Saturday, April 30, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas - April 25-29, 2016

By Elcott Coleby

PRIME MINISTER CHRISTIE OPENS CAOSA CONFERENCE
“NO ONE SHOULD BE LEFT BEHIND” is the stated position of the United Nations as member states implement their respective programs as part of the post millennium goals. Consistent with this theme, The Bahamas hosted the Inter-American Conference on Social Security’s (CISS) American Commission on Organization and Administrative Systems (CAOSA) conference. This conference on social security systems is intended to improve the lives of persons in the entire region through continued dialogue.

Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie officially opened the CISS-CAOSA Meeting on Monday, April 25, 2016 at the Grand Ballroom, Atlantis on Paradise Island.

“There can be no doubt that one of the most enduring legacies that a Government can provide to its people is the creation of safety nets that offer a measure of protection during those times when persons are unable, through some form of employment interruption, to earn an income” said Mr. Christie as he underscored the critical import of social security to a nation’s development. 

Under the theme “Risk and Resiliency,” the conference promoted the continued dialogue between heads of Social Security within this hemisphere on key issues such as Unemployment Disability Security, Management of Risk for Innovation and Change, Protection of Pension Security Systems in the Economic Recession, and Efforts to Educate Students on Social Security Programmes.

Meeting these new sustainable development goals of the United Nations requires a paradigm shift by governments in the delivery of basic human services, ensuring the dignity of the citizenry and consistently meeting their reasonable expectations.


“This requires Governments, more now than ever, to alter past governance practices in ways designed to guarantee each citizen basic attributes of human dignity in the way he goes about his everyday life, and in a way that meets his reasonable expectations,” the Prime Minister said.

Mr. Christie pointed out that The Bahamas has successfully implemented several initiatives that seek to guard against certain life challenges. These initiatives include the introduction of National Health Insurance to address inequities in accessing affordable healthcare.

The 100 regional delegates also discussed investments, universal healthcare topics, occupational health and safety issues.

Among the delegates in attendance are the Hon. Shane Gibson, Minister of Labour, National Insurance and the Public Service; Omar de la Torre, Secretary General, Inter-American Conference on Social Security; Vance Teal, President of the American Commission on Organization and Administration Systems; Renae McKay, Chairman, NIB and other board members; and Rowena Bethel, Director/NIB.

The subsequent conference, the 27th Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Social Security (CAOSA) will be held April 27-29, 2016, in the Grand Ballroom of the Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island.  The Hon. Shane Gibson, Minister of Labour, National Insurance and the Public Service, will bring remarks. 


GIBSON CHALLENGES CARIBBEAN NATIONS TO ADOPT INNOVATION
“Caribbean nations must find their own unique method to adopt the innovative strategies in management and administration that help to improve communications with stakeholders and citizen engagement, expand benefits, improve compliance levels, and strengthen their governance structures; all while ensuring the sustainability of their national insurance funds.”

This challenge was issued by Bahamas Minister of Labour, National Insurance and the Public Service, the Hon. Shane Gibson as he addressed some 100 delegates at the 27th Meeting of the CARICOM Heads Social Security held at Atlantis on Wednesday of this week.

Sharing some of the innovative strategies adopted here in The Bahamas, Gibson identified the current upgrades to the information and communications infrastructure at the Bahamas’ social security administration, the National Insurance Board, a public institution with more than $1.8 billion in reserves.

“The Board recently completed the implementation of a state of the art Insurance Administration System software, which will modernize its services to make doing business with NIB easier for the public. The improvements that this new system will usher in will positively impact the submission of claims, registration, paying contributions, requesting and receiving letters of good standing as well as, generally accessing NIB information” said Mr. Gibson.

Other initiatives shared by the Minister include the launch of the encrypted Blue Smart Card in January of this year that will support NHI; an employer self-service portal scheduled for a June launch (to eliminate the manual C-10 form); a CARICOM Reciprocal Agreement on Social Security to facilitate CARICOM expats working in The Bahamas; launch of the “foot patrol” registration drive last September and the launch of the “highly successful” Installment Agreement Initiative in February of this year.

  
SPEAKER “STANDS READY TO DEFEND PARLIAMENT AND ITS FREEDOMS”
Characterizing the ruling of Justice Indra Charles as “a blatant breach of parliamentary privilege and utterly disdainful on many levels,” House Speaker the Hon. Dr. Kendal Major told the House that he stands “ready to defend the parliament and its freedoms, even to the point of having persons brought to the Bar of the House if necessary.”

The speaker was addressing the House on Monday, 25th April 2016 in response to a Supreme Court ruling that prohibits House members from appropriating, publishing, commenting on (inside and outside of the House) the contents of emails purported to be the private property of members of the Save the Bays environmental lobby group.

Justice Indra Charles granted the injunction on Thursday, 21st April 2016.

Dr. Major argued that the courts have no jurisdiction over Parliament and decried this “preemptive onslaught” on the independence of the Parliament.

Troubled by what he called an unprecedented court injunction, Central and South Eleuthera member the Hon. Damian Gomez said that “we have to take the separation of powers doctrine seriously.”

Applauding the “vigor and clarity” of the Speaker in defense of the powers and privileges of the House, Marco City MP the Hon. Greg moss said that Parliament “should have no differences on issues that undermine the very democratic fabric of our nation.”

Fort Charlotte MP the Hon. Andre Rollins said that parliamentarians should not use the Parliament as a shield to “live above the law.”

The Office of the Attorney General initiated legal proceedings to have the injunction set aside. The application was heard in the Supreme Court before Justice Indra Charles on Friday, 29th April 2016 and in the end, Justice Charles upheld the injunction until the trial date of the 12th May 2016.
      

SOCIAL SERVICES DEPARTMENT REPONDS TO AUDITOR GENERAL’S REPORT
The Auditor General’s report on the operations of the Department of Social Services (DOSS) between 1st July 2013 and 30th June 2015 has reached the desk of the House Speaker and the results were not flattering. Among a number of infractions listed, department employees were accused of helping themselves to food coupons intended to assist the poor and some contracts issued and honoured were not duly authorized. The report findings appeared in the local media on Monday, 25th April 2016.

The Ministry of Social Services and Community Development responded officially on Wednesday, 27th April 2016 via a press statement. The Ministry denounced fraud, promised accountability, listed a number of corrective actions designed to mitigate fraud and corruption and reiterated its commitment to building a stronger department.

“The Ministry does not condone fraudulent activities. Employees concerned are being dealt with in accordance with the Rules and Regulations of the Public Service” said the statement.

The Department conceded that the manual and paper intensive system was a cause for concern and a contributing factor to fraud but promised that the Social Safety Net Program will strengthen the department’s internal controls.

“The Department’s manual, labour and paper intensive system for the delivery of assistance has been a source of concern for the Government for years and was one of the contributing factors for the introduction of the Social Safety Net Reform Programme, which is currently being implemented. The reform will result in the consolidation of two of the programmes offered by the Department through a conditional cash transfer programme, R.I.S.E.  This programme will be delivered by way of a reloadable electronic prepaid card.”

The reloadable pre-paid debit cards were introduced in November 2014 and replaced the manual food coupons.

Another component of the department’s reform efforts “focuses on the institutional strengthening of the Department which includes, training, increased staffing, new computer equipment and a new Management Information System which will link all centers in the Department” said the statement.

Additionally, said the statement, “The Ministry will also assist the Department with the establishment of a Compliance and Inspectorate Unit to mitigate fraud and ensure that guidelines and proper procedures are followed.”

The department reiterated its commitment to continuing on the path to building a “stronger, more efficient Department” to serve the people of The Bahamas.


ATTORNEY GENERAL DISMISSES “WASTE OF TIME” DAME CLAIM
Former Appeals court president Dame Joan Sawyer was characteristically blunt in describing the June 7 referendum on gender equality “a waste of time” and “unnecessary” even in her concession that she had not seen the four questions. She told the media that if she decided to vote on the bills, she would vote no.

The Dame argued that the anti-discrimination provisions in Article 15 and Article 26 “prohibits the government or any arm of the government from discriminating against people on certain basis.”  

Attorney General Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson QC responded immediately, pointing out that the courts have repeatedly found that Article 15 of the constitution does not guarantee equal rights and that the current citizenship provisions in the constitution disadvantage women. Her response is presented in its entirety below.  

"After widest consultation, with a great many legal and other experts, and with the people of The Bahamas, the Constitutional Commission recommended — and the Government and Opposition agreed — that this referendum be held, so that equality under our laws be enshrined in our nation’s most important legal document. 

Our Constitution currently prevents Parliament from passing laws which discriminate on the basis of race or religion; this referendum is an opportunity to also specifically prevent new laws which might discriminate against a Bahamian citizen because they are male or female.

The courts have repeatedly found that Article 15 does not guarantee equal rights. Article 26 is the only provision which deals with discrimination. It must therefore be amended if Bahamian men and women are to be able to count on equal treatment under our laws.

Additionally, it cannot be doubted that the citizenship provisions of our Constitution currently disadvantage women, and in one instance, men, in their ability to transmit their citizenship to their children and spouses. Amendments one, two and three address this unfairness, which has an impact on so many of our families. 

Bahamians understand that men and women will always be different, but that as citizens, they should be treated equally. And many Bahamians agree: this is an historic opportunity to make sure our children and grandchildren share the same rights and the same opportunities."


YES CAMPAIGN: no “new rights to the LGBT community”
Another grouping calling itself the Bahamas Transgender Intersex United (BTIU) used the occasion of the animated public debate to draw attention to their concerns. Hosting a press conference at the Hilton Hotel on Tuesday morning, President and director of the LGBT activist group pointed out that the upcoming referendum “does not include” transgender and intersex issues. Same-sex marriage, they argued, is not an issue in their community.

Responding to them was the YES CAMPAIGN who acknowledged their position but pointed out that the June 7 gender equality referendum will not pave the way for same-sex marriage and will not “bestow new rights to the LGBT community.” The YES CAMPAIGN statement is published in its entirety below:  

“The YES Campaign respectfully acknowledges the decision of the Bahamas Transgender Intersex United (BTIU) to support a NO vote in the gender equality referendum on June 7th. While the YES Campaign is building a broad coalition of support, we are not surprised by BTIU and Erin Greene’s objection to the amendments.
“The issues BTIU is advocating for are not represented in these amendments, which would give Bahamian men and women equal rights to pass on citizenship to their family members, and would enshrine in the Constitution the right of men and women to have the same opportunities and the same protections in our laws.

“The YES Campaign hopes all Bahamians will support equal rights for our sons and daughters. However, we welcome the opportunity to clarify again that none of the amendments on this ballot would pave the way for same-sex marriage nor bestow any new rights to the LGBT community.”

NHI BAHAMAS SECRETARIAT URGES SMART CARD REGISTRATION
Acknowledging that polls show an increase in the number of persons registering for the National Insurance Board (NIB) Smart Card, the HNI Secretariat conceded that “not everyone is aware that this card is the only card they need in order to receive care under the NHI Bahamas programme (once the primary care phase begins).”

In a press statement released this week, the NHI Secretariat urged Bahamians to register for their blue smart card as the National Insurance Board will no longer accept the yellow cards as of the 1st May 2016.

“We want all legal residents of The Bahamas to be as prepared as possible for phase 2 of NHI Bahamas, which is enrolment, where you can pick your insurer and your doctor from the public or private sector. All you have to do is go to your local NIB office and apply for a Smart Card,” said Dr. Kevin Bowe, Deputy Director of NIB for NHI and Special Projects.

The survey found that approximately one third of Bahamians say that they have an NIB Smart Card. Of those who do not have one, four out of five persons say they intend to register.

However, the survey also showed that 44% of persons who do not have a Smart Card were not aware they needed one in order to be eligible for phase 2 of NHI Bahamas, enrolment.

The NHI Secretariat reminded Bahamians to visit their local NIB office to get one and to call the NIB at 225-5642 or to visit its Facebook Page.


BAHAMAS ATTORNEY GENERAL CELEBRATES “GIRLS IN ICT DAY”
The Bahamas Attorney General Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson had some encouraging words on Thursday for some 100 young women participating in GIRLS IN ICT DAY.

“Do take advantage of the opportunities to meet these pioneering professional women. They are your mentors” said Mrs. Maynard-Gibson.

“The ICT sector is the fastest growing sector worldwide.  Colleges are not producing enough graduates with ICT related degrees to meet the growing demand.  Interestingly, today only 17% of the computer science graduates are women, down from 37% in 1985.  And, according to the ITU, only 13% of the STEM workforce is made up of women.  URCA is doing its part to change this.” 

The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) hosted the second Girls in Information Communication Technologies day. This initiative of the International Telecommunication union (ITU), started in 2011, is aimed at empowering and encouraging girls and young women to consider studies and careers in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). It was hosted at the Hilton Hotel on downtown Nassau.


In passing…
It was reported in the local on Monday of this week that at least ten parliamentarians failed to file their financial declaration pursuant to the Disclosure Act. The deadline for filing was 1st March 2016. In the wake of this, opposition leader Dr. Hubert Minnis called on the Attorney General to prosecute those who had not yet filed. Public Disclosure Commission chairman Myles Laroda said that the decision to prosecute violators rests with the Attorney General. The Attorney General said that “this process has not commenced from the proper people from whom it should commence.”

The Flamingo clinic on Carmichael Road now has a cold storage facility for vaccines, sera and other heat sensitive drugs and samples. Prime Minister Christie and Health Minister Gomez were on hand to officially open the cold storage facility at the Flamingo Gardens satellite clinic on Monday, 25th April 2016.

Bahamas Association for Social Health (BASH) president Terry Miller pleaded innocent to fourteen counts of animal cruelty before Magistrate Saboula Swain on Thursday of this week. It is alleged that Mr. Miller mistreated and under nourished five horses, a male goat and one dozen rabbits housed at the BASH Chippingham property between 19th February and the 8th April 2016. Three of the horses have been relocated to the Humane Society’s auxiliary stable in Lyford Cay. The horses have been at the center of an acrimonious ownership battle for the last six years.

The Bahamas has a new Junior Minister of Tourism and he is Grand Bahamian Gabrielle Josephs, a student of the Mary Star of the Sea Catholic School in Freeport, Grand Bahama. Mr. Josephs was among twelve contestants nationwide competing for the coveted title which included an essay competition and a question and answer component. The ceremony was held at Super Clubs Breezes on Cable Beach on Thursday of this week.

As the government prepares the country for the implementation of National Health Insurance (NHI), ten new ambulances landed in New Providence recently to be allocated to various health facilities in Nassau and Grand Bahama. The brand new 2016 Ford E-350 emergency vehicles were acquired at a cost of $1.4 million and are the first installment of a fleet of 25 expected to strengthen the health infrastructure of the country. The new fleet will replace an aging fleet; are intended to reduce response time from thirty minutes to twelve minutes and are expected to be commissioned by May of this year.

The submission of final arguments in the Fred Ramsay bribery trial is expected on Friday in the Supreme Court of Justice Bernard Turner. Mr. Ramsay, a former BEC board member, is charged with providing French energy giant Alstrom with confidential board information and with accepting $325,000 in bribes from Alstrom in exchange for using his influence to secure BEC contracts to supply slow speed diesel powered generators.

With the sudden departure of Jeff Wallace shortly after the agreement was signed between BEC and PowerSecure, the Bahamas Power and Light Company Limited (former BEC) has a new Chief Executive Officer in the person of industry veteran Pamela Hill. Her appointment becomes effective the 2nd May. Ms. Hill’s most recent assignment was vice president of retail sales support at the Exelon Corporation headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. She also served at the Jamaica Public Service Company and the Georgia Power Company.

Local attorney and Tribune columnist Adrian Gibson is suing the government for assault and is seeking $3 million in damages. He claimed he was stopped by police for a traffic violation and was assaulted during the encounter.

Bahamian Lionel Haven was banned by FIFA for five years and fined for failing to disclose information related to cash payments made at a CFU event in 2011. The adjudicatory chamber of world soccer body’s independent Ethics Committee imposed the five year ban on Mr. Haven and fined him $3,000 Swiss Francs (US$3,130) as part of their ethics probe into one of the biggest corruption scandals to hit sports in recent memory.

Master motivator, public speaker and of late talk show host Spence Finlayson has a new book out entitled PHOENIX RISING. He will host the official book launch on Saturday evening, 30th April 2016 at 7pm at the Paul Farquharson center on East Street hill. Delivering a presentation at the launch will be Minister of Social Services and Community Development, the Hon. Melanie Griffin. The general public is invited to attend.         

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