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Bahamian Politics Last Updated: Jun 28, 2017 - 1:23:06 AM


Budget Debate by Senator Fred Mitchell
By The Progressive Liberal Party
Jun 27, 2017 - 11:05:23 PM

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Nassau, Bahamas - The Senate Budget Debate by Senator Fred Mitchell, Leader of the Opposition, Progressive Liberal Party, on Monday 26 June:

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.  Abraham Lincoln.

Shakespeare tells us about the winter of our discontent. This is winter for the PLP. It will be cold, bitter and long as winters often are. But as sure as the sun will shine tomorrow, spring will come and then summer. The inevitable move of the seasons of life.  It is cyclical.  Everything must change. In the moment and the twinkling of an eye, we shall all be changed.

I sent a private message to PLPs who were despairing to tell them that they should stop wringing their hands. What has happened in the general election is neither messianic nor apocalyptic. It is simply an election.  You win some and you lose some. There is nothing more to say than that.

In addition, I have sought to caution those who are getting carried away in their hubris that 2500 people voted for them to sit in a two hundred year old building that is falling apart that the constitution requires only these minimal requirements: that you are Bahamian; that you are at least 21 years of age; that you are of sound mind and that you are not bankrupt.That is the simple qualification for an MP. No more or less. That means anyone, literally anyone can be a Member of Parliament. Those who are there are no more or less, no better or worse than the people who elected them. They are a snap shot of the people who elected them.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. Abraham Lincoln.

Shakespeare tells us about the winter of our discontent. This is winter for the PLP. It will be cold, bitter and long as winters often are. But as sure as the sun will shine tomorrow, spring will come and then summer. The inevitable move of the seasons of life. It is cyclical. Everything must change. In the moment and the twinkling of an eye, we shall all be changed.

I sent a private message to PLPs who were despairing to tell them that they should stop wringing their hands. What has happened in the general election is neither messianic nor apocalyptic. It is simply an election. You win some and you lose some. There is nothing more to say than that.

So do not make it more than it is. PLPs should not believe the propaganda of the other side. In my whole public life, I have not allowed anyone to determine what my image is and what I believe in myself.You can pay for a million ads in The Tribune.I am not an apologetic Negro who will get on is hand and knees to a mad man and a traitor.

In this connection, I remind people of the murder of Charles Virgil, a Minister of the Government in 1997. He was murdered by people who were FNM supporters at an FNM rally. At the time, the story was put around that the PLP was responsible for the murder.This was to the point where Sir Lynden Pindling, then Leader of the Opposition because of the public atmosphere was afraid to go to the funeral of Mr. Virgill. Then when the conviction took place in 1999, it turns out that they were FNM supporters and (the murder) had nothing to do with the PLP. So in this country the truth matters not, it’s how people are able to portray you and those who tell the story.

I say this in connection with the silly position taken by the Minister for Works that relies on an old case from the Caribbean Court of Justice which court is the final court of appeal for some Caricom states. They are allowing an action for malfeasance by the government of Belize against a minister of a former government because that government disagrees with the way a minister exercised their discretion when in office. Desmond Banister must have nothing better to do with his time than to waste time on that.I find it interesting that this is a court that they won’t allow The Bahamas to appeal to but are just now relying on that case because they have a political vendetta against PLP Ministers. When do you think these people are going to begin to govern?

As for perceptions, I looked the other day at Marvin Dames the new Minister for National Security.He came one week and said NIA was going to stay and he would build upon it.The next week he came back and said he is going to scrap it and send everyone home because the police told him they were doing nothing.But that was not the interesting part to me.What caught my eye and it perfectly reflected what the problem is with the mainstream press in The Bahamas.

His picture was on the front page but more importantly for this purpose was a small picture a woman in the upper right hand corner of Candia Dames, the Managing Editor of the paper. Well why am I not surprised that there should be a negative and unbalanced view of the PLP. I see where they were even trying to give advice to the PLP and what it should do about choosing its leaders.The day I take advice from Candia Dames is the day pigs get wings.

And if you don’t believe how quickly things come around, just ask Dion Smith, the former MP for Nassau Village. He was Deputy Speaker one week, Chairman of a Corporation and the next week, police men were sent with semi-automatic weapons and fatigues to arrest the workers at BAIC and to hunt for him. The workers had no guns. Mr. Smith had no guns. In the end they were looking for a television and some other trivia but obviously Mr. Smith and his workers presented a clear and present danger.So guns drawn they were placed under arrest. Mr. Smith was kept overnight although he was not an escape risk.  That’s how things change.

But you know I’m sure that Mr. Smith nor his workers will forget the new gift delivered to them on the days after regime change. It will be seared in the memories of his children for ever. The day after losing the general election, my daddy got locked up.

During the last time the FNM came to power in 2007 to 2012 two former MPs were called down to the police and questioned under caution by their lawyers within the precincts of the commercial crime section. They were back and forth, back and forth.Their computers were taken.Their documents and files kept. They were questioned over and over again.Then shortly before the general election, they were told, you are free to go.

So we have been down this road before, the forensic enthusiasm of a new FNM government to look into very nook and cranny and to find offense where there is none. It is early days yet. The Attorney General told us yesterday that his desk is full, a growing list.He told us also that he sees himself as the Minister of Justice.I took some comfort in that but a crowd likes to get its pound of flesh and his own side’s social media response was not too favourable to his lecture on the rule of law.

This Budget process is not my favourite at all. I hope not to detain this assembly beyond the breaking point in terms of time. I began with this way back in 1977, 40 years ago, as the Director of News and Public Affairs for the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas.In those days the Budget debates took place at Christmas time. I could never figure out and I still can’t figure out why Parliament can’t run like an ordinary job.

We get here at 9. We work until lunch at one. We depart at five.

But alas try as a I might as citizen, as a journalist, as a Senator before, as an MP, as a Minister, and now as a Senator again, I have been singularly unsuccessful in changing this ridiculous paradigm.

Here we are spending weeks, hours, days and chat over a budget which is just over 2.9 billion dollars and a revenue of 2.7 billion dollars and a deficit of about 300 million dollars. I keep asking myself what is the utility of this exercise in relation to productivity.

The joke is that 70 per cent is already predetermined.There is nothing the government can do about it, unless they want to engage in massive layoffs of the public service. Seventy per cent goes to salaries.

The rest is mainly to pay for supporting the work like power costs, water, telephones, health insurance.

So we are all arguing over nothing.

There are of course some things we can do if we can shift the paradigm but no one is obviously interested in that.

This process begins like clockwork in December when the Ministry of Finance asks Ministries to make their budget submissions for the year.The PS meets with the Minister and is officials and he submits what his priorities are for the year. My experience is that it is the Ministry of Finance who decides these matters. It is like it is some preordained script. The international financial agencies, the ratings agencies need to see a certain approach. The Budget comes back and it’s done, and well if the Ministry or Minister doesn’t like it tough luck.

This Budget statement is just a bunch of rowing about what the PLP did and how dishonest the next side is, how the PLP are thieves and corrupt and blah blah blah. How the FNM is so honest and pure as the driven snow and how the new MPs are the greatest things since slice bread and the Senators even purer.

Praise God and pass the ammunition.

What is lacking though is a vision.The vision thing.What are you going to do to carry the nation forward.  Not rehash the past.The past is gone and there is nothing we can do about it. I think we have an obligation to chronicle the past. Right now though my concern is the present and the future.

For example, we ought to fight hard as the dickens under Perry Christie, a name that is now much reviled and trampled upon and piled on, but you know I’m not joining that parade.The fact is there is much to recommend the work he did. Like all of us he had his faults.He has accepted unequally that the election loss is laid at his feet.  So I’m not going behind it or rehashing it.  But after the tourism plant shut down in Grand Bahama following Hurricane Matthew, all of us as a Cabinet led by Christie tried desperately to get those hotels open in GBI. Not just because we wanted to win an election, though God knows we had hoped so, but because we knew that with unemployment in Grand Bahama, no cash in that economy we are looking at social disorder.

So I’m saying to this crew now. You have the five seats in Grand Bahama, now. I beg yuh as the Jamaicans would say put some cash in Grand Bahama before the end of the summer or face a catastrophe.  I don’t care how popular you think you are now.  Just ask Theresa May in Britain how that goes, the business of popularity.

So this Budget should have said: here’s what we will do to get the hotels open in GBI; here’s what we will do on the issue of climate change; here is how we will expand the Department of Immigration to protect our borders; here’s how we will ensure that the public service will be able to deliver that which the public desires; here is how we will expand the foreign service.

Instead what we hear is we are going to be prudent—that’s another word for cutting back. That we will be disciplined—another word for cutting back. That we will ensure that the public money is not wasted. Good luck there. But (that) too is another word for cutting back.

All you talk about is cutting back when what the PLP would have done with the Budget is talk about expansion. Let’s try go beat the bushes.Get your foreign and trade ministers on the international circuit and try get some fresh cash in The Bahamas. There is no tradable currency to be found in domestic production in this country. Domestic production can deepen the reach of the tradable currency but foreign currency is what is needed.

Why did you not say what your capital works budget was going to be and what you’re going to do with it?

It is still substantial.It would give some people hope and not despair.

Why did you not say how many people will be hired in the public service, not how many people you will fire?

Why did you not say that we need to build a new Parliament Building and expand the support to Members of Parliament and to Senators?

What about a brand new Foreign Affairs purpose built building.

Instead we have talk of a new bill which will inflict more hardship and bureaucracy on MPs, notwithstanding the best intentions of the Government.

We have a practical problem in our Parliament.  It is made up of men and women of modest means. By my count some 11 or so who got elected did not or do not own their own homes. Another 5 had no job that we know of before being elected.  In a country where every MP meets an avalanche of requests for one thing or another and needs just plain walking around money; how are you going to help them? Even those who have or had jobs are wondering to themselves my father what have I gotten myself into.

Which brings me to the point that I thought about yesterday as one of the new Senators was waxing eloquent about?  There are only 16 of us in here.  Out of the 400,000 Bahamians, only 16 can get into this place. 39 can get into the other place.That means that this is a rare opportunity. Why would you say that The Bahamas doesn’t need more politicians but more activists? First the two are not mutually exclusive. Secondly, if you are in here, you are a politician? It is politics that got you here and politics that will keep you here and politics that will kick you out.There is nothing wrong with politics, with politicians and with the political process. It is the way we fight for power. It is the way we decide to govern.

In this case, people who are associated with various establishments and public corporations have to choose: are they politician or employee? You cannot properly be both.

The point I make is having spent decades as a politician and I am bold to say that I have no other vocational interest… I am unapologetic, unreconstructed, unrepentant about politics. I am proud to be one and proud to be able to offer my service and proud that for all these years someone has seen fit to think that I am still relevant to the times. I hope that Senator will rethink his position. I do not agree in dumbing down the value of this experience, nor of this institution.

This country is a wealthy country.Not a poor country. It has serious management issues. Our role in here is to manage the country, not dumb it down. Not preach doom and gloom. But to say to our people, if betters days are not here, better days are coming and here is how we will do it.

Instead there is this litany of this is wrong, the next is wrong.You think the average man in Garden View doesn’t hear that enough from his wife or girlfriend every morning: why don’t you fix the shed.The roof is leaking. The grass needs cutting and then to turn on the TV and the Senators are telling us how the country is dying.

How are we going to use the Budget to adapt to climate change?

How are we going to leverage our foreign stations to bring investment to the country and enlargen the footprint of our citizens who then can travel, work, live and do business around the world? One Senator here suggested that the offices be closed and everything done by technology. Technology is no substitute for face to face. We have only to see the disastrous results that wrought in tourism when that Ministry under the FNM closed down our offices overseas and tried to do it all by computer.

Instead you concentrate on firing Foreign Service officers, and listening to public officials who don’t have a clue about life outside the cocoon of the discipline in which they were trained.

I plan to spend some time then talking about the vision thing. What kind of Budget the PLP would have put together and what we would have used the budget to do in the areas of my shadow portfolio in particular.

I hope that the Senate does not detain itself unnecessarily in these matters. The Budget is what it is.We won’t vote against it.But boy I keep saying to myself what a missed opportunity.

To demonstrate my point on the question of ratios, scale and the utility of time spent on this five billion dollar exercise.

The Chancellor of the School District of the city of New York has a budget of 23.8 billion dollars.

I remember once talking to a Senior Vice President of the Carnival Cruise Lines and he told me how he had just made a decision himself to sign off on the construction of two new ships that would cost this company 500 million dollars each,

And I am certain that all this public puffery, expostulation and chest thumping that goes with this 5 billion dollar exercise was not involved in any of those transactions whether in New York or in Carnival Cruise Lines.

Maybe one day it will change. But let the record reflect my point.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield said this in the press on 13 June. He was responding to the question of when the diplomatic staff overseas would be coming home and he replied on 21 July.Then he went on to say:

All Ambassadors, there are some superfluous staff, attaches and the like,that I had asked the technical people to look at, to see, through a proper manpower assessment, whether or not we were making judicious use of the public’s funds, and some of them e have asked to return.

We are going to see to use the Foreign Service workers, instead of contracted workers, in positions that we think they could fill.

It’s what they’re trained to do and we think they can get more mileage out of them in that regard, rather than just contracting people to be used in the foreign service as attaches and the like.”

I would like to give some unsolicited advice to the new minister.

You are the minister.You are not the Permanent Secretary.The two are quite different roles.

You are a policy maker and not a cipher where you merely carry out uncritically advice given to you.

Be very careful when you are a minister just walking in the door, how you accept advice from a long established bureaucracy. Public administration training will tell you that when a new Minister comes into office, the public officials come running with their favorite gripes and prejudices. They have their list.The new Minister is anxious to please and so off you go and do as they say.It is called ex parte pleading.

Lawyers know the value of the maxim audi alterem partem.

Secondly, follow the law and honour those contracts you met in place.

Thirdly, do not so demonize someone who opposes you politically to the point where you lose common sense.

You have to ask yourself if someone who you have known a good deal of your public life has done something why would that person who is otherwise not known to be irrational be making an irrational decision.Shall I look behind what I am told?And this is the grave error that Senator Henfield for example makes in his analysis of the political situation in which he now finds himself.I say again to be careful how you believe your own propaganda.Even when you perceive someone as your enemy, always look at what they say to examine whether what they say is true.Having decided that, the truth or falsity, the next step is to decide its credit or its probative worth. This should be an easy exercise since the Honourable Senator is an attorney. Attorneys should make evidenced based decisions.

For example, on the issue of contracts. Often it is the only way in the unreformed public service that we have to get people quickly enrolled in employment for skills that you need to get in a hurry.

In speaking afterward to Senator Moss about his unfortunate comments about Ian Poitier yesterday, I said to him that Ian Poitier is a consummate professional, highly paid for what he does.Both the FNM and the PLP agree that we have to take steps to bring our talented people back home. He is this generation’s Winston Saunders.Why would we attack him and exercise this degree of begrudgefulness without knowing the full facts and appreciating his talents?

It is a similar situation in Foreign Affairs.The Deputy High Commissioner in London is a contract officer.The Director General is a contract officer.There are several contract officers at the diplomatic level in New York and one officer recruited by the Prime Minister, a Bahamian, living overseas who now after spending a year and some of his contract because he is connected to the ancien regime is to be dismissed.There are assistant protocol officers in all the posts and press and cultural attaches.  Some of these officers were told to come home within a month’s time. Then their contracts were terminated summarily. So in the language of a defence force officer, they have been dishonourably discharged, although there is no basis for it.When they seek another job, and when asked what happened, they will say I was fired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.The Minister has gone on record as saying none of them lack the requisite qualifications for the jobs which they have.  No one can say that this applies to Oswald Brown for example. Why would a new government want to engender such hatred in the minds of these people and their families?

And don’t give me the issue of money.Clearly the cost of the dismissal is more expensive than allowing them to stay. So they are left to think that it is simply a political vendetta.

Yet a Minister of the people’s government, and I would venture given the scale of the popular vote for the FNM that many of these same people voted for the FNM, condemns them as superfluous staff.  Do you remember how one of the PLPs ministers got in trouble a long time ago when in the middle of a trade dispute at the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, he described the problem as being about a “mere messenger”? So these people with their minimum wage jobs are superfluous.

But not others are superfluous staff, some of those now embraced who have many, many issues with regard to their service notwithstanding their long service but who are protected by the public service cocoon.This is most unfair to these younger individuals and contract officers.

Here’s the difference. When I took over in 2012,I spoke to some who had served with the FNM regime before me, and they told me, be careful of this one, watch for that one.

One thing I can say without fear or equivocation, that which I said yesterday to Senator Moss, for all my sins and there are many I expect, I have never and I say never - inquired of any member of the staff of any department in which I operated what that persons politics were on the job. I believe truly what Martin Luther King said: it is the content of your character that counts with me.

There were many provocations of course. Like one Member of the staff who posted a photo in a red shirt on a campaign trip with the FNM to Eleuthera which was clear grounds for disciplinary action.But given the counsel of the public officials, the matter rested.

As to those who are being dismissed, in so far as I am aware, none of them have negative ACRs. Each of them has performed the jobs which they were called upon to do. I am loathe to raise any of this because no doubt there will be the usual refuge of scatological nonsense for scoundrels for attacking me, but when we were all moved yesterday by Senator Moss, I recalled one of these officers telling me that all his life in The Bahamas he had no bed to sleep on, he was raised in one of our family islands sleeping on a couch with one family to the next; another was raised in the Ranfurly Homes for Children and the press lauded him when they learned of the service overseas.Now no doubt these individuals ask: what we did do?

I say this in the context of the activist Senator Henfield; the trade unionists Senators Dotson and Ferguson.  It is simply not right to pick on these small people, dismiss them as superfluous and then treat them as shabbily as they are being treated after dismissing them.It is not right.

When I was Minister, I made it clear that the Shadow Minister Hubert Chipman had complete access to anything in the Ministry, the P S, the files; he could walk in at will in any department, ask any question, make any query. It was that important to me that in Foreign Affairs and Immigration there was bi partisan support.You can ask him. I never stopped him from going anywhere. I called him to let him know of important decisions that we were about to make and why.

For example, we are still now aware of how The Bahamas voted with regard to the Venezuelan resolution at the OAS. We the PLP would have voted to support a strong statement about the events in Venezuela. If the Government did so, then you have the support of the PLP.

I wasn’t begging or seeking support.In my view that is how this country should be run.  He had complete access to the Detention Centre. The Prime Minister Perry Christie thought it was a strange thing to do, but I asked him what is the down side?

Hubert Chipman and I went to the same school. Raised with the same moral grounding. I knew that he believed in his country.

He recited the pledge and sung the anthem.He believed these words written by Rev. Dr. Philip Rahming: I pledge my allegiance to the flag of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and to the nation for which it stands. One people united in love and service.I believe that with all my heart.

I took it everywhere I went. There was no downside to cooperating with the other side.

I must confess I am lost with the new regime. When I saw those words in the press, I was crestfallen. I thought to myself, clearly this is not that man that I know.Clearly, this is a different person. But suffer it to be so. At the dreadful say of judgement the secrets of men’s hearts will be revealed.

The other aspect of the exercise of the choices is that as Minister and the PLP Government, I said to the public officials:Here is our philosophy about the Foreign Service.The Foreign Service must just represent the A listers, those who come out with first class honours.There are some of them to be sure. But there have to be some from the bottom, some from middle… a mix of plodders and high fliers.The Foreign Service must reflect the cross section of society. They relate to their group and they will tell our story to the society and they will tell their story to the world. That this is a great country, where even someone like them who didn’t do well in school got a chance to represent their country.

This was so in all travel related to the Minister. Domestic or local. Do you know the number of Bahamian foreign service officers who had before traveling with me to dispense my duties had never been to Grand Bahama or any other island in The Bahamas. Yet they were representing the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

I was deeply disappointed that the Foreign Minister would begin his tenure by apologizing for having to travel.That’s the job: Foreign Minister. I was troubled yesterday that Senator Moss would raise that as a propaganda point.I think he referenced the trip to Ethiopia and Dubai. There were cogent reasons for both.

Had we the PLP succeeded in office we would have been leading the way in meeting the Pacific states to try to fight these issues .

Our country is unable to get development financing to repair the effects of climate change,

Last year from the 5 October to the 9th October, four days, the country collected no revenue. Zilch. Nothing.

That means by some estimates 200 million dollars were not collected to help run the government.But when the end of October came civil servants had to be paid.

Where were we going to find the money?

The insurance we got was not helpful so on advice we abandoned it and decided to self-insure. We were also seeking to develop new terms and conditions for the CCRIF when Hurricane Matthew struck.

We had to go to the market, we do not get concessionary terms but had to pay market rates to keep the country going.

It’s a credit to Michael Haliktas and Perry Christie that we had the credit space to find 150 million dollars.

But I said around the Cabinet table, ladies and gentlemen we have to find a way to pay for this.We can’t just borrow 150 million; we need to find a levy on something in order to pay the money back.

The PM went out and in artfully perhaps, called it a hurricane tax and because we were unpopular anything he said became fodder for the newspapers but the fact is you have to pay it back.

That is the reason for the deficit. Nothing more, nothing less.

Up to the time we left, the Ministry of Finance and The Treasury were working together to deal with cash flow issues.With respect, that is the way unpaid bills should have been dealt with.I cannot see what good sense it makes to go to the market and try to raise 722 million dollars in your first week in office.Every householder knows that it is never possible to pay off all your debts.It can’t be done.We also think that this administration should stop giving a bad name to borrowing.There can be no development in The Bahamas without borrowing.

I join with the Leader of the Opposition in my concern that the actions of this government will cause a dramatic deflationary effect on this country.People do not seem to realize the extent to which even large businesses in this country depend on the Government for revenue.When the Government stops spending, when the Government starts laying off then the entire economy contracts.

I say that this is no more acute than in Grand Bahama and I warn again that something must be done to put some cash into that economy before the end of the summer.

I turn briefly to the Department of Immigration. I worked with a great group of men and women some 300 strong across the country led by William Pratt and assisting me in policy matters by William Nottage and in enforcement Kirk Neilly. I  said when I started that Immigration seemed to have been a neglected area of the services.It is too small and needs to be tripled in size from the present 300 to 900.

It was my hope that the Government would agree to hire 300 officers each year so that by year 3 we would have been up to 1000 or so officers. I still think this is the right thing to do. They should also implement the Immigration Reserves. The regulations were drafted for those reserves.

In addition, the Government should bring into force the Detention Centre Regulations.

I understand that the present minister was complaining that we hired 200 officers and had no place to put them.That is not true but you know management issues are now the responsibility of the new administration and they can find something to do.There are so many stations across the country that have no officers at all.

Concomitant with this must be a review of the fees being charged for immigration permits. In particular, the permanent residence fee with or without the right to work is woefully under priced, particularly in that category called economic permanent residence. There should be change in this direction with the threshold increased to 1 million dollars for an investment in a home in order to qualify for permanent residence. There should also be an increase in the fee from the present 10,000 dollars to 50,000 dollars.

There was a table to increase fees that were left by us. Those fee changes should be made.

I turn to the decision of the Attorney General to withdraw the appeal in the Save The Bays matter. That is the exercise of his discretion.I am advised that the matter was discontinued in the courts on Monday past without any personal liability on Jerome Fitzgerald.I think that withdrawing the case was not the right decision.The Judge at first instance made a set of egregious errors of both law and fact. I comfort myself in the fact that the judgment does not bind me.It never did. I found it fatuous that an undeclared vexatious litigant could fix up a case and bring it to the Courts and that it got the kind of traction that it did.It passes into history as a sad blight on free speech in The Bahamas. The Attorney General says it has nothing to do with privilege of parliament. I beg to differ. It has everything to do with privilege.

I say again no judge can tell me what or what not to say in Parliament. In fact no one.The law gives complete immunity from civil or criminal liability from what is said in Parliament.That is the nub of the case.There is no factual basis that any minister of the government obtained any email by foul means.

Further, there was no obligation on the Member of Parliament who brought the matter to say how he got it.But I say again, it is unfortunate that this matter did not go the policy court for a decision which could have given us some guidance on the law. As to its wider applicability, the present judgement is of no use at all. It is useless.

There was some snarls of detraction on the side opposite when one Senator asked when the PLP started its crime fighting programme.Senator Jobeth Davis laid out in extenso what was done to fight crime. However, I wish to refer to the Citizens Security Initiative which was commenced by our fallen comrade Bernard Nottage when he was the Minister for the Police.

That programme was a 20 million dollar initiative of the Minister of National Security in association with the Inter-American Development Bank to fund 9 community centres in New Providence. One of those Centres was the Fox Hill Community Centre. The condition of the grant was that fifty per cent of the programmes in the Centre should be dedicated to violence reduction and breaking the cycle of violence in our society and conflict resolution. The Centre is independently owned and is in the process of fulfilling that commitment. In the long term, we must get our young people, our people to break the cycle of violence.

In this connection I am strongly opposed to the tone and language which is being utilized by so many Ministers of the incoming administration.I saw a TV interview the other day when the Minister of Tourism told one of our colleagues that he must crawl back into his hole from whence he came.Fair enough.The individual was a politician.But later he attacked a young Bahamian professional in an unfair manner.

I must say that this sort of behavior is shocking to me.I knew his father Vincent D’Aguilar, a gentleman of the first order and a scholar and I cannot believe that this is his son and the shocking things that have come from him.The shocking allegations that he has made against us in general terms, not realizing or reckless in his actions as to whether or not the general includes the specific.So if you call Ministers corrupt, if you call PLPs crooks, then each person who is one of them is entitled to think that you are talking about them.

I raised the issue in here when the Attorney General appeared to be going in that direction.

It has led me to think as we hear from these various people, two of whom are businessmen in this country.Every time I go into Fresh Market, and I think that this man was formerly a Director of the Board, I ask myself why should PLPs be shopping in this food store putting money in this man’s pockets who calls us crooks?Why should I be taking the ferry to Habour Island, putting money in another man’s pockets who thinks PLPs are crooks?

The ironies of life in The Bahamas in this dispensation.

I have simply stopped buying The Tribune and The Guardian, who have done their best to defame, libel me and so many others.

I don’t have to fatten a frog for a snake.

I listened with interest to the discussion about the Teachers Service Commission. I think this was an idea which fell afoul of the FNM’s effort to amend the constitution during the Ingraham regime. It is interesting that often we think that the solution is yet another bureaucracy. However, I wish to posit this.There is a fundamental and cultural problem about the way we do things in this country. It has nothing in my view to do with goodwill or the various legal structures we have.

Something in our culture causes us to be too deliberative. We simply take too long to get things done. We can’t start anything on time. Just as I said with this budgeted exercise, we are going on and on about a budget which is small compared to other things we could be doing and the utility of the production. We know it, yet we do it every year and nothing changes.

I left the Government in 2007 and returned in 2012, and met the same procedures in place when I left them.These long dissertations in Cabinet papers. Long deliberative meetings about things that should take five minutes.Tony Blair once said he could not figure out what his Cabinet had to meet for more than forty minutes for.

We know for example that these Parliamentary buildings are inadequate. We know that the allowances and benefits paid to MPs and Senators are inadequate and do not support the work of a modern Parliamentarian that Senator Henfield wants for example. What would be very useful is if this new Government with its large majority would simply use some of its political capital to put in place some real reforms in this area.

We need to spend some time getting to the bottom of why we simply take so long to do everything. The Teachers Service Commission will only add another level of bureaucracy and paper. All of that stuff needs to be eliminated.

My colleagues were always concerned with me when it came to these budgets.I asked only one question to the finance officials who were responsible for the raising the money and managing the spending: will you have a problem raising the money? If they said no, then I had no concern after that. I would often tell them, don’t bore me with the details of what this spending is and that spending is, the Cabinet wants it done let’s get it done. Now if we don’t have the money, that’s another thing.

Those immigration officers the present minister is complaining about,I got the authority first in April 2013 to hire them. I was supposed to hire 100 a year. I missed 2014 and 2015. So I tried to make it up in 2016.I got the permission in September from the Cabinet but in February or so we were still struggling to get the darned people hired.

Teachers routinely take six months or more to get their first pay cheque.

The police do all the vetting for The Bahamas and its public service. It takes them routinely 9 months to complete vetting.Often the results of the vetting are more prejudicial than probative and excellent potential candidates are eliminated because of information which is utterly irrelevant but once the police say no, then the PSC simply acquiesces it seems. No one seems to be able to cut through this. Ingraham couldn’t do it.Christie couldn’t do it.

Yet it stares us in the face that this is the problem. Just takes too long to do things.

It is the same thing that causes us to start everything late. People would complain about the former Leader and being late to things but I said to myself what they are complaining about: weddings, funerals, church services, meetings, you name it, in The Bahamas everything is simply late.

So Senator Ferguson that is my response to that.

The IDB told us in one of our studies that we simply throw too many things up to Cabinet for decision making.One of them is whether Joe Blow civil servants going to make a 250 dollar trip to Miami for a conference.

Can you imagine in a 2 billion dollar corporation, the Board of Directors has to consider a decision on that? Surely, we have more important things to do.

In my time as Foreign Minister or Immigration Minister, the Ministry had five different Finance Officers.In the time there, the budget allocations be damned, they could not get cheques out to officers on a timely basis, payments to vendors always late, allowances to officers paid sometimes after they came back from long trips abroad. You tell me why that happens.And it’s not just foreign affairs.I t’s not just a PLP thing either. The FNM has and will have the same problem.

The problem is this. I heard the Minister of State for Grand Bahama indicate that he gave instructions for something to be done. I had to chuckle. Instructions mean nothing at all. I wish him luck.

My serious point is that all that Senator Henfield and his activists, all that this Government and its supporters want to be done will be for naught, if there is not a complete reformation of the way we decide and do business in this country.

Now I think the Government proposes to bring amendments to the law on citizenship. I agree that the present way this is decided is wrong. I think the Minister should simply be the one to grant citizenship as is in law and should not have to go to the Cabinet unless there is a national security or other objection. I see no need to amend the law. The political authority should reside in the Cabinet. Similarly, while the bureaucracy should be allowed to deal with Permanent Residence, the political responsibility should always reside in a Minister of the Government.

It is the same position with regard to the work of prosecutions. There is no such thing as an independent Director of Public Prosecutions. Does not exist. And cannot exist. Someone with political authority should always be the ultimate responsibility for the application of the law.

Several senators spoke to National Health Insurance. The PLP got it done. The money spent for consultants on NHI was not wasted. Being a doctor does not qualify you to design NHI. Health Insurance with a public insurer is a specialized business and can’t be left to amateurs. A heart surgeon can’t design National Health Insurance.The system left in place was in three phases. The FNM wants to go right to catastrophic care. The PLP said let’s start with primary care, to relieve the pressure on the A and E at the PMH, to get people to take better care of themselves at the first instance.Then you move to secondary and tertiary care. All there.

Similarly, a number of FNM Senators were trashing Carnival. Carnival was not a waste of money. Carnival was an idea born of a plea from Vola Francis of the Saxons and Gus Cooper of the Valley Boys to find something for us to bring work for the Junkanooers when Junkanoo was over.

Secondly, since there are people who follow Carnivals around world, the Carnival was placed in May when there was a trough in the tourism year to try and fill the hotels.This was the idea.It has just gotten started when it ran afoul not of economic or financial troubles but of political trouble.Just because it was started by the PLP and Perry Christie, the FNM took to lighting it afire.Fortunately the people voted with their feet and the Carnival was a huge success in attendance.

The matter can be tweaked but the idea is sound.Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I hope that once this is over then the FNM will begin to govern in earnest. I started off by saying for PLPs this will be along cold hard winter. Summer will come though. I may not get there with you but remember this summer will come.

Contrary to what has been said here in this House, we are not a nation in crisis. I do not believe that. I have never believed it. We have management problems which can be overcome. We have the talent to do so.

I think everyone here has ended their contributions with the words: God Bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. I will as well. It speaks to our ultimate belief that this is a good country, a blessed and sunny clime.

I am therefore deeply offended when people like Sarkis Ismerlian get in our business. The press statement issued by a company which appears to be associated with him about Bahamar. It is offensive. I remind him if he does not like being in The Bahamas and cannot agree to act within the confines of his permission to stay here, then he can take the decision to leave.

I have explained time and again. Sarkis Ismerlian is a failed developer.He would do well to remember the words of Shakespeare as Cassius is talking to Brutus in the play Julius Caesar: The fault dear Brutus is not in the stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.

He would do well to remember that he defaulted on his loans to the bank not once but twice. The Bahamas government at his instance intervened on both occasions to help him. On the last occasion, the developer descended to a level of treachery which cannot be overstated. Filing for bankruptcy without notice while negotiating with the Prime Minister of our country, an intervention which Mr. Ismerlian invited.

His Board put the company in bankruptcy. The Bahamas government intervened to save the asset and the Court in Delaware declined jurisdiction. Not the government of the Bahamas. The lex situs is The Bahamas.

When you or I fail to pay our mortgage to the Royal Bank of Canada, they repossess the House and sell it.

That is what happened in this case. The China Export Import Bank repossessed the property when the developer could not meet its obligation and property has been told by Court order.

In our law, if you are a mortgagor and you have the money to save your property and you want to stop a sale, then you pay the money into court. The developer did not do so.

Now what is it he wants The Bahamas government to do at this stage?

He wants the Government to intervene and stop what is going on and create more issues for a development that is finally getting on its feet.

It is objectionable and reprehensible.

I hope that the Government decides this is not a matter in which they have any jurisdiction except as to further regulatory oversight.

You know as I wrote this, I thought to myself of so many Bahamian songs to tell the Bahamian people.

Look what you could get when ya tired of what you gat!

Or

You get swing. No big thing you just get swing.

Five years is a long time. No one knows what The Bahamas will look like in five years’ time and who will emerge. It’s a pretty safe bet though that the PLP will still be on the scene.

I think that this team that we have assembled here has done what our appointers have asked us to do in this debate to hold up the side.They have done so admirably. I thank them all for their contributions and the seriousness with which they have approached their tasks.

We are underfunded, but we have the talent.

The President has said that she will address the physical state of this building and in that she has our support.We need much much more. The work of the Senate has to be properly compensated and supported.

For example, we have several family island reps here.I expect to become one of them shortly. The allowances are clearly inadequate for this.There is no hotel that you can get in this town for 180 a night including our meals and you ground transportation.

I look forward then to the campaign finance reform measures because what must also come is the support for MP's and Senators to do the job they are being asked to do.

I also ask that the Prime Ministerfollow the statute law and appoint the Advisory to give National Honours. The awards should be announced on Independence Day and presented on National Heroes Day. The medals and sashes are all here and ordered but the Committee needs to be appointed and the Cabinet make a decision on who should be awarded.

There are scores of people around the country who await these honours.

I am done.

God bless the Commonwealth Of The Bahamas

End

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