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This week in the Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: Feb 29 - Mar 4
By Elcott Coleby
Mar 4, 2016 - 3:48:35 PM

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This day in Parliament – Four Gender Equality Bills passed by the House

History was made in The Bahamas today, Wednesday 2nd March, as Parliament passed four amendments to the country’s 1973 independence constitution, effectively removing the remaining vestiges of discrimination against all Bahamians from the country’s Supreme Law.

On hand for the vote were 37 of 38 parliamentarians as the Honourable member for Saint Anne’s Hubert Chipman remains ill.

A short description of the bills and the results of the parliamentary vote are as follow:

Bill #1:

This bill seeks the grant the legal right to a Bahamian woman to automatically pass on her Bahamian citizenship to her child born in a foreign country with her non Bahamian spouse just as a Bahamian male married to a non Bahamian woman currently has the legal right and privilege of doing under the current constitution. The results on the vote were 37 yes and 1 absent.

Bill #2:

This bill seeks to enable a Bahamian woman who marries a non Bahamian man to secure for her foreign husband the same access to Bahamian citizenship that a Bahamian man married to a non Bahamian woman currently enjoys under the constitution. The results on the vote were 36 yes, 1 no and 1 absent. Marco City MP the Hon. Greg Moss voted no.

Bill #3:

This bill seeks to grant to an unmarried Bahamian man the legal right to pass on his Bahamian citizenship to his child he fathered with a non Bahamian woman. Under the constitution, only an unwed Bahamian woman enjoys that legal right and privilege. The unwed male must provide proof of paternity by any method listed under the constitution. The results of the vote were 37 yes and 1 absent.

Bill #4

This bill seeks to eliminate gender discrimination by inserting the word “sex” into article 26 of the constitution to make it unconstitutional to discriminate against anyone on the basis of them being male or female. The results of the vote were 34 yes, 2 no, 1 abstain and 1 absent. Marco City MP Greg Moss and Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells both voted no while Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant abstained.

Mr. Moss suggested that if passed into law, amendment four could open the door to same sex marriage, but Marathon MP Jerome Fitzgerald rebutted, explaining that under the Bahamas’ constitution that was not possible. Mr. Fitzgerald pointed out that the Bahamas constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and that the sex of an individual is determined at birth by their genetic (or chromosomal) makeup. He also cautioned House members not to confuse “sex” with “sexual orientation” as they are entirely different.

A fifth bill that addresses paternity provisions was also passed.

In his closing remarks after the passage of the bills, Prime Minister Christie rose to his feet to commend House members for their vote and to underscore the historic significance of the occasion within the context of the rights of women to vote, a franchise granted to them in 1962, more than one half century ago.

“It has been more than fifty-three years since our women won the right to vote but they still do not have constitutional protection against discrimination based on their sex. This must be seen as abhorrent to our fundamental values. It is therefore a moral imperative of the first magnitude that we seize the opportunity to usher in a new era in our civilization – an era that will proceed on the righteous and unassailable premise that we are all equal before the law irrespective of whether we are male or female and that as what is good for one is good for the other without distinction.”

In the end, the entire constitutional reform exercise was about full equality, nothing more and nothing less argued Mr. Christie.

“At its core” continued the Prime Minister, “it is for me to say that this is what the present constitutional exercise is all about – nothing less and nothing more. Let there be full equality.”

Leader of government business the Hon. Bernard J. Nottage notified House members that Parliament will convene on Monday, 7th March 2016 when Prime Minister Christie is expected to deliver the government’s mid-year budget statement.

Mitchell address a myriad of immigration concerns

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration the Hon. Frederick Mitchell held a press conference on Monday, February 29, at the Department of Immigration to state the Government’s position and address material inaccuracies within several Foreign Affairs and Immigration matters that are topics of discussion in the public domain.

Minister Mitchell told the press that the Cabinet of the Bahamas Government declared the two Cubans recently released by the courts, ‘security risks’: “These men are suspected of attempting to burn down the detention centre while housed there, as well as other crimes,” he said.

“If found in The Bahamas they will be re-arrested,” Minister Mitchell said, “since they have no landed status in The Bahamas.

“These individuals are not going to be allowed to enter the United States with the Government’s knowledge, nor into their own homeland of Cuba,” the Minister said, “and no other country is willing to allow them to live within its borders.”

An All-Points-Bulletin for them is being considered by the Cabinet and is likely to be put out later this week.

On another issue, Minister Mitchell said the election of the Commonwealth Secretary General was democratic, and delegates from Sir Ronald Sanders’s home country threw their support behind the Baroness. “We believe that she is eminently qualified and will serve the Commonwealth well.”

It is untrue, he said, that The Bahamas pledged its support for Sir Ronald Sanders and later reneged on that pledge.

The Minister insisted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did all that was required to assist the family of the late Christopher Adderley, who died in a jail in Haiti. The Ministry, he said, was also instrumental in facilitating the transfer of funds by the family to assist Mr. Adderley.

The Minister expressed deep regret over the death of Mr. Adderley.

He noted, however, it is deplorable for anybody to use the grief of a mother over the death of her son to lambaste and sully the reputation of public servants.

Education Minister speaks on the way forward for the ELA

Education, Science and Technology Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald called a press conference on Monday morning to discuss the status of the government’s Education Loan Authority government guaranteed loan program almost seven years after the program’s suspension due to non-payment.

The Minister revealed that after almost three years of auditing, there are 4,300 outstanding loans, a delinquency rate of over 80% and over $155 million in principal and accrued interest owed to the Bahamas government. Only 16% of the loans are current and 76% are delinquent by at least 271 days said Mr. Fitzgerald.

Notwithstanding this unsustainable situation, Fitzgerald pointed out that the government “had no legal authority to pursue delinquent borrowers, or even negotiate with these borrowers who had legitimately fallen on hard times and wished to repay their obligations one way or the other. The Education Loan (Amendment) Act 2015, came into force on the 21st of October, 2015” legally empowering the government to take action.

He said the government has approved a 12 month incentivized loan repayment plan effective 1st March to solve this problem. A summary of the seven-point plan is as follows:

  1. A twelve-month freeze on interests will be made available to encourage delinquent borrowers from 1st March 2016.

  2. If the entire loan is settled in 12 months, all interest and related charges will be forgiven.

  3. All payments will be applied to the principal balance only and the accumulated interest will be reduced by a matching amount.

  4. Accounts that are current for six months prior to 1st March enjoy the incentives for 36 months if account remains current.

  5. For loans restructured during the 12-month period, payments will apply only to the principal and the Authority will forgive 1.5 times the accumulated loan payments for one year. This ‘debt forgiveness’ will be applied to the accumulated interest and related charges, then the principal if necessary.

  6. Persons who consistently make their monthly loan payments for the 12-month period (other than persons mentioned in 5 above) will receive an extension of twelve months of incentives and waivers.

  7. For restructured loans, the maximum loan repayment period will be changed from 15 years to a maximum of 30 years.

Prime Minister Christie intervenes to re-open beach access

The scene turned ugly on Monday of this week as tempers flared and attempts made to block access to the Sir Sidney Poitier Bridge that connects Nassau to Paradise Island.

Members from the Cabbage Beach Vendors Association were protesting the closure of an access path to Cabbage Beach after a transition period of four months had expired. The police were called in to restore social order and to ensure that trade and commercial activities were uninterrupted.

Prime Minister Christie wasted no time in resolving this issue with the developers and by late Monday evening, the government issued the following statement:

“The sale agreement between Access Industries andBrookfield required Brookfield to close the existing beach path adjacent to the Riu resort and relocate to the access point located on Brookfield-owned property on Garden Drive off of Paradise Island Drive.

“However, in response to a direct request from the Prime Minister, Access Industries has agreed to permit the beach path adjacent to the Riu to remain open for a period of time, to allow the Prime Minister to work personally on finding an alternative solution for the Beach Vendors who currently work that area of Cabbage Beach.”

NHI Secretariat concludes successful week of Family Island meetings

The National Health Insurance (NHI) Bahamas Secretariat reported on several successful public consultative meetings this week as the Secretariat kicked off the family island leg of this consultation exercise.

In a press statement on Thursday, the Secretariat indicated that meetings were held in Eleuthera (Rock Sound and Governor’s Harbour), San Salvador, Spanish Wells and Harbour Island, “to educate and engage residents about the modern, affordable and accessible healthcare system that NHI aims to deliver for Bahamians.”

The consultations were led by Permanent Secretary Peter Deveax-Isaacs and Project Co-ordinator Dr. Delon Brennen with a support staff including Damara Dillett, Catherine Weech, Charles Hamilton and Kathy Smith. The team answered questions from hundreds of residents about the importance of national health insurance; clarified eligibility requirements; outlined the benefits of primary care; discussed the impact of NHI on private health insurance; explained access to health services on those family islands; clarified issues around registration versus enrolment; clarified the costs of the program to Bahamians , and shared tax information.

Participants included business owners, working class Bahamians, health professionals, pensioners and the unemployed.

“As we speak to more and more Bahamians across the country, it is becoming clear that the people want NHI. Comments from Bahamians have been very positive thus far and they are very engaged with this important issue,” said Permanent Secretary Peter Deveaux Isaacs. “The general tone of these discussions has been that NHI can't come fast enough.”

Community meetings across the Family Islands will continue next week with stops in Cat Island, Long Island, Andros and Berry Islands.

Gibson announces new NIB online platform

“Once fully operational, our new insurance system will offer all of the modern conveniences of electronic online transactions, making it easier for customers to submit claims, register, pay contributions and get information. The end result will be an improved and easier-to-use insurance system over-all and one that places the user at the forefront.” This according to the Minister with responsibility for the National Insurance Board, the Hon. D. Shane Gibson, as he announced the launch of NIB’s brand new $14 million web-based insurance administration system on Thursday at a press conference held at the board.

The first of two tiers of the rollout will take place on 30th March and the second tier is scheduled for June. NIB will revert to manual processing from March 10th to March 30th at which time the new and improved web based V3 insurance administration system will go live online.

According to Senior Deputy Director with responsibility for Information Technology, Dr. Raymond Wells, the new system replaces the “28 year old AS400 green-screen system.”

He said that the supplier, Vitech Systems Group, is a leading provider of administration software for insurance, investment and retirement organizations. The V3 system being installed at NIB is being touted for its ability to support a full suite of benefit products across major business functions on one integrated platform, thereby “dramatically enhancing customer service offerings and expanding operating capabilities and flexibility” said Wells.

Strachan announces three national standards

The recently established Bureau of Standards is coming into its own as Financial Services Minister the Hon. Hope Strachan announced three new standards that will take effect on the 1st March 2016.

She made the announcement on Thursday, 3rd March at a press conference.

The three standards are the codes of practice for food and packaged water hygiene and the specifications for packaged water. Minister Strachan said that these are the first of a number of standards the Bureau will unveil as it brings The Bahamas in line with regional and international trade standards, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“To ensure compliance with regional and international treaties such as the World Trade Organization and its Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, we have made revisions to the Standards Act and the Weights and Measures Act to ensure compliance with respect to these agreements” said Minister Strachan

Additionally, these standards are in response to a number of concerns expressed by consumers about the importation of “low grade” food items marked “export only.” Even though the labelling has more to do with taxes, Board Director Renae Bufford said that products with such labels do not meet the requirements for domestic trade and are exported.

One of the loudest cries, however, from the public called for stricter regulations regarding packaged water.

Chairman of the Pricing Commission Ernest Bowe said that unscrupulous individuals would bottle water directly from the ground in the pine barren during the passage of a hurricane and sell the product as treated and sanitized packaged water. These new standards are intended to put a stop to this unsanitary and illegal practice.

Earl of Wessex visits The Bahamas

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, is in The Bahamas on a four-day visit. He is here to visit with participants of the Governor General Youth Award Program and specifically to honor their achievements at an awards ceremony. The medals and certificates of achievement will be presented by Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling and will be pinned by the Prince.

During his visit the Earl of Wessex spoke with participants from three of the eight institutions that are part of the Governor General’s Youth Award Program including St. Augustine College, C.V. Bethel and a courtesy call on the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Rangers at the Coral Harbour Base where he laid a wreath, inspected the guard and enjoyed a display of physical training exercises. Some 40 of the 70 Rangers achieved silver medal awards in the GGYA program.

The Prince visited Abaco on Friday for a pep rally and will depart Nassau on Saturday. The Earl of Wessex is accompanied by his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex.

Prince Edward chairs the International Council for the Duke of Edinburgh International Award, the universal sect that is active in 143 countries and from which the GGYA was extracted in 1986.

In Passing…

One day following the successful passage of the four Gender Equality Bills in Parliament, Fox Hill MP Hon. Fred Mitchell issued a press statement pledging his full support for the bills on behalf of the people of Fox Hill. He dedicated the bills to the memory of his late mother, Lilla, who was the proverbial glue that held the Mitchell family together “through thick and thin.” Mitchell said that there were 15,000 more women on the current voters’ register and that Bahamian women clearly have the numbers to pass all four bills and that he would do all that he could to support them.

With the current voters’ register set to expire on the 14th July 2016, Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall urged all Bahamians who want to participate in the upcoming gender equality referendum to register as soon as possible as the referendum will be held on the current register. The identification requirement is a valid passport or a birth certificate. For persons who were born after 1973, they are required to produce a birth certificate along with their mother’s document to ensure that she was a Bahamian.

Returning to the forum in which she lambasted her parliamentary colleagues, calling them unelectable, envious and jealous of the leader of the FNM, Senator Lanisha Rolle offered a public apology for her comments on Thursday during a local talk show. The apology was offered weeks after members of her parliamentary caucus called for a public apology.

The Bahamian passport was voted 21st and 27th in two of the world’s most trusted “passport strength” listings. These rankings place the Bahamian passports among the most powerful in the world – within the top 33 percentile out of 199 countries ranked. In 2016, Bahamian passport holders have visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 140 countries worldwide. The United Kingdom, Sweden and Finland are ranked #1 on the MoveHub list with access to 173 countries; The Bahamas is ranked 21st . On the Visa Restriction Index, The Bahamas is ranked 27th in the world.

Financial institutions and insurance companies were among the participants from corporate Bahamas in the annual jobs fair hosted by the College of The Bahamas on Thursday. COB President Dr. Rodney Smith told reporters that as part of his vision in building a well rounded COB graduate and to enhance the educational experience, the college is designing an educational exchange program to allow for COB students to experience some study abroad by their junior year.


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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