THE RT. HON. PERRY G. CHRISTIE
PRIME MINISTER OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS
AT DIPLOMATIC WEEK OFFICIAL OPENING CEREMONY
MELIA NASSAU BEACH RESORT
NASSAU, THE BAHAMAS
October 17, 2016
Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to extend to you all a warm welcome to The Bahamas for the third Bahamas Diplomatic Week, under the theme, ‘Strengthening Relationships for a More Secure and Prosperous Bahamas.’
I extend warm congratulations to those Ambassadors who will present their Letters of Credence to the Governor-General during Diplomatic Week this year. I wish you an enjoyable and rewarding tour of duty, as you, on behalf of your country, seek to deepen relations between your countries (Austria, Finland and Indonesia) and the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
The most recently appointed Bahamian Ambassador is His Excellency Tony S. Joudi, Non-Resident Ambassador of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to the State of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Additionally, with his appointment as Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Ambassador Joudi was also designated by the Government of The Bahamas as Commissioner General of The Bahamas’ Pavilion for Expo 2020, which will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Having an impeccable resume and exceptional knowledge of this part of the world, I am confident that Ambassador Joudi will represent The Bahamas in a most effective way.
I am pleased to learn that there are numerous Non-Resident Ambassadors from Asia, Africa, Europe and North and South America, with us this week, joining in this event. Your participation is a demonstration of the bonds of friendship and cooperation, which you share with The Bahamas.
Since we last met, The Bahamas has formally forged diplomatic relations through the signing of Joint Communiqués with Mongolia, Thailand and Turkmenistan. Having already enjoyed cordial relations both bilaterally and in the context of multilateral fora with these countries, establishing diplomatic ties serves to strengthen and improve our level of engagement.
Permit me at this time to reiterate sincere condolences on behalf of ‘Strengthening Relationships for a More Secure and Prosperous Bahamas’ the Government and People of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to the Government and the People of the Kingdom of Thailand on the passing of their King. His Majesty served his country for over 70 years, and he has left an enduring legacy.
Finally, I welcome our own Heads of Mission and Honorary Consuls, to whom I express much gratitude for the dedicated service they have rendered, and continue to render, to The Bahamas in the international arena.
Diplomatic Week 2016 comes on the heels of a devastating category four hurricane that passed through The Bahamas. No doubt, you all are aware that Hurricane Matthew impacted the entire Bahamian archipelago with catastrophic results particularly on the islands of Andros, Grand Bahama and New Providence. It has been estimated that the overall cost of the damage could range as high as $400,000,000. The toll on homes, property and infrastructure has been high, but not one life has been lost as a result of this very powerful climatic event. For that we are extremely grateful.
What has made this experience even more poignant is that it was just last year around this same time that the southeastern islands of the Bahamas were ravaged by Hurricane Joaquin and they have yet still to fully recover.
The process of recovery, restoration and rebuilding is underway, and it will take time. I know, however, that my country will persevere due to the resiliency and strong faith of the Bahamian people. I am deeply heartened also by the generous assistance and donations from our friends around the world – national governments, international organizations and individuals – who wasted no time in providing rapid support to, and continue to support, The Bahamas in the aftermath of the hurricane. Just last week, after visiting Haiti, which also experienced severe damage and loss of life from Hurricane Matthew, the Prime Minister of Dominica, the Honourable Roosevelt Skerritt, who is also Chair of the CARICOM Heads of Government, visited The Bahamas along with Mr. Irwin Laroque, Secretary General of CARICOM, to see firsthand the destruction. On behalf of the Bahamian people, I thank each and every one of you for all of the help that has been provided. I wish also to extend sincere condolences on behalf of the Government and people of The Bahamas to our sister CARICOM country Haiti, for the loss of life and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew.
Hurricane Matthew has passed through not only Haiti and The Bahamas, but also other parts of the Caribbean and the United States, leaving a path of damage and destruction in varying degrees. This is not the first hurricane to visit our shores, and it will not be the last. Until we address with utmost seriousness and sincerity what is going on with our climate the increasing severity of these storms will have a devastating effect on island states. The fact is that we can no longer question whether climate change is valid our not. Weather events – hurricanes, droughts, floods, storms and other environmental threats – are increasing in frequency and intensity, and they have become the “new normal”. These events take a massive human toll and roll back years of development.
This ‘new normal’ should not devolve into “business as usual”. We have to put emphasis on actions to reduce and adapt to the impacts of climate change, and also to prepare for, and respond to, these climate-linked threats. The existential threat posed by climate change illustrates with crystal clarity the need for us all to work together. We have no time to waste. This we must do for human dignity, safety and well-being, as well as for economic and social development. It is for this reason The Bahamas was amongst the first group of countries to sign and ratify the Paris Accord on Climate Change.
For small countries like The Bahamas the road to sustainable development is a challenge and we must partner with others for security and prosperity. It is in this context I refer to the unfair use of per capita GDP as a measure of economic growth, capacity and prosperity. The per capita GDP of The Bahamas ranks amongst the highest in the world, and the use of this determinant prohibits The Bahamas and similar small countries from accessing much needed development assistance or concessional loans. It is an extremely misleading measurement that does not show the risks that we face as small nations, nor does it show our vulnerability both to economic and environmental shocks. We have advocated and will continue to press for a change in the use of this measurement and to develop one that takes into account that “small island developing States remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their small size, remoteness, narrow resource and export base, and exposure to global environmental challenges”.
I want at this point to single out the particular case for The Bahamas. One of the more pointed observations made by the CARICOM Secretary General when he visited last week that the images of destruction and the news of the devastation of our country is not widely known or seen. In this, we are the victims of our own success, where many people see us as rich country able to back bounce largely on its own.
Our neighbours in Florida have been most generous with their support, because they know the country and the struggles that we face in bouncing back. Those farther afield do not know. I want to take time out to thank those businesses and private citizens in Florida who have started sending assistance from as soon as the storm abated. There are many other generous citizens from across the globe.
However, we know that it cannot be done by private assistance by itself. We have in the short term to raise 150 million dollars by way of a special bond, an extra budgetary borrowing to be able to assist in helping the country to get back on our feet. Our second city Freeport, for example, is crippled economically with the power plant down and its main tourism engines badly damaged. Hundreds of homes have been damaged by floods, people have lost all their possessions from tidal surges and have no personal savings. In this instance only the Government has the resources to pay for this.
We have had to bring in 200 people from outside The Bahamas through the Caribbean Distracter Management Agency (CDEMA) and the Caribbean Electricity Agency (CARILEC) and from Power Secure in the USA to augment the work that can be done by local people. This also costs money.
We have some capacity to borrow but the costs of the borrowing is exorbitant when we have to go to the normal markets. The Bahamas cannot access the concessional financing because of this measure of GDP per capita. It would help enormously if that criteria were waived for this purpose. I make such an appeal here today.
In keeping with this year’s theme, for a country to be secure and prosperous, its borders must be controlled and protected. The Bahamas being an archipelago is no stranger to the vexing problem posed by irregular migration. In September of this year, I addressed the United Nations Summit on Refugees and Migrants. I informed the Summit that the phenomenon of large movements of refugees and migrants has reached an unprecedented level of complexity and challenge, in some cases presenting risks of crime and illegal activity in receiving countries. I therefore called upon the United Nations and regional bodies to put in place a mechanism to address comprehensively irregular migration and its impact particularly on small island states such as The Bahamas. I reiterate that call to this august gathering here today, and I urge that we work together to find viable solutions.
Being a small island developing state with many borders, the trafficking of small arms, narcotics and illegal migrants remains a concern for the Government of The Bahamas and its citizens. Two years ago The Bahamas at the 69th United Nations General Assembly, The Bahamas deposited its Instrument of Ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty in response to the threat of weapons trafficking. The Bahamas Government will continue to support all international efforts to suppress criminal activity and enhance national security.
The Foreign Service of The Bahamas is an integral component of the engine of growth and development of The Bahamas and it is vitally important in strengthening our relationships with fellow countries. The Bahamas is committed to carry out the UN’s ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ and I have placed great priority to continue on the path of modernization of The Bahamas Foreign Service, to have in place a cadre of staff that is specialized and equipped with superior skills. The process of modernizing the Foreign Service, under the leadership of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, the Hon. Fred Mitchell, commenced two years ago and it is expected that the final stages will be concluded by the end of this year, with the implementation of a Career Path for Foreign Service Officers and the creation of a Foreign Service Institute. We count on your continued support in helping us in this journey.
I am proud to say that The Bahamas Foreign Service continues to perform at a high level in the field of international diplomacy. Most recently, Mrs. Marion Bethel a fellow Bahamian and attorney-at-law was elected to serve on the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This achievement places Mrs. Bethel in a prominent position to make a difference in the lives of women all around the world. Her election was greatly aided by the unwavering support from the CARICOM countries and for that The Bahamas is grateful. We hope, with your support, to continue to make our mark in the global arena, in our bid for seats on the IMO Council, Category C, for the term 2018 – 2019 and the Human Rights Council for the term 2019 – 2021. Both of these candidatures have already been endorsed by CARICOM and with your support we will succeed.
Tourism is The Bahamas’ principle industry. Being an archipelago of 700 islands and cays that features some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and seas my country has been fortunate enough to receive millions of visitors from divers countries. Strengthening our ties in this area would undoubtedly enhance The Bahamas’ tourism product and foster Bahamian tourism abroad. With the recent and historic establishment of diplomatic ties with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, The Bahamas looks forward to welcoming an increase in the number of visitors from the Gulf region.
In concluding, I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the appreciation of The Bahamas to you and to the Governments and Organizations that you represent, for your interest and efforts in The Bahamas and for your participation in this annual event. We can all make this world a better place through the strengthening of present relations and the fostering of new ones. My country values your friendship and the contributions you have made towards its development.