This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: June 1 – 5

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Deputy Director at BIS Elcott Coleby.
Deputy Director at BIS Elcott Coleby.

By Elcott Coleby

Bahamas Prime Minister challenges UWI to transform Caribbean society

Calling on all regional stakeholders to unite around a shared vision of quality education that will raise the Caribbean civilization to unprecedented heights, Bahamas Prime Minister and CARICOM Chair the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie addressed educators from around the Caribbean at the installation ceremony for the incoming Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. He also urged educators to create methodologies and synergies that will foster the advancement of our societies.

“We owe it to our citizens” said Mr. Christie, “to ensure that we provide the quality of education that will maximize the opportunity for fulfillment and in doing so raise the level of Caribbean civilization to unprecedented heights.

“We must continue to capitalize on the strengths and resources of each country within CARICOM” continued the Prime Minister, “and strive to create methodologies and synergies that will foster the advancements of our people and societies.”

Referring to the longstanding and fruitful relationship between the College of the Bahamas and UWI on technical cooperation, Mr. Christie expressed confidence that as COB transitioned to university status, the collaborative efforts between the two educational institutions will prove mutually beneficial.

Sir Hillary Beckles, a native of Barbados will head the Cave Hill campus of UWI in Barbados. The installation ceremony was held on Saturday evening 30th May at the Usain Bolt Sports Complex on the campus of UWI.

 Bahamas Transport Minister opens casualty investigation workshop

In an effort to strengthen its security, investigative and overall management protocols at seaports throughout The Bahamas, the Ministry of Transport and Aviation hosted a workshop on investigations into maritime casualties.

Officially opening the workshop was Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin who outlined the key objectives and importance of the workshop. She told delegates that this important workshop sought to “highlight investigative protocols for maritime incidents.” Additionally, said the Minister “the focus of this workshop underscores the importance of the safety of lives at sea and the protection of our marine environment.

“The underpinning of this workshop” continued the Minister “is the need to foster a culture of safety in all aspects of maritime activity.”

Facilitating the workshop is Mr. Colin Young, Regional Advisor to the International Organization (IMO) and Captain Nick Beer and Paul van den Berg who are both experts in the field of marine casualty investigation. The workshop is being held at the training room of the Public Hospital Authority, Collins Avenue.

Dr. Johnson: Youth not content “to be left behind”

Warning that young people are no longer content “to be left behind,” Dr. Daniel Johnson, Bahamas Minister for Youth, Sports and Culture outlined the Bahamas Government’s ambitious plan to utilize $20 million in the upcoming fiscal budget for the development of employment and training projects designed to tackle the high levels of youth unemployment. He revealed this latest youth developmental policy initiative during his address at the United Nations General Assembly at the High-Level Event on the demographic dividend and Youth Employment on Monday morning (1st June).

“Young people across the world have emerged as a powerful and cataclysmic force for change from Main Street to Wall Street. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to create spaces for the cultivation of their unbridled imagination, and to learn from their dreams and aspirations on how to create a better now and a better future for generations to come.

“We have a moral responsibility to level the playing field and to create conducive avenues for investments for the 1.2 billion adolescents and young people in the 15-24 age cohort who will be inheritors of the sustainable development agenda currently under debate in these very halls,” he said.

NEMA and US Embassy collaborate on disaster relief training

On June 2-4 of this week, delegates from across The Bahamas including Family Island administrators, Local Government Representatives and members from the National Disaster Consultative Committee met in conference to discuss disaster management and relief for the southern islands of The Bahamas. The venue was the Melia Resort.

Opening the three day conference was Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie who stressed the importance of disaster preparedness.

“The extent to which we prepare for a disaster will be directly linked to the success we will have in addressing it when it occurs. Even though we may go season after season after season where we have no real impactful disaster but when the time comes – if we continue to do the work we are doing – we will be ready for it” said the Prime Minister.

Under the theme, “Be disaster aware – Building disaster resilient communities,” the objectives of the conference were to build capacity, knowledge exchange, develop a “train the trainer” regime and decide on a process for selecting personnel to train in hazard mapping.

This week in Parliament

The budget debate continued in the House this week Wednesday with the second reading of a resolution to borrow divers sums of money for and towards defraying the expenses of the Bahamas government for the 2015/2016 fiscal year commencing 1st July. The lead speaker was State Minister for Finance, the Hon. Michael Halkitis who stressed the government’s actions to cut the country’s national debt.

“Our key and ultimate objective is to reverse the growth in the burden of debt i.e. the rate of debt-to-GDP and move it downwards to more desirable and sustainable levels” said the State Minister. A smaller debt burden of interest charges will free up “valuable financial resources” for programs and services that Bahamians expect from their government argued Mr. Halkitis.

As evidence to support the success of the government’s fiscal policy objectives, the State Minister again listed the numerous fiscal accomplishments of the government that were communicated to the House by Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie during his opening statement on the 27th May 2015. The list included a reduction in the GFS deficit by $342 million since 2012; a reduction in the debt/GDP ratio from 61.1% to 56% in the upcoming fiscal year; projected VAT revenue of $150 million up to June 30th and a $103 million surplus on the recurrent expense account, up from a negative $308 million during the 2012/2013 fiscal year. Additionally, the national debt is expected to shrink from $5.44 billion to $5.36 billion in the 2015/2016 fiscal year.

Seconding the resolution was Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell who restated the government’s immigration policy, revealing that $18 million was allocated for a new border control management system to be ready in 18 months. He also announced that $1.4 million were allocated for repatriation exercises; that just under $1 million was budgeted to finance a regional anti-crime initiative through CARICOM; that the e-passport processing time was extended to 12 weeks due to a spike in applications and that over $3 million were allocated for allowances and emoluments for Foreign Service Officers in the upcoming budget.

Mitchell also foreshadowed a diplomatic training institute at the College of The Bahamas, announced the retirement of Permanent Secretary Philip Miller and revealed that former China Embassy Charge Sheila Carey will replace Mr. Miller as the new Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.

Hon. Hope Strachan, Minister for Financial Services told House Members that The Bahamas has a “competitive model as an international financial services centre that cannot be easily duplicated.” Notwithstanding a budget of just $2.4 million, a cut of $400,000 over last year, the Minister pledged to continue to strengthen the Ministry’s team to identify new products and services and raise the profile of The Bahamas in countries such as the Brazil, China, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Panama, Mexico, Greece, the United States and throughout the Caribbean region through strategic partnerships.

House debate continues at 10 am on Monday, 8th June 2015.

Immigration Dept provides updates on the illegal Eleuthera landing

On Thursday, the Department of Immigration released a statement updating the public on an illegal landing in Eleuthera. The statement said that following upon a search in Eleuthera, near Weymss Bight and Bannerman Town, an additional 49 Haitian nationals were apprehended (28 male/14 female/7 children) last evening. Flights are on standby to bring them to Nassau. This adds to the twenty-four brought in previously bringing to total to date to 73.

It appears that there were two landings at Eleuthera and those individuals were on board those boats.

Three Haitian nationals and a Bahamian national will be charged under the amended Immigration Act for harbouring illegal persons. In the case of the three Haitian nationals, who are work permit holders, three illegal migrants were found and arrested at their place of residence, Bannerman Town Eleuthera; several other persons fled from their home and escaped arrest. The Bahamian, a resident of Weymss Bight, Eleuthera, is also in custody as five illegal migrants were found at his home.

The captains of the two vessels involved in this latest incident were identified. Both will be charged for assisting in these illegal landings.

In addition, another body was found at James Cistern, Eleuthera. This brings to two the number of deaths associated with this incident.

Another Haitian national, living in the Bahamas without status, is to be charged with damaging public property when he intentionally damaged an Immigration vehicle.

DPM Davis promotes government’s PPP policy in Macao

The Government of The Bahamas will continue to promote the three P’s of Public Private Partnerships as a means of delivering on the infrastructural requirements needed to move the country forward at the socio-economic development level especially in the Family Islands, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development, the Hon. Philip Davis told a key international forum in the People’s Republic of China.

Mr. Davis assured senior representatives of global and regional countries that the Government is committed to “doing all that it can” to ensure that not one single Bahamian should live below the poverty line.

Addressing the Opening Session of the First China-CELAC Infrastructure Cooperation Forum here on the peninsula of Macao, Mr. Davis said the eradication of poverty levels in the country is “a matter which the present Government is seeking to address in a number of ways and through a plethora of social and other programmes” including Public Private Partnerships.

PM Christie applauds regional cooperation and dialogue on security

In delivering the keynote address at the one day Caribbean-United States High-Level Citizen Security Dialogue, Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie underscored the importance of bilateral cooperation in addressing the vexing issue of transnational criminality that negatively impacts the entire region.

“Today is an important opportunity for us to act together to counter our region’s continued vulnerability to transnational criminal activity, including drugs and firearms trafficking, human smuggling, illegal immigration and money laundering. It is also a time to look and examine some of the factors within our borders that lead to embracing a life of crime.

“At the national level such crimes unleash the forces that undermine law and order, social stability and retard our economic and social development. Crime and violence, and particularly gun violence too often shatter the peace and the welfare of our societies” said Mr. Christie.

Observing that the three major security issues facing the Caribbean region are the illicit drug trade, firearms trafficking, and at-risk youth, National Security Minister Hon. Bernard Nottage urged greater focus on education and social intervention in the lives of our youth because they are the targeted market for illicit drugs and firearms.

“Greater effort in drug education and intervention strategies must be realized to discontinue this trend,” he said.

Also addressing the Opening Ceremony were Ms. Roberta S. Jacobson, US Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere (WHA), Ms. Lisa Johnson, Charge d’Affaires, United States Embassy, Nassau, and the Hon. Adriel Braithwaite, Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs of Barbados; Chair of CARICOM Council of Ministers responsible for National Security and Law Enforcement.

The high level dialogue was held on Thursday, June 4, 2015 at Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Nassau Bahamas.

New date for part 2 of BJC English Exam

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology released a statement this week to announce the date of the replacement BJC Paper 2 Examination that was the subject of a security breach and had to be cancelled and the examination paper destroyed.

The new date is Friday 12th June, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. and all candidates are asked to be at their examination centers by 8:30 a.m. sharp on Friday morning.

The statement noted that students who sat their examinations at St. Joseph’s Church Hall (Boyd Road), are to report to H.O. Nash Jr. High School (Dolphin Drive) instead.

The Ministry apologized for any inconvenience caused due to the examination rescheduling.

BEC/Alstom bribery claim turned over to the police

It was reported this week that United States authorities have supplied the Office of the Attorney General with the identity of the Bahamian official who allegedly received some $325,000 in bribes from French energy giant Alstom for a contract to supply the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) with slow rotation generators more than fifteen years ago.

According to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), the matter has been turned over to the police for the conduct of a thorough criminal investigation to determine if sufficient evidence exists to bring criminal charges against that Bahamian official named in the US court documents during a plea bargain back in December 2014.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Attorney General refuted claims by a 28th May Nassau Guardian editorial that the OAG was either “disinterested” or “not taking sufficient steps to progress the investigation into the BEC matter.”

The OAG characterized these claims as “unfounded” and reiterated that the matter has been given the “appropriate attention and priority” by the OAG and other local law enforcement officials with the assistance of United States authorities and all relevant agencies continue to work together to bring resolution to this matter.

Transport Ministry releases new bus routes

The Ministry of Transport and Aviation released a statement on Thursday advising the general public of the newly relocated bus routes and stops.

Specifically, bus routes 8, 16a, 16b, 21 & 21a, formerly stationed in front of Government Publications, Bay Street, will now receive passengers at the Frederick Street North Bus Stop.

Additionally, passengers who wish to transfer to routes 10& 12b, are encouraged to disembark at the newly installed Duke Street Bus Stop, which is opposite Government House, then access buses at the George Street Bus Stop.

In passing…

The government’s initiative to improve the administration of justice and tackle the backlog of cases just got stronger when the Hon. Justice Brian Moree was sworn in as Acting Justice of the Supreme Court by Governor General Her Excellency Dame Marguerite Pindling during a Swearing-In Ceremony at Government House, Monday, June 1, 2015. An experienced civil and commercial attorney, his law practice includes commercial and civil litigation, insolvency, corporate and trust structuring, banking, commercial and business transactional work, cross border disputes and transactions, and financial services.

The Geriatric Hospital and Sandilands Rehabilitation Center turned 50 this week. On hand to celebrate with the health professionals who provide the comfort and care for the aged and mentally challenged was Minister of Health, Dr. Perry Gomez. The Tribune interviewed the Minister and wrote an article pointing out that the Health Minister was unable to provide the public with an update on the work of the Netherlands Toxicologist Dr. Rik Van de Weerdt who is in The Bahamas to investigate the health and social impact of the Rubis oil spill. Well, the Health Minister received the briefing the following day, Tuesday, and all were smiles at the results. We all must now wait with bated breath for the formal written report to be tabled in the House and made public.

The Honourable Justice Abdulai Osman Conteh was sworn in as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal by Her Excellency the Governor General at Government House on 4th June 2015.

Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie attended the opening of an art exhibition at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas that celebrated 40 years of the Central Bank’s dedication to development of the arts in The Bahamas. The exhibition is called ‘Celebrating 40 Years of the Central Bank: A Pillar of Arts Commitment’ and features the works of over 70 artists who have been featured in exhibitions by the Central Bank over the years. The exhibition opened on Tuesday of this week.

Prime Minister Christie marched with the Grand Bahama Urban Renewal team on Friday morning during the Sir Randol Fawkes Labour Day Parade. He also attended the funeral services for the late Bishop of Guyana and Suriname the Rev. Cornell Jerome Moss at the church of the Ascension. The Prime Minister leaves for Brussels, Belgium on Monday day night (8th June) to participate in the EU-CELAC Summit in one of his final official duties as Chairman of CARICOM. He is expected to turn the leadership over to Barbados Prime Minister the Hon. Freundel Stuart Q.C. in Bridgetown later this month. He will be accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell.

In a parting shot, it is June 2015 so history buffs everywhere are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, signed into law by King John of England on 15th June 2015 near Runnymede, England. Portions of the Magna Carta could be seen throughout the 4th amendment until the Patriot Act unraveled it…and recently the Patriot Act got unraveled in the wake of Eric Snowden’s revelations. Bahamian cell phone owners should also be celebrating.

About the author: Elcott Coleby is a Deputy Director at the Bahamas Information Services. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry (B.Sc) and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). He provides frequent commentary on public policy and communicates the works of the government. Address all comments to the following email: egcoleby44@gmail.com