This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: 16 – 20

Deputy Director at BIS Elcott Coleby.

The House Resolution to approve the government’s midyear budget statement and the IDB Governors meeting highlighted government news this week in The Bahamas.

Highlights from this week in Parliament.

Debate on the midyear budget statement continued this week. Moving the resolution to approve the midyear budget statement on Monday was State Minister for Finance Hon. Michael Halkitis who told House members that the government has pursued a “bold agenda” and made the tough decisions in troubled times, but will not be distracted by naysayers and critics. He said the government is on target to reduce the current budget deficit by $160 million, has cut the GFS deficit in half to date and is on pace to reduce government debt by 2015/2016 fiscal year. Further, at $689 million, government revenue performance is $32 million or 7% ahead of last year and $841 million of the $1.8 billion budgeted have been expended at the midyear point. Also, he said that by 2017, the economy is on pace to grow by 6.2% or $600 million more than the level in 2012. The economy contracted by $239 million or 3% between 2007 and 2012.

On the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT), the cornerstone of the government’s fiscal reform initiative and consolidation plan, Halkitis confirmed that $16.2 million were collected as at the 10th February and that the government projects a collection of $300 million in VAT in its first full year of implementation.

The Immigration Minister told House members that the law which created the Department of Foreign Affairs came into force on the 23rd December 2014 and later, on the 30th December 2014, the Foreign Service Orders came into Force. Hon Fred Mitchell said that the department will add six additional Foreign Service Officers in addition to new allowances due to the new levels. More funding will be needed to facilitate this and future repatriation operations because the budgeted $1.5 million for repatriation exercises have been exhausted as $1,678,983.00 were spent to date. He also challenged the business community to identify one example of a work permit refusal impeding their business operations. This was in response to media reports that work permit refusals were adversely impacting some businesses.

Agriculture and Local Government Minister Alfred Gray reported that all islands without fisheries officers will one assigned to those islands. He assured House members that BAMSI is progressing well and construction has not stopped at the institute. He also provided the House with an update on the upgrade and beautification of the Potter’s Cay dock.

Youth and Sports Minister Dr. Johnson boasted that the National Festival Commission will organize year round festivities for both practitioners and entrepreneurs in the cultural community. He also touted the National Youth Policy and a “one stop shop” for youths and as having substantive solutions to crime. Minister Johnson declared that The Bahamas was in the sports business and used the economic success of the Popeye Bowl game as one tangible example of that. He promised more sporting facilities in the family islands and greater support for youth development in the areas of sports and culture.

Prime Minister Christie in his capacity as Chair of CARICOM, updated the House on the 26th Inter-sessional meetings of government heads of CARICOM scheduled to be held at the Melia Resort in Nassau on the 26th and 27th February 2015.

The Prime Minister said that among the agenda items up for discussion were the need to leverage CARICOM’s human, cultural and natural assets for the economic development of the community; regional security, and particularly in light of the threat of the Islamic State of Iran and Syria (ISIS); reparations for native genocide and slavery; discussions on how the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) can support the development of agriculture in the Community and relations with the Dominican Republic.

The Prime Minister congratulated Dr. Harris and his Unity Party on the occasion of their electoral victory in St. Kitts and Nevis on Monday, 16th February and thanked outgoing Prime Minister Dr. Douglas for his years of service, especially in the area of Health.

In other news from Parliament, the senate met on Wednesday to debate the amended Electricity Act 2014 and the Tripartite Council Bill 2014. Both bills were passed by the Senate and are on to the Governor General for signature.

Government considers gun amnesty

“We haven’t had really successful gun amnesties” said Minister of National Security Hon. Bernard Nottage, “but we are willing to try anything that has a chance of working because truth be known, if we can get the guns out of the hands of young people the murder rate would go down considerably and this would have a tremendous positive impact on the fear of crime in the society.

“We are discussing it” said Dr. Nottage to the media this week as he revealed that the government currently has under active consideration, the implementation of an amnesty period for guns as a component of its anti-crime fighting initiatives. This generally means that those in possession of illegal firearms can turn them in without question or prosecution for the duration of the amnesty period.

The record shows that murders by guns have increased 27 percent over the last eight and one half years and from 2006 to 2009, ranged from 55% to 64%; this according to the Nassau Guardian.

Prime Minister Christie calls for IDB reforms

In addressing governors at the official opening of the 4th IDB Caribbean Governors Regional Meeting at the Grand Lucayan on Thursday in Grand Bahama, Prime Minister of The Bahamas, the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie told Caribbean governors that they must play a more prominent role through reforming the IDB’s private sector lending framework to assist in the protracted economic recovery efforts of many Caribbean countries

“Most solutions point to the need for a more prominent role for the private sector in developing and sustaining the engines of economic growth. In this regard, we anticipate that the reform of the IDB’s private sector lending framework will also result in increased financing for a broader range of economic growth-producing enterprises within the Caribbean.”

Turning his attention to the debt burden of many countries in the community and the need for austerity measures and fiscal consolidation regionally, the Prime Minister pointed out the need for continued access to capital to fund development projects to facilitate growth and development in the face of these fiscal challenges.
“I am aware that the Bank is re-examining its lending framework to ensure that it remains responsive to the increased demand for development financing within the context of fiscal consolidation imperatives that limit the capacity of the major industrial countries to fund development lending in the less developed world.

“Technical and financial support from international financial institutions and development agencies, including the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Caribbean Development Bank, cannot be understated as they continue to undergird the pivotal reforms to our own policy frameworks directed on a regional and country-by-country basis” said Mr. Christie.

Also in attendance were: Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe; Minister for Grand Bahama the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville; Minister of State for Finance, the Hon. Michael Halkitis; and other senior government officials.

The 56th meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank will be held in Nassau in April, 2016.

Foreign Affairs respond to the OAS

In a press statement released today (Friday, 20th Feb), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to a report of “Precautionary Measures” issued by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States regarding an assessment of the conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.According to the OAS Commission, the measures were issued because a number of human rights groups claimed that the life and physical integrity of various migrants at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre were at risk.

In its response the government said it believes that “many of the concerns are overstated and inaccurate.

“The report is being more fully reviewed and a diplomatic note will be dispatched shortly giving the considered response of the Bahamas Government to these allegations and recommendations” said the statement.

“At first blush” the statement continued, “it is unfortunate that the report appears to have adopted the narrative of the various human rights groups and press-based advocates that are not based in fact. Many of its assertions are based on untested tendentious, anecdotal material. In the face of these inaccuracies, it is difficult to accept any conclusions which flow from this decision of the Commission. It simply strains credibility.The decision is not helpful in resolving the issues which are confronted by illegal migrants to The Bahamas and comes off as prejudicial.”

The statement also said that the Government has in its possession a report commissioned by a panel headed by a former Justice of The Bahamas Court of Appeal about the conditions at the Detention Centre; that within its resources the Immigration Department is addressing the panel’s recommendations about the Detention Centre; and that the government of The Bahamas is committed to maintaining international standards in all of its detention facilities.

In Passing…

On Wednesday, February 18, Bahamian journalist Travis Cartwright-Carroll paid a courtesy call on U.S. Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Lisa Johnson to discuss his recent participation in the U.S. State Department sponsored International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) focused on “Investigative Journalism” revealed the US Embassy in a press statement on Wednesday of this week. The statement said that Travis, a journalist at The Nassau Guardian, participated in the professional exchange held in the United States from November 17-December 5, 2014.The program was designed for investigative journalists, reporters and editors from print, radio and television as well as professors of journalism.“During the professional exchange, Travis, along with twenty media professionals selected from around the world, had an opportunity to visit several U.S. cities including Washington, D.C., Chicago, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City and Tampa Bay to share investigative journalism best practices with their counterparts in the United States” said the statement.

A Service of Celebration for the life of the late Police Constable 983 Latorio Demeritte, washeld on Wednesday, February 18, at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. PC 983 Demeritte died in an accident while on duty, February 2. Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie and Minister of National Security the Hon. Dr. Bernard Nottage were among those who attended the service and paid their respects.

It is midterm again – those few days when students are on vacation and parents and motorists enjoy a short respite from the frustration of traffic jams as they make their way downtown from the suburbs. One downside to the better traffic flow is that motorists have less time to read and answer text and whatapp messages on the way to work. In the public schools, Wednesday and Thursday were teachers professional days and their midterm vacation actually begin today ( Friday) and end on Monday. Students in the public school system started their midterm this past Wednesday and everybody reports to school on Tuesday of next week…then of course the traffic jams begin again.

CEO of Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), Leon Williams revealed this week that BTC intends to offer voluntary redundancy packages to as much as 150 employees as it creates a leaner company in preparation for competition in the mobile telecommunications market. As the government of The Bahamas is a major share holder in BTC, Prime Minister Christie plans to meet with Mr. Williams this week to discuss the company’s plan to streamline its operations ahead of liberalization of the mobile phone sector.

Several hundred job seekers participated in a jobs fair hosted by Sandals Resort on Thursday of this week. Available employment positions include room attendants, butlers and waitresses.

I reported a story in this column several weeks ago about a police raid at a local night spot in Nassau that resulted in a Jamaican woman filing a complaint of rape by a Senior Immigration Officer (SIO). We now know that SIO Norman Bastian, 53, was arraigned in court before Magistrate Andrew Forbes on Thursday on the charge of rape of a 28 year old Jamaican woman and was denied bail. He will appear before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson Pratt on 23rd February 2015 for a fixture hearing. The alleged sexual assault took place at the defendant’s home at or around 15th December 2014.

Senator the Hon. Allyson Maynard-Gibson, Bahamas Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, was among seven noted alumni of Barry University who were honoured with the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award at a luncheon held at the Jungle Island Treetop Ballroom on Thursday, February 19, 2015.

Held annually since 2007, Barry University’s Distinguished Alumni Awards recognize Barry alumni for their distinguished professional achievements and contributions to society through service. Senator Maynard-Gibson earned her Bachelor of Science in Business from Barry in 1975. At the age of 18, she was the youngest graduate in Barry’s history at the time.

A post on social media purported that the contract of local radio talk show host Kevin ‘Minister K’ Harris was being terminated by the Nassau Guardian; apparently General Manager Brent Dean broke the bad news to him that the Guardian was “terminating my contract with Guardian Radio with immediate effect.” Mr. Harris is the host of “State of Affairs.”

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: