THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS / 26 – 30 OCTOBER 2015

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COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY

Workers headed home from Bah Mar on Monday June 29th!
Workers headed home from Bah Mar on Monday June 29th!

PM: “I’m supremely confident” on Baha Mar resolution

Less than two days following the effective date of the severance of over 2,000 Baha Mar employees, Prime Minister Christie said that he was “supremely confident” of a resolution to the ongoing Baha Mar impasse. Parties have negotiated out of court and presented legal arguments inside of court since June of this year.

“I’ll just say this, Baha Mar too will be completed. I’m supremely confident with all its complexities, with the enormity of the implication of deteriorating abscess that is not being attended to, that what would have taken $300 million to finish is now double that ($600 million); and every week and every month it deteriorates further.

“But there is absolutely no doubt that I will solve that problem, none” said Mr. Christie of the impasse. “And the parties, with or without the level of togetherness that is necessary, will see it happen.”

The Prime Minister revealed this while addressing insurance stakeholders at the 40th anniversary of the Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) at the British Colonial Hotel on Saturday past.

This level of confidence and optimism was expressed by the Prime Minister during a Diplomatic Week address last Friday and again on Monday of this week after a weekend of conference calls with the relevant stakeholders. He told the media that he knew more than he was allowed to divulge at that time.

In related news, the SLS Lux group has expressed a desire to expand its investment interests in the Baha Mar campus according to Chairman Sam Nazarian. This is reason for greater government optimism.

“Not only are we excited about it but I think more importantly, we would like to do more within the campus of Baha Mar” said Chairman Nazarian, eyeing the former five star Rosewood branded property. “We would love to explore that option” said Nazarian and speaking of the construction quality of the hotel, he had this to say.

“We think that the Rosewood property also was built at a level of quality and its positioning within the campus is unbelievably well with the other brands like Hyatt and the casino hotel itself so like I said we’d love to do more and whatever the final stakeholders will have us do we’ll do it willingly with a lot of confidence moving forward” said Nazarian.

Prime Minister Christie said he is working with the partners to cause for the resumption of construction before Christmas.

To allow for an out of court settlement, all parties agreed with the Supreme Court to reschedule the liquidation hearing for Wednesday, 25th November.

Prime Minister calls for constructive engagement on NHI

“So you decide you want to have a major public relations campaign going on. The reason why I am talking to you, and I’ve come to talk to you, is that whenever you finish it and you want to sit down, that’s what I’m about.”

These were the direct words from Prime Minister Christie to the chairman of the Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) Emmanuel Komolafe on negotiations around National Health Insurance (NHI).

The BIA has been very vocal about the universal health insurance initiative, saying that NHI is too expensive, a threat to their way of life and that to date there has been “minimal progress” on consultations, laying the blame squarely at the feet of the Ministry of Health and its NHI consultant Sanigest. BIA claimed this is injurious to the local insurance industry.

The Prime Minister’s message to the insurance industry was that as Prime Minister he was flexible and reasonable and only through constructive engagement can they design an insurance model that benefits all stakeholders. He said that he was prepared to be “innovative and introduce a hybrid model” of NHI that takes into consideration the needs of the local insurance industry.

“But for God’s sake, if you say the cost is so much, and my advisors say the cost is that, then sit with me.

“But you’re not going to get it by beating on me. You get it by talking to me, Mr. Komolafe” said Mr. Christie referring to the futile acrimonious rhetoric that has littered the pages of the local dailies in recent times.

Drawing parallels with negotiations on Value Added Tax (VAT), the Prime Minister told the gathering that he had gone down this road before but at the end of the day when VAT is distilled to its bare essence, “we agreed it was the best thing to do.”

The BIA is on record as being in support of NHI, but there is no consensus on cost with the BIA estimating the cost at $1 billion annually compared to Sanigest who pegged phase one at around $350 million and at over $600 million by phase three.

Government discusses “Joaquin factor” on NHI funding

Prime Minister Christie and National Insurance Minister Hon. Shane Gibson spoke candidly about NHI funding this week in light of the post Joaquin reconstruction costs in the southern Bahamas.

This comes as engineers and technical officers finalize their assessments and costing for restoration and reconstruction on affected islands and the revelation of the latest estimated price tag of around $80 million. State Minister for Finance Hon. Michael Halkitis revealed that the government expects to get close to a final cost “in a couple of days.”

Speaking with the media earlier this week, Gibson conceded that in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Joaquin, “…funding for any major initiative at this time would be a concern to the government…”but certainly when it comes to NHI, it is important to this government, it’s a priority.” Other major pre-hurricane infrastructure development projects are road works in Acklins, Crooked Island and the reconstruction of the main thoroughfare between North and Central Andros.

In light of this fiscal strain, Mr. Gibson said that he thinks “the idea is to introduce a benefits package that is minimal at this time and you increase the benefits package over time.”

In addressing the media on NHI funding after a NHI committee meeting, Prime Minister reiterated yet again that his government will not harm the country’s economy as it implements National Health Insurance (NHI).

“I think the government made a commitment to taking steps that are in the best interest of the economy of the country and doing nothing to disrupt the economy of the country, and so that’s what will govern us.

“So even if rates come in the next budget year, those rates would conform to what we would regard as the obligation of the government to ensure that the economy is not unduly disturbed by any rate or tax that we impose” said Mr. Christie.

The initial phase of NHI involves the upgrade of the health delivery infrastructure. This includes longer operating hours at clinics; refurbishing satellite clinics; opening more clinics; deploying a doctor on every family island; the expansion of the Rand Memorial Hospital (RMH) in Freeport and a $60 million upgrade of the Princess Margret Hospital (PMH) here in Nassau.

Attorney General rejects culpability in Baha Mar redundancy exercise

Days after 2,000 Baha Mar employees were laid off the Attorney General issued a statement rejecting any suggestion that the redundancy programme adopted by the Joint Provisional Liquidators could have been avoided if Baha Mar had continued to pursue its bankruptcy reorganization in the United States.

The statement said that as “debtors-in-possession” under the US Bankruptcy Code, the Baha Mar companies faced the same cash shortage that now confronts the Joint Provisional Liquidators and that in a July 10 affidavit Baha Mar told the Bankruptcy Court in Delaware that in the absence of an agreement “in the near term” with the Export-Import Bank, Baha Mar would “be compelled to immediately downsize their operations to a minimum over approximately 45 to 60 days, which includes . . . reducing their work force to a skeletal staff . . . .” The affidavit further stated that the “skeletal staff” would have comprised only 52 employees, plus an additional 47 employees “to assist with the wind-down of their respective operations . . . notwithstanding their impending termination.”

This means that Baha Mar’s management was planning to implement “draconian work force reductions long before the Joint Provisional Liquidators were compelled to pursue their redundancy programme. Unlike Baha Mar management, however, the Joint Provisional Liquidators have realistic prospects for obtaining necessary funding” said the statement.

The statement went on to say that the August 26 Baha Mar filing with the Bankruptcy Court proposed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan that “was entirely hypothetical, and it offered no hope of avoiding workforce reductions. The plan hinged entirely on the availability of at least $400 million to $600 million of ‘Exit Financing,’ for which Baha Mar management did not purport to have any commitment from anyone.”

Maurice Glinton QC found guilty of contempt of court

Noted attorney Maurice Glinton, QC, was found guilty of two counts of contempt of court on Monday, 26th October and fined $15,000 or spend fourteen days in the Department of Corrections. He was given fourteen days to pay the fine.

The president of the Appeals Court cited Mr. Glinton for contempt when during an extradition hearing Mr. Glinton questioned the constitutional legitimacy of presiding Justice Abdulai Conteh who he claimed was at the age of retirement and therefore could not legally preside over the case.

Further, Mr. Glinton disrobed before the court and walked out after it was ruled that the extradition hearing must proceed. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest when he arrived late for his initial contempt hearing on Friday, October 9. He was later arrested and detained at the Cable Beach police station.

Mr. Glinton’s attorney, Wayne Munroe QC, argued unsuccessfully that Mr. Glinton’s tone, tenor and actions before the court may not have been graceful but did not rise to the level of contempt of court.

Christie: Learning Channel viable alternative to traditional teaching mode

Telling those gathered that the Learning Channel can be an answer to meeting the education needs of students challenged by traditional teaching methods, Prime Minister Christie officially launched the Learning Channel.

“I realized that it could, in fact, be an answer to meeting the needs of those students who are challenged by traditional modes of teaching,” Prime Minister Christie said. “I am not here asserting that this is the only option; but it is certainly one of the many strategies and methods of reaching those students who are not traditional learners.”

According to the Ministry of Education, under the theme “Bahamian Education Today: Building a Proud Nation”, the learning channel seeks to provide “lifelong learning for all Bahamians” through specific informational, instructional and motivational programming delivered through the medium of television.

Further, this latest education initiative seeks to “further the mission of making educational opportunities available for all, through programming geared towards the ‘special or exceptional populations’ in our schools and community at large.”

The Bahamas Learning Channel, which the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has termed a “crucial programme for distance education”, has almost 20 locally-produced programmes, such as the game shows “Science Bowl” and “GLATT Attack”, “Gary the Explorer”, “Tell Me a Story”, “Once Upon a Time” and “Parent Talk”, all showcasing students, teachers and education stakeholders.

The official launch of the Bahamas Learning Channel (BLC) took place on October 27, 2015, at The College of The Bahamas Performing Arts Centre.

Soweto celebrates the historic NASSAU ACCORD

In a relatively low key affair, the Grammy Award winning Soweto Gospel Choir is in The Bahamas this week to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the NASSAU ACCORD.

Music enthusiasts would remember that this choir was formed in Soweto by choir directors David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer. Their blend of gospel, Negro spirituals, reggae and American popular music has won them two Grammy Awards. Their albums Blessed and African Spirit both won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music Album in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

It was in October 1985 right here in Nassau on the Cable Beach property now known as the Baha Mar resorts campus when Commonwealth Heads of Government held their inter-sessional meetings and high on the agenda was apartheid in South Africa and the imprisonment of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. The world community considered Nelson Mandela a prisoner of conscience and a political prisoner.

As fate would have it, Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe was the lead journalist from the Bahamas Broadcasting Corporation (ZNS) to cover this event and record its historic significance. The Religious Tourism Department of the Ministry of Tourism is playing host to this choir’s visit this week.

Then Prime Minister the late Sir Lynden Pindling was elected chair of the CHOCM, a policy decision was made to impose broad based sanctions against South Africa because of its race-based policies and the rest as they say is history. All formally banned political parties were legalized on 2nd February 1990; Mandela left the Victor Verster prison on 11th February a free man and was sworn in as the country’s president on 10th May 1994, forming the first majority rule cabinet since the imposition of apartheid. Mr. Mandela would serve until the 14th June 1999.

During their tour, the Soweto Choir was serenaded by the National Boys Choir, the National Youth Choir and components of the College of The Bahamas Choir on Wednesday night at the Center for the Performing Arts. They also performed in concert during the Caribbean Music Festival in Rawson Square on Thursday evening at 7pm.

Mitchell thanks diplomats and allies in Bahamas’ unsuccessful UNHRC bid

The Bahamas made history on Wednesday of this week as the first English speaking country in the Caribbean to contest a seat on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council.

When the votes were tallied, The Bahamas secured 113 votes or the fourth most votes behind Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela. Under UN rules only the top three vote getters are elected to this prestigious council.

In a press statement shortly after the election, Bahamas Foreign Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell issued a statement thanking the diplomats for their gallant efforts and the 113 UN member states who supported The Bahamas in its election bid.

In passing…

Rebuild Bahamas held a fundraising telethon at the Atlantis resort on Tuesday evening and managed to raise a reported $236,930 to assist with post hurricane relief and reconstruction efforts. On hand to show his support was Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie who underscored the demonstrable spirit of national unity in the aftermath of this natural disaster. Some of the participants who worked the phone banks were Captain Stephen Russell, Director of NEMA; Hon. Melanie Griffin, Minister of Social Services and Community Development; Leon Williams, CEO of BTC; Hon. Khaalis Rolle, State Minister for Investment in the Office of the Prime Minister; Hon. Hubert A. Minnis, leader of the Opposition and David Burrows, Cable Bahamas Limited senior exec utive.

The National Health Insurance commission convened a meeting on Wednesday morning at the office of the Prime Minister as the government continues to work towards its January 2016 implementation deadline. Prime Minister Christie, the chairman of the public/private committee, invited the media to reiterate the point that the process must and will be fully transparent at al material times. Also in attendance were Labour Minister Hon. Shane Gibson, Finance State Minister Michael Halkitis and National Security Minister Hon. Bernard Nottage.

The Caribbean Music Festival kicked off this week and on Thursday evening in Rawson Square, the 30th anniversary of the Nassau Accord was remembered. That thirty year old treaty led to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela. Also awarded on that night were several Living Legend Awards. Our Bahamian thespian, music and cultural icon Ronnie Butler was honoured as a living legend.

On Thursday, the cost of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (cooking gas) was reduced from $120 to $90 for a 100-pound cylinder, including Value Added Tax. This represents a sixteen percent decrease in the cost. Price Control Commissioner Ernest J. Bowe said it “couldn’t have come at a better time“ for Bahamian consumers ahead of the holiday season. Family Island rates have been cut to $70 for for suppliers and $100 for distributors per 100-pound cylinder, inclusive of VAT and sea freight charges.

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis in Long Island.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis in Long Island.

Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis and CARICOM Ambassador Hon. Picewell Forbes visited Long Island and San Salvador today where Mr. Davis assessed ongoing post hurricane rebuilding efforts in those islands. He also delivered supplies including laptop computers to students in San Salvador. This corresponds to the assessments being conducted by the National Restoration and Reconstruction Unit headed by Jack Thompson, Barbara Burrows and Melanie Roach.

Reports surfaced on Friday afternoon that the China Exim Bank has foreclosed on the Baha Mar property and has appointed Raymond Winder of Delloite and Touche as receiver. Meanwhile Bloomberg Business reported yesterday that developer Sarkis Izmirlian offered to invest more of his personal funds into Baha Mar in order to avoid the property going into full liquidation.

Do not forget to turn your clocks back one hour before retiring to bed on Saturday night as The Bahamas reverts to Daylight Saving Time at 2am on Sunday morning.


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