Saturday, December 17, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas, 12 – 16 Dec. 2016


Commentary by Elcott Coleby

This week in Parliament
The Lower House met on Monday and Wednesday of this week to debate five pieces of legislation as the government nears the end of its legislative agenda.

The Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie on Monday advised House members that Baha Mar was effectively sold to CTF BM Holdings Ltd., a subsidiary of the Chow Tai Fook Enterprise of Hong Kong. Mr. Christie said that this sale represented a “significant achievement for the Bahamas, and a milestone in the troubled history of the Baha Mar resort.”

Commenting on its economic impact, Mr. Christie said 1,500 jobs will be created immediately with its phased opening in April 2017 with the opening of the casino, the casino hotel, the golf course and the convention center. By December 2017, the employment complement is expected to be between 5,700 and 7,000 jobs. Additionally, the Prime Minister pointed out that the new owner pledged to invest another $200 million into the project to “support pre-opening activities” including the redevelopment of the old Crystal Palace site to include a family oriented theme park.

Further, Baha Mar is anticipated to draw approximately 315,000 additional air passengers annually to The Bahamas, representing a 19 per cent increase over the total visitor arrivals in 2015 said Mr. Christie.

The Prime Minister also pledged that Baha Mar’s buyer will have to undergo normal due diligence requirements, including a “rigorous” investigation with respect to its casino operations.

Speaking to issues of transparency, Mr. Christie assured the House that he would ensure “transparency and accountability” over Baha Mar’s sale by releasing the Heads of Agreement with Baha Mar’s purchaser once it is completed. 

The Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin, Transport and Aviation Minister tabled two bills – one to strengthen the oversight, safety and security of Water Jet Ski and Motor Boat operations, the Water Jet Ski and Motor Boat Control Act and an amendment to the Maritime Act to modernize and strengthen our maritime legislative and regulatory regime, inclusive of outsourcing government operated tugboats.

A Bill for an Act to amend the Trustee Act 2016 and a Bill for an Act to amend the Trusts (Choice of Governing Law) Act 2016 were read for a second time. In her contribution, Financial Services Minister the Hon. Hope Strachan explained that the proposed amendment to the Trustee Act strengthens the existing law as it relates to the administration of Trusts and the proposed amendment to the Trusts Act addresses familial disputes and forced heir ship issues among other weaknesses.

On Wednesday the much anticipated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was tabled for first reading by Minister of Education, Science and Technology the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald who lamented the low level of public participation in the consultation sessions. Additionally, the National Health Insurance Act was amended to facilitate its coming into operations early in 2017 by providing for an administrator.

State Minister for Finance Michael Halkitis advised the House that the final payments to policyholders of the bankrupt and defunct CLICO (Colonial Life Insurance Company) can be expected in January 2017. Between March and June of this year, 3,389 cheques were disbursed to policyholders with claims totaling more than $11 million; payments are ongoing to several hundred more who did not receive payments at that time noted Halkitis. The final payments in January will be in the form of Central Bank issued securities to the tune of $38 million. The bonds are scheduled to mature in 2024.  

New road and seaport for Acklins
Leading a ministerial delegation to Acklins on Thursday was Prime Minister Christie who toured the site of the proposed seaport in Salina Point and thirty-one miles of asphalt road that he said will create jobs and spur economic growth and development on that island.

He was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Davis, National Security Minister Nottage, Agriculture Minister and area MP Gray, Financial Services Minister Strachan and State Minister for Finance Halkitis in addition to other government officials.
The cost of the road works is around $25 million and will employ 10 residents from Acklins and fifteen from Nassau.

Dr. Nottage pointed out that the seaport was also strategic in the fight against irregular migration and illegal poaching as harbor patrols will be intensified with the new harbor.

Hanna-Martin says Potter’s Cay Dock upgrade “80% complete”
With $2.8 million of the $3.2 million budgeted for the Ministry of Transport component of the Potter’s Cay redevelopment project, Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin told the media that the project is 80% complete, a little behind schedule because of Hurricane Matthew but remains on budget.

She was addressing the media during a walkabout to inspect the progress made on the project.

Addressing the issue of security, Hanna-Martin said that the security policy is currently being drafted and that her ministry remains committed to elevating the Potter’s Cay experience to “safe, secure and highly enjoyable” levels. The dock was criticized for having security weaknesses.

“We will bring peculiar port security procedures, mirroring international port procedures and that process is underway now” said the Minister inclusive of “enhanced lighting, CCTV” and 24 hours a day police presence. Additionally, freight handling will be removed from the dockside to a new secure holding facility so that there is no direct access to freight vessels by the general public. The Ministry is being advised by an International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Coordinator as the government looks to align port security to international standards.

Additional amenities to Potter’s Cay are a new freight holding building, additional parking, planters and a boardwalk all designed to enhance security and the visitor experience.


240,000 legal residents registered for NHI
With some 240,000 legal residents registered for National Health Insurance (NHI) and in possession of their blue “smartcards,” NHI Permanent Secretary Peter Deveaux-Isaacs said on Wednesday that the NHI Secretariat has rolled out an ‘NHI-Ready’ campaign targeted at the remaining 100,000 persons not yet registered.

With 200,000 legal residents without health insurance, the government is eyeing an early 2017 rollout date for the primary healthcare component of NHI as it seeks to bring a modern, affordable and accessible healthcare delivery system to all Bahamians.

The Secretariat announced that it will be providing more detailed, specific information to Bahamians in the New Year on the NHI Primary Care Benefits Package -- including what exactly is covered by NHI Bahamas -- such as preventative medicine, laboratory service, imaging and medications.

Dr. Delon Brennen, NHI Project Manager, explained who primary healthcare providers are.

“What that (primary healthcare) means is the providers most people are familiar/comfortable with -- family medicine providers such as general practitioners, paediatricians who provide primary care services, internists, along with OBGYNs (Obstetricians/Gynaecologists) who provide ladies medical services or pre-natal services while women are pregnant,” Dr. Brennen added.


NHI Secretariat outlines NHI payment options
While enrollees in the NHI Plan will have to wait until early 2017 for the details on the NHI benefits package for primary healthcare, National Health Insurance Bahamas officials Wednesday outlined payment options that will be available for registered and certified providers of the programme.

Seventy percent of physicians consulted in New Providence, Grand Bahama and Abaco have indicated that they will sign up as providers under NHI Bahamas; the registration process begins in January 2017.


Physicians will have three reimbursement options to choose from with the first being a Fee-for-Service schedule for primary care providers wherein services will be reimbursed using a simplified fee schedule.

The second option will be the capitation model whereby physicians will be reimbursed for each individual who signs up to be in their panel of patients; capitation payments will allow The Bahamas to move to a value-based incentives driven financing model.

“The proposed NHI Bahamas capitation rates also include a 25 per cent premium compared to the Fee-for-Services model to incentivize primary care physician providers and expedite our journey to a value-based healthcare financing model,” Dr. Brennen added.

A third option is to sign up for the NHI Bahamas maternity care or infant care bundles where physicians will be reimbursed for a package of services that are determined to be essential for pregnant women and infants up to two years of age.

“In addition, we are consulting with non-physician providers and the proposed NHI Bahamas Fee-for-Service rates for their services will be discussed with them in January 2017. Registration for non-physician providers will begin February 2017” said Dr. Brennen.

“The reimbursement model has been designed according to what The Bahamas can afford as a country, and is in alignment with international best practices,” Dr. Brennen said.


Renewable energy announced for public buildings
Fulfilling a promise he made to that public school in his constituency, Southern Shores MP and Environment Minister the Hon. Kenred Dorsett announced this week that the Anatol Rodgers High School will be outfitted with a 300 kW photovoltaic system with storage that will take it completely off the electrical grid. 

This US$667,000 renewable energy project, a grant from the government of Italy, will serve as a blueprint for how other public buildings, especially the more than 150 public schools throughout The Bahamas, can be systematically removed from the electrical grid. “It is also intended that the National Stadium and Swimming Complex, the Botanical Gardens, the Lynden Pindling International Airport and the Office of the Prime Minister will shortly follow with photovoltaic retrofit as funding becomes available” said the Ministry’s statement.

Additional plans call for the Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) Company to install “utility scale renewable sources” within the various Family Islands in a joint venture with the Carbon War Room. The islands identified are Inagua, Eleuthera, Bimini, San Salvador, Andros, Long Island, Exuma, Cat Island, Mayaguana, Crooked Island, Acklins, Moores Island, Ragged Island, Rum Cay, Farmers Cay, Black Point/Staniel Cay, Grand Cay, Abaco, Great Harbour Cay, and Long Cay.

This initiative will allow these islands to rely completely on energy powered by solar with storage.

IMO members strengthen partnerships to protect the marine environment
Under the themes of “Networking” and “enhancing partnerships,” IMO delegates from fifteen participating countries gathered Nassau this week to participate in a workshop on oil spill prevention, containment and general good stewardship and protection of our marine environment and resources.

Speaking with reporters at the LJM Maritime Academy on Coral Island, Minister Hanna-Martin talked about functional cooperation, networking activities and partnerships between governments around shared national interests.

Pointing out that The Bahamas is party to the OPRC and MARPOL Conventions, Hanna-Martin reiterated that these international policy instruments speak specifically to cooperation amongst member states which is crucial in planning and responding to oil spills.

The objective of the workshop is to review and improve national and regional oil spill plans (using the Arpel software) with a view to further strengthen the region's capabilities as each country would be strengthen and better positioned to lend assistance in times of crises of an environmental nature.

The Minister also pointed out that building capacity has been a major focus of the Ministry of Transport and Aviation as evidenced by several training programs undertaken such as shoreline assessment training, shoreline clean-up, waste management, sensitive areas, reception facilities and safety protective equipment.

   
In Passing…
On Sunday Long Island MP Butler-Turner accepted her instruments of appointment to become the first woman to serve as leader of the official Opposition. While she noted the historic first, Butler-Turner stressed that greater significance lay in the conviction expressed by herself and her parliamentary colleagues for a new direction in the country.

Newly appointed official Opposition Leader Butler-Turner named DNA Leader Branville McCartney leader of opposition business in the senate. She told the media later in the week that some of her other appointments would cause reactions or even rejection but declined to name the remaining three because one was currently out of the country.

Officials from BPL have confirmed plans to repair the external structure of the damaged smoke stacks at the company’s Clifton Pier plant.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell has confirmed that investigations into labor disputes at the Grand Bahama Shipyard have been completed by Director of Labour Robert Farquharson. Mitchell received a report on the matter just a few days ago.

Minister of Labor Shane Gibson blamed the “negligence” of hotel union officials for the termination of 61 people from One & Only Ocean Club last week. Gibson expressed disappointment in assertions from union officials that the Government was not doing enough for the terminated workers.

The Central Bank has sponsored interactions between the Gaming Board and commercial bank compliance officers to highlight the level of anti-money laundering monitoring and controls that exist in web shops, its governor says.

FNM Leader Dr. Minnis confirmed on Monday that the FNM has started to search for a new Long Island candidate to represent the party in the 2017 general election. The seat is currently held by Butler-Turner who is one of seven FNM MPs who ousted the Killarney MP last week as leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Assembly. He made the announcement at a rally at party headquarters on Wednesday night. During his speech he promised that when he is prime minister he will produce a minimum of 1,000 entrepreneurs a year and tax-free zones in the inner city.

BTC has advised that restoration efforts in Grand Bahama continues to be compromised as there has been increased theft of equipment on the island.

The Department of Immigration issued a statement on Tuesday evening indicating that a recent statement on social media and reported by ZNS news about the offer of rewards by the department for information leading to the arrest of illegal migrants is “patently false.” “It is not an announcement from the Department of Immigration or any government agency and should be ignored and not circulated” said the statement.

A school bus transporting 24 Saint John’s College students on Tuesday overturned near Baha  Mar when the driver reportedly suffered a blackout. The passengers suffered minor bruises and cuts but nobody was seriously injured.

Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation Chairman Gowon Bowe called for critics anxious for details over the Baha Mar sale to be patient, as a final agreement has not been brokered.

Twenty workers at the Freeport Container Port were laid off and voluntary separation packages were offered as a part of a downsizing exercise at the company due to significant hurricane damage and the substantial loss of container business.

After one week of meetings that ended on Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said the fiscal deficit for year to end-June 2016 was twice what the Christie administration had projected, and urged it to make “more determined efforts to rationalize spending.” Additionally, the Fund said that “despite significant damage by Hurricane Matthew, growth is expected to resume next year, supported by construction activity and work toward completion of Baha Mar resort”.

BPL will initially be allowed to “undervalue” the price it pays to purchase renewable energy generated by its residential customers, according to proposals released yesterday. The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), in unveiling the public consultation on BPL’s plans to facilitate small-scale renewable generation, said the utility monopoly is proposing to purchase power via a ‘net billing’ arrangement.

BPL residential customers should be able to install grid-tied renewable energy systems by the end of January 2017, the Utilities Regulation & Competition Authority’s top executive said on Tuesday.

Speaker of the House of Assembly Dr. Kendal Major on Tuesday questioned the extent of the “understanding” between DNA Leader Branville McCartney and newly appointed Opposition Leader Butler-Turner, saying it is very interesting but unlikely to last, as “something has to give”.

House Speaker Dr. Kendall Major, who is Chairman of the Constituencies Commission, admitted on Wednesday that the commission has not completed its work and would, if needed, labor over the Christmas recess to finish its report. He said it is the group’s intention to table and debate its report at the first sitting of Parliament in January 2017.

Despite some $27.5m in power restoration costs post Hurricane Matthew, Grand Bahama Port Authority Vice-Chairman Sarah St. George announced that there will be no rate increase to consumers in Grand Bahama.

More than 46 per cent of the Bank of The Bahamas’ $510 million loan portfolio is now impaired with ‘bad’ credit extended to business customers exceeding the sum that remains current.

The Contractors Bill 2016 was finally passed on Monday, marking a historical move in The Bahamas for the construction sector. This particular piece of legislation encompasses necessary regulation of the construction sector and has been in the works for almost 20 years.

While saying the FNM is pleased that the Christie administration has finally tabled the Freedom of Information legislation in Parliament, FNM Leader Dr. Minnis called the move a “political ploy” to save face.

The newly-appointed House Opposition leader said on Thursday that she will now head the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) saying: “There’s so much to get our teeth into I don’t know where to start.”

Aliv is expected to gain significant market share by the end of 2017, with revenue anticipated to increase rapidly. The new mobile service will be the primary revenue “surge” for the cable company addition to the steady growth of CBL’s REV products in The Bahamas and Summit Broadband revenues in Florida.

According to senior Bahamian engineer Hammond Rahming, Long Island needs a proper water supply in order to improve the state of the island’s economy, which is “seriously depressed”. Also, Tyrone Sawyer blamed “misalignments” in airlifts to the Bahamas for the flat stopover arrivals in Long Island that have increased by only 5% in nine years. Both men were presenters at the recent Long Island Business Outlook.

Spongers in Andros are set to benefit from local resurgence in the sponging industry, thanks to a project funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Government, which is focused on boosting economic growth and generating economic benefits.

At just 70,000, voter registration is still sluggish, according to Parliamentary Commissioner Sherilyn Hall, who expressed hope for surge in registration numbers early next year. He noted that the country was now in the Christmas season, and as such, he did not expect to see much of an increase in the coming weeks. Prime Minister Christie promised an aggressive voter registration drive in the coming weeks.  

About 150 students in Grand Bahama attended a pre-Christmas party and gift giving hosted by the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association at the Freeport Harbour.


A succinct letter to the editor entitled ‘Note of appreciation’ speaks of the relief that Prime Minister Christie and Allyson Maynard-Gibson secured for Bahamian employees and creditors to receive a full relief from Baha Mar. The author suggested that while some may have felt entitled, it would have been different if Chapter 11 was claimed. 

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