Saturday, December 10, 2016

This Week in The Bahamas Dec. 5 – 9 2016


Commentary by Elcott Colby

This week in Parliament
The House of Assembly met on Wednesday of this week to table and debate the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information Bill, 2016. What transpired shortly after the Lower House convened took every honourable House member save for seven by complete surprise.

Reading a letter delivered to him by certain members of the opposition, House speaker the Hon. Dr. Kendal Major read into the House records a request of the Governor General by seven opposition members to remove opposition leader the Hon. Dr. Hubert Minnis from that statute post and replace him with Long Island MP the Hon. Loretta Butler-Turner. The letter referred to Aritcle 82(4) of The Bahamas Constitution as justification for this unprecedented move. The seven members felt that Dr. Minnis was unfit to lead the organization; he was ineffective and a failure as the opposition leader and the caucus had lost confidence in his ability to lead them.

The letter was signed by Butler-Turner, Dr. Andre Rollins (Fort Charlotte), Richard Lightbourn (Montague), Hubert Chipman (Saint Annes), Theo Neilly (North Eleuthera), Neko Grant (Central Grand Bahama) and Edison Key (South Abaco).

In his response to the House, Killarney MP and opposition leader conceded that he was caught off guard by the political ambush and said he was “saddened” that colleagues were prepared to “subvert democracy and take their way because they could not get their way in a democratic process.”

Speaking of the multiple leadership votes at the party level (the latest taking place in July of this year), Dr. Minnis said “we had gone through a democratic process within our organization, but we had individuals who attempted to subvert that democratic process.”

He called the group of seven “rebels,” stating that he was still the captain as he asserted that “democracy will always rule in The Bahamas. As I stand here as the leader of the opposition until they carry the letter to the Governor General, the leader of the Free National Movement, who was democratically elected to such a position, the FNM will democratically move toward a democratic electoral process.”

As for the bill, the mover was State Minister for Finance the Hon. Michael Halkitis and it was seconded by the Minister for Financial Services and Local Government the Hon. Hope Strachan. The bill effectively facilitates the implementation of the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) and due diligence for financial account information on tax matters as driven by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Bahamas is committed to implementing the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) standard by December 2018 with the first automatic exchange of tax information scheduled to take place no later than September 2018.  

In her contribution to the bill, Minister for Financial Services and Local Government the Hon. Hope Strachan revealed to the House that the government had selected the implementation taskforce to facilitate this automatic exchange of tax information. Stakeholders include the host Ministry – the Ministry of Finance; the coordinating Ministry – the Ministry of Financial Services; the Office of the Attorney General; the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) and other industry representatives.

Fox Hill MP and Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell stood on a point of privilege to respond to specific allegations contained in an article published under the name of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. about Ministers of the Bahamas Government. In the article posted on the website EcoWatch, it is alleged, in part, that “developer-friendly Cabinet ministers are attacking the rule of law, stomping on privacy rights, and savaging judges, lawyers and environmental and human rights organizations”.

He told House members that the article in question resulted from allegations made in the House that the organization which calls itself Save The Bays (STB) is being funded by monies from a foreign national designed to destabilize the government of The Bahamas. Mitchell “categorically” denied that he or any minister of the Government “hacked into any emails” or attempted to have environmentalists from Save The Bays (STB) arrested.

Mr. Mitchell denounced the allegations in the statement as materially false, defamatory against government ministers and told House members that the matter had been referred to the House Committee on Privilege for further investigation because that Committee has an obligation to follow the money trail and see what the real objectives of Save The Bays are.

In other parliamentary news, the four senators appointed by Dr. Hubert Minnis resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the letter of revocation signed by seven dissenting parliamentarians from the Opposition caucus. Tendering their resignations were senators Dr. Duane Sands, Carl Bethel, Kwasi Thompson and Monique Gomez.


Government eyes equality for the sight impaired with ICT’s
“ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) are making a positive impact on our ease of doing business efforts and sight and hearing impaired persons are helping us in these efforts” asserted Attorney General Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson as she addressed the ICT for Persons with Disabilities Workshop this week.

“Our team at the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs uses the JAWS software. And the team at the Registrar General’s Department uses technology that enables sight impaired people to see clearly computer screens.”
 
“The US State Courts, the IDB and the Erin Gilmour School for the Blind are working with us to use ICTs to train sight impaired persons as digital transcriptionists.  We have asked that the digital transcription solution for our courts include the capacity for sight impaired persons to be transcriptionists” said the Attorney General.

With New Providence designated the first SMART Island in this hemisphere by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Minister Maynard-Gibson heralded the participation of persons with disabilities in this transformation, envisioning the day when a division of the Salvation Army will transcribe court documents.

In articulating the government’s vision for a digitally enhanced society, the Attorney General stressed the principle of inclusion, free from barriers.

“The Government’s vision is for the creation of a society in which being digitally connected is a way of life”…”It is important, therefore, that people benefit on an equal basis from the development of technology to ensure that they access an information society that is inclusive and free from barriers.”

The workshop was held at the Melia Nassau Beach Hotel on Thursday, the 8th December 2016.


Christie highlights aviation sector reform at ICAN conference
This 9th International Civil Aviation Negotiation (ICAN) meeting was both ironic and historic. The site was the original location of the country’s first international airport called the Oakes Field Airport that received its international designation 70 years ago, at an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1946. As Prime Minister Christie reflected on the country’s long-standing relationship with ICAO on Monday, he apprised the more than 800 delegates from 100 member countries and 10 ICAO’s on the comprehensive aviation sector reform currently underway in The Bahamas.  

“The Bahamas Air Transport Sector Reform Initiative, funded through an IDB loan programme, is already yielding results and will ultimately produce extensive, comprehensive reform of the Bahamas Aviation Transport Sector. This, ladies and gentlemen, is another example of my Government’s commitment to building a modern and stronger Bahamas. 

“As part of the reform” said Mr. Christie, “we have embarked on a series of institutional and organizational strengthening measures that will significantly improve the regulatory oversight, management and operation of Civil Aviation in the country. These measures are manifested through the organizational structural adjustments and will create an operation that removes the perception of conflict of interest that existed in the role that the Civil Aviation Department performed. The Civil Aviation Department functioned both as the regulator and, also, as the service provider of the industry.”


Hanna-Martin: Air service agreements “will impact our tourism sector”
Also addressing delegates at the opening ceremony of the 9th International Civil Aviation Organization Air Services Negotiation Event (ICAN2016), December 5, 2016, at the Kendal G. L. Isaacs Gymnasium on Monday was Minister of Transport and Aviation the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin.

The Minister told delegates that the new air service agreements signed during the meetings will not only open new windows of opportunities to the world but will positively impact the nation’s tourism sector and by extension the economic health of The Bahamas.

“The Bahamas will negotiate new agreements which open new windows of opportunities into the world,” said Minister Hanna-Martin. “This will not only mean opportunities in the aviation sector but also will impact our tourism sector as it would facilitate the movement of people, which is germane to the economic health of our country.”

During the five-day negotiation conference, the Government of the Bahamas signed agreements with Qatar, Singapore, New Zealand, Curacao, Brazil, and Kuwait. Two other agreements were recently signed with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates earlier this year in Canada and The Bahamas commenced negotiations with twenty additional countries during the conclave.

The negotiation sessions of the five-day conclave, December 5-9, were held at the National Stadium and the plenary sessions were held at the Kendal G.L. Isaacs Gymnasium. This is the second time the event is being held in the Western Hemisphere: Jamaica was the host country for the conference in 2010.


PM touts significant economic benefits of Baha Mar’s imminent opening
Prime Minister Christie delivered the keynote address at the 2016 Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Christmas luncheon on Friday, 2nd December 2016. He praised the lifelong work of the association’s head, Stuart Bowe, before outlining the significant economic impact the imminent opening of Baha Mar promises to have on The Bahamas.

“My Government has been working to ensure that there will be continuous employment opportunities in the tourism sector for our young people over the ensuing years, starting with the imminent hiring of 1500 employees at Baha Mar early in the New Year. This is to facilitate the phased opening of 1800 rooms at the conference and casino hotel, the casino, convention centre and golf course, and employment of up to 3,300 by August 2017 and 4,300 by December 2017, when all components have been completed and opened.

“CTF (Chow Tai Fook) is planning to invest an additional $200 million in pre-opening festivities, the development of family amenities, entertainment and offshore island facilities and demolition and redevelopment of the former Crystal Palace Hotel. With these additional investments completed, the project will have created 5,700 new direct jobs and an additional 4,160 indirect and induced jobs” said the Prime Minister to hoteliers.

Mr. Christie confirmed that over 500 workers are currently on site at Baha Mar with a specific timetable for completion, ensuring an on-time completion of those properties in April 2017 and by December 2017.


In Passing…
Despite three island-wide blackouts and frequent supply disruptions in the past few days, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis has said he has “no regrets” handing over the day-to-day operations of the former BEC to PowerSecure. Mr. Davis, who is also the Minister of Works, said he thinks BPL is “meeting its mandate” and blamed the constant power outages on “aged machines”.

National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB) President Bernard Evans said on Sunday that the union would not participate in any “national strike” initiated by organizers of ‘We March Bahamas’. However, Mr. Evans, who is also the President of the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) said he is willing to sit with lead organizer Ranard Henfield and his team to discuss past and future protests.

Newly elected National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB) Vice-President Paul Maynard said on Sunday that his first priority is “immediately to force” Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Scotiabank to “allow their employees to be unionized”. 

Bahamians will have to swallow “a very bitter pill” after the upcoming general election, according to a former Cabinet Minister yesterday who warned consumers to brace for electricity cost hikes and more BPL blackouts.  Phenton Neymour, who had ministerial responsibility for BPL’s predecessor, BEC, stated that energy cost increases were unavoidable if the utility was to be rescued.

Ranard Henfield, lead organizer of the ‘We March Bahamas’ protest, on Friday announced that he would “take a back seat” in the movement citing that too much focus was being placed on him as the lead organizer. He named Executive Director of the Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) Matt Albury; Policy Chairman for Citizens for a Better Bahamas (CBB) Lemarque Campbell; and local environmental activist Sam Duncombe, as potential replacements.

The Grand Bahama Port Authority has issued an ultimatum to Freeport-based web shops, after the Government allegedly “hijacked” and “ambushed” the trial to determine who is the industry’s primary regulator in that city.

The attorney for Chances Games has urged rival web shops, such as FML and Island Luck, to “put some skin in the game” given that they are totally exposed to the Grand Bahama Port Authority’s threat to cancel their licenses to operate in Freeport.

The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) Chief Executive says he cannot encourage strike action in The Bahamas at this time explaining: “It doesn’t help the situation.” 

Prime Minister Christie on Monday bemoaned BPL’s frequent power outages, stating that he was not only “distressed” by the outages, but that he ordered a probe to uncover the root cause of the most recent island-wide power cut. Mr. Christie suggested that the latest mass disruption had brought the Government embarrassment as it took place the day before the opening ceremony of an international civil aviation conference, which began yesterday at the Kendal Isaacs National Gymnasium.   

Officials from the Parliamentary Registration Department have reported that nearly 10,000 eligible voters have registered to vote in November.

Celebrating an achievement 15 years in the making, loved ones and colleagues gathered at Government House for the launch of former Governor General Sir Orville Turnquest’s book on the Duke of Windsor’s reign in The Bahamas.

Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder ruled on Friday (2nd December) that civil service ‘double dipping’ was compliant with a recently-registered industrial agreement with a group of educators.

A French airline has made its inaugural flight from Paris to San Salvador, adding another European route to this nation.

The Price Control Commission found that several stores in the Family Islands were in breach of price control regulations. The Commission recently inspected stores in South Andros, Mangrove Cay and Long Island.

More than 60 employees including management and line staff have been fired from the One & Only Ocean Club for “performance based” reasons with the hotel’s reported dissatisfaction over unsavory guest reviews about its staff serving as the primary reason for conducting Christmas layoffs.  

Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald will be one of two recipients of the Friend of the Industry Award to be presented at the Education Business Forum in New York on Friday, December 9.

The United Democratic Party and The People’s Movement announced a merger in Parliament Square on Wednesday ahead of the 2017 general election. Unable to present the party’s new name, logo or platform, officials announced that the new party will be led on an interim basis by Marco City MP Gregory Moss, with Bahamas Public Services Union President and People’s Movement political chair, John Pinder as the interim deputy leader.

The Ministry of Environment and Housing invited 160 participants of the new Youth Environmental Corps, between the ages of 18 – 39, to learn about their apprenticeship programme for green and blue jobs, available in the ministry.

The Waste Resources Development Group (WRDG), a Bahamian consortium said on This week that it was eagerly hoping to obtain a Letter of Intent (LOI) from the Government so it can proceed with plans to take over the New Providence Landfill’s management, where conditions are said to be “getting more dangerous by the day”.

The Central Bank’s Governor revealed there are “pending” legislative reforms that are designed to “gradually reduce” the Government’s dependency on it to provide debt financing.

The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce said it has called for a register of renewable energy providers to be created, in a bid to jump-start the industry’s development.

Director of Labour Robert Farquharson said Wednesday that his department has completed its report on claims made by the Grand Bahama Port Authority Workers Union (GBPAWU) that 22 Bahamians had been unjustly fired from the Grand Bahama Shipyard over a five-month period. According to Minister of Labour Shane Gibson, the report’s findings could reveal that far less people were fired than previously reported.

 

The Government is proposing to create a “national school” for the creative and performing arts to improve the country’s cultural offering; implementing a bespoke approach to easing traffic congestion; and a call for an extra tax tacked on to “fast food” or “junk food.” The NDP will at the same time seek to eradicate poverty by 2040 by reducing the cost of breadbasket items and expanding the list to include healthier items among other initiatives.


In the aftermath of FNM Leader Dr. Minnis’ call for the “rebel” seven members of Parliament to resign from the party or face disciplinary action, several of the signatories on the letter to revoke his appointment as Official Opposition leader in Parliament have said they are declining to quit, one of them insisting “I won’t be forced out” of the organization”. Central and South Abaco MP Edison Key said that Dr. Minnis could not force him to leave the FNM.

The FNM drafted and sent letters of charges Thursday to the seven parliamentarians who sought Dr. Minnis’ removal as leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Assembly, formally beginning the process that could lead to their expulsion from the party. The letters were not disclosed to the media because two of the seven members are expected to receive them this morning, an FNM official said.

National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB), an umbrella union swore to “level the playing field” between employers and workers in the country, citing the recent layoffs at the One & Only Ocean Club as incentive enough to make life “miserable” for foreign employers who “try to set up shop” in the country without union intervention.

The NHI Secretariat revealed the three reimbursement models that will support NHI Bahamas: partial capitation, full capitation and fee-for-service (FFS). President of the Medical Association of the Bahamas (MBA) Dr. Sy Pierre said there is a probability that the first phase of NHI, primary care would be supported by a capitation model.

Ruling out an “outright removal” of exchange controls, the Central Bank will develop exchange control liberalization recommendations that may “take effect” in 2017, despite an “underwhelming” private sector response to its call for data. John Rolle, its governor, said “less than 50” companies had responded to-date to its survey, which is designed to obtain empirical data that would support allowing Bahamian businesses to obtain financing overseas.

The Bahamas is emerging as a regional leader in air transport development through collaboration with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), its President said.

Many complaints over unusually high electricity bills are still coming into the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), according to the regulator’s acting CEO Stephen Bereaux, but he contends the majority of complaints have been fruitless, because customers lack hard evidence when lodging the complaints.


The resurgence of remunerations for former Baha Mar workers and contractors and inflows from insurance claims as a result of Hurricane Matthew have helped The Bahamas’ US dollar reserves to trend upward over 2015 numbers, Central Bank Governor John Rolle said yesterday. 

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