This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: May 23 - 27
By Elcott Coleby
May 28, 2016 - 11:16:19 PM
Prime Minister Christie delivers 2016/2017 budget statement
The House of Assembly met on Wednesday of this week where the opening statement for the 2016/2017 budget was read by Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie. It was the Prime Minister’s fifth and likely final budget communication before the next general election scheduled for May 2017 at the latest.
The Prime Minister touted the fiscal discipline of his administration in the successful execution of its near and medium term fiscal consolidation plan. Faced with a fiscal deficit well in excess of $500 million upon coming in to office in May 2012 said Mr. Christie, the GFS budget deficit now stands at $150 million, $10 million above the projected figure of $141 million due to the $10.2 million payout to 3,078 CLICO policy holders on the 26th April 2016.
“In the 2016/17 fiscal year” continued the Prime Minister, “we will build further on our fiscal success with a projected GFS Deficit of $100 million.
“Since the first year of our mandate and by the end of the 2016/17 fiscal year, we will have reduced the Deficit by $439 million or by over 80 per cent” said Mr. Christie.
With a total capital budget of $242 million, the budget highlights are summarized below for ease of reference:
Funding included to “continue the very ambitious Family Island Road Programme, with road works in North Andros, Acklins and Abaco…(and) road paving programme in New Providence.”
The Government is in the process of completing major improvements to the airport in San Salvador and expect to engage in major improvements in Exuma, North Eleuthera, Berry Islands, Inagua, Cat Island and other airports as well as part of the $150 million Family Island airport upgrade project.
“Funding for the acquisition and outfitting of the new home of the Post Office is included in the budget” said the Prime Minister. This is the former Independence Shopping Center on Tonique Williams Highway opposite A. F. Adderly School.
“My Cabinet has approved a single governance model (for NHI) that will accelerate the implementation of Universal Health Coverage while providing effective oversight of the Programme” said Mr. Christie. The Universal Health Care (UHC) Stakeholder Advisory Committee is being formed.
It was reported that NHI was missing from the budget statement. This is inaccurate. “The budget allocation for the Ministry of Health reflects an investment in
primary care coverage and health systems’ strengthening that will significantly improve the quality of life for Bahamians” said Prime Minister Christie.
“In the last Budget, we provided $20 million for training and apprenticeship programmes aimed at the at-risk unemployed youth in our country” said PM Christie.
“In the period ahead, we will undertake a (three month) nationwide survey of vulnerable areas of the country, to be conducted by Urban Renewal using, as field workers, employees of the job and apprenticeship/training programme that I am announcing today”. Government will perform a detailed examination of households to assess health issues and challenges with housing and employment.
The Prime Minister announced IT infrastructure upgrade to effect “wide-ranging reform of our Public Financial Management System” to improve transparency and efficiency in the public procurement system. The implementation of the new Chart of Accounts by the end of the next fiscal year will allow tracking of expenditure at the levels of projects and programs including the Hawksbill Creek Agreement and by geographic location.
A new $20 million immigration border control system was announced.
“The Government of The Bahamas has also expended significant sums of money to acquire and install cutting edge technologies in our fight against crime. These investments were made in Ballistics, Digital Biometrics, Long Term Evolution Communication Technologies, Collaborative Enterprise Solutions, Integrated Justice Solutions, Electronic Monitoring Solutions, and Closed Circuit Television Solutions (CCTV), and other cutting edge technology” said PM Christie.
“The Government has also invested $4.5 million to install two hundred and forty-three (243) cameras, mainly in the downtown area and hot crime spots of New Providence.”
“A state of the art Police and Fire Station is well on its way to completion in Freeport, Grand Bahama. Expanded and newly refurbished facilities are being made available for a Police Station in Lower Deadman’s Cay, Long Island.”
The Government will acquire properties from the NPDC at a cost of $2.1million to establish a Police Station in southwestern New Providence.
Paid Police Reservist Officers increased by 200 and maximum working hours increased from 150 to 200 hours per month.
Under the $232 million project Sandy Bottom, the final two (2) of nine (9) patrol crafts are slated to arrive in The Bahamas in August of this year, and the agreed completion date for all civil works, including the construction of buildings and quay walls in Coral Harbour, Inagua and Ragged Island, is scheduled for October 2016.
Five new ATR aircraft were purchased for Bahamasair at a cost of $100 million.
Of the 99,556 registered properties, a total of 43,003 properties are now fully exempted from the payment of property taxes. During this fiscal year, 42.5% or 24,008 of taxable properties have paid taxes amounting to just over $100 million.
Business licenses can be applied for and renewed online now and from January 2016 to the present, 10,430 business licenses have been approved.
Following the conclusion of the Phase II spectrum auction in October 2015, CBL was awarded the second cellular license. The share distribution in the new company, NewCo, is 51.25% to be owned by the Bahamas government and 48.75% to be owned by CBL. The Bahamas government will establish a wholly Bahamian owned holding company, HoldingCo, to hold its NewCo shares.
Legislation has now been completed for the establishment of the University of The Bahamas.
The Government will continue with the development of facilities at the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre through the construction of a new National Baseball Stadium and through the construction of sports complexes in our islands, commencing with Moores Island, Abaco, Eleuthera, Exuma and Andros.
“We have also regularized the domestic gaming sector with the introduction of regulation and appropriate taxation.”
“And we have introduced a modern regulatory framework for the financial services sector, in line with international standards.”
Following the State of the Nation Report, the diagnostic phase of the National Development Plan, the plan goes into the national consultation stage, reported the Prime Minister.
The Grand Bahama Shipyard Ltd has agreed to train 400 skilled Bahamians and 200 semi-skilled Bahamians as part of the government’s jobs training and placement program. These trained Bahamians will replace 600 current work permit holders.
“The Government is also introducing a new apprenticeship and training programme targeted to the unemployed that will be managed jointly by the Office of the Prime Minister and the National Training Agency.Under this new programme, for which $22 million has been allocated, persons will be paid to work and train in a very formal manner, with certification on completion of the apprenticeship period” revealed the Prime Minister.
The Government will create two green spaces for public use in New Providence, one at Lake Killarney and the other, at the National Hero’s Park, in an area just south of the Botanical Gardens.
The Bank of The Bahamas is being recapitalized and is scheduled to return to profitability by the 2nd quarter of 2018 “through a combination of a rights offering and convertible contingent bonds” said Prime Minister Christie.
“The Government will also, within the fiscal year, seek to bring the number of temporary and contractual workers (in the public service) to an irreducible minimum” announced the Prime Minister.
Mr. Christie reported that at a cost of $20 million over 4 years, his government has “designed a comprehensive Mortgage Relief Programme in collaboration with the Clearing Banks Association to assist borrowers negatively impacted by the financial crisis.” As much as one thousand delinquent borrowers are anticipated benefit from this revamped plan.
Prime Minister Christie noted that since the commencement of his Administration in 2012, The Bahamas has succeeded in securing significant capital commitments of some $7.8 billion in foreign direct investment, delivering an additional
1500 hotel rooms and 300 high-end estate homes and villas in resort inventory over the next decade. Of that amount he said, just over $1.3 billion in new capital projects have been tabled and are currently in active phases of development.
The total volume of investment committed from 2012 to today, exclusive of Baha Mar, will create over 8,000 construction jobs during the development phase and a minimum of 5,000 new permanent jobs as new projects come on stream.
The government entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the Grand Bahama Port Authority Limited (GBPA), and key entities controlled by GBPA, Hutchison Ports, CK Property Holdings Ltd. and the Port Group, namely GBPA, Freeport Harbour Company Ltd., Grand Bahama Development Company Ltd., and Freeport Industrial & Commercial Ltd. The agreement covers specific tax exemptions, investment, GBPA ownership and governance issues.
Additionally, the government has executed a Waiver of Exclusivity Agreement with Freeport Harbour Company Ltd. with respect to the operation of cruise ports on Grand Bahama. This paves the way for a Carnival cruise port in east Grand Bahama.
Mr. Christie read a joint statement that was issued by the Export-Import Bank of China, China State Construction Engineering Corporation and Bahamas government representatives. In it the parties agreed to completing and opening the $3.5 billion resort project. The Prime Minister also advised that the first round of bidding for the right to purchase the property was complete.
In other Parliamentary news, the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald tabled and read for the first time the much anticipated University of The Bahamas Bill 2016 and the Hon. Michael Halkitis tabled the borrowing resolution for the 2016/2017 fiscal year totaling some $99 million. Minister Halkitis pointed out that in 2012 the borrowing resolution was for $512 million.
Prime Minister Christie brands Chinese citizenship claim an “absolute lie”
The Office of the Prime Minister issued a stinging rebuke on Monday of a false claim on both talk radio and social media that the Baha Mar deal is somehow tied to granting of some 500 Bahamian citizenships in exchange for the investment.
The entire statement is presented below:
“Prime Minister the Right Honourable Perry Christie said today that it is an “absolute lie” that his Government has agreed to the sale or grant of 500 Bahamian citizenships to Chinese investors in connection with the Baha Mar Project. “Bahamian citizenship”, the Prime Minister said “is not for sale at any time at any price to anybody. This is a non-negotiable position of my government. Moreover, it is for me personally, a matter upon which no compromise is possible. I can therefore assure the Bahamian people, without any equivocation whatsoever, that no deal offering Bahamian citizenship in return for an investment in The Bahamas will ever be entered into while I head the government of The Bahamas. I find the very idea of citizenship-for-sale to be repugnant to all that I believe in and to all that I stand for as a Bahamian. It will never happen on my watch. ”
“The Prime Minister also said that the grant of Bahamian citizenship is subject to strict eligibility requirements and qualifications under The Bahamas Nationality Act. “The suggestion that just because you buy Bahamian real estate or make an investment you somehow qualify for Bahamian citizenship is complete and utter nonsense. Not only is it as a complete non-starter from the standpoint of the Government’s immigration policy, it is not even legally possible.”
“The Prime Minister indicated that he would be speaking in more comprehensive terms to the misleading information presently circulating on social and the electronic media concerning Baha Mar during his contribution to the budget debate in the House of Assembly later this week.”
Dorsett to head IRENA governing council
Bahamas Minister of the Environment and Housing, the Hon. Kenred Dorsett was appointed chairman of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) on the 23rd May 2016 during its 11th Council Meetings in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
This 147 member strong agency is “an intergovernmental organization that supports countries in their transition to sustainable energy future, and serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy.”
Its governing Council is comprised of 21 member countries who are elected in rotation. The Council ensures the equitable distribution of its work, the participation of developing and developed countries and reviews the draft budget and annual report among other policy mandates.
The Bahamas joined IRENA in 2014 to assist in the deployment of renewable energy sources in this country.
COB and BAMSI ink MOU
Hailed by educators as a step in the right direction, the much talked about agreement between the two institutions is believed to bring “expertise to the field of Bahamian agriculture.”
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the College of The Bahamas (COB) and the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) was signed on Tuesday at the Harry C. Moore Library on the campus of COB. Signing on behalf of the college was president Dr. Rodney Smith while BAMSI president Dr. Godfrey Eneas signed on behalf of BAMSI.
Dr. Smith told reporters that he was confident that the collaboration will go a long way in helping to address food security in The Bahamas while assisting The Bahamas in developing its agricultural and marine science economies.
Dr. Eneas believed that the partnership will give BAMSI certain standards and advantages such as the sharing of students, faculty, exploiting opportunities for both institutions to engage in joint venture research projects and addressing some of the environmental concerns facing the country.
The Ministry of the Environment offered its congratulations to Minister Dorsett on his appointment and said it looked forward to “supporting him in his efforts as Chairman of the Council for the coming year.”
Mitchell cautions against borderline racism and jingoism
Believing that the borderline racist and jingoistic rhetoric on social media regarding the Baha Mar deal have gone far enough and calling on persons responsible to cease and desist, Bahamas Foreign Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell issued a statement on Thursday, “sounding a word of caution” against those responsible.
Persons were posting images coupled with mocking language about the investment of the Chinese in the Baha Mar project. There was a claim of the sale of 500 Bahamian citizenships to Chinese, The Bahamas flag was desecrated, the Bahamian currency was defaced and a press statement by the Prime Minister was published in Chinese language.
Mitchell believed this was all designed and calculated to create fear of a Chinese hegemonic design over the sovereignty of The Bahamas and stated that there was no evidence of this, only evidence of a commercial transaction supported by both PLP and FNM governments.
Mitchell is representing Prime Minister Christie in Guyana as that country celebrates its fiftieth independence anniversary.
More ‘flexible’ RISE pre-paid cards launched
Officials from the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development and the Department of Social Services on Thursday of this week issued the first batch of the RISE Pre-paid Cards to clients of the Wulff Road Outreach Centre.
The RISE Pre-Paid card will allow clients more flexibility in meeting the needs of their households as the card’s use has been expanded to include usage at approved food stores, pharmacies, clothing and shoe stores, bookstores and LP gas vendors.
Eligible householders receive training on various aspects of the programme at their enrollment including their roles and responsibilities, the calculation of the RISE payment and compliance benefits.
On hand for the launch were Social Services Minister the Hon. Melanie Griffin and Prime Minister Christie who stressed that the counseling component of the amalgamated program “inculcates” a culture of motherhood.
BATCU gets new labour contract
The Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union (BATCU) signed a new four year labour contract with the Bahamas government on Friday after working without an industrial agreement since 2008.
On hand for the signing was Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna Martin who said she felt good about the concluded negotiations, calling its signing a paradigm shift that affords BATCU the correct public perception in the local economy and in the country’s national life which that body rightly deserves.
"I feel very good today," she said. "I think that this is an important paradigm shift for the air navigation services in our country. It's beginning to place them in the correct perception in our economy and in our national life."
The labour agreement is effective from March 2013 to May 2017.
An “overjoyed” Labour Minister Shane Gibson conceded that the 16 months of negotiations were "perhaps the toughest set of negotiations" the Christie administration has had to enter into since taking office in 2012.
A relieved union president Lashan Gray described the negotiations as a “very tedious and rigorous process,” but described the occasion as “momentous” in nature as it moves BATCU toward world industry-related standards. She said she was satisfied that key issues were resolved and looked forward to a harmonious working relationship with the industry’s regulator, the Civil Aviation Department (CAD).
The new industrial agreement includes a one increment lump sum payment; two increments salary increase; a rating allowance based on certification for control tower flight services approach as well as aerodrome officers in the Family Islands; training allowance; increased wages for new recruits from $14,650 to $18,000 per annum; and a new 20% contributory group medical insurance plan.
Governor General Her Excellency Dame Marguerite Pindling presented Dr. Duane Sands with his Instruments of Appointment as Senator, May 23, 2016 at Government House.Dr. Sands replaces Lanisha Rolle who resigned her seat last week amid widely circulated audio files of her making inflammatory statements about senior members of the FNM while in a meeting with Lincoln Bain.
The Ministry of Transport and Aviation advised the public on Tuesday that with immediate effect, “the Consumer Affairs Unit has been temporarily relocated to the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance, 3rd Floor Fort Nassau Centre British Colonial Hilton, due to the remedial works being carried out at the J. L. Centre, Blake Road. Persons wishing to contact the Unit may do so at telephone number 322-3105 or 397-0700. Similarly, the Public Service Centre for Human Resources Development is now temporarily located at the Ministry of the Public Service, Poinciana Hill, Meeting and Augusta Streets. Persons wishing to contact the Centre may do so at telephone number 502-7200.”
You can now call her Dame Anita Allen DBE, the President of the Bahamas Appeals Court. Along with the knighting of the now Sir Franklyn Wilson, Dame Anita is now a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire following her investiture at Buckingham Palace on Friday, 20th May 2016. The ceremony was presided over by Prince Charles.
The voters’ register closed this week at the end of the business day on Wednesday, 25th May 2016 and those Bahamians not registered will not be able to vote in June 7 gender equality referendum. The advanced poll will take place on Tuesday, 31st May. According to Sherlyn Hall, there are 179,508 voters on the register. The overseas register closed on Friday, 20th May 2016. The four constitutional bills were passed in both chambers of the House with near unanimous approval in March of this year.
The 20th annual Bahamas Primary School Student of the Year ceremony was held on Saturday at the Golden Gates World Outreach Center under the theme, “Honouring the ‘Who’s who in Primary Schools in The Bahamas.” Walking away with first prize and $6,000 in scholarship was Litla Nottage, a sixth-grader at the Lyford Cay International School. More than 100 students from around The Bahamas competed for the prestigious award.
In what will probably be the last graduating class of the College of The Bahamas, 594 students graduated from the college in commencement exercises held at the Thomas A. Robinson stadium on Thursday, 26th March 2016. The graduates were addressed by college council chair Alfred Sears, college president Dr. Rodney Smith and were challenged to embrace and execute the national vision by keynote speaker, diplomat Missouri Sherman Peters.
In the wake of two tragic traffic accidents with two fatalities in New Providence on Thursday, Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin issued a statement of caution to motorists against excessive speeding and the need to wear seat belts. She also offered condolences to the families of those who perished.
Mr. Alfred Sears, college council chair of the College of The Bahamas has tendered his resignation as council chair effective the 31st May 2016. Mr. Sears resigned because he was ratified by the Progressive Liberal Party to contest the Fort Charlotte seat the 2017 general election.
Veteran gospel deejay at the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (ZNS) was murdered this week. His body was discovered in his vehicle with multiple gunshot wounds near Bonefish Pond, off Cowpen Road. The assailant is said to be light skinned with crossed-eyes. Persons with information on this horrendous crime are asked to contact the police.
United States Ambassador Designate to The Bahamas Cassandra Butts died on Friday of this week after a brief illness. Expressing condolences on behalf of the government was the Hon. Fred Mitchell, Bahamas Foreign Affairs Minister. “She was thoughtful, organized, helpful and sober. She had a keen sense of judgment on just how to approach the tasks at hand” said Mitchell.
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:
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