This week in Parliament
Commentary by Elcott Coleby
Bahamas Information Services
2nd September 2015
The Bahamas Parliament met on Wednesday, the 2nd September 2015 at 10am and a summary of the communications delivered by government ministers during the segment “statement by ministers” on the House agenda are highlighted below for public information and edification.
Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie delivered a communication on the ratings analyzes by both Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s on the economy and economic outlook for The Bahamas.
The Prime Minister compared and contrasted the ratings by the two agencies, pointing out that Standard and Poors maintain the investment grade of Bahamas securities while downgrading its outlook to negative. Moody’s on the other hand maintained the country’s investment grade securities and its outlook at stable.
The Prime Minister focused on the ratings decision of Standard and Poors and defended his government’s fundamental disagreement with the agency’s ratings decision.
Christie told House members that notwithstanding S&P’s view that Baha Mar will not be finished quickly and its performance hindered upon completion, “let there be no doubt either in this Honourable House or among the Bahamian public that the government is firmly committed to a timely resolution of the Baha Mar matter and the completion of the project in a manner Mr. Speaker that will serve the best interest of the people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”
He went to state that S&P’s dim view of the project, suggesting little or no economic growth for The Bahamas’ economy over the next several years fails to “match up to reality” and “flies in the face of some of the evidence that S&P itself presents in their report.”
Prefacing the results of his ministry’s fiscal consolidation plan, the Prime Minister asserted that “a prime prerequisite for a solid credit rating, strong investor confidence, and buoyant economic growth is a sound and sustainable public finance framework,” a framework he proclaimed his government successfully implemented through its medium term fiscal consolidation plan. The Prime Minister quoted the S&P report in support of his assertion.
“The government has made progress, improving the country’s fiscal deficits” said the S&P report, “particularly through the introduction of the Value Added Tax. We believe that this along with formalization spillovers from the modernized tax system will contribute to deceleration in the increase of government debt. This progress has contributed to our decision to keep the rating of The Bahamas in the investment grade category”
The government did beat its 2014/2015 budget deficit target by 3% and is a full year ahead of its target for achieving a primary budget surplus.
National Security Minister the Hon. Dr. Bernard J. Nottage delivered a communication on the status of crime in The Bahamas. He said that there are three thematic pillars that are driving crime activities in The Bahamas. These thematic pillars are drugs trafficking, firearms trafficking and the proliferation of gangs.
In listing the government’s combating policy initiatives, the Minister included amendments to the Penal Code inclusive of Marco’s Law and anti-gang legislation; the reintroduction of the Heads of National Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA); the $20 million IDB funded Citizen Security and Justice Program; the $20 million students tracking system, jobs training and placement program and foreshadowed the tabling of a Parental Responsibility Bill.
To build organizational and resource capacities within the uniform branches and to put “more boots on the ground” in bolstering the fight against crime, the Minister advised the House that since 2012 the government has recruited 342 Police Officers, 353 Defense Force Officers and 175 Correctional Officers. Just over 100 Police Officers, 160 Defense Force Officers and between 100 and 120 Correctional Officers are scheduled for recruitment in this (2015/2016) fiscal year said the Minister.
The Minister called on all of his parliamentary colleagues to become engaged and for every Bahamian to take responsibility for the peace and security of our country by becoming change agents.
Social Service Minister the Hon. Melanie Griffin presented the House with an update on the reloadable Pre-paid visa debit card for the public food assistance program; this electronic system effectively replaces the paper food stamps or coupon system. The program began in November 2014 at the Wulff Road Center, followed by centers in Fox Hill, Robinson Road and Horse Shoe Drive.
The pre-paid debit card continued Mrs. Griffin, was introduced in Grand Bahama on Monday, July 27th and to date, more than 6,232 recipients are benefitting from this electronic food assistance program: 5,254 in New Providence and 978 from Grand Bahama. The exercise to determine the number of beneficiaries for New Providence is complete reported the Minister and the Grand Bahama exercise is near completion.
This is the first phase of the government’s entire Social Safety Net system and reform and modernization of the country’s welfare system reported the Minister. The next initiative in the reform process is the Conditional Cash Transfer Program. The reform program is called RISE, the acronym for Review Improving Sustaining and Empowering (R.I.S.E.).
Education, Science and Technology Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald delivered an update on the public school repair program over the summer months and the opening of the 2015/2016 school year. He reported that E.P. Roberts Primary required extensive repairs and “looks like a brand new school” inclusive of a new computer laboratory to boot. The A.F. Adderly High school trailers have been condemned and seventh grade students are being housed at the hotel union class rooms. A 24 classroom block is being constructed to replace the in the current fiscal year at that school campus.
The all age school in Rum Cay is undergoing extensive renovations at a cost of $500,000. Students will be educated at a local church hall during the three months of construction. Fitzgerald defended the cost, stating that the school building is multi-purpose and that the Rum Cay students have as much rights to a decent education as any other Bahamian child.
According to the Education Minister, a total of 300 contracts were awarded for the public school summer repair program. Four separate contracts were awarded for the construction of four pavilions at four New Providence based primary schools. Construction is expected to be completed before the end of the 2015/2016 school year.
The total cost of the summer repair program was pegged at $7.673 million to date. The Minister expressed satisfaction with the general workmanship and said he was excited at the new school year.
Youth, Sports and Culture Minister the Hon. Dr. Daniel Johnson reported on the 25 member Bahamas track and field team that represented The Bahamas at the 15th IAAF Track and Field Championship. He singled out Commonwealth and Pan Am Games champion Jeffery Gibson (400 meters intermediate hurdles) and Shaune Miller (200 meters) for winning bronze and silver medals respectively at the event. The Bahamas finished 22nd out of 214 countries and he congratulated them for those achievements. Dr. Johnson congratulated the men’s 4×400 meters team, Leevan Sands and Donald Thomas, the BAAA and management for their contributions as they carried the banner for The Bahamas internationally.
He noted that today marked the 15th anniversary of the golden girls winning the gold medal in the 4×100 meters in Australia in 2000. He congratulated Pauline Davis, Chandra Sturrup, Eldece Clarke and Sevetheta Fynes for their efforts.
State Minister of Legal Affairs the Hon. Damian Gomez tabled and delivered the first reading of a compendium of highly technical bills – seven bills in total. They were the Trademarks Bill 2015, the lead Bill; the Patents Bill 2015, the Copyright Amendment Bill 2015, the Protection of New Plant Varieties Bill 2015, the Geographical Indications Bill 2015, the Integrated Circuit Bill 2015 and the False Trade Description Bill 2015.
These bills, said the Minister, are designed to address the issues of innovation, design and intellectual property protection. Strengthening its intellectual properties laws places The Bahamas in compliance with international standards as regards the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and as a pre-requisite for membership into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Bahamas’ WTO ascension process began in 2001 and the Minister indicated a desire by the government to complete this process.
The Minister for Financial Services, the Hon. Hope Strachan seconded the bill. The Minister presented a detailed description of each bill and explained why it was necessary to pass these pieces of legislation into law. The encouragement of new industries to fuel economic development through innovation was one major reason offered in addition to the need to protect such innovations.