HIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (20 – 24 JUNE 2016)
COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY
Budget debate wrapped up this week
The Hon. D. Shane Gibson, Minister of Labour, National Insurance and the Public Service said that Public Service Officers are set to receive $1,200 added to their annual salary in addition to their normal increment this fiscal period. He delivered his 2016/2017 budget communication on Monday.
Referring to the $200 million labour agreement signed with the Bahamas Public Service Union in 2013, Minister Gibson pointed out that the agreement also calls for salary scales to be extended by two increments during this period, 2016/17. Public servants to benefit from this are the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Department of Corrections, senior managers in the Public Service including the Secretary to the Cabinet, Financial Secretary, Auditor General, and Permanent Secretaries.
Claiming that the National Insurance Board (NIB) was on the right path despite missing its 2015 income target of $260 million by $3 million, Minister Gibson also said that NIB gained more than $400,000 in outstanding contributions since launching a payment plan incentive for employers in February of this year. Minister Gibson attributed the missed target to the failed opening of Baha Mar.
Opposition Leader the Hon. Dr. Hubert Minnis proudly proclaimed that he had no doubt of emerging victorious for the third time at his party’s 3-day convention scheduled for 27-29 July 2016.
He attacked the government on crime, claiming that the Christie administration failed “miserably” to keep Bahamians safe and called for the necks of “murderous scumbags” to be “popped.”
He attacked the government’s Mortgage Relief Program, opposing the $20 million allocated to assist distressed mortgagees and insisted that the government failed to grow the economy and create jobs. If elected Prime Minister, Dr. Minnis promised to create a “shareholding” society and will create a tax free zone over-the-hill.
Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell reported that the Department of Immigration’s budget for repatriation has been practically cut in half from $1.7 million to $800,000 despite “every indication” that the migrant population is increasing. Still, Mitchell told the House of Assembly he has been “assured” the needed funding would be available “expeditiously”.
Commenting extensively on the gender equality referendum, the Fox Hill MP declared on Monday that the country was not a theocracy as he castigated religious leaders for their role in the failure of the gender equality referendum. Notwithstanding the vote’s “disappointing” outcome, Mitchell expressed concern over the lingering hate sparked by the debate over the constitutional referendum.
National Security Minister the Hon. Dr. Bernard J. Nottage told House members during his budget debate on Tuesday that statistics showed crime overall was down by 29 percent between January 1 to June 14 compared to the same period in 2015. Also, murder fell by 22 percent during that same period.
Works and Urban Development Minister and Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis announced several capital projects including $1 million dollars in road repairs and major developments through urban renewal throughout the country during his contribution to the budget debate, helping to build a modern Bahamas.
The Deputy Prime Minister also revealed the construction of a primary school and a secondary school on twenty acres of land in Harbour Yard, San Salvador. The primary school replaced the existing one in Cockburn Town and its capacity will double that of the existing school from 100 to 200 students. The contracts are scheduled for signing within two weeks.
Admitting that the downtown straw market requires urgent repairs because it “is in a serious state of disrepair,” DPM Davis revealed that “urgent works are being carried out to avert disaster, particularly during the hurricane season.”
In addressing the rolling blackouts, the Deputy Prime Minister said that BPL will shortly secure an additional 80 megawatts of temporary power to augment the corporation’s existing power generating capacity.
As for the more than three thousand BPL customers currently off the grid due to disconnections, Mr. Davis revealed that the government is in negotiations to have BPL forgive the debts of thousands of customers, mostly the elderly and poor, and have them reconnected to the electrical grid.
According to DPM Davis, Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) plans to raise $100M in new debt financing during the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
Finance Minister and Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie on Wednesday conceded that the June 7 constitutional referendum went “hopelessly wrong” and said he was “shocked” to be accused of having a hidden agenda. Speaking in the House of Assembly, Mr. Christie said the Government accepted the outcome of the failed equality referendum but pointed out that FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis and some church leaders failed to communicate their reservations during consultations with the Government.
The Prime Minister also responded to repeated claims by the opposition that his administration had not spurred growth in employment, noting that to date over 20,000 jobs were added to the economy since taking office in May 2012.
The Prime Minister stood by his claim that the growth in the debt-to-gdp ratio had slowed in this term compared to the previous 5 year period under his predecessors. The difference between his figure and that of the Central Bank argued the Prime Minister was that he used direct government debt in his calculations and the Central Bank used the national debt which is the sum of direct government debt and contingent liabilities based on credit facilities extended to government corporations with government guarantees.
Providing a status update on the stalled Baha Mar resort, Prime Minister Christie revealed that two firms, one with ties to Bahamian investors, have been shortlisted as the court-appointed receivers of the project move closer to deciding which entity will acquire the $3.5 billion Cable Beach development. However, he said the final decision is solely at the discretion of receiver managers who are currently in Beijing, China negotiating a contract to remobilize and complete the project as soon as possible. He insisted that it was his government’s wish to have the project completed before a buyer is secured.
On the all important National Health Insurance (NHI) plan, Prime Minister Christie said there was “no debate” on his administration’s ambition to move ahead with NHI saying: “We want to be able to bring this to a best possible outcome” as he used visual aids to illustrate the improvements in the country’s health infrastructure ahead of the introduction of benefits phase of NHI.
The 2016/2017 budget was passed in the Lower House late Wednesday evening. It is now on to the Senate for debate and passage.
Conviction rate at 71% says AG
The budget debate made its way to the Senate on Thursday morning after passage in the Lower House late Wednesday night.
During her budget contribution, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson revealed that as of April 2016, the conviction rate for Supreme Court cases stood at 71 percent, a dramatic improvement from the 31 percent that was recorded by the end of 2012. This placed the acquittal rate at 29 percent.
Articulating the programs and processes that undergird the Swift Justice Initiative, the Attorney General presented to the nation a comprehensive progress report which according to her “represents four years of diligence, hard work and determination to (and) for the people:”
• increase the number of criminal courts to 10;
• modernize the court facilities in The Bahamas through technology;
• decrease the backlog in the courts;
• increase the speed of criminal prosecutions;
• increase the efficiency of prosecution;
• reduce adjournments and fast tracking cases;
• provide voluntary witness protection services;
• capture and analyze institutional data to inform strategic planning decisions.
Plane crash in Bimini claims two lives
A tragic plane crash by a private aircraft on takeoff at South Bimini on Sunday claimed two lives. Below is a statement released from the Department of Civil Aviation.
“The Department of Civil Aviation advises that at 4:15 PM today June 19, 2016, Aviation Officials at South Bimini Airport received a report of smoke in bushes near the airport.
Investigations revealed that an aircraft had crashed in the bushes adjacent to the runway.
“The aircraft registration number is N63ZZ, a PA 27, which departed Bimini minutes earlier.
“Two fatalities are confirmed but their identities are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
“Reports are sketchy at this time but more information will be provided when received.
“Civil Aviation Department Accident Investigation representatives are scheduled to travel to Bimini tomorrow morning, to begin investigations into this matter.”
On Monday, Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin told House colleagues that Investigators probing the cause of a small plane crash in Bimini that killed two men on Sunday said that the likely cause of the crash was engine failure.
Veteran pilot Terrence “Tango” Gibson and mechanic Anthony “Scrubby” Smith both perished in the fiery plane crash.
Bahamas Government congratulates Buddy Hield
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Government of The Bahamas, extends congratulations to Buddy Hield, who is a native of Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama on his joining the National Basketball Association (NBA), being selected by the New Orleans Pelicans. We offer our warmest support to his mother and wider family.
Mr. Hield now enters the league of Bahamian NBA players such as Mychal George Thompson, Rick Fox, Dexter Cambridge and Klay Thompson.
Mr. Hield has been an inspiration to all Bahamians, but especially our young men. He is a testament that humble beginnings is no boundary to what one can accomplish if one maintains the right attitude and hard work. He is an excellent ambassador for our country.
We wish him all the success in the future.
Bahamas Government thanks UK Prime Minister David Cameron
The voters in the United Kingdom (UK) chose last evening (Thursday, 23rd June 2016) to exit the European Union (EU) following a referendum. The Bahamas has deep and historic ties with both the UK and the EU, where we share mutual interests in areas such as trade, economics, education, health, tourism and security.
The Bahamas is fully confident that these relations will continue in the near term. We have received assurances on that issue in a note to The Bahamas’ Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell and received today from the High Commissioner to The Bahamas David Fitton. Prime Minister David Cameron has chosen to step down from his post in the aftermath of the vote.
The Government takes this opportunity to thank him for the fruitful collaboration The Bahamas has had with him and his Government. The Ministry will keep the public informed as developments ensue.
New $4.8 million seawall for the Smith’s Point community
A $4.8 million contract for a Sea Wall in Smith’s Point was signed between the Ministry of Works and Urban Development and Smith’s Construction Company, Friday, June 24, 2016.
On hand for the ground breaking ceremony were Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie, Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Davis, Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell and Grand Bahama Affairs Minister the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville.
The scope of works to be executed by Smith’s Construction is as follow:
· The site will be cleared and the existing vegetation will be removed;
· A reinforced 1,730 foot concrete seawall with piled foundations;
· A five foot wide concrete sidewalk will line the carriageway side of the seawall;
· There will be a provision for a ramp and steps to the beach;
· Wall toe erosion protection in the form of Duraguard Gabion baskets;
· The highway will be reinstated and repaired; and
· Provisions will be made for road drainage and street lighting to the area.
The exact amount of the contract is $4,825,839.35.
Prime Minister Christie told the media last week Sunday that the Chinese are not legally obligated to compensate Bahamian contractors and other local creditors for what they are owed over the $3.5 billion Baha Mar project. Christie said this was why he had been “pressing” Baha Mar’s main contractor, CCA and secured lender, China’s EXIM Bank, to ensure that the needs of all Bahamian unsecured creditors were met.
After a conversation about The Bahamas with Citibank International, Prime Minister Christie said the entire Caribbean region and the Western Hemisphere are looking to see what happens with The Bahamas’ experience with the EXIM Bank of China and CCA under the Government. Citicorp International was appointed by CEXIM as its offshore security agent under the finance documents for the Baha Mar project.
Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner indicated to the media on Sunday (19June 2016) that she and Senator Duane Sands will run as a team in a leadership race against Killarney MP Dr. Hubert Minnis and East Grand Bahama MP Peter Turnquest at the FNM’s convention at the end of next month. The pair finalized the decision on Saturday and informed Dr. Minnis and Mr. Turnquest of their intentions on Sunday.
Financial Secretary Simon Wilson offered some interesting observations on the Government’s amended Mortgage Relief Plan. He opined that better data, a steep learning curve and international benchmarking will together ensure the success of ‘mortgage relief 2.0.’
Chairman of the Price Control Commission E.J. Bowe said the Price Control Act will be amended to compel merchants to reduce the cost of items on which customs duty was reduced or eliminated when VAT was introduced in January 1, 2015.
The audit reports in addition to the police report on claims of misappropriation of funds at the Bahamas Union of Teachers are in and all indications are that there were no findings of wrongdoing by suspended BUT President Belinda Wilson and two other union executives. Bahamas Union of Teachers President Zane Lightbourne in his response accused suspended BUT President Belinda Wilson of trying to “barge” her way back into the presidency before receiving confirmation from the union’s annual general meeting. Lightbourne insisted that this recent “stunt” is indicative of her “trying to get back in the chair before she gets to the AGM”.
St. John’s College unveiled its new solar energy system on Tuesday, making it the first Anglican school in The Bahamas to introduce sustainable energy. With a $50,000 grant from the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEFSGP) the school is harnessing the sun’s energy to help power its campus and move towards renewable energy sources.
Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney said on Wednesday that he doubts political leaders would be able to amass the political will needed to have the death penalty carried out despite widespread public support. Mr. McWeeney, QC, pointed to a significant philosophical divide among high-ranking Bahamians that cut across party lines as he contemplated the viability of calls for the Government to enforce hangings. One glaring example is a recent statement by the Chief Justice that for a murder to be considered “worst of the worst” by the Bahamas Supreme Court and warrant the death penalty, its severity and heinous nature must be equivalent to the recent Paris terrorist attacks. Bahamians should take note.
Bahamas Electrical Utility Managerial Union (BEUMU) President Clinton Minnis said the possible restructuring of BPL’s tariffs might lead to a hike in electricity rates. Minnis said that from a business perspective, an increase is necessary, but from a consumer’s point of view, it would be a burden.
The Parole and Reentry Steering Committee (PRSC) donated three flat screen televisions to The Bahamas Department of Correctional Services this week to assist in rehabilitating inmates and reducing offender recidivism.
College of The Bahamas (COB) President Dr. Rodney Smith who earlier this year cancelled the $16.1M loan from the Caribbean Development Bank earmarked to assist in financing the transition to a university told the media on Thursday night that this cancellation will not deter COB’s transition into a university. The loan agreement was signed in December 2014 to fund specific capacity building and capital development initiatives.
Bahamian historian and noted attorney Marion Bethel was elected to the United Nations High Commission for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) this week during a vote at the United Nations in New York City. Offering congratulations was Minister of Social Services and Community Development the Hon. Melanie Griffin. We also congratulate her.
On Thursday of this week, State Minister for Investment the Hon. Khaalis Rolle was in New York City to participate in Public Service Day by the United Nations. Minister Rolle delivered a presentation on the second phase of the Bahamas’ National Development Plan.
Bahamian basketball superstar shooting guard from the University of Oklahoma Buddy Hield was drafted sixth overall by the New Orleans Pelicans at Thursday’s NBA draft. Congratulations Buddy.
Newly appointed FNM Senators Dr. Duane Sands and Monique Gomez were sworn into the Senate on Thursday morning before the upper chamber began debate on the 2016/2017 budget.
Archdeacon Fr. James Palacious celebrated forty years of ministry, teaching, counseling and evangelism within the Anglican Diocese in a service of thanksgiving at the Christ the King Parish in Ridgeland Park this week. Congratulations thou good and faithful servant.
As word of the outcome of the UK “Brexit” referendum to either remain in or exit the European Union spread around the world, capital markets responded negatively with $164 billion in wealth being wiped from global capital markets in the first 600 seconds of the decision; 52% of Brits voted to leave and 48% voted to remain. Oil prices tumbled, UK Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. David Cameron announced his resignation and by days’ end some $2.1 trillion in wealth had been wiped from global capital markets, $800 billion from US markets alone as uncertainty about the future of the world’s largest trading bloc grew.
Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell is scheduled to travel to the Republic of Panama on Saturday, 25th June 2016 to participate in a ceremony to mark the occasion of the expansion of the Panama Canal at Cocoli Locks; Minister Mitchell will represent Prime Minister Christie. Accompany Mitchell is Minister for the Environment and Housing the Hon. Kenred Dorsett. The delegation is scheduled to return home on Sunday.