This Week in The Bahamas Commentary by Elcott Coleby: Nov 17 – 21


Prime Minister Addresses Prayer Breakfast

Deputy Director at BIS Elcott Coleby.

Party leader and Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie told those gathered at the prayer breakfast not to forget from whence The Bahamas had come in twenty-eight short months. He said his government did not shy away from the challenges confronting the country but “boldly and confidently” addressed them while others ducked, double-talked, back tracked and jeered the government in the face of the difficult, tough but necessary decisions the PLP government made during its first twenty-eight months in office.

The Prime Minister listed fiscal reform, social reform, recreational reform, constitutional reform and financial services reform as some examples of the tough decisions his government has made and in support of his claim that the last legislative session was arguably “the most reform driven legislative session in an independent Bahamas.”

He assured those gathered of his commitment to implementing Natinal Health Insurance.

Commenting on the emotive topic of immigration, the Prime Minister stated that it was is not the policy of the government of The Bahamas to detain children, but reiterated that the immigration laws of The Bahamas must and will be enforced and all wards of the state will be treated humanely. He blasted those who were responsible for spreading misinformation about the policy’s implementation and about the government and people of The Bahamas, describing calls for a boycott of The Bahamas “foolishness.”

Arianna Strikes Gold, Gold, Gold, Gold

Bahamian swim sensation and Olympian Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace struck gold four times for The Bahamas during the XXII Central American and Caribbean Games (CAC) swim competition in Veracruz, Mexico. The events were the 50 meters butterfly in 26.46 seconds, the 100 meters freestyle in a record time of 54.87 seconds, the 100 meters butterfly in a time of 1:00.17 and the 50 meters freestyle in a time of 25.24 seconds.

An emerging star, Grand Bahamian Joanna Evans took silver medals in the 400m freestyle in a time of 4:16.82 and set a new Bahamian national record of 8:39.61 in the 800 meters freestyle.

The CAC Games are the oldest continuing multi-sport regional championships event in the world. The games are held every four years and the first games were hosted in Mexico City in 1926. The current games will run from November 14 – 30.

Prime Minister Christie Launches “National Development Plan”

“We must take ownership of the plan and essential to that is The College of The Bahamas,” said Prime Minister Christie as he officially launched the consultative of public phase of the country’s National Development Plan: VISION 2040 at the Harry C. Moore Library at the College of The Bahamas.

Highlighting the critical role the country’s premier tertiary institution of higher learning must play in crafting this plan, the Prime Minister said he was happy to come to The College of the Bahamas, soon to be University of The Bahamas, “which is the most appropriate place to launch this process.”

This collaborative policy initiative with the IDB, which injected an initial $450,000 into the project, has commenced the process of the development of a long-term National Development Plan – Vision 2040. The three-phased plan calls for a comprehensive economic strategy to be integrated into the operational policies of the Government and also guide the budgeting process. It is likely that the government would have to provide an additional $500,000 to complete all three phases of this comprehensive plan.

OAS Wants More Bahamian Scholarship Applicants

Representatives from the Human Development, Education and Employment Department (DHDEE) of the Organization of American States (OAS) met with Bahamian stakeholders to apprise them of increased education and training opportunities for Bahamians through the expanded scholarship programs offered by the OAS. The meeting was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday November 17.

Of particular interest was the partnership program for higher education and training. Created in 2000, the OAS Consortium of Universities currently comprises over one-hundred higher education institutions and has significantly increased the number of scholarships recipients over the years. Over 3,000 scholarships were granted since 2010 and 1,800 alone in 2013 but notwithstanding this, the level of Bahamian participation remains relatively low. Mrs. Philip bemoaned the fact that even though the partnership with the University of Brussels made available some sixty scholarships in 2013, no Bahamians applied.

Under this partnership program and on an annual basis, China offers more than 100 scholarships; Belgium makes available 60; Macedonia awards 15; several hundred can be secured through Mexico and Brazil has approved some 500 scholarships for 2015, up from the 450 scholarships the cluster of 46 universities awarded in 2014. Applications are to be filed online at the OAS portal.

Cacique Award Finalists Announced

The 16th annual Cacique award scheduled for January 2015 will be very special because it comes on the heels of the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Ministry of Tourism in the year of culture. At a press conference on Monday of this week, the finalists for this prestigious award in the various categories were named as follow:

The finalists for Transportation are Paul Levarity of Bimini, Cheryl Fox Cambridge of Nassau, Albury’s Ferry Service Ltd. of Abaco.

For Human Resources Development, the finalists are Kevin Tomlinson of Grand Bahama and Sonia Cox-Hamilton of Nassau.

Local Airlines and Tour Operators finalists are Juan Moss of Nassau, Cherokee Aviation of Abaco and Majestic Holidays of Nassau.

For Sports and Leisure, the finalists are Andra “Andy” Smith of Andros, Ebenezer “Bonefish Ebbie” David – Bimini and Thomas “Bonefish Tommy” Sewell – Bimini.

For Special Events, the finalists are Mark Knowles Celebrity Invitational of Nassau, the National Family Island Regatta Committee of Exuma and Victorine Bannister-Collie of Nassau.

In Creative Arts, the finalists are James Pinder of Bimini, Jessica Colebrooke of Nassau and Kevin Tomlinson of Grand Bahama.

For Handicraft, the finalists are Roganna Wilchcombe & Vernetta Frith of Grand Bahama, Ellamae Brennen of Berry Islands, James Pinder of Bimini.

For Sustainable Tourism, the finalists are Charles and Theresa Knowles of Long Island, Bimini Sands Activities Center of Bimini and Candace Key of Abaco.

This year’s Clement T. Maynard Lifetime Achievement Award recipient is music legend Nathaniel “Piccolo Pete” Saunders, age 100 of Bimini. He is known for the legendary local hit, “Never get a licking (‘till you go down to Bimini’).

Mitchell Answers Smith and Amnesty International

Responding to Attorney Fred Smith, president of a Grand Bahama based human rights organization, characterized the country’s immigration policies as “institutional terrorism” and charged that the constitutional rights of some were being violated, Mitchell had this to say:

“The Ministry is again concerned by certain actors in the population that appear to be intent on chasing headlines, seeking to create public hysteria and resorting to misinformation in order to do so. Their language is intemperate, inflammatory and the claims regarding the immigration policy are inaccurate.

“There has been no breach of the law and no violation of anyone’s constitutional rights, sanctioned by the Bahamas Government in the enforcement of the country’s immigration laws.”

Amnesty International joined the fray a day later, stating that they were concerned about human rights abuses, the “arbitrary” application of the policy and that Haitian nationals were being disproportionately Targeted. The Foreign Affairs Minister quickly shot back, asserting that Amnesty International was “badly mistaken” and counter-charged that human rights organization risked its international reputation and credibility by pursuing their line of argument.

“The immigration policy is humane in nature and generic in its application as no particular national grouping is being targeted” said Minister Mitchell. “Further, it is not the policy of the Bahamas Government to violate the civil or human rights of any citizen or resident and there have not been any reported cases of abuse in connection with these routine checks and interdiction exercises.

“Amnesty International is dead wrong on their account of events and risks its international reputation and credibility by pursuing this line of argument.”

Parliament Reconvened this Week

A cursory wrap up of House proceedings on Wednesday, Nov 19 after a short recess is as follows:

Dr. Nottage reported on the 4 constitutional bills currently before the House, assuring all that the government fully supported the bills and bipartisan support was necessary of its absolute success. He also said that the issue was as simple as eliminating discrimination based on gender and that men and women should be treated equally – nothing more, nothing less.

Social Services Minister Hon. Melanie Griffin advised the House of the multiple sections of the Persons with Disability Act that became law on the 3rd November 2014.

Tourism Minister Hon. Obie Wilchombe updated the House on the commencement date of the new gaming laws. The commencement date is Monday, November 24 and the new bill is expected to transform gaming in The Bahamas, placing it on equal footing with premier gaming destinations in the world such as Las Vegas while regularizing domestic webshop gaming.

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis reported what he called the “good news” of a measureable reduction in the levels of non-revenue water in light of the $81 million contract to the Israeli firm Miya to tackle that national vexing problem. The Deputy Prime Minister reported that water losses were reduced from 6.9 million imperial gallons per day to 4.9 million imperial gallons per day in just eighteen months of the Miya project, beating the 2014 project target of 5.5 million imperial gallons.

Hon. Fred Mitchell reported to the House on the new Immigration policy that took effect on Saturday November 1. He insisted that immigration is a “blunt instrument,” it is policing and not “social services” and that the government “won’t flinch” in its sustained effort to tackle this “national security problem” called illegal immigration. He also led with the first reading of the amended Foreign Affairs Act, paving the way for the establishment of the ,foreign service alongside the existing public service.

Hon. Alfred Gray, Agriculture Minister provided a somewhat enthusiastic update on Andros-based BAMSI, pointing out that Papaya, Bananas, Pineapples, Avocados, Limes and Coconuts are either under cultivation, ready for harvest or in some of the supermarkets. He told House members that the vast majority of the produce from the commercial farm have been sold.

Hon. Glenys Hanna- Martin updated the House on the fatal plane crash in Grand Bahama on 9th November that claimed the life of Dr. Myles Munroe, his wife and seven others. The Minister said that a thorough analysis of the flight’s black box could take months.

Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez updated the House on the country’s level of preparedness to fight this menace. He outlined the safety protocols that are now in place to protect The Bahamas against the potential health risks associated with this virus.

State Minister for Legal Affairs Hon. Damian Gomez advised the House that the purpose retrofit of the old magistrate courts in the Ansbarcher building was completed on the November 15. Currently there 9 judges appointed and available hear criminal cases. This is up from 6 judges. The State Minister advised that objective of the government is to have 10 judges hearing criminal cases simultaneously to effectively address the backlog of cases clogging the judicial system.

Investment Statement Minister Hon. Khaalis Rolle reported on the launch of the National Development Plan (NDP). Calling the plan a “landmark” instrument of governance with the capacity to create “a cultural shift,” Rolle said that the NDP will allow the government to plan and govern in a consolidated fashion while simultaneously measuring performance results.

In Passing…

The bodies of the victims of that horrific plane crash that took place in Freeport, Grand Bahama on Sunday, November 9 were flown to Nassau early this week for burial. The board of directors of Bahamas Faith Ministries International (BFMI) selected Pastor Dave Burrows as Senior Pastor of that church.

With only 900 businesses registered with just over one month before Value Added Tax become law, the VAT Private Sector Education Taskforce held a press conference on Monday to urge businesses not to wait until the last minute before registering. There are an estimated 5,000 businesses left to be registered for this tax.

Mitchell was the guest speaker at the luncheon meeting of Toastmasters at Lucianos on Wednesday. Of course the Minister addressed the gathering on Immigration, the current hot button topic of the day. He entertained a few questions after the presentation. This followed a meeting with the International Organization on Migration (IOM) on Monday. Mitchell is scheduled to meet with the Bahamian community at the St. Anges Parish tomorrow evening (Saturday) in Miami before traveling to Washington to meet with the Secretary General of the OAS and to participate in a meeting of the CARICOM Ambassador Caucus on Wednesday of next week.

In a state recognized funeral at Christ Church Cathedral on Thursday, the late Warren James Levarity, former Parliamentarian and Cabinet Minister was laid to rest. He was 82.

The food assistance program administered by the Ministry of Social Services just got easier, more efficient, more transparent, more fraud resistant and accountable when the Ministry unveiled the visa card that can now be used to assist some 6,000 persons currently on the government’s food assistance program. The card can only be used in The Bahamas to purchase food at participating grocery stores.

Well comments appearing in the Jamaica Gleaner indirectly attributed to OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Inzulza did not sit well with Foreign Affairs Minister Mitchell. He called a press conference on Friday in Grand Bahama to refute claims that immigration officers were “rounding up” Haitian nationals. He also blasted Fred Smith, calling on him to retract inflammatory comments about the immigration policy. Smith referred to the policy as “ethnic cleansing,” and “institutional terrorism.”

The Fox Hill Festival Committee got a helping hand on Friday when the Chinese Embassy made a donation to assist in defraying the cost of committee projects. Making the presentation was Ambassador Yuan Guisen and accepting on behalf of the committee was deputy chair Benjamin Rahming.

Today, Friday 21st November the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Aviation Security Risk Management Workshop was concluded after four days of training in which participants acquired the knowledge, skills and capacity necessary to evaluate risks, threats and vulnerabilities of the nation’s aviation security system so that informed decisions can be made as to the level of security measures needed to safeguard civil aviation against acts of unlawful interference.

The Junkanoo Rollover for ‘A’ Category groups, scheduled for Thursday was canceled due to inclement weather and rescheduled for Saturday at 7pm in Rawson Square. The order of performance for the six ‘A’ groups will be One Family, Roots, Valley Boys, Music Makers, Saxons and rounding out this practice session will be the Prodigal Sons. The route will begin at Frederick Street and terminate at East Street.