This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: Mar 23 – 27

Deputy Director at BIS Elcott Coleby.

National leaders remember Sir Lynden on his 85th birthday

Honouring the memory of her husband and the father of the nation, Bahamas Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling quietly laid the customary wreath at the mausoleum of Sir Lynden for the fifteenth consecutive year since his death in 2000. On Sunday, 22nd March which would have marked his 85th birthday, the Dame reflected on Sir Lynden and the symbol of the wreath after a short ceremony.

“For the last fifteen birthdays, I have been laying a wreath at my husband’s mausoleum just to say happy birthday and to thank him for all he has done for me and my family and for the people of The Bahamas…this is the least I can do to remember him – he was interviewed once and he was asked how he would like to be remembered – he said ‘I just wanted to be remembered’ and this is the best way I know how to come and say we love you, we thank you and continue to rest in peace.”

Showing his support for this gesture and saluting his “brother” was Prime Minister Christie who spoke of the vision of Sir Lynden and how that vision is impacting his government’s agriculture, food security and economic diversification policies.

“…and he (Sir Lynden) said but for Andros, he says as Florida becomes more urbanized, land from Andros will in fact be used for agriculture…and so what we thought going into this term – what a wonderful occasion it will be – to be able to fulfill his dream by actually making an extraordinary effort, a real extraordinary effort for diversification. So that’s what we are doing in Andros (with BAMSI).”

Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell who was also on hand reiterated the importance of protecting and defending the reputation of our national heroes who have moved on and cannot fend for themselves.

“One of the things which is very important about those of us who are left behind is to protect the reputation of those who have gone on – that’s in a sense a way of having a lasting and eternal life – is that those who are behind you, protect your reputation because you are not here to protect your reputation for yourself” said Mitchell

Also on hand was State Minister for National Security, Sen. the Hon. Keith Bell.

Mitchell suggests “criminal enterprise” behind illegal migration

On the heels of several illegal boat landings in The Bahamas, Mitchell told the media that the government was fighting a sophisticated and highly organized criminal enterprise, driven by money. He also used the opportunity to solicit the support of the media in facilitating the national conversation on immigration which the Minister characterized as a “paramount national security issue”.

“I am using this opportunity” said Mitchell, “to solicit the support of the media in the continuing conversation on immigration which is a paramount national security issue. We need the public’s support.

“I want to let you know” continued the Minister, “that this is a continuing exercise – the fight against illegal migration. The more we see, the more it suggests that we are fighting a sophisticated criminal enterprise which is seeking to make money at any cost and in the process attempting to destabilize The Bahamas. All Bahamians must fight this.”

Mitchell thanked the State Minister for Legal Affairs, the Hon. Damian Gomez for his spirited defense of the country’s international reputation at the hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington DC on Friday, 20th March. Minister Gomez delivered a brief update, advising the media that the government repeated its open invitation to the commission to visit The Bahamas to see firsthand, the application of the country’s immigration policy.

Vessel donation by the US strengthens OPBAT efforts

The Minister of National Security, the Hon. Dr. Bernard J. Nottage participated in a turnover ceremony involving the donation of a 410 Apostle Interceptor Police Vessel valued at $668,000. This latest donation by the United States Embassy is expected to enhance the operational capacity of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) to participate in interdiction operations under Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos (OPBAT).

Minister Nottage used the occasion to underscore the significance and strength of this inter-government commitment in the fight against and the suppression of transnational criminality, specifically the smuggling of illegal narcotics and illegal weapons.

“This commissioning ceremony serves as a testimony to the Governments of The Bahamas and the United States of America’s commitment to suppress and interdict illicit drugs and psychotropic substances as well as minimizing the impact of human and weapon smuggling in our archipelago,” said the Minister.

Also on hand for the turnover ceremony were US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Lisa Johnson, Minister of State for National Security Senator the Hon. Keith Bell and representatives of the US Embassy and the Royal Bahamas Police Force. The ceremony took place on Monday, March 23, 2015 at the Royal Bahamas Police Force Marine Support Services Branch located on Bay Street.

BATCU urged to exercise “greater discretion” with public comments

Answering public complaints from the Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union (BATCU) over outstanding holiday pay by the government, the Civil Aviation Department shot back on Sunday, setting the record straight on the issue.

In a released statement, the department assured the public that there is an agreement and sign off in place for holiday pay, the outstanding payments are being processed, substantive retroactive payments have been made and that the government has and continues to negotiate in “good faith.”

“The Department of Civil Aviation also wishes to point out that in addition to the holiday payments now being processed, the members of BATCU have received substantial retroactive payments for shift premium and training allowances, and a further tranche of retroactive payments is now being reviewed for payment. “Additionally” said the statement, “the public is also informed that a 2014 Addendum to the 2003 – 2008 Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Industrial Agreement resulted in the payment of lump sum amounts ranging from $4,000 – $8,500 to each member of the Bargaining Unit.”

The statement continued that the Department of Civil Aviation and the Government of The Bahamas has, and is continuing to exercise good faith with the BATCU, and called on the Union “to exercise greater discretion in its public pronouncements.”

BATCU charged “discrimination” and “rights” violation by the government in a press release issued on Friday, 20th March, 2015 over said outstanding holiday pay.

The tragedy of Shemicka McKinney

The news reports were pretty grim, but pretty generic on Monday morning. We knew only that a woman and two young children drowned at Montagu beach on Sunday night when the victims went overboard in a vehicle.

By Tuesday, the public knew the names of the victims – thirty-six year old Shemicka McKinney and her two young children, Alisa and Gabrielle. Family members described Shemicka as a “depressed,” “angry, sad and confused” woman who apparently “lost her way” in life.

This tragedy sparked a national debate on depression and stress related illnesses and I wish to share come commentary by local experts on this psycho-emotional and social phenomenon.

Dr. David Allen: “This evil, ‘violence destructive tunnel’ is something we really want to alert our people about. Because of the anger, whether it be latent or repressed in us, we’re all vulnerable to enter that ‘evil, violence destructive tunnel.’ What actually happens in that tunnel: First of all, there is hurt, there is anger, the shame happens, there is a defense against shame, but as the hurt continues and the anger continues there is a powerful murderous rage. And the first thing that happens is that you see here, you get cognitive restriction, you lose your perspective, you start magnifying the situation – this person is going to destroy me so I have to do what? Destroy them” said Dr. Allen. He advised those who encounter these types of situations or “triggers” to walk away until the situation calms down and to seek professional help.

Researcher Dr. Keva Bethel also weighed in, indicating that research has shown that suicidal parents did not want their children to endure the level of hurt and quality of treatment they deemed to have suffered at the hands of family and friends. This was a possible explanation for the murder suicide that occurred earlier in the week. Dr. Bethel also said that a local suicide survey revealed that twenty-five percent of Bahamians admitted that they contemplated suicide at some point in their lives.

Baha Mar opening pushed back to May

Baha Mar charged earlier this week that because the contractor (China State Construction Engineering Corporation) clearly “has not completed the work with an attention to detail consistent with Baha Mar standards of excellence,” the multi-billion resort located on Nassau’s Cable Beach strip would not open on March 27 as previously announced. This was according to a press statement released by Baha Mar on Tuesday of this week.

Stating that from the project’s inception, Baha Mar placed its international reputation on the line by indicating its intent to create a gaming destination “unparalleled in the world,” the company “relied in good faith on the representation of the resort’s construction manager and lead contractor.

“Anything less than a world-class facility and best-in-class guest experience is not acceptable to Baha Mar” said the statement and as a result, Baha Mar will not begin its paced opening on 27th March 2015.

The statement went on to say that Baha Mar expects to celebrate its grand opening during the first week in May 2015.

In other Baha Mar news, there was a small construction related fire isolated to one external balcony at the Grand Hyatt that was extinguished immediately by Baha Mar’s internal team with the assistance of the Royal Bahamas Police Force fire services.

This week in Parliament

An amendment to the Parliamentary Election Act and the Juries Act were read for a second time in the House on Wednesday, 25th March 2015. The Parliamentary Election Act allows the Parliamentary Commissioner to share the voter registration list with the Registrar of the Supreme Court in order to expand the jury pool. Under the amended Juries Act, a Jury pool will be selected every two months and potential jurors will be selected electronically as opposed to the current manual lottery process in the presence of the sample pool. The second reading was led by State Minister for Legal Affairs, Hon. Damian Gomez.

The Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie updated the House on the allegations made against the Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government the Hon. Alfred Gray. The Prime Minister said that the Attorney General has referred the allegations against Minister Gray to the Commissioner of Police for a thorough and impartial investigation. Further, the Prime Minister advised the House that Minister Gray has invited him to remove the department of Local Government from his ministerial portfolio, pending the outcome of the police investigation.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Hon. Fred Mitchell updated the House on current Immigration developments. He again claimed that illegal migration to The Bahamas is driven by a well organized and sophisticated criminal enterprise where migrants pay thousands of dollars for the voyage to The Bahamas. He told House members that the Bahamas cannot flinch in the face of this until its proverbial back is broken. He also thanked the State Minister of Legal Affairs, Hon. Damian Gomez for his participation in the recent hearing of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The Youth, Sports and Culture Minister, Hon. Daniel Johnson paid tribute to and congratulated Bahamian collegiate athletes whose schools were invited to the field of 64 of the NCAA Division One basketball championship commonly referred to as “March Madness.” The scholar athletes included Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield of the Oklahoma Sooners and Dwight Coleby Jr. of the Mississippi Rebels.

Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Philip Davis tabled the attendant regulations to the amended Electricity Act, indicating to the House that the Act came into effect on Friday past, the 20th March 2015. “The Act enables persons to install and operate renewable energy generating stations, which can be connected to the electrical grid. The Act further provides for the registration and regulation of such stations” said the DPM.

The Regulations will come into effect upon publication in the Government’s Gazette.

PM urges aspiring journalists to be “reasoned” in their commentary

Addressing a group of College of The Bahamas students as a guest lecturer at the School of Journalism, Prime Minister Christie urged the class of young aspiring Journalists to seek truth and to be reasoned in their public pronouncements on politics and government.

“Politics has somehow warped people and journalists who are political scribes arrogate unto themselves a level of arrogance that stupefies me because they presume to make decisions for people. They presume that the position they are in gives them the right to say what exists and what does not, but the devil is a liar. And what’s important for you as students is to be able to have your leaders come in – and don’t be scared from it – Minnis here, Bran here and Christie here – and say ‘tell us what you believe in’ and make your judgment.” The Prime Minister further challenged the students to learn as much as can and to be the authors of the development of The Bahamas.

The lecture took place at the school of Journalism on the campus of COB on Thursday afternoon.

Government Printing praised for addressing youth unemployment.

In officially opening the 2nd annual Bahamas Government Printing Department Open House and Exposition, Prime Minister Christie highlighted an apprenticeship program geared to addressing the problem of youth unemployment through Urban Renewal.

“I am told that just last week March 17th, the department enrolled eight students from the Urban Renewal Band in a twelve week joint venture apprenticeship program which is designed to prepare participants for employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

“I am also advised that after successfully completing their twelve weeks of formal training in computer-aided photo shop and in-design graphics design software, some of your agencies will be asked to consider engaging them as interns.”

The Prime Minister went on to say that it is anticipated that after this initial group of trainees, the department will continue to train groups of young people every twelve weeks.

“Surely that type of program ought to assist the government in putting a dent in the high rate of unemployment” said Prime Minister Christie. The exhibition took place on Friday morning, the 27th March.

In Passing…

The Ministry of Social Services and Community Development issued 1,078 debit cards in the Robinson Road area alone this week as the Ministry streamlines its welfare services, eliminating manual food coupons, long waiting lines and general frustration to its customers. Minister Melanie Griffin confirmed that this latest disbursement will bring the total number of persons with debit cards to 2,642 by the end of March.

Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources & Local Government, the Hon. V. Alfred Gray announced the opening of the Potters Cay Boat Show to kick off the summer sailing calendar. The one day boat show will take on Easter Monday, 6th April. Minister Gray made the announcement on Monday, 23rd March 2015 at the Ministry in the Island Traders Building.

The National Training Agency (NTA) held a congratulatory luncheon on Tuesday (24th March) in the Oleander Room at Freeport Harbour to honour thirteen interns who completed a ten-week National Training Agency (NTA) Workforce Readiness Program.In attendance at the luncheon were Cecil Thompson, Deputy Chairman of the National Training Agency; Norma Pyfrom, Manager NTA, GBI; Carmeta Miller, Consultant/Trainer, NTA, GBI; Ivan Butler, Headmaster of the Eight Mile Rock School; and Mr. Stubbs, Ministry of Education. Upon the completion of the program the interns were assigned to different departments within the Hutchison Group of companies.

Education Minister Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald addressed students at a special assembly at St. Annes School on Tuesday. The special assembly was held to honour the 2015 Bahamas National Spelling Bee champion Charles Hamilton Jr. Minister Fitzgerald was effusive in his praise for Charles, calling him a role model and describing him as “a clear example to all children and adults that no matter what challenges you face, with confidence and determination, you can overcome those fears and you can succeed.” Good luck Charles at the Scripps Nationals in Washington DC.

In other news related to education, the Prime Minister told COB students during his lecture yesterday that the amended Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) draft is now ready to be brought before the cabinet for approval. It is not long before we get a FOIA.

The Ministry of Transport and Aviation announced a $3.5 million upgrade to the Potter’s Cay Dock. The announcement was made on Thursday.

Fresh off his official opening of the Bahamas Government Printing Department’s Exhibition, Prime Minister Christie was off to Cabinet where an official afternoon meeting of the Bahamas Cabinet was scheduled. The nation’s business is never done.