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This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: Feb. 6 - 10
By Elcott Coleby
Feb 11, 2017 - 2:33:22 PM

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This week in Parliament

The Parliament of The Bahamas met on Wednesday and Thursday of this week where parliamentarians completed debate and unanimously passed into law the much anticipated Freedom of Information Act 2017. The bill is on its way to the Senate for debate and passage.

Also tabled in the House was the much anticipated Boundaries Commission report for the upcoming 2017 general elections. A new seat, Saint Barnabas, was added in central New Providence, bringing the total number of seats to thirty-nine. The former constituency of Montague was renamed Freetown to reflect the history and heritage of that part of New Providence said Prime Minister Christie. Several settlements in the North Eleuthera constituency were transferred to the Central and South Eleuthera constituency. Speaker of the House and Commission chair the Hon. Kendal Major said there were no drastic changes made to the boundaries. As of Friday, 10th February, 100,556 persons had registered to vote.

Prime Minister Christie tabled the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investment Incentives Regulations 2017, which outlines the application process for certain licensees of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) to receive concessions.

State Minister for Investment the Hon. Khaalis Rolle provided an update on the amended Heads of Agreement for the construction of the $200 million Pointe Hotel on Bay Street. He told House members that the project was scaled down, with a smaller marina to better protect the environment and repeated the intention of the government not to increase the number of work permits already granted for the project.

On Thursday, the Government tabled a bill in the House of Assembly that aims to create a “single legal framework” that would allow the Commissioner of Police to obtain warrant from a judge to intercept and examine a person’s communications from telecommunications operators, internet providers and postal services for a period of three months. This bill seeks to protect the country from acts of sabotage, subversion and treason from parties within and outside the territorial borders of The Bahamas.

Christie to IMME: “Transform the lives of our children”

While speaking at the opening ceremony of the 9th Inter-American Meeting of Ministers of Education (IMME) on February 9, 2017, Prime Minister Christie challenge delegates to use their two days of sessions build meaningful alliances and formulate policies that would propel “meaningful action to transform the lives of our children.”

"Each level of education” said Mr. Christie, “be it pre-school, primary, high school or tertiary -- has its unique set of challenges. However, if we are able to build alliances and advance towards the Sustainable Development Goals, much can be accomplished to elevate the value that our citizens place on education."

"The Sustainable Development Goals have specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years and Goal 4 is specific to education and aims to 'ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote life-long learning',” Prime Minister Christie said.

"We have an obligation, as I have indicated, to ensure that every child from [the] very first day of school is able to realize the importance of an education. Then, and only then, will they be able to make full use of the number of years spent in school.”

The theme of the 9th high level meeting of hemispheric Education Ministers at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island was The Inter-American Education Agenda: Building Alliances and Advancing Towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Bahamas and OAS ink MOU for Small Business Development Center

The Bahamas is now the beneficiary of a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) as a result of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed Thursday between The Bahamas and the Organization of American States (OAS).

The Hon. Michael Halkitis, the Bahamas’ Minister of State for Finance, and His Excellency Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, signed the agreement during the 9th Inter-American Meeting of Ministers of Education at Atlantis, Paradise Island.

In attendance was His Excellency Elliston Rahming, Bahamas Ambassador to the United Nations in New York and Permanent Representative to the OAS, and Kim Osborne, Chief of the Technical Cooperation Section of the OAS Executive Secretariat for Integral Development.

Citing section 7.5 of The country’s first National Development Plan called VISION2040 which speaks to Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s), Minister Halkitis called the signing an honour. The establishment of the center is designed to assist in the reduction of poverty and discrimination through social entrepreneurship by, “establishing potential models for development in civil society and social enterprises that are proven and can be scalable.”

The Bahamas will be a part of the second phase of the Caribbean Small Business Development Center Project and the SBDC establishment will provide necessary technical assistance to enable quality and targeted support for micro, small and medium-sized businesses as SBDC is the driving force for economic and social development within any economy.

Anglican Bishop criticizes government on VAT reporting

Speaking at the 114th Anglican Diocesan Synod, Bishop Laish Boyd criticized the Government for unaccounted funds in numerous government agencies as he said citizens may be “less hostile” about paying VAT if the Christie administration could give an account of how money is spent.

The Anglican Bishop however did not explain how the government breached or violated the three fundamental laws governing public finances as support and justification for his broad criticism. They are Article 128 of the Constitution which establishes the Consolidated Fund; the Financial Administration and Audit Act and the Central Bank of The Bahamas Act 1974.

The central bank reports regularly, both quantitatively and qualitatively, on how the Bahamas government sources public revenue and on what expense items public funds are spent. It is noteworthy that in addition to its chief role of banking policymaker and regulator, the central Bank of The Bahamas is an official policy reporting institution of the central government, has done this for more than forty years and its credibility has never been called into question by local and international bodies.

Tracy Cooper named new Managing Director of Bahamasair

Chairman of Bahamasair Holdings Ltd. Valentine Grimes announced that Tracy J. Cooper, a 31-year veteran of the national flag carrier is its new Managing Director during a reception at the Bahamasair Holdings corporate office on Coral Road on Thursday, February 9, 2017.

The Chairman explained that Mr. Cooper was most recently the Director of Maintenance and he is a highly accomplished Engineer, Technical Manager and Leader having successfully completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from St. Louis University and his Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Miami.

Mr. Cooper takes over the reins from the late Henry Woods, who passed away last year.

Other executives named were John Fowler as the new Senior Director of Customer Service and Assistant to the Managing Director bringing 17 years of service with the national flag carrier. Customer service is the largest department in Bahamasair, including ground handling, ramp and cargo support services in The Bahamas and in Florida.

Also newly appointed to the post of Director of Maintenance & Engineering is Prince Storr, a thirty year industry veteran who played a pivotal role in the acquisition of Bahamasair’s new aircraft fleet.

Davis outlines strategic plan for Bahamasair

During the reception to announce Bahamasair’s new management team on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development the Hon. Philip Davis outlined the strategic plan for Bahamasair. The plan involved a restructuring of the domestic routes and the potential outsourcing of low density routes to reduce the airline’s losses.

Additionally said Minister Davis, the strategic plan calls for the national flag carrier to explore route expansion opportunities internationally to open up new markets to service our tourism economy.

“Expansion of routes into the West Coast of the United States and Canada is being explored along with more direct flights between the Family Islands and Florida. Development of a strong partnership with Baha Mar is being explored to provide airlift support for the resort.”

He noted that the expansion of the international routes has begun with the reintroduction of service into Haiti.

The Deputy Prime Minister said, “in addition to the improvement and expansion of its domestic and international routes, it is Bahamasair’s position that equal emphasis should be placed on the establishment of a National Air Transport Policy to address approval of operators, fair competition and safe operations.”

As for the company’s physical plant, Mr. Davis revealed that early talks are underway on plans to construct a new head office for Bahamasair at a cost of $5m to $7m. He added that while the Christie administration had given thought early in its term to privatizing the national airline, efforts by the company’s executives are proving to be fruitful enough to sustain the airline moving forward.

In Passing…

The FNM has outlined its goals to fight crime should the party win the next general election, noting in its recently released Manifesto plans to establish a national neighborhood watch program in every community, re-institute term limits for the commissioner of police, establish sexual offenders register and enforce Marco’s Law. Also its version of NHI, privatize BPL, a junkanoo theme park, single sex public schools, right-sizing government agencies that deal with SME and proposed various tax concessions including tweaks to VAT.

In responding, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis was critical of the FNM’s intention to privatize BPL, likening it to the party’s controversial decision to sell BTC during the Ingraham administration. Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald criticized FNM South Beach candidate Jeffrey Lloyd’s proposal to separate the education of boys and girls in classes and schools, calling the plan “outdated” and that many of the education proposals ”are already well underway”. PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts on Sunday decried shame on former Deputy Commissioner of Police and FNM candidate for Mount Moriah Marvin Dames, accusing him of attempting to “distance himself” from “anti-crime policies he designed and implemented”.

The minute Official Opposition Leader Butler-Turner nominates herself as an independent candidate for Long Island she will no longer be a member of the FNM, the party’s Chairman Sidney Collie said on Sunday.

Local talk show host Ortland Bodie Jr. claimed he was terminated on Friday as the host of Real Talk Live on MORE-FM without explanation. He confirmed this in an exclusive interview with ZNS TV-13. The station denied this, stating that he was suspended from his “usual duties as host” until some internal issues related to Mr. Bodie could be sorted out.

In keeping with its commitment to providing a reliable and safe water supply to all communities around the country, the Water & Sewerage Corporation recently teamed up with nurses within the public healthcare system to promote the health benefits of city water usage, particularly within close knit communities like Pinewood Gardens.

The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) has praised The Bahamas after its fourth hosting of the Caribbean Travel Marketplace within the last six years.

A judge on Monday dismissed Prime Minister Christie’s “no merit” recusal application which argued that she, while awaiting an approval of her application to extend her tenure as Supreme Court judge, cannot be perceived to be impartial in hearing an ongoing judicial review into allegations that Lyford Cay resident Peter Nygard illegally increased the size of his property.

Bahamian students in the United States have nothing to fear when travelling home to The Bahamas, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell indicated yesterday.

BPL announced that it will present its amended Small-Scale Renewable Generation Plan to the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) imminently.

Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell on Monday defended his ministry’s decision to bar an international human rights agency from the Carmichael Road Detention Center, insisting that the move was due in large part to the organization’s connection to local groups alleged to be orchestrating plans to “destabilize” the Government.

Representatives of civic groups that have been calling for strong freedom of information legislation have applauded the Government for bringing a Freedom of Information Act to debate, declaring that with a few changes in the draft bill, The Bahamas could become a “world leader” in transparency.

Prime Minister Christie sat through a series of presentation related to the Dubai Expo 2020, as student groups from the University of The Bahamas pitched design concepts for the country’s cultural pavilion set to go on display at the event. The design concepts are part of a competition for the best design for the Bahamas pavilion at the expo.

James Smith, former Finance Minister, on Monday criticized RBC’s top regional economist for reaching a “too superficial” and “self-serving” conclusion that The Bahamas is squandering its VAT revenue windfall.

A week after Sunwing Travel Group revealed that it would no longer continue as the hotel operator for Memories Grand Bahama Beach & Casino Resort (Memories), the company announced yesterday that former employees would receive redundancy payouts in a two-day process starting on Tuesday.

Western Air planes carrying scores of passengers were involved in two incidents in Grand Bahama this week. According to reports, the aircraft carrying 33 passengers experienced technical challenges and was forced to make an emergency landing. It skidded off the runway into bushes. While no one was severely injured, two passengers were reportedly taken to hospital to receive medical treatment for minor injuries. Investigations are underway.

Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company Limited has announced a $2 million expansion in Grand Bahama. Company president, James “Jimmy” Sands made the announcement during a press conference at the Ministry for Grand Bahama on February 6.

Freeport News noted that residents of East of Grand Bahama joined central and local government officials on Tuesday for the official announcement of the completion and handing over of Phase One of the district’s Water Project. Minister Darville, also revealed that Phase Two of the project will begin shortly.

The Ministry of Education is considering arming security officers stationed at public schools at night in the wake of several recent robberies.

It was reported that an estimated 10,000 persons have applied for 1,500 open positions at the Baha Mar resort, said Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Development Kirsty Cowper. Baha Mar has contacted displaced employees about their interest in reapplying at the resort. Robert “Sandy” Sands, Senior Vice-President of Administration and External Affairs at Baha Mar, pointed out that the Government, in collaboration with relative parties, is working to ensure that there is sufficient airlift to meet the mega-resort’s demand for the 2018 winter season.

Cabinet has approved recommendations from the Parole and Re-entry Steering Committee concerning rehabilitation of prisoners, said National Security Minister Dr. Nottage. The recommendations submitted to Dr. Nottage last September, have not been disclosed to the public.

Uniformed officers of the Department of Customs are being asked to individually sign documents outlining that they want to be paid sums agreed to by the Bahamas Customs and Immigration Allied Workers Union. According to a statement released by Minister of Labour Shane Gibson on Wednesday, the money will be paid no later than the end of March.

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis yesterday accused former Bahamas Bar Association President Elsworth Johnson of attacking the Bahamian judiciary in a bid to jumpstart his political career as a candidate for the FNM. Mr. Johnson said that the judiciary was politicized.

Senator Julian Russell will represent the PLP as its candidate for Central Grand Bahama at the general election after being selected from among two others by the party’s Candidates Committee.

Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe on Wednesday fired back at a Tribune Business report that indicated that Norwegian Cruise Line was swapping regular calls on Nassau and Freeport of the Norwegian Sky for an overnight stay in Havana, Cuba, arguing the report did a disservice to the expansion being observed in the nation’s cruise product. There are cruise ports being developed in East Grand Bahama and on Ocean Cay. Wilchcombe expressed confidence that this nation will remain in the “driver’s seat” as a top Caribbean cruise destination.

While emphasizing the important role the press plays in well-functioning democracies, FNM Leader Dr. Minnis offered a blizzard of criticism of the national media during a speech at the Bahamas Press Club’s monthly meeting on Tuesday night.

Bradley Roberts has again shot out at Michael Pintard, the FNM’s candidate for Marco City, calling the former senator “compromised”. In a statement released on Tuesday, the PLP chairman also criticized FNM Leader Dr. Minnis for his “silence” on the controversy surrounding Mr. Pintard.

Residents in the Berry Islands can visit the Administrator’s Office to obtain copies of birth, marriage and death certificates without having to travel to Nassau after the Registrar General’s Department launched online registration and certification at the Government Complex, Bullock’s Harbour last week.

Removing the Employment Act’s ‘cap’ on redundancy pay will “cripple and/or bankrupt most businesses” in The Bahamas, the Chamber of Commerce has warned, resulting in mass lay-offs and company closures.

The National Tripartite Council may have breached its own founding Act by failing to get “unanimous” agreement on the controversial labor law reforms before submitting its recommendations to the Government, Tribune Business was told yesterday.

AML Foods has invested $1 million in its newly-opened Carl’s Jr. outlet on Carmichael Road, a venture that has created 36 jobs.

The Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) admitted on Wednesday that there has been a shortfall in the chemotherapy drug Gemcitabine since last week. However, the PHA said the drug should be made available by the end of this week.

Chief Justice Sir Hartley Longley will continue as the country’s top judge for another two years, an announcement from the Cabinet Office confirmed yesterday.

The Bahamas Weekly reported that the Bahamas Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST) and the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will provide scholarships and training programs for Bahamian students.

With the Constituencies Commission report completed, Prime Minister Christie on Thursday intensified his call for Bahamians to register to vote, as they will be unable to do so once the election is called.

The PLP has pushed back its ratification planned for 9th February to the 16th February to include a candidate for St. Barnabas, the new constituency to be created by the Constituencies Commission, according to PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts.

The Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) has recruited a Bahamian feed biotechnology specialist to become chief operating officer at its Gladstone Road site.




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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