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Columns Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM


This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: January 2 - 6
By Elcott Coleby
Jan 7, 2017 - 1:30:19 PM

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Government releases Fly fishing regulations


It was twenty-three years in the making said industry stakeholders, but on Wednesday of this week, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources the Hon. V. Alfred Gray announced that on Monday, the 9th January, 2017 regulations governing the $500 million fly fishing industry will come into effect, making The Bahamas the last country in the Caribbean to regulate this industry.Mr. Gray discussed an overview of the general regulatory framework for the fly fishing industry at a press conference at the Ministry’s offices.

“The Fly Fishing industry in The Bahamas is said to be worth more than half billion dollars. For more than 20 years, and under several administrations, the men and women involved in the Fly Fishing industry of The Bahamas have been seeking to have this very important industry regulated.

“The Fly Fishing industry worldwide is said to be worth (in revenue terms) over $5 billion, and in The Bahamas it is said to be worth more than $5 million in revenue annually.”

This industry sustains hundreds of jobs on islands such as Andros, Abaco, Acklins, Crooked Island, Eleuthera, Bimini, Long Island and Mayaguana.

Regulations require that all persons using the Flats, such as guides, anglers, and do-it-yourselfers (DIY’s) have a license issued by the Department of Marine Resources in New Providence, or by the Family Island Administrators in the Family Islands.All guides are expected to be certified over time by the Ministry of Tourism and the Department of Marine Resources, in conjunction with approved Fly Fishing associations in The Bahamas. Commercial fishing is not allowed on flats and the fish covered under the regulations include Bone fish, Tarpon and Cobia.

Mixed reactions to VAT exemption on Baha Mar completion

A leaked email from the project’s general contractor, Chinese Construction of America (CCA), revealed that all companies and suppliers working on the resort would be exempt from VAT. It was published in the media on Thursday of this week. Reactions to the news were mixed.

Deputy Leader of the FNM Peter Turnquest called the deal questionable, suggesting that the few jobs the project would produce were not worth the cost of the concessions. In response, Attorney General Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson said the economic benefits of the completed project will far outweigh the concessions granted.

Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald explained that the concessions as a miniscule tradeoff for the ex-gratia payments made to thousands of displaced Baha Mar employees and unsecured contractors late last year. Fitzgerald said the detals of the deal will be released son to bring an end to all of this sensational speculation. Interestingly, a senior government official placed the value of the concessions at around $6milion compared to over $100 million paid to former Baha Mar workers and contractors by the China EXIM Bank.

Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller applauded the government for having the “guts” to see the Baha Mar deal through, condemning the criticism leveled at the Christie administration after a leaked email.

Also weighing in were members of the business community and stakeholders.

The chairman of the Chamber of Commerce said the payment of VAT on Baha Mar’s sale could just be “a cash flow timing issue” based on how the tax works, suggesting it was currently impossible to evaluate the completion deal’s merits.

Stephen Wrinkle, a former Bahamas Contractors Association (BCA) president said the total VAT exemption granted to Baha Mar’s completion was “not abnormal”, and that the government was correct to grant it given the present situation. He confirmed that in his experience it was normal for sub-contractors and suppliers to enjoy the same ‘tax breaks’ and benefits as the main contractor when working on the multi-million dollar investment projects.

Mr. Wrinkle also called for a stakeholder meeting with all BCA members in order to clear up any hiccups and address all questions or concerns that news of the VAT concession granted by the Bahamas government to CCA to complete the Baha Mar resort may have brought about.

No Bahamians hurt in Fort Lauderdale International Airport shooting


Responding to reports of a shooting at the Delta and Air Canada terminal at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport on Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement assuring Bahamians that no Bahamian traveler or associated worker was hurt in the tragic incident that claimed the lives of five persons and injuring at least eight others.

“The Bahamas Consulate General in Miami has been in touch with authorities to determine if any Bahamian citizens were in any way involved or affected by the shooting this morning in Ft Lauderdale International Airport at the Air Canada and Delta terminal.

“We await word and will update the country as events unfold.

“Bahamasair does not operate from the terminal where the shooting took place but all operations at the airport including those of Bahamasair are for the moment discontinued. Bahamasair reports to the Consulate General that all employees are accounted for. Furthermore,all staff of The Bahamas Consulate and Bahamas Tourist Office are accounted for."

In Passing…


Prime Minister Christie said on Monday that former Attorney General Alfred Sears has been given a fair shot to lead the PLP, despite concerns that the party’s late conventions may discourage delegates and party stalwarts from approving a change of leadership so close to the next general election. The Prime Minister also said that the changes within the FNM that have resulted from infighting in the party have “raised a big question mark for the country”. Mr. Christie was referring to whether the party can galvanize voters ahead of the next general election and present a formidable challenge to the governing PLP.

When Bahamians ask themselves which political party has the best policies to fight crime and improve people’s lives, they will say the PLP does, National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage claimed on Monday. Stressing that last year’s decrease in murders compared to the previous year – from a record 146 in 2015 to 113 – was due to strong police work and Urban Renewal. Minister Nottage said officials cannot be satisfied because there is still more work to do to combat violent crime.

Two University of The Bahamas (UB) students are prepared to have their lives transformed during a special trip next year, when they will step into the halls of the United Nations and come face to face with the inner workings of an international committee designed to improve the lives of women worldwide.

National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage on Monday encouraged Bahamians to register to vote, particularly women, despite reports of some women being turned away from voter registration sites because of “inappropriate attire”.

DNA Chairman Andrew Wilson on Monday called for the legalization of casino gambling for Bahamians after he was escorted from the craps table at the Atlantis Casino on Sunday night.

Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Dr. Daniel Johnson also on Monday confirmed that his ministry will hold an event in Rawson Square on January 10 to observe the 50th anniversary of Majority Rule. He says plans were in the making for months now.

Central and South Eleuthera MP Damian Gomez announced on Monday he will not seek a nomination for the 2017 general election. The Nassau Guardian reported in August that Prime Minister Christie asked Gomez to step aside, as the party did not intend to re-nominate him.

The Valley Boys recovered from a humbling fifth place finish on Boxing Day to win their fourth consecutive New Year’s Day Junkanoo parade.

Amid claims by the Re March organizer that gang members are associated with the government sponsored Majority Rule Day march, PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts said Mr. Henfield needs to have his head examined.

Bank of The Bahamas has unveiled the second phase of its recapitalization plan by launching a $30 million convertible bond issue, producing more skepticism from its weary minority shareholders.

The Bahamas must decide whether it believes in the Government’s fiscal consolidation plan and “stay the course”, the Chamber’s chairman warning against the ‘junk’ downgrade becoming a “political football”. He also asserted that the Government “must make sure it’s done a comprehensive analysis” of all potential repercussions from doubling the ‘fast track’ permanent residency threshold to $1 million, the Chamber of Commerce’s chairman has urged.

The Government has been urged to give the real estate market a ‘three-year grace period’ to adjust to the new $1 million permanent residency ‘fast track’ threshold, a realtor saying it was “amazing” that no one in the industry seemed to have been consulted on the move.

The US is looking at Bahamian sand as a resource to shore-up Florida’s eroding coastline, an Associated Press story revealed.

According to the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) in a statement published last week, by the end of 2016 there were 175,063 confirmed cases and 532,000 suspected cases of the Zika virus across 48 countries and territories in the Americas. The Bahamas had its first confirmed case of the Zika virus in August 2016.
The NDP could place the Bahamian economy on a sustainable path for long term growth once several challenges that the plan outlines are addressed, according to the Inter-American Development’s Bank (IDB) Caribbean Quarterly Regional Bulleting December 2016.

The FNM expects to ratify three candidates for the 2017 general election next week. According to a high level party insider, it is hoped that Bar Association President Elsworth Johnson, Darren Henfield and Miriam Emmanuel will be officially confirmed for the Yamacraw, North Abaco and MICAL constituencies.

An education official confirmed this week that the Department of Education has “secured” cheque payments for 67 of those supply teachers contracted by the Ministry of Education who have not been paid for months, explaining that an additional 71 payouts were being “worked out” for later this week.

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis is encouraging Bahamians to register to vote in the next general election so they can “be a part of the change they want to see” in the country.

Despite Standard & Poor’s (S&P) decision to lower the nation’s sovereign credit rating to “junk” status, Prime Minister Christie expects the Bahamian economy to begin to show short-term growth from tourism-based development projects early in 2017 and for the economy to continue to grow through the next two years. Christie admitted that his Government, and in turn S&P, did not pay much attention to developments on Family Islands “because a lot of attention has been taken up with Baha Mar”.

The Bahamas Global Impact Prayer and Fasting Network (BGIPFN) and affiliate organizations have launched a campaign to have Majority Rule Day observed as a national day of prayer and thanksgiving. According to a press release issued by Pastor Jeremiah Duncombe, President of the BGIPFN, the group started the campaign as a follow up to a written request to Prime Minister Christie and other government officials.

St. Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman this week cited major security concerns over the street lighting issues in his constituency that he feels have contributed to a rise in break-ins and anti-social behavior.

Don Demeritte, Principal of the EPS Consultants Group, said it has partnered with the Water & Sewerage Corporation’s management union to form “the last bastion of defence” for Bahamian ownership and management of this nation’s utilities and national resources.

Mobile, fixed line and Internet service providers are at odds with the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) over its proposed recommendations for quality of service regulations and network performance metrics for electronic communications networks, chiefly because the companies consider existing consumer protection regulations adequate.

The Clearing Banks Association (CBA) announced that the prime rate – the interest rate at which banks lend to consumers – would be lowered from 4.75% to 4.25% effective Wednesday. With a reduction in the prime rate, consumers who are current with their mortgage payments could expect their interest payments to be reduced and the move could also auger well for consumers looking for new loans.

As frustrated Bahamians continue to lament being turned away from voter registration stations, DNA Deputy Leader Chris Mortimer on Wednesday threatened to take action that will “compel” Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall to ensure everyone is allowed their right to register.

In a televised address aired on Wednesday evening, FNM Leader Dr. Minnis oyesterday outlined key initiatives his administration would implement to create a socio-economic revival. These initiative included a national solar energy programme that would see tax incentives for Bahamian companies providing services for alternative renewable energy sources including LNG; a Fiscal Responsibility Act; and a Catastrophic National Health Insurance Plan that will cover chronic heart diseases, cancer and organ transplants. He also pledged that an FNM government “will get our credit rating back to investment grade in short order.”

Long Island MP Butler-Turner said on Wednesday that she is forming a “very powerful and bold” coalition with Branville McCartney and the DNA that will “change the direction of the country”. In an interview on Hot 91.7 FM’s “Morning Madhouse” with host “C-Note”, Butler-Turner said the details off the “interesting” coalition will be announced “very soon”. In response, DNA leader Senator Branville McCartney said he is unaware of such a coalition.

According to DNA Deputy leader, the DNA has no intention of absorbing any of the FNM’s seven members of Parliament if any of the MPs express an interest in joining the party, Mortimer said the DNA’s Candidates Committee would make the decision.

The Ministry of Education has implemented a strict timeline for the submission and processing of payments for supply teachers after irregularities led to scores of teachers going unpaid for months, according to Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald.

Starting the first week of February, customers on Grand Bahama will experience the automated system for vehicle licensing at the Road Traffic Department (RTD). The system, which is part of the $8.3 million modernization project for the department, is expected to have some minor glitches once it is rolled out during the first week.

Phase three of NHI, primary care benefits, is on track to be implemented in the early part of this year, said NHI Project Manager Dr. Delon Brennen. Brennen said phase four, select catastrophic coverage, and phase three are being worked on in “tandem” in order to avoid waiting until phase three is completed. However, he could not give an exact date as to when primary care benefits will be implemented.

The Government spent around $9m to repair hurricane damage to public schools throughout the country, according to Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald, who said that works have been “significantly completed”.

DNA Leader Branville McCartney said the passion that was once felt by voters in The Bahamas has been replaced with apathy, and called for Bahamians to register to vote in the next general election.

The Parliamentary Registration Department on Wednesday announced 26 new voter registration stations in New Providence and Grand Bahama, in a move to improve sluggish voter registration numbers.

The Bahamas faces “worrisome” skills imbalances in the construction trades that are contributing to more than two-thirds of work permits being issued “for low skilled jobs”, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has warned. A paper attached to its $25 million ‘Skills for Current and Future Jobs in The Bahamas’ project loan said the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) had seven existing students for each person that graduates in 2015.

Several outraged Island Luck customers threatened to organize a riot after the gaming house operator suspended a “small number” of accounts which it said were identified as being used to facilitate a suspected Bahamian-based Ponzi scheme.

The Opposition’s House of Assembly leader Butler-Turner pledged this week to launch a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) investigation into revelations that Baha Mar’s construction completion is “fully exempt” from VAT. Butler-Turner, who heads the PAC, said the VAT related disclosures in an email from the project’s main contractor, CCA, provided a “great springboard” for her to demand an inquiry when the House resumes on Monday.

Over 40 Cubans were apprehended by the RBDF in conjunction with the US Coast Guard in the Cay Sal Bank over the last 48 hours, with three persons reported to have attempted to evade capture.

The United States Embassy in Nassau released a security message urging its staff, citizens and US visitors in Nassau and Paradise Island to avoid a “planned demonstration” scheduled for Majority Rule Day.

Financial assistance for fired workers at the One & Only Ocean Club is reportedly on the way, with hotel union officials heralding Thursday an expected approval to access funds from the Bahamas Hotel Industry Management Pension Fund.

The first meeting this week of the select committee established to probe the sale of BTC resulted in a no show from Official Opposition members. Labor Minister Shane Gibson, who heads the committee, confirmed that the five person panel has begun its charge to investigate, examine and inquire into the circumstances and facts relating to the privatization of the company.

PLP Senator Julian Russell has offered himself again as a candidate for Central Grand Bahama in the upcoming general election. Mr. Russell, who ran as the candidate for Central Grand Bahama in 2012, was unsuccessful in unseating incumbent FNM MP Neko Grant, who has never lost an election in the past 24 years of his political career.

Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) Eric Carey said he does not think the government would encourage or allow anybody to take sand off local beaches in the Bahamas, in light of recent news that The Bahamas is being considered a potential go-to for sand to help shore up some parts of Florida’s eroding coast line.


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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