Sunday, November 13, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas: 7 - 11 November 2016


Commentary by Elcott Coleby

This Week in Parliament
The Bahamas Parliament (Lower House) met on Monday of this week to debate and pass the Construction Contractors Bill; the Bill’s sponsor was Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis.

The Construction Contractors Bill 2016 was tabled for first reading on the 13th July 2016 by Minister Davis. The bill is historic in that for the first time in the history of The Bahamas, legal provisions are being made for the registration and licensing of construction contractors in an industry that accounts for ten percent of the country’s GDP.

Clause four of the Bill seeks to establish a ten member Construction Contractors Board, including the Director of Public Works ex officio; one registered general contractor appointed by the Minister; six other registered contractors appointed by the Minister on the advice of the Association; and two non contractors, appointed by the Minister acting in his discretion.

Clause five stipulates that each board member can serve a maximum of three one year terms, with each tern ending on 31st December. Clause 6 addresses the assignment of rules for frequency of meetings and accommodations etc; clause 7 deals with the provision of a Registrar and staff; and clause 8 lays out the functions of the Contractors Board.

The Construction Contractors Bill 2016 was unanimously passed in the Lower House on Monday evening.


In responding to questions and inquiries from the opposition about the slow pace that relief is reaching those affected by Hurricane Matthew, Minister D. Shane Gibson told the House that assessments have to be conducted first. The assessments are followed by a scope of work, a cost analysis and a request for quotation for goods, services and scope of works before any funds could be disbursed. He said that this process takes time if it is to be executed properly. 

Prime Minister Christie took the opportunity to address public commentary about media reports of an alleged $2.1 billion involving the government of The Bahamas and Chinese investors. He accused opposition leader Dr. Hubert Minnis of creating “hysteria” in the public domain over Chinese investment. The Prime Minister called for an elevation in our national discussions, putting things in proper context “and not allow our people to hysterically deal with an issue that is a non-issue to start off with.”

In chronicling the relationship between the FNM government and the Chinese, Mr. Christie said the China EXIM Bank was brought here by the FNM government. “They gave a contract on the Nassau Airport Gateway road contract” and “they gave a harbor contract to develop a harbor in North Abaco…” said the Prime Minister in explaining that it was the FNM who brought the Chinese to The Bahamas in the first place but are now trying to blame his government and create public hysteria.    

The University of The Bahamas is chartered
It was a forty-year journey in the making and on Thursday of this week, the College of The Bahamas received its formal charter to university status. Thousands came out to mark the historic occasion, filled with pomp and pageantry.

Delivering the keynote address at the university’s charter ceremony was Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie who stressed that the core role of a national university goes beyond instilling knowledge of certain subjects, but is essential in shaping a nation’s identity. Mr. Christie spoke with optimism and confidence about the role of the university in the implementation of the country’s first National Development Plan and the positive outcomes of the research and development that are to come.

The Prime Minister paid tribute to all of the university’s principals and presidents from Dr. Keva Bethel to Jeanine Hodder and the current president whose collective work and vision over the past forty years have brought the country’s premier tertiary institution to this major accomplishment in the life of the institution and the country.  

Minister of Education, Science and Technology the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald who was given carriage of this historic transition, proudly proclaimed Nassau a “great city” because of the University of The Bahamas. The Minister boldly summed up the inextricable link between and the critical importance of the University of The Bahamas to the future growth, success and sustainability of The Bahamas with this profound statement:

“There can be no doubt that our country’s future growth, success and sustainability will be inextricably linked to the University of The Bahamas. In fact I would go further and say our future is dependent on the University of The Bahamas.”

In addressing those in attendance, University President Dr. Rodney Smith announced plans to build a $20 million student center complete with a theater and production studio. Mr. and Mrs. Franklyn Wilson would chair the fund raising committee to finance the construction. He further said that he would seek approval from the University Board of Governors to have the center named in honour of Senator Sharon Wilson. The president also challenged the university community to “challenge the status quo, inspire invention and pave solutions for tomorrow’s challenges.”

OAG Launches New Online Notary Application System
Just one week after the Attorney General announced that Marriage Officers and Justices of the Peace are listed online, Senator Maynard-Gibson announced the launch of a new
online Notary Application System, pointing out that all licensed Notaries Public would be listed on the Office of the Attorney General’s website by the end of 2016.

Senator Maynard-Gibson made the announcement at a press conference at her office on Thursday afternoon of this week.

“I am happy to announce that we have exceeded our own expectations. Tomorrow, Friday November 12th, this system will be available for the use of Notaries Public and the list of licensed Notaries Public will also be easily accessible for the Bahamian public online.”

“This new online Notary Application System represents yet another bold step toward the digitalization of essential government services; the modernization of processes in the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Legal Affairs; and the enhancement of the ease of doing business in The Bahamas.” According to Legal Affairs Minister, her advice is that this technological advancement “makes The Bahamas the first country in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to implement a system of this kind.”   

She revealed her intent to ask for “a small increase in the notary fee so that we may reinvest in our hardware and software to enable us to be cutting edge as we serve the public” as her ministry works toward having “an entirely online Registrar General’s Department” as stated in 2012.


Gray calls Minnis a ‘hypocrite’ over call for his resignation
Agriculture Minister V. Alfred Gray on Wednesday called the FNM Leader Dr. Minnis a “hypocrite” after Minnis called for his resignation over a $2.1bn agri-fisheries proposal with Chinese investors. He accused Dr. Minnis of being party to a 2009 “secret deal” between the FNM and Chinese officials for the “agricultural development” in Abaco involving the lease of over ten thousand acres of land, 1,354 Chinese workers and 167 Bahamian workers.

He was speaking to reporters at a press conference at his ministry.

Minister Gray told reporters that contrary to media reports, no discussions have been initiated with potential Chinese investors over the proposed $2.1bn agri-fisheries project for Andros and the so called proposal was just some ideas advanced by the Bahamas Ambassador to China.

He believed that the initiative would likely have “complemented” the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) and suggested that the $2.1bn proposed China-Bahamas agriculture and fisheries initiative is still on the table. He did however express concern that the Chinese may discontinue investments in the country in the wake of widespread criticism over their involvement in local investment.

When asked about concerns by Bahamians that more economic opportunities are being given to foreigners than Bahamians, the Agriculture Minister said he has issued almost 400 leases to Bahamians for agriculture development in the last three to four years as he believed more can be done to engage Bahamians in pursuing more economic opportunities in the domestic economy.



IN PASSING…
The Gaming Board issued a public notice advising the public that ASUE DRAW +SPIN was ceasing operations and all lottery winnings and account balances would be paid out under the supervision of the Gaming Board between 7th and 13th November.

The Bahamas National Trust has spoken out against a $2.1bn proposed agriculture and fisheries partnership with China, saying it has previously expressed its reservations for such an initiative to government officials. The Bahamas National Trust was one of the agencies that the Bahamas Ambassador to China consulted with during his information gathering exercise on the Chinese investment initiative.

The government of The Bahamas has announced an extension to its deadline for entities wishing to submit a proposal for the provisions of services as a public insurer as part of the NHI Scheme.

The attorney for Caribbean Music Festival Ltd has said it is regrettable that the internal affairs of his client’s dealings with the Ministry of Tourism have “contentiously” made it into the public domain, adding that “every penny received from the Government and spent can be accounted for and verified.”

Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall has accepted legal advices that will allow Bahamians to use their voter cards from previous elections to register to vote for next year’s general election without requiring a passport or birth certificate unless the commissioner specifically demands that one be produced. 

Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe is among the speakers at a global industry summit in London involving government officials and private sector companies this week. Ministers of Tourism from over 50 countries will convene at the Ministers Summit organized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the World Travel Markey London to discuss safe, secure and seamless travel.

In the wake of the Auditor General’s report on the operations of the Port Department, its Controller announced this week that he has been taking steps to address the “shortfalls” and “loopholes” that resulted in it failing to collect almost $5 million in due revenues, its Controller has pledged.

The Auditor General has urged the Port Department to assess alternative options for its tug boat fleet, branding the over $600,000 spent on repairs as “exorbitant” and not necessarily providing tax payers with ‘value for money’. 

International investors may think twice about doing business in The Bahamas if the country continued to slide on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index.  According to President of The Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) Darnell Osborne, there are certain standards that investors expect regarding the ease of doing business.

A claim by five Bahamians that their lives are in danger because of their political advocacy had claims upheld by the IACHR. A petition made on behalf of Fred Smith, Francisco Nunez, Joseph Darville, Kirkland Bodie and Romauld Ferreira by the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) last month asked that the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) request that The Bahamas Government adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to their lives. The government stated that the claim was turned over to the police for investigation but the petitioners did not cooperate with the police investigation. The government also promised to issue a comprehensive response.

Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell has confirmed that his ministry is investigating reports that 23 Brazilians were denied entry into The Bahamas “without any justification” earlier this month. In a press statement, Mr. Mitchell said “the details surrounding the Brazilian nationals are being investigated and the ministry is in contact with the Embassy of Brazil”.

The DNA released the party’s 26 page draft version of a Freedom of Information Act with Deputy Leader Christopher Mortimer daring the Christie administration to muster up the courage to “do what is right for the Bahamian people”.

Bamboo Town Member of Parliament the Hon. Renward Wells has denied giving “an encouraging reply” to the $600-$650 million waste-to-energy proposal at the centre of the Letter of Intent (LOI) controversy, which caused his dismissal from the Government.

The Government denied that Algernon Allen – an ex-Cabinet Minister and businessman – was acting as its “agent or servant” over the $600-$650 million waste-to-energy project at the centre of the Renward Wells LOI controversy. 

With a new president in the White House, many Bahamians will be watching closely to see how policies driven by the incoming American commander-in-chief could impact The Bahamas. However, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell yesterday said there is “no need to worry” in that regard.

Amid fears of “heavy Chinese involvement” in local investments, Minister of Environment and Housing Kenred Dorsett sought to assure the public that there is “no need to panic”, especially concerning the approval for The Bahamas Embassy in China to have discussions with the Chinese government on a $2.1bn proposal for an agri-fisheries project in Andros.

Restoration efforts at the Grand Bahama Shipyard Limited (GBSL) are moving rapidly and the company is currently repairing six ships in the yard with 954 employees, according to Prime Minister Christie.

The Port Lucaya Marketplace are among a number of businesses that are now open for business and thousands of visitors were out shopping and dining in the restaurants this week – a welcomed sight for merchants and straw vendors in Lucaya.  

Canadian fashion designer has abandoned his bid to subpoena Prime Minister Christie to give evidence in committal proceedings against him in the Supreme Court.

Vouchers earmarked for victims of Hurricane Matthew for the purchase of building materials to repair their storm damaged homes will be issued by the end of this week, said National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Director Stephen Russell.

As the Parliamentary Registration Department continues to observe sluggish movement in the number of people registering for the 2017 general election, registration in the Family Islands lags far behind than in New Providence and Grand Bahama.

Officials from the Department of Forestry asserted the need to “maximize” the economic benefits of large volumes of forest on islands like North Andros, which currently hosts harvestable acreage worth an estimated $12.7 million.

The Baha Mar Claims Committee has issued about 200 cheques to Bahamian companies owed by the resort, Committee Chairman James Smith said this week. The pace at which companies have submitted their claims, however, remain slow as this figure represents 50% of expectations.

Bahamas Public Services Union President John Pinder again threatened industrial action if the Government does not immediately relocate employees from the “unsanitary” General Post Office on East Hill Street. 

Doctors have had to wait up to six months to receive payment for treating public sector patients due to delays in obtaining Tax Compliance Certificates, the Medical Association of the Bahamas President revealed this week. Dr. Sy Pierre said that the payment woes were exacerbating his members’ concern over the proposed NHI program, especially given that the latter’s information technology (IT) system has yet to be sourced and implemented.

The Government has extended the deadline for bids to operate the NHI public insurer for a second time to November 21, in a bid to ensure Bahamian groups are not “disadvantaged” by Hurricane Matthew. The bid deadline has already been extended once, from August 22 to November 7, and the Christie administration has now granted interested parties a further two weeks.

Attorney Keod Smith has been given an extra month to pay $263,000 in legal costs that stemmed from a recusal application where he accused a Supreme Court judge of bias. Justice Rhonda Bain had been asked by the environmental group Save The Bays (STB) to give Mr. Smith additional time to pay the costs awarded to them in December 2014 when the judge found the lawyer guilty of contempt for the “scandalizing” affidavits he had filed which undermined the integrity of the judge and the judicial system.    

Responding to Donald Trump’s presidential victory on Tuesday and subsequent presidency, Prime Minister Christie said that the relationship between the US and The Bahamas remains strong, and that he expects The Bahamas to benefit from the successful implementation of Mr. Trump’s economic policies but he is taking a wait and see attitude.

Commenting on the November 8 US Presidential election, James Smith, former State Minister of Finance said that Donald Trump’s election won’t have much impact here.

The Grand Bahama Port Authority has announced the introduction of a Business Rental Assistance Programme to help displaced business licensees who suffered significant losses from Hurricane Matthew when various rented buildings were destroyed.

Sarah St. George, Vice-Chairman of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) has commended the Grand Bahama Power Company for the significant progress it has made in restoring power to the hurricane-ravaged island, reporting that 90 percent of customers were energized as of Tuesday evening.

The Melia Nassau Beach Hotel raised more than $90,000 for Hurricane Matthew relief though the Melia CARES initiative coupled with the resort’s employee relief donations.

Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall indicated on Thursday that the Parliamentary Registration Department is troubled by the “extremely low” voter registration numbers.  He strongly encouraged eligible voters to register as soon as possible.

CEO of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) Edison Sumner said the chamber will be monitoring the policies of the United States’ President-elect Donald Trump regarding investments, immigration, financial/corporate services and the offshore sector.

President of the Bahamas Financial Services Board Tanya McCartney has asserted the need to facilitate an environment that is conducive to the ease of doing business. She believes that if this is not done, The Bahamas will become less attractive to foreign investors.

Employees at the One & Only Ocean Club resort may return to work ahead of the luxury resort’s Valentine’s Day 2017 reopening date for “training” purposes, Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union President Nicole Martin said yesterday.

The Anglican Central Education Authority (ACEA) has launched “Together We Make the Difference”, a relief fund to raise $50,000 for repairs and lost school supplies.

Sun Oil Ltd. donated $50,000 to NEMA to assist in hurricane relief and recovery efforts.
                                                                                                                                     

NewCo, the second company to secure a cellular license in The Bahamas officially opened its administrative office on Friday of the week. Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie delivered the keynote address and cut the ceremonial ribbon.

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