Minister Mitchell delivers an account to the People on his Ministries…

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Mid-Year Budget Debate

Hon. Fred Mitchell Minister of Foreign Affairs

Fred Mitchell MP
Minister of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Immigration
House of Assembly
Nassau

16 February 2015

I wish on behalf of the people of Fox Hill to welcome the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance’s statement to the House today on the country’s finances at the mid-year. I congratulate him and the people at the Ministry of Finance who superintend this difficult process.

The people of Fox Hill have been the beneficiary of this careful superintendence, a balance between prudent spending and reasonable savings.

As we speak, 90,000 dollars have been committed by the Government to the construction of a monument in Freedom Park to the four young people killed in Fox Hill on 27 December 2013.

Last year we commissioned a 50,000 dollar gazebo on the park at Eastwood.

Also, last year contributions from the public coffers were allocated for infrastructural developments in neighbourhoods across the constituency including East Park Estates and Freddie Munnings Manor.

During the past year scores of people from Fox Hill were able to join the public service and scores more joined the new Bahamar project.

My key focus has been on relieving unemployment which is hitting young people particularly hard but also hitting those people – the male and female who are middle aged person who has up to now been the main bread winner.

During the past year, the government made significant contributions to the cultural life of Fox Hill through the Fox Hill Festival, Christmas programmes and the social outreach programmes of the church.

Right now out to tender is a Ministry of Education effort to provide a safer exit and entrance to the Sandilands Primary School.

There were over 100,000 dollars spent on the removal of overgrown lots and we need to start again because there is no permanent programme of maintenance.

Recently a number of establishments have started bed and breakfasts businesses in Fox Hill and so this spurs us doubly to want to clean up the environment and ensure that the neighbourhood is safe.

The Fox Hill Clinic is now undergoing substantial improvements and repairs which when done should better serve the Fox Hill community.

Scores of homes have been repaired under the Urban Renewal small homes repair scheme. Many more are scheduled to be done.

All of this was done despite a difficult financial environment. The fact is there is no bottomless pit from which to get money, still the government was able to provide for the country’s needs.

Our citizens in Fox Hill are still adversely impacted by crime but their heads are held high in the face of all that has happened in these provocations; the police under new leadership are working with the various sub-communities to ensure a safer community.

The main aim of all of these policies announced by the government as far the people of Fox Hill are concerned is that of being people focused. It is to be sure that those 90 students who made the honour roll at the L. W. Young Junior High School get a fair chance to make it in our country.

I want therefore to congratulate those students of L.W. Young on their scholastic accomplishments.

I also want to Mr. Speaker congratulate young Stephan Deveaux of the Sandilands Primary School for winning a recent speech competition – the prize for which is a six year scholarship at Westminster College. My congratulations go out to his teachers and to the Principal Esther Cartwright for their hard work in making sure he did it.

When that clinic is done, its services will ensure that the young man who was shot and is now a paraplegic can receive proper care for his conditions. He needs a wheel chair and proper attention to bed sores and pain killers. The work is never done.

And that work for me is always jobs, jobs, jobs!

There are those who wish to portray people who govern this country as living in a bubble. I assure you not. Each day, each of us here in this place on this side work assiduously to figure out what we can do to put people to work. Each day, as the MP for Fox Hill I try to commit to finding one job for one person at least.

These are tough times. Everyone and each of us have to recognize that these are tough times. But when the times get tough, the tough get going. I believe that we in Fox Hill can meet the challenge.

So on behalf of the people of Fox Hill, I urge the government to continue to be people focused. It is my honour to thank the government on behalf of the people of Fox Hill for all that it has done and continues to do.

I wish to turn now to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration which is now made up of a Department of Foreign Affairs and a Department of Immigration.

The law which created the Department of Foreign Affairs came into force on the 23rd December 2014 and later, on the 30th December 2014, the Foreign Service Orders came into Force. The Foreign Service Orders require additional payments to be made to foreign service officers for allowances which are now set at a new level. The department awaits the disbursement of those payments.

Six additional Foreign Service Officers will join the Department soon having been approved in accordance with our budget during the last half of the year.

We have now approved and filled the positions of United States Honorary Consuls in Chicago, in Los Angeles and in Houston. I wish to congratulate and thank Michael Fountain, Cedric Scott and Lynden Rose respectively for agreeing to take on these responsibilities on a volunteer basis. Ultimately, I think within ten years or so, there should be professional Consuls General in those cities.

It is still contemplated Mr. Speaker that there should be offices opened in Jamaica, Brazil and in the Middle East. However, yesterday the Ministry issued a statement in which it denied that any such office has been opened in Abu Dhabi, contrary to an assertion made in an editorial of The Tribune on 12th February. And it even so far as to give an address for the embassy.

I would say that the editorial as usual trotted out the reactionary arguments that myopia is to be embraced and preferred over foresight. However, it remains the government’s view that our country has to engage in new markets and expand our horizons and plan for the future. These are all subject to budgetary constraints and a cost benefit analysis.

On 28th January, 2015 new visa rules came into force and the costs of visas increased. We are seeking similar increases in passport fees to more accurately reflect the cost of producing these goods for the public.

The annual revenue for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is about 13 million dollars when compared to an expenditure of 26 million dollars. The consular fees for certification of documents are now underpriced so there is some potential recovery in costs in the upward adjustment of these fees. Discussions with the exchequer continue on these matters.

As at the 31st of December, the revenue for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was 12.5 million dollars or $12, 447,839.21. The budgeted amount was $12, 288, 851. 57. The difference was a positive of $158,987.64. And please note the payment – most of that included the payment for the lease at AUTEC in Andros which is paid in October at $11,271,000 per year.

Expenditure was as follows:

Personal emoluments and allowances at $5,251,488.00.

The total budgeted for the year was $11,558,920.

At the six month period, we had spent 45.3% of our allocation.

Other charges which include fix charges, grants and special financial transactions amounted to $7, 031,034. The total budgeted for was $14,626,074. He have spent 48.1% of the budgeted allocation.

Overall budgeted was $26,214,994 and to the 31st December $12,282,522 and of that, 46.9% of the overall budgeted amount was spent.

(go to 9:50 – 11:30 on audio)

I wish Mr. Speaker to thank the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Philip Miller for being at the wheel at this challenging time. Mr. Miller will be leaving the Ministry shortly on pre-retirement leave. I speak for all when I say that the groundbreaking work that has been accomplished in these past two and a half years could not have been done without him. We wish him well in his future endeavours.

He and I have been on a long journey together since we both graduated from University a very long time ago. It has been an interesting one from walking through the fields of North Eleuthera with George Dorsett when he as an Agricultural Officer and me as a radio producer with the Bahamas Information Services to where we both are now. It goes without saying that I wish him well.

With regard to the Department of Immigration, there has been significant success in the Department in carrying out its principal role.

I wish to thank the Bahamian public for the support which it has given the Department over the past two years in carrying out its work.

I wish to repeat that we intend to help the people in Abaco in their struggle with the issue of illegal migration. On Friday 20th February, there will be a multi-agency staging meeting in Marsh Harbour, hosted at the Office of the Prime Minister to map out what is to be done to execute the intensive immigration checks that are coming within the next 42 days. This will include all government agencies and heads of civil society and opinion makers.

This operation planned for Abaco will take significant resources and planning if it is to be successful in dealing with this vexing problem. It will require community support and it appears from our meetings at the start of the year on 2nd and 3rd January in Coopers Town, Marsh Harbour, Hope Town and in Sandy Point, that there is significant community support for the immigration effort.

I wish to give the following information:

The following represents statistical data on repatriation and apprehension for the period January 2014 – December 2014

Apprehension: Interdiction: 1794 (by boat )
On Land apprehension 3251 (Haitian)
796 (0ther Nationals)
Total 5841

Repatriation 3814 (Haitian)
814 (other Nationals)
Total 4628

Apprehensions
1November-31 December 2014 895 (Haitian)
136 (other nationals)
Total 1031

Repatriation:
1st November-31st December 2014 357 (Haitian)
172 (other Nationals)

Total 529

Revenue up to the 31st December 2014 – $26,433.559.00

Expenditure is – $8,564,138.00. That is the total to December 31st (2014)

And the one expenditure item that has been exhausted – we had an allocation of $1.5 million for the fiscal year. To the calendar year we spent $1.6 million and I am advised that the budget item for repatriation has in fact been exhausted to this point.

(The minister later gave the exact figure for the calendar year at $1.678,983.00 and rounded the figure off to $1.7 million)

I want to say that the operations on immigration continue on a daily basis and in the end it is only eternal vigilance that will protect us from being swamped.

I again call out these activists who have been making this a highly personal campaign aimed at seeking to sully my reputation and making outrageous claims against the Department of Immigration.

I pledge to have investigated any credible claim of abuse by any officer. No one has a blank cheque for any sort of abuse. However, the accusations of institutional terrorism, ethnic cleansing and Auschwitz in The Bahamas are unfounded and they should be withdrawn by these activists.

The latest attack was one last week where one of the individuals from the Grand Bahamas Human Rights Association claimed that I am targeting children. That is simply disgraceful on his part. He knows full well that the laws of the Bahamas call for all non nationals in this country to have a permit to reside here or a work permit. There is no exception for men, women or children. No pricing has changed. No law has changed. No policy has been changed. We are simply seeking to enforce the law. For that he makes this spurious allegation of targeting children which I say Mr. Speaker is a crime against humanity. These people are loose with their tongues, their brains and their language and they do so it appears without any one in civil society calling them out on it.

The question is this which must be put to them: whose side are you on? The side of Bahamians and our national patrimony are you siding with enemies of the country who would undermine the country’s security and well-being.

It is clear Mr. Speaker from intelligence gathered where people pay anywhere from 1500 dollars to 5000 dollars per head to take these journeys into our country illegally that this is the makings of a sophisticated criminal enterprise. These activist like to portray this as some poor migrants who are simply trying to make a better life but increasingly this is a portrait of a sophisticated smuggling operation which is big business and in the process is threatening to swamp our country. The question then to put to these activist given their hysteria including the well-known Q C who has said that these people should sue The Bahamas government en masse to bankrupt the government; the question is, “are you working with these criminal enterprises to help swamp the country?”

People can accept reasonable and reasoned criticism but when criticism goes completely overboard without a basis in logic then minds begin to wonder whether there are other bases for their criticism. I leave the matter there for the time being.

The law is not confused on this issue. It is clear and people should obey the law and encourage all to obey the law.

I saw a comment this morning Mr. Speaker from representatives of the business community in which for the second time in as many weeks, statements were made from that quarter which suggest that actions of the department of Immigration are responsible for retarding the ability of businesses in this country to get the talent they need to do the jobs at their businesses.

I wish sir that someone would give me an example of that. The rate of refusals of work permits are so that I venture to guess that there is hardly an example – not one – to be found where any business has been unable to get their talent that they need to run the businesses in this country. And if that is the case, then they need to let me know where that happens and where that occurs. So I want to set the record straight on that.

I want to thank the Immigration Officers for their leadership; for their hard work on the job in the face of the harsh criticisms: the Director Mr. William Pratt, the Head of the Enforcement Unit Kirk Neely and all the officers for their hard work particularly in the face of the unwarranted and unfair criticism.

I’d like to thank in addition my political colleagues in this place who have in the face of what must be a difficult environment – supported the policies and the endeavours in this manner and in particular my colleagues who serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Parliamentary Secretary, the member for South Beach and our Ambassador to CARICOM, the member for South Andros for their support.

I also want to say that within the next six months, we hope that we will have ordered new border management control equipment which should amongst others things help to alleviate the long lines at the Lynden Pindling International Airport which is another sore point for many people when they enter the country and for which there are complaints.

I said to the vendors who were talking about this one day in the office; they told me that the Jamaican Minister for Immigration has now become the most popular minister in Jamaica simply because of the advent of electronic entry gates at the airport there so there is hope for me yet.

Thank you very much Mr. Speaker, I support the resolution.

end