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Columns Last Updated: Apr 8, 2017 - 4:50:52 PM


This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: Apr 3 - 7
By Elcott Coleby
Apr 8, 2017 - 4:37:44 PM

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Prime Minister Christie notifies of Parliament dissolution

THE DISSOLUTION OF THE PRESENT PARLIAMENT: For general information, especially for the benefit of all those persons who would like to vote in the forthcoming General Election but have not yet registered to do so, it is my intention to cause the present Parliament to be dissolved on Tuesday, the 11th April, and to cause writs of election to be issued the same day.

This will mean that only those persons who would have registered to vote on or before Monday, April 10th would be able to vote in the forthcoming General Election.

I would therefore encourage all my fellow Bahamians to play their part in our democracy by registering to vote if they have not already done so, and to do so without further delay.

Bahamas Parliament prorogued

Provost Marshal, Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade, read two Proclamations from Her Excellency the Governor General, from the steps of Parliament on Friday afternoon. The first Proclamation Prorogued Parliament on the 7th April 2017 and the second Proclamation gave Notice of the return to Parliament on 11th April 2017.

The Minister of National Security, responsible for Parliamentary Elections, urged Bahamians to get registered to vote, so that they can exercise an important franchise afforded to lawfully qualified citizens.

The last day to register to vote will be April 10.

Registration centres will be open from 9am to 9 pm through Saturday of this week.

On Monday, April 10, all registration centres will open at 9am and close at 5pm.After this point, no citizens will be able to register to vote in the upcoming elections.

Beginning Tuesday, April 11, 2017, registered voters in New Providence may collect their Voter’s Card at the Parliamentary Registration Department Headquarters, Farrington Road, and in the Family Islands at the office of the Family Island Administrator.

AG launches new electronic Bail Management System (BMS)

Building on her Ministry’s hugely successful Swift Justice Initiative (SJI), Sen. Hon. Allyson Maynard-Gibson, Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, along with Minister of National Security, Hon. Bernard Nottage, launched a new electronic Bail Management System on Thursday, March 30. This new system will allow for the processing of bail applications, persons who are granted bail, Suretors, as well as police station check-ins, to all be done electronically.

On Monday of this week, the AG presented a demonstration of the electronic Bail Management System for reporters at the Office of the Attorney General.

The BMS represents a continued effort by the Office of the Attorney-General to crack down on persons acting as Suretors for more than one person’s bail. The system will also rely on biometrics (fingerprints and photos) to keep track of persons who have been granted bail with conditions.

The launch of the New Bail Management System comes after two (2) amendments to the Bail Act were passed—one in 2014 and another in 2015. The 2014 amendments augmented the law to:

    Make it the burden of the applicant to satisfy the court that bail should be granted;

    Ensure that the protection of the victim is of paramount importance in cases where violence was involved, and

    Require that an individual state that they are not currently a surety in any other proceedings.

    The Bail Act was further amended in 2015, making a breach of the terms of bail a criminal offense punishable by up to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $50,000 or both imprisonment and a fine.

    Bahamas Trade Information Portal launched

    Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie officially launched The Bahamas Trade Information Service Portal in a ceremony held at the British Colonial Hilton on Thursday, 6th April 2017.

    This initiative is the first of its kind in The Bahamas and one of only a few Trade Information Portals in the Caribbean Region.International trade is under the purview of the Ministry of Financial Services and its Minister, the Hon. Hope Strachan are aggressively transforming the Financial Services Sector in The Bahamas. The Bureau of Standards; creating a premier arbitration destination here and establishing the Bahamas as a trade center for the Chinese RMB are just some of the products and services being developed and offered by that Ministry.

    The establishment of the Trade Portal, in collaboration with The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, is a PPP and an important part of the Government’s ongoing efforts to improve the ease of doing business here while diversifying the Bahamian economy through trade expansion in both goods and services with regional, hemispheric and international trading partners.

    The Trade Portal is another step in fulfilling the objectives of the country’s national development strategy - strengthening the use of information and communications technology in the country’s development.

    The Ministry of Financial Services has pledged to continue to work with the Chamber of Commerce to ensure that the information provided through the Portal effectively meets the needs of business enterprises.

Wilchcombe confirms original Carnival date

After consultation with the Honorable Prime Minister, the Right Honorable Perry Christie, the Minister of Tourism wishes to inform the public that the original dates for Junkanoo Carnival 2017 have been re-instated May 4 – 6, Nassau and April 28 – 29, Grand Bahama. Additionally, the Minister has requested that the Grand Bahama component of the festival be re-instated for this year’s carnival.

The Minister of Tourism said while he understands the thinking that led to the decision made by the Carnival Commission that resulted in the change of dates for the annual event, the Minister is satisfied that after full consideration of all matters pertaining to this year’s carnival an intervention was necessary.

The public intervention followed the voices of local stakeholders and in consideration of the many guests who have made preparations to travel to the Bahamas for this year’s carnival on the original dates. The Carnival Commission must now ramp up its marketing and promotions in New Providence and Grand Bahama.

The Ministry of Tourism intends to work closely with the Commission.

“It is heartening to know that thousands of Bahamians anxiously await Carnival 2017 to ensure its great success” said the Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe.

National Health Insurance (NHI) Act comes into force

The NHI Act came into force Wednesday, providing Prime Minister Christie with the power to establish the NHI Authority, the NHI Secretariat announced. This allows staff to be hired to run the authority and it allows contracts to be executed with primary healthcare providers.

More than 60 doctors in the private sector have registered as a primary care providers in the government’s NHI program, the NHI Secretariat said.

The identities of the doctors were not disclosed in the statement, but the Secretariat said their participation will be augmented by primary care providers in the public sector such as those who work under the Department of Public Health and the Public Hospitals Authority.

Foreign Ministry responds to “Social Media Mischief”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration issued a statement on Thursday of this week in response to the politicization of a naturalized citizen’s decision to register to vote on the same day the Certificate of Naturalization was granted.

Characterizing this social media post as an “obvious and unfortunate mischievous political inference, attempting to conflate what is normal Ministry business on naturalization with current politics,” the Ministry said it was committed to its mandate.

“The Ministry has, for some time, committed to the public to try to process applications for work permits, naturalizations and citizenships in the most timely manner possible.That has not changed” said the statement.

“The work of Government in general and the work of this Ministry in particular is serious, sober business and is conducted according to strict rules and regulations that have been in place for many years and are followed to the letter by this Ministry.That will continue to be the case. We encourage the public not to become distracted by attempts at mischief emanating from social and other media.”

The Ministry did uncharacteristically release specific information on the individual in question. The person applied for citizenship on 17 March 2008 past the constitutional deadline of her 18th birthday.The individual had to rely therefore on the provisions of the Bahamas Nationality Act, which requires a minimum of 7 years residence in The Bahamas and pursuant to our international obligations on citizenship matters, she was granted citizenship on 28 February 2017, some nine years after she applied.

“There is nothing unusual about the application or its approval,” said the Ministry.

In Passing…

Nassau Airport Development Company Ltd. (NAD) and Vantage Airport Group celebrated their 10th Anniversary as managers of the Lynden Pindling International Airport on Saturday, April 1, 2017 with a reception in the airport's gardens.LPIA was recently named the second best airport in the Latin American and Caribbean region by Airports Council International. Prime Minister Christie was in attendance and addressed guests.

On March 31st, Minister for Grand Bahama the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville, along with Island Commissioners, Department Heads, and members of the media took a tour of more than $50 million worth of projects launched and carried out by the Ministry for Grand Bahama within the Eastern part of Grand Bahama, including the work being carried out near the Rand Memorial Hospital. Minister Darvillestated“this existing Rand Memorial Hospital will become a secondary facility, which will be used basically for geriatric care as part of the Government’s plan for National Health Insurance.”

The University of the Bahamas Monday celebrated the renaming of two major nearby thoroughfares in honor of the country’s tertiary learning institution. Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis announced that Thompson Boulevard, from the six-legged roundabout to the roundabout at the intersection of Carter Street and Poinciana Drive, is now officially known as University Drive.

On the 30th March, Minister of Labour and National Insurance Shane Gibson officially opened the Occupational Health & Safety Unit of the National Insurance Board to better serve clients with claims related to industrial injury and medical care.

Travel Pulse reports that the Warwick Paradise Island has officiallyopened in Nassau, and that the harbor-side opening ceremony highlighted the territory’s fast-paced tourism infrastructure development.Prime Minister Christie said that the property symbolizes The Bahamas’ development as an “exciting, transformative” destination."

Primary healthcare services under NHI will launch near the end of this month, Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez said this week. The primary care phase of NHI was set to begin this month, but the exact date was never announced.

Minister of Social Services and Community Development Melanie Griffin said the Government is committed to addressing the needs and concerns of the older adult population of the country.

The preliminary cost of remediation at the New Providence Landfill is about $20 - $30 million, but this amount is expected to increase, Minister of the Environment and Housing Kenred Dorsett revealed.

The Bahama Journal reported that Agriculture Minister V. Alfred Gray said that the probability of BAMSI getting cancelled under a FNM government is very real.

The Bahama Journal reports that the Prime Minister dismissed Dr. Hubert Minnis’ accusations concerning the whereabouts of the VAT money, saying the leader “has no clue” with regards to governing a country.

The Bahama Journal reported that South and Central Abaco MP, Edison Key, has officially confirmed his support for the PLP.

At a joint constituency meeting at T. G. Glover Primary on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Christie described the PLP’s election campaign as a “short sprint” with a “big battle ahead”, where a timeline of the “first week or the second week of May” was revealed as the time frame the electorate could expect to head to the polls.

At a rally Golden Gates, FNM Leader Dr. Minnis railed against Prime Minister Christie and the PLP government for failing to address crime, wasting VAT money and most recently making a “boo boo” out of Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival.

Baha Mar has received government approvals for its gaming license, clearing the path for its casino operations ahead of its soft launch in three weeks, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe confirmed Tuesday. The scheduled soft opening is the 21st April 2017.

V. Alfred Gray revealed this week that the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) is currently producing less than $2 million worth of food and cannot keep up with the demand for local produce.

Hundreds of discrepancies exist on the voter register, including the names of people who are registering multiple times in multiple constituencies, and dates of birth that are questionable or invalid. The names of hundreds of people appear on the register twice. Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall vowed that his department will clean up the voter register and “get it right” for the country’s general election.

Bahamian Contractor’s Association President Leonard Sands argued yesterday that there are not enough low cost housing projects in the country, and therefore contractors follow suit by finding work where it exists in constructing more expensive homes.

A year-on-year analysis by the Central Bank of the Bahamas revealed a contraction in loan arrears, which fell by $199.3 million as compared to 2016, which the bank attributed in small part to the Government’ s mortgage relief plan.

The release of the sealed Supreme Court Baha Mar documents will take place this month, Attorney General Maynard-Gibson assured Tuesday, although it is uncertain whether the document will be made public before the Government’s self-imposed deadline.

NGM Major High School of Buckleys, Long Island, has won this year’s Model United Nations Simulation (MUNS), a competition in which students from a cross-section of public and private schools competed in a ‘Diplomat-for the-day’ event sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Rotary Clubs of The Bahamas on Friday at Holy Trinity Activity Center.

Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources V. Alfred Gray and Minister of Social Services and Community Development Melanie Griffin toured the Backyard Farming Initiative at the Simpson Penn Center for Boys and Willamae Pratt Center for Girls on Tuesday.

The Government is in the “final stages” of completing a deal with a prospective buyer for the Hutchinson Whampoa-owned Grand Lucayan resort complex in Grand Bahama. Guardian Business understands the purchaser is Paul Whynn, CEO of Canadian real estate developer Wynn Group.

The private sector is satisfied “for now” with the labor law reforms passed by Parliament, the Chamber’s chief executive confirming that “most of the sticking points” have been dealt with.

The Bahamas has the most productive VAT regime in the Caribbean, according to an IMF paper released yesterday, which indicated its ‘low rate, broad base’ structure could be used as a model for the entire region.

BTC made it official this week, signing an agreement enabling the country’s second mobile provider access to over one hundred mobile sites on its network.

Fishermen have described the 2016-2017 crawfish season as “one of the best in years”, attributing this partly to an increased RBDF presence that has deterred foreign poachers.

The request for proposal (RFP) for the management of the beleaguered New Providence Landfill will be issued by the beginning of next week, Environment and Housing Minister Kenred Dorsett announced yesterday.

The Ministry of the Environment and Housing has accepted an offer of assistance from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to assess conditions in the vicinity of the New Providence Landfill following a bush fire last month which spread to the landfill and threatened residents living in Jubilee Gardens.

The Chamber’s chairman described calls for increased VAT exemptions as “a fool’s argument,” warning it would not reduce the taxation burden for poor Bahamians as intended. The Chamber’s President said that the Bahamas’ VAT model has not been given enough credit for preventing any “recessionary impact” when it was implemented.

A Bahamas Carnival Cruise promoter yesterday said his company had “more than tripled” its visitor bookings for this year’s festival year compared to 2016.

Close to 800 rooms out of the 1,800-room Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar are expected to be available for the soft opening set for April 21, Baha Mar Senior Vice President of Administration and External Affairs confirmed yesterday.

As political parties gear up for the upcoming general elections, the PLP held a rally and motorcade at its headquarters on East Sunrise Highway in Freeport. At that rally Prime Minister Christie revealed the imminent sale of the Our Lucaya resort complex. He added that a Ministerial delegation will head to Canada to conclude the matter. Iram Lewis, FNM candidate for Central Grand Bahama held his constituency opening, and the FNM took its message into the MICAL constituency in the southern Bahamas.

On Saturday, Marathon MP the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald will celebrate his birthday party with his constituents in a fun day and Easter Egg hunt at the Claridge Road Park. At 5pm a motorcade will commence, convening at the site for a concert and mini rally. This is widely expected to be the last of the public political events ahead of the observance of Holy Week.

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