Saturday, August 20, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas

Commentary
by Elcott Coleby



Prime Minister Christie urges bipartisanship on NHI
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie said, on August 15, 2016, that the both sides of the political divide in the House of Assembly must devise a way together to introduce what is being done in the National Health Insurance initiative, providing hope for Bahamians with health problems, as well as the entire country.

"We have taken an approach to this where we want to involve the Opposition in this matter," Prime Minister Christie said during his wrap up debate on the National Health Insurance Bill 2016, in the House of Assembly.

"Why would you fight something that a great majority of the people of this country have already declared they want?" he asked.

In terms of cost, Prime Minister Christie said that the Government has decided to go to a global bid for a public health insurer.

"That means that the Government, on behalf of the people on this country, will make an intervention in the area of insurance -- a public health insurer," he said.  "It is only intended to cover primary health care -- that is what we are dealing with -- not to compete against the other interventions of the private insurance companies, most certainly at this stage."

He added that in that global bid, private insurance companies in The Bahamas would be eligible to bid because the Government will have the selected group to manage the public insurer. However, the public insurer is not going to allow pre-existing illnesses or advanced age as reasons to disallow coverage.

"It is going to be there to protect the interest of those Bahamians who have been disallowed insurance," Prime Minister Christie said.

He also noted that it would be at stabilized prices.

Prime Minister Christie agreed that The Bahamas' being an archipelagic country is one of the greatest challenges that the plan must address.  He said that the Government must now work on addressing infrastructural health-care concerns throughout The Bahamas, inclusive of dealing with issues at various clinics and facilities, including Exuma and Abaco.

Prime Minister Christie stated that one of the obligations he has, as the Minister of Finance, is to be able to guide the country as effectively as possible, when it comes to expenditure.

"Health is expensive," Prime Minister Christie said.

"We have to come to grips with the reality that we are introducing National Health Insurance: that we are going to begin in the school system -- at the beginning of school -- a comprehensive physical fitness thrust, all under healthy lifestyles; that we are encouraging the [Seventh-Day] Adventists in the private sector, who are getting more and more involved in programmes that deal with it, to get involved with their programmes because this [NHI] must be a national programme," he noted.

Prime Minister Christie went further and said that the Government recognizes in the schools that children are affected by behavioral diseases and something must be done about that.

For the first time, he said, the Government has made a decision to take all the "bits and pieces" and put it under one command, one structure, to bring in a maximum return on the money spent, to rationalize the expenditure, and to put in place the officers and the personnel.

He pointed out that it is a work in progress.

"And all of my colleagues who have the responsibility must know they are accountable to get it done," Prime Minister Christie said.

He said that they must not compromise on that, and spoke to those Bahamians who have the carriage and the responsibility to make NHI happen.

"The people of this county will have their lives dramatically and positively influenced for the better by what you are going to be bringing about by end of this year, beginning of next year, in this country," Prime Minister Christie stated,

"We must not fail to recognize that it represents a 'new day' in the delivery of health services and healthcare in The Commonwealth of The Bahamas."



Shaunae strikes gold in Rio
For Bahamians everywhere, the highlight of the 31st Olympiad in Rio was Monday night’s nail biter in the women’s 400m final where Bahamian Shaunae Miller captured the gold medal in a time of 49.44 seconds, defeating American Allison Felix by seven one hundreds of a second.

The praise and notes of congratulation were effusive and from diverse quarters in the wake of the impressive victory as Shaunae did The Bahamas proud. Below is the congratulatory note from the nation’s chief on Tuesday, the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie, Prime Minister on behalf of the government and people of The Bahamas.

“What a magnificent victory by our Shaunae Miller at the Rio Olympics yesterday! It will forever stand as one of those truly iconic moments in Bahamian history.

“Shaunae gave it her all and then reached down into the deepest part of her being to summon up new resources of courage, will-power, determination and strength at the exact moment when she needed them most. Shaunae then crossed the finish line in first and in so doing rode into Bahamian history, capturing the admiration of the entire world in the process.

“Shaunae’s victory is so emblematic of our greatness as a people. We never give up.  We push above our weight.  We fight with all our might, and we go for the gold with every sinew at our command. Shaunae showed us, and all the world, the best we are and the very best we can become.

“On behalf of the Government and the people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and on my own behalf, I congratulate Shaunae Miller on her great and glorious triumph in Rio yesterday. She has filled me and all of us with an immense pride.  May God continue to bless her and all our other athletes at the Rio Olympics.

“Well done, Shaunae! Well done, The Bahamas!”



Sandals to close temporarily for renovations
The reactions to Sandals’ decision to lay off 600 employees to facilitate $4 million in renovations were swift, critical and varied. The All-Inclusive resort is scheduled to reopen in October with the retention of fewer than 100 of the 750 workers for maintenance purposes.

In the face of the criticism, Sandals insisted that the work is being ‘fast tracked’ in preparation for one of its best winter seasons ever and the screening and rehiring process to engage the resort’s full complement of 750 staff is currently underway. The process would involve the assistance of Sandals Resort International (SRI).

Trade Union Congress (TUC) President and attorney for the Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU) Obie Ferguson threatened to file a writ in the Supreme Court on behalf of more than 600 terminated Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort workers for “union busting” and “unfair dismissal”.

Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller railed against the tactics of the BHMAWU, saying the union “held a gun to the head” of Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort executives and is now reaping what it has sown with the “unfortunate” job losses of more than 600 resort employees.

The member for Long Island the Hon. Loretta Butler-Turner said the government was “content” to accept the loss of 600 jobs at Sandals but Labour Minister the Hon. Shane Gibson shot back accusing the FNM of hypocrisy, pointing out that the FNM was attempting to politicize the jobs losses, despite terminating thousands of Bahamians during their last term in office. While the opposition party plays “political games” with the lives of the redundant workers, Gibson said the Government is trying to get as many of them as possible rehired by the hotel. Minister Gibson revealed to the press that the Government did not know about the planned temporary closure of Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort until August 2nd when the Nassau Guardian alerted him to a letter signed by Gray C. Sadler, Senior Vice President at Unique Vacations Inc., advising booked guests not to come due to the resort’s pending closure.

According to Attorney General Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson, the Government said it will closely monitor this situation at Sandals including its rehiring process in a bid to hold the resort accountable for its “promises” after more than 600 workers were fired this week.



Halkitis clarifies media claims on the infamous Letter Of Intent (LOI)
One local newspaper headline on August 19, 2016 read “Government knew of Wells LOI before signing.” State Minister for Finance the Hon. Michael Halkitis said not so, essentially accusing the newspaper of obfuscation by printing “intermingled” selected quotes from various sources, addressed to different entities over an extended period of time to create the impression of impropriety on his part.



According to Mr. Halkitis, the facts on the matter are as follows:

·         The Bahamas Ministry of Finance is the Ministry responsible for relations with the Inter-American Development Bank.

·         The IDB engages in financing to the Government and to private sector entities.

·         Routinely the Ministry of Finance is approached by private sector entities that are seeking funding through the IDB private sector window to facilitate meetings. As the Bahamas Governor to the IDB, my responsibilities include facilitating meetings of private sector entities seeking to source funding from the IDB.

·         My letter to the representative of the IDB dated May 26, 2014 was simply to request a meeting between Stellar Energy and representatives of the IDB for that purpose. When read in its entirety and in isolation it is evident that this is the case said Mr. Halkitis, speaking in his capacity as Bahamas governor to the IDB.



Domestic works accounted for half of work permits in 2015
With 4,712 work permits issued in 2015 for “households as employers,” domestic workers employed in private homes accounted for 51.2% of the 9,208 permits issued in 2015 according to a recent report released by the Department of statistics.

Rounding out the top five industries that attracted foreign workers were the accommodation and food services industry with 1,144 approved work permits; 689 permits were issued for the construction industry and 539 work permits were approved for jobs in the manufacturing industry. The wholesale and retail sectors attracted 281 foreign workers and our second largest industry, financial services, attracted 239 foreign workers.

The report revealed that with 7,604 work permits holders, the five industries mentioned above accounted for 82.6% of the total foreign workforce in the labour market in 2015.

Some twenty-two industrial categories attracted work permit holders during that year according to the report.



PLP ratifies Ministers Strachan and Bell
On Thursday evening the 18th August, the National General Council of the Progressive Liberal Party ratified two government ministers – one an incumbent House Member and the other a Senator.

The Hon. Hope Strachan MP for Sea Breeze and Minister for Financial Services and Local Government will return to the Sea Breeze Constituency and Senator Keith Bell,

Minister of State for National Security, will carry the PLP’s Banner in the Carmichael Constituency replacing Dr. Daniel Johnson who announced his return to private life several weeks ago.

In accepting the nomination, Minister Strachan credited her unwavering faith and self confidence as the principal drivers of her success. Additionally, she thanked and encouraged Prime Minister Christie, telling him, supporters and councilors present that notwithstanding the criticism and name calling, “History is yours,” - a clear reference to transformational policy initiatives such as the University of The Bahamas and National Health Insurance that she believes will define Mr. Christie’s administration and legacy.

To her constituents, she said the following:

“You are the reason I have decided to run again. Over the last 4 1/2 years our relationship has blossomed. We have worked together. We’ve played together. We’ve mourned loved ones together. We have laughed together.”



In Passing…
Save The Bays Chairman Joseph Darville urged House of Assembly Speaker Dr. Kendal Major to “call off efforts” to have certain members of the organization held in contempt of Parliament. In an open letter addressed to Dr. Major, Mr. Darville commended Speaker, indicating that from the beginning, STB held the position that the fundamental constitutional rights of its members were being violated by the actions of Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald.


URCA has published its final determination, imposing obligations on BTC to make changes to its Reference Access and Interconnection Offer (RAIO). BTC’s next step in the consultation process is to submit the amendments for the RAIO to URCA within 14 calendar days from the published final determination.


The Public Hospitals Authority announced on Friday (12th August) that it had completed its investigation into the improper disposal of bio-hazardous waste at the New Providence Landfill, and has introduced several measures at the PMH to mitigate against this infraction in the future.


In a Tribune interview, Price Control Commission (PCC) Chairman Ernest J. Bowe said that he found it “unconscionable” that bread basket items were overpriced by more than $3 in some family islands asking, “How do they expect people to survive?” His comments came following random inspections in North Andros, North Eleuthera, Spanish Wells and Harbour.


Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe said organizers have proposed a new date to host the postponed Caribbean Muzik Festival. The Ministry of Tourism spent $650,000 sponsoring the festival, which was scheduled to take place last October.


A Flamingo Air plane crash landed at the airport in South Bimini on Monday afternoon after the wheel under the right wing collapsed. The plane, a blue and white Flamingo Air Beech 99, had departed Grand Bahama and was in process of landing when the incident occurred. No one was hurt, but the plane had minor damage.


The Christie administration has decided to give time off to hundreds of active police officers who worked 12-hour shifts in 2013 and 2014 and to give financial compensation to officers who worked overtime during that period but have since retired, according to Wayne Munroe, attorney representing the Police Staff Association in the matter. Mr. Munroe also opined that Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade’s plan to give hundreds of police officers time off instead of overtime pay was impracticable and will threaten public safety. He was speaking a Police Staff Association (PSA) press conference earlier this week.


While enrollees in NHI Bahamas will have a choice of primary care providers, over time those primary care providers will transition into a network of health professionals creating what is referred to as “Integrated Patient-Centered Care,” according to the NHI policy paper.


In an attempt to allay fears over the impact of NHI on persons who already pay for private health insurance, Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez repeated and reasserted the government’s policy position that NHI does not mean that persons will have to give up their private insurance benefits. Instead, Gomez said, NHI gives persons the opportunity to renegotiate their private plans so that they are able to only pay for the services not currently included under NHI.


Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration the Hon. Fred Mitchell has made a counterclaim in the libel civil suit filed against him by attorney Fred Smith, in turn accusing Mr. Fred Smith QC of slander.


Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) Nicole Martin has urged the Government to make legislative changes to protect workers and their tenure of employment describing the recent move by Sandals to abruptly make some 600 workers at Royal Bahamian Resort redundant “disgraceful” and a “slap in the face” to workers across the country.

The HMBS Nassau (P-61), a Royal Bahamas Defence Force Corvette, has arrived at Damen Maaskant Shipyards Stellendam in the Netherlands for an extensive overhaul that comprises full systems and instrumentation replacement.


CEO of NewCoLimited2015 (NewCo) Damian Blackburn told Guardian Business that the company is “fully funded” to begin and complete the rollout of its mobile phone service in accordance with the terms of the license issued on July 1, 2016, by URCA.


Nassau Village MP Dion Smith yesterday endorsed Prime Minister Christie for leader of the PLP, insisting having Mr. Christie at the helm would be in the “best interest of the party” going into the 2017 general election.


The independent review commissioned by the Government into the delayed release of a report on the ramification of a 2012 Rubis gas leak in the Marathon constituency has been completed – but is still under review. Attorney General Maynard-Gibson confirmed yesterday that the report conducted by retired Justice Joseph Strachan was now under review by her office but did not provide a timeframe for its release to the public.


Responding to the raw data included in the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Tourism Highlight 2016 Edition, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe yesterday stressed that with indirect visitor “spend” of over $4 billion, The Bahamas is doing “very well”, and that comparisons with other regional tourism powerhouses is akin to comparing “apples and oranges.”


On Tuesday, eight Cuban migrants, including a minor, were brought to Grand Bahama after being picked up in Bahamian waters by the US Coast Guard, the second time in a week that Cubans were intercepted at sea in Bahamian territory in their bid to get to the US. This latest interdiction brings to 300 the number of Cubans intercepted at sea and brought to Grand Bahama over the past eight months.


COB’s Northern Bahamas campus has appointed Dr. Teo Cooper as Dean of Students for a period of three years from August 1. Dr. Cooper presently chairs the Board of Directors of Rhema Preparatory Academy and the University of the Bahamas Educational Research Conference Committee.


A day after the Gaming Board met this week, with the much anticipated Zoning Regulations on the agenda, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe elaborated on the zoning process. He also revealed that $48 million has been collected in fees and taxes from the web shop gaming operators since the issuance if provisional licenses.

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