Saturday, September 24, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas (19 – 23 Sept. 2016)


Commentary by Elcott Coleby


Prime Minister Christie addresses Abaco Business Outlook
Speaking at the Abaco Business Outlook on Thursday of this week, Prime Minister Christie hailed the economy of Abaco as strong, buttressed by more than one billion dollars worth of tourism related developments in addition to support infrastructural public works.

The largest of the developments is the $700 million Baker’s Bay Golf and Ocean Club -- a high end, mixed-use resort development with current phase expenditure in excess of $250 million for the development of over fifty second homes, employee housing, Community Centre and Beach park as part of its phased, near billion dollar mixed-use project, he noted.

"An additional $50 million is being spent by land owners of Baker’s Bay to develop the Dolphin Beach Resort on Great Guana Cay and to create housing for employees of Baker’s Bay," he pointed out. "At the Abaco Club at Winding Bay, over $123million in capital works is underway to upgrade amenities and create new hotel and residential components."

The Leeward Yacht Club and Marina on Green Turtle Cay said the Prime Minister, have undergone a $3 million capital improvement initiative and at Schooner Bay, South Abaco, there is expansion of its residential offering and completion of the $2.5 million, eight-room Blackfly Lodge, he said.

The innovative farm-to-table restaurant concept introduced at Treasure Cay provides yet another visitor and dining experience while supporting the local community continued Mr. Christie. The Bahama Woodstar Farm, at Treasure Sands, with an 80 foot "high-tech" barn and greenhouse, provides locally grown produce to the restaurant, support for a school lunch program for pre-schools in the area, education opportunities and operation of a farmer's market for the community of Treasure Cay, Prime Minister Christie noted.

Pointing to the Big Bird Farm and export of $70 million worth of seafood annually, the Prime Minister told delegates that Abaco is gaining traction in the agricultural sector.

Offering support to these commercial initiatives is the development of the North Abaco Port that will better facilitate the shipment of supplies to the Island, thereby reducing construction timelines and costs and encourage more timely and cost-effective industry development said Mr. Christie.

"All this should leave no doubt as to Abaco’s considerable clout as an economic contributor and its growing dominance as a tourism player at both national and international levels," Prime Minister Christie said.


Attorney General clarifies misinformation surrounding “nolle prosequi”
In the face of much public commentary surrounding the decision of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to issue a nolle prosequi in the private prosecution of several Sandals executives by employees of that resort, the OAG issued a statement “to clarify certain matters having regard to misinformation being disseminated in relation to Nolle Prosequi of the private prosecution against certain Sandals’ managers.” 
According to the statement, “the Nolle Prosequi became effective when it was entered in the Magistrates Court by the Office of the Attorney General on 19th September 2016.” There was much media focus on the date the nolle was signed, the 14th August 2016, the day of the lay-offs at Sandals. 
In responding to the claim that the government somehow sided with foreigners over Bahamians in the issue of the nolle, the OAG’s statement pointed out that there were two civil proceedings in the Supreme Court between the union and Sandals where appropriate sanctions against Sandals are available so Sandals was not being let off the hook as alleged.

“Civil proceedings are continuing in the Supreme Court between the Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (“the Union”) and Sandals in relation to the continued existence of the Union and whether Sandals should be obliged, in the circumstances, to negotiate with the Union. Another action is before the Supreme Court on the matter of whether the Sandals employees were unfairly dismissed. The Union, not the State, also commenced in the Magistrate’s Court, a private prosecution against some of Sandals’ managers. Persons are being held accountable through the legal process in the Supreme Court, where appropriate sanctions are available.” 
One of the objectives being pursued by the Government in meetings with Mr. Obie Ferguson and other trade unionists the statement said was the attempt to encourage Sandals to negotiate an industrial agreement notwithstanding the Supreme Court action. The entering of the said Nolle Prosequi does not prevent nor does it compromise further meetings and continued efforts of the Minister of Labour, or anyone else in the Government, in relation to this goal and a successful outcome. 
The Attorney-General in the execution of her constitutional duty is never swayed by the political objectives of her colleagues or anyone else.


Attorney General addresses the ICIJ leak
Earlier this week it was reported in the media that as a result of a cyber security breach, some 1.3 million files about Bahamian registered and incorporated companies stored under the supervision of the Office of the Registrar General were leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

This leak comes five months after the country’s financial services sector was thrust into the spotlight as a top tax haven on the infamous “Panama Papers.” The international watchdogs unveiled a free online database created from 1.3 million leaked files from The Bahamas Office of the Registrar General. The database created by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) circumvents the local register’s fee-based retrieval of its online registry by providing a publicly searchable forum of the names of directors and some shareholders of more than 175,000 Bahamian companies.

In a statement the Minister of Financial Services Hope Strachan said The Bahamas remains committed to the transparency of its corporate registry and noted that “the data required by law to be maintained in the corporate registry is available to the public.”

Also responding was the Office of the Attorney General:

“The Government of The Bahamas officially launched its e-Services Business Registration platform at the Registrar General's Department in January 2016 as a part of the Government’s ongoing strategy to improve ease of doing business. It is important to note that the data required by law to be maintained in the Companies registry is available to the public. Further, since 2000 as a part of our compliance regime it has been a legal requirement that a register of directors and officers be filed at the Companies registry. The Bahamas remains committed to the transparency of its corporate registry.

“Having said this, we take this matter of an unauthorized publication by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) of data held by the online Companies registry very seriously. A review of our systems is currently underway. Based on the findings, all necessary action will be taken to ensure that we maintain the requisite data protection as we understand the importance of this to our users.”


New Straw Markets planned for Cat Island and Harbour Island
It is Straw Market Appreciation and Recognition week and as such, fifty-nine straw vendors, straw practitioners and wood carvers representing seven markets throughout The Bahamas were recognized for their contributions to the industry and the development of the country during the Straw Market Authority’s 4th annual Appreciation and Recognition Day, September 22, 2016.

The special ceremony was held at Woodes Rogers Wharf, just outside of the downtown Straw Market where Governor General HE Dame Marguerite Pindling cut the ribbon for a brand new daycare center and homework and study facilities for the children of straw vendors. Straw Market Chairman Kevin Simmons announced that The Bahamas Government is poised to launch new markets to facilitate the wares of straw vendors, straw practitioners and wood carvers, in Cat Island and Harbour Island.

A church service was held on Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral to kick off a week of activities.



In Passing…
It was reported that the FNM is moving ahead with plans to ratify businessman Dionisio D’Aguilar in the Montagu constituency, the seat currently held by Richard Lightbourn, according to several sources within the party.

As work associated with the Potter’s Cay Dock redevelopment continues to progress, members of the FNM and the DNA spoke out against reports that costs could balloon to as much as $12m. FNM Deputy Leader and Shadow Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest has condemned the Christie administration for the “mind boggling and incredibly unsatisfactory” nature of the three-phased project. It is important to note that cost did not just “ballooned” but reflected the appropriate and expanded scope of work. Also, at press time the full drawings and scope of work for the agriculture component of the redevelopment project was still before cabinet for approval so commentary and conclusions on cost are premature. Additionally, the costing was prepared by the technical staff at the Ministry of Works and Urban Development and not the Minister of Agriculture.  

Former Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett said on Saturday (17th September) it is alarming and “most regrettable” that Marathon MP Jerome Fitzgerald has indicated that despite a Supreme Court ruling that he breached the constitutional right to privacy of members of the environmental group Save The Bays (STB) by reading their private emails in Parliament in March, he would do it again.

A man awaiting trial for the robbery of Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis was shot dead by police in Yellow Elder Gardens this week. According to a police source, the dead man is Jeffrey “Bongo” King, one of three men facing trial for a robbery at Mr. Davis’ home in 2013.

Former Attorney General and PLP candidate for Fort Charlotte Alfred Sears, QC, said he is “more than confident” he will defeat Prime Minister Christie and emerge leader of the PLP at the party’s November convention. In an interview, Mr. Sears said after meeting with stalwarts and branch executives his support has grown exponentially and he has been assured that he will be the next leader of the PLP and the country’s next prime minister.

The money allocated to pay Baha Mar workers and unsecured creditors has been deposited by the EXIM Bank of China, according to Claims Committee Chairman James Smith, who maintained that non-staff claims will be processed as “pay as you go until you run out.”

Prime Minister Christie assured the United Nations at a migration forum hosted by the UN Secretary General that The Bahamas was working to best employ international screening guidelines that seek to identify, protect and assist potential refugees and asylum seekers transiting to or through The Bahamas.

A judge declared this week that a site visit to Lyford Cay was necessary to determine whether one of its residents, Peter Nygard, had illegally increased the size of his property.

Prominent attorney Wayne Munroe has criticized the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority, URCA, for demanding recordings of his client’s radio show for investigative purposes, calling it and the organization’s general crackdown on broadcasters an “admission” by the regulator that it hasn’t been “doing its job.”

Minister of Labor Shane Gibson expressed disappointment that Attorney General Maynard-Gibson stopped a private prosecution against the top management of Sandals Royal Bahamian without giving him and others the courtesy of knowing. Given the provisions of the constitution and the powers of independence given to the Office of the Attorney General over matters of public and private prosecutions, the fact that cabinet colleagues were unaware of the decision of the Attorney General is evidence that the system works as initially intended by the constitution. In these matters it must always appear that the Attorney General is acting independently and without outside influence.

Attorney General Maynard-Gibson’s issuance of a nolle prosequi to discontinue court proceedings against the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort and two of its senior executives was an “abomination” to justice, said Long Island MP Butler-Turner as she questioned whether the Government conspired with the hotel when it terminated hundreds of workers. The Long Island MP however did not explain how the exercise of statute powers under the constitution amounted to an “abomination” of justice given the fact that these powers have been used in the public interest for decades.

Minister of Social Services and Community Development the Hon. Melanie Griffin announced on Thursday that in late August the Government of The Bahamas approved the ‘Rationale for Proposed Legislation for Older Persons in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas’ for draft legislation. The next step is the preparation of enabling legislation by the Office of the Attorney General. This legislation is intended to address many of the abuses perpetrated against the elderly.

A day after Labour Minister Shane Gibson hit out at Attorney General Maynard-Gibson for not informing him of her decision to stop a private prosecution against Sandals Royal Bahamian and two of its senior executives, two more senior Cabinet Ministers have also come out against the handling of the matter. Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis and Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe said they were both unaware that a ‘nolle prosequi’ had been issued on August 14 – the same day the hotel terminated more than 600 employees. This is good news as there is evidence that the Attorney General acted independently and was not swayed by political influence. Noted attorney Algernon Allen said that had the Attorney General consulted with her cabinet colleagues about the nolle - that action would have created a constitutional crisis because the initial intent, the letter and the spirit of the law would have been violated.

The FNM on Thursday called for Attorney General Maynard-Gibson’s resignation after she stopped a private prosecution against the top management of Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort. FNM Chairman Sidney Collie said in a statement that the power of the attorney general to issue such a dismissal is “prone to potential misuse, abuse and favoritism” under her tenure in office. Again Mr. Collie, like Mrs. Loretta Butler-Turner, provided no evidence of his charges. He provided no evidence of “misuse,” “abuse” or “favouritism.” Calling for the resignation of a cabinet minister because somebody arbitrarily says that the minister’s constitutionally guaranteed powers are “prone” to abuse is unprecedented.   

On Thursday Trade Union Congress President Obie Ferguson hinted at mass industrial action, warning that the TUC and its affiliates will launch some sort of “reaction” to Attorney General Maynard-Gibson’s decision to stop criminal proceedings brought by union officials against Sandals Royal Bahamian and two of its executives.

Despite the conclusion of several court matters, members of the Cabbage Beach Business Owners Association said they are still being blocked from operating on the beach by law enforcement and private security forces. Manager of the Paradise Island Beach Club Anthony Knowles said he had solution to the problem of access by the Cabbage Beach vendors. Mr. Knowles proposed the construction of a pavilion on the property of the hotel he manages at a minimal cost to the vendors. The only remaining and viable access to Cabbage Beach is the Paradise Island Beach Club property said Mr. Knowles. He said he is prepared to meet with vendors and the Prime Minister to permanently resolve this matter.

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis said on Thursday that construction at Baha Mar is expected to resume in the next two weeks.

More than four months after the 2016 and second annual Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival festival and song contest, organizers confirmed that the highly anticipated economic and revenue report on the event will be released next week.    

Prime Minister Christie led a Ministerial delegation with the local press in tow to Great Harbour Cay on Friday for a site visit of a tourism project proposed by developer Pedro Adrian. This new proposed development will mark the first major development on Great Harbour Cay, the largest cay in the Berry Islands chain, since the early 1960’s. Good luck to the residents of that cay.


-- 
Elcott Coleby
Deputy Director
Bahamas Information Services
326-5833
477-7006

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