Tourism Growth and More Job in 2008 PM Says

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Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham

Nassau, The Bahamas – Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham addressed Bahamians on Sunday on a myriad of issues laying out the direction of the country for 2008. The Prime minister announced a projected growth in Tourism for 2008, and announced the government’s intention proceed with the relocation of the container ports in Nassau city.

 THE FOLLOWING IS THE FULL TEXT OF THE PM REMARKS:
THE PRIME MINISTER :My Fellow Bahamians:

In May of last year the Free National Movement was returned to Government after an absence from office of five years. Your vote of confidence continues to be an inspiration to my colleagues and me to carry on with the work you elected us to do.

We renew our pledge to work tirelessly to fulfill the promises and commitments we made to you. We promised, if elected, to restore your trust in Government. During the past eight months we have set about to fulfill that promise.

Fulfilling the Promise

We tabled in the House of Assembly and made public all agreements concluded between the Government and international investors which had not been tabled during the preceding five-year period.

We amended the Prime Minister’s Pension Act to set down in law that a serving Prime Minister might not receive simultaneously both the salary and a pension for the post of Prime Minister.

We reinstated the payment by the Government of one half of the interest charged in respect of government-guaranteed educational loans.

We amended the Juries Act reducing the number of jurors in non-capital cases from 12 to 9.

We amended the Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) Act to permit the Attorney General to provide needed information to foreign jurisdictions in criminal matters.

We put in place enhanced insurance benefits for members of the Police, Defence and Prison Services.

We expended some $3 million for the acquisition of new patrol vehicles for the Royal Bahamas Police Force facilitating improved police response time. Additional sums are being expended on the acquisition of other crime-fighting equipment and technology.

We are upgrading and expanding the Royal Bahamas Defence Force fleet, facilitating the establishment of a permanent presence in the southern Bahamas from which regular patrols of our waters will be undertaken.

We purchased two Vigilant Craft to be deployed this week at Inagua. Additionally, two Dauntless vessels – one 40-foot and one 48-foot — are now under construction for delivery in April and June of this year.

We have approved the acquisition of two additional 60-foot craft for the Defence Force.

We accepted four additional Interceptor craft from the United States under the Enduring Friendship Programme. The first two craft are expected to arrive in March. The third and fourth are expected to be delivered later this year.

We are re-establishing the Air Wing of the Defence Force and have approved the purchase of two aircraft, one Cessna Caravan for troop transport and a Vulcan Air for general reconnaissance. This will significantly improve the detection and interdiction capability of the Force.

We amended the Immigration Act to facilitate the electronic clearance of cruise ship passengers entering The Bahamas.

We launched machine readable passports.

We amended the Fisheries Regulations to bring sports fishing bag limits into conformity with international standards.

We amended the Airport Authority Act to put in place a more effective arrangement for security and fire services at the Lynden Pindling International Airport.

We reviewed contracts hurriedly awarded for major infrastructure works in the weeks leading up to the general election. We proceeded with those projects determined to be sound.

We readied government-operated schools so that they all opened on time at the beginning of the September school year for the first time in five years.

We launched a telemedicine pilot project linking the Community Health Clinic in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, to the Accident and Emergency Department of the Princess Margaret Hospital.

We acquired 10 garbage trucks to improve solid waste collection around New Providence. Five trucks are scheduled for delivery in Nassau this week; the remaining five are scheduled for delivery within another month.

We approved a number of investment projects which we expect to come on stream during 2008.

A Difficult Year

Last year, 2007, proved to be a difficult year both at home and abroad. Serious conflicts continued to destroy lives and property in and around the Middle East, very notably in Iraq. The activities of terrorists and warring ethnic factions have frustrated efforts to end the turmoil.

In Asia, terrorists succeeded last month in ending the life of former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, who was for many a beacon of hope in an area torn by strife.

In parts of Africa ethnic conflict continues to inflict misery on countless civilians no where more painfully than in Dafur, Sudan.

Control and treatment of disease — communicable such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, and non-communicable such as diabetes, hypertension and coronary ailments — continue to require huge expenditures by governments in the developing world, including here at home and around the Caribbean, with implications for future and sustained economic development.

The consequences of climate change, including more frequent, destructive storms and hurricanes, are increasingly self-evident. The urgency for all states, developed and developing, to become a part of the solution to this global problem was forcefully put at the global meeting in Bali, Indonesia last month.

On the economic front in 2007, a number of challenges prevailed. Unrest in some of the oil-producing countries combined with unprecedented demand for fuel in both the developed and developing world to push the cost of oil to new highs.

This state of affairs was aggravated by the sub-prime meltdown which began in the US housing market and led to further softening of an already weakened US economy and decline in the US dollar.

The Consequences

The consequences for our tourism sector’s performance, which depends heavily on US economic buoyancy, can be quite significant. The financial position of The Bahamas Electricity Corporation and of Bahamasair was severely challenged by the enormous increase in fuel costs.

The dramatic impact of oil prices on the general cost of living gives great validity to demands for the development and use of alternative energy sources, including solar and wind-powered energy, so as to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

It also demonstrates the wisdom of adopting energy-saving technologies, whether for building construction, household appliances or transportation, and reducing energy consumption.

Energy Policy

In this regard, the Ministry of Works and Transport and the BEST Commission have been mandated to develop an energy policy for The Bahamas.

This policy will take into account the desire of my Government to make it easier and more economical for Bahamian consumers to access alternative energy sources and more energy-efficient technologies generally.

Concurrently, the Ministry responsible for Consumer Affairs is set to re-launch a robust consumer education programme as we seek to promote improved consumer protection.

Trade Challenges

Increasingly, large and expanding trade blocs are shaping a new economic order in our world. The expiration of the WTO-exemption of the trade component of the Cotonou Agreement between African, Caribbean and Pacific states (ACP) and the European Union (EU) has forced a new reality on small ACP states.

These states, including The Bahamas, have had to negotiate new Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) requiring reciprocity in trade in place of traditional one-way preferential trade arrangements.

Over the past year, our financial services sector continued to observe international best practices in regulations. This will continue as we seek to maintain our standing and competitiveness in the international financial community.

Indeed, we are positioning ourselves to make a bid to regain a stronger position in the international insurance sector which we once dominated.

As we look to the future though, we are obliged to acknowledge that while the global developments that create challenges to our economic performance will continue to be shaped by events beyond our control, we are still able to respond to such developments appropriately to ensure the best outcomes.

Economy Slows

Here at home, 2007 saw a slowing of the Bahamian economy due primarily to a slowing US economy; a softening tourism performance; tapering-off in investment inflows as major projects such as Kerzner International’s Third Phase came to an end; and a decrease in an unsustainable level of growth in domestic bank credit.

Nevertheless, there were signs of a moderate rate of expansion toward the end of the year based on indications of an improving tourism performance and stable construction activity.

At the end of 2007, liquidity levels in our banking system were $117 million, significantly higher than the $39 million at year-end 2006. On the other hand, official foreign reserves at the end of last year of $455 million were $45 million lower than the $500 million of the previous year-end.

Present indications are that tourism, with appropriate interventions from us, will achieve moderate growth.

In these circumstances, there will likely be sufficient resilience in the Bahamian economy to fuel significant job-creating growth during 2008. This will be due primarily to a number of foreign investment projects and substantial public infrastructural work which we shall be undertaking.

Tourism Strategies

Ours is a tourism dominated economy. The tourism business in The Bahamas is undergoing a major transition from reliance on traditional mega-hotel destination travel, to include a larger number of smaller, mixed-use and environmentally-sensitive resorts.

This development impacts our Family Islands as much as it does Nassau, Paradise Island and Grand Bahama. In response, we are adjusting our tourism strategies to make them more relevant to the changing preferences of the travelling public.

And, we are fine-tuning our advertising and public relations strategies to take into account the strengthened euro and Canadian dollar against the US dollar which make vacations in our destinations increasingly attractive for Europeans and Canadian visitors.

We are also responding, for example, to the increased popularity of different kinds of vacation accommodation that much of the travelling public seeks. Of equal importance, is the need to be conscious of and sensitive to the environmental stewardship that many of today’s tourists expect.

In particular, we must respond to their increased interest in a variety of cultural and heritage experiences, and souvenirs relevant to these experiences.

Fortunately, we are a country of many islands; we have a dynamic culture, an intriguing historical heritage and a rich environmental endowment. With planning and forethought we are well-placed to respond to the changing demands and expectations of today’s tourists.

On New Providence and Paradise Island and in Grand Bahama, we are able to provide the traditional beach, casino, night life and shopping amenities expected from international patrons of world class hotels.

We must all acknowledge, however, that there is much room for improvement if we are to restore upscale, world-class entertainment and shopping opportunities to Bay Street.

On the other hand, our Family Islands are ideally suited to the development of high-end, tranquil, green resorts that offer a more intimate, culturally rich and less environmentally intrusive experience.

You will be pleased to know that a number of tourism related projects will come on stream this year thereby improving employment levels and business opportunities.

We are especially encouraged by proposed developments in Grand Bahama which will provide the basis for new business and employment expansion there during 2008. In short, nearly all of our islands will be impacted by new or expanded developments in tourism.

To ensure success of some of these projects we will undertake the upgrading of public infrastructure where it has been permitted to lag behind acceptable standards. Accordingly, the major redevelopment of the Lynden Pindling International Airport has been approved by my Government.

This will include the construction of a new US Departure Terminal, the transformation of the present US terminal into a new International Arrivals Terminal, and the construction of a new Domestic Departure and Arrivals Terminal.

Central to the redevelopment of the facility is the upgrade of both the airside and the landside of the airport.

In the Family Islands, a new airport, taxiway, terminal and air traffic control facility will be provided at Marsh Harbour, Abaco. Improvements to airport infrastructure in Treasure Cay, Abaco, Stella Maris and Deadman’s Cay, Long Island, and New Bight, Cat Island, will also be carried out.

We are determined to do a better job at exploiting the potential for linkages between our agricultural, fisheries and light manufacturing sectors and the tourism sector.

The leakage of tourism revenues expended on tourism-related imports of goods that can be produced here at home at comparable quality and cost must be reduced. Such an initiative presents many and varied opportunities for Bahamian entrepreneurship.

I am directing all government-sponsored funding programmes, namely: the Bahamas Development Bank loans; BAIC facilities; the Venture Capital Fund; the government-guarantee loan schemes; and the investment incentive programmes administered under laws such as the Industries Encouragement Act, to focus the bulk of their support on programmes that principally seek to help Bahamian businesses take advantage of such linkages.

But measurable success will require co-operation between hotelier and hotel worker; between taxi-driver and tour operator; between restaurateur and retail merchant; between straw vendor and craft producer; between farmer, fisherman, and food and beverage manager; between immigration and customs; between government and the people; and between and among the people themselves.

Each of us must be a responsible contributor to our success. What we need to do now, is to arrest the slippage of recent years and to begin a national effort to take back our rightful place on the regional tourism landscape.

Confronting Crime

We must tackle the fears and social tensions which have accompanied our development and which have not been adequately addressed. These have no doubt contributed to the unacceptable levels of violence and other criminality in our communities and neighbourhoods.

I wish to address specifically, our single biggest national concern as we begin this New Year – that is, crime. Unless we can right our social relations, the other matters will have no relevance.

As you know, we experienced a spike in violence against the person last year. We recorded our greatest ever number of murders in 2007 which, though more defined in respect of the persons involved and impacted, nevertheless created great discomfort and fear in our society.

While the toll was highest in New Providence, Grand Bahama was not spared and, regrettably, violence was also visited upon citizens in traditionally crime-free Family Island communities in Eleuthera and Exuma.

The loss of life resulting from police action in Andros and in Bimini has also been most regrettable. And, the entire Bahamian community was devastated by the tragic killing of a young police constable in the line of duty here in New Providence.

This level of violence, about which we cannot be complacent as a people, undermines the peace and tranquility for which our country has been admired.

There can be little comfort taken from the hypothesis that such spikes in crime are usually followed by a gradual, if not dramatic reduction, in crime levels over the next period.

We must, each of us, ensure that a reduction in criminality does occur in this New Year and in succeeding years as a consequence of our individual and collective deliberate actions.

The fight against crime is not exclusively a police matter. The restoration of peace and safety in our communities and in all neighbourhoods is something which involves us all, and is the responsibility of us all.

It is important for private citizens to support our police; first in preventing crime, and, secondly, when a crime has occurred, in cooperating and assisting police investigations to identify and arrest the culprits.

Obedience to the law and support for law enforcement is required of all persons. We must give neither aid, nor comfort, nor protection to persons who choose to live outside the law. In matters small and large, our behaviour must send appropriate messages to others, especially our children and our young adults.

I do not have to remind you, fellow citizens, that respect for the law and law enforcement extends beyond support for the police. It includes support for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, charged with protecting our maritime borders against poachers, illegal immigrants and illicit drug traffickers.

It extends even further to include support for our Immigration officers and our Customs officers who also serve as guardians of our nation and its borders. And, it includes support for our prison officers charged with rehabilitating and preparing convicts for re-entry into society.

My government commits to ensuring that our laws are vigorously enforced, modernized and strengthened where necessary. We commit to significant improvements in our legal, judicial and penal system.

We commit to the expansion of police presence within our communities and commercial districts day and night; and to the further modernization of our police, defence, immigration and customs establishments.

It is our aim to cause a reduction in criminality and to ensure the safety of our law-abiding citizens.

Social Development

As we commit to redoubling our effort to deal with the criminals in our society, we also commit ourselves to deal with issues in our social development thought by some to influence criminality.

And so, whether or not there is any scientific basis for the belief that there is a link between poor educational achievement, unemployment and crime, these are areas to which we will give increased attention.

For example, we cannot continue to ignore the chronic deficiency in our nation’s education system which has not kept pace with the population growth in many of our communities.

The Ministry of Education Youth Sports and Culture will, this year, commence the implementation of planned School Improvement Programmes designed to bring renewed focus to core subjects throughout the school system from Kindergarten to 12th Grade, and to supplement regular tuition through the expansion of After-School Clubs and supervised Study Halls.

The magnet programmes in technical and career education will be expanded. This is in direct response to the uniform complaint from the private sector that the majority of our high school graduates are not adequately prepared to assume entry level positions in their organizations.

This notwithstanding, our overriding interest is to assist young persons to achieve their full potential, enhance their feelings of self-worth and thereby motivate them to succeed in enjoying fulfilled, peaceful and satisfying lives.

An important adjunct to our programme for education is our plan to promote and support a deeper cultural awareness and appreciation among all our people but very especially among our young people.

We believe firmly that self-confident and culturally secure individuals are far less likely to succumb to the negative, and often violent, foreign cultural influences which abound in the media today. And so we will continue and increase investment in our cultural and sporting institutions and organizations.

Health Care

It has become almost trite to repeat the refrain “the health of a nation is the wealth of the nation” but it is indeed a truism.

A healthy population is a more productive population; hence our commitment to systematically improve health care delivery in all government-owned hospitals and health care clinics.

We will introduce a prescription drug benefit and assistance programme during the second half of this year, 2008.

Increased resources will be dedicated to programmes to keep and maintain our surroundings clean and healthy, in particular our parks and recreational areas.

Road Project

Aside from inadequate environmental clean-up and maintenance, traffic congestion on New Providence continues to frustrate residents and businesses most severely.

Far too much productive time is lost and energy consumed sitting in traffic because our roads and traffic patterns belong to a bygone era.

We expect that the resumed New Providence Road Improvement Project will address the vexing problem of traffic congestion in New Providence.

The Project will be supported by better regulation of traffic movements, the rationalization of ground transport routes, and the enforcement of traffic laws.

The cost of the Project has increased from $52 million in 2000 to $100 million in 2007, including an expenditure of $41 million to date. The decision which occasioned these costly increases served only to add to the ever-worsening traffic dilemma faced daily by motorists in New Providence.

City Restoration

On the subject of development and redevelopment of the City of Nassau, much has been and remains to be said. It is agreed that the City of Nassau is run-down and that Nassau Harbour does not have the capacity to accommodate the most modern ocean-going cruise liners.

It is my Government’s intention to complete the process of bidding and contracting for the dredging of Nassau Harbour to accommodate the arrival of super-size cruise passenger ships in 2009.

To complement the planned work in Nassau Harbour we will begin the restoration of the City of Nassau.

Much planning has already been done and so the programme to restore the City will be informed by recommendations contained in the Burnside Report, completed in the early 1990s, the 2004 EDAW Master Plan for the City of Nassau, and the recommendations of the Downtown Redevelopment Joint Task Force.

The plan will not be a secret. Once the components have been established and set in a rational framework with preliminary costs and time-lines, you, my fellow Bahamians will be apprised and kept abreast of progress.

We will restore and maintain the essential characteristics of our City and preserve its heart.

We will beautify the city, make it greener, and greatly improve its appearance and ambience. The City of Nassau will be a source of pride for us all and international visitors will come to appreciate it again.

While all are not agreed on the location of a new cargo terminal for New Providence, all interested parties, in both the public and private sector, agree that the revitalization of the City of Nassau requires that we remove the storage of shipping containers from the heart of the City of Nassau.

I am pleased to advise that by the end of this year, 2008, we will cause to be discontinued the storage of shipping containers and the movement of containers along our city centre during day-light hours.

We will also give further consideration to the development of a container terminal at Arawak Cay and the provision of an inland container depot.

Building Programme

We will complete the stalled and abandoned construction of the Nassau Street Magistrate’s Court House and the Registrar General’s offices on Market Street.

As well, a number of government buildings have sat condemned in the City of Nassau for a number of years. We will restore or demolish the Adderley Building and the Rodney Bain Building.

We will demolish the old customs building on Arawak Cay and we will continue the upgrading of Woodes Rogers Wharf. We will transform the old customs warehouses on Prince George Dock into an authentic Bahamian Crafts Market.

The Town Planning Act has been overtaken by development. We will introduce a new Town Planning Act. Associated with improved town planning, will be a systematic programme to identify, label and clear all public beach access in New Providence.

We will also identify and beautify additional open green spaces for the enjoyment of residents. And, we will continue and accelerate the road-naming and building-numbering programmes.

My Government will restart the stalled Government housing programme for low and medium income families. The programme was suspended during 2007 because of a shortfall in funding.

During this year we aim to complete houses on which construction was stopped; repair additional numbers of poorly constructed houses; build additional housing units; and prepare several hundred fully-serviced lots for sale around the country but particularly in New Providence, Abaco, and Exuma where demand is high.

Last year, Tropical Storm Noel added to the already poor road infrastructure in many of our Family Islands. Accordingly, we will reconstruct some roads in Cat Island, Eleuthera, Exuma, Acklins and Long Island.

You will be pleased to learn that the European Union has offered to provide funding for infrastructural development in a number of our Family Islands. It has been determined that the following works will be undertaken with EU assistance:

  • Ragged Island Dock and Harbour
  • Fresh Creek Dock (Andros)
  • Lowe Sound Seawall (Andros)

Public Service

Further, I am pleased to advise that through a consultancy with the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD), we will move discussion of public sector reform and modernization from the theoretical stages to implementation.

A pilot Customer Services Improvement Programme will be launched this year in six government departments, namely: Department of Public Service, Passport Office, Registrar General’s Office, Departments of Physical Planning and Building Control, and the Department of Road Traffic.

The College of The Bahamas is to be engaged to conduct a Customer Satisfaction Survey which will serve as the baseline for the project.

Our objective in each department will be to bring about a measurable improvement in government service delivery; that is, making it easier and more convenient to access government services and providing higher levels of customer satisfaction as a result of improved performance of government agencies.

A Better Year

Overall, 2008 promises to be a better year than was last year.

I reiterate my commitment and my Government’s commitment to work with everyone in our country toward securing the prosperity of our people.

I pledge to pursue the excellence to which we must aspire if our future is to be secure.

I undertake to uphold and promote the ideals of truth and fairness that we cherish and, at all times, with God’s help, to act so as to strengthen your trust in your Government.

Finally, on behalf of my family, my Cabinet, and Public Officers throughout The Bahamas, I wish each and every one of you peace and fulfillment in this year and in the years to come.

May God bless us all.