Sunday, July 10, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas



By Elcott Colby


Prime Minister Christie leads delegation to CARICOM
Prime Minister Christie led a delegation to Georgetown, Guyana on Sunday where they participated in the regular Inter-Sessional meetings of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean (CARICOM).

Crime dominated the agenda and the community grappled with ways to rescue our young black men from a life of crime, driven largely by gang, small firearms and illegal narcotics.

Also high on the agenda was BREXIT and its trade and general economic implications for CARICOM. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on the 23rd June 2016 after forty-three years. As for CARICOM, it is widely believed that the CARIFORUM-EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) with the European Union is likely to be impacted in the long term.

Another agenda item addressed was the De-Risking issue and its impact on locally owned banks that are losing their corresponding international partner clearing banks. This latest trend in the financial services sector will clearly affect international trade as many CARICOM countries have small, vulnerable and highly integrated economies, mostly with the industrialized world.

Government heads formally paid tribute to the life and work of former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister the late Dr. Patrick Manning, one of the champions of CARICOM and the Caribbean Common Market. In his tribute Foreign Minister Mitchell pointed out that Dr. Manning was the first and only foreign head of government to address a joint session of Parliament. He also recalled that after the passage of Hurricane Jeane and Frances in 2004, Dr. Manning visited The Bahamas and donated $500,000 to hurricane relief on behalf of Trinidad. Mitchell described Manning as a “friend of The Bahamas.”

Dr. Manning passed away on Saturday, 2nd July at the San Fernando General Hospital after losing his battle with leukemia.

CARICOM heads officially welcome its two newest government heads – the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Rt. Hon. Andrew Michael Holness and the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, the Rt. Hon. Allen Chastanet - both of whom won general elections and formed new governments earlier this year.

Accompanying Prime Minister Christie in Guyana were Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell, Education, Science and Technology Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald and CARICOM High Commissioner HE Picewell Forbes.

The delegation returned home late Wednesday night.   



Bahamas Baa2 sovereign rating under review by Moodys
Moody's Investors Service announced on Friday 1st July that the agency had placed the Baa2 bond and issuer ratings of the government of the Bahamas on review for downgrade.

According to Moodys, the decision to place the ratings on review was prompted by what it described as “the continuing rise in risks to the country's medium-term economic prospects and to its fiscal strength, notwithstanding the government's ongoing fiscal consolidation program.” The two months review will allow Moody's to assess the “likelihood that economic growth prospects will improve, debt metrics will stabilize and government policy will effectively address its macroeconomic and fiscal challenges.”

Given Moodys review criterion, the country’s bond ratings could go down if the review concludes that “government policy and strategy is unlikely to lead to a stabilization in the debt trajectory over the next two years.”

Correspondingly, the Baa2 rating would be confirmed if the review were to conclude that the government's policy response “will support the strengthening of the Bahamas' economic and fiscal strength that would place the sovereign's credit profile in line with other Baa2-rated peers” said Moodys in its statement.


Bahamas Government responds to Moody’s sovereign rating review notice
On Monday afternoon the Bahamas government responded to Moody’s Investor Services notice of placement of The Bahamas’ current sovereign rating on review for downgrade.

Citing negative external factors such as lower commodity prices and external investment uncertainty through the loss of correspondent banking services, the government expressed confidence that the country’s medium term economic prospects are good given its projected Foreign Direct Investment projects (FDI), its fiscal consolidation plan, its modernized and enhanced revenue management model, an aggressive debt retirement policy, concentrated intra-government debt and its energy sector reform initiative.

Conceding that family island economic activities tend to lag in being reflected in official statistics, The Government insisted that “ongoing construction at various projects around the country is generating significant economic activity” and that “there is no question that the level of real economic activity in much of the major islands of The Bahamas is much higher than it was three years ago.”

Pointing to the “imminent restart of construction and subsequent opening of Baha Mar,” the government believes this to be another example of the “very good” growth prospects for the Bahamian economy.

The energy cost challenges “are being addressed by the new private sector management team at Bahamas Power and Light and the benefits of this will be realized in the short term” said the statement as the high cost of energy has been a drag on the country’s global competitiveness.  

The statement noted strategic public, private sector partnerships, PPPs, in infrastructure development, the modernization and enhancement of revenue administration and the application of $0.77 of each additional dollar raised to debt servicing as additional policy initiatives taken to stimulate the economy, create employment and arrest the country’s spiraling debt burden.

“The Government is confident that this review will reveal that medium term economic prospects for The Bahamas are good given projected foreign direct investment, the government’s fiscal consolidation efforts and the implementation of innovative policy initiatives with respect to certain structural constraints the country has traditionally faced in the energy sector and labor market.”

“The country’s debt profile remains very favourable with a large concentration of internal and intra-government debt and a uniform maturity schedule” concluded the statement.


Former Central Bank Governor suggests firing Moody’s
Former Governor of the Bahamas Central Bank and State Minister for Finance the Hon. James Smith did not mince or mix words in commenting on the recent rating review notice issued by Moody’s, calling on The Bahamas government to fire Moody’s if the agency downgrades the country’s Baa2 credit ratings.

Mr. Smith pointed out that there are other countries in the region with worse performing economies and Moody’s has not downgraded their sovereign ratings. Smith accused Moody’s of missing the mark in its grading of banks and mortgage institutions ahead of the housing bubble that eventually burst, causing a global financial crisis and a deepening recession.

Smith suggested that Moody’s is seeking to compensate for these misses by hammering smaller countries like The Bahamas. 


Prime Minister Christie looking forward to meeting with Moody’s
Addressing the notice of review by Moody’s was Prime Minister Christie from Georgetown Guyana where he was participating in the CARICOM Heads of Government meetings. He said he was not worried about the review and looked forward to meeting with the agency’s representatives who are due in Nassau as early as next week so that they would be able to see and appreciate the entire economic picture.

“I am hoping therefore that when they (Moody’s) do come to The Bahamas, they would see (and) be able to have a sense that things are better off than the article that they published (indicated)…and they would then be able to see from a realistic point of view where we are with respect to Baha Mar and other developments that are taking place and about to happen in The Bahamas that augurs well for employment and the economy.

“And so quite frankly I am looking forward to meeting with them and for being able to articulate reasons why they should not move along the lines that they seem to suggest could be possible and I am hoping that I will be supported by actual, certain information that is real information that they are able to get.”

This “real information” the Prime Minister spoke of are data and status reports from the provisional liquidators for Baha Mar and other investors who are “about to put money in the ground” in projects around The Bahamas. This “real information” Mr. Christie hopes will convince and persuade Moody’s not a make decisions that can stymie the country’s economic grow. 


Bahamas government honours 43 cultural legends
Prime Minister Christie told the media early in his administration that the government must do a better job of recognizing Bahamians who had done so much to develop this country through personal sacrifice and love of country. With that, the Cultural Warriors award ceremony was born and as part of our 40th independence anniversary, forty well deserving Bahamians were recognized.

The honourees covered the genres of music, dance, painting, acting, writing, Tourism and yes journalism. Many received their flowers while they were alive and some received theirs posthumously.

Youth, Sports and Culture Minister Dr. Daniel Johnson told the crowd of well wishers that he was honoured just to be in the presence of greatness, likening the honourees to international superstars assembled at the Grammy awards.

Acting Prime Minister Philip Davis said that The Bahamas could not have achieved so much without resourceful people such as the honourees. “This resourcefulness” said Mr. Davis “is typified among those who have contributed to our cultural development.”

The host Minister was the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe, Minister of Tourism who was effusive with praise for the honourees saying that they had done much to embellish Bahamian culture and deepen our national identity over generations.

Notable honourees were the late Calvin Lockhart, Gordon Lowe, Lawrence Carroll, Nettica Symonette, Chris Fox, HE Calsey Johnson, Mary Kelly and Elva Russell-Rolle.



23 Graduate at BAMSI’s inaugural commencement exercise
This day was a long time in coming. Sir Lynden Pindling envisioned the “muck” of Andros as the breadbasket of The Bahamas and augmenting the food supply of Florida. Many of our farmers were growing old with no institutional mechanism to produce the next generation of farmers. In 1989 over 90,000 acres were under cultivation in The Bahamas compared with just 20,000 acres today. Until now The Bahamas was saddled with an import food bill of one billion dollars with no strategic plan to reduce that cost or increase our food security. Over 40,000 meals are distributed each day in The Bahamas because there are large numbers of Bahamians unable to afford healthy food.

It was against this historical context and current state of affairs in our development that Prime Minister Christie caused for the establishment of the Bahamas Agriculture, Marine and Science Institute, or BAMSI - a tutorial, research and commercial agribusiness institution in San Andros in February of 2013. The commercial component of BAMSI is modeled after the United States Department of Agriculture where BAMSI serves as a cooperative of sorts for its associated farmers. It is this associated farmers program combined with BAMSI’s marketing and distribution programs that are the catalysts for change in and reform of the agriculture industry.

For the above reasons, Prime Minister Christie hailed the inaugural graduation of twenty-three Bahamians during his keynote address at the commencement exercise on Thursday as an “historic occasion.”

The Prime Minister pointed out again that BAMSI was created by his government to reduce the country’s dependence on food imports in addition to developing the island of Andros.

In addressing education and the development of our young people, Mr. Christie had this to say:

“In everything we do, education is the foundation.

“This country must continue to develop and focus on giving young people an opportunity even to be retrained, re-engineered (and) recalibrated” said the nation’s chief.

Of the twenty-three graduates, eleven received associate degrees and twelve received certificates in various programs.


Marsh Harbour international airport renamed after war veteran
Prime Minister Christie fittingly memorialized yet another Bahamian hero during our 43rd independence celebrations as he made good on the promise of his government to find better ways to honour Bahamians who had done so much to develop this country.

Mr. Christie was in Marsh Harbour, Abaco on Thursday to rename the brand new airport the Leonard Thompson International Airport against the backdrop of the theme of our 43rd Independence: “Honouring the Excellence of our People.”

Captain Thompson was born in Hope Town, Abaco in 1917, schooled at the Government High School in Nassau and enlisted in the Canadian Air Force in 1939 during World War II. He flew 25 combat missions before he was shot down over Germany in 1944 after his aircraft was struck by two missiles, leaving him unconscious.

He was eventually captured by the Germans and was a prisoner of war for about 18 months until the war ended in April of 1945.  

During his post war years Captain Thompson became a commercial pilot for some thirty years, travelling throughout The Bahamas and between Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Florida. He also became an entrepreneur and a politician, representing Abaco in Parliament from 1949 to 1967.

And so was the rich, full and purposeful life – in short, the excellence of another Bahamian hero, Captain Leonard M. Thompson, war hero, entrepreneur and public servant.
       

Bahamas issues Travel Advisory for Bahamians traveling to the United States
In the wake of a spate of shootings and the resulting civil unrest in the United States, the Bahamas Foreign Ministry issued a travel advisory Friday for Bahamians traveling to the United States. The statement is presented below in its entirety:

“The  Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken  a note  of  the  recent  tensions  in some American  cities  over  shootings  of young  Black  males by policemen.

“We wish to  advise  all  Bahamians  travelling  to  the  US  but  especially  to the  affected cities  to exercise  appropriate caution  generally. In particular young  males are  asked  to  exercise  extreme  caution  in affected cities  in  their  interactions with  the  police. Do not be confrontational and cooperate.

“If  there  is any issue please  allow consular offices  for  The  Bahamas  to deal  with  the  issues. Do not get involved in political or other demonstrations under any circumstances and avoid crowds.

“The Bahamas has consular offices in Miami, New York, Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago and Houston.

“Their addresses are on the Foreign Ministry's website at www.mofa.gov.bs

“At the commencement of the Independence holiday weekend, many Bahamians will no doubt use the opportunity to travel, in particular to destinations in the United States.  While it is prudent for travelers to conduct themselves in an orderly manner at all times, in light of recent episodes of involving police officers and young black men in the United States, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration wishes to advise the Bahamian public to exercise due care and attention especially when traveling to particular cities in the United States.

“Pay attention to the public notices and news announcements in the city that you are visiting.

“Be safe, enjoy the holiday weekend and be sensible.”


URCA grants licenses to NewCo 2015 Limited
URCA released the following statement on Friday notifying the public that the holding company, NewCo, was granted licenses to become the country’s second provider of mobile telecommunications services.

“In early June 2016, the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) received notification from the Minister that it should proceed with the licensing of a new cellular mobile network operator and service provider, NewCo2015 Limited (NewCo).

“CBL, as the successful applicant under the RFP process, will have a 48.25% shareholding in NewCo as well as board and management control. A special purpose holding company set up by and currently wholly owned by the Government of The “Bahamas, HoldingCo2015 Limited (HoldingCo), will own the remaining 51.75% of the shares of NewCo. Following receipt of the notification from the Minister, URCA proceeded to complete the remaining matters pertaining to the award of licences, namely:

·         Payment by CBL of the Spectrum Licence fees in the amount of BSD 62,500,000;

·         Submission of documents of incorporation for NewCo;

·         Submission of Business Licence and VAT registration for NewCo; and,

·         Provision by NewCo of information regarding the Board, management and regulatory contacts for NewCo.

“On 30 June 2016, all of the above formalities having been completed, URCA issued the following licences to NewCo:

·         an Individual Operating Licence (IOL), authorising the operation of an electronic communications network and provision of carriage services; and,

·         an Individual Spectrum Licence (ISL), authorising the use of specific allocations of premium radio spectrum.

Both licences have been awarded for a term of fifteen years, until 29 June 2031.”





In Passing…
The Tribune Business Section reported on Monday that the Bahamas Government wanted Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) manager to guarantee its facilities would match the operational standards of comparable energy utilities within a year of taking over in addition to some other challenging criteria. These conditions were placed in the draft management agreement between BPL and PowerSecure as stipulations in exchange for the guaranteed $2 million per annum management fee.

The National Insurance Board executives called a press conference on Monday to advise that it had extended its operating hours to offset issues with its claims processing, delayed by challenges in its implemented V3 system. The state-of-the art system showed performance issues in tests two months ago. Jason Moxey, Operations Consultant, told the media that steps are being taken to rectify that problem.

Governor General Her Excellency Dame Marguerite Pindling attended the Past Presidents’ Night Service of Thanksgiving for the 80th Annual Session of the National Baptist Women’s Convention, of the Bahamas National Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, at Transfiguration Baptist Church, Market and Vesey Streets.  The theme of the Tuesday night, July 5, celebration was, “Kingdom-Minded Women Continuing in the Race.”

Michael Cox, the CEO of RENEW BAHAMAS complained to Deputy Hospital Administrator Ms. Sonia Rose in a letter about “untreated medical waste” allegedly from the Princess Margaret Hospital finding its way to the public landfill. In the July 1 letter, Mr. Cox pointed to AIDS and hepatitis laced waste among the refuse. Minister of the Environment the Hon. Kenred Dorsett issued a statement reiterating the need to follow established protocols in the disposal of waste in order to protect the environment and public health.  

FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minis and challenger Loretta Butler-Turner held rallies on Wednesday evening to officially launch their leadership campaigns. Dr. Minnis called for anti corruption legislation and tax concessions for over-the-hill investment districts. Loretta Butler-Turner called for multilateral cooperation and drones to fight crime and relaxed loan standards to encourage entrepreneurship. Dr. Minnis’ rally was held at Christie Park and Butler-Turner’s rally was held in Rawson Square.

Bahamas Ambassador to China HE Paul Gomez paid a courtesy call on the chairman of the Bahamas Agriculture and Industrial Corporation on Thursday of this week. Mr. Gomez encouraged Bahamians to expand their linkages with China in both export and import. He noted that China has one of the largest online trading platforms in Alibaba and Bahamians can use this platform to access a wide variety of goods and services. Alibaba has more than 300 million regular users.

Prime Minister Christie attended a luncheon for Ministers of the gospel at noon on Friday held at the Golden Gates World Outreach Ministry. The host pastor was Bishop Dr. Roston Davis. Later on Friday the Prime Minister handed over the keys of a brand new home to a deserving family on Alexandra Boulevard north in the community of Nassau Village. The new home was courtesy of Urban Renewal.

The Senate met on Friday where members debated the amended public servants pension bill and the amended subdivision bill.

The Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality (BBSQ) officially launched on Friday evening at its 1000 Source Center headquarters located on Bacardi Road. The BBSQ was launched under the theme “Advancing National Development Through the Implementation of Quality Infrastructure Services.

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