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The Bahamas Year in Review, 2015 Commentary by Elcott Coleby
By Elcott Coleby
Jan 3, 2016 - 11:26:49 AM

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The year 2015 was a year of firsts and transition for The Bahamas, with critical pieces of transformational legislation changing The Bahamas forever. Our Prime Minister became the effective political head of CARICOM and the country continued its fight with Mother Nature and the socially vexing challenge of crime.

Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie became the effective political head of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) when he assumed the chairmanship of CARICOM on January 1st 2015. The Heads of Government meetings were held in New Providence at the Melia Resort during February of this year. High on the agenda were global warming; youth unemployment; the protection of the financial services sector; the creation of culture and sports as viable economic pillars and export commodities and the access of foreign capital at concessionary rates for alternative energy related projects.

The first ever Caribbean Energy Security Summit which took place in Washington DC on 26th January 2015 was a watershed moment for The Bahamas as US Vice President Joseph Biden agreed with The Bahamas that a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should not be the only qualifying criteria for accessing capital for energy related projects. Given the veto power of the United States on the Board of Directors of the Inter American Development Bank, this was a huge victory for The Bahamas. The Prime Minister made this point throughout his chairmanship of CARICOM and did so at the IDB Governors conference in Freeport this year and as late as December in Paris at the COP 21. Bahamas Foreign Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell campaigned and lobbied long and hard for this recognition among the industrialized world, the latest took place in Addis Ababa, Egypt this year at the financing conference. This is a big deal for the Bahamas.

Fresh off his participation in the third Summit of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Costa Rica, Prime Minister Christie led a ministerial delegation to Beijing China to attend the CELAC-China Summit. While there Mr. Christie met with President Xi Jinping and secured some important agreements for the future growth and development of The Bahamas. Both leaders agreed to trade the Chinese denominated RMB in The Bahamas; to use The Bahamas as a center of arbitration for trade disputes originating in China; both leaders agreed on a bilateral air service agreement for greater airlift between China and The Bahamas and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was agreed on for exchange and cooperation between the Bahamas Agriculture Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) in Andros and China’s Ocean University.

The Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act, FATCA, was fully implemented in The Bahamas in September 2015. This law further strengthens the financial services sector as a fully regulated, compliant and transparent jurisdiction. Tabled in Parliament on 15th July 2015, the law empowers the Financial Secretary in the Ministry of Finance to compile and report to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), financial information on all United States citizens holding accounts in The Bahamas.

The smooth and successful implementation Value Added Tax (VAT) was a major milestone in the country’s quest to structurally and functionally transform its tax regime. This policy undertaking is arguably the largest Public Private Sector Partnership (PPP) since the implementation of National Insurance in 1974. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has advised The Bahamas for many years that its tax base was too narrow to support a growing country and that customs duties failed to capture trade in the services industry which represents upwards of sixty percent of the Bahamian economy. The Central Bank of The Bahamas has projected VAT revenue to eclipse the one half billion dollar mark in the current fiscal year. This new law came with sweeping and broad based reduction in customs duties.

In a response to Value Added Tax (VAT) and to further ease the burden on tax payers, The Bahamas government passed legislation effectively increasing the minimum wage, bringing the private sector in line with the minimum wage paid by the government. The minimum wage was increased by 40% from $150 per week to $210 per week or $42 per day or $5.25 per hour. This was pursuant to Section 4(3) of the Minimum Wage Act, Chapter 321C. The new wage came into effect on the 15th August 2015.

The domestic gaming industry or the “numbers” industry as it is commonly called became a part of the formal Bahamian economy when the web shop gaming industry was legalized this year. This brought to an end an underground and unregulated economy that existed for decades. The hotel casino regime was also substantially modernized. Connected with this legislative transformation was the audit of the entire financial system of The Bahamas by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), an audit The Bahamas could not possibly pass with a looming $700 million unregulated gaming industry in existence. “PROBITY” continued to be the watch word for the Bahamas government on this front.

The Bahamas hosted its inaugural Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival between the 7th and 9th May 2015. Day one was “Junkamania;” day two was the “Music Masters Competition” and day three was “Road Fever.” Events were held on both Grand Bahama and New Providence attracting over 30,000 people in Grand Bahama and upwards of 70,000 in Nassau. The winner of the Music Masters competition was Sammie Starr for the song “Everybody Jump in Da Line.” According to Prime Minister Christie, the mandate he gave to the Bahamas National Festival Commission was four-fold: to stimulate sustainable economic opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises; to create a Bahamian-style carnival; to stimulate year-round employment in the creative sector and to positively and significantly impact the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

For the first time in its history, duty free concessions were extended beyond the Freeport city limits in Grand Bahama and extended to the entire island of Grand Bahama. A number of businesses took advantage of this tax concession to expansion their business enterprises and create job opportunities for Grand Bahamians. Also, certain tax concessions relative to the Hawksbill Creek Agreement came to an end in August 2015. While a committee was appointed and reported on the future of those concessions, the Parliament extended the provisions for an additional six months to allow for further study. In a London meeting with the principals of the Hutchison Holdings Limited, Tourism Minister Hon. Obie Wilchcombe reported to the House in December that the management of the Hutchison felt that a guaranteed continuation of the tax concession was crucial to their continued investment in Freeport. There are at least eight projects pending in Grand Bahama including the $250 million port expansion, a Logistics Center, extensive real estate developments and a cruise port earmarked for East Grand Bahama.

At long last the vexing problem of flooding on the Fishing Hole Road was addressed when the government entered into a $6.55 million contract with ABC Construction for a new elevated Fishing Hole Causeway. This artery connects Freeport to western Grand Bahama and any man made or natural disaster such as flooding literally isolates western Grand Bahama from the rest of the island and was a source of great consternation and the subject of much public debate, lobbying and demonstration by concerned citizens for the better part of the last thirty years. Other major infrastructure works were the bridge connecting the Grand Bahama Highway to East Grand Bahama; the opening of the fire station in Eight Mile Rock, ground breaking for the new Fire station in Freeport, the 36 unit housing division and the refurbishment of the fruit and craft market.

The $3.5 billion mega project called the Baha Mar Resort filed for bankruptcy on the 29th June 2015 in Delaware over a dispute between the developer and the contractor. The Bahamas Supreme Court rejected the application to rubberstamp the Delaware Court Order and appointed Joint Liquidators to manage the operations and arrest further depreciation of the physical plant asset. Some 2,000 Bahamian employees were made redundant by the Joint Liquidators.

The country’s healthcare infrastructure was substantially strengthened when the Princess Margaret Hospital’s one hundred bed Critical Care Block opened this year at a cost of around $100 million. The facility was touted as a world class healthcare facility and certainly one of the best and most modern in the region. This came as the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) was set to undergo a $60 million upgrade; the mini hospital in Exuma neared completion and clinics in Adelaide and Fox Hill were completed. Also, several clinics extended operating hours and for the first time in the country’s history, a medical doctor was stationed in every Family Island.

The government of The Bahamas came to the rescue of the public Bank of The Bahamas which was saddled with $100 million of non-performing commercial loans due largely to the negative impact of the global economic recession. In its response the government incorporated a legal entity called Resolve, transferred the non-performing loan portfolio to this entity whose sole responsibility was the recovery of the funds. This removal positioned the Bank of The Bahamas to return to profitability.

The Bahamasair fleet modernization fleet came to fruition with the arrival of the first 70 seats ATR prop Jet. The $100 million investment adds five new aircraft to the Bahamasair fleet – two 70 seats and three 50 seats ATR prop jets.

Category four Hurricane Joaquin struck in October, wreaking havoc in the Central and Southeast Bahamas causing an estimated $100 million in total structural damages. The Bahamas Government estimated the replacement cost of damaged public infrastructure at between $34 million and $54 million. The hardest hit island was Long Island. The big “feel good” story coming out of the storm was that there was no loss of life. In a related story, a United States flagged cargo ship, the El Faro, encountered mechanical difficulties in route to San Juan Puerto Rico from Florida, could not avoid Jacquin, and tragically sunk in waters in the southern Bahamas; there were no survivors.

The reform of the financially challenged state owned Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) and the reform of the country’s entire energy sector came a step closer to reality with the passage of the compendium of Electricity Bills and a management contract with American energy giant PowerSecure. The five year management contract is valued at $10 million and PowerSecure is mandated to reduce the cost of electricity by 30% in two years pursuant to their business plan.

A compendium of energy bills passed in the House this year paving the way for oil drilling in The Bahamas and the establishment of a Sovereign Wealth Fund to determine

how revenues from commercially viable quantities of petroleum deposits are spent. The bills are the Petroleum Act 2014 and the Sovereign Wealth Fund 2015 with attendant regulations. Three dimensional seismic data at four underground levels suggest that about four billion barrels of crude oil equivalent are deposited in The Bahamas. The dollar value ranges between $150 billion and $600 billion based on the fluctuation in oil prices on the international market. The Opposition opposed the bill.

The Bahamas launched its National Development Plan VISION 2040 at the College of The Bahamas (COB) this year. COB also began its $16 million transition to a university and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Organization of American States (OAS) for greater faculty and student exchanges between COB and universities in OAS member states. This was a quantum leap forward for the development of COB and its growing importance to national development.

Continuing on the theme of education, the 19th Conference of Commonwealth Education Minister (CCEM) was held at the Atlantis Resort on 22nd – 26th June 2015. Achieving quality education for equitable development through the Performance, Paths and Productivity (PPP’s) was the theme of the conference as a new set of Internationally Agreed Goals (IAG’s) for education in the Commonwealth were pursued.

The Bahamas Cooperative movement was in transition in 2015. With the Central Bank of The Bahamas assuming supervisory control of financial cooperatives with assets in excess of $1million, the cooperative movement found itself once again in developmental mode focusing on the development of non-financial/producer cooperatives. A number of high schools established cooperatives; the IICA has hosted a workshop on Bee Keeping and the International Labour Organization in partnership with the local Cooperative League began its pilot training program in The Bahamas on the general principles, establishment and operations of Cooperatives.

Cable Bahamas Limited (CBL) won the bidding war and was selected as the second cellular licensee as The Bahamas moves to liberalize the cellular phone services sector. The other licensee is the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).

A significant sign of the resurgence of Bahamas tourism was the recognition by regional tourism stakeholders that Bahamas Minister of Tourism was the Tourism Man of The Year for 2015. The ceremony was held at the Sandals Resort in Exuma. Several family islands enjoyed significant increases in airlifts and hotel occupancy room rates continued to increase.

Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie and Financial Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Civil Servant John A. Rolle were selected as Persons of The Year by Jones Communications Int. for the successful implementation of Value Added Tax (VAT) and the medium term Fiscal Consolidation Plan of the Bahamas government. Rolle also established the Department of Inland Revenue.

On the political front, Renward Wells of Bamboo Town and Dr. Andre Rollins of Fort Charlotte resigned from the PLP Parliamentary caucus and party to join the Free National Movement. Greg Moss of Marco City resigned from the PLP to form a new political party, the United Democratic Party and FNM candidate for the Marco City in the 2012 general election Norris Bain joined the PLP

The Bahamas Telecommunications Company introduced High Definition Television in Bimini this year and Quad Play to allow for the access of television programming via mobile devices.

The Bahamas government ratified the United Nations Charter on persons willing with disabilities. This was another major step forward in removing vestiges of inequality from our laws. The oversight Commission was also named. As part of its welfare reform initiative the government through the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development also rolled out its Safety Net Program with the Conditional Cash Transfer debit card. Roll outs took place in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco and North Andros.

The Ministry of Transport officially opened its multimillion dollar state of the art Airport Approach Center and radar system as part of the government’s modernization of the aviation sector. The Road Traffic Department began the transformation to total automation of its operations. This modernization is designed to close all systemic loopholes that give rise corruption, streamline the operation, eliminate long waiting lines and reduce operating costs.

To strengthen the administrative measures implemented by the Department of Immigration on 1st November 2014, the Bahamas Parliament passed an amendment to the Immigration Act called the Belongers Permit Act. This legislation addresses the issue of statelessness faced by persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamians but with legitimate rights to Bahamian citizenship under the constitution. Additionally, children of non-Bahamians are required to present proof of their right to reside and school in The Bahamas as a condition for entering schools.

Feeding illegal immigration, crime and potential public health issues is the proliferation of shanty towns. The government continued its policy thrust in 2015 to rid the country of shanty towns. It was discovered that many of the residents were Bahamians. They were advised to seek housing assistance from the Department of Social Services and the Department of Immigration has circulated new administrative measures calling for Bahamian work permit sponsors to provide adequate housing and health insurance as conditions for work permit approval for their workers.

The Bahamas Supreme court delivered some legal rulings this year on immigration matters that the government felt were challenges to the confidentiality of cabinet communications and the authority of the Bahamas Immigration Department to determine who can and cannot enter The Bahamas legally. The Supreme Court ordered the public release of all cabinet communications involving the case of Mathew Sewell and in the case of Bruno Rufa, the Supreme Court ruled that a person landed or not landed in The Bahamas has an expectation of natural justice if their entry is challenged. Decisions arising from this right to natural justice would be reviewable by the courts. Also, if a person is interdicted in The Bahamas and could not provide evidence of the right to reside and work in The Bahamas cannot be automatically deported; they must be afforded the right of natural justice. The Minister of immigration believes these rulings tie the hand of the department of immigration and floods the court system with immigration cases and that an amendment to the Immigration Act might be necessary.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced an $18 million project to create a comprehensive and fully integrated border control system to more efficiently and effectively track the movement of persons in and out of The Bahamas.

The work of the heroes committee at long last produced the Honours Bill passed recently in the House. The country now has its own set of societies and regulatory regime under which to select and further memorialize its national heroes.

It was a good year for Bahamas sports as Bahamians continued to make their presence felt on the international scene. Swim sensation Ariana Vanderpool-Wallace won the gold in the women’s 50 meters freestyle at the 2015 Pan American Games; The Bahamas CARIFTA swim team won the 2015 CARIFTA championship; Jeffrey Gibson won the men’s 400 meters intermediate hurdles at the Pan Am games; Shaunae Miller won the silver medal at the 2015 IAAF Track and Field Championship in China and Tureano Johnson won the WBC Silver Middleweight Championship. Johnson’s victory strategically placed him as a legitimate challenger for a world title. Legends Walk, that concrete pavement leading to the stadium was established at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in 2015, immortalizing all of the Bahamian sporting icons. Also, NBA champion Mychal ‘Sweet Bells’ Thompson was immortalized when the main entrance into the stadium was named in his honour. In the end, sprinter Shaunae Miller was the country’s athlete of the year for 2015.

On the entertainment front, Bahamian singer/songwriter Julien Believe placed The Bahamas on the international stage when he performed at the Miss World Pageant in Sanya, China in December of this year. He shared the stage with fellow Bahamian, Miss World Bahamas Chantel O’Brian, as they and other contestants swayed to the beat of “Caribbean Slide.” Miss Spain was eventually crowned Miss World.

Bahamas government signed onto COP21 climate change agenda called the “Paris Agreement” in December 2015. The UN member states agreed to contain the rise in global warming to 1.5 Celsius.

Crime continued to be a major and vexing social issue in 2015 with murder continuing to climb as other categories of serious crimes showed declines. Three highly emotive and high profile murders in 2015 was the conviction of Donna Vasyli for the murder of her husband, an Australian Podiatrist. The other was the senseless murder of Queen’s College teacher Joy McIntosh as she traveled down Park Gate Road and the stabbing death of 16 year old Doris Johnson High School 12th grader Adonai Wilson by two other students aged 15 and 17; this crime was caught on camera. The Christmas holiday was marred by six shootings, five of which were at the hands of young black women. This is a new and troubling development as the vast majority of victims and perpetrators of serious crimes such as murder are young black males. The country ended 2015 with 148 murders. Prime Minister Christie has promised the allocation of more resources and “good news” in the fight against crime in the New Year. The latest anti crime measures announced by the Prime Minister were the tracking system for at risk students in the public school system; a $20 million jobs training and placing program for youth to be administered by Urban Renewal; a grant to fund the transition of the Department of Corrections into a fully functional correctional institution and the $20 million IDB funded Citizens Security Initiative that involves a parole system. The Prime Minister warned however that some of the new measures may pose challenges to perceived civil liberties and freedom of movements for some people.

The Al Jazeera documentary on doping called “The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers” implicated a Bahamian doctor as a distributor of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) to elite athletes. The doctor named was Dr. Nicholas Fox who claimed that some of our golden girls were his patients but that he assisted them with more traditional medication. Golden Girls Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie and Pauline Davis-Thompson vehemently denied any involvement in the doping scandal and the Bahamas Minister of Sports, Dr. Daniel Johnson, dismissed the “scurrilous” comments in the commentary.

Twenty-six Bahamians were named in the Queen’s 2016 New Years honours list. Receiving top honours or Knighthoods of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George are Franklin Wilson for services to business and philanthropy and Charles Carter for broadcasting and the media. The Hon. Anita Mildred Allen was named Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to the Bahamas Court of Appeal and Judiciary.

The Bahamas lost some of its finest sons and daughters in 2015. GBPA principal Sir Jack Hayward; businessman Sir Albert Miller; businessman Bismark Coakley; former Cabinet Minister and Parliamentarian Warren Levarity; Banker Reno Brown; entertainer and music producer Jonathan “Johnny” Kemp; educator and mother “Bluejay” Sandra Edgecombe; entertainer Count Bernardino and tourism icon Mildred Sands all departed this life in 2015. They all left huge shoes to be filled, having built a better and stronger Bahamas because of their selfless contributions to national development. May their souls Rest In Peace.



About the author: Elcott Coleby is a Deputy Director at the Bahamas Information Services. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry (B.Sc) and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). He provides frequent commentary on public policy and communicates the works of the government. Address all comments to the following email: egcoleby44@gmail.com


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