Saturday, July 2, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas June 27 - July 1, 2016



By Elcott Coleby


PM Christie tours new housing subdivision; touts new housing model

Prime Minister Christie toured the Ardastra Gardens Subdivision extension on Tuesday where 61 new affordable government housing units are under construction. Under the government’s Public Private (sector) Partnership (PPP), Arawak Homes, which subcontracted the building project to an estimated 30 to 40 contractors, is managing the overall process.

“Arawak Homes is simply managing the overall process and taking all of the risks” said Housing Minister the Hon. Kenred Dorsett about this new public housing model that is a direct policy response to complaints about shoddy workmanship by contractors and waste of public funds.

Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Davis said that his Ministry is ensuring building standards are maintained and with more than 200 persons employed on the project, this model “does spread the wealth” through ”synergies of efforts that has really bring the cost down.”

Prime Minister Christie chimed in that this housing model “demonstrates the level of success that we can get. You can’t have a more eloquent testimony of support than the contractor who says, listen - when I do my work I get paid.”

The government said that they intend to continue this housing model, seeking out suitably qualified contractors as it provides affordable housing to thousands of Bahamians. The cost per unit is $150,000 to $160,000, officials said.


Prime Minister Christie addresses IDB workshop on VISION 2040

Addressing delegates at Superclub Breezes on Wednesday of this week at a seminar on innovation, transparency and service delivery, Prime Minister Christie told delegates that the nation’s current ‘ease of doing business’ international ranking is “unacceptable.”

The seminar was hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in conjunction with the National Development Plan Secretariat, the crafters of the National Development Plan VISION2040.

Turning his attention to the public sector, the Prime Minister Christie went on to say that tough decisions must be made to reform the public sector in order for The Bahamas not to be left behind. The Prime Minister also issued a 30-day challenge for all public servants to brainstorm and come up with new ideas to revitalize various sectors across the country.

“During this term in office, my government has sought to be agents of change. We have been addressing several major challenges that should have been tackled many years ago,” Christie said.

Regarding the issue to global competitiveness, Prime Minister Christie said that it has become increasingly clear that The Bahamas must undergo a series of self-examination processes to achieve higher global standards. To achieve this, the Prime Minister cautioned delegates and the nation to adhere to the proposals being developed by the National Development Planning Unit and to come to grips with the fact that a “great deal of heavy lifting” is yet to be done as the country continues to move forward.

The modernization of infrastructural systems in various sectors, in particular the energy sector represents a critical national issue the government must address said the Prime Minister.

He renewed his government’s plans to fight poverty, highlighting it as another key issue the government's National Development Plan (Vision 2040) will try to tackle.

Touching on the issue of democracy, Prime Minister Christie said the country had “reached the level of sophistication” that warranted public debates among persons vying for public office, hinting that he would be open to such a move.

The two day seminar wrapped up on Thursday of this week.


Mitchell: Full impact of BREXIT “too early to say with any surety”
“While there is likely to be an impact for The Bahamas, as well as the Caribbean, of the UK’s exit from the EU, it is still too early to say with any surety or certainty what the impact will be.”

This is the initial position of the Bahamas government according to Foreign Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell in the wake of the June 23 referendum that saw the citizens of the UK vote to leave the 28 strong world’s largest trading bloc after 43 years. The Bahamas and CARICOM joined the EU just over twenty years ago.

Mitchell addressed the media on BREXIT on Wednesday of this week at the Foreign Ministry.

Mr. Mitchell believes that given the strong tourism ties The Bahamas enjoys with the UK, the influx of tourists from the UK will be determined by the health and strength of the UK economy.

“If the UK economy and sterling is negatively affected due to Britain leaving the EU then it is possible that The Bahamas will experience a decline in Tourism numbers from the UK” said the Minister.

He also believes that the exit is likely to impact CARICOM and CARIFORUM in the long run, and by inference The Bahamas given the country’s involvement in CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

“There will no doubt be some economic impact on The Bahamas and its industry” said Mitchell.

The overall position of The Bahamas in the short term is to wait and see.


The Senate passes 2016/2017 budget and aviation legislation

The Senate met this week, passed the 2016/2017 budget and passed aviation legislation on Friday as the government moves to consolidate the supervisory oversight regime for airports nationally under a single authority. This is part of the government’s reform initiative of the aviation industry.

In his budget contribution, Senator Alex Storr, chair of the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation (BMC), updated colleagues on the expanded mortgage portfolio of the BMC over the last four years. He said that government initiated 201 mortgage loans totaling $19,659,220. There were 237 privately initiated mortgage loans with a value of $30,094,259, bringing the total to 438 mortgage loans with a value of $49,753,479.

Speaking on Baha Mar, opposition senator Carl Bethel accused the government of intentionally choosing the resolution route of the provisional liquidators, negatively impacting the security of millions of dollars owed to scores of Bahamian contractors and service providers.


In Passing…
On Monday of this week, the College Of the Bahamas (COB) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Antiques, Monuments and Museum Corporation of The Bahamas to facilitate greater academic collaboration and training between the two entities. COB President Dr. Rodney Smith hailed agreement as “historic” and the first of many.

This week Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner announced her bid to challenge Dr. Hubert Minnis for the leadership of the FNM at its July convention. With Senator Dr. Duane Sands by her side at a press conference in the Minority Rom of the House of Assembly, Butler-Turner said she believes the duo is the best team to turn this country around.

Central and South Abaco MP Edison Key launched into a blistering attack on some of his FNM colleagues this week, branding Long Island MP Butler-Turner as a “troublemaker,” adding that Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins needed another slap from her to set him straight. Mr. Key also said that Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant “ought to be ashamed of himself” for criticizing the party leader.

Senator Dr. Duane Sands back tracked on his threat to resign if Dr. Minnis wins the FNM leadership race. He clarified that his fate would be in the hands of Dr. Minnis should he win.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted a judicial review against FNM Leader Dr. Minnis, party Chairman Sidney Collie and FNM Secretary General Michael Foulkes over a “tainted and fraudulent” election process in the Fort Charlotte constituency, according to documents filed in the Supreme Court.

Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) CEO Pamela Hill has insisted that the company must have a capital infusion in order to make the investments she says are necessary to fulfill the promises of reliable, affordable electricity. While capital development is critical for BPL to meet its contractual mandate, Hill said the decision of a price hike to facilitate the requisite credit facility rests with the government. BPL also said that at this time there are no plans to write off debts of delinquent accounts.

COB officials have confirmed via press release on Sunday (26 June) that the cancellation of the $16.18M loan agreement from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to support COB’s transition to university status will not prevent the transition to a university. Further, the cancellation was “financially prudent” and necessary in order to arrest the accumulation of CDB fees and interests.

Chervita Campbell has been ousted from her post as Chief Councilor of the City of Freeport Council following a recent no confidence vote taken by council members amid allegations of gross misconduct involving a local government contract.

The crash that killed two men last week in Bimini was caused after the pilot lost control of the aircraft while attempting to avoid hitting another plane that was taxiing on the runway, Civil Aviation officials revealed this week. It was also revealed that the pilot did not have a valid license.

The US Embassy in Nassau has purchased approximately five acres of land in the “Nassau city center” for the relocation of its downtown outpost. The new embassy site will be located off Shirley Street, East Street and Sands Road, according to a statement from the American Embassy, addeding that the land purchase was finalized by the US Department of State on June 15.

This country’s 43rd Independence Anniversary will celebrate Bahamian excellence said Independence Committee chair Ian Poitier and will be executed within budget, estimated at less than 2015’s budget of $1.1 million.

The Chairman of the Price Control Commission Ernest J. Bowe reiterated on Monday the need for enabling legislation to force businesses to pass onto consumers cost savings due to import duty reductions and exemptions. Bowe lamented that his pleas and cries to merchants for two years have fallen on deaf ears. This failure to comply has forced the Commission to recommend legislation to strengthen the enforcement regime.

The Hon. Hope Strachan, Minister of Financial Services, said Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) will “no doubt” have some effect on The Bahamas and the wider Caribbean, adding that she expected very little impact – if any – for the financial services industry in the short term.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) asserted in their Caribbean Region Quarterly Bulletin, Volume 2, Issue 5 that the fiscal reforms identified in the Christie’s administration’s medium-term fiscal framework may very well reduce the primary deficit and stabilize public debt at current levels. The bank however opined that the reforms were not sufficient to reduce the national debt over the medium term.

The Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) has a new President. He is Fulbright specialist, Dr. Robert W. Robertson who assumed his new post on Wednesday of this week.

The College of The Bahamas has a student Summer Bridge Program and this summer, forty-seven students were chosen to participate in COB’s first Summer Bridging Program. The students will participate in a six-week academically intensive enrichment experience and receive an authentic understanding of college life. Courses of study include English, Math and Biology and counseling seminars. In other COB news, twenty Bahamian students are preparing to travel to China thanks to the Mandarin Language Scholarships Chinese Cultural Program via The COB Confucius Institute.

Last week I reported that Pricing Commission Chair Ernest J. Bowe was at his wits end with uncooperative businesses that flatly refused to pass on accrued savings from customs duties to consumers through lower prices. Mr. Bowe felt that legislation was the solution as it would compel them to obey the law. Well that did not sit well with Edison Sumner, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce (BCCEC) chief. On Tuesday he warned that any Government move to force businesses to reduce prices in line with import duty cuts would be akin to “economic dictatorship” and “Gestapo tactics.”

Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell told the media this week that the United States Embassy in Nassau has rejected about “50 percent” of visa applications for Bahamian high school students wishing to study in America due to concerns of “human trafficking.” Mitchell said some high schools in the US are luring Bahamians students with promises of college scholarships and a future career in basketball. However, once the child leaves The Bahamas to attend the school, administrators would withhold the children’s passports, isolate them from their parents and force them to work to “earn their keep.” In the view of US Embassy, this amounted to trafficking in persons.

Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder on Thursday dismissed a petition Sarkis Izmirlian’s Granite Ventures filed as part of its process to get the Supreme Court to require Baha Mar’s Deloitte & Touche receivership team to surrender control of a $192m legal claim the company has against China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC).

It now appears to be a done deal and Baha Mar could have a new buyer. Baha Mar receivers are expected to make an announcement “very shortly” on a new buyer and when construction will resume on the project that came to a halt one year ago when its developer Sarkis Izmirlian filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US, according to joint provisional liquidator for Baha Mar Edmund Rahming for KRyS Global.

The Bahamas Mortgage Corporation (BMC) held its latest Board of Director’s meeting in Freeport, Grand Bahama on Thursday 30th June 2016. On the agenda was the approval of homes to be constructed on that island.

The US State Department released its global report on human trafficking yesterday, saying The Bahamas “fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” The report said migrant workers from Haiti, Jamaica, Colombia and Venezuela are among the vulnerable populations, and although they arrive voluntarily to this country, they could be “recruited or deceived by traffickers who lure” them with “fraudulent recruitment practices, such as false promises of employment.”

Under Secretary in the Ministry of National Security Karen Rigby was honored as a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Hero by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the 2016 TIP report. Under her leadership as Chair of the Trafficking in Persons Inter-Ministry Committee, "The Bahamas’ TIP Committee has become a cohesive force in the battle against human trafficking" said Mr. Kerry.

Appearing on the Revolution with Juan McCartney on Thursday, Marathon MP Jerome Fitzgerald said yesterday that he has no regrets over the Government’s handling of the matter involving the delayed release of a report into a Rubis fuel leak, which warned of potential health risks to Marathon residents and people who work in the area.

The Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Caribbean Integrated Public Health Agency (CARPHA) are launching the Tourism Health and Safety Program (THP) to protect the health and well-being of its visitors and locals. Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe said the ministry fully supports the initiative. “I believe that we only

A motion to have suspended Bahamas Union of Teachers President Berlinda Wilson reinstated was overruled during the union’s annual general meeting. The suspension followed the revelation of a forensic audit that more than $100,000 was overpaid to a contractor under her watch. Police investigations to date have found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) Director of Policy & Regulation Stephen Bureaux has confirmed that URCA is at present consulting with BTC and NewCo – the company owned by Cable Bahamas Ltd (CBL) and the state owned HoldingCo and to which URCA has been directed to award the second mobile phone license - with the intent to allow NewCo to provide its services with the use of BTC’s equipment.

According to a Tribune report, Air Freight operators warned on Thursday that the cost of imported air freight will increase “tremendously” as a result of the new Customs fees and fines set to be imposed on operators on Thursday.

Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NIB Rowena Bethel will not renew her three-year contract at NIB, which expires on July 3. It is understood that Bethel was asked to renew her contract for an additional three years, but she declined.

The local Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Conference has disassociated itself from its former President Pastor Jeremiah Duncombe, following his calls for all Bahamians to boycott all government events until Prime Minister Christie resigns from his post.

National Pride Day was celebrated on Friday in Rawson Square where Bahamians wore the country’s national colours as a demonstration of national pride and identity. The ceremony was attended by Governor General HE Dame Marguerite Pindling and Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie.

The Ministry of Transport and Aviation issued a statement on Friday confirming that on July 7 the Marsh Harbour Airport will be officially renamed the Leonard Thompson International Airport. A war veteran, Captain Leonard Thompson was born in Hope Town, Abaco on 17th June 1917, and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1939. He flew 25 combat missions which ended when his bomber aircraft was shot down over Germany in 1944, leading to his capture and detention, until he was freed by Russian troops. His post-war exploits included Civil Aviation, business and politics where he served as a Member of Parliament from 1949 - 1967. Captain Thompson is a distinguished Bahamian.

Formed 20 years ago on Fathers’ Day weekend, the 19 member strong gospel ensemble SHABACK celebrated their 20th anniversary with the release of their latest studio recording, a 14-track double CD, at a free concert at the Golden Gates World Outreach Center on Friday evening, 1st July 2016.

Prime Minister Christie is scheduled to fly to Georgetown Guyana this weekend to attend the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting. His delegation will include Foreign Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell and CARICOM High Commissioner HE Picewell Forbes.

Former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Dr. Patrick Manning has died following a lengthy illness. May his soul rest in peace.

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