THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (18 – 22 APRIL 2016)
COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY
PRIME MINISTER CHRISTIE DELIVERS BAHAMAS STATEMENT ON CLIMATE CHANGE AT THE UNITED NATIONS
“In recent years, The Bahamas has initiated several policies and programmes toward climate change adaptation and mitigation, which are largely in the early stages of implementation, due to capacity and other constraints. We are now working toward building a comprehensive Climate Change strategy for the country – a strategy that will set out a vision for adaptation, and reducing emissions, all while creating opportunities for sustainable development.”
These were the words of Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie as he addressed UN delegates at the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement in New York on Friday. The Bahamas became one of the first countries to sign on to the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A record 160 countries are expected to sign onto this agreement.
These policies and programs are subject to government exigencies said Mr. Christie and will be incorporated into the broader National Development Plan under the environment pillar. The goal set by UN member states is a 30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The Prime Minister mentioned “capacity and other constraints” in implementing these necessary programs and again called for the need for Small Island Nation States (SIDS) like The Bahamas to be able to access international funding for such environmental projects at concessionary rates.
“The Government has also begun the process of engaging in a variety of partnerships at the local, national, regional and international levels, in order to help us to move forward with these plans. Access to climate finance, in particular, will be crucial to the success of these endeavours.
“To accomplish all of this, developed countries should live up their pledges of financial assistance on concessionary terms” said Mr. Christie.
Accompanying the Prime Minister to New York are Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell and Minister for the Environment and Housing, the Hon. Kenred Dorsett.
COURT RULING “PROHIBITED” MPs WHILE MPs VOW “TO SPEAK FREELY”
A constitutional review on that ancient right of Parliamentary privilege could be brewing as the war of words between two government parliamentarians and Save the Bays continued this week.
According to local media reports, on Thursday Bahamas Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles granted Save the Bays an interlocutory injunction against Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell, Education Minister the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald and Attorney General Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson effectively restraining them from further “appropriation, perusal, use, publication or disclosure in Parliament or elsewhere” of email contents purported to be the private property of members of the environmental lobby group, Save the Bays.
The injunction remains in effect until the 12th May 2016.
Parliamentarians Mitchell and Fitzgerald shot back with the following press release that is printed below in its entirety. In it the parliamentarians charged a breach of parliamentary privilege.
“We have read in the press a report about an injunction to restrain the freedom of speech of Parliamentarians. We want to assure our constituents that we will not be deterred. We will continue to speak freely on their behalf. Nothing Fred Smith QC can do will stop us.
“This is a breach of our privileges as Parliamentarians. The matter calls for parliament to resist any encroachment on its rights.
“Save the Bays should stand by for more to come.”
The Parliamentarians have contended that some members of the Save the Bays organization were engaged in baneful political activities which are well beyond their published remit of environmental protection. Fitzgerald claimed from his feet in the House that Save the Bays and the opposition FNM are in bed together and are concerned together with activities that could have the consequences of destabilizing the duly elected Bahamas government. They claim that the email correspondences prove this and the public has a right to know of these activities.
This saga all began when Save the Bays filed affidavits in the Supreme Court in early March that they claim provided proof of a murder for hire plot by two criminals named Bobo and Toggie. The matter made its way onto the agenda of the House the 9th March when opposition leader Dr. Hubert Minnis called for a police investigation into this matter and called for full and frank disclosure of the connection of senior government officials to this matter; their names were called in the affidavit.
Later, the former chairman of the FNM and Senator Michael Pintard resigned when an audio file surfaced on social media with Pintard and the criminals discussing the affidavit and the exchange of money. Later, Dr. Minnis admitted to meeting one of the criminals on three occasions at his home where he accepted a gift of fish from him.
The House meets on Monday, 25th April 2016 where all and sundry will find the extent to which Mitchell and Fitzgerald are committed to protecting and jealously guarding these ancient and hard fought parliamentary privileges ostensibly against and in the face of the use of unfettered wealth.
THE VIGOROUS DEBATE ON EQUALITY RAGES ON
Exactly one week after the launch of the YES BAHAMAS campaign calling for four constitutional amendments on equality by referendum, a small group of pastors calling themselves the SAVE OUR BAHAMAS committee have voiced their opposition to the fourth bill, claiming that its passage opens the door to same-sex marriage in The Bahamas.
“The reason why we’re focused on bill number four is that we feel it would open the door to same-sex marriage” said Pastor Mario Moxey, spokesman for the committee.
The YES CAMPAIGN responded in a statement, pointing out that notwithstanding how the pastor feels, the facts do not support him. The campaign also noted that a rejection of bill #4 “is tantamount to a rejection of equal rights for our sons and daughters.”
The YES CAMPAIGN explained bill #4 this way:
“The Constitution of The Bahamas prohibits racial and religious discrimination in Article 26. The proposed amendment (#4) would ensure that the same Article also prohibits discrimination against men or women. That would simply mean that men and women cannot be treated less favourably than the other under any law or act by public officials and that Parliament would be prevented from passing new laws that would discriminate against men or women.
“Bahamian men and women have the same responsibilities as citizens; they should have the same rights as well” opined the YES CAMPAIGN.
Those opposed to bill #4 claim that the word “sex”, which is to be inserted into Article 26 of the constitution, could also be interpreted to mean “sexual orientation.” Not so said the YES CAMPAIGN.
“The lawyers who drafted Amendment Four went out of their way to guide future courts, by defining “sex” as “male or female”, so that no judge could interpret “sex” as “sexual orientation” said the statement.
The YES CAMPAIGN went on to explain the Matrimonial Causes Act and how this law is saved by Article 30 of the constitution as a pre-existing and exempt law.
“Bahamian law specifies that marriage must be between a man and a woman (Matrimonial Causes Act, Section 21[c]), and amendment four will not change this. This law (MCA) is specifically exempted by Article 26(4) of the Constitution from being in conflict with the non-discrimination provision of Article 26, and is also saved by article 30 as a pre-existing law from being incompatible with any constitutional rights. Thus, the Constitution already recognizes that marriage can only be the union of one man and one woman.”
PLP RATIFIES GRIFFIN AND SEARS
At its monthly meeting on Thursday of this week, the National General Council of the PLP ratified Minister Melanie Griffin and Alfred Sears as their candidates in the Yamacraw and Fort Charlotte constituencies respectively in the upcoming 2017 general elections.
The Hon. Melanie is the incumbent Yamacraw MP who is also the Minister of Social Services and Community Development. She represented this constituency for three consecutive terms.
Mrs. Griffin is noted for the leadership role she played in the enactment of four major pieces of legislation – the Residential Care Facilities Act 2004, the Child Protection Act, 2007, the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act, 2007 and the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act, 2014. Her latest major project is the Conditional Cash Transfer program via pre-paid debit cards under the R.IS.E. program.
Mr. Alfred Sears served as the MP for Fort Charlotte from 2002 to 2012 while he served as Minister of Education and Attorney General. He returned to private life in 2012. Mr. Sears is the current chair of the governing council of the College of The Bahamas.
Mr. Sears is noted for his work as Attorney General in having The Bahamas removed from the Monitoring List of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in October 2006. He also served as the chair of the Caribbean arm of the FATF from 2003 to 2004. As Education Minister, Sears led an aggressive infrastructural upgrade of the public school system totaling some $70 million. This involved a doubling of the number of preschool units attached to primary schools in New Providence and the addition of about 30 units to Family Island primary schools. He also tended to the construction of 426 class rooms nationwide.
WITNESSES TESTIFY IN THE BEC BRIBE TRIAL
American Mark Smith of Littleton Colorado testified under oath in the Bahamas Supreme Court on Tuesday that he gave as much as six hundred thousand dollars to the accused, former Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) board member Fred Ramsay via his Import-Export business, Caribbean Supplies Bahamas Limited. In return, Ramsay was required to use his influence and position on the BEC board to channel insider information to French energy giant Alstrom Power Espana S.A. (formerly ABB Generacion), essentially giving Alstrom an unfair advantage in a highly competitive global bidding war. The funds were deposited in $200,000 installments.
The accused, Bahamian Fred Ramsay, is on trial for allegedly using his influence and position as a board director and deputy chair of the board’s contracts review committee to ensure that Alstrom secured a multimillion contract to provide DA-11 and DA-12 power generation under phases 2 and 3 of the BEC’s New Providence power generation expansion project.
In December 2014, Alstrom was found guilty in a United States court of conspiracy to bribe officials in many countries to secure power generation projects. Alstrom was ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties. This conviction came after an exhaustive investigative process by the US Department of Justice over several years. In court documents, at least one member of the board of BEC was identified as being a part of this global bribery conspiracy.
Mr. Ramsay has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery. Presiding over the trial is Justice Bernard Turner.
DPM DAVIS ADDRESSES CHAMBER CONCLAVE ON CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT
Participating in a conclave sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the Employers’ Confederation (CCEC) at the Hilton Hotel on Wednesday of this week was Bahamas Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis. In his address Mr. Davis outlined for the business community the government’s strategic plans for future capital development throughout The Bahamas.
Conceding that the country’s demand for public infrastructure far outstrips the government’s budgetary allocations, the DPM pointed out that once the infrastructure is in place, the government “must also ensure that public buildings are maintained with robust preventative maintenance systems to prevent the rapid deterioration of public assets.” He used the current example of the post office building to underscore his point, indicating that the Attorney General’s Office and Social Services have been successfully relocated from that building and that the government is actively seeking alternative homes for the balance of government employees who remain there.
Turning his attention to Family Island development, Davis pointed to the developmental master plan for family island airports that will cost the government in excess of $160 million to execute.
“Master plans have been commissioned for the busiest airports in the Family Islands, namely Exuma, North Eleuthera, San Salvador and Governor’s Harbour” said Davis. Master plans have also been commissioned for Deadman’s Cay, Long Island, North Andros airport and airports in Crooked Island and Acklins according to Davis.
He revealed that cabinet has approved $11.5 million for the new terminal and runway rehabilitation to complement the current PGA development on Cat Island.
The Bahamas has 61 airports and Mr. Davis feels that the cost to operate them must be rationalized in a comprehensive manner to match current economic activities and to encourage and promote future economic growth.
CIVIL AVIATION ISSUES WARNING OVER ILLEGAL DRONES
Apparently people are ignoring the law and published regulations on the use of DRONES issued by the Department of Civil Aviation earlier this year.
On Friday of this week, the department reissued Special Regulations No 1 of 2016 in its entirety. The Civil Aviation Department warned that operating Unmanned Aerial aircraft (DRONES) in areas such as Love Beach is dangerous because this area “is in the flight path of aircraft coming in for landing at the Lynden Pindling International Airport” according to the department’s statement.
“This is a very dangerous act, and persons engaging in this practice are advised that instances have been reported in other countries of drones coming into contact with commercial aircraft” explained the department in its public appeal.
Listed below are the rules governing the operation of drones. This is republished for emphasis and for public information and conformance:
(1) The person in charge of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly the aircraft in any of the circumstance described in paragraph (2), except in accordance with a permission issued by The Bahamas Department of Civil Aviation.
(2) The circumstance referred to in paragraph (1) are-
(a) Within 5 nautical miles of any airport;
(b) At a height above 200 ft;
(c) On or within 150 meters of any congested or populated area;
(d) Over or within 150 meters of an organized open-air assembly of more than 100 persons
(e) Within 50 meters of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aerial vehicle, without special permission of the owner;
(f) Within 50 meter of any person;
(g) Subject to (c) and (d), during takeoff or landing, a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not be flown within 30 meters of any person;
(h) Paragraphs (d) and (f) do not apply to the person in charge of the small unmanned surveillance aircraft, or a person under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft;
(i) A small unmanned aircraft means a small unmanned aircraft less than 15kg in weight used for personal recreation and for which any images or data collected (if so equipped) are not for commercial gain.
A number of members of the clergy have come out in support of constitutional amendment bill #4 during the past week. Catholic Archbishop Rev. Patrick Pinder, Anglican Archbishop Rev. Laish Boyd and Bishop Neil Ellis support all four of the bills. Bishop Ellis said that he had reservations about bill #4 until consultations with the commission clarified the issue for him. Bishop Pinder warned that if Bahamians want to teach the government a lesson, the referendum is not the vehicle to do that. In opposition to bill #4 was Bishop Walter Hanchell and Evangelist Rex Major. They have all argued that bill #4 opens the door to same-sex marriage.
Independent MP for Marco City the Hon. Greg Moss told the media this week that some House members have improper motives for supporting bill #4. “Anybody who doesn’t understand that we have people in the House right now who are living a lifestyle they want to justify and validate by the passage of this legislation is just closing his eyes.”
PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts branded those comments as “not only reckless and irresponsible, but patently false.”
Doctors and nurses were joined by labour leaders in a march from Princess Margaret Hospital to Rawson Square on Tuesday to demonstrate their concerns over the latest financial package offer by the Ministry of Health and the Public Hospital Authority (PHA). President of the Bahamas Doctors Union Dr. Charles Arthur Clarke charged that doctors are not receiving adequate overtime or holiday pay and have not received raises, which they feel they are entitled to.
Standard and Poors reported that the leak of the Panama papers by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca will not harm The Bahamas and there will be no grey listing as a result.
The preliminary results of the Grand Bahama Carnival experience are in and according to the Bahamas National Festival Commission chairman Paul Major, the event was a success. He told the media that despite inclement weather, about 30,000 persons attended. The commission spent close to $1.1 million, but collected about $200,000 in revenue, bringing its net expense outlay to around $900,000.
As New Providence prepares for the 2016 Carnival experience from May 5 – 7, the Bahamas National Festival Commission (BNFC) told the media that all disagreements on the Road Fever component of carnival were resolved and released the new route for Road Fever 2016. Road Fever will start in the parking lot of the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium at it did last year. The parade will proceed south to the roundabout then west to Bethel Avenue Highway which will intercept Tonique Williams Highway (TWH) due south. The parade will then travel east on TWH, then north onto Blue Hill Road; turn west onto Poinciana Drive, north on Nassau Street, and west on West Bay Street which is the final stretch into Da Cultural Village.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development the Hon. Philip Davis signed close to $5 million worth of contracts this week for the further infrastructural development of Cat Island. The contracts will cover the reconstruction of a clinic in Orange Creek and a new clinic in Old Bight. Health Minister the Hon. Perry Gomez said that these signings underscore the government’s commitment to ensuring that Bahamians everywhere have access to modern and affordable health care under the National Health Insurance plan. The clinics are expected to be completed by year’s end. A contract was also awarded for the refurbishment of the Smith’s Bay dock and $400,000 were allocated for the Urban Renewal Small Homes Repair Program for the elderly both on Cat Island and San Salvador. These “historic” contract signings took place on Thursday at the Commissioner’s Office in New Bight, Cat Island.
The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal of an earlier Supreme Court decision to grant Eleuthera Properties clear certificate of title to 2,086.24 acres of land in Eleuthera. The three rival claims for the land were filed by Bannerman Town, Millars and John Millars Eleuthera Association; Emily Hall, and by Dora Adrella Boston-Whylly, Bristo Walton Whylly and Thomas Whylly Jr.