Sunday, April 3, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas

By Elcott Coleby

‘Toggie’ and ‘Bobo’ in police custody
The two young men from Bain Town who were thrust in the national spotlight recently as being at the center of a conspiracy to commit murder members of the Save the Bays organization were confirmed to be in police custody on Thursday. The men were reportedly picked up by police on Wednesday morning at two separate locations in Nassau.
They are Livingston ‘Toggie’ Bullard and Wisler ‘Bobo’ Davilma.

The arrests represent the latest salvo in this soap opera that has captured the attention of Bahamians everywhere and overshadowed debate on the 2015/2016 mid-year budget debate.

Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade told the media that the RBPF had to plans to charge the two men at that time. He also said that he would not conduct this investigation in the media.

Affidavits filed in the Bahamas Supreme Court on 10th March implicated the two men in a murder-for-hire plot at the urging of Canadian fashion designer Peter Nygard. The men were reportedly hired by Nygard to murder Lyford Cay neighbor Louis Bacon.

The saga took a twist when two audio recordings made the rounds on social media. On the tapes was then FNM chairman Michael Pintard speaking to Bobo on one tape and to Toggie on another. Toggie could be heard on the second tape asking for $500,000 to sign the affidavit. Mr. Pintard resigned on Monday 21st March but admitting no guilt.

The leader of the opposition also admitted on the day of Pintard’s resignation that he met with the criminals who called him, came to his house and brought him fish.

Marathon MP the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald tabled what some considered damming emails with communications between members of Save the Bays and several senior members of the FNM. Fitzgerald asserted in Parliament that Save the Bays was fronting as a charitable organization, while engaged in political activities aimed at destabilizing the government of The Bahamas.   

The lawyers for Peter Nygard, Elliot Lockhart and Co., filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court this week naming members of the local press and political organizations in the court filings. Some of those named in the affidavit called it baseless and without merit.

The saga continues. We will keep our readers posted.


Minister Dorsett responds to landfill fire
The recurring and vexing fire at the public landfill raged again over the Easter weekend and into this week. The government was heavily criticized again over this from various quarters. Some argued that it was spontaneous combustion while others contended arson. Critics accused the government of not having a remediation and management plan for the landfill while one critic published an alternative remediation plan.
 
On the Wednesday, the 29th March, Environment Minister Dorsett responded to critics and provided an update on the source of the fire and corrective actions after holding meetings with the principals of Renew Bahamas, the private entity duly contracted to remediate the New Providence public landfill.

“I have been advised that a surface fire occurred at a temporary tipping area at the New Providence Landfill and not the cells or traditional tipping areas” said the statement. Recyclable products were destroyed during the fire; the fire is presently contained and measures are being taken secure the assets at the site as well as to alleviate smoke and fumes to the immediate vicinity and the neighbouring communities said the statement.

The statement indicated that reports of suspected arson are under active police investigation and the Environment Ministry is reviewing the current level of security at the 100 acre facility.

The statement contends that Renew Bahamas has made good progress to date in land remediation, recycling “approximately 65% of the waste brought to the site” resulting in the occurrence of reduced and less intense fires.


Ministry of Health: “Ebola remains unlikely” as suspect patient expires
Social media was abuzz over the Easter weekend, complete with fear mongering and misinformation about a case of Ebola at the Princess Margaret Hospital. A photo of a person in a hazmat suit purported to be an employee of PMH was the evidence provided.

It is important to note that a connective tissue disorder can be linked to as much as 80 different diseases but all people needed to hear was that the suspect patient travelled to Africa and the Ebola fear mongering and panic went into overdrive.

The Public Hospital Authority released a statement on Saturday evening confirming that there was a suspect patient being treated but that Ebola was unlikely. The statement went to great pains to point out that there was never a confirmed case of Ebola in South Africa.

Another meeting was held on Easter Monday comprising senior Health Officials led by the Minister of Health, Dr. the Honorable M. Perry Gomez, and including Dr. Kathleen Israel, Pan American Health Organization representative along with the PAHO Washington DC team (via teleconference).

At the conclusion of the meeting the Ministry of Health issued a statement confirming the death of the suspect patient but maintained that Ebola as the cause of death was unlikely.

“The patient who passed away on Sunday evening had travelled to Johannesburg South Africa in early March. According to the World Health Organization, South Africa to date has had no reported cases of Ebola.”  

The statement also confirmed that “conclusive testing is being facilitated for a number infectious diseases including Ebola through the Centers of Disease Control in the United States of America.”  

The Ministry of Health through its press release again reiterated that “all standard protocols including necessary protective measures in keeping with international guidelines have been followed in the management of the patient at the Princess Margaret Hospital.” 


Mitchell and Fitzgerald address furor over email revelation
“This, in my view, is a most dangerous trend and opens up the society to chaos.” This was the opinion of Data Commissioner Sharmie Farrington-Austin in a statement released over the Easter weekend in response to emails tabled in Parliament by Education Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald more than one week earlier. She said inquiries about the matter prompted her response.

In tabling the emails in Parliament, Minister Fitzgerald sought to establish the relationship between Save the Bays and members of the Free National Movement and to make the case that the charitable organization was nothing more than a ‘front’ to carry out political activities and a plot that was injurious to the reputation of permanent resident Peter Nygard and to destabilize the duly elected government of The Bahamas.

This resulted in much public furor and commentary over the matter.

In all fairness, the Data Commissioner conceded in her statement that her office received no formal complaint that would have activated her office’s involvement in the email matter. She further admitted that her office had no legal jurisdiction over statements made or documents tabled in Parliament.

Ministers Mitchell and Fitzgerald released a joint statement on Monday, 28th March in response to the Data Commissioner and to earlier media comments attributed to Fred Smith QC. The statement is published below in its entirety below:

“We have taken note of a statement released by the Data Protection Commissioner over the weekend and a report in The Tribune’s Business Section with comments referring to us by Fred Smith Q C.

“We have no comment to make on the Data Protection Commissioner's personal views on this matter except that we note with interest that no formal complaint has been received by her and therefore her statement and commentary in the absence of a formal complaint is indeed curious.

“We merely point out to the public this matter is not about unauthorized e-mails.

“As we said in Parliament, this matter is about a well-funded environmental organization that is not about the environment, but Save The Bays is about politics and destabilizing the government of The Bahamas and has spent millions of dollars to do so.

“Let’s us not be distracted from that salient fact.

“The Data Commissioner herself recognizes that the Act has no jurisdiction with regard to statements and documents laid in Parliament.

“We agree.

“Further, the matter has been formally referred to the Committee on Privileges and that Committee has the power to send for persons and papers. We will cooperate with the Committee of the House fully. It is the House Committee that has complete jurisdiction over MPs.

Let the public be assured that neither of us is a party to any "unauthorized" access to e-mails.”

This particular matter now rests with the Police, the Office of the Attorney General with a view to a possible IRS investigation into the use of millions of dollars of tax exempt funds being used for political purposes in a foreign and Sovereign Country.

It is ironic that the same people who were fighting for Freedom of Information and transparency are now running to court to stop the same freedom they were supposedly fighting for. What a difference a day makes! A bunch of self righteous hypocrites!

We remain focused on keeping Save the Bays honest and transparent and will do so in any forum we deem necessary.


Gomez: NHI primary healthcare phase delayed six months
NHI Bahamas Secretariat updated the media one week ago on the progress to date of the NHI journey, revealing that the government had secured the consultancy services of KPMG executive Mark Britnell to assist in leading the process. At that time the consultants said the April start date for the delivery of primary healthcare was delayed but could not say by how long.

Well on Wednesday of this week, Health Minister, Dr. Perry Gomez told the media that the primary healthcare phase would be delayed by “around six months or so.”

Legislation is being finalized to include the public option and in the interest of transparency, the cabinet of The Bahamas has agreed to allow a private entity manage the public health insurance company. The selection process will be via competitive bidding.      


CLICO policyholders cash in
Thursday was a good day for some 4,000 CLICO policyholders as the much anticipated payouts on specific insurance and investment products began. Recipients lined up outside the Holy Cross Anglican Church hall as early as 6am on Thursday morning to receive their checks.

CLICO’s Managing Director Juan Culmer outlined just who and which insurance products qualified for payouts.

“This payout is for balances owed on death claims, medical claims, those who surrendered when we went into liquidation, pensions, annuities and endowments that may have become due since that time (the time the company entered liquidation) – those are the policyholders that we are paying today. “

Mr. Culmer also pointed out that active policy holders will transition with the collective insurance portfolio to the Special Purpose Vehicle announced by Prime Minister Christie in Parliament and eventually to the new buyer. All policies will be made whole said the Prime Minister.

Active policyholders are therefore encouraged to continue paying their premiums.  


Legal Reforms to buttress country’s ‘arbitration hub’ thrust
The government continued its campaign this week to build The Bahamas into a regional arbitration hub when State Minister for Finance the Hon. Michael Halkitis announced some legal reform measures to strengthen the sector’s regime with the help of a Law Review Committee.  

Halkitis said the committee will review the Legal Profession Act and recommend the requisite “reforms necessary to make The Bahamas a welcome destination for the conduct of international dispute resolution.”

This comes as The Bahamas and the People’s Republic of China agreed that The Bahamas will be an approved center for arbitration for commercial trade disputes originating in China.  

Mr. Halkitis revealed this latest policy initiative as he addressed delegates at the opening ceremony of the CARICOM 101 Arbitral Practice Training Workshop organized by the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the Bahamas Ministry of Financial Services on Thursday morning.
   

In passing…
As the much anticipated public mini hospital in Exuma opened its doors on Tuesday of this week, Prime Minister Christie was in Exuma to tour another multi-million resort development on the island. From Exuma the Prime Minister flew to Grand Bahama where he participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a stem cell research and therapy center. The grand opening of the mini hospital in Exuma is scheduled for April.

Monique Gomez, the FNM women’s Association president was named as the newest Senator as she replaced FNM party chairman Michael Pintard who resigned on Monday, 21st March 2016. Ms. Gomez told the media that there is no “bad blood” between her and the party’s leader, Dr. Hubert Minnis.

The Bahamas CARIFTA track and field team placed third in the championships held in Grenada over the Easter weekend. The team won 5 gold, 15 silver and 13 bronze medals and in the process, a number of athletes qualified for the IAAF World Junior championship. Jamaica and Barbados were first and second. Jamaica has won this event 32 consecutive times. In other CARIFTA news, Bahamian Nathan Smith, 11, was undefeated as he brought home the gold in the CARIFTA Chess championships held in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. The chess tournament was also held over the Easter weekend.

Chavanno “Buddy” Hield, former Eight Mile Rock Blue Jay standout and superstar guard for the Oklahoma Sooners won the CBS Sports Player of the Year award. He finished second in the Associated Press (AP) Player of the Year award race. Hield averaged 25.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists this year. The Big Twelve Player of the Year led his team to the final four where Oklahoma is scheduled to play Villanova on Saturday for the right to play for the NCAA Division One college basketball championship.  

Following a meeting held earlier this week among executives of the FNM, the party issued a statement indicating their support for its leader, Dr. Hubert Minnis. Former Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Frank Watson called for an early FNM convention. The party initially planned a November convention this year.

The latest member of the FNM to call for the resignation of leader Dr. Hubert Minnis was former candidate Cassius Stuart. Mr. Stuart said in a press release that the party needed new direction and that “reformation must come or the party will die.”

BAMSI has opened its latest satellite agribusiness center in Eleuthera this week. This support center is designed to assist farmers on that island with the quality and reliability issues that have plagued the agriculture industry for decades.

Nine employees across various departments at the East Grand Bahama Deep Water Cay resort were made redundant this week due to the soft economy and a decline in the number of bookings. This was confirmed by Labour Director Robert Farquharson on Thursday of this week. The resort however plans to continue with its expansion as it transforms from a fishing lodge to an upscale boutique resort.

The Public Hospitals Authority and the Beck Group inked a contract on Wednesday for the architectural drawings for a community clinic to be located on the new Greenfield site on East Sunrise Highway in Freeport, Grand Bahama. The contract was signed in the boardroom of the Rand Memorial Hospital.     


Expansion for a new manufacturing plant at PharmaChem Technologies (Grand Bahama) Ltd. became official at a groundbreaking ceremony at the company’s West Sunrise Highway facilities on Thursday of this week in Freeport. Completion is expected in early 2019 with the addition of 200 jobs when the new plant becomes operational. 

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