This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: Feb 9 – 13

Deputy Director at BIS Elcott Coleby.

By Elcott Coleby, BIS

The passage of the Tripartite Council Bill 2015; the midyear budget statement and the announcement of the finalists for a second mobile network license were the three big stories of the week in The Bahamas.

This week in Parliament

The Tripartite Council Bill 2015 was unanimously passed in the Lower House on Monday evening of this week. This new law institutionalizes broad based consultations on labour issues where the oversight Council will comprise representatives from the union, the employer and the government.

In other parliamentary news, the Senate will meet on Wednesday, 18th February at 10:00 a.m. for first and seconding readings of the Electricity and Tripartite Bills and debate will continue on Thursday, 19th Feb at 10:00 a.m. if necessary. Please tune in.

Mitchell answers critics on immigration

Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell used the House rule “Statement from Ministers” to set the record straight on media reports that he claimed were “replete with errors and untruths.” The media reports were related to the government’s latest administrative measures designed to strengthen its immigration policy.

But readers, allow me to digress just a bit. Some people continue to call these new measures “new laws” but they are not – they are simply measures the immigration law empowers the Minister (meaning the cabinet of The Bahamas) to take to strengthen the existing immigration laws in the national interest. The only new immigration law in this whole reform effort by the government is the tabling of a bill to provide for a “Belonger’s Permit” for persons born in The Bahamas, but are stateless. Under such conditions, international law mandates the government to provide status to those persons and the Belonger’s Permit achieves just that at a cost of $125. The alternative is the current Residency Permit which costs $1,000.

The Member for Marco City raised the issue of the 2nd generation and beyond of Haitians whose parents were born in The Bahamas. While they are not “undocumented Bahamians” as the member said, they are stateless and the current Residency Permit and later the Belonger’s Permit will solve their problem of statelessness while fulfilling our international human rights obligations at a significantly cheaper cost. It is important to note that when applications are filed for citizenships between their 18th and 19th birthdays, approval is subject to the terms and conditions of the Bahamas Nationality Act and is not automatic as the Member for Marco City indicated from his feet in the House.

The complaint raised in various quarters about cost of the student permit is not a legal or constitutional issue even though attempts were made to somehow tie the two together. The issues raised are merely administrative details that the government has faced and resolved for decades. If an applicant is unable to pay for the service, the fee is simply waived so that the law can be carried out. Bahamian parents have complained for years that they cannot afford the registration fees for their children levied by the public school system (that include insurance for field trips), but none of their children were ever denied access to education, no not one.

While the government is busy trying to regularize the immigration status of these various categories of persons and bring some semblance of order to and control over our immigration situation, there are Bahamians who are misrepresenting the policy and injuring the international reputation of The Bahamas. The Minister therefore sought to set the record straight on Monday in the House.

Back to the minister’s statement: Contrary to the assertions made by the Nassau Institute, Mitchell maintained that “no new fees are being introduced for immigration fees and there is no new policy as it relates to permission for non-nationals to go to school in The Bahamas.” There were also no new fees for expatriate workers in the private sector as the Nassau Institute claimed and no known work permit requirement in law for non-Bahamians to work in the public service were Mitchell’s rebuttal.

In responding to Fred Smith QC, the Minister told House members that he never mentioned student visas for children born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents, but that schools should ensure that the children have a student permit at a cost of $125. He further denied ever referring to persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents as stateless and that there is no such thing in law as a “citizen in waiting.”

Prime Minister Christie Delivers Midyear Budget Statement

It is that time of the year again. Right around February the government reports to the nation on the state of the economy and public finances for the first half of the fiscal year pursuant to the Financial Administration and Audit Act. The budget statement covers the period 1st July to 31st December of the fiscal year.

As part of his mid-year budget statement, Prime Minister Perry Christie expressed great confidence as he highlighted to the House of Assembly, and to all Bahamians on Wednesday of this week, the strength of the Bahamian economy, secured through the sound fiscal management of public finances by the PLP government.

The Prime Minister stated, “As a result of our prudent approach to financial management, we are on track to reduce the deficit by more than $160 million in this fiscal year. Our deficit for the first half of the year will be 5% below our target. The policies we have put in place, coupled with the courageous financial decisions we have made, will ensure further strengthening of our finances in the second half of the year.”

The IMF projects real growth for The Bahamas this year and next year of approximately 2 per cent. In other words, real output in the Bahamian economy is expected to be more than $600 million larger in 2017 than it was in 2012. This means that during the PLP’s five year mandate, the economy will have grown by almost 8 per cent. This story of economic growth is in sharp contrast to the growth experienced during the previous five years when the opposition FNM was in power, where the economy actually shrank by $239 million, or 3 per cent.

“Since my administration took office, revenue has grown by 6.2 per cent, including this year’s projected revenue.In comparison, under the FNM from fiscal year 2007/2008 to 2011/2012, recurrent revenue decreased by 1 per cent,” said Prime Minister Christie.

As of December 31st, 2014, $689 million in revenue has been collected, which represents about 40 percent of the government’s revenue forecast. Given the implementation of VAT, this number is expected to increase significantly in the second half of the fiscal year.

Government spending is trending below forecast, having spent 49 per cent of the budget. Capital investments in areas such as property, equipment and technology have also been carefully managed, spending only 41 per cent of the budget to date.

Given the success in the first half of the year, and the expectation of a significant revenue stream with the implementation of VAT, the government will be better positioned to make vital investments in healthcare, education, culture and public safety that Bahamians deserve and expect.Having access to sufficient resources to finance these vital expenditures will reduce the government’s borrowing needs.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” continued the Prime Minister. “All Bahamians benefit from economic growth, irrespective of party affiliation, and the PLP will continue to improve the economic outlook to ensure a stable and prosperous Bahamas for the generation of tomorrow.”

Finalists for the second cellular license revealed

Three months after the Government of The Bahamas invited interested parties to apply to operate a cellular mobile network and provide cellular mobile services in The Bahamas, the finalist were revealed by the Cellular Liberalization Taskforce hours after the 2pm deadline on Wednesday, 11th February. November 13th 2014 was the invitation date.

The finalists were Digicel (Bahamas) Holdings Limited, Cable Bahamas Ltd. and Virgin Mobile Bahamas Ltd. All three applicants were present at the opening of their proposals by the Taskforce.

In a press statement, the Cellular Taskforce further revealed that nine entities registered for Request For Proposal (RFP) packages and that upon the competitive process spearheaded by the government, “an Individual Operating License (IOL) and an Individual Spectrum License (ISL) will be issued by the sector regulator, the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA).”

One major component of the evaluation criteria will be the bidders’ ability to have broad Bahamian ownership of the new company, which will ens ure that decisions are made to benefit all Bahamians.

The government and the Cellular Liberalization Task Force are aiming to select and announce a successful applicant by May 2015.

Since the election in 2012, the PLP government has made strides that have steered The Bahamas in the right direction and has paved the way for a more modern country in the future.

During his address, Prime Minister Christie emphasized the, “government is committed to ensuring that ALL Bahamians benefit from the economic fruits of the country and not just a select privileged few.”

Prime Minister Christie: Government will not own 51% of new cellular company

Shooting down media claims that the Bahamas government is looking to purchase shares in the new cellular company scheduled to be named in May, Bahamas Prime Minister Christie said the policy of his government is for “Bahamians – Bahamian investors to own 51%, not the government.”

The Prime Minister went on to say that “the government will retain its ownership in BTC for the time being and the government will spearhead the liberalization process where we say a real special effort was made to place Bahamians who are owners in the pension funds of the country – to have those funds invest towards making up the 51%.

“And so clearly what we are saying is (that) the foreign partner will be a foreign strategic partner with the management of the company probably – in all probability – that is it” said the Prime Minister in an interview with the media on Thursday.

The Prime Minister reiterated that the government will only be a bystander in the process as a task force along with the accountant firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) will be overseeing the liberalization process, following which URCA will oversee an auction. He expressed his surprise that no (new) Bahamian company submitted a proposal but said that the government heard that there might be an alliance between the Virgin Mobile Bahamas Limited and a Bahamian investment group.

In passing…

The Bahamas Press Club met on Sunday at the Hilton and their guest speaker was Immigration Hon. Minister Fred Mitchell. He encouraged them to be activist oriented despite their severe limitations in influencing industry regulations, policy formulation and the realities of the press environment where media houses are owned by huge corporate bodies.

The Central Bank of The Bahamas in conjunction with Bahamas Development Bank and Bahamas Mortgage Corporation hosted an information session on the proposed Credit Reporting Bill 2014 and the Credit Reporting Regulations 2014 at Melia Nassau Beach Resort, Cable Beach, Wednesday, February 11th. Presenters included Wendy Craigg, Governor of the Central Bank of The Bahamas; Rochelle Deleveaux, Legal Counsel at the Central Bank of The Bahamas; Arinthia Komolafe, Managing Director, Bahamas Development Bank and Kevin Burrows, Senior Vice-President, CFAL.

The President of the College of The Bahamas, Dr. Rodney Smith and BAMSI President, Godfrey Eneas toured the research institute on Wednesday morning with the press in tow. It was Dr. Smith’s first trip to the campus and commercial farm. Mr. Eneas said the trip was to officially introduceDr. Smith to theinstitute. The courses taught at BAMSI are designed and accredited by the College of The Bahamas as part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two institutions of higher learning.

Opposition leader Dr. Hubert named Mrs. Lanisha T. Rolle as the senate replacement for Heather Hunt who recently resigned her senate seat. Mrs. Rolle, an attorney at law, is a former police officer and a married mother of three. The announcement was made on Wednesday.

The Bahamas and Cuba signed a phyto-sanitary agreement on Thursday morning to facilitate and boost the trade of agricultural products between the two countries. The agreement puts in place a series of sanitary measures to ensure that animals and plants entering the borders of these countries are free of disease. This is good news for the agriculture industry.

Prime Minister Christie called him a national hero as veteran educator Samuel Guy Pinder was posthumously honoured at a renaming ceremony on Thursday in Spanish Wells. The government officially renamed the Spanish Wells All Age School in his honour to the Samuel Guy Pinder All Age School. In his address, Prime Minister Christie reiterated a familiar theme – the need for the state to officially, properly and formally honour and memorialize Bahamians sons and daughters who have made significant contributions to national development. Mr. Pinder died in 1984 after fifty years of service in the education profession. Minister of Education, Science and Technology Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald accompanied the Prime Minister to Spanish Wells.

A LeAir aircraft crash landed at the Mayaguana airport on Thursday after circling the airport for thirty minutes due to a landing gear malfunction. Only the pilot and co-pilot were on board at the time and both were thankfully unhurt. An eye witness said that the aircraft skidded off the runway upon landing causing some structural damage to the aircraft and the airport was temporarily closed out of an abundance of caution.

The iconic Crystal Palace Casino closed its doors on February 12, 2015 in preparation for the much-anticipated opening of the $3.5 billion Baha Mar development on March 27, 2015 revealed Baha Mar in a press release on Thursday. “The current Crystal Palace casino team is transitioning to Baha Mar, with approximately 55 employees moving into new positions at the Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, the largest and most exciting casino in the Caribbean” said the release. The Crystal Palace and Casino opened its doors in 1990 under the Carnival brand and was the expansion of the publicly owned Cable Beach hotel that the Pindling government sold to Carnival Cruise Lines.

After six months of intensive training including physical training, defensive tactics, safe handling of firearms and computer management, the “D” Squad 2014 comprising thirty recruits graduated Thursday evening during a ceremony at the Police Training College. According to National Security Minister, the cost to train and place an officer in active duty is around $50,000. The Minister further said that given that most crimes are committed by young people, his expectation is that this new pool of young police officers will establish their own relationships in communities in the fight against crime. “We are going to need a lot more of them too in New Providence” said Minister Nottage. Constable 3884 Kristoff Greenslade won the baton of honour.

In a press conference at its headquarters on Old Trail Road, BAIC Chairman Hon. Dion Smith announced the launch of the Business Environment Lecture Series that will commence on the 19th February at the Melia Resort. The classes are free of charge for those interested in learning more about entrepreneurship.

Silver Airways is scheduled to make its inaugural flight from Tampa International Airport to the new Abaco International Airport in Marsh Harbour on Valentine’s Day, Saturday, 14th February at around 3:15 pm. Silver Airways will operate a SAAB 340 with a capacity of 36 passengers for this air service. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Harrison Thompson and the Director General of Tourism, Joy Jibrilu are expected to be on hand to meet and greet passengers.

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: