Monday, October 31, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas, 24 – 28 Oct. 2016


Commentary by Elcott Coleby

New Baha Mar buyer revealed
Hong Kong based Chow Tai Fook Enterprise (CTFE), the parent company of the Rosewood Hotel management group and a global conglomerate, emerged as the world class resort developer to secure government approval to engage in negotiations with Special Purpose Vehicle Perfect Luck holding company for the acquisition of the Baha Mar assets.

In a statement released on Thursday evening, CTFE said the enterprise “has entered into negotiations in connection with the ownership of Baha Mar” and has “applied to the government of The Bahamas for approval as a proposed investor and acquirer of the Baha Mar Resort, by way of acquisition of Perfect Luck Assets Limited (Perfect Luck), the company to which certain assets of the Baha Mar Resort have been transferred.”

CTFE principal Dr. Henry Cheng said that he is looking forward to “having Baha Mar join its portfolio of world class integrated resort development projects” and assured all that CTFE “is fully committed to this project and plan to hire as many Bahamians as possible to work at the property.”

The manager of 55 hotels in 18 counties, CTFE owns and manages luxury resorts including The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (New York); Rosewood (London); The Beverly Wilshire; a Four Seasons Hotel (Beverly Hills); and the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong.

Owned by the Cheng family, this enterprise and its affiliated companies are responsible for the $10 billion Greenwich Peninsula Development, the single largest investment in London and the $2.3 Billion integrated resort development project in Australia.

The diversified global holdings of CTFEE and its affiliates include luxury mixed-use resorts, infrastructure development and retail jewelry merchandizing.    

 
Controller of Road Traffic outlines licensing guidelines to all motorists
Controller of the Road Traffic Department (RTD) Ross Smith wrote an open letter to the motoring this week to remind them about the guidelines for registering and renewing the licenses of their vehicles.

 Below are the guidelines and required documents:

FOR REGISTRATION
A PASSPORT OR VOTER’S CARD, YOUR N.I.B SMART CARD AND YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE

FOR LICENSING
RENEWALS – YOUR VEHICLE DISC & A VALID INSURANCE CERTIFICATE

TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP – A BILL OF SALE, VEHICLE DISC SIGNED BY THE SELLER, VERIFICATION OF CHASIS CHECKED BY POLICE & A VALID INSURANCE CERTIFICATE

NEW VEHICLES – A BILL OF SALE/INVOICE, A CUSTOMS IMPORT DOCUMENT, A BILL OF SALE IF IMPORTED BY ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL OR COMPANY & A VALID INSURANCE CERTIFICATE

All first time licensees (Transfer of Ownership or New Vehicle Purchase) are required to pay a one-time fee of $15.00 for your Title Certificate and $15.00 for your License Plates.
Persons renewing their Vehicle License will pay the normal licensing fee and WILL NOT be charged the additional $30.00 indicated above.
Pre-register online at: www.roadtraffic.gov.bs
Help Desk numbers are: 604-5402, 604-5423 or 604-5424

Same-sex marriage still illegal in The Bahamas
Photos of a traditional wedding involving a Bahamian man and woman were posted on social media last weekend; the civil ceremony was conducted by Deputy Registrar General Ron Pinder. Inaccurate commentary accompanied the photos suggesting that the marriage was same-sex in nature. Mr. Pinder called a press conference at the Salvation Army on Monday to reiterate the marriage laws of the country – specifically the Matrimonial Causes Act. The statement is as follow:

“Statements in relation to the performance in The Bahamas of a same sex marriage over the weekend have come to the attention of the Registrar General.
“In The Bahamas, the Department of the Registrar General is the Government agency of record responsible for issuing marriage licenses. The Registrar General’s Department has never issued a license for a same sex marriage to be solemnized in The Bahamas.
“The Matrimonial Causes Act legislates that a marriage shall be void if the parties are not respectively male and female. Accordingly, any ceremony conducted in The Bahamas, purporting to join in marriage two persons of the same sex would not be recognized as a marriage in accordance with the laws of The Bahamas.”


Prime Minister Christie praises $300,000 donation by Royal Bank of Canada
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie praised the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), on October 25, 2016, for "another wonderful gesture in support of a disaster and its impact" on The Bahamas, in the form of its donation of $300,000 to Hurricane Matthew damage in the region -- inclusive of direct donations of $100,000 to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Bahamas Red Cross, respectively.

"Royal Bank, as indicated, has had a very long and enriching relationship with The Bahamas," Prime Minister Christie said at a press conference at NEMA Headquarters on Gladstone Road.  "It has been the principal banker for The Bahamas Government and has, in that context, played a leadership role throughout the 100-plus years in being able to provide invaluable advice to the Government, as it goes through the different forms of governance, more particularly recently, when we went about going to raise $150 million -- $120 million by way of loan and $30 million by way of bond."

Also present at the presentation were Minister with Responsibility for Hurricane Relief and Restoration the Hon. Shane Gibson; RBC Managing Director Nathaniel Beneby and NEMA Director Captain Stephen Russell.

According to RBC, $50,000 will also be donated to the Canadian Red Cross for The Bahamas and Haiti, and $50,000 to The American Red Cross, respectively.


Road Traffic Department introduces new operating hours
Responding to scores of disgruntled motorists that the roll out of the Road Traffic Department’s new automated system was chaotic and frustrating, the department introduced some new measures to address this issue. The new licensing center is the eastern grandstand of the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium as the Clarence Bain building suffered extensive Hurricane damage.

Effective Thursday, October 27th, 2016 the Department extended its hours of operation from 8am to 8pm Monday through Friday and will open on Saturdays from 10am to 3pm beginning October 29th, 2016. This schedule change is for the benefit of motorists whose licenses expire on the 31st October 2016. The Carmichael Road location is also being relocated due to Hurricane damage.

Additionally, the Department staggered the licensing process based on the surnames of motorists:

“On Thursday, October 27th individuals whose surnames begin with the letters A through G; Friday, October 28th surnames beginning with the letters H through M; Saturday, October 29th surnames beginning with letters N through T and Monday, October 31st surnames beginning with U through Z and all other individuals whose vehicle licenses expire on October 31st” said the statement.  


Parliamentary Commissioner to seek legal advice on low voter registration
While as a guest on a local talk show on Wednesday of this week, Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall confirmed that to date only 55,000 Bahamians or thirty-two percent of the electorate have registered to vote. This number is almost 80,000 less than the same period during the last general election cycle. Voter registration began on 5th October 2015.

In October 2011, over 134,000 Bahamians had registered for the 2012 general elections and ultimately about 172,000 eligible voters were registered.

The Parliamentary Commissioner suggested seeking legal advice on whether it would be lawful to automatically re-register Bahamians for the scheduled 2017 general election who had registered to vote in the 2012 general election.

It is worthy of note that over the last year Bahamians have been preoccupied with recovery and reconstruction in the wake of two devastating storms – Joaquim and Matthew. Joaquim slammed the central and southeast Bahamas in October 2015 and Matthew left significant damage after its passage through the north western Bahamas, especially in North Andros, New Providence and Grand Bahama.

The 2012 voters register expired at midnight on 31st July 2016.


Hanna-Martin responds to Brensil Rolle on automation roll out
Earlier this week, former Road Traffic Controller Brensil Rolle accused the government of duplication of effort in the automation project and slammed the government over what he termed the “chaotic” manner in which the department is rolling out the new $8 million automation system. He said it was the result of “poor management” and a “lack of preparation.” Days later the Minister of Transport and Aviation responded, branding the assertions “patently false” and “irresponsible” and slamming the FNM government for its cancellation of the automation project during its last term in office.

She denied any duplication of efforts, stating that Deloitte and Touche was never contracted by her ministry to carry out any function. She reiterated that the consulting firm Data Torque won the $8 million contract after a competitive and transparent bidding process under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance. The Minister thanked her staff for their hard work and professionalism during the roll out process.

The Minister assured motorists that the department expects to distribute license plates by Monday, 31st October 2016.

Hanna-Martin also shot back at Rolle, charging that the record showed that the FNM halted the automation project after coming to office “and for five years allowed the department to languish with all of its inefficiencies and leakage of revenue.”   


In passing...
BPL reported this week that it had restored electricity to approximately 96 per cent of its customers in New Providence and has substantially completed restoration efforts in North and Central Andros. The claim however by BPL of restoring electricity to 100% of customers in North Andros was disputed by the Administrator for North Andros.
The group at the centre of the Renward Wells Letter of Intent (LOI) controversy rejected an ex-Cabinet Minister’s alleged $100,000 demand for sending a solitary letter to the Government over its waste-to-energy proposal. Stellar Energy, in legal documents detailing its claim for $727,364 in damages, claimed that Algernon Allen and his law firm sent them a $100,000 invoice after sending Mr. Wells a letter that obtained “an encouraging reply”.
A nine-fold improvement in job seeker placement rates is being targeted by a $50 million initiative that aims to overhaul skills training and employments preparation in The Bahamas. The project, which will be funded 50/50 by matching contributions from the Government and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), aims to improve the Department of Labor’s job seeker rate from the current 2 percent to 18 percent.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) President Obie Ferguson praised the Attorney General’s decision to drop charges against five union executives at the Sandals Royal Bahamian resort, describing the move as “a step in the right direction”.

Employees at Sandals Emerald Bay Great Exuma will not be laid off or made redundant because of the resort’s temporary closure until December 15 for repairs due to Hurricane Matthew, according to resort General Manager Jeremy Mutton.

The Freedom of Information Bill, which was intended to be tabled in the House of Assembly this month, is now scheduled to be brought to Parliament before the end of the year. According to a statement from Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald, he met with the Freedom of Information committee early last week, which provided him with a copy of a report following their wide consultation.

FNM Chairman Sidney Collie joined Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe and Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins in expressing their full support for a national lottery.

There may only be one Junkanoo Parade this upcoming season as a result of damage caused by Hurricane Matthew, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Dr. Daniel Johnson said.

Kenred Dorsett, Minister of the Environment and Housing, has taken “grave exception” to recent comments made by Renew Bahamas Ltd. He has issued a statement revealing that his ministry has sought legal advice on the Renew contract and that it was the ministry, not Renew that recommended the “full takeover of operations at the New Providence Landfill by the Department of Environmental Health Services.” Minister Dorsett also temporarily waived dumping fees at the public landfill in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

A group of community leaders and volunteers last week opened a temporary community school aimed at continuing the education of the students of all ages, while Government schools remain closed due to the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew.  

Saint Mary’s University and the Ministry of Education have announced a renewable four-year scholarship aimed at Bahamian grade 12 public high school students.

Advancing its recent move to acquire a 65 percent majority equity stake in a rival web shop, Island Luck last Friday (21st October) hosted a job fair, with a view to fully staff the new operation within the coming weeks.

Officials at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China donated building materials to assist with the completion of the Geriatric Hospital’s Therapeutic Lawn Project at Sandilands Rehabilitation Center on Friday.

Local actuary Marcus J. Bosland has pointed to the decision by Trinidad and Tobago to create its Heritage and Stabilization Fund to “cushion the impact” or sustain public expenditure capacity during periods of revenue downturn, and said such an approach is “quite applicable to The Bahamas”.

The Bahamas’ two trade union bodies are calling on Prime Minister Christie to facilitate negotiations with Sandals Royal Bahamian for the reinstatement of all terminated union officers, along with the other workers released back in August. In a joint statement from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the National Congress of Trade Unions (NCTU), under the Joint Labour Movement (JLM) banner, the groups reiterated calls for the Government to immediately pass legislation to protect Bahamian workers from sudden mass redundancies. 

BPL CEO Pam Hill consistently refuses to be pinned down on how much money BPL needs to get the utility’s operations to what she would call “normal”. Her words came as BPL is tasked with recovering from a category four hurricane, with a system that is already stressed in its attempt to provide reliable power generation, transmission and distribution.

Former Attorney General Alfred this week called on Bahamians to “join our revolution” as he unveiled his road map for the modernization of the PLP and the country. The leadership platform document details the leader-hopeful’s plan to revolutionize the country’s economic, cultural and social status quo through transformative initiatives that draw on core values of stewardship and accountability in governance.

As the debate continued in and out of social media about delaying the scheduled November national convention of the governing Progressive Liberal Party, PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts said on Thursday that the party’s National General Council voted to postpone the convention until late January or early February 2017. Councilors also learned at the meeting that the ratification of Exuma and Ragged Island I. Chester Cooper was also postponed because of the unavailability of party leader and Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie.

Addressing criticisms of his appointment of Minister of Labor Shane Gibson as National Coordinator for the hurricane restoration process as being “too political,” Prime Minister Christie said responded this week that Gibson will be accountable to Cabinet and the House of Assembly, and ultimately will be “judged on the basis of what he does”.

After being closed for nearly three weeks, public schools in New Providence, Grand Bahama and Central Andros will reopen today, with the exception of Government High School in the capital and Walker Parker Primary in Grand Bahama, which were hit the hardest by Hurricane Matthew.

Rebuild Bahamas spent $573,926 helping to reconstruct or restock businesses in five islands and re-float fishing vessels in the southern Bahamas devastated by Hurricane Joaquin. 

The North Andros economy may have suffered $20-$30 million in losses as a result of Hurricane Matthew, the Chamber’s chief executive said yesterday.

Sandals Royal Bahamian executives said yesterday that they expect the resort to be at “practically full” occupancy by early November, with the property set for a ‘soft opening’ today just over two months after undertaking $4 million worth of renovations.

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Hubert Chipman said yesterday the committee’s long awaited report on Urban Renewal is expected be tabled on November 2.

The Bahamas ranked 114th out of 183 countries in ‘employment and opportunity’ for young people, according to the Global Youth Development Index and Report 2016.

On average, 84 percent of licensees regulated by the Central Bank of The Bahamas (CBOB) experienced a decline in total Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR), and 95 percent of licensees would meet regulatory requirements in respect of minimum CAR under the Basel II/III framework.

Baha Mar’s Claims Committee Chairman James Smith and Bahamian businesses owed money by the resort are responding slower than expected to the call to submit necessary documents in order to receive ex-gratia payments made available by the EXIM Bank of China. This comes as the Claims Committee has completed one goal, paying the 2,000 or so former Bahamian employees of Baha Mar who were terminated last year, giving the workers the salaries, severance pay, accrued vacation pay and notice payments due to termination that was owed to them.

Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation Chairman Gowon Bowe cautioned all against sensationalizing the $600 million price tag attached to damage estimates from hurricane Matthew. Mr. Bowe explained that the figure was a catch-all figure that did not take into account insurance coverage or that the government was not responsible for the total restoration of residences and businesses.

The government signed a $20 million contract on Thursday with Finnish company Vaisala for the phased acquisition of four Doppler radars to be strategically installed through our chain of islands to provide more accurate data to the Meteorology Department about weather systems that could potentially threaten The Bahamas.

On Thursday evening the Free National Movement ratified six candidates to contest the 2017 general elections. There are Dionisio D’Aguilar (Montague); Lanisha Rolle (Sea Breeze); Reece Chipman (Centerville); Carlton Bowleg (North Andros and the Berry Islands); Travis Robinson (Bain and Grants Town); and Raymond Rolle (Englerston).   

The Acting Assistant Secretary in the US State Department for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mari Carmen Aponte visited The Bahamas this week and on Friday she held meetings with Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie; Hurricane Czar and Labour Minister the Hon. Shane Gibson; National Security Minister the Hon. Bernard J. Nottage and Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell.

As part of National Youth Month, the Youth Parliamentary debate was held on Friday morning at the House of Assembly on the benefits and evil of social media and the problem of violence among our youth. On Friday evening, the YOUTH FEVER talent show was held at Mario’s Bowling Alley and Entertainment Palace.


Please come out and show your support for our youth as they participate in our annual youth march scheduled for Sunday, 30th October 2016 beginning at Clifford Park on West Bay Street. 

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