I rise to make my contribution to this year 2009 – 2010 Budget Debate and in so doing complete the contributions of the Opposition Party.
I would once again thank the good people of the Farm Road and Centreville Constituency for their support.
I would also wish to again extend condolences to the family of Milo Butler Jr. and recognise in tribute his contribution to the constitutional affairs of The Bahamas as Member of Parliament, Speaker of this Honourable House; and in such various capacities as Chairman of the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas and Chairman of the Gaming Board.
He did his best in everything that he did. He acted with respect, but with principle and firmness. He took pains to be seen to do what was right in the service of The Bahamas.
Milo Butler Jr. was a kind man with a generous spirit; but most of all he was an authentic Bahamian patriot. He loved his country and he loved its people. May he rest in peace.
I would also like to salute Mr. Eldin Ferguson Jr. – an architect and businessman who died unexpectedly at the age of 57 years.
Mr. Ferguson returned home with his sons, Eldin III and Erin who had completed their university training, to launch a multi-faceted business venture.
He too loved his country and intended to be a major contributor to its continued development. It is my hope that his sons, together with their mother Mrs. Sharon Ferguson, will ultimately fulfil the business aspirations of their father.
May he, too, rest in peace.
I join the Member of Parliament for North Andros in also offering condolences to the family of the late Charles Diggis Sr. He distinguished himself for over 50 years as a public servant and as a pillar of the Methodist Church in The Bahamas. With over 50 years of marriage and a wonderful family, he was an exemplar of the value of strong families and good citizenship.
It is also appropriate for me to congratulate Ms. Nicole Martin on being the first woman president of the Bahamas Hotel Catering & Allied Workers Union. I also offer congratulations to all of the newly elected executive team of the Union.
I note that Ms. Martin and her team’s election comes at a time when they will be called upon to participate not only in unifying their union, but also to play a major role in developing and strengthening the hotel sector and the tourism industry to secure further and better employment opportunities for present and future members of the Union.
It is also for me to congratulate Mr. Bernard Evans the newly elected president of the Bahamas Communications & Public Officers Union and all the newly elected officers. They too will be called upon to contribute to the security and well-being of their membership in the privatisation of BTC and changes forecast for the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas.
I wish them all success.
Finally, it is for me to commend the outgoing union leaders by saying to Roy Colebrook that in democracies, we have to accept that no matter the good that you have done; it‘s only one term. But you live to fight another day.
To commend Pastor Leo Douglas long service and many achievements as Secretary General to the union. It is only on writing that I came to know that you are also a Pastor. I am assured that your faith will facilitate your adaptation to interests more spiritually uplifting.
And finally, I commend Mr. Robert Farquharson for his invaluable service to his union in varying capacities, for his contribution to the strengthening of the trade union movement in The Bahamas, and for his assistance to my government as a peacemaker in union disputes during our time in office.
The unpredictability of life and the certainty of there being an end to our public life, supports the view that whilst we come from different political organisations and have arrived here by different routes, we ought all to be steadfastly committed to ensuring that our democracy remains dynamic and sustaining and committed also to operate with mutual respect.
The 17th century poet John Milton said:
“When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed then is the utmost of civil liberty attained.”
In this specific regard, I would, as the Leader of the Opposition, seize this opportunity to congratulate all Opposition Members for their sterling contributions to this Budget Debate. In so doing, you are continuing our historical legacy of contributing to the strengthening of our democracy.
Indeed, as we have heard in this debate, there is still the necessity to speak truth to power. It is really most unfortunate that the Member for Carmichael could bring himself to connect the Progressive Liberal Party with the vile, repugnant and abhorrent policies of Adolf Hitler. Carmichael stands condemned for such an unacceptable and unaccountably vicious attack.
It is yet another sad example of the fact that in doing the job of an Opposition, the Progressive Liberal Party and its standard-bearers must expect that no truth is sacred; that no cherished symbol of national unity is exempt from the most destructive, self-serving and vulgar attacks.
After all, some even dared to question whether Sir Lynden Pindling, the founder, the revered father of this nation was his own mother’s child. You cannot get worse than that, but Carmichael has tried.
These kinds of political attacks are unwarranted and disgraceful.
As I stand in this Parliament, having served now for some thirty two consecutive years, I am constrained to remind Members and the country at large that those of us on this side of the House of Assembly, along with many others who once served our Party’s cause have an enduring and rich legacy.
As I have said before, when the PLP won the General Election of January 10, 1967, it was a victory not just for PLPs, but for all Bahamians; black and white; rich and poor. That event represents one of the truly great and defining moments in our evolution as a people. With the exception of emancipation from slavery in 1834 and the attainment of independence in 1973, there is no event of more consequence and historical importance than the achievement of majority rule on January 10, 1967.
January 10, 1967 represents a transition from the old Bahamas to a new Bahamas. The point of transition from minority government to majority rule. The point of transition to a modern democracy. It also represents one of the highest pinnacles in the historic and still ongoing struggle of the Bahamian people for economic empowerment, for equality of opportunity and for social justice. These are aspirations that are still relevant and important to this day.
January 10, 1967 was not an end, not even a beginning. Instead, it was an important milestone in a journey that was begun centuries ago, when some anonymous slave struck a blow for freedom for the first time. It was a journey that continued with the slave known as Pompey in Exuma and the slave known as Black Dick in Cat Island, who with others in the early 1830s against the most overwhelming odds struck their blow for freedom and for justice.
Their cry is the same of many Bahamians today… freedom from economic oppression and justice.
It is a journey that continued with men like Stephen Dillet, Thomas Minns and John P. Deane, who struck their blow for a more just society when in 1834, after years of agitation and struggle, they won election to this House of Assembly – the very first men of colour to do so.
The journey continued with men like James Carmichael Smith, originally from Port Howe, Cat Island, who in the 1880s struck his blow for a better Bahamas by leading the protests for a more just and equitable society for all Bahamians.
The journey continued into the 20th century, with men and parliamentarians like W.P. Adderley, Etienne Dupuch, T.A. Toote, Leon Walton Young, C.R. Walker and Milo Boughton Butler and others, who, each in his own way struck a major blow for a better Bahamas.
The journey continued with Clifford Darling and Clarence Bain and with H.M. Taylor, Cyril Stevenson and William Cartwright, and, most significantly of all, with Lynden Pindling, and that mighty band of brothers and sisters who joined with him to build a new Bahamas and a new Bahamian; upward striding and free. A.D. Hanna, Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Carlton Francis, Doris Johnson, Loftus Roker, Arthur Foulkes, Clement Maynard, Warren Levarity, Paul Adderley, Elwood Donaldson, Jeffrey Thompson, Maurice Moore, Orville Turnquest and all the many others who played their part, be it however long or short, be it however great or small, in advancing the progress of the Bahamian people.
And the struggle continues still with people of my and the Member for Bain & Grants Town’s generation; it continues with the generation right behind ours, like Fred Mitchell, Alfred Sears, ‘Brave’ Davis and Vincent Peet.
And it will continue with further generations of colleagues in this House who include Melanie Griffin, Obie Wilchcombe, Glenys Hanna Martin, Frank Smith and Picewell Forbes and all the other bright young men and women who have stepped forward to take their place in the great march of history of which the Progressive Liberal Party has been the spearhead for the last half century and more.
As we move to finalise the Budget for 09 – 10, it is for me to affirm that the struggle for a better Bahamas endures. It is ongoing. It is never finished. Our work is never done. One generation of leaders passes into another.
We speak now as we have always done, for the many who have lost hope; for the multitudes who are in despair and for tens of thousands of Bahamians who are suffering; fearful of what the future holds.
We say to them: hold on! Hold on and don’t give up hope – for help is on the way.
It is our continuing duty to provide encouragement to the thousands of Bahamians whose strength and resilience is fast diminishing. To signal that there is hope in the midst of apparent hopelessness. Hold on! Don’t give up hope, for help is on the way. The Bahamas has experienced hope and help before. That hope and help will yet come again.
Glenys Hanna Martin
As Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party and as a Member of this honourable House of Assembly, I am constrained to express my regret over the suspension of the Member for Englerston.
As the Speaker knows, I have in my long tenure been witness to many encounters between Speakers and Members.
I have seen the Member for North Eleuthera himself defiantly remonstrating with the Chair.
In all of these confrontations where the matter could not be settled a short adjournment was sought.
It is a great pity that the Speaker and the House did not so act.
The Member, without apology, is totally committed to speaking for the underdog, so to speak. Those who, for whatever reason, cannot speak for themselves. I hope, as I did on that occasion, that all of us know each other well enough to know where disrespect is really present.
I am satisfied in this case that the Member intended only to seek the assurance of the Minister of National Security with respect to the integrity of the investigation into the death of the 15-year-old boy in police custody.
Such assurances are necessary and that is why I also look forward to the Government addressing the request of several members for an explanation of the very serious findings in the Courts involving the Commissioner of Police.
Constitutional appointments are too important to allow such allegations to remain insufficiently addressed.
There is an increasing national mood of misery and discontent. Too many people are in despair and resigned to an acceptance that the Government does not care about them.
In the aftermath of the Budget Communication, we described it as sobering, depressing, devoid of any offer of hope as to how Bahamians will get through these tough and intimidating times.
The Prime Minister has himself stated that economically and financially, The Bahamas is in uncharted waters and unprecedented economic times. There has been nothing like this, he said, since the global depression of the 1930s.
Given the stark assessment of the Prime Minister, this Budget offers no hope; it inspires no optimism, it foreshadows none of the bold, innovative action that will be necessary to protect and promote our country in this dire economic situation.
This is precisely why the Government ought to have been more conciliatory in its approach to Bahamians. Instead, the Government has been dismissive, high-handed and unsympathetic in too many situations since they have come to power.
These issues go beyond stark assessments of the economy. It goes beyond statistics and graphics and other economic indicators.
It involves the spirit of Bahamians; the spirit of the nation. The Prime Minister missed an opportunity to remind our people of their enduring strength and indomitable spirit in always overcoming extreme adversity.
In cases like that of the Nurses, money and insurance coverage though of great importance, should never preclude the nurses being treated with common courtesy and with the dignity that they deserve.
You cannot treat people in a dismissive way simply because you have the power. One of the tests of good governance is how, in bad times, you rally the spirit of the nation and inspire Bahamians to engage in efforts to improve and protect themselves and our country.
As I have said for months, the Government has a responsibility to work out a consensus for a unified and all-Bahamian approach to these major economic challenges.
One of the speakers at the recent commencement exercise of the graduating class of the College of The Bahamas, advised the graduates that they must not be intimidated by recent economic forecasts that continue to predict a continuation of a recession.
He noted that as they look to enter the working world, they are no doubt apprehensive because of these particularly challenging economic times, with many being anxious about their professional future. He concluded by saying that he was confident that the graduates would confront the new challenges equipped with values promoted by the College – Excellence, Knowledge, Truth and Integrity.
Those are fine sentiments, but who will point the way to jobs. Where and when will those students be able to find jobs. That is the function of Government.
Employment creation is the best social policy of all because good quality jobs enable persons to live with dignity and independence. It reduces crime and other consequences of deprivation and it creates a caring society with democratic roots.
We are now concluding this annual Debate on the Budget. Where is the planned for the provision of jobs? What has been provided for children who are coming out of school this year? The students who are graduating from colleges and universities; what will they do? These are the questions we ask.
The Government’s Budget said nothing to the new college graduate; nothing to the students at the College of The Bahamas; nothing to the thousands of young people coming out of high school. Left alone, many of them may have to wait years to have their legitimate needs met.
As the recently announced unemployment benefits do not apply to these new job entrants, we ask what does the Government intend to put in place to advise and assist these young people to manage properly this critical issue of their future?
The Government cannot ignore this issue. It is inextricably tied to the security of our country’s future. We must all be engaged in protecting the integrity of our young people by working relentlessly to identify workable economic options for them.
This is an issue that should be dealt with by a special commission appointed by the Government. Even though the FNM criticised the PLP for appointing commissions to address major issues, it is imperative that the Government appoint such a grouping to make recommendations on how to address these challenges faced by young people.
For the purpose of record, I would wish to remind the Prime Minister that in his Budget Communication of 1993-1994, he established a ’working party’ to report to the Ministry of Tourism “on methods of generating more employment in the tourism industry by strengthening economic linkages between other sectors of the economy and tourism”.
A fair interpretation of the Budget and all of the presentations up to this point compels me to argue that the Government needs to avail itself of help. They need help!
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, the Minister of Finance stated that:
“Some straight talk to Bahamians is necessary. The Bahamas must not make the mistake of assuming that we can sit out this crisis and that recovery will emerge after a short interval. This crisis is so great the economic textbooks have no answers.”
He also observed that countries with major economies had used innovative and untried measures in an effort to restart their economies, but that the incomplete results still required them to dig deeper for solutions.
Unquestionably, the Government by the very nature of the extreme gravity that it says endangers our economy, must act; and must act decisively. It must seek all of the help that it needs to ensure that it remains on top of the challenges confronting the country.
Although I do not presume to equate the period 2002 – 2007 to this current 09-10 period, I would wish to recall the policies of my administration in order that the country may now benefit from those experiences. Having assumed the reins of government my administration was faced with the continuing fallout from 9/11 when the global economy was reeling. Those were not good times.
We faced and endured the run up to the war in Iraq when for over one full year, the world was on edge over the prospect of weapons of mass destruction, the probability of a war spreading throughout the Middle East and beyond, the likely global economic impacts of a prolonged war and the likely impact of weapons of mass destruction on such a war.
The entire period from 9/11 to March 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq was one of uncertainty when investors all over the world adopted a wait and see attitude.
Added to that, in financial services, The Bahamas was on the monitoring list of the Financial Action Task Force.
Tourism had taken a big hit. The state of the airport and the docks, gateways to our capital were in need of urgent attention.
They were both described by officials as disasters waiting to happen.
The state of the finances was also a major challenge. On the very first day in Parliament, May 22, 2002, my Government had to borrow $125 million to pay bills and cover shortfalls.
We did not inherit a good economy. In fact, we expected that having had ten years of growth, fuelled by the most prosperous period in United States economic history, The Bahamas’ economy would have been in better shape.
Faced with these realities, we had to assess the options open to us. One option available to do northing. To just sit and wait for things to settle down and for the world economy to get better again.
That is our impression of this Government’s attitude from their Budget Communication.
However we understood that the Government of The Bahamas, having the responsibility for the well-being of the citizens of the Bahamas had and has no such luxury.
Instead, at that time we commenced a co-ordinated programme to stabilize the economy, to restore tourism infrastructure and to put the economy on a path of growth.
But we had to begin with more than two hundred temporary employees whom the FNM government had hired just before the General Elections, notwithstanding the strong advice to adhere to prudent and fiscally responsible policies and the obvious political patronage involved, we put our political signature on the face of the new government by agreeing to keep those persons employed.
My recommendation is that the Government, as we did, give priority to maintaining those jobs that exist, even to the extent of renewing expired contracts. This is no time to let people go.
The economy of the Bahamas is built on Tourism, Financial Services and Construction. Today, as they were then, all of those sectors are again under siege.
The tourism industry has historically been driven by foreign direct investment (known as FDI), which operates to bring in foreign currency and contributes to the construction industry, creating jobs. That is also now again under siege.
In order to more effectively attract FDI and to develop the expertise to negotiate with potential investors, we established the Ministry of Financial Services and Investment.
This ministry also was responsible for the promotion of The Bahamas as a financial services centre. This government did not maintain such a Ministry and as a result, we believe they made a mistake.
Given the vital relationship between Bahamian and Foreign Direct Investment, job creation and a dynamic economy, we strongly recommend that the Government now put behind them the fact that “the PLP did it” and go on to re-establish such a Ministry with a Minister other than the Prime Minister responsible to aggressively promote the financial services industry and investments.
Having seen the very positive impacts that Atlantis had on the economy, my Government resolved to aggressively pursue further foreign direct investment to meet the urgent need of creating more jobs for Bahamians. The then new Ministry of Financial Services and Investment greatly facilitated this endeavour.
As we were working on attracting FDI, we recognized that there was potential for further job creation and enhanced economic activity by the implementation of an aggressive government housing programme.
We realized that the government alone could not fulfil the demand for housing so we developed incentives to make housing more affordable. In December 2002, we implemented the stamp tax exemption for first time homeowners. We recognized the economic and social importance of home ownership and so we promoted that heavily.
During the period of the exemption, 2002-2007 well over 1500 persons took advantage of that exemption.
In effect, while we were out courting investors, we created a home-grown stimulus through our housing initiatives by building over 1500 houses and employing hundreds of small contractors.
So again, it is instructive for this government to note the impact it can have through a co-ordinated and integrated approach to job creation within its existing budget. We recommend that approach strongly.
We promoted a policy of anchor resort developments around which economic activity would grow. Again, it must be emphasised that the creation of jobs, not graphs and statistics is the essential function. People must be put in a position where they can earn enough to live.
We met the most modern of the Club Med hotel facilities in the world, closed in San Salvador. The FNM government had spent some $38 million in rebuilding the airstrip there.
We knew that to make economic sense of that major investment by the country and for the reputation and dynamic survival of the tourism industry in The Bahamas, we had to get that hotel open. We had to be bold. Through the use of financial concessions, we secured the re-opening of the Club Med facility and brought about full employment in San Salvador.
This successful use of financial concessions with Club Med, together with the historic model of the Pindling Government, which saved the jobs at what are now Breezes and Sandals, has not been used by the Government.
Even though the properties were later sold to the Breezes and Sandals hotel chains, the decision to keep them open saved hundreds of Bahamian jobs.
We know that the times were different, but that is why we have always been deeply concerned as to whether the Government could have done more to prevent the recent layoffs in which thousands of people have lost their hotel jobs. As many as 3000 hotel workers have been laid off.
Was there some formula by which they could have used some of the money available to them protect some of those jobs at the very least. Many of those Bahamians who lost their jobs will be replaced by younger persons when the economy rebounds. They may well now be permanently unemployed.
The Four Seasons and its casino in Great Exuma is closed with hundred of Bahamians having lost their jobs.
We note the Government’s indication that it engaged in forbearance of taxes, but the question remains that given the significance of Exuma as a 5-star destination, was it the correct action to allow the hotel to close?
We are advised that this was the only Four Seasons anywhere in the world to have closed since the beginning of this global economic crisis. People of the world do not distinguish between Exuma and other islands in The Bahamas. This is a telling blow to the industry and Government must act quickly and aggressively to have the hotel open again.
We are faced now with the decisions of the RIU hotel and the Wyndham Hotel & Crystal Palace Casino to close for several months this year.
The Government needs to answer why was it not possible for the Four Seasons to remain open under the same conditions as the Isle of Capri Casino in Port Lucaya. Why is it not possible to apply this same formula to prevent the looming closures of RIU and the Wyndham Crystal Palace.
We ask these questions knowing that the Government has admitted that the Isle of Capri casino continues to remain open as a result of funding being provided by the Government.
It seems to the casual observer that the Government did not do enough to save or minimise the thousands of jobs lost in the hotel industry.
There are additional experiences from which the country can benefit in this economic crisis.
We, by resolution of Parliament, made millions in additional funds available to the Bahamas Development Bank.
We established the Venture Capital Fund to allow more flexibility than the banks allow in their funding for small businesses. It provides Bahamian entrepreneurs with access to start-up equity capital rather than debt in the initial exploitation of their business ideas.
We focused on facilitating domestic investment by removing red tape, which was the source of great frustration and delay to Bahamian investors.
We increased the subvention to BAIC to assist them in their promotion of handicraft training and business training and development.
Our aim was to attract the investors and, by providing funding and training for entrepreneurs, to give Bahamians the opportunity and ability to become owners in the economy.
As a result of these developments, we saw many Bahamians begin new small business enterprises, employing other Bahamians.
That was our plan, restore the infrastructure, attract Foreign Direct Investment and prepare Bahamians for ownership.
We believe that it was a good plan.
The information supporting our success is contained in the annexes to the Budget Communication. We believe it represents irrefutable evidence of my government’s successful management of the economy and public finances; and of our restoration of the robust growth prospects of The Bahamas.
Revenue (exc. Borrow)
$875 million $1.354 billion
9.1% (2002) 7.9% (2007)
$312 mil –end 2001 $623- end 1Q ‘07
-0.3% (2001) 4.3% (2006)
(2001 last full yr under FNM, 2006 last full year under PLP)
The large numbers of Bahamians unemployed is a frightening spectre for the stability of our country. There may be as many as twenty thousand and possible more Bahamians unemployed.
With thousands of new entrants each year joining the search for jobs, the question for the Government and the country, again, is where are the jobs coming from?
It must be the obligation of the Government to protect and promote the highest possible level of sustainable employment for all Bahamians.
We know that tourism is the fastest and most effective generator of economic activity. We cannot walk away from that potential source of employment.
Previously in my address, I reminded the Prime Minister of a working party he had established to address such issues. I do not know whether the country benefited from the work of that committee, but I do know that the country needs, today, to have the Government act on my recommendation to appoint a group to devise strategies to assist the country in the way ahead.
I therefore urge the Government to consider using special strategies to aggressively assess the current hotel properties and their challenges and those investments that were in process prior to the global recession.
The future of this country demands that the Government on an every day, full-time basis monitor and drive the tourism industry with a view to maximising the return on job creation. This is a critical requirement and it also applies to similar sustained action by the Government in collaboration with the financial services industry towards introducing new products and whatever it takes to be more productive and competitive, again with a view to creating jobs.
As I have indicated, it is only with creative and sustained promotion and the wise use of concessions that we will be in a position to take advantage at the earliest opportunity of a change in the global environment.
It is important for me to indicate that it is easy to project the growth of our population and to see how difficult it will be for us if we cannot match that growth with the necessary job creation programmes.
We were bold and daring in our vision and in our policies for the creation of a strong economy in The Bahamas.
We set about to stimulate the interest of the world in seeing the importance of investing in The Bahamas. We did that because we knew that we had to match the pace of new job entrants into the marketplace.
We knew that even as a part of an economic commitment to diversify the economy, we could not stop and wait for diversification to take place.
We had to act decisively and work towards establishing linkages between agriculture, fisheries and the handicraft industry with the tourism industry.
We note that the Member for Carmichael in his contribution referred to gifts of souvenir items he received from Bahamians who manufactured them. Now is not the time to just promise to promote the creative talent that we have, but to ensure that he works with BAIC, the Venture Capital Fund, the Development Bank, in facilitating the entry into business of such persons. We should remember that after the designer Harl Taylor’s bags reached major department stores in New York, many other Bahamian designers went into similar businesses. This is the time for bold action to facilitate Bahamian businesspersons.
I will conclude this segment with two examples. The vision of BahaMar is critical to the success and orderly development of the island of New Providence and The Bahamas generally .
That development was intended to follow the Kerzner’s third phase and create thousands of new jobs directly and doubtless thousands more indirectly.
The expenditure of the $400 million expansion to the Lynden Pindling International Airport was significantly influenced by the BahaMar development.
Given the potential of this development, it is manifestly in the Government’s interest to work as closely as is necessary with the developers to bring such a development to timely fruition. The many thousands of jobs that will result are now a critical necessity.
Similarly, when, in 2002, we put in our election platform ‘Our Plan’ that in a lesser developed parts of the country, we – if elected – would bring about a Freeport-type development my government did just that. Looking at the model of Providenciales in the Turks and seeing the extraordinary development taking place there, we entered into a joint venture with a significant investor family that enabled us to put in place our vision to bring about controlled development in the southern Bahamas.
We chose Mayaguana. We consulted heavily with Mayaguanans, on and off-island and we even indicated that unless we had the full approval of the Mayaguana community, we would not proceed.
It is my view that the Government should make every effort as the legal partners of the I-Group to agree a methodology for re-launching the development.
Again, it is another avenue for significant job creation and both as an equal partner and the Government of The Bahamas, the Government is able to ensure that the development meets the cultural and social requirements of all of those who call Mayaguana their home.
As our country will always be a major tourism destination, it follows that a greater commitment to agriculture and marine development should be made by the Government of The Bahamas. We already have examples of Bahamian agricultural and fisheries enterprises supplying foodstuffs to restaurants and resort properties successfully.
In this regard, whilst The Bahamas can, the Government should be concerned about protecting – at least in the initial stages – any such investment by Bahamians.
We have seen the progress we are making as a country in the area of handicraft and souvenir production.
The Government must be aggressive in inspiring young Bahamians to see the opportunities for them to make a good living and we must ensure, even if we continue to use a form of subsidy through the provision of appropriate facilities that we are able to create jobs and take advantage of the linkages to the tourism industry.
The Government must work with the private sector in setting up agro businesses to show that they can succeed.
The prescription then should be to continue and to build upon the plans of the PLP.
The Fight Against Crime & The Fear of Crime
I now address the issue of crime. I begin by acknowledging that most of us in public life have tried to see the issue of crime as beyond politics. Crime is a major challenge to the quality of life of all Bahamians and all of us have a stake in reducing crime and the fear of crime.
It does become difficult, however, when the Government is not doing what it should and what it could do to improve the situation.
It is frightening to the public when they begin to believe that the Government has no plan and is simply hoping that the Royal Bahamas Police Force will do sufficient to quell the fears of Bahamians.
To wait for Police to help in the absence of clearly defined social and judicial initiatives is not good enough. Where is the Government’s plan to combat crime and the fear of crime? And if such a plan exists, how successful has it been?
My Government implemented a plan for a major effort against crime and the fear of crime. That plan was well thought out and was heavily influenced by the findings of a pilot study carried out by the Royal Bahamas Police force in the Farm Road and Centreville Constituency.
The pilot study led to an enhanced appreciation of the terrible conditions some Bahamians were experiencing and the extent to which those conditions influenced criminal behaviour in adults and misbehaviour in children and young persons.
The plan we designed was an evidence-based plan; a plan which would have the Police as an integral part of its leadership.
The plan consisted of Prison Reform, Urban Renewal, School Policing and National Youth Service. We moved quickly to implement Prison Reform towards ensuring that the resources of the country could be directed at improving the environs of the Prison, the rehabilitation process and the rate of recidivism.
Importantly, major efforts were made to sensitise the Bahamian public to the relationship between a well-run Prison Service and fewer problems from repeat offenders.
We know that there is still much work to be done and we encourage the Government to continue with the necessary reforms.
The entire Bahamas have heard us condemn the Government for the way they allowed the extraordinarily successful Urban Renewal Programme to be so radically – and negatively – altered.
When they came to office, the Government said they would introduce Neighbourhood Policing and that this was to be the model used in the Community Policing by the Police Force. We had our misgivings, but we said ‘let’s give it a chance’. We now ask, where is the Neighbourhood Policing Programme? What is it doing? Police Officers seem still to be waiting for the Minister to present them with the plan.
As crime and the fear of crime is ever-present and ever-increasing; it is incredible that Government can take a major initiative which was working in Farm Road, in Bain and Grants Town, in Englerston, in Saint Cecilia, in Pinewood, in Nassau Village, in Kemp Road and in Fox Hill and just push it aside!
People in the Urban Renewal areas were being comforted by the knowledge that their streets were being patrolled, that they were safer.
To this day, there is deep regret over the loss of the Urban Renewal programme in St. Cecilia dealing with unruly young persons in the schools. This was a collaborative effort between Urban Renewal in St. Cecilia and St. Barnabas Anglican Church. They were engaged in the process of rehabilitating young men. After the programme was stopped, we are advised that some of the young men returned to their old ways and some have since been killed.
Every Police Officer, every Church Leader who was involved in the Urban Renewal Programme would today speak to the amazing success of the programme. This has proven to be an abominable failure by the Government.
School Policing and the National Youth Service were implemented because research and living experience demonstrated that there was a compelling need to put in place institutional protections and guidance for young persons. The experience of the community, families and schools revealed a need for a pro-active and sustained effort.
This Government was dismissive of the School Policing Programme. It was unfortunate, because it appeared as if they were being guided by textbooks and theoretical precepts instead of the practical reality of a new culture on the streets, which manifests itself in the schools in sometimes violent and fatal behaviour.
National Youth Service
I have met and listened to the experiences of parents of children who have completed the programme of youth training at the North Andros Camp. They regarded the admission of their child as the one opportunity they had to save his life.
It was a wonderful experience to observe their pride upon completion of the course.
The YEAST Organisation and the Catholic Church deserve high commendation for their dedicated leadership in this area.
Intervention into the lives of young Bahamians who are at risk is vital to the orderly development of The Bahamas.
It is interesting to note the Minister’s statement that the current programme is a restorative programme only and that it designed “for boys who have already become menaces to society, but is not designed to reach those who we need to reach most, the young men and women in our society who can be helped before they get into trouble so that they can lead productive lives and not become menaces to society.”
The first point I would like to make is that there was every intention to broaden our Youth Service Programme to include young women, but anyone who knows the streets
Secondly, given the resources of our country, this programme was targeted toward boys and young men at risk. Children whose parents asked for help and who desperately needed help in assisting their children to grow into productive citizens.
This is not an issue that we should ignore on the basis of cost.
Expert evaluations of the Youth Service Programme stated in their report that the programme can be improved, but that it is working and continues to be necessary for the long-term stability and growth of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas as a nation. They certified that the programme is in fact having a positive, life-changing impact on its attendees. They concluded this programme demonstrates the merit to be funded long-term and used as a model for expanding this type of service across the nation of The Bahamas.
It is my understanding that the Youth Service Programme will be returned to New Providence. I can only hope that the Government has carefully weighed the benefit of the attendees being out of their normal environment, together with the significant injection of funds into the local economy of North Andros against the savings effected by relocating the programme to New Providence.
These are all important strategies in the process of giving our youth-at-risk a redemptive opportunity for a new life for themselves and their families.
It is said that the quality of life of a society can be gauged by the degree of compassion which it demonstrates to the weak and vulnerable in its midst. That underlay our approach.
These strategies are all an important component in the fight to manage crime and its impacts.
Early in this administration, an extraordinary parliamentary condemnation was made of my Administration and myself under the characterisation of “wutless” because it was felt that we should have had a more effective system of criminal justice. The FNM Government said they would do better.
Legislation was even passed by the Government, which they said would improve the level of efficiency and effectiveness of the process. But today we are worse off.
Today, we are worse off. The backlog of cases continues to increase. Criminal trials are not taking place in a timely manner, leading to more alarm and fear when persons accused of serious crimes are allowed bail.
My Government understood the enormity of the challenge and was working toward a solution.
The FNM Government now knee-deep in the problem must move the process forward. I note the Prime Minister’s commitment to four criminal courts working simultaneously. If that happens, it will represent some progress, but as I have said, after two years of the FNM government; if we were “wutless” then, what does it make you?
The Minister of Health is an accomplished son of the soil. He has served in many different capacities and unquestionably knows the health system and the people who serve in it.
That is also true of the Member of Parliament for Bain and Grants Town – an illustrious career of exemplary service to the Ministry of Health and the people of The Bahamas.
My mother was a nurse, serving for over 50 years. I therefore confess to having spent a lot of my time around nurses and doctors. I had the privilege to serve as the Minister of Health from 1977 to 1982 and had the added appreciation of the work that health professionals perform on our behalf.
As unavoidable as the grave; if you live in this country, one day you will be served by the doctors and nurses. Unlike perhaps many of you in this House; I have been there; done that.
As I said earlier, I am very surprised at the way in which the industrial action by the nurses has been handled by the Government. It is astounding that the Ministers of Health and the Minister of Labour have allowed so much time to pass without addressing the outstanding issues directly with the Nurses Union.
And even if it is a government decision not to speak with the Nurses, I would have expected the Minister of Health with his personal and professional connection to persuade his colleagues to allow him to sit and solve the problems.
The Member for Bain & Grants Town has described as irresponsible the apparent decision of the government not to intervene. I totally agree with him.
Whatever the level of disappointment or vexation as a result of the Nurses’ Union action, the Government of The Bahamas has at all times the sovereign responsibility and obligation to bring order to all issues impacting the nation.
This is obviously extremely important when it comes to industrial action by health providers. The union once took action when we were in government and I did not hesitate for one moment in getting my ministers to intervene and address all outstanding issues.
It so happens that one of the issues is health insurance. This is an issue that will not go away for the simple reason that some people who have no insurance will die if affected by certain illnesses because of not being able to afford the cost of care.
There is nothing more stark and real than the inequalities in health care that all of us are part of maintaining in our country.
Cabinet Ministers have full insurance coverage. Members of Parliament have the same and the nurses were promised their own health insurance. This is a tough challenge for nurses and for the country.
The Member for Bain and Grants Town told us that nurses are in one of the highest risk professions in the world. They are potentially exposed to every kind of communicable disease and are without coverage. He said that many suffer because of the inability to pay for their health care, even when the illness may be a consequence of their employment.
The Minister spoke passionately about the plight of Nursing Director Matron Hilda Bowen and how, in 2004, he saw her in the hospital in a bed and in clothing that were inadequate. I was surprised when he disclosed that information.
But I do agree with him, when he said no one who served their country so loyally ought to end up in that position. And I believe him when he said that he ensured that special rooms would be available to cover situations like that of Mrs. Bowen.
With the greatest of respect to the Minister, I have also seen people in the same position in the Princess Margaret Hospital who were great contributors to our country.
I recall telephoning my Minister of Health to fix similar situations. But health care and health insurance are not personal. We supported National Health Insurance because it would introduce equality and forever remove the need for personalised intervention and assistance from the person sitting as the Minister of Health. Why should the nurses, therefore, have to rely on the goodwill of the Minister of Health to do for them what he said he did for Mrs. Bowen?
There are options available to the Government. For the sake of this country, they must act.
I am sure that consideration could be given to the Government declaring that in the interim period, it would insure the nurses; similar to the government buildings. That is in the event of medical services at the agreed quality becoming necessary the government would provide whatever the insurance company would have covered.
I presume nurses in all of the circumstances can consider such a proposition, once agreement has been reached on the quality of rooms, medical and nursing services.
As the Government prepares for its National Drug Prescription Plan in the absence of a comprehensive programme of national health insurance, we should expect a significant increase in drugs prescribed with no policy in place to deal with those between 18 and 65 years of age and those persons who because they are unable to have assistance in securing medical advice and services, will just get sick and hope to qualify for the programme.
Minister of Works
I must agree with the Member for West End, who questioned the contract for the seeding of the Marsh Harbour International Airport project. The Member asserted that the person awarded the contract for an amount in excess of $300,000 was not licenced nor equipped as a company to bid or qualify for such a contract.
Much to my surprise, the Minister tabled a letter in this Honourable House confirming the allegations of the Member for West End.
This letter was obviously drafted in response to the allegations and in an effort to stop the speculation as to what was really intended.
In this regard, the admission in the letter that the company was not a going concern; that is, the company had no employees and had no current licences, raises suspicions, which are regrettable.
It is indeed surprising that this contract could have been agreed with a non-functioning company and on an island, Abaco, where right in the precincts of an airport is an acknowledged, expert landscaping company who I daresay was not invited to bid.
Before I begin the portion of my intervention dealing with the Ministry of Sports, let me signal my appreciation at the announcement that my name is to be included among other outstanding and deserving awardees in the national hall of fame.
During this debate, the Minister with responsibility for Sports spoke of the construction of a new track and field stadium. I trust that one day he and his colleagues will attribute to me and my government some credit.
In considering the acceptance of a gift from the Chinese Government, I recommended to my colleagues that we request a state-of-the-art National Stadium. I had the privilege on behalf of The Bahamas of settling this gift during a State Visit to the People’s Republic of China with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
Sports was a top priority of my Administration. As all of you would appreciate, as a former athlete who represented my country abroad, who had a former national coach as Minister of Sports; in fact, I believe he coached the current Minister of Sports, we were all proud to have been able to secure a first class gift for The Bahamas.
Also instrumental in that effort were Ambassador Tommy Robinson, architect Michael Foster, former Director of Sports Winston ‘Gus’ Cooper and others. I trust that my insistence on a proper covering along the straights of the stadium is intact.
As I noted from the recent opening of the Clifton Heritage Park, credit is given only in the movies, but I sincerely hope that I am at least invited when the stadium is open.
In reference to what the Minister said today, I would congratulate him for starting the work without the Master Plan – because as I have said before, the planning had already been done – and after the Beijing Olympics, certainly no one will question the technical capacity of the Chinese.
We put three million dollars in the Budget for the commencement works prior to the construction of the track and field stadium. We awarded contracts for ground preparation to three companies and a contract for a generator. Timing was important. I did not wish to have undue interruption of the softball and baseball players and fans. In a perfect world, my Government should be applauded, but as I said… only in the movies.
Summer Youth Employment
Minister, you should know that in 2001, your colleagues had fifty thousand dollars allocated for the Summer Programme. But by the year 2006, my Government allocated 1.9 million dollars for summer employment. It was a massive programme, which utilised $1.2 million of the funds allocated.
I would wish to briefly comment on the Member for Carmichael’s intervention in respect of the contribution made by the Member for Cat Island.
The Member made reference to the Budget Communication of May 2003, one year after I became the Minister of Finance. It was a time when the record would reflect that we were struggling to overcome the economic fallout of the 9/11 catastrophe in New York. An examination of the records would indicate that we had to use all of our efforts to secure new sources of revenue. I did announce to the knowledge of the Member for Cat Island and all of my colleagues on this side of the House that my Government had agreed to introduce a flight information region (FIR), and which I was advised could result in revenue in an amount between forty and fifty million dollars.
If the Member was genuinely in search of the truth, he would have read my subsequent Budget Communication 04 – 05. He would have noted the explanation as to why we did not proceed with the implementation of FIR. Simply put, even though the US authorities who presently manage our airspace had no objection in principle to the proposal, they were concerned with the implication for their homeland security. This, as Members would appreciate, is a major priority for the US government and we were sympathetic to that reality. We then agreed that instead of implementing our FIR, the US would continue to manage our airspace on security grounds, with the appropriate fees collected by the US being provided to the Bahamian authorities.
The other vexing issue was that The Bahamas would have to be responsible for search and rescue missions over the area of our country. The complexity of these issues led to our employing a former member of the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to advise the Government on the appropriate course of action.
I will conclude by saying the Member for Cat Island is correct in recommending to the Government that it seeks to source revenue from this area, if they have not already done so, Hogan and Hartson, the Government’s lawyers in Washington can provide a full briefing to the Government.
Container Port / Arawak Cay
I have spoken on the issue of improving the City of Nassau and the removal from Bay Street of the Container facilities on many occasions in this House.
I thought it important to ensure that the truth as I understand it is heard on these issues.
My Government with special attention from myself did a lot of work on providing for radical improvement to the City of Nassau.
My written and published positions on the various elements of a plan we commissioned was all intended to make the City of Nassau the best in the region.
The Minister for the Environment in his contribution ventured the opinion that the PLP Government influenced the environmental consultants in their selection of the site for the southwest port.
That is absolutely untrue.
The selection was that of the consultants, with participation from persons who were a part of the private sector group. What surprises me about the Ministers view is that he has access to a major body of environmental assessments, which provide the details behind the consultants’ recommendation.
I should also add in respect of the Minister’s spoken reluctance to ‘cut the land’ that the consultants found that serious degradation had already taken place, by virtue of the industrial work done for BEC and other industrial facilities at Clifton.
The Minister stated that the proposed southwest port had significant public sector participation that is rarely acknowledged. He said it was a government-directed initiative and it depended on government to make it function and to make it work. The ownership, the structure and the operations.
I am, frankly, very disturbed by the Minister’s expressed view. Again; he is dead wrong. He is trying too hard to justify a bad decision to locate the Port at Arawak Cay. A decision that serves only special interests.
We were committed as a government to inducing the owners of the port facilities on Bay Street to close their facilities and move to a new port. It could only happen if they were going to be lead participants.
We had established a genuine public / private sector partnership. We intended for Bahamians to be the lead shareholders. All my Government was asking was for an allotment of shares to offer the Bahamian public.
As far as the “offer” from a private company to develop the Arawak Cay site, I am also aware that private companies were interested developing or participating in the southwest port.
It is obvious to me that the Minister and his colleagues have arrived at a formula which is pleasing to a group who have decided regardless of the environmental implications, the aesthetics of the operation, the nuisance of it, that Arawak Cay is where they want the facility and that it where it will go. The record should reflect that no effort has been made by the Government or the developers to provide justification for this decision. We continue to regard the decision as a bad one. It is inconsistent with the all of the specialised advice that we have received.
But, the Government is the Government. The investors will obviously know our position. It is important that they all do, Bahamians included. This has happened before. Both the FNM and the PLP took strong positions. In our case, we were able to rescue Clifton and preserve it for future generations of Bahamians.
Many people ask one question of a National Budget. “Does it allow for me the opportunity to earn enough to live and to prosper?”
The answer to that question in this Budget for the majority of Bahamians is no.
This Budget is a failure in that respect and the Bahamian people deserve better.
I say to them as we have said before: hold on! Hold on and don’t give up hope – for help is on the way. The Bahamas has experienced hope and help before. That hope and help will yet come again.
Throughout this intervention, I have shown how the Government’s Budget for the fiscal year 2009 – 2010 is a communication with no plan, no hope and no inspiration.
We must do more than simply wait for the American economy to rebound.
The Government must do more than to provide ‘updates’, incessantly describing to the Bahamian public the latest chapter of the global doom and gloom.
No, Mr. Speaker, there must be bold action taken to protect the Bahamian people amidst this economic crisis and to grow; yes to grow our national economy.
The success of our country is directly related to the extent to which our people believe that they can be major contributors, not just to their personal development, but also to the development of the country. We recall our forefathers symbolising the urgency of the moment by exhorting our people to build this country with their own hands. It was Anglo-Irish poet W.B. Yeats who once said:
“I doubt if any nation can become prosperous unless it has national faith; and one very important part of national faith is faith in its resources, both in the richness of its soil and the richness of its intellect.”
It is for the Government of The Bahamas to recognise this reality and to move with a sense of urgency to take full advantage of all the rich human resources of our country.