Saturday, August 6, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas


Commentary Elcott Coleby



This Week in Parliament
The Bahamas Parliament met on Wednesday where two major pieces of legislation were tabled and read for the first time. They were the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investment Incentives Bill 2016 and the National Health Insurance Bill 2016. The Airline Passenger Information bill, APIS, was debated and passed in the afternoon session.

Introducing the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investment Incentives Bill 2016 was Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie who told parliamentarians the bill would force non-Bahamians owning more than five acres of undeveloped land to pay real property tax, among other changes. The Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investment Incentives Bill 2016 will, according to Christie, usher in “a new regime with a new framework” for the Freeport area with respect to tax concessions, which expired on May 4, 2016. A five review of inventor performance was built into the agreement to provide for greater accountability and transparency of the economic activities in the Port Area.

Prime Minister Christie also stated that when used properly, tax concessions should be an inducement to encourage private sector investment. He also suggested the extended Hawksbill Creek Agreement concessions which include new ownership of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, huge capital injection and a stronger corporate governance structure, will encourage further development and employment in Grand Bahama.

Tabling the National Health Insurance Bill was Health Minister the Hon. Dr. Perry Gomez. He said that the bill proposes two new government or quasi-government agencies to oversee different aspects of the Universal Health Care (UHC) structure. The Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez outlined the two bodies during his opening statement.

This was just one of the notable changes in the revised NHI Bill. The revised bill called for a reduction in some of the powers of the Minister, specifically a drastic cut in the number of people to be appointed to the Authority’s Board by the cabinet. The revised composition was a board of nine members as opposed to 12 as previously proposed and only two members shall be appointed by the Minister as opposed to seven members proposed in the initial draft NHI Bill.

Also under consideration said the Health Minister was an alternative funding mechanism used extensively by other countries – the taxation of what he called “unhealthy substances” like alcohol and tobacco as well as high salt and high sugar products to assist in paying for healthcare. The government had initially considered a levy to underwrite the second and third phases of NHI.

Dr. Gomez reiterated that there will be no significant introduction of direct taxes during the primary stage of the insurance plan, expressing the government’s view that the single governance model is fundamental to the health care industry’s reformation and a smooth implementation of the NHI plan.

Adamant in their position that the long held democratic principle of an independent Parliament whose members speak under the protection of constitutional privilege, the Hon. Fred Mitchell and the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald reacted with defiance and outrage to Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles’ historic ruling. The Justice ruled that Education, Science and Technology Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald infringed on the constitutional rights of Save the Bays’ members when he tabled private emails and discussed financial information allegedly related to the group in the House of Assembly back in June.

Mitchell called for the immediate activation of the standing Committee on Privilege to address this matter and insisted that if necessary, the appellate process must be adjudicated at the highest level, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Fitzgerald insisted that the ruling was “unenforceable” and that only the Speaker can tell him what to do under established House rules. Both members balked at the placement of the burden of proof on the shoulders of the defendants and not the complainant, a fundamental tenet of law. It is widely said that he who asserts must prove.

Marco City MP the Hon. Greg Moss called the Supreme Court ruling “scandalous” and said that there should be unity in the House on this issue as it adversely impacted ALL parliamentarians and the democratic institution called Parliament.

In addressing the court matter from the chair, House Speaker the Hon. Dr. Kendal Major characterized the ruling of Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles as an “apparent violation” of the “principle of the separation of powers”, saying he is unaware of any jurisdiction in the Commonwealth where the court attempts to “curtail the actions of Parliament”.

Adding her voice again to the controversial convention comment by Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn over his proposed involuntary sterilization policy, Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin said Lighbourn’s comments – made at the FNM’s convention last Thursday night – were “cruel, insensitive and offensive.”

Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant resigned as Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Assembly and the FNM shadow Works Minister, pointing to his relationship with FNM Leader Dr. Minnis as the motivating factor. In an obvious nod to the dramatic close of the FNM’s national convention last week, Mr. Grant told the lower House that recent events demonstrated that FNM Leader Dr. Minnis was “uncomfortable” with him and “not satisfied with his performance.”

Opposition FNM Leader Dr. Minnis distanced himself and the FNM from Lightbourn’s convention comments when he told parliamentarians that the party was blindsided by Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn’s controversial proposal for the involuntary state-sponsored sterilization of single women with two children. Dr. Minnis said that repeated attempts to preview Mr. Lighbourn’s speech were not successful.

In responding to the avalanche of criticism leveled against him for his convention remarks, Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn accused his critics for having “selective outrage” over his controversial comment and insisted that his remark was “misinterpreted.”

House was adjourned until Monday, 8th August 2016 at 10am.

In other parliamentary news, the Senate met on Thursday of this week to debate and pass the University of The Bahamas Bill.



NHI Secretariat outlines changes to revised bill
Responding immediately to the changes included in the revised bill tabled in Parliament on Wednesday was the NHI Secretariat.

In a press statement, the Secretariat pointed out that after months of consultation with industry stakeholder groups, “the Government of The Bahamas has heard the insights and opinions of relevant parties, enabling them to improve the initial draft of the legislation. During this period, stakeholders shared their expertise and provided important feedback, which have been taken under advisement.”

Based on the feedback received from stakeholders, the following changes to the draft Bill were made:

1.    Composition of the board to reflect corporate governance structure.

2.    Inclusion of additional responsibilities of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA).

3.    Inclusion of provisions that mandate a collaborative working relationship with the Ministry of Health and Insurance Commission.

4.    Expanded provisions on reporting and publishing requirements.

The statement concluded by stating that with the tabling the NHI Bill on Wednesday, “the Government of The Bahamas is making significant progress in its efforts to bring modern, affordable and accessible health care services to The Bahamas.”



In Passing…
Two local advocacy groups – Citizens for Constitutional Equality (CCE) and Bahamas Women’s Watch (BWW) - have condemned Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn’s proposal for the state-sponsored sterilization of women as “archaic, barbaric and dangerous”, charging that the suggestion is “frighteningly reminiscent” of sterilization policies used against black people internationally in the 1960s.


The scheduled summer repair program for public schools nationwide suffered a major scheduling setback due to a delay in the submission of the annual “scope of repairs report” by the Ministry of Works and Urban Development to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.


In the face of growing complaints about unacceptably high banking fees, Central Bank governor John Rolle said that the banking regulator will not intervene to cap or “price control” commercial bank fees. Mr. Rolle instead told the media that the Central Bank is focused on a “holistic” approach to ‘empower’ consumers to protect their own interests via improved financial literacy.


A recent Inter-American Bank (IDB) report said The Bahamas and other Caribbean countries engaged in doing business with China should seek to enhance bargaining positions, and at the same time be aware of potential tradeoffs. The report stated that although financing from China is an alternative and flexible source for Caribbean countries, it tends to have “strings attached”.


President of the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI), Dr. Robertson attended the Latin America and Caribbean Forum for Technical and Community College Educators in San Antonio, Texas, where he spoke to the important role that BTVI can play in advancing the 2040 National Development Plan by developing job ready skills for Bahamians.


In the wake of the controversies coming out of the FNM convention that took place on 27 – 29 July 2016, it was reported that Long Island MP Butler-Turner was offered an olive branch. The offer included a re-nomination, the post of leader of opposition business in the House of Assembly, a prominent role in the FNM’s general election campaign and senior positions in a Minnis cabinet, should the FNM win the election; this was published in the Nassau Guardian on Tuesday of this week. Additionally, FNM Senator Dr. Duane Sands was reassured of his Elizabeth candidacy, offered a prominent role in the national campaign, the post of leader of the opposition business in the Senate and a senior position in a Minnis cabinet should the FNM win the 2017 general election.


Insisting that she is not for sale, Long Island MP Butler-Turner revealed this week that the FNM advanced offers to her, including promotion to Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Assembly. The Long Island MP believed the offers were intended to silence her or to “buy her off” in exchange for her not publicly airing the many issues she has with the party.


After failing to secure an FNM nomination for months, Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Rollins will reportedly run as an independent candidate for the Long Island constituency in the next general election, according to The Tribune from a high ranking source within the FNM.


Tristen Thompson, 17, a St. Anne’s School graduate has accepted a scholarship from the United World College (UWC). The UWC is expressly committed to using the tool of education as a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. Congratulations Tristen.


Education Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald told the media this week that he was one of the “new generational leaders” who asked Prime Minister Christie to stay on as PLP Leader ahead of the 2017 general election.


Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham believes Prime Minister Christie is the best man to lead the PLP into the next general election. Minister Mitchell responded to the media that he interpreted the remark as tongue-in-cheek that was never meant as a compliment.


Sojourner-Douglas College’s Bahamas campus has shut down its “academic operations” for the rest of the year as campus officials enter talks with another “American institution for affiliation” to have the campus reopened as soon as possible. Theresa Moxey-Ingraham, Executive Director of the East Bay Street campus said the school has closed for effectively the entire fall semester and will not resume “until the beginning of the new year”.


On Thursday evening at the monthly meeting of the National General Council, the governing Progressive Liberal Party moved one step closer to its “war ready” mantra, as the party announced the ratification of three incumbent candidates. Before a packed hall of supporters at party headquarters, Prime Minister Christie formally announced that Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller, Nassau Village MP and House Deputy Speaker Dion “Dynamite” Smith and Mount Moriah MP Arnold Forbes will all seek re-election for the PLP in the 2017 general election. They were all ratified for their respective and current constituencies.


Amid rumblings that he was pressured to step down, Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant adamantly denied this on Thursday, insisting that he was not pressured to step down from the post of Leader of Opposition Business and the FNM’s shadow Minister of Works and Urban Development, saying his decision was completely of his own accord.


National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage attributed the murder-free month of July to the effective policing of the Royal Bahamas Police Force. There were no reported murders in July. When asked about whether or not Mr. Christie should remain as party leader, Dr. Bernard Nottage responded that he has no issues with Prime Minister Christie staying on as leader of the PLP.


Former Data Commissioner Sharmie Farrington-Austin announced on Thursday that she intends to run as an independent candidate in the next general election. Under the campaign theme “For the People in 2017,” Mrs. Farrington-Austin issued a statement outlining her active involvement in politics and focus on helping residents in South Andros achieve a better quality of life for the past 25 years.


A Bain and Grants Town community fund awarded four students scholarships to pursue higher education; the presentation took place on Thursday. The framework for the Bain and Grants Town Scholarship Fund was established in February of this year with the goal of awarding scholarships to those who excel in academic or technical studies; those who possess a keen desire to become entrepreneurs and those who show the potential for making a positive impact in the Bain and Grants Town community.


Speculations surfaced this week about the temporary closure of the all-inclusive Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort on Cable Beach. Senior hotel executives would neither confirm nor deny the rumors. The all-inclusive resort is purported to close its doors on August 15, with plans to re-open on October 13. The hotel is locked in contentious labour negotiations with the bargaining unit for its employees.


With the long awaited certificate of recognition in hand, Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) President Nicole Martin was confident of her union’s legal position to proceed with negotiations with executives of the Melia Nassau Beach Resort. She told the media that securing the certificate of recognition was “one of the many steps” required to ensure proper representation for the all-inclusive resort’s employees.


Tragedy struck the Bahamian family when Shanna Smith, a 24 year old Bahamian, was shot and killed in the Cascades suburb of South West Atlanta sometime around 5:30am on 4th August 2016. The circumstances surrounding her murder are unclear but the Amazon employee was reportedly on her way home from work when she met her untimely and tragic demise. The murder is under active investigation.


The Central bank of The Bahamas recently reported a 7% decrease in the number of non-performing loans in the domestic banking sector. This is good news for the local economy and an encouraging statistic in the wake of the government’s launch of its revamped mortgage relief program for owner occupied properties with a value of $500,000 or less and ninety days in arrears.

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