Successful BTC Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival was the big success this week!

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THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY (20 – 24 APRIL 2015)

Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival launch a huge success

Deputy Director at BIS Elcott Coleby.

The Christie government was decidedly magnanimous and measured in its response but effusive in its praise and thanks to Bahamians and the event organizers in the wake of the hugely successful Grand Bahama launch of the 2015 and inaugural Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival.

Speaking on behalf of the government was Tourism Minister Hon. Obie Wilchcombe who thanked the Bahamian people for their belief in themselves, their show of national unity and national pride. He characterized the whole event as a leap of faith.

“I join the Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie and colleague ministers in expressing our profound thanks to the Bahamian people for their leap of faith and unshakable belief in themselves and their ability to execute a world class show and perform on a world stage before a global audience.

Bahamians and residents of Grand Bahama and elsewhere came out in great numbers over the weekend in support of the country’s inaugural Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival. The government is especially pleased and thankful that Bahamians enjoyed themselves, proudly displaying their national pride and sense of unity as Bahamians from all walks of life celebrated our unique culture together and this massive event took place without incident.”

“Special thanks” continued Mr. Wilchcombe, “go out to the Bahamas Junkanoo Festival Committee, Carnival’s premier sponsor BTC, all other sponsors, the Grand Bahama-based organizers, especially Ginger Moxey and Jimmy Smith for their leadership; the Royal Bahamas police Force and the many cultural artisans, musicians, songwriters and dancers who contributed to the success of what was arguably the single largest event to take place on the island of Grand Bahama.”

Acknowledging that the Cultural Community had lobbied for this kind of public private sector partnership for quite some time, the Tourism Minister stressed the importance of the inter-industry linkages and sweeping economic impact of this cultural event and pointed out that Bahamians are limited only by their imagination.

“The pervasive and far reaching economic impact of Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival cannot be understated as companies in industries as diverse as tourism, communications, transportation and events promotions to costume design, printers, artisans and even food vendors are all being positively impacted. This festival has the capacity to catapult the culture industry into a year-round industry and is only limited by the imagination and entrepreneurial spirit of Bahamians and for those who dare to dream, dream big and think “outside of the box” for the sky is the limit.”

Prime Minister tours Abaco’s Baker’s Bay

The Baker’s Bay Golf and Ocean Club, located on Great Guana Cay in the Abacos, is the third largest resort development in The Bahamas, behind Cable Beach’s Baha Mar and Paradise Island Atlantis Resort and the largest private employer in Abaco. More than $600 million has been invested in this project since phase one some ten years ago; the resort has created about 800 construction and operational jobs and it is estimated that nearly $1 billion has been pumped into the Bahamian economy as a result of this project. It has proven itself recession proof over the years and is a bona-fide success story.

It is against this backdrop that Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie and his ministerial delegation including DPM Philip Davis and Tourism Minister Hon. Obie Wilchcombe toured the luxury resort on Thursday of this week to see and hear of its impressive success, rapid expansion plans and its significant impact on the local economy. The Prime Minister spoke of Baker’s Bay future expansion plans.

“It will employ over 250 additional Bahamians in construction jobs. It will mount job fairs to attract Bahamian employees from throughout the country. Secondly, it will be permitted a limited number of essential specialized work permit holders who will also be able to sustain multi-disciplinary on-the-job technical skills training and apprenticeship programs designed to equip Bahamian employees and sub-contractors with high levels of proficiency.”

The 34.5 kilowatt power sub-station is being built by the developer to service the energy needs of the resort, the general public resident on Great Guana Cay and will  “augment the power supply to at least two other cays  in the Abacos” said Mr. Christie.

As for the private residential homes component of this mixed use luxury resort, there are about 40 luxury homes completed with 40 more coming on stream shortly. Speaking to this rapid expansion and its impact on the Abaco economy was President and Chairman of Discovery Land Mike Meldman who said “as you can see by the construction, we literally are growing faster than we can. We feel we can go from almost 800 to almost 1,200 to 1,500 employees and the amount of money that means to the local economy is staggering.”

Mr. Meldman also revealed that Baker’s Bay will spend several hundred million dollars over the next year and predicts that within a short period of time the resort will be a billion dollar operation.

CARICOM Chair intervenes to help save West Indies Cricket

Bahamas Prime Minister in his capacity as Chair of CARICOM was in St Georges, Grenada on Monday 20th April to attend a special call meeting at the invitation of host Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, CARICOM’s sub-committee chair on Cricket. Mr. Christie was there to address the decline of the region’s national sport of Cricket and to craft the way forward; it is generally believed that West Indies Cricket is in crisis. He was accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister, Hon. Fred Mitchell who chairs the Community Council.

Joining Prime Minister Christie were Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Gaston Brown, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda.

In updating The Bahamas Parliament upon his return, Mr. Mitchell underscored the cultural significance of Cricket to the region:

“The issue facing the region is that the cultural life of the region and the history of the game are intimately tied up with the region’s reputation, image and sense of self. The West Indies team in its present incarnation continues to underperform and to lose in the international arena. This was a sport which the region dominated in the latter half of the twentieth century. It provides a sense of identity for young people throughout the region and provides a good living for scores of West Indian youngsters around the globe.”

Noted Attorney retires as Legal Aid head

A perennial agitator and advocate for greater and equal access to legal counsel and justice more broadly for the indigent has moved on and left a huge void. He is jurist and thirty-eight year veteran of the Bahamas Bar Council, Arthur Dion Hanna Jr. who has retired as Director of the Legal Aid Clinic at the Eugene Dupuch Law School.

Family, friends and professional colleagues joined Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson in paying tribute to Mr. Hanna for his years of stellar public service. Paying tribute included Bar Council President, Elsworth Johnson; Acting Director of Public Prosecutions, Garvin Gaskin and Mr. Hanna’s daughter, Mrs. Rawiyah Rahming. Also present was the family’s patriarch, HE Arthur Dion Hanna Sr. for Governor General of The Bahamas.

Bahamas government decisive in Rubis fuel spill

I echo the sentiments of Environment Minister Hon. Kenred Dorsett that the government of The Bahamas acted “satisfactorily” in the aftermath of the Rubis spill at the Robinson Road service station that was reported in late December 2012 according to a report published by the Bahamas Environment Science and Technology (BEST) Commission.

The facts as we know them are that after the fuel line was repaired, the exploratory trench and monitor wells dug and samples taken, the service station was closed on 8th February 2013.

Further actions were taken to protect the health of the environment and the health and wellbeing of the public, especially those directly impacted by the spill:
A soil vapour extraction system, monitoring and gasoline recovery wells were installed on and off site.
Private wells were sampled within 600 feet of the service station.
Private wells were switched to the Water and Sewerage Corporation public water supply network.
Underground Storage Tanks (UST) and impacted soil were removed.
Samples of soil gas, sub-slab and indoor air were collected and tested.
An independent environmental assessment as per the advice of the BEST Commission was conducted by Black and Veatch International (BVI) and all recommendations were implemented by the government.
The monitoring of wells on and off site continues to this day.

Further, both the Education and Environment Ministers were fully engaged with affected residents impacted by the environmental release with Fitzgerald seeking to broker a meeting between his constituents and Rubis and with Mr. Dorsett saying that “there are some residents that came to my office and we had discussions about what was happening. I’ve maintained an open door policy with respect to this, as I think I ought to have.”

With the report now published, Mr. Dorsett pointed out that more importantly, with the recommendations contained therein, his message was that “the recommendations made then did not sit…those recommendations were advanced and put in place.”

Social Services sets record straight on Bilney Lane Home

The nameless, faceless critics who usually reside in the proverbial tall grass were at it again this week, this time attacking the department of Social Services for what they called “dragging its feet” and taking “their own sweet time” in locating suitable alternative accommodations for the children housed at the Bilney Lane home.

The facts on the matter according to the Department in a press release are these:

“On April 14, 2014, the residents of the Bilney Lane Children’s Home had to be relocated due to plumbing problems. It was determined that given the age, structural and other issues of the home, that alternative accommodation should be found. Immediately and simultaneously Cabinet approval was sought and received for the relocation and the search began. The first possible accommodation was viewed on April 24, 2014. Since then, a total of fifteen (15) places have been viewed but regrettably for various reasons, none of these materialized. The residents continue to be temporarily housed in the same facility from April 14, 2014.”

As a permanent solution, The Bahamas Conference of The Methodist Church, which manages the Home, has offered to take the lead in the construction of a new home.

The Ministry made a further public appeal for assistance in locating suitable accommodations for the children. This is also an excellent opportunity for a private investor to become a part of the government’s PPP policy. Become part of the solution by providing the accommodations to the government’s specifications and enter into a long term lease agreement; it’s a win-win proposition.

Parliamentary Proceedings this week

Two bills were passed in Parliament this week. An Act to repeal and replace the Public Accountant Act which is designed to modernize the sector by reforming the laws regulating the practice of public accounting in The Bahamas was read for a second time, committed and passed on Wednesday. It is also called the BICA Bill. This was the first amendment to the Act since its inception in 1991. The second reading was led by State Minister for Finance, Hon. Michael Halkitis and the bill was seconded by the Minister of Financial Services Hon. Hope Strachan who pointed out that the bill signals to the world that the members of BICA “are serious about their commitment to international compliance and quality standards.”

Additionally, an amendment to the Education Loan Authority Act 2015 was tabled in the House. Leading that debate was Education, Science and Technology Minister Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald. It effectively repeals the Guaranteed Loan Fund Bill of 2001. The new Bill gives the Education Loan Authority the ability to change the repayment arrangements of the borrower and permits the Authority to work with loan institutions in facilitating these changes. The Bill addresses the various categories of borrowers and empowers the Authority to take legal action against those in default but refuse to make reasonable attempts to pay back their loans. This Bill transforms the Authority into a “ONE STOP SHOP” for borrowers.

The Senate met a day later to pass the amended Juries and the Parliamentary Elections Acts. During her debate, Attorney General Senator Maynard-Gibson again highlighted improvements in the administration of justice by pointing out that the time period between the Voluntary Bill of Indictment (VBI) and the trial date was significantly reduced from more than 300 days in 2012 to just 50 days as at the 31st March 2015.

Did PAC’s actions undermine ‘separation of powers’ doctrine?

“The process by which the said audit has apparently been commissioned may have undermined the constitutional independence of the auditor general and engaged a violation of the separation of powers doctrine.” This is according to a legal opinion secured by the Office of the Attorney General in respect to the actions of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in their investigation of the Urban Renewal’s Small Homes Repair Program.

Regarding the summoning of witnesses by the PAC – and the Commission’s co-chairs were summoned by the PAC – the legal opinion was that “the purported course of action taken by the PAC with respect to the exercise of its powers to summon witnesses is procedurally and legally improper having regard to the fact that the said audit in respect of which the PAC is presuming to call witnesses has not been laid before the House, and failure to follow the statutory process.”

From the time news of this audit became public, observers have opined that it was unprecedented and highly irregular for the PAC to direct the auditor general and to investigate a public account not previously tabled in the House.

NTA graduates its third cohort of students

Established on 15th July 2013, the National Training Agency has conducted clusters of fourteen weeks training classes in Nassau, Grand Bahama and Exuma with a view to enhancing skills development and workforce readiness among young Bahamians and on Thursday evening, the agency graduated another 140 young Bahamians.

Delivering the keynote address was Financial Services Minister Hon. Hope Strachan who encouraged the graduates and praised the agency, pointing out that during the 2014/2015 fiscal year alone the NTA had graduated a total of 760 persons on three islands with another 240 currently in training.

This particular graduating class was trained in the areas of hospitality, retail knowledge, micro-soft word processing and allied health care assistant.

The ceremony was held at the Holy Trinity Activity Center in Stapledon Gardens.

In Passing…

The Commissioner of Police, Ellison Greenslade advised that the file of the Police investigation into allegations of judicial interference was turned over to the office of the Attorney General on Monday of this week. Local Government Administrator Zephaniah Newbold has alleged that Agriculture Minister Hon. Alfred Gray interfered with a judicial process involving him and a Mayaguana resident who was convicted and sentenced to prison for three months for disorderly conduct.

The Bahamian alumni of Florida Memorial University (FMU) invited its president, Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, to Nassau in celebration of FMU week. Events included courtesy calls on the Deputy Prime Minister and the President of the College of The Bahamas; a recognition awards ceremony at Government House for alumni and a recruitment drive/college fair at Living Waters Church.

Our two Bahamian “Polar Bears” have reached the North Pole, planted the Bahamian flag, made history and returned home on Wednesday of this week. Congratulations to businessman Mark Roberts and Junkanooer Shaune Adderley on this difficult and dangerous feat.

St Anselm’s Church celebrated its 80th anniversary as a congregation of the Roman Catholic faith serving the Fox Hill Community. This was commemorated with a service of thanksgiving on Tuesday evening, 21st April 2015 and was hosted by Monsignor Preston Moss who is rooted in the Fox Hill community and is celebrating 50 years in the priesthood this year. He was joined by Rev. Dr. Philip Rahming. The Rev. J. Carl Rahming of St. Paul’s Baptist spoke on behalf of the Council of Churches in Fox Hill. The area MP paid tribute and offered his congratulations from the floor of the House on Wednesday, 23rd April 2015.

San Salvador now has a national park system and DPM Philip Davis was on that island on Thursday to perform the declaration and delegation of all crown land that falls within San Salvador’s park system to the management of the Bahamas National Trust. The five parks are the Graham’s Harbour Iguana and Seabird National Park, 5,500 acres; West Coast Marine Park, 6,000 acres; Pigeon Creek & Snow Bay National Park, 4,865 acres; Southern Great Lake National Park, over 4,068 acres and finally, the Green’s Bay National Park on Goulding Cay which will protect the 599 acres there.

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis announced this week that cabinet has approved some fleet replacement for Bahamasair and the Ministry of Finance is currently reviewing the best financing options available to the government to achieve this. On the issue of privatization, Mr. Davis said that there are several interested parties but the government must execute its due diligence before a final decision is made.

The Road Traffic Department announced this week plans to fully automate the processes in all sections of this department, including driver and vehicle licensing. The total cost will be in excess of $5 million. This initiative is expected to improve government revenue by streamlining processes, eliminated long lines, overtime and mitigate fraudulent activities.