Bahamas Press is now totally convinced that PLP Senator and Leader of Opposition business in The Senate, Mrs. Allyson Gibson, not only has her ammunition locked, loaded and headed straight for the bullseye of the target, The FNM Government—but she’s using a laser apparatus to ensure that when the bullseye of the target is reached, political devastation will be the only, end and final result.!
On June 26th, 2009, Senator Gibson gave her contribution to the Budget Debate; and as is always the case when a laser apparatus is in the possession of someone ready, willing and able to use it properly in the interest of those who need a voice; the damage is not felt on impact like conventional ammunition, but the damage can certainly be seen and then comes the pain.
That analogy, in Bahamas Press’ opinion, best describes the damage done to The FNM Government every time Senator Gibson rises to her feet to speak not only for PLP’s, but for all Bahamians—even those who don’t really need a voice for themselves, but still thought they had one with The FNM, under the harem-scarem guidance of Hubert Ingraham, prime minister.
The Prophet Habakkuk exhorts us to “Write down the vision and make it plain on tablets so that whoever reads it may run with it.” History shows that during extraordinary times where there is visionary leadership, people time and time again rise to the challenge and take their country “to the next level”.
Joshua looked to the hills and the trees that had to be cut down to obtain the Promised Land. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King out of the depths of discrimination painted a clear vision of the Promised Land. President Barak Obama has set out strategies to lead America and the world out of the worst recession since The Great Depression.
Regrettably, this Budget gives no hope to Bahamians. It is not visionary. It repeats the same paradigm that has limited the Vision and Power of our people for far too long.
I looked for the Vision that would raise the power, dignity and self esteem of our people. I found none. I looked for the Vision that would bring our people more empowerment. I found none. I looked for the Vision that would give hope and I found none.
I could not find the FNM encouraging Bahamians to the lofty ideals in the Preamble to our Constitution.
“AND WHEREAS the People of this Family of Islands recognise that the preservation of their Freedom will be will be guaranteed by a national commitment to Self-discipline, Industry, Loyalty, Unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the Rule of Law”
Our country population is the size of a small multinational company. When companies budget, they budget to achieve clear objectives. The Bahamas should be no different. What should be our VISION 2020? What can we ask all Bahamians to buy into, work towards and sacrifice for?
1. Ownership of more than 50% of the tourism product
2. Ownership of more than 50% of the financial services product
3. 100% growth in Bahamian entrepreneurship
4. To locally grow 50% of our food needs
5. The national average in English and Math to be B rather than E. And the national average overall to C
6. A national plan for training, retraining and equipping citizens for cutting edge, value added, 21st century service
7. Universal health care for all Bahamians including a national plan for good health, including parks, recreation and beach access
8. A legal system where all matters are brought to trial within 2 years
9. A system of governance where routine applications and major policy decisions are depoliticized. One all requirements are met, the license, permanent residence or any permit is automatically granted
10. A system of governance where the people elect all persons who will make decisions on their behalf e.g. all boards will be elected rather than appointed
11. Reliable and affordable supply of all utilities and 50% decrease on fossil fuel dependence
12. E Government on line and all agencies integrated and easy access to all persons desiring to do business with government, full access to information impacting government decisions (planning, environment, economic projections etc. + engineers, architects, etc on board early on) and appointment of a E Czar
13. Universal access to the world wide web
14. A land policy that ensures access to Bahamian land and patrimony for future generations.
15. Policies evaluated to measure the extent to which they positively enhance and strengthen family life.
LAW AND ORDER
By whatever yardstick used, crime is out of control. We are at 1 murder per week. We are also at 2 suicides (including suicide related behaviour) per week.
The FNM ran on a platform to decrease crime. Crime is now rampant and out of control. Murders are at one per week and suicides at 2 per week. The fact that the FNM has cut almost $2.5 Million from the OAG and almost $8 Million from our security agencies shows that they have no serious intention whatsoever to address crime and to restore safety to our homes and streets. Also in cutting the Courts’ budget’s by almost $4 Million, very clearly the FNM has no intention of attempting to fix the problems, all of which can be fixed, and some of which do not cost anything, in the court system.
While Governments do not commit crime, Governments can and must be blamed for the lack of resolve to combat crime bring criminals to justice and restore law and order to our streets/country. (CLICK BELOW TO READ MORE).
The system administration of justice is broken. With political will, I am so confident that I am sure that matters can be brought to trial within 2 years. I say so with such confidence because we demonstrated that it could be done when I was the Attorney General.
It really annoys me when people suggest that our judges are in any way at fault for the crisis in the administration of justice.
The Judges are ready, willing and able to sit and hear matters. They cannot hear matters that are not ready for trial. Recruiting new judges will not help unless or until we fix the system so that matters are properly investigated and properly prepared for trial.
When I spoke on the Budget in 2007, I pointed out then that the backlog was over 95,000 cases. 2 years later, we can be sure that the backlog is well over 100,000 cases.
The problems can be solved and programs were on the way to significantly addressing the problems. Regrettably those programs also fell victim to the SRC policy.
In 2007 the FNM dismantled a multifaceted strategy to address the problems in the administration of justice and crime, including:
• Real time recording of all court proceedings
• Through the UR program, the establishment of Community Courts
• The establishment of Traffic Courts
• To integrate the investigation and prosecution of crime into a coherent unity and functioning whole
• The effective use of VBI’s
• Revamping the bail administrative processes (including security/bonds) and use of the electronic bail bracelet
The Ministry of Works and the architect had already agreed that the Judicial Complex could be located on East Hill Street. The site would include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, back to the old St. Johns Parking area and as much of the Post Office Building Parking Lot area as necessary to accomplish to design goals. The architect had been asked by MOW and OAG to adapt his design for the Victoria Gardens site to suit the East Hill Street site.
The state of the art Judicial Complex could have been finished by now. It would have housed the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, the Industrial Tribunals (as a Division of the Supreme Court), and all supporting jury rooms, libraries etc. (the design of which had already been approved by the Chief Justice). In 2 years no repairs have been made to the Supreme Court building nor to the existing court buildings. Rather buildings are rented to house new courts. It will not be lost on the public that the landlords of these buildings are known FNM supporters. I fully support judges being properly accommodated. Especially economically challenging times, however, the people’s money needs to be wisely invested. Any part of that $55 Million and $120 Million would be much better invested in the Judicial Complex rather than in not needed roads and a causeway to Arawak Cay or Harbour Dredging for cruise ships where Central bank’s analysis of total passengers shows that they spend about $50 in The Bahamas.
Real time Recording of All Court Proceedings
A very significant impediment in administration of justice is the inability to obtain transcripts of proceedings in a timely fashion. A pilot project had already been completed and a way forward had been proposed.
The firm out of the UK, (that does all of the transcribing for the all of the UK courts) with the permission of the proper authorities, had completed a pilot project, involving the Supreme Courts and the Magistrates Courts. The objective was to implement a system whereby:
• All court proceedings would be recorded
• Proper use of Court reporters would be maximized
• The digital recording of the proceedings would immediately be available to the Judge or Magistrate
• The approved transcript could within 24h be available to the parties
As the transcript would be immediately available, Preliminary Inquiries, Appeals, bail hearings and other matters would be more quickly heard and completed.
Through the UR Program, the establishment of Community Courts
Many years ago the Chief Justice, Sir Burton Hall advocated that minor offence, such as graffiti, should be dealt with in the Community by community leaders in Community Courts rather than in Magistrates Courts.
After discussion with the proper authorities, a pilot program was designed to have those matters dealt with in Community Courts run through the UR program. This would remove from the Magistrate’s calendar these minor matters and would, if successful enable the offender to be punished, say by doing Community Service, without having a criminal record. We did not have an answer to recidivism but we wanted to get started to see how it would work and what refining needed to be done.
This too was a victim of the SRC policy.
We do note the Attorney General’s comments about Community Courts.
The Establishment of Traffic Courts
Many traffic offences, that are fixed penalty offences are adding to the backlog in the Magistrates Courts. Again, with the agreement of the proper authorities the site was chosen and a pilot project designed.
It was envisaged that all fixed penalty offences would be dealt with in these courts. Delays would not be allowed. Either you were parked in a no parking zone or you were not. As these courts would be linked to on line to the Road Traffic Department, those who did not pay their fines would not get their licenses renewed.
As well as decreasing the untenable backlog, this is a ready source of income for the Treasury!
Integrate the investigation and prosecution of crime into a coherent unity and functioning whole
The effective use of VBI’s
The Swift Justice system was the initiation of a program where all of the stakeholders in bringing matters to court would meet on a regular basis to ensure that all matters necessary to bring a matter to trial are in place to ensure that the matters are in fact brought to trial. In other words, if the trial is to take place on October 1 in Freeport, the police will ensure that the investigating office is not rostered to be in another Island, that he has an air ticket and hotel accommodation, that the forensic evidence and expert are available and that the accused is transported to Freeport from Nassau. Far too many cases were adjourned for avoidable reasons such as availability of police witnesses. The Swift Justice system was working. For 3 consecutive sessions no matter was dropped from the Court calendar for an avoidable reason.
Also to improve the likelihood that a matter would be brought to trial, it was agreed that counsel from OAG would work with the police, assisting them with training on how to properly prepare a file for prosecution. There was no more storage room in The Office of Attorney General for The Cabinets in OAG filled with files on matters that could not be brought to trial because the investigation and preparation were not complete. When I asked the police to indicate to me how many matters had been completed over a 5 year period, the response was 100%. The document produced to me showed every matter as “solved” once an arrest had been made. This approach affects the ability to properly prepare matters for trial. Criminal matters are not solved until the adjudication is complete.
The decision was also made that all serious crime such as rape, armed robbery, manslaughter and murder would be dealt with by way of VBI. For this decision to be effectively implemented real time recording and increased training would have helped considerably.
The Swift Justice program was also the victim of the SRC policy. My information is that the result was so drastic that during the entire time between May 2007 and the time that the current AG was appointed, not even 30 criminal matters had been tried. It was simply disgraceful that there were judges prepared to hear matters whose time could not be properly utilized as there were not sufficient matters to be heard. Not sufficient matters to be heard where the backlog was untenable!!. All because of the shortsightedness and incompetence of this FNM government.
My information is that during the past year about 30 matters have been completed. Thirty matters to be tried when over the same period there were almost 100 criminal matters brought before the court.
This is disgraceful. There are 3 judges available to hear criminal matters. Since May 2007, if one matter was heard per month, 75 matters would have been heard. Generally we could plan for 2 matters at least to be heard per month.
My information is that during the entire FNM administration not more than 60 trials have been completed. If matters were properly prepared and ready for trial we would have expected at least 150 matters to be completed NOT 60! The fault is with the Executive, not the Judiciary. The judges are ready willing and able to hear matters. The fault is with the FNM that has cancelled SWIFT Justice and is, by its actions, committed to STOP JUSTICE
There must be intense focus on training. You can bring in as many judges as you like. If matters are not properly prepared for trial, those judges will not be properly utilized.
It is shocking that the overall law and order budget has been cut by approximately $15 Million when there is clearly a need for training. The $1 Million saved from cutting the Gussiemae Cabinet would go a very long way in training investigators to properly prepare files for prosecution.
Revamping the bail administrative processes (including security/bonds) and use of the electronic bail bracelet
Together with the police, research had been completed and presentations made on the electronic bail bracelet system, so that persons released on bail could be tracked, thereby decreasing the likelihood of further serious offences while persons were out on bail. The pilot project for this program was also the victim of the SRC policy. In the meantime, persons out on bail continue to commit crimes including more murders. I cry shame on the FNM for trying to victimize the person who let the public know that the FNM had released from prison a significant number of people one of whom murdered a young lady within hours of his release from prison.
The statistics as revealed by the Minister of National Security show significant
recidivism by those out on bail. The $1 Million saved from cutting the Gussiemae Cabinet could have easily funded this pilot project.
In May 2007 the FNM found in place and cancelled a new system for recording bail applications and notifying the OAG, so that prosecutors could receive adequate notice of applications and come to court prepared (armed with the facts) to deal with the relevant applications. A centralized system would also enable better awareness and control of those release on bail. And it would make it easier to monitor those released on bail.
The FNM is fully at fault for their slack approach to dealing with all of these matters that can be solved with a vision, political will, stamina and resources.
The FNM is also at fault for its obvious lack of determination to ensure that criminals are swiftly arrested, swiftly tried and swiftly punished.
And the FNM is at fault for causing victims of crime to unnecessarily suffer for inordinately long periods of time. It is shocking and disgraceful that rapes, murders, armed robberies and other serious offences remain outstanding for more than 6 years!
Before moving away from law and order I want to make a few further points:
• The FNM is to be condemned for the highhanded and disrespectful manner in which it deals with our judges. It is shocking that Bahamian judges – ready, willing and able to serve continue to be forced into retirement while non Bahamian judges, continue to be recruited. My understanding is that the FNM is in the process of or has already given several senior Bahamian Magistrates, notice that they are to be retried. Apparently, a Magistrate whose performance was consistently rated as “stellar” by members of the Bar was told leave even before her contract was completed.
CONGRATULATIONS TO SIR BURTION HALL UPON THE HIGH JUDICIAL OFFICE TO WHICH HE HAS BEEN APPOINTED TO SERVE CITIZENS OF THE WORLD. THE COUNTRY WILL CONTINUE TO RECEIVE SIGNIFICANT HONOUR THROUGH HIM.
• Complaints against police must be taken very seriously. I was shocked to read that when asked about the death of young Mr. Knowles while in police custody, the police said that the police were investigating a suicide. If an investigation is being conducted, one awaits the results. One does not foreshadow the results. This attitude, one which might be called arrogance was also seen when the police criticized a Justice of the Supreme Court for “staying” a matter where it was reported that there was uncontroverted evidence before the court. All right thinking people ought to be very concerned when:
o Anyone dies while in police custody
o The police signal the outcome of a police investigation before it is complete
o The police criticize judges for doing their job…making decisions on the sworn evidence before them.
We have already indicated our dismay that qualified long serving, dedicated professionals on the Police Force were so unceremoniously fired, under the guise of age, while keeping on the police force other persons older than the persons who were fired. The police criticizing judges might be expected in a dictatorship but certainly not in a democracy.
We suggest that the establishment of a completely independent board to investigate and determine complaints against Police and Defence Force Officers, Prison Officers, Immigration Officers and any other security personnel. The Chairman could be appointed by government, as this person does need to have knowledge of the law and the Orders that apply to those security Forces. The other members of the board should be elected. A Board such as this would restore confidence in the investigation process of all of these agencies. The money saved from cutting back the Cabinet could go to staffing and start up of the new board. Such a board would also address the concerns held by the public about the police investigating themselves and these matters would be expedited.
National Debt is at record levels Table VI shows ND as 42% of GDP in 2008. Knowing that the 2007-2008 AND the 2008 -09 Budget presentation had to be corrected, can we be sure that these are accurate figures as overdraft figures and contingencies are not in the budget even though they are real and costly expenses. And in today’s world of easy access to information, we should expect real time accurate information from government. IMF report shows that debt to GDP could be 47% by end of 09/10. Economists point out that budget projections to 2012 add $1 Billion to the public debt, pushing it beyond $4 Billion and giving a debt to GDP ratio in the region of 55% which is in the danger zone for small developing vulnerable economies.
Most Bahamians and the international agencies would not be overly concerned about the projected debt if they could be satisfied that it is necessary to achieve a long term sustainable national vision. i.e. a true stimulus package, a vision of developing Bahamian ownership of the economy versus jobs only. The US model advocated by President Obama is to stimulate US ownership rather than Korean, Chinese and other foreign ownership of the US economy. Chambers of Commerce the world over continuously remind us that small and mid sized enterprises insulate countries and communities from external shocks.
Our goal must be economic empowerment and ownership of the Bahamian economy.
We need stop spending money promoting only foreign enterprise and start aggressively promoting Bahamian enterprise. Foreign enterprise is to be encouraged in the context of its contribution to our national development strategy.
Standard & Poors (AND INDEPENENT AGENCY)has indicated that the FNM SRC policy has caused the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to suffer consequences more harsh than needed to have happened.
The FNM wrecked lives by its “firing people policy” and has caused even more hardship.
People have planned their lives including their retirement and they have thought carefully about their medical insurance which is tied to their jobs. Can you imagine the devastation and catastrophic effect upon families when bread winners (who have so carefully planned their finances) are told to be out in 48 hours? It is an uncaring, untrustworthy government that would advance such policies.
CUT SIZE OF THE CABINET
There is RECORD unemployment today under the FNM. The FNM is responsible for the layoffs/terminations/firings of thousands of Bahamians. The hardship that these Bahamians are suffering the result of this FNM policy is indescribable.
Those laid off and fired by this uncaring FNM government have unjustly been deprived of their health insurance benefits at a time when they most most need it and without the opportunity to amend or adjust well made plans for their retirement.
The nurses have been unjustly treated. The members of this Gussiemae Cabinet are not in a real world. They are prepared to spend money on unnecessary projects, borrow money to pay themselves then turn around and break the CONTRACT with the nurses. Of course the government CAN honour this commitment. With a little creativity, rather than vindictiveness, it could guarantee some then reinsure the balance.
This FNM government voted in favour of Universal National Health insurance then turned around made it yet another victim of the SRC policy. Medical insurance companies point out that they are losing money. There are record numbers of claims. They believe that a lot of the illnesses are stress related. The way that the FNM is managing this economy is creating unnecessary stress.
The Constitution requires only 9 cabinet members.
The Cabinet could be cut to at least 10 with The Ministry of Financial Services included.
To say that a Ministry of Financial Services is not needed, as matters that would come under its remit are being handled by the Ministry of Finance, is like saying that a Ministry of Tourism is not needed as its matters are being handled by the Development Corporation.
There are many reasons why a Ministry of Financial Services is needed:
1. The private sector called for it. They want a seat for Financial Services, the second pillar, at the Cabinet Table with Tourism, the first pillar. They want a Minister as enthusiastic as the Minister of Tourism advocating for Financial Services.
2. Financial and Business services now contribute 36% to our GDP (says Central Bank). If agriculture and fisheries at 3% of GDP gets its own Ministry, what about Financial Services?
3. The average salary in tourism is $12,000 and the average salary in Financial Services is $40,000
4. Tourism grew so significantly because of the dedication and focus the result of a Ministry and that same dedication will bring to fruition growth in Financial Services. Bermuda’s economy has changed from one dependent on tourism to a Financial Service economy. At one time in Bermuda, The Minister of Tourism thought that the person responsible for financial services has “the right to be wrong”. History shows that pursuit of the VISION of the person who had “the right to be wrong” has led to FS being the main engine of Bermuda’s economy, not tourism (a flip). Why can’t the same thing happen in The Bahamas? Are those good financial services opportunities for Bahamians too big for the mini FNM vision?
5. This Ministry together with OAG, the Regulators, BFSB and the Forum (unprecedented public private sector partnership) helped get The Bahamas off the Watch List. There was n need for The Bahamas to be on the grey list.
6. It is time to move to Bahamian ownership of Banks and Trust companies. As at March 2009 of the 271 Banks and Trust companies, there are only 3 Bahamian owned /or controlled authorized dealers (clearing banks) and 1 authorized agent. We do not think that RBC should be allowed to sell its Bahamian portfolio to Trinidad and Tobago. Why can’t a group of Bahamians buy that portfolio and keep those profits in The Bahamas?
7. A Ministry will positively impact training whether at COB; BICA; STEP; BBA etc.
8. Significant work was done towards the development of an International Arbitration Centre. This would positively impact financial services, tourism and entrepreneurship.
This is the kind of focus that we should have and be investing in Vision 2020.
But to the Cabinet downsizing….
The government has destroyed numerous lives with its layoffs and unceremonious, terminations, super sessions (including to the benefit of family of Cabinet members).
The Cabinet members need to lead by example.
Cutting the cabinet down to 10 would save directly over $1 Million. Indirectly the savings could be more than $10 Million. Equally as importantly though, it would let the fat cats all get a job and pay their own way (if they can). They fired and let go public servants; refused to honor commitment to nurses; and, let the private sector lay off employees at Four Seasons, Atlantis and Baha Mar and many others. Many of them did not have a job before 2007. Due to government policies and ineptitude, since May 2007, many Bahamians have been terminated from the jobs that they had; can not now find a job; risk foreclosure of the mortgages on their homes; have to take their children out of private schools; must park their cars and catch the bus, do not have medical insurance etc. The economy is on the way to unprecedented debt and the existing debt is untenable. Why should hurting Bahamians borrow money saddling their children and grandchildren with debt to pay these fat cat salaries; pay for these fat cats to ride around with a/c on and windows rolled up; and, pay for the gas in 2 cars for each of the 21 Ministers? The government should lead by example. Borrowing money to pay fat cat salaries is a bad business decision.
On the matter of leading by example, the government should appoint someone in every Ministry to put all lights and air conditioning on timers; change lights to energy efficient lights and take other cost savings measures. Let the Public see government taking cost saving measures.
For those who think that $1 Million is not a lot of money, offer $1 Million to Project Yeast who are training our young men, giving them a second chance. That would translate into at least 3 or 4 more sessions. Tell that to the PACE program that is training teen mothers for a second chance. Tell that to the Crisis Centre that is seeing people in crisis every day, thanks to the ineptitude, cruelty and misguided policies of the FNM. Tell that to the AIDS Secretariat who struggle daily to comfort and succor those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
GIVE POWER TO THE PEOPLE
For far too long, every government has been accused of political interference, political patronage and corruption.
It is time to implement true local Government. By 2012 we should have elections for positions on ALL statutory, government, school and other public boards. A few positions could be reserved as appointed positions. These could be held by appointed experts who could assist with policy, interpretation and funding. Otherwise, there should be elections to these posts. This removes patronage; opens up avenues for citizen involvement and personal responsibility in future development; gives young people the opportunity to get involved in and learn about service to elected office and to prepare for election to high national office.
Very importantly, these elections would mandate a complete and much needed review of the Electoral Process. In Pinewood Election Court case, the Election Court said… ”This case exposed the most egregious failures in the parliamentary registration system. The Parliamentary Commissioner failed, for whatever reason, to ensure the integrity of the registration process in Pinewood. It was indeed startling to the Court that Counsel for the petitioner and the first respondent, were forced to concede that 85 of 183 votes challenged were unlawful votes.”
At the moment, the law requires that the Register be constantly updated; and an enumeration of the Register regularly conducted. Had the law been followed, the “egregious failures” found as fact by the Election Court would not have happened. As the Register is in electronic format now— there is absolutely every reason why it should be on line and available for all to see right now. This would enable all citizens to help the Parliamentary Registrar verify the Register. This is true openness and transparency. This would promote regular enumeration of the Register.
The Register could be put on line with the $1 Million saved by cutting back the Gussiemae cabinet. i.e. Register on line and updated on line. This $1 Million saved by cutting back the Cabinet could replace the $1 Million shockingly cut from the Budget of Parliamentary Registrar at a time when we know that the Register has significant faults.
Right now we vote for school boards and local government officials. This small step significantly enhances democracy and removes opportunities for corruption and patronage, both of which hinder democracy.
PROMOTION OF BAHAMIAN ENTERPRISE AND LESS GOVERNMENT/BUREAUCRACY
Business Licence; Shop Licence etc. all should be on line and given automatically once predefined criteria are met.
The focus should be on facilitating doing business. To the question, “how do we prevent unqualified people getting licences?”; we say, there can be severe penalties for misstatements. Also it is possible to have mandatory information fields such as passport numbers to verify that the person is a Bahamian. The system can be integrated to verify that the number entered is an existing passport. The system can also be integrated to verify NIB numbers, permit numbers issued by Ministry of Works etc. It is not possible to guarantee that only qualified people will get licences no matter the system used. It is imperative that we make it easier for people to do business in The Bahamas and cut red tape.
The money saved from cutting the size of the Cabinet could be used to launch the on line integration required. And, integrating 10 Ministries will be significantly easier than integrating 21.
The certainty that a licence or permit will be issued automatically once certain predefined criteria are met and the expedition, the result thereof, will significantly positively impact the economy.
All government procurement contracts should be advertised and all stages from grant to payments out and completion should be on line. Also government expenditure, should be on line. See Recovery.gov. This effort can start with all procurement contracts and tenders and to whom they were awarded. Within the site, there should be available information about tenders for all capital works and procurement contracts. The result of the exercise should be made available on line. The name of the contractor to whom the contract was awarded and the value of the contract should also be on line. The people’s money is being spent. In the 2009, Bahamians should know that these opportunities exist, how they can avail themselves of the opportunities; who did get the benefit of the opportunity; and, how much of the people’s money will be spent on that awarded contract.
Government must be vigilant about promoting Bahamian enterprise. Listed below are some of the ways that the PLP was vigilant. The majority of these ideas came from the private sector:
• posting information about all approved Heads of Agreement on the website of the Ministry of Financial Services and Investment
• Regular meetings with Bahamian professional associations (architects, engineers, contractors etc) so they could directly get information about the projects
• Regular reports from developers as to the number of employees engaged by the developer; the number and value of contracts awarded to Bahamians and non Bahamian entrepreneurs; the number of employees engaged by those contractors.
In this way, government and private sector could have information that would enable them to properly plan.
Also on the promotion of Bahamian enterprise, we note the government’s failure to properly involve Bahamians and keep Bahamians abreast of developments on Trade Negotiations. These developments ought to involve all Bahamians. International Trade, like Tourism, Financial Services and Agriculture and Fisheries should be national, not political in focus. Countries (superpowers) that became superpowers by using (I will not say exploiting) the mineral resources and human resources of their colonies, now wish to hamper the ability of those former colonies to develop and compete with the super powers. We must also look at how we effectively utilize trading blocks such as Caricom to effectively advance in the international arena, our national interest and we must insist on a level playing field in Trade and Financial Services.
In advancing Bahamian enterprise, government must engage banks and encourage them to invest in the future. Banks should be encouraged to note the actions of the US and UK government together with their regulatory authorities in causing interest rates to decrease to stimulate the economy. The Bahamas’s Bank Rate has remained the same at 5.35% from 2007 to date. Contrast this, over the same period, with the EU where the rate has dropped from 3.5% to 1.25%; the US where the rate has dropped from 6.25% to 0.5%; and the UK where the rate has dropped from 5.25% to 0.5%.
Central Bank statistics also show that bank earnings from interest income and commission on foreign exchange has grown consistently during 2006, 2007 and 2008 from $450 Million to $514 Million. We know that the majority of this income is being repatriated. The government has a key role in encouraging banks to drop these rates to stimulate enterprise.
TRAINING AND TECHNOLOGY
The IDB assists in any arena requested by government.
I suggest that the loan assistance should be utilized to develop a Technology Park on an Island like Mayaguana. I suggest Mayaguana for several reasons:
• There is sufficient land mass to create the Technology Park and supporting services from scratch
• It is easy to guarantee fail safe internet capacity through the ARCOS system
• The runway at Mayaguana is long enough to accommodate non stop international flights… access for people and product is easy
• Mayaguana can become the centre for commerce in the Southern Bahamas
The Technology Park, wherever it is located is a critical developmental tool. Dubai many years ago built and equipped a Technology Park. It gave tremendous concessions to firms from all over the world to come to Dubai to set up its IT business. The spin off from that decision has withstood the world economic crash.
Technology is the future. We can not do it alone. We must invest heavily in IT an technology. The spin off for The Bahamas is immeasurable and we will continue to reap the rewards for generations to come.
Officials at the Ministry of Works have stated that the reason that this Government is pursuing the New Providence Road Improvement Program is for the Arawak Cay Port. No other reason.
It is an uncontroverted fact that the experts recommended that the containers should be left where they are rather than establish a Container Port at Arawak Cay. Uncontroverted fact!
In the face of that uncontroverted fact and in the face of no published Environmental Impact Study, how can the FNM justify expanding Arawak Cay (as it is doing now).
I have said it before and I say it again, the common dominator in the FNM capital projects, is FNM special interests. The FNM should be careful about using the word “corrupt”. Bahamians have not forgotten the firings, resignations and other scandals in the 1997-2002 government. FNM decisions are being made to advance the economic advantage of the FNM special interests. Look at all of the people who are shareholders in the Arawak Cay Project; the Harbour Dredging Project and the New Providence Road Improvement Project.
The $120 Million being borrowed for the New Providence Road Improvement Project and the $55 Million could be better utilized at this time to advance the vision 2020 to alleviate the hardship that FNM policies and firings have caused; and give the nurses their health insurance. But no, the FNM would rather build roads than positively impact lives.
The New Providence Road Improvement Project should be postponed. People are more important than roads. People. It does not adequately advance Vision 2020. The program increases national debt, while sending the borrowed money out of the country. And the program as with the airport paving contracts (most or all of which have been awarded to the same company) feathers the nest of a senior FNM politician.
Bahamians can pave roads see Milo Butler Highway, Tonique Darling, Blue Hill Road etc. –all negotiated by PLP with IDB.
Rather, Government should invest in a clean safe efficient public transport owned by Bahamians. Plans were left in place by the PLP in 2007, after consulting with all stakeholders and national and international experts as to how it should be structured and how it would work. These plans, which could have been implemented by now were victims of the SRC policy. Many of the 2020 goals would have been accomplished by now had these plans been implemented. It is not too late to cancel Cortelone. If you can cancel the Bahamian contractor’s contract for the straw market and many other Bahamian contracts, Cortelone can be cancelled in the national interest. This money would stay in The Bahamas; have a significant multiplier effect on the economy; provide the public transport system necessary for the 21st century; be good for the environment and better for traffic congestion.
The harbor dredging does not significantly promote our 2020 goals. The majority of the $55 Million being borrowed (like the New Providence Road Improvement Project) is being sent out of the country. Therefore, it too should be postponed. There has been a modest increase in cruisehip arrivals but lets look at the facts again:
1. Cruise ship arrivals at Nassau and Freeport as a first port of entry are down .
2. Prices for cruises to The Bahamas are rock bottom…3 days are possible for $50 per person per night (room and board and entertainment included).
3. We know that Bahamian entrepreneurs have great difficulty getting access to those cruise ship owned Islands to sell their products. The potential for Bahamian entrepreneurship at those Islands is significant…water sports, souvenirs, cultural experiences including music, etc. The potential is untapped. Government must insist that the potential is developed as a part of our 2020 vision.
4. Air arrivals and stopovers which substantially contribute to our economy are down
5. Central Bank statistics show that when calculated by total arrivals, the average stopover visitor spends $1,325 whereas the average cruise ship visitor spends about $50. The Ministry of Tourism estimates cruise ship expenditure by the amount spent by passengers who leave the ship – $75. Government pays the cruise ship companies $7.50 (50% of the departure tax) for each person on the cruise, whether they leave the ship or not.
Why should we borrow money, at this time, for a losing proposition to attract Genesis Ships where statistics show that when calculated by total arrivals, the average cruise ship visitors spend about $50.00. And, the government pays $7.50 per passenger to the cruise lines whether the passengers they leave the ship or not. Again, FNM special interests stand to benefit significantly from the Harbour Dredging Project.
The point is that unwisely we are investing $55 Million and $120 Million where the return on that investment for Bahamians is not maximized. That money would be wisely invested if government were to take at least $10 – $15 Million and invest in promotion of The Bahamas; increasing stopovers by increased airlift and development of more rooms for stopovers. We should actively promote and invest in air arrivals and the development of new rooms across The Bahamas, owned by Bahamians and non Bahamians.
We must be very careful how we use words and to refrain from rewriting history. It is not accurate (I don’t want to say untruthful), as the former Director General of Tourism (now Minister of Tourism) well knows to suggest that it is only now that focus is being placed on growth of Family Island tourism.
His appointment as MOT was welcomed by all BECAUSE as a former technical person, he knows what needs to be done to cause the growth that we need in the tourism product. He can bring that technical knowledge to the political table (Cabinet) and hopefully convince his colleagues to redirect resources to tourism. This is why we continue to suggest that $15 Million more should be give to MOT (not $12 Million less) rather than dredging the harbour. I hope that he will not succumb to the temptation to politicize tourism, the main engine of our economy.
The jobs saved and reinstated in the tourism sector by this approach would soon translate to a stronger economy, fewer foreclosures on homes and less family trauma.
We support creative means of creating new hotel rooms in The Bahamas. We understood clearly that the growing trend is for hotel rooms to exist in vertical hotels and in houses -In mixed use developments.
We encouraged developments with second homes that were added to the hotel pool.
There are many ways to add more rooms to the national inventory. It is critical that standards and quality of service be maintained. The national investment in promotion brings people to these rooms. Therefore we must ensure quality control and return on investment.
All those who are now leasing their homes on the internet should be required to register them with the Hotels Division of the Ministry of Tourism. In this way standards can be maintained through licencing; we can have an accurate figure as to the number of rooms in The Bahamas; and, revenue collection will be increased through room taxes, hotel fees, business licence etc. The government should be vigilant about this policy (which should be enshrined in law) that will inure to the benefit of The Bahamas. There should be stiff penalties for failure to register. A part of enhancing the role of local government would be giving the enforcement responsibility, revenue collection and the revenue collected to those various communities. With on line government and for the propose of national statistics and accounts, it is quite easy to ensure that the proper amount of revenue is collected.
Also the $55 Million on the Harbour Dredging Project could have been better spent in saving the Emerald Bay and other Family Island hotels from closure. We cannot forget that the PLP bought the Ambassador Beach Hotel to save the employees and industry from the devastating effect of closure of that hotel. The PLP also assisted Isle of Capri and Royal Oasis in Freeport so those hotels could stay open. We recognized that it was in the people’s interest to give marketing assistance to the hotels to keep Bahamians employed. The PLP also made redundancy payments to the Royal Oasis workers when the investor walked away with the insurance payment after the hurricane because the FNM did not properly negotiate the Heads of Agreement with the investor. The FNM should have found some way to keep Emerald Bay open, even rostering employees. The closure of that hotel weighed down many entrepreneurs on Exuma. Homeowners on Exuma are overwhelmed by the inability to pay their loans. The FNM is feathering the nests of FNM special interests by building roads that we don’t need and doing harbor dredging that we don’t need. The FNM is not prepared to invest in Bahamian families and Bahamian entrepreneurs. The FNM’s policies are destroying Bahamian families and Bahamian entrepreneurs.
Rather than feathering the nests, FNM special interests, the FNM should give the nurses their health insurance. Insurance experts tell me that is possible for the government to honor its contractual commitment by itself granting an amount and reinsuring the balance.
THE CONTAINER TERMINAL
All economic and environmental studies show that the container terminal should be left on Bay Street rather than move it to a newly created Cay in the harbour. The preferred site for the Container Terminal from an economic and environmental prospective is the South West site. In the face of the expert advice and without publication of the Environmental Impact Study and the Environment Impact Assessment and the Environmental PlanP the FNM has commenced the expansion of Arawak Cay.
The Tribune in the Business Section of 25 June, 2009 expresses concern about the fact that work is proceedings on the Arawak Cay expansion although there is no MOU signed and no terms agreed with the private sector – “discussions over e Arawak Cay Port have been cloaked in extensive secrecy, which has surprised some observers given the publicly owned land involved; the government’s commitment to transparency; ….the government wants to minimize debate on Arawak Cay to avoid any controversy with the opposition PLP viewing it as an issue they could turn into another Clifton Cay….there is also likely to be opposition from the Fish Fry vendors and environmentalists.”
SHOW THE PLAN DATED OCTOBER 2008. WHY HASN’T IT BEEN MADE PUBLIC?
o The new Arawak Cay:
ß was seen by the experts as a site even worse than where the containers are now offloaded and stored
ß 1000 feet expansion of Arawak Cay will have serious environmental impact on that public beach, Saunders Beach. When did anyone last drive around Nassau on a public holiday? There are not enough public beaches. In 1997 the FNM promised to open all closed beach access around the Island. Not yet done. It’s a matter of trust.
ß The Baha Mar project will have to change the result of the location of the Container Terminal at the new Arawak Cay and the result of the erosion caused by its creation.
ß Our children will be swimming in water polluted by the industry conducted at the Container Terminal Cay.
ß Saunders Beach will be even further eroded. It was eroded when Arawak Cay was first developed.
ß But for the SRC policy, the SW Port would have been well on the way by now
o Hundreds would be employed
o It was a great investment for the small man
o It would be partially owned by Bahamians
The true cost of the Container Terminal at the newly created Cay in the Harbour is far greater than $50 Million suggested by the private group.
Not factored in are the following:
1. the cost of the new roads and causeway to the new Cay;
2. the cost of the land acquisition to build those new roads;
3. the cost to transport the containers from Bay Street and to clean up Bay Street
4. the cost of reclaiming the area for Marinas, housing, retail etc.
5. the debt repayment and the interest on the debt repayments
6. the cost to Baha Mar of the need to change land use.
Who benefits from the real costs incurred by Bahamians now and in the future? FNM special interests.
Rather than feathering the nests FNM special interests by continuing to expand Arawak Cay, The FNM should use the sand from the harbor to replenish and nourish beaches all around New Providence and in all the populated Islands. And open all beach accesses including the one in Dick’s Point closed by a senior FNM politician is development project and all closed accesses along the Eastern Road. The well being of Bahamians demands that complete access should be had to all beaches, via all beach accesses, at all times.
SHOW THE BEACH PHOTOS
SHOW THE PICTURE OF THE CAY EXPANSION
SHOW THE OLD PICTURE OF THE NEW CAY
It is shocking to see the government bragging about the new housing and enterprise in the South West New Providence when it cannot RIGHT NOW provide for adequate BEC; WSC; BTC; hospitals; schools for the existing population of New Providence. Why is the government building on a “broken foundation”? It is time to invest in the future. The government should subsidize Bahamians moving to the Family Islands. Right now it is government policy to subsidize land ownership by underwriting the cost of a low cost home. Take this policy to the next level.
We propose that the government should:
• GIVE Crown land to any Bahamian prepared to move to and live in a Family Island
• SUBSIDIZE the construction of residences whether they are government built low cost homes or privately built residences
• SUBSDIZIE Bahamians prepared to invest in the transport business to transport people from Family Islands to Nassau for the morning and afternoon commute.
Think about the following:
• Around the world people commute to and from work and school. In places like New York and Washington D.C. the commute could be as much as 2h each way
• The South West Port would be the ideal landing point for those commuting by sea.
• Public and or Private transport businesses in Nassau would develop to serve this new market
• The construction business, the foundation of our economy, (as is the motor car business in the US) would be significantly stimulated
• Other enterprises would develop in these growing communities and new opportunities would flourish
• Persons commuting from Andros by sea would arrive at work faster than those commuting by car from Fox Hill.
• Islands near to New Providence such as Andros, Abaco and Eleuthera would be ideal starting points for this new initiative.
All studies commissioned showed that the SW Port is true stimulus; it is a long term sensible environmentally sound investment that can and will pay for itself, it will serve The Bahamas for more than 50 years (it will not outgrow demand as Arawak Cay will); it can pay for itself; it opens up opportunities for NEW BAHAMIAN ENTREPRENEURS and it will achieve many of the 2020 goals.
And on the matter of land allocation, why not make Arawak Cay an affordable water front residential community available to Bahamians who would not otherwise have access to waterfront property?
The FNM is prepared to incur debt to saddle future generations for the benefit of a few but not prepared to invest in the future and in Bahamian enterprises and Bahamian entrepreneurs .
This budget highlights FNM ineptitude, incompetence and failure.
The world economy is in a recession. We will not let the FNM forget that Standard and Poors is of the view that the fallout on the Bahamian economy would have been less but for the SRC policy. You can try to retrofit that policy all you like the fact is the FNM inherited a vibrant economy with record levels of foreign reserves. This week, a Prime Minister of a Caribbean country was using The Bahamas as an example of a weak economy with only 2 months of foreign reserves available to satisfy its non Bahamian dollar obligations!
This is what the IMF said about The Bahamas in Q4 06 and in Q4 08
2007 2008 2009 2010
PLP 4% 4% 4% 4%
FNM 0.7% -1.7% -3.9% -0.5%
The S&P and the IMF are concerned about Bahamian economy. Under the FNM watch, the IMF has put The Bahamas to a 12 month review cycle as opposed to the previous 24 month review cycle. The IMF also projects continued increase in the debt to GDP ratio and in unemployment. The Chairman of the IMF has warned against unjustified optimism. The IMF also suggests that government invest heavily in projects that will enhance the Bahamian economy in the long term and that as much as possible, leakages should be closed.
The government’s budget is its plan for the ensuing year. It will be passed. We must approve government’s ability to pay people and allocate funds to running the country. My regret is that this administration has chosen to burden future generations with unprecedented debt and did not rise to the challenge to truly set out a vision for 2020 and beyond.
Back Ground Information on Jose Cartellone
July 29th 2005 the former Minister of Works in the Christie Administration in a press statement disclosed that:
Following pre-qualification exercise in 2002 Jose Cartellone Construcciones Civiles S.A (JCCC) of Argentina was approved as the sole pre-qualified contractor for issuance of the Build-Only Contract Bid Documents. Subsequently the Ministry of Works attended to the design process and preparation of Bidding Documents with Halcrows and Mott MacDonald Consultants. That the Ministry of Works dealt with the prolonged process of payments to Associated Asphalt Creditors and for obtaining a Statement of No Objection (SONO) from IDB. This has considerably delayed the Ministry’s efforts to expedite the procurement process. The Bid Documents were subsequently issued to the sole prequalified contractor Jose Cartellone on 23 June 2004 with a Bid closing date scheduled for 24 August 2004, but which was later extended to 18 November 2004 to facilitate issuance of necessary tender addendums and clarifications. However, Jose Cartellone failed to submit a bid on the 18 November 2004, and indicated that he was unable to procure the required Performance Bond.
Mr. Speaker, after taking the Government around the mulberry tree from 2002 until 18th November 2004; the FNM Government invited Jose Cartellone again to bid and the company was selected and awarded the contract to complete the NRIP. Mr. Speaker, it is worthy of note that it was this same Company which was also contracted by the Government of Jamaica but Jose Cartellone failed to complete major road works under that contract and the Jamaican government had to engage another company to complete the works.
In announcing the award of this contract to Jose Cartellone the Government failed to provide important back ground information for the benefit of Bahamians. The question is why?
Mr. Speaker, this contract raises a number of questions of which the Bahamian Public would wish to have the answers:
Was the company requested to compensate the government for time loss and cost involved in the initial process?
Has the company provided and supported the required bond?
Will the government lay on the table a copy of the various bonds provided by the company?
Will the government lay on the table of this Honourable House a copy of the recent Audited Statement of the Company at the next sitting?
Will the government lay on the table a copy of the contract with the company?
Will the government lay on the table details of all of the bids involved in the bidding process for the completion of the NPRIP?
Will the government explain the connection between Company and Bahamas Hot mix Ltd as equipment owned by Jose Cartellone SA was seen being used on West Bay repaving contract which was awarded to Bahamas Hot mix Ltd?
Will Jose Cartellone SA provide asphalt under the contract? If negative, who will?
Will the government in the interest of transparency lay on the table at the next sitting of this house the details of all biddings and contracts awarded Bahamas Hotmix Ltd and other road builders since May 2007?