Prime Minister Christie charts the way forward for the Bahamas…

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ADDRESS BY

THE RT. HON. PERRY G. CHRISTIE,

PRIME MINISTER,

THE COMMONWEALTH

OF THE BAHAMAS

AT BAHAMAS BUSINESS OUTLOOK  JANUARY 13, 2013

“CHARTING THE COURSE FOR GROWTH IN 2014”

PRIME MINISTER Rt. Hon. Perry Christie at Bahamas Outlook 2014

Time and events have moved very swiftly since I last addressed this forum a year ago.  I am delighted to have been invited as the keynote speaker again this year at The Bahamas Business Outlook.  I wish to thank Mrs. Joan Albury, the President of The Counsellors for organizing these Business Outlook Seminars.

The theme you have assigned to me “Charting The Course for Growth in 2014”, coincides with the core objectives of my Government as expressed first in its Charter for Governance, and the initiatives which we have been focussed upon over the last eighteen months of my administration to strengthen the Bahamian economy, increase jobs, address social ills including poverty and crime and generally improve the quality of life throughout our archipelago nation.

This task has been a daunting one within the context of a still slow, although recovering U.S. economy, a sluggish European economy, and a lingering international recession except most notably in China.  We are encouraged by reports of projected strengthening of the economies of major developed countries.

These adverse external economic conditions have been particularly impactful upon three major components of our economy, tourism, financial services and international shipping.

National Economic Council

As an important measure to maximize economic growth, I will shortly be appointing a National Economic Council to keep the economy under constant review and to advise the Government on ways to grow and sustain the economy and to provide greater economic opportunities for Bahamians.

The Need for Fiscal Reform

The Caribbean region has, in many ways, been an example of the great successes that can be achieved by small open economies through the efficient management of our often limited resources. However, the similarities of the economies in this region can also serve as a cautionary tale as to what can happen if we are not careful to avoid common pitfalls.

So while The Bahamas has often stood out in the region as a leader in key indicators, such as our high GDP per capita, comparatively lower debt-to-GDP ratios and sound legislative framework, as we have seen, this situation can very quickly unravel if we are not careful.

We have to manage our economy carefully to guarantee that our legacy of fiscal prudence and economic growth continues far into the future.  To do so means that we have to deliver on comprehensive reforms in public finances that reinforce expenditure discipline, and significantly improve the government’s revenue collection.  In doing this we have to ensure that the private sector is brought along as the principal engine of growth.

The government has established for itself a target of gradually reducing total spending relative to the size of the economy over the next few years.  Nevertheless our priorities in important areas such as education, health, national security, poverty alleviation will not be diminished. Neither can we divert our attention from infrastructure needs which are still acute.

In education, for example my government’s commitment includes support for the transition of the College of The Bahamas to university status with emphasis on producing more of the higher end skill sets that are needed for our private sector.

A modernizing health care infrastructure, which our population deserves, will demand increased public sector resources –this includes the new Critical Care block at the Princess Margaret Hospital, and mini-hospitals being constructed in many of the Family Islands.

The issue of national security goes beyond crime fighting, to which I will return latter. It also includes resources which must be spent on the Defence Force to protect our borders and our fisheries resources.

How does a government deliver on these priorities, while becoming more disciplined?  Clearly many areas of the public sector will have to manage with less resources.  This process started in the current fiscal year when, with few exceptions most government agencies received reduced budgetary allocations than in the last fiscal year.  Now, the Ministry of Finance is already conducting independent expenditure audits of large ministries and departments to ferret out wasteful practices. We are also moving ahead to reform Government procurement, which will subject more purchases to the public tender process, not only reducing the costs to the Government, but also making the process more transparent and accessible to small and medium-sized businesses.

Public private partnerships, in the meantime, would also provide significant scope to satisfy the infrastructure needs of development without the commensurate increase in Government debt. This is the model we are adopting for Family Island tourism development and it underlines the outcome that the Government expects from the reform of the energy sector in the Bahamas. Another critical focus you will see emerge is an approach to bringing private capital to bear on the rehabilitation of old and dilapidated government buildings. This would reverse the trend of increasing expenses on rent and restore government buildings to use.

Our fiscal consolidation must also address Government revenue collection.  The estimates by the Ministry of Finance is that, in order to begin to see a sustained repayment in the government’s debt, even as expenditure discipline is achieved, we need to be at a position three years from now where the Government’s annual revenue intake is at least $500 million higher.

The strategy to do this will be multi-pronged.  In the current year’s budget, we expect to improve revenue collection by at least $100 million.  As the economy becomes more buoyant over the next few years the expansion in the tax base will also contribute to important revenue improvements.

In some areas fees and charges for some government services still remain to be adjusted, and these would have a modest impact on collections.

Guests at Bahamas Outlook 2014...

However strengthening the existing revenue administration will be critical.  The Government is therefore  already embarked, for example, on a modernization process for real property tax administration that will allow us to clean up the tax register, and apply more modern and equitable methods of property valuations that would eliminate disparities in property tax bills and permit more orderly year on year adjustment in real property tax assessments.

In line with the modernization of the business licensing administration, we will be moving to introduce, and where necessary strengthen protocols to allow for the exchange of information between public agencies, to monitor and enforce the collection of taxes, and to comprehensively monitor tax obligations.

The modernization of the Customs is progressing steadily, as we are now at the stage, because of electronic submission of declarations to reduce manual interventions that give way more readily to fraud and errors in revenue collection.

Our reform proposals on VAT are informed by detailed/comprehensive studies on the impact of tax reform by the IMF/IDB and others. We continue to study alternative proposals and my Government has commissioned a final study on the issue which will address all the issues, concerns and alternative recommendations.   Our objective is to have a system that provides adequate revenue for modern governance while providing economic growth, transparency and efficiency.

We continue to listen to alternative proposals that will achieve objectives.

The Government is, and will remain engaged with all stakeholder groups and is intensifying its focus on both business and consumer education.

It is clearly not the best interest of Government, the business community, nor the people of The Bahamas to have a taxation system that leads to economic slowdown; loss of jobs etc. My Government will work assiduously to avoid any such development. We are more likely to have a positive outcome by working together than against each other.

CRIME AND SOCIAL REFORM
The Government continues to be committed to a comprehensive set of strategies to combat crime and the fear of crime.  It has held extensive discussions with the Commissioner of Police and the leadership of the Urban Renewal Commission towards reinforcing the necessity of executing a comprehensive plan of action embracing policing and community and social development.
We are committed to providing the necessary resources, both human and capital, in support of our plan of action.  We urge all Bahamians to become involved in promoting the safety and security of The Bahamas.

We have also provided additional resources for the early completion of additional criminal courts for the purpose of ensuring that criminal trials take place within a reasonable period of time.

FINANCIAL SERVICES
This past year the Ministry of Financial Services has made considerable advances in the development of the financial services industry, preparing the framework to advance trade as a significant economic pillar of the economy of the Bahamas, and advancing local manufacturers and industry to further diversify the economy.
We look forward to a fruitful and empowering 2014 for citizens and businesses of the Bahamas, a year of growth where we anticipate expansion in financial services, and further development of a trade agenda to create further economic diversification and opportunities for Bahamian businesses.

ECONOMIC GROWTH INITIATIVES

I am pleased to report that through a combination of fiscal prudence and other initiatives, some of which I will outline today, The Bahamas, barring any unforeseen adverse circumstances which might arise, is poised for sustained economic growth in 2014 and in the remaining years of my Government’s term in office.  These focussed and broad initiatives are aimed at impacting the country as a whole, including New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands.

GRAND BAHAMA

I want to begin with Grand Bahama, where upon coming to office in mid-2012, we found the highest levels of unemployment and economic hardship in the country.  The previous administration was spending huge amounts in direct subsidies which we decided we would reduce and implement instead new strategies at low cost.

Over the last eighteen months my Government has been working assiduously with Hutchison Whampoa owners of the Lucayan resort hotels and the Freeport airport and Sunwing/Blue Diamond’s Group, a Canadian resort/tour operator/airline conglomerate, which has resulted in a major partnership to bring about a resurgence in Grand Bahama’s tourism arrivals.   Air arrivals slipped to less than 150,000 from its near 500,000 peak previously.

Ladies and gentlemen, within days the 500 room hotel, previously known as The Reef Resort that had been mothballed at the time we assumed office in 2014, will reopen as the newest four star Memories Resort in the Caribbean creating up to 1000 new jobs.  Sunwing Airline will commence flights to Freeport starting this Thursday, January 16th.

Already existing levels of bookings have sealed the successful launch of the new Memories Grand Bahama with more than 18,000 bookings already in hand ensuring an 80% average occupancy this winter with Grand Bahama becoming overnight a key destination accessible via new nonstop service from six (6) Canadian cities this winter, among them Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax and Toronto.

Our joint venture with the Sunwing/Blue Diamonds Group extends to arrangements for a USA summer service aided by Bahamasair facilitating a wet leased 150 seat B737-400 aircraft that will provide twice weekly scheduled services from up to eight (8) USA cities starting in May of this year that will ensure a balance of airlift year round as Canadian lift will shrink significantly during the summer months.

The USA Bahamasair managed services are being sold as I speak, enabling new nonstop twice weekly jet services by Bahamasair to Grand Bahama from the following US cities: Columbus, Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio, Birmingham, Alabama, Memphis, Tennessee, Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, Richmond, Virginia, Baltimore and Maryland, Newark and New Jersey.

Our intervention in Grand Bahama is not only about reopening The Reef, which employed some 220 persons at the time it closed its doors in 2011 but rather to attract into Grand Bahama’s tourism sector an anchor player like the Sunwing/Blue Diamond Group, Canada’s leading Travel Company operating a Tour Operator division as Sunwing Canada, while also operating its own fleet of B737-800 aircraft as Sunwing Airlines, two(2) resort hotel brands i.e., the Memories and Royal Doulton Brands, a dedicated Travel Club, Weddings and Destination management divisions, which together qualify this group as a catalyst, in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, capable of spearheading a complete turnaround in Grand Bahama’s tourism sector.

Inspired largely by the new Memories product coming on stream this winter, Delta Airlines took steps to increase their weekly jet service from Atlanta to Freeport to daily frequencies beginning some four weeks ago.

With regard to Grand Bahama’s renaissance, I am also advised by the Minister of Tourism that the current fast ferry operator Balearia plans to upgrade its existing 400 passenger ferry to a newer and larger 1200 passenger fast ferry, which will enhance the travel experience by offering amenities not currently available on the smaller vessel such as gaming, dining and cabin availability.

This new vastly expanded service is to be backed by an aggressive entertainment driven group travel programme, in which the theme commences on board after embarkation, continues through the journey and climaxes at the destination, further restoring Grand Bahama’s “magic” as an easy to get to and affordable “ fun” destination for the young at heart and easily accessible for those who would prefer to sail rather than fly to their vacation choice.

In summary, as it relates to Grand Bahama, I can report that we are confident that we have not only arrested the island’s tourism decline as we promised, we would have placed it on what will be sustainable growth path.

Last Thursday I officiated at the opening of Island Outsource Contact Center in Freeport which has started with 65 Bahamian employees; with projected growth of another 200 by end of this year.  It includes the Ministry of Tourism Call Center which previously operated offshore.

This is the first step in the establishment of a call center industry in Freeport.  It will thrive because of our proximity to the United States, convenient eastern time zone for most markets good infrastructure and advanced technology supported by a skilled workforce of talented young people.

As a result of discussions we are now engaged in with principals of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, Hutcheson Whampoa and other major business interests, we are confident that further economic activity will result.

My Government is also in direct contact with the parties connected to the former Gin development in West End, with a view to reviewing the project.

As part of the strategy to create a compelling tourism product in Grand Bahama, we are currently reviewing proposals to provide major attractions which would also enhance employment and tourism receipts. These proposals are now ready for implementation.

BIMINI

I turn next to Bimini where vast economic expansion is being quickly driven by the Malaysian conglomerate Genting one of the largest resort developer in the world, through its Resorts World subsidiary, in partnership with RAV Bahamas.

Over the last several months Resorts World took over the management and operation of the Resort, opened a state-of-the-art 10,000 square foot casino, and employed a staff of 500.  Resorts World has invested some ninety (90) million in the acquisitions and outfitting of the unique Superfast Ferry, connecting South Florida to Bimini on a two hour journey with a capacity of 1600 passengers.

A deep water jetty is under construction and when completed within the next few months will facilitate day and night cruises, which will further impact the entire Bahamas economy.  The airport and other public works are being substantially upgraded and expanded in a public private sector partnership.

Under construction and to be completed and opened in May is an additional new five star 350 room hotel including 25 villa suites, six additional food and beverage outlets, upscale shopping, fitness center and spa, nightclubs, two more pools and meeting space.

The new hotel is of modular construction being pre-fabricated in Finland and assembled in Bimini.  An additional 300 persons will be employed upon completion of the hotel.

Meanwhile preparation of a Master Plan to guide the orderly growth of Bimini is proceeding including provision of adequate housing, public accommodations, adequate infrastructure, education, health and recreational facilities etc, all of which will include new job opportunities for Bahamians.

Resorts World Chairman and its partners are also in discussions with the Government regarding additional investment in the development of a Stem Cell and Longevity clinic, led by a number of world renowned scientists, associated with major reputable institutions.

The additional development will also include a major marine attraction and other resort accommodations and facilities, again creating a significant number of new jobs for Bahamians.

These projects will be subject to all the environmental and regulatory safeguards in keeping with internationally accepted standards.

To facilitate the timely and orderly development taking place in Bimini immediate steps are being taken to strengthen the Government administration in Bimini including the opening in Bimini an Office of the Prime Minister and the posting of a senior official who will ensure the most effective and timely implementation of plans and policies.

In addition to its interest in Bimini, I should add Resorts World is a 50% shareholder in Norwegian Cruise Line (Norwegian), and Resorts World Chairman chairs the Board of Norwegian.

We are pleased that Norwegian which last year placed its new cruise ship “Breakaway” on the New York/Nassau route, will next month place its newest cruise ship “Getaway” on the Miami/Nassau route.  The “Getaway” will make its maiden voyage from Europe to New York and arrive in Nassau on 5 February with 3,000 guests who will disembark and stay in various hotels for a few days.

In 2015 and 2017 Norwegian will introduce two more new mega cruise ships the “Escape” and the “Bliss” which we would make every effort to attract to The Bahamas.

THE ABACOS

In Abaco the Baker’s Bay upscale residential resort project continues to flourish and expand providing a significant economic impact in that that Island’s economy.  My office remains in direct contact with the Marriott/Ritz Carlton group and the home owners at the Winding Bay Resort in pursuit of a purchaser and new operator.

The construction of the new port in North Abaco and the improvements and opening of the new terminal at Marsh Harbour International Airport will further stimulate economic activity in Abaco, creating significant additional jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

The Schooner Bay Village which started seven years ago, has completed all services and infrastructure.  The harbour is open and welcoming boats. Geo-thermal air-conditioning and other impressive technology places the community at the forefront of sustainable development. Other prominent features include local farming, local plant nursery, indigenous plants, arts, medical   clinics and fly-fishing

The Blackfly Fishing Lodge is in operation and the Sandpiper Inn should open later this year.  There are some 55 Bahamian and non-Bahamian property owners at the village and more than twelve businesses operating. Some 24 houses have been completed, with more than 150 persons have been employed with more employment and entrepreneurial opportunities to be created during this year.

THE BERRY ISLAND AND NORTH ANDROS

I am pleased to indicate a promising level of new interest by developers in the Berry Islands, particularly in Chub Cay, Bird Cay and Whale Cay.  The Government only last month approved the sale and continued development of the Chub Cay Resort by a wealthy Texan.  The resort has been closed and in receivership for several years.  The developer will reopen the property and proceed with its redevelopment.

We are in active discussions with other resort investors with regard to the acquisition and development of Bird Cay and Whale Cay.  This is all good news for the residents of the Berry Islands and North Andros who will be able to secure a significant number of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

I now want to direct our attention to the Southern and Central Bahamas before reflecting on the economic picture for New Providence.

SAN SALVADOR AND THE EXUMAS

Confronted with higher operating costs and challenges including labour, electricity and airlift, Sandals Emerald Bay and Club Med San Salvador, anchor properties in those islands, faced serious unsustainable losses.  In both instances, the Government was able to put in place incentives and collective strategies in 2013 to successfully address their situations, protect the jobs of hundreds of employees and move toward a clear path of expansion and profitability for the overall benefit of the national economy.

In San Salvador Club Med has joined forces with Canadian partners, Sand & Oceans Ltd and Luc Poirier Investment Company, both with extensive real estate, resort and business portfolios to carry out a $90 million refurbishment and expansion project at Columbus Isle Village and on adjacent land in San Salvador.

The refurbishment works of Club Med which will start shortly will include existing guest rooms, buildings, grounds, mechanical plant and the creation of a spa and updating of restaurants.

The expansion phase will consist of construction of 360 new luxury condo-hotel units and staff housing, all of which will be built in phases, to be developed and financed by Sand and Ocean and operated by Club Med.

Additionally Sand and Ocean is planning the construction of a 125 room boutique hotel to be managed by a European luxury resort operator.

All of the above works are to be completed within four years.  During construction it is projected that some direct 335 jobs will be made available to qualified Bahamians and a minimum of 250 Bahamians would be employed in the resorts operations.  Many other indirect jobs in both the public and private sectors and entrepreneurial opportunities will be created.

We have also just approved two other projects at San Salvador comprising of a boutique hotel by an Italian developer near the landfall of Christopher Columbus and a residential development at the Columbus Landings subdivision.

It is our intention in a public/private partnership and with support of UNESCO and other heritage organisations to launch a major cultural and historical project in San Salvador.  It will include the establishment of the replication of a Lucayan village, Christopher Columbus first landfall in the New World, and the restoration of the Farquharson Plantation from the era of slavery in The Bahamas.

I am also pleased to report that a team of senior officers from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Tourism, have worked tirelessly and swiftly to shape an Agreement that enabled Sandals in Exuma not only to remain open, but to acquire an additional 56 acres of property with a view to taking steps to expand their room inventory.

The expanded marketing and airlift arrangements between Sandals and the Ministry of Tourism are not only benefitting Sandals but other resorts in Exuma as well, resulting in a current 15% growth in stopover visitors.  In 2014 Sandals will further upgrade their Greg Norman Golf Course at Emerald Bay.

I can also advise that as part and parcel of the successful Exuma negotiations, Sandals has made the decision to relocate its Unique Vacations worldwide headquarters in Nassau.  Construction of a new building will start within the next several weeks, creating dozens of construction jobs and increasing their permanent employees to over 100 accounting, sales, marketing, and highly skilled IT jobs.

Sandals Royal Bahamian is in the process of completing the creation of its River Suites.  In a multi-million dollar expenditure, six floors of the Windsor Block are undergoing complete refurbishment, the Balmoral Block is being fully refurbished, and the Offshore Island has been completely refurbished with improvements to the Island Spa, Zen Garden and other guest facilities.

A new warehouse will be built to modernize receiving and storage capabilities.

In the area of training, Sandals Corporate University will work with the Bahamas Training Agency to design Vocational Training initiatives for the overall capacity building of the working population, which will benefit both the public and private sectors.

THE EXUMAS

Resort and upscale private island construction is continuing in the Exuma Cays. The Norman’s Cay residential and resort project is in the advance stage of planning by its Turkish developer. A resort project at Leaf Cay which will also contain the nation’s first overwater bungalows has only recently been approved.  All of these projects will lead to significant new job creations.

Also on Exuma, a group comprising  American investors are developing a small resort on Stocking Island. The same Group has purchased the February Point Resort with a view to carrying out a $40 million expansion.

A Heads of Agreement is to be negotiated with respect to the resort and its expansion. A public/private sector partnership arrangement is to be implemented for the development of surrounding lands adjacent to the Georgetown community, in accordance with a Master Plan to be agreed by the Government after public consultation.

ELEUTHERA

In Eleuthera the most notable new development is proposed for Cotton Bay. The Samiento interests and representatives of Four Seasons are in discussions with the Office of the Prime Minister for the construction of a five star resort, which pending the necessary approvals, building should commence before year end.

This project will bring much needed jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to the people of South Eleuthera.  It will undoubtedly be the catalyst to jump start other resort development in Eleuthera.  We are also this year engaging in initiatives which should result in other resort development activities in Eleuthera.

NEW PROVIDENCE

The nation’s largest resort, Atlantis is looking forward to a strong 2014.  Group room nights are very encouraging.  Bookings for 2014 are presently 8% ahead of 2013 and 2015 is pacing toward 31% better than last year.

As a part of the major thrust being made in sports tourism, demand is high for special events like the Pure Silk LPGA Golf Tournament and the 2014 Battle for Atlantis NCAA Basketball tournament.  The 2013 event generated in excess of $38 million in advertising and publicity value.  This year the live broadcast of the tournament will move to ESPN which should eclipse last year’s publicity value.  Capital expenditure on maintenance and amenity improvements should exceed $40 million, and will include upgrades & refurbishment to the Cove Hotel and Royal Towers.

Albany will move ahead early in this year with the next phase of the expansion of this ultra-luxury residential resort, with the objective of becoming the Monaco of this region.  They will add additional condo residences, a business /financial sector complex, a golf academy and medical resort facilities, inclusive of stem cell research/intervention and application with an established medical institution. During construction and operational stages some 1,300 additional jobs and numerous entrepreneurial opportunities will be created.

To the west of Albany at Lyford Cay, construction of Mr. Mark Holowesko’s boutique resort is proceeding on schedule, and when completed will add a distinctive Bahamian product for the enjoyment of both leisure and business travelers.  This project is creating dozens of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

The purchase and planned upgrade of the Palms Hotel into a Marriott Courtyard brand by international investors will also provide more jobs.

It is anticipated that the purchase of both the Hilton and South Ocean Beach properties which should take place in the ensuing months and their redevelopment would add hundreds of construction and operational jobs.

The Breezes Resort is undergoing significant renovations and plans for extension are under review.  This will result in a significant number of new jobs.

Additionally other interests are proposing major new developments in the western part of New Providence which we are actively pursuing.

When the $3.5 billion Baha Mar development comes on stream in December 2014, it will usher in a new dimension in Bahamian and regional tourism, bringing together in one resort project the internationally recognized hospitality brands of Hyatt, Rosewood, Mondarian comprising more than 2,200 new rooms, with more than 1,100 additional rooms available at the adjacent Melia& Wyndham hotels.

Baha Mar is creating the largest combined casino and convention facilities in the Caribbean.  The developer has selected Global Gaming Asset Management as its gaming partner to manage the casino under The Baha Mar Casino brand.  Baha Mar has positioned itself to develop strategic partnerships with key gaming companies worldwide.

My Government is looking optimistically forward to the completion of the project, which is projected to provide some 5,000 new permanent jobs and 430,000 stopover visitors to Nassau in the first year.

In light of the foregoing my Government is committed to:

(1)          An aggressive marketing relaunch campaign with Baha Mar and participating Cable Beach resorts.

(2)          Working cooperatively with the local tourism industry in putting in place the necessary airlift which will be required by the destination.

(3)          Making best efforts to secure a strategic partner and alliances to transform the national flag carrier into a low cost, efficient international air carrier to provide essential airlift to support the tourism industry and commerce.

(4)          Joining forces with the tourism industry with training programmes and resources to equip as many Bahamians as possible for expanded job and entrepreneurial opportunities in New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands.

In 2014, my Government will implement several other major initiatives to buttress and grow the Bahamian economy.  They include:

1.    Energy reform to significantly drive down the cost of electricity and secure a steady supply for all consumers.  The Government’s energy advisors are at the advanced stage of sorting through requests for proposals from qualified bidders, and will within the coming weeks be enabled to advance the selection of a preferred bidder.

2.    Completion of the negotiations between Government and Cable and Wireless with respect to additional shares in BTC and further liberalization and introduction of competition in the telecommunications sector.

3.    Introduction of modernized casino legislation to put The Bahamas on par to compete with other leading casino jurisdictions.

4.    The opening before year end of the Bahamas Agriculture & Marine Science Institute in North Andros to boost farm production and marine resources for local consumption and export.

The Institute will operate a commercial farm with the intention of making food produce more available and cheaper to the Bahamian public and to enhance our competitiveness in the tourism industry.

Students and local farmers will make use of modern techniques to produce multiple crops on a year round basis. These initiatives as part of a national training programme that will also be extended to other parts of The Bahamas, with a view to reducing our reliance on imported food products and to stem the outflow annually of hundreds of millions in foreign currency for imports.

International investors are already showing an interest in farming aimed at the export markets, which will not only create numerous jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for

Bahamians, but also provide a significant source of foreign currency earnings.

Our aim is to ensure that local produce and seafood are available in adequate quantities and quality for every table in our country, in food stores, restaurants and hotels throughout the nation, as well as the creation of export markets in various parts of the world.

5. We have created the National Training Agency for the express purpose of working in tandem with employers, other public and private educational and training institutions, and interested parties, to ensure that as many Bahamians as possible, especially the unemployed, are trained at  various levels of expertise and equipped with the necessary skills to take advantage of the thousands of new jobs which are coming on stream throughout The Bahamas.

An integral part of our major thrust in education and training is the advancement of the College of The Bahamas with notable external universities and institutions which are prepared to assist us in our national economic, training and social programs.

6               We are expanding successful ship registration to include the formation of a yacht and private aircraft registry.  Additionally the Bahamas Ship Owners Association will later this year extend their efforts to persuade high school and college graduates to pursue careers in the maritime industry, with significant scholarship opportunities for Bahamians. In this regard Mr. Lowell Mortimer has launched a Maritime Academy, which is in the advance stage of construction. This will add more job opportunities for young Bahamians in the maritime industry.

7               The Commission appointed to make recommendation on a new major carnival festival to be introduced in first quarter of 2015 is about to present a report to Government indicating, inter alia, the festival will ultimately attract thousands of people from abroad and have a major positive impact on the economy.

8               Major public sector construction will be implemented as a further stimulus to economic growth and job creation during 2014.

Again thank you for inviting me and I trust that I have been able to inspire confidence in a better economic outlook for 2014.