This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: May 12 – 15

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Deputy Director at BIS Elcott Coleby.

PM Christie opens Island House Boutique Hotel

With 30 luxury rooms, six luxury apartments, two restaurants, gym, spa, squash courts, yoga studio, meeting room, pool, movie theatre, a coffee bar, and 128 employees to pamper their high end guests, the $40 million luxury boutique hotel, the Island House Boutique Hotel was officially opened on Monday of this week. Delivering the keynote address was Prime Minister Christie who thanked the Holowesko family for their belief in the Bahamian economy and for taking the risk to invest in a segment of the economy traditionally dominated by foreign investors. The Prime Minster touted the economic impact of the investment including increased public revenue and repeated the call for more Bahamians to invest in tourism related projects. The Island House is located in the hills just outside Lyford Cay.

Four Seasons Resort to boost South Eleuthera economy

After a quarter of a century of waiting, the residents of South Eleuthera are set to benefit substantially from a major economic stimulus involving one of the world’s most respected hotel and hospitality brands, the Four Seasons.

A Heads of Agreement between the government of The Bahamas, the Cotton Bay Holdings Limited and Mine Holdings Limited for the construction of a five star, $100 million luxury 115 room boutique hotel, 40 private residences, an 18 hole world class Robert Trent Jones golf course, spa, restaurants, recreational facilities, a commercial shopping center and employee housing. This first phase will create 200 direct construction jobs and 300 hotel jobs during operations.

“This day will mark the beginning of the renaissance of tourism on the beautiful island of Eleuthera” said Prime Minister Christie in his keynote address. Commenting further on additional jobs to be created in support services and infrastructural upgrades, the Prime Minister pointed to the planned upgrade of the Rock Sound International Airport.

“South Eleuthera airport facilities will be upgraded to international IATA standards and allow for day and night time commercial and private international flights with refueling and adequate passenger and luggage facilities as well as improved local emergency services to meet the brand standards of Four Seasons and other significant touristic developments taking place in the immediate future” said Prime Minister Christie.

Tourism Minister Hon. Obie Wilchcombe added that the government has facilitated a successful turnaround in the economies of Grand Bahama and Exuma and he fully expects the same for Eleuthera. He explained that The Bahamas was blest and privileged to have so many great hotel brands marketing its tourism products internationally but The Bahamas remains one of the greatest brands in the world.

The resort is expected to break ground before the end of the year under the watchful eye of its principal, Colombian born Dr. Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo, a resident of Eleuthera.

Immigration amendment bill 2015 comes into force

Having been signed into law by the Governor General on Friday 8th May, the Immigration Amendment Act 2015 and attendant regulations came into force on Monday.In a statement released by the Minister of Immigration, Mitchell said that “this is a pleasing development and one which will strengthen the hand of the Department of Immigration as it seeks to stem the tide of unlawful migration in The Bahamas.”

The Act will amongst other things provide for stiffer penalties for illegal landing, for harbouring illegal migrants and for making attempts to leave this country to be smuggled into another country.The Act will also make it an offence to enter into a fraudulent marriage and will strengthen the powers of arrest of Immigration Officers.

It creates for the first time an Immigration Reserve, patterned after the Police Reserves. It will be established in the next fiscal year and in the first instance in islands that have, at present, no immigration presence.The statement said that an announcement will be made shortly on when recruitment can be expected for the reserve.

The Act also creates an immigration status known as a Belonger’s Permit to be issued to those who are born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents and who reside lawfully in The Bahamas.The fee for this permit is 125 dollars.

This week in Parliament

Bills for Acts to provide for oil drilling and the establishment of a Sovereign Wealth Fund together with guidelines on how the financial proceeds from the sale of mined oil in The Bahamas will be allocated were to be the focus of Parliamentary debate this past Wednesday, but a reported hacking of the Ministry of Tourism’s official website, Bahamas.com, cancelled all of that. Prime Minister Christie convened an emergency cabinet meeting to address this matter with potentially serious “national security implications” said the PM.

First up though was the Speaker’s ruling on the status of the probe of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in light of the refusal of Co Chairs Algernon Allen and Cynthia Pratt to appear before the PAC and a subsequent legal opinion rendered by the Attorney General that the PAC probe was “illegally improper” because the report was not tabled in the House of Assembly.

In the legal opinion, the Attorney General questioned the legality of the PAC Chair directing the Auditor General and the PAC requesting a document (the audit of the UR small homes repair program) that was not tabled in the House of Assembly.

The Speaker ruled that the PAC could not proceed further with their probe into the Urban Renewal Small Homes Repair Program until such time as the audit had been tabled in the House of Assembly. He said that certain “procedural errors” influenced his decision and had he received a copy of the audit, he would have tabled it without delay, giving the PAC proper guidelines to proceed with the probe. This was the law for many years in The Bahamas.

Algernon Allen called a press conference following the Speaker’s ruling to say that the ruling was a vindication of the work of Urban Renewal. He characterized the whole PAC hearing as “improper,” a “Kangaroo Court” that smacked of “political mischief” and undermined the good work of Urban Renewal. He also said that Urban Renewal “cannot be used as a political lynch mob and should not be used as such.”

Several contractors have either filed law suits against the government in the wake of the Auditor General’s report or are contemplating the same but Mr. Allen told the media that he is “discouraging“ such actions because in the end, the government will have to pay and law suits are unhelpful to the objectives of Urban Renewal.

Saint Anne’s MP and Chairman of the PAC Hubert Chipman disagreed with the Speaker’s ruling and opined that the speaker’s ruling rendered the PAC “useless.”

Several Ministers congratulated the students of the Anatol Rodgers High School for winning an international hotel challenge in Orlando, Florida and the local Build a bridge competition.

The Nurse’s association was congratulated on their 52nd anniversary. They are affiliated with the International College of Nursing, the Royal College of Nursing and the Commonwealth Nurse’s Association. The President of the association is Paulette Cash.

Education Minister Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald announced that a brand new Freedom of Information Act 2015 draft was completed and will be released for public consultation on Friday, 15th May 2015. Interested persons can access the draft bill on the Ministry of Education’s website and the government’s official website.

Prime Minister Christie updated the House on the regional summit on climate change that he attended as CARICOM Chair on Saturday, 9th May 2015 in Martinique. In attendance was French President Hollande who will play host to the COP21 Summit on Climate Change to be held in Paris in December 2015. Prime Minister Christie again called for access to loans at concessionary rates and independent of GDP considerations for capital development for energy-related projects.

AG clarifies questions on extradition files

In response to public commentary and questions regarding the status of certain court files, the Attorney General issued a statement basically reiterating a longstanding policy and practice that the government does not offer public commentary on such matters that are before the courts. The statement is printed below in its entirety.

“The Office of the Attorney-General wishes to clarify questions regarding extradition files.

“The Office of the Attorney General adheres to the long-established legal rule and principles which prohibit public comment on any legal matter pending before the Courts, including relations with foreign states.

“With respect to particular extradition requests made by the United States of America, the Office of the Attorney General wishes to state for the record, and for the assurance of the public, that these matters are receiving full attention and are either in progress before the Court or awaiting a court date so they may proceed.”

BAMSI announces internship program

As year one of BAMSI’s academic portfolio comes to a successful close, The Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) recently announced a public private sector partnership (PPP) that will facilitate its newly created internship program designed to strengthen the institute’s curriculum and provide its students with a more well rounded academic experience.

“More than one dozen Bahamian companies – private sector agencies, environmental groups and charitable organizations – have agreed to provide internship opportunities for BAMSI’s students. It is hoped that the hands-on experience will assist students in developing a greater appreciation for and understanding of their chosen field of study while allowing them to see the breadth of career opportunities available to them upon graduation” said BAMSI Executive Director, Dr. Raveena Roberts-Hanna.

Some of the New Providence based industry partners in this internship program are Atlantis, Goodfellow Farms, the Department of Forestry, Paradise Fisheries, Heritage Seafood and the Bahamas Agriculture Industrial Corporation (BAIC – also their sub-offices in Long Island and Exuma). Family Island partners include Edrin Seymour of Applehole Farms in Eleuthera, Wayne Hall of Halls Organic Farm and Lucayan Tropical in Grand Bahama, the Bahamas National Trust (in Andros and Eleuthera), Friends of the Environment in Abaco and the Department of Forestry in Andros.

Organizations, agencies and environmental groups interested in participating in the 2015 internship programme can contact the BAMSI office in the Island Trader’s Building, East Bay Street at (242)397.6580 and by email at bamsipr.2014@gmail.com orbamsiinternship@gmail.com for more information.

Government provides update on website hacking incident

A day following the announcement by Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie from the floor of the House on Wednesday that the official website of the Ministry of Tourism had been hacked, the Ministry of Tourism issued a statement to update the public on the facts surrounding the incident and the immediate steps taken by the government to mitigate further national security breaches.

According to the statement, the Bahamas government confirmed that several government-owned websites including the Ministry of Tourism websites, www.bahamas.com and www.bahamasfilm.com, were hacked on Wednesday morning apparently by members of a Tunisian Islamist activist group called the “Fallaga Team.” The steps taken were as follow:

  • All defaced sections of the government-owned websites were quickly removed and a corrected version redeployed and with the restoration of ALL compromised pages, all affected websites are now back to normal modes of operation.
  • The evidence collected has been turned over to the relevant local authorities and the matter is currently under active investigation.
  • As a short term strategy and in an abundance of caution, all government websites have been checked for possible breaches, safeguarded and reinforced against potential vulnerabilities by the implementation of software patching.

As a long term strategy the government of The Bahamas announced that it will convene a meeting of industry experts to review the entire government owned internet related infrastructure with a view to determining what, if any, additional measures can be taken to deliver the strongest possible cyber-security protocol.

In passing…

As the government prepares the country for the implementation of phase one of National Health Insurance scheduled for January 2016, the Ministry of Health held a NHI symposium for health professionals on Monday of this week at the Hilton Hotel. Delivering the keynote address was Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez who said that because of the narrowed window, the government cannot fail in its processes in rolling out this policy. The first phase that provides a basic benefits package will cost $350 – $375 million and since the government’s current total health cost is in excess $400 million annually, the government will implement the first phase without imposing any additional taxes on the Bahamian worker.

The Ministry of Health announced this week that Mr. Marco Rolle, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, while representing The Bahamas at the Commonwealth Advisory Committee on Health (CACH) Meeting in the United Kingdom during the period 9th thru 10th April, 2015, was elected Vice-Chair of the CACH effective from 1st July, 2015 to 30th June 2016. The Bahamas takes up the Chair of CACH from 1st July, 2016 to 30th June 2017. This milestone represents the first time that The Bahamas was elected to this position in The Commonwealth.

Bahamas Foreign Minister the Hon. Fred Mitchell was in Qatar this week where he met with Assistant ForeignMinister of Qatar H.E. Mohammed Bin Abdullah Mutib Al Rumaihi. During the meeting, the ministers discussed a number of bilateral issues including airlifts involving the country’s national flag carrier Qatar Airlines, tourism and travel between the two countries, a Consul General appointment, investment possibilities and visa waiver facility between the two countries. The meeting was held at the Qatar Foreign Ministry in Doha.Mr. Mitchell was in Qata to attend the 15th annual Doha Economic Forum.

Attorney General Sen. Allyson Maynard-Gibson announced this week that retired Supreme Court Justice Joseph Strachan was appointed to conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the delay in the release of the Black and Veatch report on the oil spill at the Robinson Road Rubis gas station. The spill was discovered in December 2012. The government received the report sometime in February 2014 and released it during a town hall meeting in April 2015.

The Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl has been acquired by ESPN Events, a subsidiary of ESPN. The second Popeyes Bahamas Bowl will be played at Nassau’s Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015, showcasing schools from Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference. The bowl was acquired from Bahamas Bowl, LLC, which owned the inaugural game in 2014.

The Compliance Commission announced this week that Andrew Strachan has been appointed to the post of Inspector, effective Thursday, May 7, 2015. Mr. Strachan is a banker, portfolio manager, relationship manager, and an economist by profession with over 25 years of experience in international private banking at Clariden Leu, Nassau Branch, and Credit Suisse Bahamas, notably achieving outstanding investment performance results with funds invested in international equity and bond markets.

The headquarters and warehouse of the former City Markets supermarket chain located on East West Highway was engulfed in flames Thursday afternoon, but thankfully the building was saved through the quick work of our gallant fire fighters. The edifice did not have a supply of electricity and was abandoned at the time of the fire. Six firefighters suffered minor injuries of fumes inhalation during the fire and were taken to hospital for treatment.

Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe confirmed this week that a major deal for a new casino operator for the Sunwings Memories Resort in Lucaya was imminent as the prospective operator has submitted a down payment to government. This agreement is expected to strengthen the tourism product in Grand Bahama and deepen Sunwing’s involvement in the Lucaya property.