Saturday, August 13, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas

Commentary by Elcott Coleby


Gomez: NHI “perhaps the most significant social initiative…”
Universal Health Coverage (UHC) through the implementation of the National Health Insurance Plan is perhaps the most significant social initiative to be introduced in The Bahamas over the past 30 years, Minister of Health, the Hon. Dr. Michael Perry Gomez told Parliamentarians on Wednesday.

Dr. Gomez was the sponsor and mover of the National Health Insurance Bill 2016.

Institutional strengthening, overall improvement and expansion of the nation’s health infrastructure were key support activities necessary to ensure the success of NHI said Dr. Gomez. These activities include the negotiation and signing of contracts for services with Regulated Health Administrators and the installation and testing of an Information technology System to manage the plan.

Further, preparation of the regulations for the management of National Health Insurance; the continued registration of beneficiaries through the National Insurance Board Smart Card and the registration of public and private health providers as NHI providers are among some of the activities related to the fine-tuning of the various aspects of the Plan, added Dr. Gomez.

“All of these activities will be underpinned by an expansion and intensification of public outreach efforts to enhance awareness and knowledge of the NHI Plan,” Dr. Gomez said.

Turning his attention to the urgency of the hour and the human factors connected with accessing affordable healthcare, Dr. Gomez said many Bahamians have died while the government conducted the requisite research and due diligence.

“We have spent the last three decades searching and researching, comparing and consulting on how best to address the pressures and concerns over the access to care by our people and the financing of that care. In that time, and even now, too many of our people have faced, and still face, the hard choices of how to manage their resources to meet their health bills. For many persons that choice could not be made.

“The heaviness in my heart over all of these cases of lost years, lost lives, lost potential, now finds relief in this NHI Plan, designed to assist all, to sustain health gains by all and to enhance our human resources capability for securing our overall national development.”

“In this context, NHI is perhaps the most significant social initiative to be introduced in The Bahamas over the last three decades…” said the Health Minister.

Adding his voice to the debate, Labour Minister the Hon. Shane Gibson told Parliamentarians that as of July 31, 2016 some 237,000 smart cards had been issued. Smart Cards are necessary to register for NHI. 

Highlighting the enormous of health care cost to the average Bahamian as another reason for sector reform, Gibson pointed out that the average Bahamian household pays about $2,000 per annum for health services, an amount many families simply cannot afford. Further, at a cost of around $800 million per annum nationally, he stated that The Bahamas spends approximately 10% of its GDP on health care which is well above the Latin American and Caribbean average of 6.7% and still over 200,000 Bahamians do not have health insurance.

Education Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald announced his ministry’s plans to implement a policy of healthy eating within the school system.  

Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Davis was philosophical when he told House members that in NHI the government seeks “to remove the travesty that health is determined by wealth. Nobody should have to choose between health and home” said Mr. Davis.

Debate on and passage of this historic piece of legislation is expected to be concluded on Monday of next week.



Mitchell responds to Haitian Ambassador
HE Jean Geneus, Haitian Ambassador to The Bahamas was interviewed by the Tribune earlier this week and made some specific allegations against the Bahamas government’s immigration policy. They include the following:

·         Belonger’s Permit applicants must do so outside The Bahamas;
·         The Bahamas immigration policy targets and discriminates against Haitians;
·         There were 2,000 unprocessed Belonger’s Permit applications;
·         Children were being repatriated to Haiti to no family members;   

The Immigration Minister, the Hon. Fred Mitchell, invited the Ambassador to a meeting at the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday morning and reported the contents of the meeting to the House as follow:

·         There is no requirement for people applying for the Belonger's Permit to do so outside the country. This policy (that requires applicants to return home) applies to work permits for first time applicants.
·         There is no policy of profiling of Haitians and the policy is not discriminatory toward Haitians. The policy is a generic policy which applies to all non-nationals.
·         There are 598 applications for Belonger’s permits (not 2,000) and to date 338 have been processed.
·         Three of the four children in question were interdicted in Exuma on 12th July and were repatriated with an adult they identified as their uncle and the fourth child interdicted on 4th August was repatriated with an adult identified as a cousin.

Mitchell told the House that he advised the Ambassador that such public statements that take the government by surprise are not conducive to friendly diplomatic relations. Further, in response to the Ambassador’s claim of not having a meeting with the Foreign Ministry, Mitchell advised that there was no record of a request for any meeting by the Haitian Embassy on these matters since the Ambassador's tenure of 9 months.



Bahamas records first case of Zika virus infection
With the state of Florida confirming 22 Zika related infections; with Turks and Caicos reporting cases and with a travel advisory released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bahamians were bracing for the worst while hoping for the best.

The news of the first confirmed case of the Zika virus came this Wednesday by the Minister of Health at a press conference where Dr. Perry Gomez said the case occurred in an adult male resident of Pinewood Gardens who had recently traveled to Jamaica. He said the positive result was received by the Ministry on 9th August 2016.

“His symptoms include rash, fever, joint pains and headache for which he sought medical care at a private health facility” said the Health Minister.

On the issue of prevention, officials at the Department of Environmental Health confirmed an integrated approach to preventing the spread of the infection via the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Measures being taken include fogging, larviciding and tossing containers, especially in the Pinewood area.     



Alfred Sears QC to challenge for PLP leadership
Former Education Minister, Attorney General, member for Fort Charlotte and Chair of the Council of the College of The Bahamas, Alfred Sears, announced this week that he will contest the post of leader of the PLP when its national convention is held this November.

“Today, we have new challenges” said Sears, “which require that we diversify our economy beyond tourism and financial services. We must draw on the creative imagination of Bahamians and provide more opportunities for Bahamian ownership and entrepreneurship in order to improve our global competitive position.”

In response to Mr. Sears’ candidacy, Prime Minister Christie focused on the democratic process.

“Our convention goes by rules, and once the people comply with the rules, we’re okay” said the Prime Minister. Mr. Christie, stressing that he had no fears whatsoever to the leadership challenge.

Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe also responded saying that “it is Christie’s run” and that he believes Mr. Christie will emerge as leader of the PLP after its November convention. This followed on the heels of comments made by Education Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald who questioned the timing of Alfred Sears’ bid for the leadership of the PLP. The Education Minister thought the leadership bid should come after the general elections but he too believed it was unlikely that Mr. Sears will win.

Former Exuma MP George Smith urged all and sundry not to count Mr. Sears out, opining that Mr. Sears’ campaign is “not dead in the water.”
      


Standardized test scores the best in over twenty years
Minister of Education, Science and Technology the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald said the 2016 Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) and Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) examination results once again indicate that students are showing year over year improvements for the past two years and the best results test results in over twenty years.

The Minister expressed these sentiments at a press conference at the Ministry, Tuesday, August 9, 2016.

“The fact of the matter is that more students are performing above average than those performing below average. Cumulatively, more students are achieving A – D than those receiving E and below.

“For the BJCs 64 per cent of the grades are A – D and 36 per cent are E and below and for the BGCSE 71 per cent of the grades are A – D, and 29 per cent are E and below.”

Conceding that the education system is not perfect, he rejected the notion that the system is broken and holding our children back. Fitzgerald asserted that successful educational systems globally have common environmental denominators, including “the balance of political will, a bi-partisan shared vision for education, a high level of school leadership, excellent teachers and students and parents who appreciate the importance of education.”

He said, “I can therefore say that our educational system is not ‘broken’ and not holding our children back.”

Referring to raw statistical data to support his claim of incremental academic performance improvement, Minister Fitzgerald said approximately 11,703 candidates were registered to sit examinations for 11 subjects offered. This was up from 2015 where 10,573 candidates sat; so in 2016 there was an increase of 1,130 candidates or a 10.69 per cent increase.

The candidates came from 68 independent or private centres and 52 government schools.

He said the total number of grades awarded in 2016 was 41,894 compared to 39,657 in 2015 which was itself a record year.

“This represents an increase of 5.64 per cent. Furthermore, in 2014 a total of 33,669 grades were awarded, which means that since 2014, 8,225 more grades were awarded in just two years, an increase of 20 per cent in two years.”

The Minister said this increase of 20 per cent is a direct result of a new policy introduced in 2014 by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology where ALL students were required before they leave grade nine to take at least four BJC’s to meet one of the graduation requirements for the Bahamas High School Diploma.



Parliamentary Commissioner addresses Rotarians
With General Elections less than one year away, Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall addressed Rotarians of West Nassau at Poop Deck, West Bay Street, on Wednesday to heighten awareness of the need for voters get registered. 

Registration is conducted at the Mall at Marathon and Town Centre Mall
Monday to Friday 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. [with a break 4-5 p.m.]; and Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 

Registration is conducted at Elizabeth Estates, South Beach, Carmichael Road, and Cable Beach post offices,
Monday to Friday, only -- 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. [with a break 4-5 p.m.]. 

Registration is conducted at the Parliamentary Registration Head Office (Farrington Road)
Monday to Friday 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. [with a break 4-5 p.m.]; and Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 



In Passing…
When Parliament resumed on Monday, 8th August 2016, Bamboo Town MP the Hon. Renward Wells was appointed to the post of leader of opposition business in the House. The post was held by Central Grand Bahama MP the Hon. Neko Grant who resigned last week.


“Personally, I don’t think the party is united. We’re dealing with the same people and the same attitudes…” was the sentiments expressed by South Abaco MP the Hon. Edison Key who shot down suggestions that the FNM was united after its contentious convention. Dr. Minnis declared the party unified after Butler-Turner threw her support behind him.

The tradition he started in 1998 continued this week when on Tuesday the 9th August Prime Minister Christie made his yearly pilgrimage through the iconic community of Fox Hill - worshipping, singing, reciting poetry and dancing with the children of that community in four separate church settings. He visited St. Paul’s, St. Mark’s, Mt. Carey and Macedonia. He was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis; Fox Hill MP the Hon. Fred Mitchell and the Hon. Khaalis Rolle, State Minister for Investment.  


The Bahamas Securities Commission confirmed this week that it is currently preparing a white paper on the development of rules and guidelines to govern the online investment platform of crowdfunding. According to BSC Executive Director Christina Rolle, this online platform can be used by small investors and entrepreneurs who are unable to secure financing through commercial banks to go directly to the public and raise capital for their ventures.


Dr. Perry Gomez, Minister of Health revealed this week that the Bahamas government has signed a contract for the implementation of an integrated health information management system (IHIMS). He said that the $18.39 million contract “represents a considerable investment in modernizing information management throughout our health sector.”


Seventeen year old Queen’s College senior Simone Cambridge is the 2016 All Bahamas Merit Scholar. She is the third Queen’s College student in four years to nab this prestigious award and the eighth in the awards twenty-two year history. She earned a four year scholarship valued at $140,000. Twenty-one other merit scholars received scholarship awards valued between $10,000 and $20,000 each.


The 2016 United Nations E-Government survey gave The Bahamas mixed reviews on its level of e-government readiness to support the implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its 17 sustainable development goals. The Bahamas is ranked 93 of 193 in its e-government development; this is one spot up. The Bahamas however fell 15 spots in its e-participation index ranking from 107 to 122 of 193. Rowena Bethel, Member of the Committee of Experts in Public Administration (CEPA), explained that notwithstanding the large sums of money the government has spent on developing its e-government platform, “little to no attention has been paid to integration so these systems are able to talk to each other.”    


The testy relationship between the Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU) and the management of the Sandals All-inclusive resort just got worse when three union members filed a criminal complaint against members of the hotel’s executive team. This private prosecution was against Sandals; its general manager, Gary Williams; and its Financial Controller Ronnie Mirza on charges of union busting or more specifically failing to enter into negotiations with the union contrary to the Industrial Relations Act, employee intimidation and termination of an employee.    


The Education Loan Authority reported this week that there were as much as 5,000 delinquency loans valued at around $150 million, inclusive of principal and accrued interests between 2000 and 2015. The rate of delinquency stood at 75% when the scheme was suspended back in 2009. The government has since re-launched the loan scheme.


Addressing the Rotary Club of West Nassau at their monthly luncheon meeting, Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner admitted that she was in error for withdrawing from the FNM leadership race. She said she needed forgiveness but she has no regrets over her actions. The meeting was held at the Poop Deck on West Bay Street.


House Speaker Dr. Kendal Major told the media on Wednesday that in hindsight, he probably should have handled the email controversy differently. He said that he should have asked the member for Marathon to reveal the source of the emails to him prior to ruling on the admissibility of the email contents into the Hansard. In the end he said he has no regrets.


Bishop Simeon Hall this week called on the Bahamas Parliament to adopt the “personhood” doctrine and protect the lives of those unborn. The Bishop believes that a person who murders a pregnant woman should be charged and possibly convicted of the murder of two persons; the mother and the unborn child. The call came in the wake of a sentencing of two men by Justice Stephen Isaacs to 18 years imprisonment for the murder of three people including a pregnant woman.


The Cellular Liberalization Taskforce has confirmed this week that former insurance executive James Campbell will chair the board of Holding Co. Former BTC executive Alfred Philips and taskforce member Danya Wallace were appointed as board directors. Bahamians will recall that HoldingCo is the special purpose vehicle that holds 51.75% share interest in NewCo, the commercial entity granted the second mobile telecommunications license by the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) on 1st July 2016. The minority shareholder is Cable Bahamas which has 48.25% shareholding in NewCo.


The Ministry of Education announced its support for an expanded and more regulated and structured home schooling program. They got the endorsement from home schooling association head, Pastor Cedric Moss.


A forty second jingle with derogatory lyrics about Prime Minister Christie, members of his family and DNA leader Branville McCartney and portraying these public figures in a negative light made the rounds on social media this week. The leader of both the DNA and FNM repudiated the jingle, saying it was disgusting and had no place in Bahamian society. The cyber crime unit of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) responded and according to Clayton Fernander, two adult males are assisting the police in their investigation. There are defamation laws on the books and Mr. Fernander said the RBPF is working closely with the Office of the Attorney General and will be guided accordingly.

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