Saturday, April 9, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas

By Elcott Coleby

The leaked “Panama Papers’

In the wake of leaked documents by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca dubbed the ‘Panama Papers’ comprising more than 11.5 million files on international banking and investment data spanning some forty years by countless clients, the Minister of Financial Services held a press conference this week to address this matter.

“THE BAHAMAS IS A COMPLIANT JURISDICTION, OPERATING UNDER INTERNATIONAL REGULATORY STANDARDS.  WE CONTINUE TO ENSURE WE DO EVERYTHING TO REMAIN COMPLIANT AND TO SUSTAIN OUR REPUTATION AS A PREMIER FINANCIAL CENTRE. WE CONSISTENTLY DEMONSTRATE OUR COMMITMENT TO INTERNATIONAL TAX TRANSPARENCY, AS WELL AS THE ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING AND THE COUNTERING OF FINANCIAL TERRORISM INITIATIVES” said Minister Hope Strachan. 

Further, the Minister defended the integrity and international reputation of the Bahamas’ financial services sector, listed in the leaked documents as the world’s third largest tax haven jurisdiction.  

“IT MUST BE REITERATED THAT THE BAHAMAS HAS BEEN DEEMED COMPLIANT BY THE ORGANIZATION OF ECONOMIC COOPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT (OECD) GLOBAL FORUM ON TRANSPARENCY AND EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION FOR TAX PURPOSES.  FURTHER, THE BAHAMAS HAS COMMITTED TO THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE AUTOMATIC EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION/OECD CRS USING A BILATERAL APPROACH THAT IS FULLY ENDORSED BY THE OECD. WE ARE ALSO FULLY COMPLIANT WITH THE U.S. FOREIGN ACCOUNT TAX COMPLIANCE ACT” continued the Minister.

Strachan also said that the Bahamas government continues to ensure that the country’s jurisdiction remains “clean” and “reputable.”

Prime Minister Christie weighs in on leaked ‘Panama papers’

Speaking with local and international media at the IDB meetings at the Baha Mar convention center on Thursday, Prime Minister Christie said the following about the leaked Panama papers with respect to the truth surrounding the business practices in various countries and how these practices relate to the rule of law.

“In everything you do, the truth will come out and so one can’t deny the truth. It is just that it’s always a challenge when people leak things (and) it’s a challenge to countries that have laws, and when the laws are breached. Now with respect to truth, the truth is the most important thing going forward and countries have to find a way to be able to be comfortable with their relations with other countries.”

The Prime Minister defended the integrity of the country’s financial services sector, the strength of its regulatory regime and international reputation of The Bahamas, pointing out that jurisdictions that are imposing such high standards on The Bahamas do not adhere to these same regulatory standards.

“We feel that what we have established, that we have been in compliance. We are still in compliance and we have a jurisdiction that is an honest, trustworthy jurisdiction, but we stress that it is a jurisdiction where we offer facilities to people that are lawful and permissible. You ask us about anti money laundering we have passed the strongest legislation. When you ask us about anti-terrorism legislation, we have the strongest legislation. When you ask us to be accountable - we have demonstrated (that) we have a transparent and accountable jurisdiction. All of these things we do and many times we have to sit and watch jurisdictions that are imposing these standards on us - they don’t have the same strict adherence to these things that they are asking us to have” said the nation’s Chief Executive.      

Mr. Christie reiterated the commitment of The Bahamas to introducing new and innovative products and services and broadening the country’s markets into jurisdictions such as Latin American.  

Suspect patient at PMH “was not suffering from Ebola infection”

The conclusive tests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia are in and have ruled out Ebola as the cause of death of a Bahamian female who recently died at the Princess Margaret Hospital.

Bahamas Minister of Health, the Hon. Dr. Michael Perry Gomez delivered the news at a press conference at the Ministry of Health on Tuesday of this week. He said the CDC report “confirms through conclusive testing for Ebola” that the female patient at the Princess Margaret Hospital who passed away on Sunday, March 27, 2016, “was not suffering from Ebola infection.”

Dr. Gomez continued, “This concretely rules out the possibility of Ebola as the cause of death in this case. The Ministry of Health is grateful for the collaboration with our international partners, including the local Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Representative along with PAHO Washington team which facilitated the testing through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Dr. Gomez said now that Ebola has been ruled out the hospital’s attention will turn to determining the cause of death via a post mortem.

“In other circumstances a post mortem would have already been done, but they could not proceed with the post mortem until we got these results and the results just took long for us to get because of other issues that arose,” Dr. Gomez said.

Those other issues were the decline of two couriers to transport the sample to the United States. A third courier however was indentified later in the week.

Bahamas parole system a step closer to fruition

The 2016 Annual General Meetings (AGM) of the boards of governors of the Inter-American Development (IDB) and the Inter-American Investment Corporation commenced on Thursday morning at the Baha Mar convention center on Cable Beach. Hundreds of delegates from forty-eight countries were in town to discuss numbers of issues impacting the region such as climate change, the economy, the environment and crime and security.

Of particular significance were conclusions to a number of agreements, grants and loans to facilitate the country’s future national development.

Specifically the $20 million IDB funded Citizen Security and Justice initiative became more defined when Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) President, Luis Alberto Moreno signed a Parole and Re-entry Technical Cooperation agreement, along with two other loan operations, including the US$20 million Citizen Security and Justice Loan.

The Parole and Reentry Technical Cooperation Agreement is a US$345,907 grant from the IDB to assist the Bahamas in establishing a policy framework for a new parole and re-entry system for ex-convicts upon release from the Department of Corrections.

Immediately following this signing ceremony, the Hon. Dr. Bernard Nottage, Minister of National Security, announced the establishment of the Parole and Reentry Steering Committee, chaired by former police commissioner Paul Farquharson. The committee’s co-deputy chairs are former Anglican Bishop His Grace, Archbishop Drexel Gomez and Superintendent of the Assemblies of God in The Bahamas, the Rev. Patrick Paul.

The steering committee will work in partnership with the IDB to gather information on prisoner reentry needs and challenges, design a parole supervision strategy and create a methodology for evaluating reentry programs that will become a standard in the region.

The ceremonies were held at the Baha Mar Convention Center, Room – Blade 1. The official opening ceremonies are scheduled for Saturday, 9th April 2016 at 5:30pm and the general meetings will conclude on Sunday.

Gaming Board: Island Luck 3 Ball “not a public lottery”

Responding to questions and claims that the Island Luck three ball game amounts to a lottery, contrary to the Gaming Act 2014, the Gaming Board of The Bahamas issued a statement late Wednesday night clarifying this misconception.

“The Government of The Bahamas advises the public that Island Luck’s Three Ball Game is wholly consistent with the provisions of the Gaming Act 2014. The Game offered by Island Luck is not a public lottery, but is instead an innovative aspect of what exists today” said the statement.

The statement explained that the Act made provisions for the continuation of the Numbers Game.

“In specific, the Gaming Act 2014 (“Act”), which generally requires that all Bahamians wager via the Internet, carves out an exception which permits the Numbers Game to be played in an over the counter, cash-based environment” continued the statement.

According to the statement, the definition for the Numbers Game incorporated into the Act was clearly designed to both accommodate the “lotto” products traditionally offered by Bahamian web shop operators and to “allow Bahamian players future access to more innovative offerings by licensed Gaming House Operators.”

The Gaming Board acknowledged that on March 30, 2016 it authorized Island Luck to proceed with a Three Ball Game, reserving for itself the ability to revisit that authorization in 90 days. In doing so the Gaming Board recognized that the location of the draw at Island Luck’s South West Plaza location, rather than at a location outside of The Bahamas, did not change the categorization of this Three Ball offering as the Numbers Game.  

Mitchell asks the Speaker for protection of parliamentary privileges

Believing that his constitutionally guaranteed and ancient parliamentary privileges were breached, the member for Fox Hill penned a letter to the Speaker of the Bahamas Parliament on Thursday, essentially laying out his case for what in his view represented “prima facie breaches of the privileges of Members of Parliament including this Member of Parliament (Fred Mitchell), a continuation of what has already been laid over to the Committee on Privileges” wrote Mr. Mitchell.

The case of Mr. Mitchell is summarized below:

    Fred Smith Q C is reported to have threatened Leslie Miller MP with contempt proceedings if he provides further information to the public with regard to Save The Bays.

    The Data Commissioner issued a statement in which she advised Members of Parliament to be careful what they are saying with regard to allegations of unauthorized access to e mails related to Save The Bays. In the Data Commissioner’s statement she admitted that’s she has no jurisdiction in the matter, yet proceeded to warn MPs about their conduct in their capacities as MPs, something which only MPs have the right to decide.

    Fred Smith Q C reportedly obtained an injunction from a court of law in general terms which seeks to restrain everyone and anyone and persons unknown from repeating information with regard to e mails relating to Save The Bays.

    Letters have now been issued by the firm of Harry B. Sands and Co. seeking to demand from Members of Parliament where they received information with regard to the Save The Bays emails.

Mitchell dismissed the court injunctions as unenforceable and warned of the legal actions he will take if served with these documents.

“I will indicate to these parties by lawyer’s letter that any attempted service by them on me I will consider an unlawful interference in my right and privilege as a Member of Parliament and will so report the matter to the police if any attempt is made to serve such documents on me.” 

In passing

Prime Minister Christie told the media on Thursday that he is scheduled to meet with important Chinese personalities and high ranking officials next week as the China Export Import Bank moves to select the new owners of the stalled Baha Mar project. He also said that in his discussions with the president of the IDB, Louis Alberto Moreno, they agreed that the full economic impact of Baha Mar on The Bahamas is yet to be realized and the government of The Bahamas should spare no resource in ensuring that this mega resort opens. The government has to date spent as much as six million dollars on the completion of the Baha Mar convention center in preparation for the 2016 IDB and the IIC boards of governors Annual General Meetings.  

Former deputy leader of the FNM and member for Blue Hills Sidney Collie and talk show host Rodney Moncur were nominated for the post of National Chairman of the FNM. Acting Chairman and former member for Garden Hills Brensil Rolle declined to offer for the post, telling the media that he wishes to focus all of his energy on winning the constituency of Garden Hills in 2017. 

As it tuned out, there was no shame in losing to the Villanova Wildcats who won the 2016 NCAA division one men’s basketball championship on Monday of this week after defeating Hield’s Oklahoma Sooners in the Final Four matchup in Houston, Texas. Buddy Hield won the prestigious James E. Naismith trophy, making him the consensus top college basketball player in the country.

Attorney Fred Smith filed a civil suit for libel against Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell. Mr. Smith’s charge is that Mr. Mitchell implied that Smith was dishonest and a liar and tarnished his reputation in a statement on the pending judicial review. Smith is seeking $3 million in aggravated, exemplary and punitive damages. Mr. Mitchell’s statement appeared in the Tribune on 15th February 2016.

Stepping up its public relations and communications on the benefits phase of NHI Bahamas, the Secretariat released a new 60 second video on Thursday of this week depicting how NHI Bahamas’ Primary Care phase, once implemented, will impact the lives of ordinary, everyday Bahamians. The commercial depicts, through the eyes of a young girl, the ways in which primary care, once launched, will help the various people in her life, and put them on a healthier path. The message clearly is that while this is one family, her family, the same represents all of our families.

The Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas formally responded via ZNS news to a notice of a court injunction they received that was filed by the law firm of Harry B. Sands Lobosky and Co. on behalf of the Coalition to Save Clifton Bay. The injunction sought to prohibit the sale and or publication of emails relating or pertaining to Fred Smith QC, Zack Bacon and directors of Save the Bays. The corporation said that it will take action against any attempt to prohibit or frustrate its ability to deliver the news seriously. While it will abide by the rule of law, it is committed to reporting the news in a manner consistent with international standards of journalism without fear or favor. The injunction which was served on other media entities named no respondents.

The Ministry/Department of Labour has taken to social media to get the word out about job vacancies in the local market. This week the Bahamas Information Services released a listing of job vacancies available in the private sector for suitably qualified Bahamians. As many Bahamians receive their news via the internet and social media, this is a step in the right direction and readers are encouraged to stay tuned.

Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister the Hon. V. Alfred Gray told the press on Wednesday that construction at BAMSI in North Andros is expected to be completed by June 2016, in time for the 2016/2017 school year; this does not include the replacement dormitory that burned down more than one year ago. The government is still in the planning and design stages for a new and larger dormitory reported to be co-educational.

The bickering, rowing and warring over Carnival has begun as Wyclef Jean and Destra Garcia were named as performers in the 2016 carnival event. Wyclef was reportedly set to earn US$70,000 to perform and Destra is rumored to receive US$30,000 out of the scaled down carnival budget of $7 million. These selections by the Bahamas National Festival Commission (BNFC) did not sit well with Isaiah Taylor, front man of the Grammy Award winning super group Baha Mar. Mr. Taylor said he was insulted by the selection and decried the huge disparity in performance fees between the foreign and Bahamian entertainers. Taylor accused the government of paying Bahamian artists “peanuts.”  

Island Luck CEO Sebas Sebastian revealed this week that his gaming organization has taken proactive steps to counter the fallout of gambling addiction. He said there is a spend ceiling in place for a fixed period of time that will not change even if consenting patrons have a change of heart and wish to exceed their ceiling. Also, literature will be made available to all patrons warning of the dangers of gambling, the threat of addiction and the need to play games of chance responsibly.      

“I have a concern that there isn’t anyone who would have convinced the public in being the type of person who could manage the affairs of the country.” This is the latest salvo from former Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson who believes that the available choices for chairman of the opposition Free National Movement (FNM) amounts to slim pickings. The nominees are former Cabinet Minister, Member of Parliament and FNM deputy leader Sidney Collie and local talk show host Rodney Moncur. Watson is concerned that more qualified people have not been nominated for chairman of the FNM.

Acting Chairman of the FNM Brensil Rolle said he could not say for sure if the FNM received money from the environmental lobby group Save the Bays, but he did confirm that the FNM received a donation from the organization’s legal counsel, Callenders and Co. Both Peter Nygard and Louis Bacon, two warring foreign residents of Lyford Cay, are on record as saying they made political contributions to both the PLP and FNM. These comments come amid calls by several MP’s for campaign finance reform.

The YES campaign on the four constitutional amendment bills on gender equality is all set to officially launch on Sunday (10 April 2016) at 3pm at the Harry C. Moore Library of the College of The Bahamas. The public is invited to attend. 

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