Saturday, August 27, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas


 Commentary by Elcott Coleby

Prime Minister Christie announces agreement to complete Baha Mar
On Monday, what was clearly the biggest news of the week Prime Minister Christie delivered a nationally televised address on the successful outcome of the Baha Mar negotiations. He was at the Cabinet Office, surrounded by his cabinet colleagues and before the full media corps.
He announced the immediate resumption of construction at the project site to bring it to completion. He also outlined the guaranteed severance payments to the 2,000 displaced workers in addition to payments to unsecured contractors and service providers. Mr. Christie said that his government will work assiduously to ensure that the various hotels and casinos would be opened for the 2016-2017 winter season. He said that Monday was a good day for The Bahamas.

The rumor mill and conspiracy theories went into overdrive at this announcement. On daily talk shows and in social media groups there were charges that the Christie administration had cut some nefarious secret deal and had something to hide. There were charges of the sale of some 500 citizenships and the giveaway of land on several family islands. Others complained about the level of Chinese involvement in the Bahamian economy. There was even talk of reviewing and possibly reversing the deal by the official opposition should they win the 2017 general elections.   
 Three days later on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office released another statement separating fact from fiction.
In this statement published below in its entirety, the government reiterated the details of the Agreement, highlighting many of the FACTS that are presented below for my readers’ ease of reference:

The FACT that construction at Baha Mar will be resumed as quickly as possible;
The FACT that the China EXIM Bank has committed to fund all remaining constructions costs to complete Baha Mar
The FACT that we are making every effort to ensure that the casino and casino hotel, the convention centre and its hotel, and the golf course, will open before the end of the 2016-2017 winter season;
The FACT that the thousands of former Bahamian employees of Baha Mar will receive the following outstanding amounts due to them: unpaid salaries, severance pay, accrued vacation pay, and notice payments due to termination;
The FACT that additionally, sums deducted from employees and former employees’ salaries and pension contributions will be repaid;
The FACT that funds will be made available to enable Bahamian creditors and contractors to receive a significant part, and possibly ALL of the value of their claims;
The FACT that Bahamians holding commercial leases and concessions, will be permitted to continue to hold them;
The FACT that many of the same people and companies who were previously contracted, will be re-engaged to complete the Project,
The FACT that the Government of The Bahamas and the Bahamian utility companies, such as BPL, will receive payment for some of their outstanding claims against the Baha Mar companies;
The FACT that the Government will extend appropriate concessions, to facilitate the construction and promote the successful future operation of the Baha Mar resort;
The FACT that the completed project will be sold to a qualified world-class casino and casino hotel and convention centre and hotel operator.

Baha Mar, the largest project ever of its kind in the Region, is a complex, commercial transaction that requires significant attention to detail. The Government, together with other stakeholders will continue to work to implement the obligations under the Agreement.
The government will not be distracted from its efforts and will continue to work for and on behalf of the Bahamian people.
There have been allegations that we have offered citizenships.
This is FALSE.
There have been allegations that we have given away or sold islands.
This is FALSE.
Nothing has been given by way of concessions that has not been offered before to previous investors.
As the Prime Minister said in his Statement, re-mobilisation of the project will begin immediately.
This has already started.
The Prime Minister also said, construction will begin next month.
Preparation is already underway.
It is important to note that the Baha Mar Group of Companies are the subject of liquidation proceedings, governed and supervised by The Supreme Court. The full details of the Agreement that enables re-mobilisation were revealed to The Court. The file in the matter has been sealed by Order of The Court. This is usual in matters of this kind so that sensitive negotiations may proceed and conclude in an orderly fashion, in the public interest.
Arrangements for the transfer and the payout of creditor, including employee claims, are currently being finalized.
In the coming days, further announcements will be made as to how employees and creditors may submit their claims.


Fitzgerald: 10th November is University of The Bahamas Charter Day
The country’s tertiary education journey began in 1974 with what amounted to a junior college, but forty-three years later and numerous upgrades and leadership changes, the Minister of Education, Science and Technology the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald announced that on the 10th November 2016, the current College of The Bahamas will officially become a fully chartered university - the University of The Bahamas.

This is an historic day in the life of The Bahamas.

With the passage of the University of The Bahamas (UOB) Bill 2016 weeks ago, Fitzgerald told the media that the country’s premier tertiary institution will be built on four philosophical pillars - first class academics; university level infrastructure, a commitment to service excellence and transparent financial management.
The Minister pointed out that The College of The Bahamas already has sufficient scholastic attributes to justify its transition to a university and listed four of them as follow:
1.    Seventy percent of graduates earn a bachelor’s degree;
2.    COB boasts more than sixty high quality programmes and teaching excellence;
3.    Steady progress being made in building graduate programmes;  
4.    Increasing productivity in research and publication output.   

A list of activities will be released by the Ministry of Education to commemorate this historic charter day.


Hanna-Martin: Road Traffic automation “in just about six weeks”
“In just about six (6) weeks, the Department’s newly automated system will go live, replacing the age-old manual system” was the announcement from the Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin on Thursday of the week.

This announcement follows months of infrastructure upgrades, the release of an unfavorable audit report by the Auditor General and claims of malfeasance at the department. A relieved Minister spoke candidly about the vulnerabilities of the old manual system and the actions taken by the department in the wake of the audit citations.

“Reports by the Auditor General have identified vulnerabilities which have plagued this Department for decades, leading to potential and actual revenue leakages on a sustained basis for decades.

“Matters arising from the Auditor General’s Reports have been referred to the Royal Bahamas Police Force for investigation and necessary action where warranted.  Malfeasance and theft are not tolerated by this Ministry” said Minister Hanna-Martin in a statement as she reiterated her full commitment “to the modernization of this Department for greater operational efficiency and for the full protection of public revenue.”


BTVI gets new SMART classroom block
Vocational education got a huge boost this week when the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) held a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a brand new $2.3 million 6,600 square-foot classroom block.

Delivering the keynote address was Prime Minister the Hon. Perry G. Christie at the Soldier Road campus on Thursday of this week.

The two-storey classroom block will feature eight SMART classrooms, two information technology labs, a staff room and bathroom facilities. Additionally, the block will feature a disabled lift, separate disabled compliant restrooms, a standby generator, and thermal safe panels (walls, floors and roof will be fully insulated to reduce cooling costs). The building is designed to include provision for future solar connection (the potential exists for it to become a fully green building).

Also on hand to celebrate this day was Minister of Works and Urban Development the Hon. Philip Davis and Education Minister the Hon Jerome Fitzgerald.

The Architect for the project is Victor Cartwright of Architects Associates and the Contractor is Jim Boucher of Commonwealth Construction. The new block is expected to be completed in six months.


Met Office issues special weather systems warning
The following public notice was released by the Airport Meteorological Office at 1pm on Friday, 26th August 2016.

The area of low pressure associated with a tropical wave between northeast Cuba and the Southeast Bahamas has become less organized and conditions less favorable for development over the next two days or so.

However, light to moderate rains with pockets of heavy showers and thunderstorms will affect the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Southeast Bahamas this afternoon, which includes Inagua, Mayaguana, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island; the Central Bahamas tonight and tomorrow which includes Exuma and its Cays, Cat Island, San Salvador, Rum Cay, and Long Island.

Parts of the Northwest Bahamas, which includes Eleuthera, New Providence, Andros and Bimini, will also experience pockets of heavy showers and thunderstorms beginning Saturday night through Sunday afternoon.

Therefore, residents in the aforementioned islands who live in flood prone areas should take the necessary actions to minimized flooding impact over the week-end.


National Training Agency graduates its sixth cohort
Delivering remarks at the 6th Cohort Graduation Ceremony of the National Training Agency (NTA) Mandatory Workforce Preparatory Programme were Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance Nicole Campbell and Cynthia “Mother” Pratt, who offered words of inspiration to 242 young people. The young trainees received certification after 14 weeks of preparation in the following disciplines: auto body repair, boating safety and maintenance, butler services, customer service, domestic technician, food and beverage service, food preparation, housekeeping, Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, non-instructional Teachers Aide, office procedures, retail business, and allied health. The ceremony was held at Holy Trinity Activities Centre, Stapledon Gardens on Thursday. The Executive Director of NTA is Ms. Agatha Marcelle.


In Passing…
The five additional reported cases of Zika virus in Florida last Friday (19 Aug) “raises the bar” on how the Bahamas government will have to combat the feared virus, Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez said last Sunday. Earlier this week, the Ministry of Health called a press conference to report additional confirmed cases of Zika infections in The Bahamas and would not be surprised at the issue of a travel advisory as a result of the increase.

The Bahamas finished the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on a high note on Saturday when the men’s 4x400m relay team claimed the bronze medal in the final track event.

The recent repatriation of more than 40 Cuban nationals has cost the government nearly $20,000, with the Director of Immigration highlighting an “unprecedented” increase in the wave of Cuban migrants illegally entering the Bahamas.

Dr. Mark Britnell, Global Chairman of Healthcare for KPMG, said the firm has tested and validated cost estimates that say the first phase of the NHI program will cost $100 million. That figure was initially floated by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Delon Brennen, and Britnell said the number had been tested and is “good to go”.

The Department of Inland Revenue (DIR) has advised that VAT is no longer applicable to certain fees related to tuition. The removal of VAT from educational ancillary fees came into effect on July 1 following the 2016/2017 budget communication.

The Sunshine Holdings Chairman, Sir Franklyn Wilson, confirmed that his group’s newly-created entity, Gateway Financial, had recently acquired “several hundred” delinquent mortgages from one of the Bahamas’ main commercial banks. He added that Gateway’s efforts to subsequently restructure these loans had already proven “very effective”, and would allow many borrowers to remain in their homes on terms better aligned with their financial circumstances.

The Pointe’s Chinese workforce has been sent home until its employer secures the necessary permits to begin construction on its 200-room condo hotel and associated amenities.

Moody’s announced on Monday that it has downgraded the Bahamas’ credit rating by
one notch mainly because of the country’s “low medium – term growth” prospects and limited fiscal space compared to similar countries. The announcement, however, means the country will avoid that worst case scenario, as its sovereign credit worthiness has been downgraded by a single notch, to investment grade Baa3 from Baa2 with a “stable” outlook, an upgrade from the previous “negative” outlook.

NHI Project Manager Dr. Delon Brennen rejected criticism that the Government’s $24 million catastrophic fund is insufficient to cover those who fall under the specialized care category, as he stressed that the fund will be used in addition to the provisions already in use in the country’s public health system. However, he admitted that the Government is still in the process of designing the best way to execute the catastrophic fund.

The Government of The Bahamas via the National Health Insurance Secretariat issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) this week from system vendors for the management, administration and wellness services relating to public insurer under the National Health Insurance Plan. Proposals could be picked up at the NHI Secretariat at the Teachers and Salaried Workers Credit Union Building on East Street south and the deadline is the 7th October 2016.

The Bahama Journal published an article reporting the impromptu expressions of gratitude and appreciation by various creditors and contractors to Mr. Christie and his team for working diligently to reach an agreement on Baha Mar that would result in the payment of millions of dollars owed to them. Bahamian contractors and other Baha Mar creditors hailed Prime Minister Christie and his Government for “not blinking” in negotiations with China for payment of multimillion dollar sums owed to them.

Hundreds of job-seekers assembled at Christ the King Anglican Church in Ridgeland Park West on Wednesday of this week as Sandals Royal Bahamian’s job fair moved into its third day of interviews. Several former employees did not have a problem with having to reapply for their old jobs.

Former Governor of the Central bank of the Bahamas (CBOB) James Smith said a further downgrade by Moody’s to junk status would have been unwarranted. He agreed that Moody’s assessment was fair, but criticized some aspects of the agency’s rationale behind the downgrade.

The Ministry of The Environment and Housing released a press statement confirming that The Bahamas ratified the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The statement noted the agreement will preserve The Bahamas’ entire environment for a stronger Bahamas.

State Minister for Investment and Pinewood Gardens MP Khaalis Rolle on Wednesday evening chaired a community forum in his constituency, attempting to allay fears over the potential spread of the Zika virus throughout the area.

The Atlantis resort on Paradise Island has launched the first phase of a $20 million transformation at its Coral Towers. Once all renovations are complete, the hotel will reopen as The Corals Atlantis, a new modern hotel for the resort’s group, leisure, and casino guests, designed by Bilkey Llinas Design.  

Her Excellency Dame Marguerite Pindling, Governor General, did the honours at the computer this week when she officially launched the website for Government House at the following address: www.bahamas.gov.bs/governorgeneral

A trade union leader on Thursday night toned down initial threats of industrial actions to rival the 1958 General Strike, following a nearly three-hour long meeting with the Prime Minister over the Sandals situation. Obie Ferguson, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) President, said he believes the platform to resolve union grievances over the termination of Sandals Royal Bahamian’s 600 staff and related issued was in place following the meeting with Mr. Christie.   

Minister Fitzgerald announced this week the establishment of the National Accreditation and Equivalency Council of The Bahamas (NAECOB) as part of the College of the Bahamas’ transition to a University. The Minister reaffirmed that the Christie administration has long had a vision for modern education for The Bahamas.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration the Hon. Fred Mitchell announced on Friday, 26th August 2016 that The Bahamas will participate in EXPO 2020 to be held in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates from October 2020 to 10th April 2021. Believing EXPO 2020 to provide a great avenue for young Bahamians, Mitchell told the media that he has tried to structure the country’s participation “so that those under 35 can get a full opportunity to project their views about the future of the world.” Coinciding with the UAE’s golden anniversary, EXPO 2020 is divided into three subthemes – OPPORTUNITY, MOBILITY and SUSTAINABILITY.

Newest golden girl, Ms. Shaunae Miller paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Christie at the Office of the Prime Minister on Friday where she pinned an Olympic emblem on Mr. Christie’s lapel.

A THANK YOU celebration was held for our Olympic team at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium on Friday evening at 5pm.

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