Saturday, September 17, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas, Sept. 12 - 16, 2016

Commentary by Elcott Coleby

The money reach: Claims a “straightforward process” says Smith
“It’s kind of like putting money in an account and freezing it and saying don’t release this until September 15. It is equivalent to buying property. You put the money in the bank in an escrow account.”

These were the words of the Chairman of the Claims Committee, James Smith, advising that the funds to pay former Baha Mar workers and unsecured creditors had been deposited to a Bahamian bank by the China EXIM Bank. 

The Process Committee released a notice in the local dailies dated the 14th September advising former Baha Mar employees of an email to be sent to them by 15th September indicating their last known address. The notice further advised that non-negotiable payments would be made to former employees on 27th Sept for surnames beginning with A – F; on 28th Sept for surnames beginning with G – O; and on 29th Sept for surnames beginning with P – Z. Hours of payment were between 7am and 7pm each day at the Crystal Palace Training Hotel Casino.    

Prime Minister Christie announced the financial settlement for both former employees and unsecured creditors on 22nd August 2016 at the cabinet office. The government announced the appointment of the Claims Committee on Sunday, 28th August 2016.


Hanna-Martin: No “compromise” on airport security
In protest to new security measures at the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA), Air Traffic Controllers, members of the Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union, BATCU, took industrial actions and did not show up for work on Saturday morning for two hours causing flight cancellations and flight delays.

The new security measure called for the screening of ALL personnel accessing the secured airside of the LPIA.

Aviation and Transport Minister Glenys Hanna-Martin issued a statement warning the Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union that the Government will not compromise on the security of the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA).

A Meeting was held with all relevant stakeholders and in a post meeting joint statement, the union agreed to comply with the new security measures until a security risk assessment of the airport was completed.  

Financial Services Ministry “surprised” by OECD attack
The general consensus among Bahamian professionals in the nation’s second largest industry was for the Bahamas government to resist “disingenuous” international pressure being placed on the financial services sector by the OECD.

A ‘tax expert’ was quoted in The Economist magazine two months ago warning The Bahamas that  the Organization for Economic Co-Operation Development (OECD) would never accept this nation’s preferred tax information exchange approach. The members of the OECD’s Global Forum on tax transparency apparently prefer a multilateral approach.

The responses from local stakeholders were swift and strong.

Paul Moss, President of Dominion Management Services, wanted the industry to stand strong and not be intimidated.

Brian Moree QC accused the OECD of “changing the rules halfway through the game.”

The Ministry of Financial Services expressed surprise at the OECD attacks. Calling The Bahamas a “holdout” was seen as an attempt to smear the jurisdiction as a “tax haven of long standing.” The ministry said the attack was predicated on an obvious OECD preference for the multilateral approach to automatic exchange of information (AEOI).

A former chairman of the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB), Michael Paton, urged the Government to resist “disingenuous” international pressure.

Mitchell addresses the OAS and attends the Ocean Conference
Addressing the general assembly of the Organization of American States this week in Washington DC, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration the Hon. Fred Mitchell delivered the Bahamas’ statement and reiterated The Bahamas’ familiar theme of access to funding to achieve its 2030 agenda goals on climate change.

The Minister asserted the need for adequate funding for The Bahamas and other Caribbean states to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. He further called on the Organization of American States (OAS) to play a greater role to encourage relevant stakeholders in development financing.

Mitchell and Hon. Kenred Dorsett, Minister of the Environment and Housing also joined 450 delegates in participating in the 2016 Our Ocean conference hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department here in Washington, D.C., September 15 to 16.

The two-day conference focuses on the key ocean issues of our time – marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and climate-related impacts on the ocean. Delegates included foreign ministers, environment and fisheries ministers, and other established and up-and-coming ocean leaders in government, science, industry, and civil society.

United States President Barack Obama delivered the keynote address.


Clarification on cost of Potters Cay upgrade
The Bahamas Information Services issued a statement on Thursday clarifying the true cost and scope of work for the upgrade of the Potter’s Cay Dock.

The statement was necessary because some members of the public were apparently of the impression that the entire redevelopment project was priced at $3.1 million and expressed concerns that the project mysteriously tripled in cost to $9 million without explanation as to changes in the scope of works.    

The Ministry of Transport and Aviation is responsible and has oversight of the scope of works currently underway at Potter’s Cay. This scope includes the construction of the boardwalk, the sidewalks, the landscaping, the parking lot, the road works, the fencing and a new cargo holding building. This aspect of the project is estimated to cost about $3.1 million. This project is in the advance stage of development.

The Ministry of Agriculture component of the project include the demolition and replacement of the existing stalls and increasing the number of stalls to around sixty-five larger models with a number of them constructed over water given the restricted space between the bridge and the bulkhead at Potter’s Cay. Other amenities include a new fruit and vegetable market; a fish and conch market; new public restrooms; renovations to the existing administration building inclusive of all mechanical, electrical and water upgrades and planters for the stall’s sidewalks.

The design proposal is before the cabinet for approval. According to Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister the Hon. V. Alfred Gray, the estimated cost of this project is $9 million based on advice from the technical team at the Ministry of Works and Urban Development. If approved, the total cost of the redevelopment of Potter’s Cay can cost around $12 million.

It is important to note that these costs do not include the possibility of compensation to food vendors by the government for loss of business during construction.


Department of Immigration issues notice for Abaco checks
The following notice was released on the 14th September 2016:
Beginning 1 November, the Department of Immigration will be conducting checks of all employers in Hope Town, Great Guana Cay, Man-O-War Cay and the greater Marsh Harbour area and associated towns to ensure that their employees are fully documented to live and work in The Bahamas. The officers will require the employees to be present and their documentation. 

We appreciate the cooperation of all citizens in this endeavor.

The public is reminded that it is an offence to hire anyone without a work permit. There is a fine of $10,000 or five years in jail for violating this law.

Both the employer and the employee are subject to these penalties and they will be strictly prosecuted.


Temporary closure of the general post office
On Wednesday of this week the Ministry of Transport and Aviation issued a public notice that due to plumbing issues, the General Post Office on East Hill Street temporarily suspended operations for one day. Public Service union boss John Pinder threatened industrial action if the problem was not immediately fixed.


Prime Minister Christie to address 71st UN Session
Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie will lead a Bahamian delegation to the 71st Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 71). The Prime Minister and his delegation depart for New York on Sunday, September 18, and are scheduled to return to Nassau on Wednesday, September 21.

Preceding the General Debate, UN Secretary General H.E. Ban Ki-Moon will convene a summit on 19th September on ‘Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.’ The aim of the summit is to bring countries together towards a more humane and coordinated approach regarding refugees and migrants. Mr. Christie along with other Heads of State and Governments will address the summit.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration the Hon. Fred Mitchell who is currently in Washington DC will deliver The Bahamas’ Statement on September 26. Members of the New York Bahamian Diaspora, Bahamians traveling from Nassau including winners of the annual Zonta Essay and the Model United Nations (MUNS) competitions are expected to be in attendance.

 Other members of the delegation will include the Hon. Shane Gibson, Minister of Labour and National Insurance, the Hon. Hubert Chipman and senior Government officials.

In Passing…
In a short ceremony at Salem Union Baptist Church on Saturday afternoon, Minister of National Security the Hon. Bernard Nottage turned over band instruments to Senior Pastor Heuter Rolle. The instruments will be used to establish a band in the Grants Town community, engaging its youth in wholesome activities.  

Construction of the $2 million male dormitory that burned down in January 2015 at the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI), is expected to commence shortly with a completion date of the end of the year, said Agriculture Minister V. Alfred Gray. He expressed disappointment that the other 14 to 20 buildings are only 90 to 97 percent completed but remained hopeful that they would be completed by the beginning of the January 2017 semester.  

The number of Zika cases in New Providence has increased to 11, Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez confirmed on Sunday, 11 September. According to health officials, the person in the latest case is a 46-year-old man who lives in southwest New Providence.

The private sector has “no legitimate case” for opposing the Government’s proposal to criminalize a business’ failure to inform it and the relevant trade union of planned redundancies, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) President said this week. Obie Ferguson said that the proposed amendment to the Employment Act were merely adding the threat of penal punishment should employers fail to do something that was already required.

BPL revealed this week that due to the higher than normal use of the diesel driven gas turbine generators at Blue Hills power plant, customers should expect an increase in their electricity bill due to adjustments in the fuel surcharge. BPL officials further advised that the rental generators will be in place by the end of this week, hopefully bringing an end to frequent power outages in New Providence.

Chairman of the Consumer Protection Commission Senator Jerome Gomez expressed doubt in the Government’s ability to improve The Bahamas’ ease of doing business ranking, which currently stands at 106 out 189 economies according to the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business Index. Gomez said that the ranking could be improved by taking on a dual solution that involved an increase in technology and the reallocation of human capital.

Police have launched an island-wide manhunt for two men responsible for binding, robbing and gagging the former wife of one of the FNM’s founding fathers, the late Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield.

The criminal law against abortion in The Bahamas should be “repealed completely”, and abortion should be governed like any other healthcare procedure, according to Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) Executive Director Joyce Arthur.

It is always heartening to report good news about our young people. Last week T’ron and D’Ron Strapp, twin brothers and recent graduates of Garvin Tynes Primary School, had their dreams come true when they started their high school education at Aquinas College on full academic scholarship. T’Ron and D’Ron capped off their primary school careers as the 2015-2106 head boy and deputy head boy respectfully.

Officials of the Ministry of Social Services said that they will work closely with local vendors in Mayaguana and officials from the Bank of The Bahamas to ensure recipients of the Department’s Food Assistance Programme receive their Visa Pre-Paid Cards by December 2016.

During a press conference at his law chambers this week, DNA Branville McCartney said the FNM was a “broke and sinking ship” with several candidates dropping out of the race and that a union between the two groups would help the FNM but hurt his party, the DNA.

Bahamas Bar Association President Elsworth Johnson responded to criticism of its decision to deny an application by the Bahamian law firm representing Sarkis Izmirlian to bring in a foreign lawyer to join their legal team. Johnson explained that all decisions were made after a thorough review of the application by the Bar Council and ultimately hinged on whether the expertise being sought could be locally sourced.  

Chief Passport Officer Clarence Russell said the backlog that existed at the Passport Office is currently “non-existent”, after it issued in excess of 7,800 passports during the summer.

Following a suggestion for Baha Mar stakeholders to request judicial review on the sealed agreement the Government signed with the EXIM Bank of China last month, Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) President Leonard Sands indicated on Monday the association will “operate in good faith” in hopes of a favorable outcome, as all the “cards are really in the bank’s hands.”

Two senior Cabinet Ministers expressed certainty that Prime Minister Christie will emerge victorious at the PLP’S November convention with Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister the Hon. Alfred Gray going as far as to suggest that at this time, Mr. Christie was unbeatable as he was “entrenched” as the party’s leader. The other cabinet Minister was Attorney General Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson.

The battle over parliamentary privilege is now before the Court of Appeal as Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald has filed his appeal to have the landmark ruling and fine ordered by Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles overturned. 

The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) has published the BTC’s amended Reference Access and Interconnection Offer (RAIO). Amendments were made to BTC’s list of services, which include session initiation protocol (SIP) interconnection, short message service (SMS), joining circuit service and points of interconnection.

Labor Minister Shane Gibson is raising the alarm about a Facebook scam that is conning Bahamians out of money while using his identity. Fake Facebook profiles featuring his name and image have been made within the last several months, he said.

After a woman was found murdered in her apartment and a newborn baby was abandoned in bushes in New Providence on Friday, the PLP Women’s Branch said these incidents should “sensitize” the public to the need to educate society and not make snap judgments.  

An Appeal Court Justice admitted that the Bahamian judicial system is vulnerable to being used an “unwitting pawn” in the commission of real estate frauds. Justice Stella Maureen Crane-Scott warned that the Quieting Titles Act was effectively being employed as a tool to steal land, given that “material facts” relating to title applications were often hidden from the courts.

CEO of NewCo Limited 2015 Damian Blackburn said the company is sitting on a war chest of $125 million. Blackburn also said NewCo’s official brand would be unveiled as the company approaches its first deadline to provide coverage for 99 percent of New Providence and 80 percent of Grand Bahama by October.

Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald, one of the Government’s lead negotiators in the effort to remobilize construction at Baha Mar and pay creditors, objected to criticism that there are discrepancies between Prime Minister Christie’s confident pronouncements that all Bahamian creditors will receive money owed to them and the Claims Committee’s assertion that payment is not guaranteed. Fitzgerald insisted that Bahamians will be taken cared of as a priority.  

Chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) Gowon Bowe said sealing the agreement signed by the Government and the EXIM Bank of China to complete, sell and open Baha Mar was a “commercially reasonable step to take.”

The FNM announced the ratification of four more candidates ahead of the 2017 general election on Thursday evening. In addition to Butler-Turner for Long Island, the party ratified former Deputy Commissioner of Police Marvin Dames for the Mount Moriah constituency, former DNA Chairman Mark Humes for the Fort Charlotte constituency and local entrepreneur Walt Saunders for the MICAL constituency.


Thursday was Shaune celebration day at Saint Augustine College as the Olympic champion at 400m visited her alma mater, participating in a special assembly where the students celebrated Shaune’s achievement at the 2016 Rio games.

Agriculture Minister V. Alfred Gray said that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s (FFWC) amendment of its law governing fish brought from The Bahamas into the state will be good for this country. All bill fish must be returned to the sea unharmed while fish species such as wahoo cannot number more than eighteen.

The Bahamas’ first ambassador to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been presented with his Instruments of Appointments by the Governor General, Dame Marguerite Pindling. Toni S. Joudi, a civil engineer and native Arabic speaker, has also been designated by the Government of The Bahamas’ Pavilion for Expo 2020, which will take place in Dubai, UAE.

Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn confirmed on Thursday that he will not get a nomination for the FNM. The Nassau Guardian understands that the party is considering prominent businessman Dionisio D’Aguilar to run in Montagu. 

The Steering Committee of The People’s Movement (TPM), also known as the Gatekeepers, announced on Thursday that its members have voted to form a political arm. The vote took place on 18th August at a town hall meeting where 99.8% of the 875 persons in attendance voted in favour of forming a political arm. Talk show host, Steve McKinney is the committee’s acting chairman. Other members are former FNM Senator John Bostwick, Rev. Patrick Paul, attorney Paul Moss, trade unionist John Pinder, Rev. Oral Ellis, Pastor Glen Rolle and Prescott Smith.


For the second time in his assignment as Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe was elected to the post of chairman of the Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization; the elections took place in Barbados. His objective is to “focus heavily on the changing trends in tourism as we all have seen in the region” such as shared accommodations. There is a 5.2% growth forecast for the region for 2016.

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