Nassau Guardian Stories

Minister: Competition committee planned 'before year end'

April 01, 2014

An initiative is underway to ensure that within this calendar year a competition committee is established which would be tasked with ensuring there is healthy competition in the economy that benefits consumers.
Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder said that The Bahamas presently has an obligation under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) trade deal with Europe to establish a competition committee.
Pinder said he has drafted a proposal on how such a committee would be implemented and expects it to come before Cabinet next month, with a goal of having such a committee up and running by the end of 2014.
In addition to being part of our responsibilities to Europe under the trade arrangement that ensures duty free and quota free access for Bahamian goods and services going into Europe, Pinder said that the committee will be of benefit to The Bahamas given its inherently restricted domestic market.
"Certainly in a small country that is of particular importance, because in a small country you have a limited number of businesses in different industries and you want to ensure competition. It drives down prices, makes you responsible and helps the consumer.
"I also believe it will have particular importance with upcoming tax reform because certain goods will see their duty reduced and you have to ensure that market forces are allowed to affect the price of goods when you do that to properly be responsible to the consumer."
Pinder said that such a committee would have to find a "delicate balance" between regulating competitive forces to the benefit of consumers and allowing businesses to "thrive".
While it would ultimately be a decision of Cabinet, Pinder said that there is precedent in the region for the utilities regulator, in this case the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority, becoming the body through which the competition committee is established.
Contacted yesterday for comment, URCA's Chief Executive Officer Kathleen Riviere Smith said that the regulator had not yet been approached about the initiative, but if it were to happen it would require the boosting of the regulator's resources.
URCA is intended to take on significant new responsibilities in the coming year if all goes as planned, including overseeing the shift of The Bahamas into a liberalized telecommunications environment, becoming the regulator of the electricity sector and eventually, the water sector.

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Restrict home size to control energy bills

April 01, 2014

This year many of you will go to an architect to have plans drawn for your dream home and in some cases, your fanciful ideas will come straight from magazines, homes you've seen on TV and even friends' homes. Believe me, there is nothing wrong with pulling from all these sources, but I caution you to be prepared to let go of those dreams if they turn out to not line up with the reality of a home you can afford to not only build, but operate.
As a first step you may want to visit your financial institution of choice and have them advise on the size mortgage you can qualify for. This information should be shared with your architect in the first instance so they are able to tell you how much house that can get you.
If you are currently living in a 1,000-square-foot apartment with one bathroom and you struggle to meet the electricity, water and gas bills to keep that going, it may not be such a good idea to transition to a 2,000-square-foot home just because you can qualify for that much of a mortgage.
Ask the electrical engineer designing your house to help you work out what your monthly electricity bills might be. He or she can assist you with this by assessing what types of appliances you plan to have in your home, how much of it will be air-conditioned and what your usage patterns might be.
For example, if someone in the home works nights, chances are they may be using electricity at home in the day while the other occupant is at work. If both worked days then lights and appliances would probably be on and off at the same time.
In recent years I noticed homeowners and their architects going a bit crazy with lighting, a trend that hopefully has ended, but note that extra lights for beauty add an initial cost to home construction and the replacement of bulbs and higher electricity bills are the ongoing costs to be endured. If you think you really must have 20 lights in your living room, have the engineer design the system so that they are grouped in fours or fives, so that they don't have to all be on at the same time.
Home security lighting should be such that you use a combination of dusk to dawn lighting as well as some fixtures that operate on motion. Too much exterior lighting can be a waste of energy and make you a nuisance to the neighbors.
Also you might want to aim to buy light fixtures that can use fluorescent and LED bulbs so that when you are able to afford the more expensive, more efficient bulbs, it's a smooth transition.
If you are looking to economize on air-conditioning costs, go with ductless units. These individual systems will allow control of one space at a time and are quicker and cheaper to install than fully-ducted systems. They are safer than through the wall and through the window units that pose a potential security risk.
And, sure it's great to have lots of bathrooms, but these come with additional upfront and operating costs, not to mention the whirlpool tubs and rain-styled showers. Be smart and get your architect or engineer to help with selecting low flow toilets, water restricting faucets and showers that help prevent wastage of water and energy.
There are some of us whose utility bills add up to more than a monthly mortgage payment. There is no reason for this, choose home size wisely and avoid those hefty utility bills.
o We would like to hear how this article has helped you. Send questions or comments to sbrown@graphitebahamas.com.

o Sonia Brown is the principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd. and is a registered professional engineer.

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Gospel Fest to boost religious tourism

April 01, 2014

World-renowned gospel and religious leaders will bring attention to The Bahamas' religious tourism offerings when the Ministry of Tourism hosts Gospel Fest on Good Friday.
'Gospel Fest: A Night of Thanksgiving and Praise' will be held on Friday, April 18. The free concert is part of the Ministry of Tourism's 50th Anniversary Celebrations and will be held at Clifford Park.
Several staple musical artists in Bahamian gospel such as The Rahming Brothers, Ricardo Clarke, Edison Sumner, Voices of Praise and the Global United Fellowship Choir will be featured.
The concert will also feature Grammy award-winning gospel artist Hezekiah Walker. Words of inspiration will also be brought by world-renowned Global United Fellowship presiding Bishop Neil C. Ellis.
Director of Religious Tourism Dwight Armbrister said officials are excited about the event.
"On Good Friday, we are going to be in a continuous mode of celebration of the 50th year of [the Ministry of] Tourism's existence in The Bahamas and we want to do that by way of praise and thanksgiving and that's the theme," he said.
"This is going to be a free concert for all of the people who caused us to be where we are as a nation. The (Tourism) Minister (Obie Wilchcombe) has decided to do something where we can give God thanks for the 50 years that we have been in the Ministry of Tourism."

Armbrister said the concert is just the beginning of a number of religious tourism activities that will take place throughout the year.
"Every month, we are going to be doing something that heralds what we have been doing for the past 50 years. April is going to be a significant month where we take time out to give God thanks and praise," he said.
April will be observed as Religious Tourism Month in the 50th Anniversary of Tourism celebrations.

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BTC deal not yet finalized

April 01, 2014

More than two months after the government and Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) announced a deal to transfer nearly two percent of the shares in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) back to the Bahamian people, the agreement is still not yet concluded and has not yet been tabled in Parliament.
Government negotiator Franklyn Wilson had said the deal would be finalized by the end of March.
He said yesterday the final details were being worked on.
"The lawyers are literally dotting i's and crossing t's," Wilson said.
"The good news, there is an understanding that whenever it's signed, it will [take] effect as of today's date [March 31] which happens to coincide with the fiscal year end of Cable & Wireless."
He could not give a new timeline for when the deal will be wrapped up.
"Given schedules, the prime minister's schedule, the schedule of the chairman of Cable & Wireless, these things have to be done at a time when it is mutually convenient," Wilson said.
The government and CWC announced the deal at a press conference at the Cabinet Office on January 22.
But some critics dismissed the deal as a face-saving agreement as it would not result in Bahamians regaining control of BTC, something Prime Minister Perry Christie had promised on the 2012 campaign trail.
However, Wilson believes the government has already benefitted, adding that there are better lines of communication between the Christie administration and CWC executives.
He referenced BTC's network failure last week and said the company handled the situation better than it did when it had system failures in the past.
"This time they are [giving] public apologies, the chairman of the board is writing to the prime minister apologizing. They are taking responsibility and giving concrete steps as to what they are doing. That didn't happen the first time," Wilson said.
"The fact of the matter is, I think the public can see in those actions already the fact that the impact of the negotiations took place.
"And the outcome of those negotiations, including wider lines of communications going to the office of the chairman, all those things resulted in that response and I think that gives the country a glimpse, we're not there yet, but it's a glimpse to what they should expect from BTC in the future."
Wilson also said CWC has agreed that the majority of the board of directors of BTC will be Bahamians.
"As a result of discussions that took place from the time we announced the memorandum of understanding to now, going forward, the majority of the directors of the Bahamas Telecommunications [Company] will once again be citizens of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas," he said.
"In fact, it had been decided at the time the memorandum of understanding had been announced but it was so late that it was not included in the MOU.
"So both sides decided that we would not say that at that point, but since then that's been reaffirmed and that will be a part of the definitive agreement."
He added: "So now as a consequence, the majority economic interest of BTC is in the hands of Bahamians and the majority of the board of directors will be citizens of The Bahamas."
CWC has control of BTC's board with four appointed directors, who Wilson said are all foreigners, compared to the government's three representatives.
In January, Prime Minister Perry Christie and CWC CEO Phil Bentley signed the agreement to transfer 5,093,200 of CWC's shares to the government to be held in a trust for the Bahamian people.
This trust will be managed by the BTC Foundation, which will be created as part of the deal.
The foundation will also hold all of the dividends and income from the shares.
Christie has said the deal represents a fulfillment of his election promise to regain a majority of the shares for the Bahamian people.
In 2011, the Ingraham administration sold 51 percent of the shares to CWC in a highly controversial move.

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Three murders in GB

April 01, 2014

FREEPORT, Grand Bahama - Two men were shot and killed in the same area just hours apart yesterday, according to police. The first victim, a 22-year-old man, identified by family members as Lenardo Pierre, was killed after gunshots rang out in the early morning hours yesterday in an apartment complex in Adventurers Way.
The Freeport News can confirm that three people are assisting police with their investigations into that fatal shooting.
The second man killed, who police have yet to identify, was shot along with another man on Weddell Avenue shortly after 9 p.m., not too far away from the first incident, according to police.
The second victim died at the scene; the other man was shot in the leg and was alive at last report, police said last night. It was unclear up to press time if police believed the shootings were related.
Police Public Affairs and Communications Officer (PACO) Inspector Terecita Pinder told The Freeport News team on the scene of the first killing yesterday that officers received information of the shooting on Adventurers Way sometime around 1:45 a.m.
Several officers were dispatched to the scene and on arrival they met a dark male clad in a teal-colored T-shirt and black pants with multiple gunshot wounds to the upper body.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel responded to the scene, however, Pierre was later pronounced dead.
Residents in the close-knit community gathered outside the police tape which secured the crime scene and some of them could be heard weeping softly.
Police officers were seen canvassing the area and carrying out a preliminary investigation into the island's second fatal shooting in less than 24 hours.
Just hours before police were called to Adventurers
Way, officers responded to another shooting in Eight Mile Rock, where a 15-year-old female was shot in the head at a bar in Kings Subdivision around 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 30.
When police officers arrived at the scene they found the victim, identified by family members on the scene as Alexis Smith, in a pool of blood.
EMS personnel were called, however, when they arrived and examined the body there were no visible vital signs and they pronounced the female dead.
Pinder confirmed that a male, who is known to police, was taken into custody Sunday afternoon and is being questioned in connection with the death of the teenager.
She noted that police are appealing to members of the general public who have information on both matters to telephone 350-3107/8, 919/911 or call your nearest police station.

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Defense force chief says bodies found on cay

April 01, 2014

Four bodies were found on Anguilla Cay in the Cay Sal Bank near the coast of Cuba about a week ago, Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Commodore Roderick Bowe said yesterday; however a senior police official said police had not seen the bodies.
Bowe said the bodies were badly decomposed.
"I don't want to speculate, but from the pictures that we got they would have been there for a while," he said.
"Because it may be a crime scene and we are not trained to investigate in that fashion, it has been handed over to the police.
"That's a matter that the commissioner [of police] and I spoke about. He would rather his people go in and deal with it."
The Guardian first reported that police were investigating reports of dead bodies on the cay on March 21.
At the time, Assistant Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson said he sent a team to the area to investigate and had no further details.
Ferguson told The Guardian yesterday that the officers reported that they did not find anything on the cay.
"We continue to probe the information," he said.
"We are still trying to determine the exact location."
When asked about Bowe's comments, Ferguson said he could not speak conclusively on the RBDF's information.

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Bowe stresses urgency of more RBDF resources

April 01, 2014

Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Commodore Roderick Bowe yesterday defended the government's decision to borrow $232 million to purchase nine vessels and carry out ancillary civil work for the RBDF.
"The Bahamas is an archipelagic nation," Bowe reminded.
"There are so many resources in that water and if we can't protect it, others will try to come in and take it away from us.
"We have to protect it. We need the resources to do so.
"I read an article where several million dollars of products are being exported from a country that does not have banks the size that we do. Actually their banks have been fished out.
"So where are they getting those resources from? Possibly here in The Bahamas. So we must be able to protect those resources and to allow our fishermen to have a livelihood for years to come."
Last month, the government signed a contract with Dutch shipbuilders Damen Shipyards.
The contract is for the sale, building and delivery of four Damen Stan 4207 patrol vessels, four Damen Stan 3007 patrol vessels, nine rigid inflatable boats and one Damen roll-on, roll-off landing craft.
North Eleuthera MP Theo Neilly said it was "disingenuous" of the government to bring a resolution to Parliament to borrow money to fund the fleet days after wrapping up the mid-year budget debate.
Neilly pointed out that during that debate, government MPs stressed that there would be no borrowing during the exercise.
However, Neilly commended the government for purchasing the vessels and said he hoped the fleet will help the RBDF protect local fishermen and Bahamian terrority from poachers.
Bowe pointed to destruction caused by poachers.
"We have been given reports that in the Great Bahama Bank, in the southern part, it has been turned into a marine desert, because the methodology used by those fishermen is destroying and depleting the resources that are there," he said.
"We must have some input in curtailing that."
In February, the RBDF arrested 42 suspected Dominican poachers in a 70-foot fishing vessel around 75 nautical miles south of Andros. The suspected poachers were later arraigned.
Last December, RBDF officers arrested 50 suspected Dominican poachers along the western side of the Great Bahama Bank.
The suspected poachers were discovered with avery large quantity of shellfish and crawfish, authorities said.

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Defense force abuse hearings remain on hold

April 01, 2014

Cuban Ambassador to

The Bahamas Ernesto Soberon Guzman said yesterday some "technical, and legal" issues need to be addressed before two Cuban men can testify in the defense force hearings into the alleged abuse of a group of Cuban detainees last year.
Guzman, who was responding to questions from The Nassau Guardian, did not detail what those issues are.
However, he reiterated the men will testify one way or another.
"I think at the end of the day we will resolve it, but it is nothing with politics or something like this," Guzman told The Nassau Guardian.
"It is just technical issues. There are some legal issues also that you have to take care of in that sense."
Guzman said while no decision has been made on whether the men will testify in Cuba or The Bahamas, the Cuban government is considering several options.
He said one option is the rogatory commission, a formal request of information from one state or country to another.
"This is a common legal process, but we also have some people [who] could travel to Cuba and have the interviews there," he said.
"You also have the option that they come here, but we are now working on that through those different options.
"The most important thing is that at the end of the day they will be able to testify...and they say their version about the issue. And we agree on that."
Guzman was unable to provide a timeline on when a decision could be made.
Attorney Wayne Munroe, who represents five marines accused of abusing the detainees, has said to his understanding the response from the Cuban government will determine how and when the hearing will proceed.
In December, Guzman confirmed that a letter was forward to the Cuban government requesting the two Cuban men return to The Bahamas.
The men -- Yordan Cantero and Alexander Vazcuez -- are at the center of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force abuse hearings.
It is alleged that several Cuban detainees were severely beaten at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre after they attempted to escape from the facility in May.
Munroe's clients deny the allegations. The hearings are closed.
Guzman, who was also asked about the impact of the matter on diplomatic relations between Cuba and The Bahamas, said both countries are in a "good moment".
"We have a very good line of conversation," he said.
"We have a very good understanding. We have very good cooperation.
"We talk about different issues; bilateral and multilateral issues."
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and The Bahamas.

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Man accused of killing friend acquitted

April 01, 2014

A 23-year-old man accused of killing his friend in an argument over money was found not guilty yesterday.
The jury acquitted Edwin Cunningham of murder and the alternative charge of manslaughter in relation to the June 2, 2011 stabbing of Darvey Basden.
The Crown's main witness, Georgina Wright, claimed she heard the argument while she was in the bathroom of their apartment at Constitution Drive.
Wright said she met Cunningham, whom she referred to as CJ, in the bedroom with Basden, the father of her son.
She said CJ had a knife and she tried to take it from him. Wright said Basden told her to leave with the son after CJ allegedly said, "he would kill all of us if we tried to gang him".
Wright said she later saw Basden in a pool of blood with a wound to the neck.
Before he took his last breath, Wright claimed Basden told her he loved her and that "CJ jook me".
Cunningham had denied the charges at his trial before Justice Indra Charles. During his testimony, he said the mother of his child lived in the building and he went there to visit her.
Cunningham said that he saw Basden who gave him $20 on a debt. He said he left without incident.
Cunningham's brother, Charles Cunningham, said he gave his brother a ride to the building. He said he waited in the car for about 20 to 25 minutes before he returned to the vehicle and they both left.
The brother said Cunningham had no blood on him and he did not see him with a knife.
Roberto Reckley represented Cunningham, who was on bail.
Kevin Farrington and Viola Barnett prosecuted.

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PM defends regional financial centers

April 01, 2014

Prime Minister Perry Christie yesterday defended international financial centers in the region.
During the Third Caribbean Conference on the International Financial Services Sector at the British Colonial Hilton, Christie said it is ironic the anti-money laundering, anti-terrorism and anti-criminal regulatory regimes of many Caribbean international financial centers are more robust and effective than those in many of the countries that have been "leading the fight against us".
"Some have used their power either unilaterally or in small groups of high-powered nations to impose their will, arguing that there is something fundamentally immoral, something intrinsically sinister about the accumulation of wealth in offshore jurisdictions," said Christie, who quoted a part of a speech he made at the United Nations General Assembly last year.
"We reject that premise and we criticize in the strongest possible terms the efforts of some to maim and cripple, if not destroy the offshore economies within our region."
Christie said Caribbean countries and other territories should challenge the U.N. to take the lead in developing and refining multilateral global mechanisms that would govern offshore financial services sectors in the region.
"The destruction of these offshore financial services economies will destabilize the countries that depend upon them for their livelihood," Christie said.
He added that tens of thousands of people would slip into poverty if the sector is destroyed.
Christie said The Bahamas has done a lot to ensure it can be both competitive in offshore finance and responsibly regulated.
He told the more than 200 participants from 24 countries he has directed Financial Services Minister Ryan Pinder to work with all relevant institutions within and outside government to ensure Bahamians are prepared for the changes in the financial services sector.
He said the government wants to ensure that this region continues to develop quality financial services professionals to ensure that member countries' economies remain attractive.
The three-day conference ends on Wednesday.

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Sands: U.S. Embassy's reporting of crimes raises questions

April 01, 2014

Free National Movement (FNM) Deputy Chairman Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday the fact that the United States Embassy in Nassau has once again made a crime public that was not reported by police "creates room for speculation" about the Royal Bahamas Police Force's policies.
Sands was contacted to respond to comments Assistant Commissioner Anthony Ferguson made to The Nassau Guardian on Sunday in defense of police policies on crime reports.
Ferguson responded to a previous Nassau Guardian article which pointed out that a new U.S. Embassy crime warning referenced an attempted armed robbery of an armored truck at Wendy's restaurant two weeks ago.
The matter was not included in police crime reports.
"What Bahamians ought to be asking ultimately is who is determining what ought to come to the attention of the Bahamian people," Sands said.
"If there is a discrepancy and the U.S. Embassy or one of its agents would report something that was not reported locally [by police] then we have to ask why or how did that happen.
"Was it an accident? Was it a typographical error, was it an omission or was it a deliberate instruction that came from somewhere. And if it came from somewhere was it the political directorate that sought to suppress that information or not?"
Sands said the minister of national security and minister of state for national security should be questioned over the matter.
"When a sovereign [country], the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, finds itself in the unbelievable internationally embarrassing situation of having a crime of this magnitude reported by our neighbor and we haven't reported it, then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be made to give a public account, the Ministry of National Security should be made to give a public account and the prime minister should feel red-faced," he said.
On Sunday, Ferguson said police do not cover-up or downplay any crime in the country that "ought to come to the attention of the Bahamian people".
Ferguson confirmed the attempted armed robbery of the armored truck and said a firearm was recovered.
"I am telling you I am aware of the attempted armed robbery of the armored vehicle, and what could have very well happened in that case [is that] the information did not get to the press officer in time when he was sending out his release," he said.
He added, "Obviously, if the U.S. Embassy got it, they must have gotten it from a police source."
However, the incident was not included in other crime reports since March 14.
In February, there was widespread speculation about the consistency of crime reporting for 2013 after it was revealed that the Princess Margaret Hospital's records showed that more people were treated for injuries than the number of shootings and rapes listed in the police statistics.
When questioned about this, Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade said police statistics and hospital data will "never be the same".

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Man convicted of 5 armed robbery

April 01, 2014

A man arrested moments after a $5 armed robbery has been convicted.
A jury unanimously convicted Balmont Thompson of the 2012 hold-up after deliberating just over two hours.
According to the evidence, Thompson and two other men accosted three women as they were leaving the One Family Junkanoo Practice on Market Street.
Thompson took a Dooney and Bourke purse that contained $5 from one of the women, whom he had dashed to the ground.
The woman later saw Thompson walking with her purse. According to the evidence, the woman clipped Thompson with her car and he fired two shots, which struck the car's bumper.
Officers on patrol in the area heard the gunshots and arrested Thompson a short time later in Hospital Lane.
Thompson denied the allegations at his trial.
Justice Carolita Bethell will sentence him on May 29 at 2 p.m.
Anthony Delaney, Anishka Hanchell and Cordell Frazier prosecuted.
Gregory Hilton appeared for Thompson.

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Antigua ambassador thinks VAT could have positive impact

April 01, 2014

Antigua and Barbuda's Ambassador to CARICOM Dr. Clarence Henry said yesterday the impact of value-added tax (VAT) in The Bahamas could be limited if introduced and offset properly.
"If properly introduced and offset with consultation from all stakeholders the impact could be less significant," Henry told The Nassau Guardian at the Third Caribbean Conference on International Financial Services at the British Colonial Hilton.
"Right now most of the countries in the CARICOM have adopted it and studies have been undertaken to show and justify its relevance at this time.
"And so, it would not run against the current in other jurisdictions. In fact, it would follow policy perspectives being taken by other member states."
He added, "At the end of the day whatever policy decision the government takes it is in the best interest of the nation and the people of The Bahamas."
Henry said there will always be "push back, and pessimism" to anything different from the norm.
However, he said if and when VAT is implemented in The Bahamas people will eventually get accustomed to the new tax.
When asked about the impact of value-added tax on Antigua and Barbuda, Henry said, "It has not really had a negative impact at all."
The Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST) is modeled on the VAT-type consumption tax, according to its government's website.
ABST was introduced at a rate of 15 percent almost a decade ago on a range of goods and services, replacing consumption tax.
Services exempt from ABST include, but are not limited to, breadbasket items, medical services and educational services.
The basic charges for water and electricity are also not subject to ABST.
"There was a sort of push back from several stakeholders at the start," Henry said.
"There are some who thought it would have had a significant negative impact. That has not materialized.
"...Anything that is new tends to have a sort of a mixed reaction from stakeholders making up the population.
"But once the measure is thoroughly explained and efforts are made to bring on board the different stakeholders in a consultative process, I think that can only go well for democracy and of course the governance of a country.
"And I am sure it must have been done here in The Bahamas."
In recent months the government's public education campaign on VAT has received some criticism for not reaching the grassroots people, particularly on the Family Islands.
Prime Minister Perry Christie said recently the government will introduce VAT at a lower rate than the 15 percent previously announced.
Financial Services Minister Ryan Pinder said yesterday the government is still working to determine the introductory rate.
The government's considerations will be influenced by the Coalition for Responsible Taxation, which is conducting a study on VAT and other tax alternatives.
The coalition is expected to present an alternative that could be implemented by July 1, the government's target date for VAT.
However, Christie, who has said he can still be persuaded by the private sector to introduce an alternative if it proves to be viable, has hinted there might be a delay.

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Out west birding is great

April 01, 2014

GRAND BAHAMA - A recent field trip by the Grand Bahama Birding Group to the western end of the island resulted in several "lifebirds" for members of the group.
Derek Gape, director at the Ginn development at West End, had opened up the property to the birders to survey the many ponds in the area. Among the 40 species recorded that morning, a Northern Harrier Hawk was one of the new birds to be recorded swooping low over one of the ponds!
The group then became mesmerized by a pair of rare Swallow-tailed Kites perched side by side in a Casuarina tree, allowing everybody to get excellent views for at least 15 minutes. One of the birds circled slowly over the birders, then returned to the other bird.
A large number of Royal Terns were observed along the West End shoreline and the unusual sighting of so many birds of that species was even questioned by Cornell University when the group later submitted its observations into the eBird database of that institution. Several photos taken of the terns substantiated the sightings!
To round off a wonderful morning of birding, everybody enjoyed lunch at Old Bahama Bay's restaurant on the beach. Ericka Gates presented two of her annual "Basic Birding Class" students with certificates for accomplishing birding milestones. Marian Chamberlain's life list had reached 101 species and Michael Flowers recorded 55 to date. The program is sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism and encourages residents as well as visitors to get out there and record as many birds as possible while visiting or living in The Bahamas.
If you are interested to know all 40 species recorded that morning, please check with eBird (www.ebird.org/caribbean) for submitted observations on March 15 for the Holmes Rock Wetlands and West End. eBird is a real-time, online checklist program which has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution. If you are not a member of eBird yet, just ask to be registered when you go on the site. eBird will add a new dimension to your birding experiences.
Also, we invite you to get out there, enjoy our beautiful environment, make new friends and learn about birds, just join us on our next field trip on Saturday, May 3. We will explore Grand Bahama Nature Tours' trail along Gold Rock Creek as well as Gold Rock Beach and enjoy a light picnic lunch afterwards, compliments of Grand Bahama Nature Tours. Meet at Garden of the Groves at 8 a.m.

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FNMs must rally behind Minnis

April 01, 2014

Dear Editor,
The top brass of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) along with many of their supporters must have been beaming with joy after they got wind of the rumor circulating in the media of an alleged rift between Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis and his Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner. I think many individuals were caught completely off guard after learning that Butler-Turner's planned demonstration against Prime Minister Perry Christie outside the House of Assembly was not sanctioned by Minnis or any of the other members of the FNM hierarchy.
I was taken aback after reading in The Nassau Tribune that Butler-Turner didn't even consult Minnis or any of the other members of her parliamentary caucus before urging struggling homeowners to join her and the FNM in said demonstration. If this story is accurate, then she essentially went over her leader's head and made a presumptuous declaration to the media. As one of the more intelligent and articulate politicians in her party, Butler-Turner should have known better than to make a unilateral decision for the FNM party and then assume that her party leader would just get up and go along with it.
In every organization, be it political, religious or civic, there must be order and protocol. I am not questioning Butler-Turner's sincerity in wanting to rally behind those disappointed with the PLP's mortgage relief program, but I think she may have placed the cart before the horse. Some folks are already insinuating that this march of hers was her way to gain political mileage in order to position herself to oust Minnis as leader at the party's convention. If this is so, then she made a strategic miscalculation that can come back and hurt her. I have seen numerous write-ups in The Nassau Guardian and The Nassau Tribune lauding Butler-Turner as a great politician and future leader of the FNM and The Bahamas.
I believe that she has potential. But I don't think these people who are drooling over her mean well. They are only using her name in order to derail Minnis. Doubtless there will be those who will seek to defend the deputy leader in this matter. But I can guarantee you that had Butler-Turner been the leader, and one of her senators or backbenchers went on NB12 and announced, without first discussing the issue with her, that the party would be holding a mass rally on Clifford Park, she would have called in the backbencher and chided him. She would have also called the media houses and declared that the mass rally was not sanctioned by her or any of the other members of the hierarchy, and that the person who announced the mass rally was out of order. You get the impression that many of Minnis' critics expect him to just put up anything they throw at him.
I believe every position in the FNM will be up for grabs at the convention. In the meantime, Butler-Turner and FNM Chairman Darren Cash and other FNMs must rally behind Minnis and stop giving the impression to the media and the other political parties that they are attempting to undermine their leader. They are only weakening the party that way. If the FNM keeps this up, it will find itself not only failing to win the government in 2017, but also failing to hold on to its official opposition status.
- Kevin Evans

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The government will need political courage to survive VAT

April 01, 2014

Dear Editor,
The ball of responsibility is about to go down the hill for the PLP administration, with three months remaining before the July 1 VAT deadline. It will be the organization's first official "baptism of fire" in its 60 year history. Some may question that statement, but history will record that when the organization came to power in 1967, they met the ball rolling, and in 1992 the FNM had to get the ball rolling again. In the words of a local entertainer they allowed that ball to fetch almost to a standstill.
In this new term they are seeking to accomplish most of the things they should have done decades ago, the most laudable being the agricultural program in Andros. However, when you look at the broader picture: VAT, the housing program, a possible referendum on the Constitution (which they should have replaced), the proposed casino/web shop gambling legislation, the ongoing BTC confusion, the possible sale of BEC, the attack on our local culture with the introduction of "carnival", and with politicians having something new to say every week, you wonder if this administration knows when its plate is too full.
In the past, situations would have simply played themselves out, but in the next three months there will be a situation created by what is foreseen as "collective urgency" and I would advise the government to put a muzzle on any "new" announcements they may be inclined to make and sort out this mess they have gotten themselves into. If sensible decisions are not made they are going have to borrow more money than the FNM ever did, just to make ends meet.
I am particularly wary about whatever is done about gambling, now that it has leaked out that some of the casinos are in arrears on the payment of their taxes. The Prime Minister may have to make a statement on this, because if there is an ounce of truth in those rumours, the public will have a jaundiced view on anything that concerns gambling; especially when it comes to the exemptions surrounding VAT. There is a growing, nagging feeling that those who run the casinos are getting to the place where they are not too concerned about which side of the bridge the money is on and the local web shop owners feel somewhat stepped on given our political history, with the number house owners in years past giving the political movement strong financial support.
I have not made mention of the religious community for obvious reasons; it is Lent, but the obvious betrayal inflicted on that body does not bode well for the Prime Minister. In the past he has been able to play some of them along and retain a measure of dignity, but in the last two months he has faltered and his inability to keep a muzzle on his Minister of Foreign Affairs has not helped. Pastors have had to do public battle in the media because of Minister Mitchell's penchant for going beyond the boundary line in speaking about what this country prefers.
Who is to say how this is going to play out? Maybe we should ask some of the older statesmen, but they are having too much fun waiting for this drama to unfold. What may have begun with Member of Parliament Gregory Moss's contribution on the VAT legislation will more than likely come to its tipping point when the Government is forced to cause the Freedom of Information Act to come into play, especially if they want to borrow more money and hire private debt collection agencies. I believe that the PLP has the ability and the competence to move beyond July 1 intact, but they will have to show more political will and courage than they have shown in the past.
- Edward Hutcheson

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The PLP's chance at telecommunications liberalization

April 01, 2014

With the ending of the cellular monopoly of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration has the task of leading the process of introducing another competitor to the marketplace. This version of telecommunications liberalization was set in motion by the last Free National Movement (FNM) administration when it sold 51 percent of BTC to Cable and Wireless in 2011.
The PLP criticized that deal in every possible way. It criticized the choice of the buyer. It attacked Hubert Ingraham's government for choosing a foreign firm. It charged that the FNM was not being transparent in the process. It still criticizes Cable and Wireless over the quality of the service it delivers via BTC. In fact, the PLP is pushing for a parliamentary probe of the circumstances surrounding the BTC sale.
Now, however, it is the PLP's time, with this new license, to make decisions. And the decisions the PLP administration makes will indicate to the public if its criticisms of the FNM were genuine or merely designed to score political points.
Will the PLP issue the license to a Bahamian group or a joint venture including Bahamians? Will the PLP ensure that there is a fair bidding process and not one where a favored group has the inside track from the beginning? Will the chosen bidder have to have PLP connections?
The ideal scenario with privatizations or the granting of licenses out of old monopoly situations is one in which capable and qualified local entrepreneurs are empowered. When locals become owners the profits from the investment are more likely to stay in the country, and more indigenous people are likely to get opportunities at jobs at all levels of the business. When the local knowledge and capital bases grow via locals becoming owners, these people then develop the strength for expansion in their country and abroad.
While divesting state assets to locals is the ideal situation, these locals should be qualified and competent. If no such group emerges and there is no way to rework the offering to encourage locals to step forward, then, and only then, should fully foreign firms be considered.
The PLP said in the last election that it believes in Bahamians. It keeps saying that the FNM did it wrong with the privatization of BTC. The PLP now is fully empowered to show us what the right way looks like with telecommunications liberalization.
We heard the prime minister yesterday telling the media that he was going to meet with his liberalization group on this issue. We may have missed the announcement, and excuse us if we did, but who are the people who make up this group?
The PLP thinks all private media companies are against the party and want it to fail. All right-thinking Bahamians, actually, want the government to do well. If our government pursues sensible policies that empower Bahamians, we all benefit from that success.
We would like to see the PLP get it right with liberalization in this sector. It would be unfortunate if this process degenerates to cronyism and insider dealing, making friends and the friends of friends rich.

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The fiscal reform series: About that VAT

April 01, 2014

The views and commentaries on the proposed value-added tax (VAT) system have been as diverse as they have been inconsistent. What makes the discussion even more interesting is that the divergent opinions have come from economists, experts in this form of taxation and industry leaders.
There is often the tendency for facts to either be lost or manipulated in a prolonged debate, with the loudest or most frequent message being perceived as the ultimate truth. It is therefore important that we filter out the proverbial noise in the market and unravel the actual facts that will enable us to develop our own opinions on the proposed VAT framework. In this article we briefly consider the various utterances made by both local and foreign individuals as they chimed in on the ongoing debate on VAT in The Bahamas. We will subsequently embark on the tasking journey of understanding VAT and what it means for the average Bahamian.
The Barbados experience
It was reported a number of weeks ago that the Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, Dr. Delisle Worrell, had indicated that VAT is an anti-tourism tax and had hurt that country's local industry. Worrell was also reported as stating that the tax is very complicated and suggested his preference for a simple sales tax. We will examine sales tax as an alternative later.
A few days after the aforesaid report on the comments of Worrell, The Nassau Guardian quoted Lalu Vaswani, president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), as saying that VAT has been good for the economy of and businesses in Barbados. Vaswani noted the level of concern and anxiety within Barbados prior to the implementation of VAT; an experience that seems similar to the current pre-VAT environment in The Bahamas. Of particular note was his reference to an adage that a rope in a dark room feels like a snake. More recently, Mark Shorey - a VAT expert out of Barbados with about 20 years experience in VAT consultancy and a member of the VAT implementation unit - weighed in on the VAT debate in The Bahamas. Shorey remarked that anti-VAT hoteliers will not be satisfied and indicated that training closer to implementation may be more effective. In the end, Shorey suggested, the implementation of VAT in Barbados was successful and is a model that could help The Bahamas.
Chronicles of the local commentaries
Comments attributed to past and present government officials with responsibility within the Ministry of Finance have been consistent insofar as they relate to the urgent need to address our fiscal imbalance. These individuals have also been backed by some locally respected professionals who have cautioned that we are between a rock and a hard place with the window for remediation closing with each passing day. A common concern has been the rate at which VAT is introduced, with recommendations for a rate lower than the proposed 15 percent.
The main opponents of VAT from the business community have been fervent in their campaign against this form of taxation, arguing that it is not appropriate for The Bahamas and would increase the cost of living while further shrinking the middle class. A study of jurisdictions that have implemented VAT will show that the fear and anxiety being expressed is not unique to The Bahamas, nor is it unusual for various interest groups to voice their concerns. The emergence of groups that purportedly represent the populace and average citizens has also inserted a unique dimension to the ongoing debate on VAT.
WTO accession and a replacement tax
We know that the government requires among other measures on the expenditure side, additional revenue to correct our structural recurrent deficit. However, the recent revelation by the co-chair of the Coalition for Responsible Taxation that the group was not aware that the reduction in tariff rates has to be immediate and cannot be phased in as The Bahamas seeks to join the WTO is indeed food for thought. This raises the question of how effective the government has been in explaining the link between our efforts to join the WTO and the introduction of VAT.
It appears that the case for our urgent accession to the WTO has not been adequately presented to the average Bahamian. It can also be argued that not enough has been said to sensitize the public to the fact that VAT is intended to replace the significant amount of revenue the government will be forfeiting as tariff rates are reduced to facilitate our accession to the WTO. Perhaps this is an indication of the oft manifested culture of addressing matters in vacuums or isolation without due attention to the bigger picture. It follows therefore that if VAT on goods is expected to replace existing tariffs on goods, the introduction of VAT should be neutral in relation to government revenue. This will not however be the case as the government expects to raise some $200 million in additional revenue from VAT on services which have been untaxed for quite some time even though our economy is for the most part service based.
The progressive aspect of a regressive tax
There is no doubt that VAT cannot be classified as a progressive form of taxation and is generally regarded as a regressive tax. In this regard, there have been numerous criticisms of this proposed tax system and suggestions for alternatives which are deemed to be more progressive in nature, including income tax.
Warren Buffett - the man often referred to as the Oracle of Omaha and regarded as one of the greatest investors of all time - has been a proponent of the rich paying more taxes in support of the philosophy of U.S. President Barack Obama. Locally, businessman Tennyson Wells has been quoted as stating a similar view, albeit from the perspective of a different school of thought on welfare, allocation of the tax burden and the trickle down paradigm. Nevertheless, as research has shown that individuals who are more well off spend a higher percentage of their income on services than goods when compared to the less well off, one can conclude that the introduction of VAT will increase the amount of taxes paid by the upper class in our country over that paid by the lower class. It should be noted that this does not eliminate the expected increase in the cost of doing business for companies, though this will ultimately be borne by the consumer.
VAT versus sales tax
The complicated nature of a VAT system has been a major component of the concerns raised by the private sector with preference for a sales tax being expressed. The government had documented its rationale for proposing VAT as opposed to other forms of taxation in the white paper released in February 2013. While the paper did not provide ample details on the analysis conducted on each type of tax prior to the selection of VAT, the superiority of VAT over sales tax in terms of enforcement mechanisms is apparent.
It is therefore understandable why the government would prefer VAT over a simple sales tax. It is a known fact and Shorey confirmed that VAT has inbuilt self-policing and compliance features which reduce the level of resources that the government will have to allocate to its compliance efforts. In effect, VAT creates a level of accountability, responsibility and transparency that makes registrants and in some cases consumers, agents of the Central Revenue Agency with significant incentives and penalties ensuring that the government receives VAT payments. On the other side, it is expected that businesses will prefer a sales tax system which is easy to administer because it requires the collection of taxes at the point of sale instead of throughout the production/value chain as required in a VAT regime.
Conclusion
The German-born American artist Hans Hofmann famously stated that "the ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak". It is time to rid ourselves of the unnecessary commentary in the VAT debate and focus on the facts necessary to move the discussion on fiscal and tax reform forward. Only then can a constructive discussion about the VAT that has become associated with fear and uncertainty, as well as proposals for viable alternatives, begin. Next week we will take a deeper dive into the features of VAT and the contents of the draft VAT Bill and regulations. In the interim, the various stakeholders need to disclose all the relevant details and simplify the information necessary for all to comprehend.

o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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Local artist presents Pope Francis with self-portrait

April 01, 2014

Artist Jamaal Rolle said he felt a great sense of accomplishment when he presented Pope Francis with a self-portrait in Vatican City last month.
Rolle, 29, described the moment as a culmination of months of labor and dedication to a dream he knew would be fulfilled.
"I had this epiphany," he said at Graycliff restaurant yesterday.
"One night I just had this idea to do a portrait of the pope. It was so strong, something to obey in a sense. So I commenced working on the portrait for no reason. I just did it."
Shortly after finishing the portrait, Rolle said he contacted his publicist Azaleta Ishmael-Newry asking her to find a way to get it to the pope.
He admits the idea sounded crazy.
Ishmael-Newry explained that the pair was fortunate enough that Archbishop Nicola Girasoli, papal nuncio and representative for the Vatican in the Caribbean, was able to assist Rolle.
In Vatican City the pair had a private tour of the Apostolic Palace, the pope's residence and met with Girasoli at the palace's bronze doors.
Rolle said the next day it was not only raining, but there were some 70,000 visitors waiting to see the pope.
"As I presented the portrait, because of the rain and it was so big, I didn't really get to shake his hand but his guards accepted the portrait and the pope was smiling," Rolle said.
"So it was a good experience. It was a privilege to have my work in Rome where it will be among the Renaissance greats such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci."
Rolle, who has painted and presented portraits to celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Sir Sidney Poitier, media mogul Oprah Winfrey and the Miami Heat basketball team, said he hopes to inspire young people.
"I always feel, 'why not take your talents to the world? As Bahamians I feel that we are the most talented people in the world," he said.
"If I can inspire one person I feel like I've achieved my purpose.
"I want to encourage young people to reach for their dreams."
Rolle's sponsors for the trip included Sir Durward Knowles, Alain Torchon-Newry, Anthony Adderley, Ian Bethell, John Armstrong, Julian Smith, Branville and Lisa McCartney and Graycliff's Enrico, Annamaria and Paulo Garzaroli, just to name a few.

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East End townships support proposed national park

April 01, 2014

MCLEAN'S TOWN, Grand Bahama - Last week Grand Bahama Parks Manager for the Bahama National Trust (BNT) Lakeshia Anderson met with local citizens of McLean's Town at a public meeting at McLean's Town Primary School.
In a crowded classroom the Member of Parliament for East Grand Bahama Peter Turnquest; East End Administrator Sherrick Ellis; Eleanor Philips, director, Northern Caribbean Program of The Nature Conservancy (TNC); bonefish guides, tour operators, local fishermen and residents met to hear about the BNT's proposal to extend the Grand Bahama national park areas, and particularly to discuss the creation of an East Grand Bahama National Park.
Anderson addressed the crowd and explained the consultations they have been doing. "When the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park was designated a no-take park, we did not consult with the neighboring communities," she admitted. "But we have learned from our mistakes, and we have since established a process that involves resource users in the decision making process. We have held five prior meetings, and completed 150 one-on-one surveys in East End, and tonight we're back to discuss the input from the communities and research findings, and how these components have provided guidance for proposed boundaries."
Anderson went on to explain that the community made recommendations that certain areas known as conch beds, should be managed differently in what is currently proposed as a national park, and asked for restrictions on prime fishing grounds from large scale commercial fishing, and incompatible developments. "The feedback we have had from you is phenomenal," said Anderson. "It was with the assistance of local fishermen and bonefish guides, that our team was able to assess the immense diversity in the East End flats that is truly unique." Anderson noted that representatives from the National Audubon Society have recently conducted shorebird and waterbird surveys in this area, and are planning to return for further work.
Anderson showed the attendees the proposed park boundaries, and opened the floor for questions. Questions were posed regarding the proposed sand dredging for the Bursus Cay area. Administrator Ellis responded by stating, "The East End Local Government Council has written to the government opposing the proposed dredging, and to request an environmental impact assessment be conducted, in which the BEST Commission and BNT officials should then review,".
At this point, a young local fishing guide asked if the park could be extended to include Bursus Cay and surrounding environment. Anderson said this was up to the community to provide these recommendations. Others quickly chimed in and asked Anderson to include the area from McLean's Town to Bursus Cay, as this shallow flats area is known to have an abundance of birds and commercially important species of fish. Local fisherman Cecil Leathern said, "We all know what will happen if this dredging is allowed; how it could destroy not only the bonefish flats and our lobster grounds, but also affect them down in Abaco. We need it all protected."
Leathern and others also lamented fisheries protection, noting that this park will need proper governance of current regulations and new ones. Speaking on this, Eleanor Philips of TNC said she and others are hoping to create a Bahamas protected area fund that will provide some of the funding needed for effective management of protected areas in The Bahamas. "I am so impressed with the turnout tonight, and the awareness and passion this community has for their environment. We will do all we can to advocate for protecting these areas they alo feel are so important to their way of life."
Before the meeting concluded, local bonefish guide and minister Omeko Glinton addressed the attendees. "We want to protect our bonefish industry here," said Glinton. "I want to commend the BNT and others for what you are doing here. You've come in and spoken to us, helped educate us and listened to us. I know I need to feed my son, but I also understand I need to protect what we have for him and our children. My thanks for helping us do this."
The BNT will include the recommendations provided through the meeting regarding amendments to the proposed boundaries, and will have discussions with the residents of Sweetings Cay on this matter. A petition will be developed to provide the communities an opportunity to express their support for these proposed national parks, for inclusion in the park proposal to be submitted to government. The details of all the BNT proposed parks including East Grand Bahama are available on the BNT website www.bnt.bs.

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