Sunday, July 17, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas

 By Elcott Coleby



This week in Parliament
The Bahamas Parliament met on Wednesday of this week to debate two historic pieces of legislation: The University of The Bahamas Bill and the Construction Contractors Bill.

The sponsor of the University of The Bahamas Bill, Member of Parliament for Marathon and Minister of Education, Science and Technology, the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald, led the debate indicating that “our Government has a vision for higher education that is progressive and meets the needs of our ever-changing population. This vision is for a national university in The Bahamas.”

The tabling of this bill was the fulfillment of a fourteen year vision. 

Minister Fitzgerald highlighted that eventual passage of this Bill will bring about “change for a stronger and more modern Bahamas for everyone.”

The transformation to a University will have the country see improvements in academics, service, infrastructure and financial management.

These improvements, said Minister Fitzgerald, coupled with the Government more than doubling its investment in scholarships since 2011 from $7.75 million to $16.2 million in 2016, is enhancing the capacity to ensure quality of education for Bahamians, especially young people, to empower them to excel and contribute to the national development of the nation.

Minister Fitzgerald pointed out that the bill allows the University of The Bahamas to establish colleges throughout the commonwealth as the bill “incorporates the concept for the entire country and one that will not be a Nassau-centric institution.”

Some colleges that will fall under the umbrella of the University of The Bahamas according to Mr. Fitzgerald will include the College of Anthropology and Sustainability Studies in San Salvador, the College of Engineering and Technology in Grand Bahama, the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Sciences Institute (BAMSI) in Andros, and other colleges to be expanded into the future.  

Fitzgerald envisioned a university that will be a centre for excellence, a hub for intellectual expertise and creation of new knowledge will be one to benefit all people of The Bahamas.

The Minister paid homage to the Prime Minister for his vision to establish the University of The Bahamas in 2002 and his role in shaping national development.

In his contribution to the bill, Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie applauded the talents of Bahamian intellectuals at home and abroad and asserted that Bahamians can stand shoulder to shoulder with any intellectual in the world. He also told House members that the university will play an important role in the development and execution of the National Development Plan.

Mr. Christie continued that the government through its partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), spends about $20 million annually on consultative services and he fully expects the University of The Bahamas to perform much of the consultation and research that experts through the IDB currently perform.  

The Education Minister proudly noted to House Members and the country that once this Bill is passed the Government will have delivered on every promise in its Charter for Governance on education. In doing so, the Government is continuing to empower Bahamians to unite and build a stronger, and more modern Bahamas, together.

Tabling the historic Construction Contractors Bill was its sponsor, the Minister of Works and Urban Development, the Hon. Philip Davis. The bill provides for the registration and licensing of contractors and the establishment of a contractors board.

“For the first time in the history of The Bahamas, we are seeking to make provision for the registration and licensing of construction contractors” said Minister Davis. “To this end, the Bill seeks to establish a Construction Contractors Board that will be responsible for registering and licensing construction contractors and advising the Minister responsible for Public Works on certain matters relating to their practice.”

Existing contractors are given two years to become registered and licensed and the bill also provide for the assessment of penalties for specific violations in addition to protecting local construction contractors against direct competition from foreign contractors.  


The back and forth over the travel advisory
The back and forth over the Bahamas travel advisory to Bahamians traveling to the United States continued this week.

It began with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denying a suggestion that it was acting for political reasons when it issued a travel advisory on the heels of the fatal shooting of two black man in Louisiana and Minnesota last week, and after five police officers were killed and seven others were injured by a shooter who opened fire during a rally in Dallas. The Foreign Minister also said that there has been “absolutely” no fallout from diplomats in the United States after his ministry issued a travel warning advising Bahamians, young men in particular, to exercise caution in their dealings with police in US cities.

During the week, former Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette said the Bahamas Government was wrong for issuing a travel advisory. He said so after the shadow minister for foreign affairs the Hon. Hubert Chipman said the FNM agreed with the government issued advisory.

During a House break on Wednesday, National Security Minister the Hon. Bernard J. Nottage told the media that the US Embassy was wrong in its assertion that armed robberies had accelerated in the country, prompting the US Embassy to issue a travel advisory to American citizens traveling to The Bahamas.

Not to be left out of the debate, FNM leader Dr. Hubert Minnis criticized Dr. Nottage for saying the US Embassy was wrong.  

The Tribune would not be denied its say in this matter as the newspaper held an online poll about whether the government of The Bahamas should have issued the travel advisory. Fifty-four percent of its readers felt that the government should not have done so.

Well, at the end of the week the US Embassy spoke and apparently came to the defense of the Bahamas government. In a statement issued on Thursday, the US Embassy said that “just as the United States has the responsibility to inform its citizens when traveling abroad, the Bahamian government has the same right and responsibility to inform its citizens traveling to the United States.”


NIB line staff gets new labour contract
The National Insurance Board (NIB) and its four hundred members strong Union of Public Officers (UPO) signed an industrial agreement on Tuesday, 12th July 2016 at the NIB conference room.

Benefits included a new paid vacation schedule and a pension plan among other long-term benefits.

NIB Acting Executive Director Theresa Burrows presided over the signing ceremony.

The previous agreement expired May 31, 2014 and the signing culminated months of negotiations between both parties.

Union president Sharon Martin headed the UPO negotiating team and Abraham Butler, Deputy Director of Human Resources, headed the NIB team.

The new agreement comes into effect upon registration by the Registrar of Trade Unions and Industrial Agreements, and shall expire December 31, 2018. The terms of the new agreement are retroactive to June 1, 2014.


COB and BTC team up for Innovation
The Bahamas Telecommunications Company Ltd. (BTC) and the College of The Bahamas (COB) teamed up this week to enhance the students’ education experience in the areas of technology and innovation.

The $50,000 Memorandum of Understanding for the Innovation Lab at the Harry C. Moore Library and Information Centre was hailed as “revolutionary” and a “Blue Letter Day” by Leon Williams, CEO of BTC.  

The first of its kind in the region, Mr. Williams said that the Innovation Lab will serve as a “center of excellence” not only in The Bahamas but in the region, and will provide the requisite tools and for students to create software applications to be used in a wide variety of organizational settings. 

Dr. Rodney Smith, President of COB, said as the College progresses towards university status, it is “vital” that it continues to develop partnerships to help build a world-class university that will help to significantly contribute to building the nation.

“BTC has demonstrated its commitment to the College and to nation building again. Truly, we are grateful that they continue to invest in Bahamian youth and entrepreneurship by investing in the College of The Bahamas,” said Dr. Smith.

As part of the memorandum, BTC has committed to opening a campus Franchise Store, installing the latest programming software, gaming technology, Promethean Interactive Whiteboard Systems and videoconferencing equipment.

BTC will also provide wireless internet access throughout the Oakes Field Campus and host an annual Hackathon at COB.

Additionally, COB will provide training in Entrepreneurship and Business Management and provide 24-hour LAB helpdesk services.


Bahamas expresses condolences to France
Another horrific terrorist attack rocked France on Thursday, this time in the resort city of Nice during the Bastille Day celebrations. A heavy duty 90 ton truck rammed into a crowd of people, killing eighty and injuring more than 200. The Bahamas Minister of Foreign Affairs issued the following message to the French Ambassador to The Bahamas who is resident in Panama:

“I am watching the horrid events in Nice. Please be advised that The Bahamas registers its grave concern and expresses its condolences to the people and Government of France at this time and to the families of those killed or injured.

“A formal note will follow.”


Dr. Gomez: NHI a “sentinel moment”
“Indeed, this sentinel moment also comes at a pivotal time in the history of The Bahamas as we implement National Health Insurance (NHI), thereby providing our citizens with accessible, equitable and high quality healthcare – one of the most significant objectives of my government.”

These were the sentiments of Health Minister the Hon. Dr. Perry Gomez about the government’s proposed NHI as he addressed a two-day Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO) High Level Meeting on Health Equity in The Bahamas. The venue was the British Colonial Hilton on Friday.

Dr. Gomez told delegates that Universal Health Coverage (UHC) through National Health Insurance can be one of the greatest drivers of health equity in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. NHI he said is a tangible demonstration of the Government’s commitment to addressing social injustices.

“Addressing inequalities in health in The Bahamas is critical to ensuring the equitable distribution of health services within the population as a whole; and my government is committed to ensuring that the health system-strengthening programmes and policies that make a significant improvement in the health and well-being of all citizens and residents of The Bahamas (are in place),” Dr. Gomez said.

Dr. Gomez said equity and equality are important indicators of human development and that Universal Health Coverage is one of the most powerful social equalizers among all policy options. He said it is the ultimate expression of fairness in a society, contributing to “social cohesion, equity and stability. They hold societies together and help reduce social tensions.”

The two-day high level meeting ended on Friday.


In Passing…
The PLP renewed a call for the appointment of a parliamentary select committee to investigate matters surrounding the award of a Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) generator contract to foreign company Alstom more than a decade ago. The frame of reference includes the financial impact and the misery index based on the amount of rolling blackouts in New Providence.

The recent call from Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner for convicted murderers to face a minimum 30-year sentence without parole would infringe on the discretionary powers of judges, Bar Association President Elsworth Johnson said. Mrs. Butler-Turner made the call during her launch rally in Rawson Square for the leadership of the FNM.

Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller and former Cabinet minister George Smith want the PLP to hold a convention in September instead of November, arguing that sooner rather than later the party needs to organize its base in preparation for the next general election.

Former FNM Chairman Darron Cash has accused party leader Dr. Hubert Minnis of removing two people from the FNM’s Executive Committee, which he alleged was done “for the purpose of adding a few more votes at convention.”

Mr. Percy Sweeting, a giant in the local entertainment industry and a 40-year trade unionist passed away on Monday of this week. Mr. Sweeting became a member of the Bahamas Musicians and Entertainment Union in 1976 and was first elected to the Executive Board of the organization in 1979. He served in numerous positions in the Union including Treasurer and Vice President and was elected to the position of President in 1999, a position he held up to the time of his death on 11th July 2016. Labour Minister the Hon. D. Shane Gibson issued a statement expressing his condolences and profound sadness on the passing of Mr. Sweeting. May his soul rest in peace.  

Bahamian NBA player and guard with the Orleans Pelicans Buddy Hield won an Espy award on Monday for the most outstanding male college athlete for 2015. Congratulations to Mr. Hield as he works his way into NBA shape through the NBA’s summer league schedule.

Our Davis Cup team continues to do us proud as they emerged the top seed in Pool B of the Americas Zone Group III Davis Cup tournament this week. Finishing with a perfect 4-0 record The Bahamas defeated Honduras, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda. With a chance to earn a promotion to the Americas Zone Group II for 2017, The Bahamas will have to defeat Jamaica, the second seed in Group A. The tournament is being held in La Paz, Bolivia.    

His Excellency Paul Gomez, Bahamas Ambassador to the People's Republic of China hosted a meeting on Friday, 15th July with the local creative arts and entertainment community where they explored the potential for Bahamians in the creative arts/entertainment industries in China. HE Gomez also shared his vision and plans for Bahamian artists, musicians, dancers, visual artists, movie makers, writers, composers, etc. in China. The meeting was held at the Hilton Hotel.

The Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) sponsored track and field team will be able to compete in the track meet in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, after the mix up over air transportation was finally resolved. The team traveled by Bahamasair charter on Friday after an intervention by Prime Minister Christie.

The Bahamas Press Club held a press conference this week to announce that it will host an awards banquet later this year to honour members of the fourth estate. President Anthony Newbold said awards will include the Sir Ettiene Dupuch Lifetime Achievement Award and the Harcourt ‘Rusty’ Bethel award for radio journalism. Nominations would originate from media houses but the nomination for the best radio talk show would originate with the listeners.

The country may very well see yet another political party before the next general elections. An organization calling itself the people’s movement held a meeting this week at the Church of God auditorium on Joe Farrington Road this week to articulate its plans for the future governance and development of this country. Some associated with the group would wish it to evolve into a political party as they believe there is no philosophical choice between the perennial and major political parties. Leaders of this group include radio personality Steve McKinney, Attorney Paul Moss, Attorney John Bostwick and Public Service Union Chief, John Pinder.

The official launch ceremony for the Urban Renewal Summer Basketball League will take place on Saturday, 16th July 2016, at 4pm at the Bacardi Road Park, Carmichael Road. Please come out and show your support for the league and get as many youngsters in your families and neighborhoods involved.

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