2014/15 Budget communication by Fred Mitchell

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Intervention Fred Mitchell MP
Fox Hill
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration
On the Budget Statement 2014/15
The House of Assembly
Nassau
11th June 2014

Hon. Fred Mitchell

There are several preliminary points and objectives in today’s intervention that I would like to state up front and in advance.

I wish to respond to the Member for Montagu on a couple of points.

First, the question of fighting crime, which he claims was reduced to one stingy page.
Clearly he does not understand. The strategy is an holistic strategy, not just policing. It requires all of our energies devoted to social peace, creating jobs, increasing skills and providing hope.  That is the whole cloth of the budget.

In this connection, I would like to praise the initiative of Dr. Bernard Nottage to save men and boys which was launched on Sunday. It’s amongst the signs that we are getting it. No matter what we cannot resile in the face of the dysfunctions that are affecting the young male community to our disadvantage.

Secondly, on two or more occasions, he made some passing reference to the travel of the Foreign Minister, this member. I suppose he was just having a bit of fun but one wonders if he understands how unintelligent that comment sounds.

I would like also to applaud the group that is ten years behind me or more in this Parliament. They have done well.  MP for Pineridge was on fire; MP for South Eleuthera inspired us; MP for Pinewood caused us to reflect; MP for Ft. Charlotte spoke artfully; MP for Elizabeth was sound; MP for Golden Isle crafted what we debate today; MP for Marco City challenged us. It is again all part of the whole cloth and the great thing is they are all PLP. Within the vast tent that is the PLP, let one thousand ideas contend. The Opposition must be careful in these circumstances not to become irrelevant to the times.

I want to add my words of congratulations to Leon Williams on taking the helm of BTC. It seems to me that justice is served. There is no question that this company has up to now not served the best interests of this country. With this single act, a signal has been sent out that this company is willing to make amends for the abuse of this country’s good nature in complicity of the former Prime Minister. Bahamians now look to Mr. Williams who when he was there before knew what he was doing. He did it before, we are confident that with God’s help he will do it again.

I want to say that because already the Deputy Leader of the Free National Movement was in the press naysaying the appointment. Let Mr. Williams know that from this side that he has our support.

Next I would like to say that in this country despite its challenges, there is more good than evil.

Secondly, the citizens of the country have an obligation to resist the air of unreality that now surrounds us where unreasonable demands are being made in the face of the cold hard fact that there is no money.

Indeed, you will have read this morning of the results of the household survey and the confirmation of that which we have known as MPs on the ground that poverty has increased in this country.

I invite you all to come up to my constituency office on a Monday morning. Sometimes I see between the hours of seven and nine a.m. 40 people.  I do not think that there is a single one of them that is not unemployed.

I think to myself what it must take for a big grown man of forty or forty five years old to leave his home and come to a complete stranger to ask him for help.

That is why the Minister of National Insurance can tell you how furious I am that Cathleen McKenzie lost five hundred dollars from her national insurance packet on what seemed to me spurious grounds and we cannot seem to get it rectified. She calls the radio talk shows. She calls me. We are working with National Insurance but three years after that fateful and foolish decision taken under the Ingraham administration to reduce this woman’s benefit, it cannot be righted. It may take a court action for someone to understand that what was done was inequitable.

I have tried to mobilize my resources toward children. It pains me to see little children having to beg for food to eat.  Left to me all the money would go there; it is that serious a matter for me.

That is why I am happy that the Minister for Social Services is who she is because we need someone who has a heart, who is not lazy and who gets to work on time who will try to resolve this issue.

Poverty is a demon which we must destroy because it saps the nation’s will and productive capacity in so many ways. I am pledged to work to reduce and eliminate it.

Notwithstanding the present economic exigencies however, this budget to me is a guide and a pathway to whether or not we will win the general election in 2017.  We can talk all we want about the wonderful things we plan to do, all the great budgetary and fiscal feats which we plan to accomplish but it will mean nothing if we do not, by this budget, give ourselves the best chance to win the general election in 2017.

All that the Minister of Finance has said in his budget statement must be seen in that light.

We cannot go down the path again that we did in 2007, where we pronounced all the good works but we were displaced from office and all the good works came to a halt.

This means that those young men and women must get jobs; those small contractors must get those contracts.  That is what drives the spending in this economy.

I had never appreciated until recently how much this country and its economy depends on government spending. Those who argue that the government must cut back can directly be accused of helping to feed the poverty of which we now so acutely aware. Every time you cutback government spending, you contract this economy.

The question is not imprudence in spending. No one is saying to be a spendthrift but there must be the right balance so that we do not contract this economy into nothingness and sorrow.

For me that means Hubert Ingraham must not be allowed to come back to office. He was bad for this country in 2007. He and his colleagues set the country back five years. We must not go down that road again.

So this budget as far as I am concerned is only useful to the extent that it helps to buttress the fight to prevent that possibility in our politics of the return of the former Prime Minister. He must be stopped. He will not be good for The Bahamas.

All of us must take note that a great transition is taking place in our country from one generation to the next and we must embrace that transition rather than resist it.

Shakespeare reminds us that we have our exits and our entrances from the stage. When the time is up, we must all know when to exit stage right or left.

Carl Rahming, who is a pastor in Fox Hill, is about to retire from the pastorate at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in the Village. He said something on his 32nd anniversary: it is better to retire while people are saying you should stay, rather than go when people are kicking you out.

I hope that all of us remember that lesson as we prepare for the general election of 2017 which though three years out is what this budget must be all about.

In that respect I was pleased to see the reported remarks of the Member of Parliament for Pinewood about the jaundiced view that many of our people have of politicians. I said to myself at last this generation is standing up for itself.  It is a reflection of my own view which I have repeated many times and I say again: politicians are no better or worse than the people from whom they come.  So when you trash your politicians, you trash yourself.

A second objective that I have is to say as I promised the state of play as I understand it with regard to the allegations revealed on 19th May about an agency of the government of the United States recording the mobile phone calls of Bahamians and visitors to our shores.
I would wish to lay out what I consider the next stage in our foreign relations and immigration strategies and how I hope these policies will help grow this economy.

I would like to deal with the work that was done and that is expected to be done in Fox Hill for the next year.

I would like to address the work of the Select Committee which was appointed to deal with benefits and allowances for Members of Parliament. I will speak to my full support of it and to the construction of a new Parliament.

The figures in the budget are there for all to see. There is no special magic in them, nothing that jumps out at us.

Much was made of the fact of a      million dollar increase in the figures over the last year’s figures. My explanation is the general one that I have already given to the press and that is that during the past year the government made additional demands on the Foreign Service which are now being accommodated in the actual spending which is reflected in the figures that you see.

I am pleased that there are increases in the operational expenses of the Foreign Offices abroad. I had to apologize several times during the past year to the staff of our missions abroad because of the financial triage which was witnessed upon those offices causing shortfalls in areas which are fixed and operational in nature, and which caused considerable personal distress and hardship upon officers overseas. I trust and I am promised that this will not occur this fiscal year.

Secondly, I know that disappointment has already been expressed by Foreign Service officers who are living in some pretty dire circumstances overseas as they serve this country and who were promised after negotiations increases in their Foreign Service allowances and new Foreign Service orders and this budget does not reflect them.
I spoke to the Minister of State for Finance about their concerns. He assured me that the subventions are there. I am pleased at that and I thank him here today.

I have also brought to the attention of the Minister of Finance that the subvention for the repatriation of illegal migrants was cut by $500,000.  I’m advised, however, that considerable savings will be effected in the repatriation exercises by the fact that Bahamasair will no longer charge the commercial rate to the Bahamas Government for repatriation but instead will only charge the costs of the crew and the fuel charges to the government, thus the reduction in the figure this year over last year.

The figures so far for the year are as follows:
SUMMARY STATISTICS ON ENFORCEMENT UNIT

On 5th November 2013 a new team commenced Operation Clean up Bahamas, the focus of which is to target construction sites, Road blocks in the East and West, Food stores, Gas Stations shanty towns and inland areas in New Providence and The family islands to apprehend illegal immigrants who have contravened the Immigration laws.
Since the introduction of this operation, (5th November 2013 to May 31st 2014, a total of 2,381 migrants were arrested. This included 1846 Haitians and 536 other nationals.

Break Down of persons Repatriated:

Jan-Dec 2013
Cuban..…………………… 157
Dominican..………………   49
Jamaican..………………..  300
Other Nationals…………… 329
Haitians..…………………3033
Total: 3868

Jan-May 2013
Cuban.……………………   39
Dominican …………………28
Jamaican…………………..141
Other Nationals……………131
Haitians.……………………..…1042
Total: 1381

Jan-May 2014
Cuban.……………….….    79
Dominican.………….….     83                                                            Jamaican..………….……   126
Other Nationals.…….…..    84
Haitians…………………….…….610
Total:    1982

Repatriation Cost (Air Direct only)

Jan- Dec 2013————– $1,191,250.27
Jan-May 2013………..…..  $463,063.36
Jan-May 2014—————-  $421,200.00
($300,000.00 was added to the Repatriation Item – March 2014)
We have spent up to this date $1,356,805

Illegal Boat Landings (Haitians)

Jan-Dec 2013————————– 1899
Jan 1st to May 31st 2014—————.-667

I am advised also that Immigration Promotions are to take place in the next fiscal year. In addition, the one hundred officers approved by the Cabinet in this fiscal year will actually begin classes in the next fiscal year. I had hoped and we were ready to start 26th May but bureaucratic delays have again delayed our best laid plans. I do not wish as a result of this statement today to be deluged by applications for immigration officers. The recruitment process is done.  It just awaits the work of the Department of the Public Service.

I again ask for officers in both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Immigration to hold on as we seek to bring redress to these very important issues.

At this juncture I wish to pay tribute to the four victims of the shootings in Fox Hill on 27th December last year. This was an unspeakable and horrible tragedy which has not gotten better but worse in the months since it has passed from the public consciousness.

The community leaders in Fox Hill are struggling to keep that community together. They are of course resource challenged. The government put some extra funding into the clearing of lots but those lots have grown up again and due to lack of resources we are unable to meet the expectations of the community to do something about it.

To say it is a struggle to keep the peace is very much an understatement. I want to commend the leaders of the Original Congoes Junkanoo group in particular led by Warren Davis and Trevor Pratt.  They host functions continuously in an attempt to keep the younger ones engaged and the community focused on a way forward.
I commend the leadership of the churches in Fox Hill: Reverends Preston Moss ( St. Anselm’s), Carl Rahming ( St. Paul’s), Carrington Pinder (St. Mark’s), Hugh Bartlett (St. Anne’s), Warren Anderson (Mt. Carey), Elema Bethel (Coke Methodist), Emily Demeritte (Coke Methodist (MCCA), Pauline Johnson (Church of God), Sherine Saunders (Church of God Faith Mission), Hartman Nixon (Macedonia), Leonardo Rahming (Maranatha) and Julia Bain (Church of God Bernard Road); Mario Moxey (Bahamas Harvest).

The principals of the schools: Esther Culmer (Sandilands), Janet Nixon and Laurel Lundy. I say farewell to the outgoing principal of Doris Johnson Senior High Linda Major who is now retired.

One positive project is that of the monument designed by Edwin White and   Clinton Pearce that we want to construct to those who died in December. We are hoping to commission it during the Fox Hill Festival when the Prime Minister comes to Fox Hill for his annual visit. It is important that this gets done to honour Claudzino Davis, Shanique Sands, Eric Morrison and Shaquille Demeritte. I am quite pleased by the design and the families have all approved the design.
So let’s get it built.
I wish to tell you that since that time, the mother of one of the people killed witnessed her other son being robbed at gunpoint on security cameras outside their home as he pulled up in the vehicle returning from an outing. She herself was robbed of 1,300 dollars while in the grave yard visiting her son’s grave; that was money to be used to buy a headstone for his grave, an 18 year old shot down in the flower of his life for no reason. The pain does not seem to stop and it does not read well for our community.

Then there is the rehabilitation of those who survived the attack. One man had his operation postponed as a public patient five times before he finally got the operation done. He and I were beside ourselves.

The old Vanguard slogan says “dare to struggle, dare to win.” I keep saying hat to myself as we face the challenges and vicissitudes of life in The Bahamas today.

I would like to thank BTC for their offer to assist in rehabilitating the park and getting the monument built and I wish to invite the public at large to come to the ceremony on Fox Hill Day.

I wish also to thank Jerome Brown, the contractor, and the architect Carlos Butler of the Ministry of Works for the design and construction of the gazebo on the Eastwood Park. I thank the Prime Minister, Minister of Works and the Minister of State for Finance for their support of this project. I expect that the pavilion will be officially commissioned within the coming months.

I wish to thank also the leadership of the Eastwood Property Owners Association headed by Cleomi Wood for their dedication and commitment to their neighbourhood and Keva Major of East Park Estates Owners Association and Michael Bullard for his work with the homeless.

This is a convenient time then to speak about the work of the Select Committee of the Parliament that was appointed last year to report on the allowances and benefits for Members of Parliament and to address the question of a new Parliament.

Let me say without equivocation and for all to hear loud and clear that the report has my one hundred per cent support without deviation or dissent.

It was in fact signed by both political sides, although I saw where the Leader of the Opposition tried to step back from it.  It is a sensible and reasonable report.  And it does not mean that because you are planning various matters or discussing various items that you cannot also take care of other needs. It is not a zero sum game. You can walk and chew gum at the same time or as someone else said, you can praise God and pass the ammunition.

Since the report was delivered, I have never heard so much ill-informed and idle and inaccurate commentary, claptrap in many, many moons. I constantly ask myself what the heck is wrong with some folk in this country.

I comfort myself with this fact. It is the right thing to do. Last year when I spoke as the mover of the resolution for the appointment of the Committee I  said to members then that I was prepared to take the political hit for it if it would result in better terms and conditions for Members of Parliament.

I spoke then to the youngsters who want to become members of this place. None of them are to the manor born. They are all people of modest means. I said at the time of the motion that when Sir Lynden Pindling defended the salaries and benefits to the Parliament in 1977, he said that he was putting in place salaries which would allow men and women of modest means to serve without going into penury. That is still the rationale in part today.

I recalled my maternal first cousin Sammy Isaacs who was described by the late Sir Etienne Dupuch “ as a mere plumber” when Mr. Isaacs defeated Mr. Dupuch for the seat in the Eastern District and who was one of the six PLPs elected to the House of Assembly in 1956. Mr. Isaacs was driven to the point of near bankruptcy by wanting to serve his country. I said how my own mother warned me about politics for that same reason.

I said that as I prepared to leave the scene myself I did not want to have another generation of members of parliament come into this place and meet things in the shape they are. Members of Parliament literally spend their time begging for money: more politely put as fundraising to be able to maintain not themselves in office but to maintain a constituency.

The first thing is the report did not have a remit for salaries and made the point that as a historical fact the salaries had not been reviewed in almost a generation but that this was not a matter for us but for a special review panel.

That suddenly becomes Members of Parliament want a raise. It is what I called public policy by the misperceptions of Candia Dames.  And then off the crazies went to the races.

All kinds of nonsense about timing and this and that and the “turrah” as my grandaunt used to say.  Yada! Yada! Yada! And a salary review for Parliamentarians was expressly beyond the remit of the committee. ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!

And to show you what the state of public discussion is, when people trolled this nonsense on Facebook, I had the temerity to actually say what the facts are. The response was that I should shut up. In other words no one wants to hear the truth. They just want to peddle a good story.

Nowhere was this more disappointing for me than the response of two former Members of Parliament who have to know better. Branville McCartney of the DNA denounced it. But Mr. McCartney too it appears did not read the report and should know in his heart that the report is absolutely correct and not simply jump on any political bandwagon that is passing. He must know the level of demands on MPs. Just this week, in my office I have had request for scholarships, cookouts, programmes, fundraisers amounting to over two thousand dollars, just from one weekend.  That is just on weekend.
How is a Member of Parliament to meet those expenses?

Many people criticized what the Deputy Prime Minister had to say. But unless you are born with wealth, it leaves MPs at the mercy of looking to one benefactor or the next to make contributions to assist. You can see the danger in that where there are no rules in place as to how and who and under what circumstances.

In fact, the whole issue of salaries came into being because the men who ran the country prior to 1967, the progenitors of the Free National Movement, the UBP, were not being paid, or so they said.  What we found out following a commission of inquiry though was they lined their pockets in other ways, using their office to give themselves contracts and consultancy fees which led to obvious conflicts of interest. The idea of full time ministers was to ensure as much as possible that the possibility of a conflict did not arise. Of course being a full time minister did not prevent one minister in the last administration from increasing his wealth in five years from 7 million net worth to almost 60 million in net worth.

The instant select committee report said two things: the allowance for the maintenance of an office and staff for an MP should be increased from $1,500 to $2,500.  Most MPs today are subsidizing their offices out of their pockets. That is simply wrong. Secondly, it said the figure which the government allows MPs to use to get things done in their constituencies should be moved from $50,000 to $100,000 which is what it used to be.
None of this is money in the pockets of MPs. NOT ONE RED CENT! ALL FOR THE BENEFIT OF CONSTITUENTS!
Imagine my shock that none of that has been included in this year’s budget because of the hue and cry. Who suffers in the end but the people of the constituency? And the suffering is caused by the hue and cry motivated by a few miscreants who just don’t know the facts and in fact don’t care what the facts are; what they want to do is anything to stop the PLP and at any cost, even if it means misrepresenting the facts.

The former MP for Englerston who is now a columnist in the press must know that this is the right thing to do, yet he too joined Mr. McCartney in spreading this misinformation. This is something that we should all simply be silent on and simply get done.
It is the right thing to do.

I gave the example of the former Minister of the Government who showed up at the Princess Margaret Hospital and could not get served because he had no money and no one knew who he was.  Yet he had served this country with distinction for 25 years. He had fallen on hard times. When the government found out they had to take emergency measures to approve the spending for his care. The Committee said that this should be done by simply adding former MPs to the government’s insurance so that it would not have to be dealt with on an ad hoc basis.

It also said that Members of Parliament should have access to travel if they are from Family Island constituencies on the public expense. Other MPs should have the right once per month to visit some other part of The Bahamas.
It is simply the right thing to do.
Just as it is the right thing to do to get a new Parliament built. People keep talking like this Parliament building is not going to be of benefit to the community.
Right now there is no major construction work going on in New Providence that will hire scores of Bahamian males. Ask any MP and they will tell you the cries of the young males for work. We all know that construction jobs drive spending in this country. Just go to Abaco on a Friday afternoon and see what happened when the Baker’s Bay crowd comes into Marsh Harbour.
They spend and spend. Their girlfriends get money: so money is circulating.

Bahamar is not doing that for us. So when the LPIA airport project closed there should have been another major project in New Providence that would take on onboard some young men. That could have been a new Parliament.

It would hire hundreds if not thousands of Bahamian craftsmen and artisans.

In any event, in this country it takes three years or more from the time of the design to the time we first put shovels in the ground so it is unlikely that it can get going before the end of the term.  Secondly, money has to be found for it and I said last year that part of what all the outreach to other countries was about is finding new sources of capital for this country.

You see that the Prime Minister negotiated a whole stadium at $55 million for the young people of The Bahamas when he was last in office.

The point is we have to start to get going.  But everything is negative, negative negative, negative.

And look at this place. It is a dump. The staff is sitting upon one another, packed in like the poor three to a bed. The bathrooms are shared with the public and the members and the staff. The facilities for the press are in adequate. No offices for Members; no privacy when meeting constituents; it is impossible. The facilities for the public to come and see meetings to access the history of the place, the records, all inadequate but no we must stay right where we are sinking down into this dump and the mud. There are no meeting rooms. It is not clean.

It is disgraceful that in 2014 we are still in a building built to reflect the choices and styles of a country in the early 19th century in 2014 and we say that this reflects what we are today. If this is what reflects what we are today, we are in a sad state. I say it does not and we need a new building.

My final point again. All these youngsters who want to get here: Cashmere Farrington, D’asante Beneby, Navar Smith, Quinton Lightbourne, the real next generation: left to me when you get there you should not have to face this problem. I am fighting for them. I do not want some youngster who gets here ten, fifteen years from now and say to me you were here all these years and you left us this dump in which to operate. Not this loyal son of The Bahamas and the manufactured anti public opinion on it is simply wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

And you know after you’re gone how bad they will talk about you and to you. I heard where the Member for Montagu was trying to use the words of A. Loftus Roker against us. Let me warn him.  Don’t go there. You see, the way I look at comments by men like Loftus Roker is like the way my dad used to talk to me.  He could tell me anything he liked as he was my dad. And so you don’t get in that – just leave that alone.

That’s why myself with regard to A Loftus Roker: you know, somethings he says I just leave it alone, you don’t respond to it. What would it profit me?  At his age and stage he can say what he likes. But I also know that right now I am in the seat and it is our colleagues’ right to govern no matter who says what. When you reach old age you get a pass and a certain license.

I remember sitting down at a public presentation being made to honour the late Dame Eugenia Charles at a Caricom ceremony. She was being honoured on that day with the Caricom Medal. And as the speakers were speaking she was shouting out “foolishness!” What can you do? You just let it pass.

Reminds me of my friend Sonny Martin talking about his brief experience as a Sunday School teacher.

As for the Parliament and the allowances, and salaries, people will always say it is not the right time to do it. My view: just do it. Too much talk about this. Just do it.

For the Lord’s sake; for the love of God, let’s stop carping and complaining and get on with it. Just do it.

I turn now to the promised report on the allegations of spying by United States agencies in The Bahamas.

Yesterday I received the following report that was provided by our Embassy in Washington:

The Embassy was advised that the State Dept. is currently working on an official response to your letter which was written for the attention/action of Hon. John Kerry. It is anticipated that you will receive a response within one week.

The particular issue is the following allegation which has not been controverted by the United States government.

I quote from the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 20th May 2014:
20th May 2014

FINAL

THE BAHAMAS GOVT RESPONDS TO SPYING REPORTS

On 19th May, at a routine lunch with US Charge Affairs John Dinkelman, he flagged the possibility of a story being released based on the leaks of the former US government employee Edward Snowden and that they would involve The Bahamas and the use of monitoring apparatus in The Bahamas.  This was a more specific warning than two warnings that had been earlier given by senior personnel at the U S Embassy here including one by Mr. Dinkelman.

The story became widely available it appears sometime around midday on 19th May and is penned by amongst others Glenn Greenwald, a journalist reportedly based in Brazil who has penned previous works sourced from documents leaked by Mr. Snowden. The Snowden allegations are believed to relate to a period in and around 2011

The article as is material says the following:

“According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government. Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month..”

As of this moment, we are none the wiser as to the truth or otherwise of the allegations. We have raised this matter with our Caricom sister countries and with the Organization of American States. We have determined that the appropriate forum on a multi-lateral basis is the Organization of American States.  At the moment, the issue is being discussed bilaterally. There have been many views espoused but almost universally there is the view that we must know the truth of these allegations and that if this is indeed the fact then it must cease.

One side of public opinion has indicated that they do not care whether they are being monitored or not since they have nothing to hide and if the matter assists our national security then what is the harm? With the greatest of respect to those individuals, that is hardly the point.

The fact is your conversations are proprietary to you. In other words they are your intellectual property, just as your land or your car is your property.  The right to control what happens to that property is yours and yours alone save in those instances where in the interest of public morality, health, public defense or some other overarching public interest, that property is acquired or disposed of in some manner inconsistent with your ownership of it.

Further, and quite apart from the constitutional guarantees of the right to privacy, there are also the statutory protections of the Listening Devices Act and the Data Protection Act. Recently at the Privy Council in the Judicial Committee our final appellate court in the case Newbold et al vs. the United States of America ruled on 16th April 2014 the following at paragraph 58 of the judgment:
It may be that the Bahamian legislature would wish to reconsider whether it [the savings clause in the constitution Article 30] remains appropriate in the modern era. Even apart from that, it may in any event be that, in the light of the Board’s view that the LDA( Listening Devices Act) would not meet current constitutional standards had it been appropriate to apply them, the Bahamian legislature would wish to consider whether the scheme provided by the LDA should now be revisited and revised.

What this appears to say is that if the current constitution’s standard had been applied to the Listening Devices Act passed in 1972, it would be unconstitutional. However, it was saved because of an article in our constitution which says that if something was constitutional before 1973 it cannot now be declared unconstitutional because of the new constitution.

I believe that it is in this light that the legislation is being reviewed by the Attorney General’s office.
I am now able to advise that in light of the continuing conversations with the US side, we are allowing diplomacy to take its course for the moment. In the meantime our own agencies are doing a thorough review of the allegations with ongoing reports to the government. I promise to keep the country informed.

There are those who also say that the United States is too big or large for us to challenge this behavior and that we depend on them for too much and so we should let the matter be.

I agree that they are larger than us, richer than us and more powerful than us.
That is the way of the world but I have made the point in another forum, if you defeat me by your power I can do nothing about that. But I have a responsibility to stand up for my rights whatever power is arrayed before me. I can at least challenge the great power to live up to the tenets of its own creed and the morality of its own principles.
The other word of caution that I would add is that this in the view of the government and this view does not go to the fundaments of the relationship with the United States of America. We choose on the basis of available evidence to see this first as an allegation and secondly, if true, as aberrant rather than a regular occurrence. For good or ill, we are joined at the hip and we have to ensure that relations continue in all the spheres in which good work is done, rather than dwell on the one possible aberrant irritant in the relationship.

I am not going to pass up this opportunity to respond to the slimy remarks made by the former Deputy Prime Minster and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who no matter what he may think of me, has in my view no basis to make the slur against me that in standing up for The Bahamas I am anti American. I consider it a slur and perhaps he wants to say something else but does not have the courage to say it.

I want to assure the former Member that I owe no money to Commonwealth Bank and so the well-known practice associated with some in his family of calling in loans when the borrower’s politics was opposed to the lender does not apply to me.

However, I would wish to treat him to a lesson in moral equivalence. I read in the press that the winners of the Catholic Raffle recently were two men who are owners of the numbers Houses in The Bahamas, Adrian Fox and Sebas Bastian.  I believe that these men are two of the most successful Bahamians entrepreneurs of their generation, who turned an unregulated activity into a mega fortune.

The government is in the process of regulating their activities but that is neither here nor there. For the moment, some say that the activity is unlawful.

There was a time and the former Deputy Prime Minister would know of it when bootlegging into the United States was an activity which grounded the fortunes of many Bahamians, who then were able to transform their wealth into leadership in politics and in commerce.

One of those men, then a leader of the government, also won – I believe it could have been the Catholic raffle way back in 1965. He could have afforded to donate as the two men in this generation did, to give the car back to the church as well but did not but instead as he was entitled to do, he kept the car and rode in the car, sometimes chauffer driven. In other words, he kept the car. No problem.

The interesting point though is when people who use the wealth from one generation once considered ill-gotten gains and now converted into legal cash, then want to lecture others about their moral standing in a country which was built up by the blood, sweat and tears of my own father and countless others. I do not take it lightly or without grave offence. It must be clear that I do not and will not shirk from saying so at every opportunity. The bible says take the mote from your own eye before making groundless accusations about others.

Further, it can be recalled that the party with whom he is now associated opposed the independence of this country. Ever since I was a child I supported the independence of this country. The story of how they opposed independence we choose in this day not to repeat it in order to keep the peace until someone comes along and makes the kind of foolish statement which was made about me during this debate on the alleged NSA spying.

I should also join issue with those on the other side who keep mixing up apples and oranges with regard to something which the Prime Minister for administrative purposes has styled the National Intelligence Agency. This is nothing more than an ad hoc division of individuals that are simply at this stage responsible for the gathering of information to design what a proper NIA is supposed to be. It has no executing power and certainly does not have the authority or power to execute warrants which will listen to the conversations of mobile phone calls or any other calls or correspondence. This attack in this nascent agency is therefore a complete stink and utter red herring and the other side should deist.

I am pleased to be able to superintend the foreign policy of The Bahamas and to face the world on behalf of The Bahamas. Whatever budget the Minister of Finance has given us, we will use it fully and to the best of our abilities. I am not embarrassed about this country. I am proud of it.

This is a wealthy country. The only question for me as a matter of public policy is to ensure that the wealth is equitably distributed; that there is social mobility and that poverty is reduced if not eliminated.

Everything we do in Foreign Affairs is to that end.

I have spoken to the Permanent Secretary about the need for us to look more closely at the service components of the ministry. I am deeply disturbed on the level of service in areas where we interface the public: the passport office; the consular services and just plain answering the phone in the ministry; returning the telephone calls of the public and answering their correspondence. These are where we meet people. It is not easy but we have to meet our needs.

A similar story is also told to me too often by the public about the Dept. of Immigration. However, I want to advise the public that immigration is severely resource challenged but during this budget year, we shall again try our best to meet their demands. The demands are justifiable that is the timely response to applications and the fair and prompt adjudication of their requests.

From the management side we have to commit ourselves to better equipment.  For example, the next generation of equipment for the passport office and the immigration department is overdue.  Almost all countries now have some form of electronic border entry. The Bahamas should not be left behind.

In this fiscal year, we hope to conclude our outreach to the United Arab Emirates and to Qatar with some form of representation in the Middle East. We are still hopeful for an actual physical presence in Jamaica and in Brazil.

Of course, all of this carries with it a cost but the returns will be substantial.

So enough of this already.
Where are we?
We are in an interesting place.  Yesterday I heard the Member for Montagu try to contradict the Minister for Finance by saying that we do not have an overwhelming mandate to carry out our programme.
I understand that you have to make a point but let me make mine.
Try this math: 38 seats in the House of Assembly. There are 30 who are PLP and 8 who are FNM. Now when I went to school, that mean that you take 38 and to take away 30 that leaves 8.  And when I went to school 8 goes into 30 3 times with some left over.

I don’t think that has changed since I left school.

As for counting of the votes saying that we are a minority in the popular vote.  Well that’s the system though. We don’t have proportional representation here. The FNM should know how that feels in any event, since they were also a minority government if you go by that from 2007 to 2012.  But they were the government.

Now we are the government. We have an overwhelming mandate to govern. We intend to serve out our term. With God’s help, I shall be campaigning for another term. I don’t want people on the PLP side to go wobbly. We must stay the course.  Your worst day in government is better than your best day in Opposition.

We, my colleagues and I, do not live in a bubble. Everything you feel, we feel.  There are no individuals, men or women, connected to this side who are to the manor born. All of us come from the people. We are the people. The people of The Bahamas should know that and judging from what I have heard these youngsters who spoke before me have said in here, we have a good future in front of us.

I wish to thank the people of Fox Hill for allowing me to serve them. I thank my colleagues for their support. I take this country in my heart wherever I go. I never leave it behind.

Cuss us if you will. That is your right but cuss us in love. Love us you must. We love you.

For Christ’s sake.

Amen.