Urban Renewal Co-Chair responds to Auditor General Report

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This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: Apr 13 – 17

By Elcott Coleby

Responding to the Auditor General’s report on the Small Homes Repair Program, Co-Chair of the Urban Renewal Commission Algernon Allen said that in respect of the 11 contractors cited for failing to complete their designated scope of works valued at over $170,000, “we’ve already taken them out (of the system) and there was a small number of them.

“We already weeded them out. We would pursue them into the depths of hell to collect the money that is designated for the poor.”

My own investigations revealed that six of the eleven contractors cited for incomplete work had completed their work to date and five are completing their work. This was confirmed in the media by Deputy Director of Urban Renewal Gregory Butler.

As for the report’s claim that the contract administration was not competitive, Mr. Allen said this practice was not uncommon and because of the relatively small size of the contracts, all-risk insurance was not required. The Commission also refuted claims that contractors cleared down overgrown lots and were awarded contracts without proof of ministerial approval.

“The Deputy Prime Minister would have approved with the co-chairs, every single contract, whether it’s $10,000, $20,000 or $30,000. We have to go to the Ministry of Finance for approval. We don’t approve it ourselves” said Urban Renewal Permanent Secretary Diana Lightbourne. This is consistent with the provisions of the Financial Administration and Audit Act where the minister is legally authorized to approve contracts with a maximum value of $50,000, but beyond that amount, a competitive bidding process is required by law.

Suffice it to say, challenges with the professional conduct of contractors is not unique to the public sector. People in the private sector encounter very similar challenges, but the reward for excellence is “eternal vigilance.”

The audit report covered the period July 1, 2012 to September 30, 2014.

Parliamentary proceedings this week

Speaker of the House Dr. Kendal Major

The second reading and committal of the amended Juries Act to provide for electronic selection of a jury pool took place this week in Parliament as debate continued, but before the debate resumed, several statements were delivered both by the chair and Ministers.

The Honourable Speaker of the House Dr. Kendal Major began by confirming that he granted in principle the request by the Public Accounts Committee for a live airing of the contract administration surrounding BAMSI.

The Hon. Fred Mitchell, Foreign Affairs Minister updated the House on both the CARICOM-US Summit held in Kingston Jamaica on the 9th April 2015 and the OAS sponsored Summit of The Americas held in Panama City, Panama on Saturday, 10th April 2015. Mr. Mitchell characterized both meetings as successful and achieving the intended objectives. In Panama, the Prime Minister put the country’s immigration policy position front and center. The Prime Minister said that The Bahamas made no apology for its recent immigration measures and legislative amendment to protect the country’s borders and the identity of Bahamians. Mr. Christie urged all border-states to do their part in preventing irregular migration to and through The Bahamas.

He also advised the House that Bahamas Consul General to Atlanta had returned to Nassau for consultations.

Both Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie and Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis paid tribute Trinity Methodist Church on its 150th anniversary. The Prime Minister also congratulated The Bahamas’ CARIFTA swimming team for their successful defense of their 2014 title in Barbados over the Easter weekend.

Youth and Sports Minister, Hon. Daniel Johnson also congratulated our CARIFTA swim and track teams on their successes at the recent CARIFTA games. He also paid tribute to his alma mater, the Queen’s College Comets who achieved the 3 “A’s”: Athletics, Academics and Arts (National Arts Festival competition).

In other news from Parliament, Senators debated the amended Immigration Bill that provides for a Belongers’ Permit to persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamians, are stateless and are eligible for Bahamian citizenship under the current constitution.

Public Opinion Poll on PM Christie “comforting” – Prime Minister Christie’s approval rating is catapulted to 79.1%

Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie

Firstly, a couple of facts about the source that formed the lead story of Monday’s National Review published in the Nassau Guardian. This report was only funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, but the research was actually conducted by Professors and graduate students from Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tennessee. The project is called Latin American Public Opinion Project, or LAPOP. The purpose of these type reports is to assist governments and international institutions such as the IDB, IMF and the World Bank with making informed public policy decisions affecting countries Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to the National Review, some 3,429 persons were interviewed face-to-face between June and October 2014. Secondly, the report is incomplete and has not been published. Thirdly, the review undertaken by Vanderbilt is extensive in nature, covering the economy, education, culture, religion, the politics and the sociology of The Bahamas. The National Review covered only the section on politics in the research document in Monday’s edition.

According to the National Review, about 47% of Bahamians surveyed believed the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie is either performing “good” and “very good” as Prime Minister. By any objective international measure, this is good news for the Prime Minister. United States President Barak Obama has a jobs approval rating of 47% which is reported as good in the American press.

More specifically, 32.2% of Bahamians surveyed graded Mr. Christie’s performance as “fair” and when added to the grades of “good” (37.4%) and “very good” (9.5%), the Prime Minister’s approval rating is catapulted to 79.1%. The National Review was quoted as saying that “Christie could at least find comfort in these results, which show that 46.9 percent either think he is doing a good job or very god job.”

[BP Editorial NOTE: It is amazing would could have never gotten one a these when Hubert Ingraham was Prime Minister in all his 15 years on the top job.]

Prime Minister Christie addresses Chamber National Conclave

Delivering the keynote address under the theme, “Ideas and Innovation: Making The Bahamas a More Competitive Jurisdiction,” Prime Minister Christie outlined a number of transformational policy initiatives his government has initiated since coming to office in May of 2012.

They included tax reform as part of his government’s medium term fiscal consolidation plan, gaming reform, the National Development Plan, the Public Private Sector Partnership or PPP, Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival and BAMSI.

Of particular interest was the Prime Minister’s defense of his government’s investment policy, especially as regards incentives to investors, pointing out that as Prime Minister he must ensure at all material times that the interests of Bahamians are primarily protected. This was in response to criticisms from Baha Mar CEO Sarkis Izmerlian that many government promises have gone unfulfilled over the last 12 years, creating a less than ideal “business class investment climate.”

“We have to spend an enormous amount of money out here with Baha Mar by agreement. We spent annually money with Atlantis so you can see therefore that decisions are being made and the country is being tied over a term of years by these decisions being made and I am saying we can do it better.”

I will just make this comment about the role of the firm vis-à-vis the role of government. The role of the firm is singular in nature and that is to maximize shareholder value – simple. The role of the government is to use the instruments and institutions of the state to improve the quality of life for all its citizens. It does so as “the legal guardian of market efficiency” as it sits at the center of the macroeconomic cycle – complex, very complex actually.

Bahamas will be FATCA compliant

At an industry briefing to update stakeholders on the progress The Bahamas is making with respect to the recently signed FATCA, Minister of Financial Services the Hon. Hope Strachan assured stakeholders that the government of The Bahamas is doing everything necessary to ensure the full compliance with international standards, as the Ministry prepares the country to be ready to comply with the United States Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

The meeting took place on Thursday, April 16, 2015, at the British Colonial Hilton.

Explaining that FATCA was brought into law in the United States in 2010 through the U.S. Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act, Minister Hope Strachan told delegates that its implementation marked a major change in the “rules of the game” for international tax cooperation.

“This U.S. law, which has at its core, the penalty of a 30 per cent withholding for financial institutions that do not comply with the rules of FATCA in U.S. markets has resulted in countries around the world enacting new policies and procedures to protect their financial institutions.”

Minister Strachan went on to say that The Bahamas Government recognised the tremendous importance of ensuring unfettered access to the U.S. financial markets for The Bahamas’ financial services industry “therefore, inaction was not a possibility in order to ensure continuity of financial services.”

She added that the Government agreed to require its institutions to establish certain due diligence procedures to identify U.S. persons and the accounts they hold in order to transmit information on those accounts to The Bahamas Government which would be shared with the U.S. Government on an annual basis.

She said the Ministry of Financial Services was charged with the task of spearheading the implementation of FATCA for The Bahamas.

Government promises relief to Exuma straw vendors.

DPM Philip Brave Davis on the ground in Exuma just hours following that straw market fire.

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis led a delegation to Exuma on Thursday, 16th April to assess the fire damage to the Georgetown straw market, to convey the sentiments of the Prime Minister and his government and to assure the vendors that they were not alone in the hour of loss but help is on the way. The fire gutted the market literally days ahead of the all Exuma Regatta.

“The government, the Prime Minister has expressed their concern hence I was dispatched this morning to assess what is going on, have a chat with the vendors and let them know that we care about what has happened – we are concerned about what was happening and we are hoping to bring relief to them as quickly as possible.”

Prime Minister Christie echoed these sentiments.

“The government will cause an immediate review to take place on that and discussions with the vendors themselves with the view to seeing what assistance we can render and what steps we can take to put them in a position as this matter is being investigated – put them in a position to resume their business as soon as possible.”

The delegation included area Member of Parliament, Hon. Anthony Moss, Chairman of the Straw Market Authority, Kevin Simmons and technical staff from the Ministry of Works and Urban Development.

Also coming to the aid of the straw vendors was the General Manager of the all-inclusive resort Sandals Mr. Mutton who committed to setting up temporary tents on the site and a cash donation of $10,000. The tents, tables and chairs were erected by Friday, less than 24 hours after the fire.

New education policy announced as the Majorie Davis Institute is opened

It was Monday, 9th March on the occasion of the renaming of the Carmichael Primary School to the Sybil Strachan Primary School that Prime Minister Christie initially announced a new education policy geared to address the vexing challenges of at-risk behavour, truancy and scholastic underperformance by too many of our public schools students. This new policy, which will include a tracking system, is expected to act as a pre-emptive strike against potential criminality through early intervention in the lives of at-risk students so that they do not come into conflict with the law later on in life.

While officially renaming the former Our Lady’s Catholic School to the Majorie Davis Institute for Special Education, the Prime Minister expounded on the initial intent of his latest education/crime/social intervention policy by challenging his government “…to recalibrate and to allocate the resources (necessary) to ensure that children who for difficulties that are confronting our system are allowed to drop out incapable of reading and writing…” succeed and these adverse outcomes are brought to a certain end. Further, the Prime Minister said that this was an imperative for his government because ultimately, the proverbial buck stops with the state therefore, even when parents lack the capacity to recognize and address behavioral problems in their children, the state must find a way to solve these problems.

“They (the at-risk students) are the people who will because of the insecurities brought on by their inability to measure up (will) go and commit violence; go and commit crimes. The resources of this country must be rationalized to recognize that in the absence of parents with the capacity to help their children – even to recognize their children have a problem – the state must necessarily find a way.”

Paying tribute to the legacy of academic excellence left behind by Ms Davis after forty-seven years of distinguished public service in education, the Prime Minister urged the teachers of the institute to strive to continue that legacy.

“I trust that you will be motivated to continue to strive for excellence and continue the legacy of Ms. Davis by ensuring that our students embrace and receive the full benefits of knowledge and skills that you offer to them in the halls of this school.”

The institute for special education currently has twenty students enrolled and that number is expected to climb to one hundred by the beginning of the next school year.

In Passing…

I mentioned her in last week’s column as making history, but this week I mention her by name. The Royal Bahamas Defense Force held a Changing of the Guard ceremony at Government House on Friday, April 10, 2015 that for the first time in history featured a female Officer of the Guard. Her name was Woman Sub-Lieutenant Natasha Walton; she led the New and Old Guard throughout the ceremony, including the all important salute.

Attorney-at-law Robyn-Dawn Lynes became the newest senator, replacing Cheryl Bazard when she was sworn in on Wednesday afternoon by Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling in a short ceremony at Government House. She cut her Parliamentary teeth when she debated the amended Immigration Act to provide for a Belonger’s Permit for stateless persons who may have a Bahamian citizenship entitlement under our current constitution.

Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe was in Havana Cuba this week at the invitation of the Cuban Tourism Minister. With Cuba slowly opening up economically and with both Cuba and The Bahamas having secured air service agreements with China, collaboration and cooperation on multi destination experiences is an attractive tourism strategy for both countries.

The $60 million upgrade to the Hilton Hotel is well underway by the China State Construction and Engineering firm. Also planned for the adjacent property are the $200 million hotel and marina village, high rise parking and high end shopping and entertainment amenities.

Bahamians Mark Roberts and Shaune Adderley have finally made history as the first Bahamians to climb to the North Pole. They skied 12 hours a day on the ice to make the 120 mile journey with average temperatures ranging from -20 on a warm day, to – 40 and as low as -80 with wind chills. It is widely believed that c onquering the North Pole is considered one of the 20 toughest challenges on record.

In local sports news, our CARIFTA athletes – both the 2015 defending swimming champions and our second place finishers in track and field – celebrated their success with a motorcade on Thursday. The route was Moss Road, north on Thompson Boulevard, east on Poinciana Drive, north on Baillou Hill Road to Bay Street, east on Bay Street and south on Elizabeth Avenue, west on Shirley Street, south on East Street and west on Wulff Road which to the motorcade back to the National Stadium for a pep rally featuring the Sports Minister. The high school relays take place tonight at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.

A group of illegal migrants believed to be Haitians and apprehended by Bahamian officials near Bimini on Thursday arrived in Nassau around 6am on Friday (17th April) via the HMBS Sir Durward Knowles for further processing and repatriation. There were 113 men, 25 women and 32 children as young as 6 months in that group. The men will be housed at the Carmichael Road Detention Center and the children along with their mothers will be housed at a half way house leased by The Bahamas government from the Catholic Diocese of The Bahamas.

The former Deputy Director of Education for the Northern District , the late Sandra “Mother Blue Jay” Edgecombe was laid to rest today at First Baptist Church in Freeport Grand Bahama. Prime Minister Christie and cabinet colleagues paid tribute to her life and work. May her soul rest in peace.

Freeport is the place to be this weekend where the Grand Bahama leg of The Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival festival kicks off (Friday, 17th April) beginning with the semi-finalists in the masters’ song competition performing in concert and an all-day jamboree planned for Saturday. Opening this cultural event is Prime Minister Perry G. Christie. Also bringing remarks will be Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe and Grand Bahama affairs Minister Dr. Michael Darville.

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