||Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM
Hon. D. Shane Gibson, M.P., J.P.,
Minister of Labour and National Insurance
Minister of the Public Service
The 2014 /2015 Budget Debate
The House of Assembly
16th June, 2014 at 3:00p.m..
I wish to begin by once again thanking the Almighty God for this awesome privilege and opportunity to represent the Great People of the Golden Gates Constituency in this Honourable House. Also, Mr. Speaker, I am ever mindful that the Right Hon. Prime Minister and Minister of Finance entrusted to me the protection of all workers and employers in the private and public sectors throughout the entire Bahamas.
Indeed, I am humbled by the tremendous trust reposed in me by the people of Golden Gates and by my Leader as the person chosen to shoulder this enormous responsibility – one I take seriously as a son of the Bahamian soil and as a former trade unionist, particularly in this economic climate.
I rise, therefore, as the Minister of Labour and National Insurance with responsibility for the Department of Labour, Consumer Welfare Unit, the National Insurance Board, the Bridge Authority and the National Training Agency and as the Minister of the Public Service, to offer my contribution to, and affirm my categorical and unwavering support of, this progressive budget for the fiscal year 2014/2015, presented by the Progressive Liberal Party Government.
The Ministry of the Public Service
I begin with the Ministry of Public Service
Mr. Speaker, the 2014/2015 proposed budget allocation for the Ministry of Public Service Head 5, totals $175,231,922 which is $3, 388,043 less than the 2013/2014 approved estimates.
Allocation for rent and accommodations totals $33,571,454 or 19%. of total budget allocation. During my contribution to the mid- term budget debate earlier this year, I highlighted several policy initiatives established by my Ministry to ensure that we reduce our expenses to an acceptable limit and to secure the best possible arrangements regarding the rental of properties for Government Ministries and Departments.
I am pleased to report that we have received wide support from the private sector for our initiatives and I should like to thank those many businesses who have agreed to reduce their rates to accommodate the Government’s policies.
Relocation of the Ministry of Social Development to a new complex on John F. Kennedy Drive is near completion. The furniture has been ordered and is in route to arrive within two weeks and the finishing works should be completed by the end of this month.
Additionally, Mr. Speaker we have finalized the lease arrangement for the office of the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. New furniture has been purchased and installed and we are pleased to announce that the leader has taken up residency in refurbished offices atop the former Parliament Hotel just west of this historical building.
We have finalized lease arrangements for the relocation of the Industrial Tribunal to Saffrey Square and as we speak the final arrangements are very near completion.
Additionally, Mr. Speaker the furniture has been purchased and the lease executed for the Ministry of Agriculture to take up residency in the Out Island Traders Building on East Bay Street. The Ministry is in possession of the keys and I am advised that they will begin to move in this week.
In Grand Bahama, progress has been made in providing acceptable accommodations for our staff to work and the general public to receive services. I am pleased to report that, the Department of Social Services has moved into the newly refurbished Sun Plaza in Freeport Grand Bahama. The space they are vacating vacated will be refurbished and shared by the Ministry of Public and Urban Renewal.
Work for the relocation of the Department of Labour’s offices, in Grand Bahama, to the Regency Centre, is close to completion.
Mr. Speaker, in the 2014/2015 budget estimates, funding is allocated under Head 5 to acquire additional leased accommodations for the relocation of several agencies. These initiatives are already on track and scheduled for completion during the 2014/2015 fiscal period.
A lease has been executed and funding allocated for the relocation of the Department of Statistics from the Clarence A. Bain Building, to the Bellagio Plaza in Palmdale hopefully by the end of this calendar year.
Additionally, I am advised that, renovation works for the relocation of the Department of Labour from the Clarence A. Bain Building to the Summerwinds Plaza are in the advanced stages and the move is scheduled to take place by the end of this calendar year.
The Government has approved an agreement and funding to provide improved office accommodations in the former City Meat Market Building on Rosetta Street for, Business License, Internal Revenue Department, Real Property Tax and some areas of the VAT administration. Occupancy is scheduled for the end of this calendar year.
The Cabinet of The Bahamas has also approved the relocation of the Registrar Generals' Department, the Eugene Dupuch Law School as well as the Department of Housing’s, Bahamas Mortgage Corporation Application Processing Unit and the Public Parks and Public Beaches Authority to the Summerwinds Plaza on Tonique Williams - Darling Highway.
Landlords will in all cases be responsible for executing the building and mechanical scope of work to meet the Government's requirements for occupancy by the respective agencies.
The National Insurance Board continues to support the vision and mission of the Government for socio-economic development in many areas. In particular, NIB has made significant contribution by funding the construction of accommodations for Government offices through lease to own agreements. In this regard, the $14,300,584 placed in the item, NIB Rent in the 2014/2015 budget estimates will be disbursed to defray the cost of current leases.
I am also pleased to announce that we have finally completed the finishing works to the JL Centre on Blake Road. Therefore, agencies slated to relocate in this state of the art complex should be able to take up occupancy in about two months.
Further, Mr. Speaker, a number of new initiatives funded by NIB are underway. As I previously reported to this Honourable House, the Government of The Bahamas has approved the construction of three new state of the art Government Complexes in Harbour Island, Bimini and Eight Mile Rock Grand Bahama. I am pleased to announce that the preliminary drawings have been completed and the final design drawings are slated to be completed by the end of July 2014.
Additionally Mr. Speaker, initial works have begun on a building which is a replica of the Government office complex on JFK, just West of the Ministry of Works and Urban Development and recently occupied by the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs.
The "Replica Building" will accommodate the Ministry of National Security and the Executive offices of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
This is an opportune time Mr. Speaker, and I am pleased to announce that the new office complex on JFK, now occupied by the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, will be named as a memorial to the legacy of the late, Honourable Paul L. Adderley, on the 20th of this month.
Plans are in the advanced stages for the preliminary works to begin for the Multi Agency Government Complex to be built on land just South of the existing Office of the Attorney General and adjacent to the Saint John’s College playing field. This complex will accommodate two or three government Ministries yet to be determined.
The relocation of Government services from dilapidated structures is the promise made and I daresay a promise kept.
In a few weeks, the General Post Office will be the last agency left in the building on East Street Hill. Negotiations are on-going for a lease or lease/ purchase agreement to accommodate the post office service. In the interim, mould removal, cleaning and other measures have been undertaken to make the facility suitable for short-term occupancy. In addition, the Ministry of Works and Urban Development is taking necessary action to construct hoarding around the building for the safety of the general public.
In a few months the Road Traffic Department will be the very last agency left in the Clarence Bain Building. Negotiations are on-going to secure an appropriate site for relocation of this service. Also, the Levy Building will be entirely depopulated with the relocation of Local Government to the Out Island Traders Building.
The next step is to develop a plan to address the fate of the vacated premises. With the assistance of Family Island administrators and the Ministry of Works and Urban Development, my Ministry has already begun to compile an inventory of all Government owned buildings throughout the country which are unoccupied. This report will be ready in the short term for presentation to the Government.
Considering the substantial budgetary outlay for provision of Government office accommodations in this year's budget, my Ministry recognizes the need to ensure operational efficiency and effectiveness and more important that value is accrued for the money spent. The accommodations unit, now headed by Senior Undersecretary I, Mr. Harcourt Brown has been significantly strengthened. We are very grateful for the splendid support of the Ministry of Works and Urban Development personnel especially, the leadership of Senior Architects Timothy Johnson, Ash Ferguson, Copeland Moxey and Matthew Leckey who functioned as project managers in respect to several of these projects. However, due to increasing demand, my ministry has requested funding in this budget to secure the contractual service of a full time technical project manager to give singular focus on these initiatives. This is particularly critical for mega projects. I also take this opportunity Mr. Speaker, to commend the support staff of the accommodations unit, especially Kendal Butler and Franklyn Clarke, for their exemplary commitment, and outstanding level of productivity.
I am also pleased to announce that the Department of Information Technology has completed the design of a database for tracking of leases and prompting of expiry dates. This should be fully operational by the first week in July of this year.
Human Resources Management, Training and Development
I now turn to the Human Resources responsibilities of the Ministry of Public Service.
I fully concur with sentiments expressed some twenty years ago by the then Secretary General of the United Nations on the Role and Responsibilities of the Public Service. The Secretary General wrote, "A competent, efficient and loyal civil service imbued with ethical standards is neither a luxury or a dream. Quite the contrary, it is a basic precondition of democratic governance and sustainable socio-economic development."
On this basis Mr. Speaker, I firmly believe that the vision for socio-economic development as expressed by the Honourable Prime Minister and other members of this Honourable House, can only be achieved through the effort of a world class Public Service that is people focused and people driven.
The Government is the largest employer in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and the Ministry of Public Service is responsible for the coordination of human resources matters for some 26,000 public officers; and again, Mr. Speaker, in the words of the UN General Secretary, these 26,000 public officers are the face of the Government to the people.
The primary focus of the Ministry of Public Service, on a daily basis, is to do all within its power to ensure that these 26,000 faces are in the right places at the right times, doing the right jobs, the right way, and producing the right results. More specifically, Mr. Speaker, the mandate of the Ministry of Public Service is to monitor the human resources capacity of the Public Service, recognizing this capacity as a precondition for our Government to achieve the set agenda for sustainable socio-economic development.
In close consultation with the Public Service Commission, the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Finance, and the various Ministries and Departments Ministry of the Public Service:
• facilitates, in accordance with public policy, the engagement, retention and deployment 0f appropriate numbers of adequately skilled human capital to meet the determined needs;
• projects future needs based on global trends and national development plans;
• designs and implements training and development strategies and systems to bridge the skill gaps between available resources and national priorities and public expectations and needs;
• keeps abreast of modern public sector human resource practices and
• based on current, accurate and relevant data, designs and implements efficient and effective human resources management systems to optimize productivity, maximize value for money and above all promote sensitive and humane treatment of our 26,000 public officers.
In keeping with our mandate, the Ministry of Public Service has undertaken several initiatives during the 2013/2014 fiscal year.
As always we aim to please our primary customers, the 26,000 public officers for whom we process numerous submissions. In this regard, one of the challenges we face is that many public officers engaged in the human resources units are not sufficiently knowledgeable concerning the relevant policies, procedures and practices. Thus, many of the submissions submitted to our Ministry are substandard and this in turn contributes to inordinate delays.
To bridge this skill gap, during the first six months of the current fiscal year, my Ministry developed and conducted training workshops for officers in charge of human resources in Public Service Ministries and Departments. During the second half, a team led by First Assistant Secretary Bridgette Hepburn, developed and implemented a three month modular training programme, incorporating Public Service human resources policies, procedures and practices. Personnel Officers deployed at the Ministry of Public Service, the first group targeted for training, participate in sessions held from 9: am to 12 noon every Friday. Participating officers are enthused and positively responsive to the training and I am advised that improvements in the quality of work are already evident.
The pilot programme is budget neutral. However, some cost will be incurred to make it available service wide. Eventually, the programme will be made available online and it is intended that it will evolve into an entry level Certificate in Public Service Human Resources Policies, Practices and Procedures by the end of the 2014/2015 fiscal period.
This training is a precondition for establishment of Performance Standards for human resource officers. Again, the standard will be piloted within the Ministry of the Public Service, subsequent to the culmination of the HR modular training programme.
Performance standards Mr. Speaker, form the basis of objective performance evaluation. I draw reference to another anecdote told by the aforementioned former UN Secretary General. As related, when an employee was questioned by his supervisor during an evaluation interview, the employee responded, "you pretend to measure, and we pretend to work." Mr. Speaker, without the establishment of service wide performance standards, we can only pretend to evaluate and too many our employees will get away with pretending to work.
Notwithstanding, Mr. Speaker, I am of the view that those who pretend to work are in the minority. At least this has been my experience in the Ministries for which I have charge; the Ministry of Labour of National Insurance and the Ministry of the Public Service.
Specifically, Mr. Speaker, the Human Resources Teams in the Ministry of the Public Service and the Public Service Commission have consistently worked above and beyond normal working hours throughout the past twelve (12) months in an effort to save the financial clearances obtained within the 2013/2014 budget year. They were assisted on occasions, by several personnel officers from other Ministries who worked on evenings and weekends to help us meet the deadlines and quell dissatisfaction of disgruntled employees, many of whom were subject to a myriad of human resources irregularities. These included delayed confirmations, delayed re-employment letters, inaccurate progression of salaries and such like. In some cases these delays were backlogged as many as 7 years and inaccuracies uncovered dated even longer. I am advised that in one case which we are now trying to resolve the public officer concerned stands to gain as much as $50,000.
Dealing with delayed processing requires a complete review of each file which might take several days to conclude and even longer if required documents are missing. This could be compounded if the officer is deployed on a Family Island. Notwithstanding these challenges, according to our statistical report, these hard working team members have executed 226 appointments including 135 teachers; 278 confirmations including 147 teachers and 59 nurses; 34 appointed to the Permanent and Pensionable Establishment; 16 reclassifications; 202 promotions including 78 teachers; 312 re-employments including 285 teachers; 12 dismissals; 154 mandatory retirements including 59 teachers; 29 7a increments; 52 salary progressions; and 543 contracts which were issued either for new appointment or renewal of an expired contract.
These excellent results Mr. Speaker, again is proof that the staff of the Ministry of the Public Service do not pretend to work. They work for real. I take this opportunity to commend the head of our Personnel unit, Deputy Permanent Secretary Janice Miller, and Secretary to the Public Service Commission, Prenell King-Rolle for their effective leadership and exemplary commitment to our goals and objectives. Of course, this could only be achieved from the support of the hardworking team leaders and team members.
The results thus far do not include the 87 confirmations, 75 appointments to the Permanent and Pensionable Establishment, 344 promotions, and 44 sundry submissions awaiting final clearance. Due to the delays there is a good chance these might not be completed within this budget year.
Despite the valiant effort of our staff, some of our goals will not be achieved due to the inefficiencies of the current antiquated manual system. However, I am very pleased to report that, two very important changes to address these inefficiencies are underway. Finally, and I repeat FINALLY, the automation of the Records commonly called registry files, of the Ministry of Public Service is underway. Staff has been trained and population of the FILENET database commenced a month ago.
This is a long term project considering that the personnel file of each of the 26,000 public officers must be entered and that many long serving officers have two and in some cases three volumes. In addition, there are thousands of policy files to be uploaded into the system. Immediate benefit is that every document received into the Ministry, as of now, will be scanned and uploaded into the database for quick retrieval. By the end of August the system should be fully established and adapted to meet our practical needs and address unexpected glitches. At this time consideration will be given to engaging a cadre of temporary employees to accelerate the advancement of the project. It is hoped that by January of next year the process of records automation could be expanded to the entire public service.
Automation of the Human Resources Systems of the Ministry of Public Service is long overdue. As I reported in my mid-term contribution, the preliminary work, including a needs assessment, has been completed. I am advised that the Ministry of Finance has been authorized to move forward with procuring the new HR/Payroll system within this budget year, through an IDB Project. Delay in modernizing the HR Systems would diminish our capacity to sustain the progress made and to respond to the demands and expectations of our 26,000 employees, for excellence in customer service.
Training and Development
As promised, the Ministry of Public Service, in keeping with its mandate has undertaken several other training and development mandates.
During the 2013/2014 fiscal year, one hundred (100) Registry Personnel and employees interested in pursuing a career in records management were trained in Registry Procedures. These included 40 employees resident in Grand Bahama. Funding is in the new budget for the continuation of this project.
Training was conducted for 70 Administrative Cadet in Writing in the Public Service including Cabinet Paper Writing. A comprehensive training programme developed for Administrative Cadets is currently under review.
Over the past several years hundreds of persons without BJC and/or BGSE were engaged in the Public Service. This year over two hundred students enrolled at Bahamas Baptist College for the Upgrading for Public Officers to pursue credentials in Pitman I & II English, Book Keeping and Accounting, Word Processing Office Procedures and Microsoft BJC and BGCSE English. Overall results were very satisfactory. After three months of classroom instruction, examination success in individual subjects ranged from 81 % to 60% with an overall average of 70%. Over 200 students are enrolled this semester, and we are awaiting the results.
Funding has been included in the 2014/2015 Budget for the continuation of all of the above training programmes including training in the basics of project management for Administrative Cadets.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Public Service has completed a training needs survey. Approximately 800 employees were requested to respond to an online survey. At final count 46 of the 57 targeted governmental agencies participated.
The results provided invaluable information about training in the Public Service.
The findings suggest that in most cases if employees had knowledge of their job descriptions, they also knew which standards and guidelines they were to follow. Moreover, if employees possessed skills/knowledge, most often, they were placed in areas where their skills were best utilized which fostered a love for their jobs.
Eighty percent of employees declared that they knew their job descriptions. 81% of line staff, 74% of supervisors and 62% of managers indicated that they were clearly aware of the standards/guidelines they are to follow to ensure that they are performing their jobs satisfactorily. The majority of respondents also indicated that they had the knowledge/skills necessary to perform their jobs and 71% said they love their jobs.
In evaluating the gaps in training, findings showed that about half of the employees have not participated in training inside or outside of the Public Service Centre for Human Resource Development in the past five years. They have been blindly functioning in the Public Service and individual Ministries and Departments are not ensuring that these employees get opportunities to be trained. This situation if not corrected will have a deleterious effect on the employee and the Public Service as a whole.
From a list containing 57 training courses employees were asked to select the training course/programmes that they felt were needed to enhance their professional development. In addition they were asked to identify the training courses most needed in their Ministry or Department. Students were also asked to select the courses they had done within the past five years.
Not one of the priorities showed a significant amount of participants who have attended in the last five years. The results varied from a high of 18% to a low of 0.3%.
These results Mr. Speaker, indicate that while the Public Service Centre for Human Resource Development has been conducting essential programmes in most cases, there needs to be a review of the process whereby individuals are selected and we must engage a strategy/modality for increasing access to more public officers. An explanation for the gap exists because of the:
• absence of an established training function with dedicated staff in Ministries/Departments:
• lack of training and development plans for individuals within the ministries/departments. It is noted that often this section of performance evaluations are left blank;
• lack of strategic planning at all levels;
• lack of training information systems to track participants’ progress in relation to training completed.
The majority of respondents (59% line staff and 62% of managers) indicated that the training courses/programmes conducted by PSHRD were effective. However, results for transfer of knowledge were unclear.
You will recall that, in the midterm, I indicated that MPS requested every Ministry to identify two designated training officers/ one technical and one administrative. I am pleased to report that most Ministries have complied and the first "Train the Trainer Workshop" was completed with great results. Participants were charged to develop a training plan for their respective agencies. A follow up session will be held early in the upcoming budget year.
Further, Mr. Speaker, the MPS is already advancing plans to advance e-learning within the Public Service. The relocation of the Training Centre to the state of the art facility on Blake Road which includes modern classrooms and computer labs would facilitate this paradigm shift.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, the Ministry is seeking to advance, with assistance the Commonwealth Secretariat, the establishment of a Public Service College.
Service Wide Promotion
The Cabinet has approved funding in the amount of $1.8m to facilitate the 2014 Service Wide Promotion exercise, including the related assessments. A circular will be forthcoming by the first month of the budget year with the pertinent details.
You are aware Mr. Speaker, that the MPS has conducted a staffing needs survey. MPS will host a meeting with each Ministry to review their submissions and to validate same for inclusion in the master plan which will be submitted to Cabinet.
There has been much progress in Labour Relations in the Public Service and as a result of the ongoing consultation with Labour unions there is a pervasive spirit of cooperation and a strengthening of a partnership toward the common good. Today, yet another agreement has been signed, with the Doctors Union for PHA physicians. Negotiations continue with respect to the Ministry of Health physicians. However, the Government has agreed that going forward all doctors (PHA and MOH) represented by the bargaining unit will benefit from health insurance.
Negotiations with the Bahamas Union of Teachers for a new Industrial Agreement have commenced, and it expected that discussions with the BPSU should commence today.
Public Sector Reform
My Ministry is involved in a number of Public Sector Reform initiatives in collaboration and consultation with the Public Service Commission and other Ministries and Departments. These include, review and strengthening of the capacity of the Ministry of Public Service to fulfil its roles and responsibilities, establishing Human Resources training and development with particular focus on executive management, Pensions Reform, elimination of double dipping with respect to NIB benefits, and Strengthening/restructuring of the management of Public Service Health Insurance Scheme to name a few.
During the 2013/2014 budget year much has been accomplished and much more remains to be done in every area, accommodations, human resources management, training and development, industrial relations, modernization of delivery systems, and building capacity within the Ministry of Public Service to fulfil its mandate.
The three research projects undertaken, (abandoned buildings, training needs and staffing needs survey) clearly highlight the need to continue to inculcate research planning and development as an essential and continuous management function. Therefore, my Ministry has requested funding for the recruitment of a Consultant to head the Research Policy Planning and Development Unit which will be established with the Ministry of Public Service early within the budget year.
One of the primary tasks of this unit will be to develop a strategic plan for the Ministry of Public Service aligned with the Government's Development Plan for the country. In addition, based on the budget allocation, the unit will be responsible to coordinate the development of an action plan for the next two years with time bound performance indicators and cost implications. The unit will also coordinate public sector reform initiatives within the mandate of the Ministry of Public Service. Finally, Mr. Speaker the Unit will be responsible for monitoring and evaluation of progress and producing an Annual Report for the Minister responsible for the Public Service. This, Mr. Speaker, should diminish adhocracy and establish a shared vision, and enhanced potential to achieve realistic expected results for the way forward.
The Ministry of Labour and National Insurance
I now turn to the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance. You will be aware of my recent attendance at the 103rd Session of the International Labour Conference. I offer special thanks to the Tripartite Bahamian delegation comprising Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Geneva Rhoda Jackson, Mr. Robert Farquharson, Acting Director of Labour, Mr. Peter Goudie, representing the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation, and to Ms Ushla Oliver and Ms Nelerene Harding, who represented the Commonwealth of the Bahamas Trade Union Congress, and the National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas, respectively.
This team did an excellent job in representing the interests of The Bahamas as the 185 member states of the ILO deliberated on a number of issues including transitioning from the informal to a formal economy, strategic objectives of employment, labour migration and measures to strengthen the ILO Convention on forced labour.
During my address to this Session of the ILO Conference, Mr. Speaker, I proudly announced the excellent working relationship that the Government of The Bahamas has with its Social Partners and the exciting initiatives that the PLP Government has undertaken to stimulate the economy, reduce the level of unemployment and improve the standard of living and quality of life for all Bahamians.
The goal of this Government, Mr. Speaker, is as always, to secure the future of the Bahamian people of our beloved Bahamas. This is the unconditional mandate of the Progressive Liberal Party led by the Right Hon. Perry Gladstone Christie, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. Our goal of securing the future was reflected in the Budget 2013/2014, and has been even more amplified in this progressive Budget of 2014/2015.
Mr. Speaker, the watchwords of the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance are social security, job preparation, and job protection. Every decision and every plan in every Agency or Unit of my Ministry is undergirded by these pillars, with the main purpose of securing the future for all Bahamians. You will also see, Mr. Speaker, a deliberate focus on bringing Government services closer to the people who need them - through physical location, technology and training. We are available and we are accessible!!
The National Insurance Board
As I said to you in the Mid-Year Review, the National Insurance Board (NIB) will celebrate its 40th anniversary later this year as administrators of social security for The Bahamas, having received that mandate on 7th October, 1974. Through its evolution over the course of the past 40 years, NIB has and continues to successfully serve its purpose by providing important social security benefits and assistance and a reliable economic safety net for Bahamians during their time of need.
To commemorate this event, preparations commenced in 2013 for an enhanced public awareness campaign that will extend throughout this year 2014 and will cover the history and development of National Insurance in The Bahamas, as well as introduce, in a more transparent way the operations of the National Insurance Board, its Board members and staff.
In many ways 2013 was a watershed year for NIB, as it moved to settle after the internal turmoil of 2012. The new management of the Board set as a priority, the development of a three year strategic plan based on an approach that was customer-centric, risk-based, innovative and whole-of-organisation.
In addition, the International Labour Organization (ILO) will be engaged by the National Insurance Board to conduct actuarial reviews of both the National Insurance Fund and the National Prescription Drug Fund. The ILO is due to commence this exercise on 1st July of this year.
Rest assured, Mr. Speaker, that it is the goal of my Ministry, the Board members and management of NIB to continue to be good stewards, by taking positive action to keep the National Insurance Board Fund strong and solvent for generations to come. In this regard, I am pleased to say that the 2013 contribution income budget of $224,215,366.00 was exceeded by 2.5%. Contributions collected for the year totalled $229,700,000.00 which was due primarily to the intensified efforts of the compliance component aided additionally by the 1st April universal assessment of interest on all late contributions.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that the theme of the 2010 Amendments to the National Insurance legislation was “Enhancing the promise, securing the future.” This lofty mission continued into 2013 when amendments to the Contribution Regulations relative to workers in the hospitality industry and to pensionable civil servants, were successfully implemented on the 1st July 2013.
As a result, hospitality workers are now allowed to pay contributions on formally paid gratuities and tips where before they were limited to paying on base wages only. Pensionable civil servants now pay contributions across the board on the same ceiling as other employees, where before they were limited to a ceiling of $110 for pensions. These laudable changes will impact positively on future benefit pay-outs to these insured persons.
My Ministry and, indeed, each person at NIB who is engaged in the vital business of securing social security protection are mindful of the sacred responsibility that is vested in the organization for the programme it administers. The customer is our main concern, and this fact is evidenced in the numerous advancements that the National Insurance Board is making and has made – particularly in the field of technology.
In March of this year, Mr. Speaker, NIB introduced the Registrants Self-Serve facility that allows registered persons around the country, easy and convenient access to their personal information, and the ability to view and download their Contribution Statements from their computers. This allows contributors a level of comfort in knowing that contributions are being paid on their behalf and consequently their benefits are secure and available when they need them.
It also gives them the opportunity to address together with NIB any failure on the part of employers to pay contributions. I paraphrase a slogan that I see in communities here in New Providence “When workers are watching, employers are less apt to make mistakes or omissions – even innocent ones.”
In addition, Mr. Speaker, to the online access to contribution information, NIB just recently implemented the process to replace the old, bright yellow paper National Insurance card with a new, state-of-the art premier plastic laminate Card that is further personalized with the registrant’s photograph. I call it a Smart Card, because it is anticipated that this card will lend itself to a myriad of additional purposes in the future.
I know that I don’t have to tell you that there is a great demand for the social security services that NIB provides. If you pass any NIB office lately, particularly those in New Providence, you would see that each one is a beehive of activity no matter the time of the workday. I sometimes get complaints that it is taking longer and longer to access services from NIB. To alleviate this concern, the use of technology will become increasingly vital to the operations at NIB.
Added to what has been happening through the use of Information Technology, the team at NIB has advised me that there are a number of other measures in place or being put in place to alleviate the long waiting times. For example, I am advised, that NIB has several pay stations – i.e. places where a person can pay contributions. He or she can go to Jumbey Village, Wulff Road, Fox Hill or to the Main Post Office on East Hill Street. At the NIB Headquarters, at Jumbey Village, there is an Express Window for persons making payments for up to four months. Each office has a drop box for cheques, with an additional drop box located at the Cable Beach Post Office. All boxes are checked twice per day.
There is also the option, Mr. Speaker, to pay contributions by direct deposit if you are a customer of the Royal Bank of Canada. Simply pay online and mail in the contribution statement form to NIB. And speaking of online, NIB is actively engaged in developing the facility by which anyone will be able to pay contributions online. Currently, this service is anticipated to come on stream during the second quarter of next year and hand in hand with this will be the facility to pay contributions by credit card.
Mr. Speaker, ground breaking innovations are happening at NIB, and as I said before, we understand the importance of National Insurance. To ensure we fulfil our mission, we need all employers and self-employed persons to pay their contributions on time, every time. When they do, they have NIB’s assurance and commitment to do its part. We are committed to ensuring that all pay windows are open during peak periods and we are committed to improving and, indeed, expanding the network of service centres.
We are also exploring the establishment of a full-service one-stop shop customer service centre facility to further relieve the pressure off of the Jumbey Village Offices, as well as to opening an additional pay station in South West New Providence by the third quarter of this year.
With regard to benefit payments, Mr. Speaker, NIB is in the process of engaging commercial banks in dialogue with a view to direct depositing of short term payments. This will reduce the need for persons to come to NIB offices. But we know we will never be able to eliminate foot traffic altogether, so NIB is exploring other options as well, like extending the hours of operation to 6 p.m., or opening on Saturdays.
Not only does NIB impact positively on individuals with income-replacing benefits and assistance, it also makes significant investments in financially sound economic developments to diversify and to ensure the continued viability of the National Insurance Fund to allow the Fund to grow.
In December 2013, NIB made a significant loan investment in the amount of ten million dollars ($10 million) to the Ministry of the Environment and Housing Programme to assist the Government through the Ministry of Housing in providing scores of affordable homes for Bahamians throughout the country.
Other investments were made through NIB's Fund to assist in other major development projects such as the construction of the Public Hospitals Authority Critical Care Unit and the Water and Sewerage Corporation Water Treatment Plant in the amount of ten million dollars ($10 million) each.
The Government currently provides private health insurance coverage for various groups of persons in the civil service at an estimated cost of $100 million. With rising healthcare costs as well as continued expectations of these persons to have expanded benefits, it is imperative for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to its employees while at the same time giving serious consideration to the amount of healthcare expenditure.
It may be recalled, Mr. Speaker, that I reported to this Honourable House that in June 2013, a Steering Committee was established to evaluate the options for the implementation of a universal healthcare plan or a National Health Insurance (NHI) Plan. Work which was done in 2007 that produced recommendations for the successful implementation of NHI, formed the basis for the remit of the Committee.
On the 1st April, 2014, Mr. Speaker, the National Insurance Board facilitated the contractual engagement of Sanigest Internacional, to mobilize an expert team to assist in providing operational details on key aspects of NHI such as (1) defining the benefits package, (2) defining costing and financing arrangements, and (3) developing provider payment mechanisms.
The Sanigest team is also reviewing the Prescription Drug Plan in the context of the delivery of universal health care in preparation for NHI, to advise how this business unit of NIB may be merged into the NHI Plan. Additionally, a detailed assessment will be undertaken to determine the information and communication technology (ICT) requirements for the implementation of NHI as well.
Mr. Speaker, the PLP Government led by the Right Hon. Perry Gladstone Christie, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance has commenced the work of mobilising the necessary resources, in the form of an implementation team and related support working groups, to work with Sanigest on the mechanics of the implementation of the NHI. These actions and activities will ultimately lead to a successful implementation and roll out of the National Health Insurance Plan on the 1st January, 2016.
Within real estate investment portfolio, I am pleased to report The J.L. Centre on Blake Road is 99% complete and scheduled for occupancy by the Department of Civil Aviation and the Department of Meterology by the end of this month, at which time all appropriate approvals will be in hand.
In addition, we have an aggressive construction programme which will have the added benefit of stimulating the economy for job creation for many persons in the construction industries. To name a few that are in the works:
• the Replica building to the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs on John F. Kennedy Drive;
• the JFK Government Complex;
• Proposed Cold Storage Facility - Flamingo Gardens Clinic
• Abaco and Exuma Community Healthcare Facilities
The National Training Agency
Mr. Speaker, the second pillar of my Ministry, Job Preparation, is being achieved through the vehicle of the National Training Agency (NTA) which is specifically focused on training youth 15 through 26-years of age for successful entry into the workforce.
In my 2013/2014 Budget contribution, this PLP Government led by our Prime Minister and Minister of Finance promised that we would establish an Agency “as a competency based training and job placement system that was flexible and responsive to the actual requirements of the workplace”. We further promised that this Agency would, among other things “develop and improve employable skills and competencies, transform undesirable attitudes and behaviours towards work, reduce functional literacy, encourage civic pride and lower unemployment so that there was a positive influence on the reduction of crime”.
At a recent meeting on Labour in Georgetown, Guyana, Mr. Speaker, Delegates were reminded of the need for specific skills training to industry standards as labour markets are now driven by demand and not supply. We are obligated to prepare persons for what is required by the market and can no longer force the market to accept the skills that we choose to produce. In addition to this new reality, you will no doubt be aware, Mr. Speaker, that many employers have opined that in too many cases, even when they find applicants with the appropriate skills, their attitudes are unacceptable making them even more unemployable.
As has been demonstrated by speaker after speaker in this Honourable House, this PLP Government under the leadership of our Prime Minister and Minister of Finance delivers on its promises.
The National Training Agency, which was established eleven months and two weeks ago, has included in its mandate, training in soft skills to include conflict resolution, attendance, punctuality, basic courtesy and building relationships with the employer, the successful completion of which must precede placement of the applicant in a skills training programme. In its short life, the National Training Agency has established itself as a well-respected entity to the point where it now serves as a role model for other private sector training programmes.
I am, Mr. Speaker, truly proud of the hard work and remarkable success experienced by NTA. Individuals once hampered by a sense of failure and the inability to find useful work to sustain themselves and their families are achieving success and can now have confidence in themselves and their self-worth. Through collaboration with the training providers and the Department of Labour, Bahamians are finding employment.
To date, Mr. Speaker, in the first cohort in New Providence NTA has trained some 450 persons in the Mandatory Workforce Preparatory Programme, of which 360 completed skills training and 300 sat the City and Guilds Certification Examination. More than 80% of those sitting the examinations were successful. In the second cohort, two hundred forty-seven (247) persons completed the Mandatory Workforce Preparatory Programme, of which two hundred thirty-two (232) were referred to skills training and, of this number, two hundred five (205) completed.
Mr. Speaker, the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, opened the NTA Grand Bahama office on 6 March 2014 and this Office, though not fully staff and set-up, is already at work. Of the two hundred ten (210) applicants eligible for the Mandatory Workforce Preparatory Programme on that island, one hundred seventy (170) completed and were referred to skills training. These figures indicate that the Mandatory Workforce Preparatory Programme is an accurate indicator of the trainees’ commitment to finding employment and no trainee is sent to the skills training programme without successfully completing this Programme.
Lastly, on the matter of NTA, I am pleased to report that the Board of Directors has been populated and the Hon. Pierre Dupuch serves as its Chairman while Dr. Cecil Longley, Under Secretary in Grand Bahama serves as the Deputy Chair. The NTA Board of Directors is already at work having held its inaugural Meeting on 1st May, 2014.
Mr. Speaker, I must go on record, however, for extending the Government’s gratitude to the many private organizations, who have partnered with the Government in Grand Bahama and New Providence to provide the necessary skills training. In New Providence, I am particularly pleased to make honourable mention of the Bahamas Bus and Truck Co. Ltd., Sanpin Motors and Diamonds International for their magnificent demonstration of public/private sector partnership.
I note for the record, Mr. Speaker, that Diamonds Internationals has trained 38 trainees of the NTA. Of this number, Diamonds International has employed 19 and personally found employment for 13 of the remaining 19 trainees. In addition, Diamonds International has also established a Leadership Rotational Programme which will permit Bahamians to be trained in any of its 25 international offices. This is indeed noteworthy and commendable. I encourage other private entities to partner with us in this noble cause.
Mr. Speaker, in the coming months following the passage of the 2014/2015 Budget, I will be seeking approval to expand this vital training programme, as necessary, to the islands where it is most needed including Abaco, Andros, Bimini, Eleuthera and Exuma, and to enter into discussions with the owners and managers of the developments on these islands to offer skills training to our young people so that they become employable.
The Department of Labour
I turn now, Mr. Speaker, to the Department of Labour. Since the appointment of Mr. Robert Farquharson on 23rd September, 2013 as the new Director of Labour and Registrar of Trade Unions, the Department of Labour has embarked on an aggressive programme to improve its level of productivity and efficiency. A new three-year strategic plan was developed and is currently being implemented. The reassignment of a number of senior officers and a review of their portfolios, in the Department has already yielded immeasurable results. Members of the public are giving the staff of the Department of Labour, from Grand Bahama to Exuma, high praises for their invaluable efforts.
For the period 1st July, 2013 to 31st March, 2014 a total of two thousand two hundred eleven (2,211) complaints were filed in the Conciliation Unit of the Department. Of that amount, one thousand one hundred ninety-seven (1,197) were classified trade disputes and the remaining one thousand fourteen (1,014) were resolved, without a hearing, by the staff of the Department.
Mr. Speaker, of the 1,197 complaints classified as trade disputes and consequently requiring a Statutory Hearing, one thousand sixty-five (1,065) or 89% were either resolved or referred to the Industrial Tribunal for adjudication.
The Senior Management Team of the Department, Mr. Speaker, anticipates that by the end of 2014 the settlement rate for trade disputes will be 95%. The revamping of the Unit has proven to be beneficial and the old complaints and back log of cases are being speedily reduced.
The new Acting Director has already instituted an In-House Training Programme, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General to ensure that the staff of the Conciliation Unit remains current with court decisions.
Additionally, during the week of 23rd June, 2014, the Department of Labour in conjunction with its social partners and the Sub-Regional Office of the International Labour Organization will participate in a four-day Conciliation and Mediation Workshop. This training will enhance the skills of staff members of the Unit while at the same time members of the social partners will gain new knowledge and skills in the art of conciliation and mediation. It will also serve to foster a relationship of mutual understanding and consequently, mutual respect between all parties.
Mr. Speaker, the newly established Inspectorate Unit of the Department of Labour, initiated by a proactive PLP Administration, is already making a difference in the industrial relations environment. As you are aware, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Unit (OSHA) is charged with ensuring compliance with all statute laws related to the world of work and with monitoring and enforcing regulations related to labour certificates that are required to obtain work permits.
Our records, Mr. Speaker, indicate that for the period 1st July, 2013 to 31st March, 2014, the Inspectorate Unit received a total of eight hundred fifty- three (853) requests or complaints regarding inspections. The team was successful in completing seven hundred twenty-seven (727) or 85% of these complaints.
In addition, Mr. Speaker, the team in the Unit has also supervised seven (7) elections or polls pursuant to Section 20 of the Industrial Relations Act and is actively monitoring all training programmes established under the Labour Certificates Release Training procedures.
This new Unit will, Mr. Speaker, in the very near future, become the “tip of the spear” in the Government’s promise to protect the right of every worker to work in a safe and healthy environment. In keeping with the PLP Government’s pledge found in its Charter for Governance “to appropriately amend…..The Health and Safety At Work Act”, I tabled, for first reading, an amendment to the Health & Safety at Work Act, 2002 on 28th May of this year.
This Amendment will provide Health Inspectors in the OSHA Unit additional leverage to ensure greater compliance with the regulations as well as all relevant statutes impacting the workers of The Bahamas. It also provides for significant fines to be imposed upon employers who do not maintain healthy and safe workplace environments. Moreover, Mr. Speaker, I tabled in this Parliament the Occupational Health & Safety Regulations, which emanate out of the Health & Safety at Work Act, 2002, on 28th May of this year. That’s a Perry Christie led PLP Government Mr. Speaker! So said, so done!
In an effort to broaden the public’s awareness of the services of the Bahamas Employment Exchange, the Department of Labour developed and initiated a public relations campaign utilizing the print and electronic media. This initiative has resulted in a number of unemployed Bahamians registering with the Exchange and has enabled the Exchange to expand its database allowing the staff of the Exchange to more effectively match job seekers with job vacancies.
Further, Mr. Speaker, the relationship that the Department of Labour has developed with the management of Bimini World Resorts has become a model for relationships with other properties. Through the utilization of technology in E-mails, texts, whatsapp as well as other creative methods of communications, more Bahamians are being employed on the Bimini Project.
Similar relationships have been developed with the Melià Resort in Cable Beach, Mosko Construction Company, Osprey Construction Company, the Albany project, Sandals Resort and a host of smaller private-sector enterprises. Whenever these companies require manpower to work in their respective business, the services of the Employment Exchange is being utilized.
Many unemployed Bahamians can attest to the fact that in the last quarter of 2013 and the first six months of 2014, hundreds of interviews have been scheduled by the staff of the Exchange and many persons have been employed.
Since the Department of Labour opened its Robinson Road Sub-Office on 19th December 2013 another sub-office was opened in Fresh Creek, Andros on 17th March 2014 and in July of this year, yet another Sub-Office is expected to be opened on the island of Bimini. We are on the move to bring the services of the Department of Labour to the workers of The Bahamas and it is anticipated that by December 2014, new Sub-Offices will be opened in Fox Hill, in South-Western New Providence and in Eight Mile Rock Grand Bahama. Mr. Speaker, so said, so done!
Over the past twelve months the PLP Government has expanded the dialogue with our Social Partners and held consistent meetings with both umbrella organizations as well as meetings with individual trade unions and Employer Organizations. I will continue to remind this House that continuous dialogue with Social Partners is a fundamental principle of the PLP Government and we will continue what has proven to be beneficial and productive meetings throughout the 2014/2015 fiscal year.
I am extremely pleased, therefore, Mr. Speaker, that the National Tripartite Council Bill, which has been debated during the 2nd reading in the House of Assembly, is now at committee stage and only awaiting final recommendations on amendments from the social partners before it is passed and sent to the Upper Chamber. The delay in the passage of this historic piece of legislation was necessary as all stakeholders agreed to invite the comments of the Director General of the International Labour Organization to ensure that the Bill was consistent with international standards and best practices.
As I informed the Bahamian public in my Labour Day Address, these comments are now being analyzed by the social partners and after consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, the 3rd reading and passage, the Bill will become the law of the land.
Although, the National Tripartite Council legislation has not been enacted, I am pleased to announce that this proactive, worker friendly Government, sanctioned the first informal meeting of the National Tripartite Council which was held on Thursday 29th May, 2014 and I am told that it was extremely productive and successful. Yet another milestone, in our national development, has been achieved. So said, so done!
In confirmation of our dedication to protecting the Bahamian worker, our proactive PLP Government recently debated and passed the Industrial Relations (Validation of Trade Unions) Amendment Bill, 2014. This Amendment was ascented to by the Governor-General on Thursday, 12th June, 2014, gazette and became effective on the same date.
This critical and significant Bill was necessary to safeguard the wellbeing of thousands of Bahamian workers who would have been adversely affected by the involuntary dissolution of their respective trade unions. The Amendment ensured that the trade unions are compliant with the statute laws of The Bahamas.
On behalf of the Government of The Bahamas, I seize this opportunity to publicly thank the leadership of the National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas Trade Union Congress and the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation for their support and commitment to social dialogue.
This notwithstanding, Mr. Speaker, as promised in the Mid-Term Budget Review, official letters have already been sent out by the Registrar of Trade Unions reminding individual trade unions of their statutory obligations with regard to the submission of financial statements.
Further, Mr. Speaker, employers who refuse to comply with Notices of Conciliation meetings by the Department of Labour are hereby notified that the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act will be enforced and recommendations will be made to the Office of the Attorney General for their prosecution.
This Government promised in its Charter for Governance that we would “carefully review the Minimum Wage Act with a view to increasing the minimum wage to a level that would allow every working man and woman to meet the basic necessities of life”. To this end, I am also pleased to advise this Honourable House that I have invited our social partners to consider amendments to the relevant statutes and to submit recommendations, before December 2014, for an increase in the national minimum wage.
Additionally, Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of Labour & National Insurance, I fully support the establishment of a National Redundancy Fund from which Bahamian workers who are made redundant by dishonest employers or by employers who are unable to make redundancy payments, will be able to access their statutory entitlements without delay. The Government will then take the appropriate action to recover its monies.
Since June 2012, this PLP government led by the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance has completed nine Industrial Agreements and will always put Bahamians first. So said, so done!
The Bridge Authority
Mr. Speaker, the Bridge Authority has undertaken a number of initiatives to improve its efficiency. Among these are: (i) the completion of the Administrative building; (ii) the completion of the load testing report and consequent consideration of weight scales and a Weigh-in-Motion System; (iii) the completion of the toll system upgrade software; and (iv)the finalization of the Industrial Agreement with The Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU). Consideration is also being given to an increase in toll fares for the upkeep and management of the bridges. This would mark the first increase since the construction of the bridge.
Consistent with our goal of a high standard of skills development, the staff of the Bridge Authority is currently undergoing training to improve customer service and supervisory management and leadership.
Consumer Welfare Unit
Mr. Speaker, in my speech in this Honourable place during the Mid-term Budget Review, I gave certain undertakings to ensure that the Consumer Affairs Unit is given much assistance to enable it to fulfil its mandate. Today Mr. Speaker, I can say that we have achieved some measure of success and indeed we remain committed to even more achievements in spite of the fiscal realities that constrain us.
I am proud, Mr. Speaker, to inform this Honourable House that the Consumer Welfare Unit continues to monitor the breadbasket items under the Price Control Act, ensuring that all merchants adhere to the regulations so that the public gets value for monies being spent.
In the coming months, ahead of the implementation of Value Added Tax in January, 2015, Mr. Speaker, the Consumer Officers will work with the officers of the Ministry of Finance to ensure that Consumer officers are well versed in the application of the VAT taxation schematics to enable that Unit to effectively monitor prices in accordance with the Price Control Act.
The recently appointed Consumer Commission will have an expanded focus that will provide greater protection to consumers in ensuring that The Bahamas maintains a well-regulated market and that consumers have a forum whereby they can seek redress for any illegal practices as they contract for goods and services. Members of the Commission have also committed to travelling to the Family Islands in order to educate the consumer and provide fora in which to hear the complaints.
I anticipate that very soon my Ministry will move to create a Career Path for the upgrading of the Consumer Unit so that current and deserving consumer officers will be able to receive their just and due compensation for the efficient and professional services that they have rendered over the years and for which they continue to commit themselves. It is also the Ministry’s intention to recruit more qualified and trained individuals with the requisite skills in economics, finance and statistics as we seek to improve the quality of our service to the Bahamian people in this critical area.
Mr. Speaker, in closing, I wish to thank and congratulate my Permanent Secretaries and their hard working teams for their dedication, commitment and sterling efforts in assisting with carrying-out the mandate of the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance and the Ministry of the Public Service.
I am pleased, Mr. Speaker, to support the 2014/2015 Budget of the PLP Administration which is designed to securing our future. So said, so done!
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