This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: June 22 – 26

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

Bahamas Prime Minister: “Education transforms lives”

Telling Commonwealth education stakeholders and delegates that their gathering at the 19th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was the most important meeting in the world, Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie underscored the import of the conference by his assertion that literally “education transforms lives.”

The Prime Minister was delivering the keynote address on Tuesday night at the opening ceremony of this conference under the theme “Quality Education for Equitable Development: Performance, Paths and Productivity” where representatives from more than fifty countries converged on Nassau to develop a fifteen year education plan for the Commonwealth.

Pointing to a 2010 United States Census showing that an African–American male with a high school diploma is 70% less likely to be imprisoned than one with no diploma, Mr. Christie said that “throughout the world, the rate of crime falls when the rate of education rises.”

In making the case that education improves ones earning power, the nation’s chief referred to a 2014 OECD education report indicating that high school, vocational school and university graduates earn between 10% and 70% more than the OECD income average.

In making the connection between health and education, the Prime Minister referred to the 2013 OECD health report that revealed that women and men who are university graduates have an average life expectancy of 4 and 8 years respectively more than those who are not university graduates.

“Your work make all the difference” said the Prime Minister, “between freedom and incarceration; employment and unemployment; indeed life and death.”

Mr. Christie said that in a year when the international community will decide its global education goals, he can think of no better motivation to “identify realistic and practical measures to ensure that every Commonwealth country is able to provide a world class education.”

Minister Fitzgerald: “…we must be progressive in our thinking…”

Sending a clear message of innovation, progressiveness and planning to commonwealth education ministers and delegates, Bahamas Education Minister Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald told the Stakeholder Forum that the conference was just a reminder for education stakeholders to be “progressive” in their thinking and approach.

He was addressing the 19th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) under the theme “Quality Education for Equitable Development: Performance, Paths and Productivity” at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island on Monday 22nd June. Delegates were in Nassau to craft an education development plan for the next fifteen years.

“We must possess foresight and plan with purpose knowing that the needs of the global education community, especially with the Commonwealth, will have changed tremendously” said the Minister.

The Stakeholders’ Forum provided a multi-sector platform through which priority areas could be established for Commonwealth education policy and practically delivered. Given, therefore, the critical importance of information delivery in the learning process, Minister Fitzgerald told stakeholders that creative and innovative methods of delivery were necessary to ensure that the learning needs of each child were consistently and adequately met.

This week in the Senate

The 2015/2016 national budget passed the Upper House on Thursday and is on to the office of the Governor General for assent. The budget becomes effective the 1st July, the start of the government’s fiscal year. Some budget highlights are as follow:

Touting the success of the Swift Justice Initiative (SJI), Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs the Hon. Allyson Maynard-Gibson told Senate colleagues that year to date, the conviction rate stands at 66% which is up from 31% in 2012 when she assumed the office. The conviction rate stood at 54% in 2013 and 2014. She also revealed that for the first time this year the AG’s office is on track to dispose of more cases than the number of Voluntary Bill of Indictments (VBI’s) presented. This compares favourably to 2012 when 118 matters were disposed of and 350 VBI’s were presented.

State Minister for National Security, Senator Keith Bell told Senators that even though the country continues to struggle with a high rate of murder, other serious crimes are trending downwards and that the police have had measureable success in reducing many categories of serious crime. He pointed out that a large number of murder victims, 157 over the past six years, were persons out on bail and felt that calls for amending the bail act were driven by this harrowing statistic.

Chairman of the Public Hospital Authority, Senator Frank Smith extolled the virtues of Value Added Tax (VAT), saying that the policy is modern, fair and is already generating the public revenue necessary to meet the increasing fiscal commitment of the government in building a stronger Bahamas, all to the chagrin of the naysayers and doomsday prophets.

Vice President of the Senate, Hon. Joseph Curry supported the government’s policy decision to issue a $100 million via the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation to construct 1,000 housing units over the next two years. He said this would benefit 1,000 families and thousands of Bahamians.

Senator Tanisha Tynes told the senate that the $250 million port expansion by the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and Hutchison Whampoa in addition to MSC’s discussions with the government for the lease of an island to construct an exclusive port both spelled good economic news for Grand Bahama and The Bahamas generally.

Senator Gregory Burrows gave an update on the construction of the Andre Rodgers National Baseball Stadium. He said the structure will be prefabricated in 130 days in Kentucky, transported to Nassau on 75 flat racks and assembled here in 6 months. He also revealed that the Blue Hills sporting complex will have to be developed to accommodate the size and scope of the national baseball and softball stadium.

Senator Kwasi Thompson pointed out that notwithstanding a reduction in the number of discouraged workers, the economy is not generating jobs fast enough to accommodate the unemployed and graduates about to enter the labour market in search of jobs.

Senator Carl Bethel pointed to the high debt to GDP ratio which was in excess of 70%

Senator Michael Pintard suggested that his colleague Bell was disconnected from reality for asserting that the government was winning the war against crime.

42nd Independence celebrations announced

Under the theme, “Our children, our future,” the 42nd Independence celebrations were announced on Wednesday of this week at the Cabinet office by the Commission’s chair, Tourism Minister Hon. Obie Wilchcombe. He said that the country’s focus will be on the young people this year, essentially highlighting the future of the country.

“Our focus this year will be on the young people of The Bahamas. We want to highlight the future of our nation and the future of our nation is our young people, whether they are exceeding in education, sports, community events, or offering their help to make our country a better place.”

The celebrations amount to three weeks of events between the 3rd to the 23rd July beginning with National Pride Day at Rawson’s Square; the perennial Beat Retreat with a special youth performance; an independence children’s concert at COB; an art show in Pompey Square honouring 42 Bahamian legends; the unveiling of the life-sized bronze statue of Sir Lynden Pindling; and the ecumenical service and cultural show on the eve of Independence complete with marching bands, the flag raising ceremony at midnight, fireworks, junkanoo awards and the junkanoo rush-out will all usher in Independence Day on 10th July.

There will be an official state reception at Government House; a reception for Klay Thompson of the NBA world champion Golden States Warriors at the Melia Resort on the 21st July and the month of events will climax with the naming of the entrance to the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in honour of Mychal “Sweetbells” Thompson on 23rd July 2015.

Mitchell responds to critics and provides updates on immigration

In response to recent media reports suggesting that the government’s immigration policy was xenophobic and discouraged Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) because it was not liberalized, Immigration Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell held a press conference on Wednesday to set the record straight on what he called false assertions.

While the Minister conceded that the department struggles with a “capacity” challenge, he stressed that the country’s immigration policy does not restrict or impede commercial trade or retards foreign investment, economic growth or development in any way.

“I am quick to respond to these (assertions)” said Minister Mitchell, “because I do not want the impression to be given here or overseas that The Bahamas has an immigration policy which is a retardant to foreign investment.

“It is not. There is no policy by the Department of Immigration or the government which retards economic growth or development. Indeed, I say again that no business can legitimately complain that they cannot get the workers they need to run their businesses if it requires the permission of the Department Of Immigration.

“Some people complain legitimately about matters taking too long. The real issue there has to be identified. The reason for delays has to do with resources and capacity – not the policy. This country is an easy country to migrate to lawfully. We admit there are issues in capacity to respond as timely as we would like but there is no policy which stops a legitimate migrant from coming to The Bahamas.”

Giving an update on repatriation efforts and the count at the detention center, Mitchell revealed that presently, there are a total of 180 persons detained at Detention Centre and of that number, 139 are Haitians. Additionally, six (6) persons – three (3) adults and (3) children – are detained at the safe house.

Repatriation of persons from June 1st to 23rd totaled 420 and the breakdown was as follows:

Haitians 369

Jamaican 13

Brazilian 08

Cuban 14

Georgian 08

Venezuelan 02

Ecuadorian 02

There was one (01) each of the following nationals repatriated: Indian, Peruvian, Mongolian and Bangladeshi.

Labour Minister delivers country statement at UN conference

“In the interest of sustainable national development, a dynamic and modern public service is essential to meet the changing demands and expectations of our society and those with whom we do business” were the words of The Bahamas Labour Minister the Hon. D. Shane Gibson as he delivered the Bahamas’ statement at the UN sponsored Public Service Forum in Medellin, Columbia on Wednesday of this week.

Some of the initiatives outlined by the Minister to create a dynamic and modern public service included tackling youth unemployment through a program of skills development and jobs placement.

“That’s why the National Training Agency (NTA) was created in 2013 to build a competency-based training and job placement system which addresses the actual requirements of the workplace” said the Minister. The announced $20 million youth training and jobs program is expected to strengthen the work of the NTA.

The Promotion of stable Industrial Relations is essential to an effective public service said the Minister and pointed to the Tripartite Council Act as evidence of the government’s commitment to this stable environment.

Other initiatives announced by the Minister were the launch of RISE (Renewing, Inspiring Sustaining and Empowering) by the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development – the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) project, e-government, the creation of a National Development Plan, and the establishment of the Public Service College.

As public service reform must be comprehensive in nature if it is to be impactful, Mr. Gibson told delegates that the Government has secured a Consultancy by the Commonwealth Secretariat (COMSEC) to conduct a diagnostic study on upgrading and restructuring the Public Service.

Minister Strachan challenges Saint John’s graduates.

Financial Services Minister the Hon. Hope Strachan challenged graduates of her alma mater, St. John’s College, to make good choices in realizing their career goals as each choice represents a change that will affect them and those around them. She was delivering the commencement address at the school’s graduation ceremony earlier this week.

“Please note students that every time you make a choice, you make a change – a change that affects you and those around you. Conversely though, there are many stories of success – stories that glorify life where the benefits of our existence on this earth are heralded. Where God’s wonderful creation is glorified. These stories tell of the better choices we make in life. They show how we can be productive citizens of our country and indeed of the universe.”

Ninety-eight students graduated from St. John’s College on Monday of this week.

Bahamas working towards removable from EU blacklist

Explaining that because The Bahamas is “a jurisdiction that is considered a leader when it comes to compliance, represented by a professional compliance body supported by the Bahamas government,” the government is moving to have the Bahamas removed from the European Union (EU) tax blacklist. This was the position advanced by Financial Services Minister Hon. Hope Strachan this week in the wake of the blacklisting issued by the EU last week.

The Minister noted a number of initiatives undertaken by The Government designed to strengthen its compliance regime including the implementation of the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) to eliminate cross-border tax evasion; facilitating the automatic exchange of information (AEOA) under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Common Reporting Standards (CRS); and signing 33 Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEA).

Of the twelve EU countries that placed The Bahamas on the blacklist, The Bahamas does substantive business with only Spain and Italy. The other EU countries are Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia.

Minister Wilchcombe provides an update on gaming process

During his participation in the compliance workshop for gaming board employees hosted by the Bahamas Association of Compliance Officers (BACO) on Wednesday, Minister with responsibility for gaming, Hon. Obie Wilchombe, provided the public with an update on the vetting process of applicants seeking gaming licenses and explained why the government extended the transition period before the granting of licenses. He made these comments against the backdrop of some 1,750 employees requiring vetting and the establishment of interactive gaming and internal control systems to protect the industry from the vexing issues of money laundering and the proceeds from crime.

“I have instructed that we must be as diligent as possible; we must not take short cuts because taking short cuts will hurt us internationally. We are abiding by the FATF (Financial Action Taskforce) guidelines and all other international organizations.”

The Minister did reveal that the gaming board has an internal deadline they are working by and that the government is constantly updating banks on information received from the sector to assure banks that proper monitoring mechanisms for the sector are in place.

Minister Griffin on Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) initiative

Now that the Conditional Cash Transfer system has been implemented, Minister of Social Services and Community Development, Hon. Melanie Griffin provided a preliminary assessment on how his new safety net program has streamlined the operations at the Department of Social Services, freeing up much needed resources to be used in other areas such as counseling.

“The social workers now based on the level of interaction with the prepaid card, how it has reduced the lines, and interaction with the clients of disbursed assistance, social workers are now better set to have more interaction with the clients in terms of counseling them on how to spend the CCT – that’s the first thing – how to manage the CCT to the betterment of their family.”

Under this safety net program, pregnant recipients are required to attend prenatal clinic for the duration of their pregnancy; participate in at least four craft classes; children up to twelve months must have routine childcare visits and participate in a lifestyle coach session; they must visit a nutritionist by six months of age and high risk mothers will be required to participate in two sessions with a lifestyle coach as part of the conditions to receive CCT assistance.

In passing…

Mrs. Dawne Bethel, wife of Bahamas High Commissioner to London HE Eldred Bethel along with other spouses of diplomats, made a financial donation to the Ranfurly Homes for Children on Tuesday, June 23. Accepting on behalf of the Ranfurly Homes was Mr. L. Alexander Roberts, administrator.

In sports, the 44th RBC Bahamas National Swimming Championships kicked off this week on Thursday at the Betty Kelly Kenning National Swim Complex. Also, the BAAA’s National Track and Field Championship will held this weekend at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium. This meet will serve a qualifier for the World Track and Field Championships in Bejing, China; the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Canada; and the CAC games in Costa Rica.

BTC employees were upset when they learned on Thursday that some 141 employees were being made redundant next week. Union President Bernard Evans told the media that every option was on the table, including industrial actions. Negotiations by government agents are ongoing.

The Bahamas signed its 33rd Tax Information Exchange Agreement on Thursday as the country continues to demonstrate to the world its commitment to building a credible, accountable, compliant, transparent and strong financial services sector according to Minister Halkitis. Its latest counterpart is Indonesia. Signing for The Bahamas was State Minister for Finance the Hon. Michael Halkitis and signing for Indonesia was Ambassador HE Cornelius who termed the tax agreement “historic” for his country.

Today is 26th June so it is drug abuse day as declared by the United Nations where nations pause to reflect on the eternal fight against drug abuse. Today is also HIV testing day as the campaign to “know your status” continues in the fight against this deadly disease. An exhibition and mobile testing stations are all set up in Rawson Square to educate the public about HIV/AIDS and to provide on-the-spot testing free of charge.

Today, Friday the 26th June, Prime Minister Christie is in Antigua and Barbuda for the official opening of a 20,000 square feet, state of the art, first of its kind cancer treatment center. This opening is not only a proud and important moment for residents of the Eastern Caribbean, but for Bahamians as one of the principals of that health facility is Bahamian born physician Dr. Conville Brown. Congratulations to Dr. Brown as he proves that the delivery of quality health care knows no borders.

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: