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This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: Oct 27-31
By Elcott Coleby
Oct 31, 2014 - 4:51:20 PM

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Prime Minister Christie addressed ship owners

Officially opening the Bahamas Ship Owners Association Nassau Annual General Meeting on Tuesday of this week, Prime Minister Christie told ship owners that collectively, they and the Bahamas government must define measures to reduce the risks of exposure of crews and citizens alike to the threat of the Ebola Virus Disease.

Speaking about the work of the national Ebola taskforce, he said that The Bahamas has not taken this matter lightly and any reported incidence of this virus can have a deleterious effect on the country’s economic lifelines, therefore the response to any potential threat must be rapid and decisive.

“The primary concern of this Task Force is to be able to respond at a moment’s notice to any real or suspected cases of the Ebola Virus from a public health and medical standpoint. Allied with this, we have put in place protocols that will ensure port and airport safety and notification protocols for ships at sea whether travelling to Bahamian ports or if sailing through The Bahamas. I am certain that these protocols and new standard operating procedures will be made available to you in the interest of public safety and to protect the shipping industry” said the Prime Minister.

Also addressing ship owners was Minister of Transport and Aviation Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin. She credited the current and further growth and development of the maritime sector to the symbiotic relationship between the shipping portfolio and general interests of Bahamians working in that sector.

“You have sought to incorporate into your own collective portfolio interest, the interest of the Bahamian people in the maritime sector in The Bahamas. It is through this symbiotic relationship that our ship register will continue to go from strength to strength while our own maritime sector will become strengthened and will grow exponentially” said Minister Hanna-Martin    

On Thursday, Prime Minister Christie addressed Maritime Cadets from the Lowell J. Mortimer Maritime Academy, Bahamas Maritime Authority Cadets and recent graduates at a reception held at the Hilton Hotel. He talked about the growing importance of and the increasing opportunities for aspiring young Bahamians in the maritime industry.

A meeting of ship owners was also held at the Pelican Bay Resort in Grand Bahama on Friday and was attended by the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin. 

Stiffer poaching penalties announced

“We are a country that must protect our borders, and we cannot depend on any other country to help us if they are not willing to do so.” These were the words of Agriculture Minister V. Alfred Gray as he expressed dissatisfaction with the progress of bilateral negotiations with the government of the Dominican Republic aimed at curbing the high levels of poaching and subsequent arrests in Bahamian waters, involving mostly Dominican nationals.

Minister Gray outlined a regime of stiffer penalties to be imposed on poachers as the government’s latest response to this.

“I have gotten cabinet’s approval to increase the penalties on poaching. Presently it’s $50,000 on the captains as a fine. We have gotten approval to increase it five-fold to $250,000 for the captain. It used to be $5,000 per crew member; we have gotten approval to increase it to $25,000 per crew member on the vessels which we might arrest” explained Minister Gray.

Pointing to abuses of current immigration policies, Gray revealed that he is seeking cabinet approval to ban any non-Bahamian national as a crew on Bahamian vessels because foreign boat captains and engineers have worked as divers as soon as the Bahamian vessels leave port. Under Bahamian law, only Bahamians are allowed to work as divers.      

Trade Standardization Forum held

Sensing the need for a “national quality infrastructure,” the Ministries of Financial Services and Agriculture and Marine Resources hosted a Trade Standardization Forum on Monday under the theme, “Promoting dialogue between the National Quality Infrastructure (BBS) & the Agriculture Sector.”

Commenting on the national import of the collaboration between the Bahamas Bureau of Standards in his ministry and the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards & Quality (CROSQ), Financial Services Minister Hon. Ryan Pinder told delegates that “such collaborations allow us to harmonize our positions in relation to standardization, conformity assessments, accreditation and metrology, given our uniqueness in heritage, culture, food and ways of life.”

The forum was held at the Melia Resort.

Nottage opens Community Leadership Summit

Stressing the importance of leadership in Bahamian communities and its impact on crime, National Security Minister Nottage told participants at a Community Leadership Summit that “there is a need for every man child who is a Bahamian, particularly the adults, to sacrifice some of their time, some of their talents and share them within the community. Our studies show us that all of these violent crimes that are carrying on in our country are (being committed) predominantly by young men between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five.” Pointing out the ease with which guns and ammunition can be accessed in The Bahamas, a country that does not manufacturer firearms and the ease with which young men are prepared to use them, the Minister opined that this stark reality only underscored the need for greater leadership at the community level.

Social Services and Community Development Minister Melanie Griffin added that the increased development of communities brings with it increased social challenges and made the case for partnerships between the government and local communities in addressing these unintended consequences of development.

“Globally, it is an accepted view that as communities develop, residents are challenged by various social issues. Far too often these issues are addressed by one governmental agency or another with little if any involvement from those who live in the community. This approach could at times seem heavy-handed and may not always fully address the needs of residents nor gain their support. It is firmly accepted that the best way to address issues that occur within neighbourhoods is to involve persons who live in them.” 

The summit was held at Queen’s College on Tuesday of this week.


PAHA/WHO applauds Bahamas Ebola preparedness

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to The Bahamas, Dr. Gerry Eijkemans, has commended the Government of The Bahamas for its efforts “to protect its people” from the Ebola Virus Disease.

“Even if an Ebola case was to hit the shores of The Bahamas, the country has taken all of the measures – based on evidence, based on what is known around the world - to protect its people,” Dr. Eijkemans said.

Ebola Virus Disease is a serious infectious disease spread between humans from person to person. Infection is transmitted by direct or indirect contact with the blood, body fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected people, but only when they show symptoms. Ebola cannot be transmitted by air. The disease first appeared in 1976 in a village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire).

On Monday and fresh from their tour of entry ports and facilities in Freeport, the taskforce held meetings here in Nassau at the port department downtown before embarking on a tour of the Prince George Wharf, the cruise ship port. The work of the taskforce continues.

Mitchell at counter-piracy conference

As the Bahamas Ship Owners Association convened its Annual General Meeting in Nassau this week, much of the focus was placed on the threat of the Ebola Virus Disease by Prime Minister Christie, given the global nature of the maritime business.

Meanwhile, Hon. Fred Mitchell, Foreign Affairs Minister was representing The Bahamas at a Counter-Piracy Conference in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. Piracy and robbery at sea represent another threat to our vital maritime industry. He delivered The Bahamas statement on counter piracy and robbery at sea to participating delegates on Wednesday, 29th Oct 2014.

During his address the Minister pointed out that in May 2009, the Bahamas and the Republic of Liberia, the Marshall Islands and Panama signed the New York Declaration, effectively condemning acts of piracy and armed robbery, and to commit to best management practices to avoid, deter or delay acts of piracy at sea.

Further, The Bahamas has partnered with the United States of America in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to expand cooperation on counter-piracy and maritime security in compliance with United Nations General Assembly resolution 66/231 adopted April 2012. According to Minister Mitchell, this MOU “recognizes the crucial role of international cooperation in addressing the threats to maritime safety and security, including piracy and armed robbery at sea.”

The Bahamas has the 5th largest ship registry in the world, totaling over fifty-three million Gross Tons; 140 passenger ships are on its registry; it is the 5th largest contributor to the IMO budget and is a Category ‘C’ IMO member.

The Bahamas launched its 2015 re-election campaign to the executive council of the IMO last week Wednesday (23rd October 2014) and that international campaign continues.


National Security Council meets

In the wake of a spate of murders and home invasions in the Fox Hill and Blair communities, the National Security Council met on Thursday to discuss more crime strategies and other pertinent issues of national security such as the execution, management and impact of the new immigration policy which becomes effective on Saturday, November 1.

No details of the new crime fighting strategies were revealed but in a press statement Dr. Nottage assured the public that the new measures would achieve satisfying results.

“It would, of course, be foolhardy in the extreme to disclose details of these new measures as to do so would be tipping the hand of law enforcement to the very persons we are determined to catch and put behind bars.

“We are confident, however, that these new measures will achieve satisfying results within a very short period of time and that the perpetrators of violent crime will be brought to justice and made to feel the full weight of the law” said the statement.

PM Christie blasts critics over his approval of Hilton sale.

Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie blasted former Tourism and Foreign Affairs Minister Brent Symonette for suggesting that the approval of the sale of the Hilton Hotel to the Chinese created cause for concern.

“Firstly, I’m surprised at Brent Symonette taking that position because if Brent Symonette is speaking about the Chinese, Brent Symonette’s government gave the Chinese, in a letter in 1994 signed by the prime minister at the time, the right to veto every development of a nature of a port even outside of Freeport.”

The Prime Minister continued: “so even though there are persons wishing to put in a mega development, Hutchison Whampoa…was given the right to say if you’re going to do that, you have to provide me payment for it.

“So if he (Symonette) wants to talk about who has done what and concern for this country and the country’s national interests, that is where he should start.”

It is precisely this 1994 agreement that is holding up the construction of a port in Williams Town, just outside of Freeport and an agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines to call on this port.   


Prime Minister Christie restructures Bank of The Bahamas

With some $100 million of non-performing commercial loans in its portfolio due mainly to the fallout from the global recession, the government has intervened and has restructured the 65% publicly owned commercial bank to ensure its stability, profitability and enhanced shareholder security.

At a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister today (Friday, Oct 31), Prime Minister Christie outlined the steps taken by the government to achieve just that. Also in attendance were Central Bank Governor Wendy Craigg, Financial Secretary John A. Rolle and executives from the bank.

The particulars are that the Ministry of Finance has formed a company called Bahamas Resolve Limited, a legal entity fully owned and controlled by the Bahamas Government.

Resolve has taken over B$100M in troubled commercial loans from Bank of The Bahamas, thereby removing this risk from BOB’s books and will be putting special mechanisms in place to assist in the collection of the overdue loans.

The Prime Minister pointed out that this restructuring transaction was developed in close consultation with BOB’s legal advisors in this matter, Higgs & Johnson, and BOB’s external auditors, Ernst & Young, both of whom affirmed the transaction.

The Prime Minister emphasized that with this restructuring transaction, “the Bank’s revenue prospects will be immediately and significantly improved.”

“At the same time” Prime Minister Christie continued, “shareholder value and the Bank’s overall financial condition will be enhanced as well. It will also allow Bank of The Bahamas to return to profitability in the near future and will restore full compliance with Central Bank and international regulatory standards for capital adequacy.”

He also emphasized that no public treasury or National Insurance funds were disbursed in connection with the assignment of these loans from BOB to Resolve.


In passing…

The 2011 sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) was in the news again this week. This time it was revealed in a Nassau Guardian exclusive that selected senior BTC executives received bonuses totaling $1.5 million in connection with the 51% sale of the then public corporation to Cable and Wireless Communications.

Plans for Urban Renewal Week were announced on Wednesday by the co-chairs of the Commission at its Centerville headquarters.

Ministry of Tourism announced the issue of a special commemorative stamp collection in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Tourism. The images of iconic hotels to grace the fifty cents stamps are the Bahamas Princess Resort and Casino in Grand Bahama; the Peace and Plenty Hotel of Great Exuma; Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island and the $3.5 billion Baha Mar on Cable Beach.  

Legendary Bahamian entertainer Ronnie Butler, “the Godfather of Bahamian music,” was inducted into the Caribbean Hall of Fame.

Zambia president Michael Sata died in London’s King Edward VII Hospital this week while receiving medical treatment. He will be buried in Lusaka on Nov 11.

In response to the government’s announced Public Private Partnership policy in infrastructure development and gazette RFP, the Bahamas Society of Engineers in conjunction with the Canadian Society for Civil Engineers held a P3 conference today at Melia.

Opening the conference was Prime Minister Christie who talked about the government’s $100 million Request For Proposal (RFP) for infrastructure development.

Also, during the course of the day panel discussions will take place around the salient topics of ‘International & Regional Experience,’ ‘The Bahamian Experience,’ ‘Utility Infrastructure Delivery,’ and ‘The Financial Perspective.’

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis also addressed the delegates and State Minister for Investment Khaalis Rolle delivered a lunch time presentation on the country’s National Development Plan.

And finally, the Cabinet Office of The Bahamas advised the general public that Daylight Saving Time will end on Sunday, 2nd November, 2014 at 2:00 a.m. At that time, The Bahamas reverts to Eastern Standard Time. All time pieces are to be turned back one hour.

Subsequently, Eastern Standard Time continues to Sunday, 8th March, 2015. 

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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