronic defaulters and enacting a "no sacred cow" policy for the recovery of funds owed to the Bank will be built upon by my successor" said Komolafe.

The effective date of her resignation is 31st March, 2016. It is believed in some circles that Mrs. Komolafe, an attorney by profession, will seek public office in the future.

In Passing…
Young Donovan Butler bested 19 other elite spellers to win the 2016 Bahamas National Spelling Bee held last Sunday at the Atlantis’ Crown Ballroom. The eighth grader at Saint Augustine College won the competition with the word “PHARMACY.”

Pastor, sportsman and local activist Dr. Philip McPhee told the media this week that ministers of the gospel need to be represented in the House of Assembly and is therefore “one half of an inch from announcing my candidacy in the next general election.”  
Referring to 42 years of diplomatic relations and cooperation between Cuba and The Bahamas, Cuban Ambassador to The Bahamas HE Ismara Vargas Walter told the media this week that both countries will complement each other on a joint program involving tourism. These discussions on tourism are intensifying as Cuba slowly and deliberately opens its borders and embraces a market driven economy. The Association of Caribbean States (ACS) summit will be held in Cuba in June of this year and as a council member, the Cuban Ambassador said that cooperation on tourism will figure prominently on the agenda.
The official hiring of Canadian based real estate giant Colliers International by Baha Mar receivers with the approval of the Bahamas Supreme Court signaled the beginning of the sales process of the Baha Mar property. According to Prime Minister Christie, there is no shortage of interested investors in the mega resort property but there were media reports indicating that receiving a dollar-for-dollar offer for the property would be a challenge for the China EXIM Bank. The China Construction Company has agreed to wholly complete the construction phase of the property with the understanding that Bahamian contractors will be fully paid the major sums owed to them at the time the property entered bankruptcy in June 2015.  
The Bahamas’ 36 member strong CARIFTA swim team is in Martinique on the final day of competition in the 2016 CARITA swimming championships. The Bahamas team started Friday 20 points behind leader Guadeloupe but in the end, a three-peat was not to be as The Bahamas finished second to Guadeloupe. The Bahamas was the 2014 and 2015 CARIFTA swimming champions
Chinese Ambassador to The Bahamas HE Yuan Guisen spent the week making farewell courtesy calls on government ministers and other leaders before demitting office and returning to China. A farewell reception was held in his honour by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday evening at Luciano’s of Chicago restaurant. The reception allowed the consulate community to pay tribute and say their goodbyes. The Ambassador met with Prime Minister Christie on Thursday and Deputy Prime Minister Davis to round out his farewell tour.
The Executive Committee of the Free National Movement approved the appointment of former FNM Member of Parliament for Garden Hills and Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Housing Brensil Rolle to the post of Acting National Chairman after Michael Pintard resigned as chairman and senator on Monday. Mr. Pintard was accused of participating in a plot to destabilize the government of The Bahamas and a murder for hire plot involving billionaires Peter Nygard and Louis Bacon. He admitted no guilt but said he resigned because it was the responsible course of action to take and as a demonstration of political maturity.
Bahamian Buddy Hield, the guard from the University of Oklahoma Sooners basketball team made it to the cover of the latest edition of Sports Illustrated. Hield was voted the Big 12 player of the year and his Sooners have advanced to the elite eight in the NCAA Division 1 basketball championship tournament. Oklahoma is scheduled to play the Oregon Ducks on Saturday at 6pm. The tournament began with sixty-four teams. Hield is also a strong contender for the Naismith National Player of the Year Award.