Nassau Guardian Stories
November 20, 2014
The Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) aims to create a coconut water industry in The Bahamas "within the next six months," according to Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources V. Alfred Gray.
Speaking in the House of Assembly yesterday, Gray stated that the North Andros institute would develop a public-private partnership (PPP) with the Bahamas Agricultural Industrial Corporation (BAIC) to cultivate approximately 215 acres of coconuts by March 2015.
"It is the hope of BAMSI, together with BAIC, to create a coconut water industry for The Bahamas within the next six months. No longer will we have to purchase from outside The Bahamas coconut water for consumption in The Bahamas. It will all be grown right here at BAMSI in North Andros," said Gray.
BAMSI has dedicated five acres of land for coconut production to date, and plans to add an additional ten acres before the end of the year.
Regarding the institute's overall progress, Gray claimed that BAMSI had already taken a "historic" step towards food security and self-sufficiency, with over 75 acres of various crops under cultivation, alongside a growing livestock component.
The minister noted that 22 acres of bananas and 25 acres of papaya were ready for harvest, and that the distribution and sale of produce had already begun through BAIC.
The corporation reported that all of the fruits harvested to date had already been sold, according to Gray. BAIC has reportedly entered into contracts to sell all of BAMSI's projected harvest for the next year.
Gray stated that BAMSI had 18 operating beehives and would begin honey production by Christmas 2014 to further reduce the country's dependency on food imports.
Free National Movement (FNM) Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner had concerns over the institute and asked for clarification regarding BAMSI's sales, arguing that the institute had been introduced as a school.
"I don't recall, and maybe [Gray] can remind this honorable house with the business plan regarding BAMSI, where the funds are actually going with regards to the produce that they say is being sold," said Butler-Turner.
Gray stressed that the commercial aspect of BAMSI was necessary to eventually prevent the institute from being "a drain on the public treasury."
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November 20, 2014
Family law specialists from around the world began presenting in Nassau yesterday at the International Society of Family Law (ISFL) Caribbean Regional Conference, 2014. Lawyers, professors, child's rights activists and other specialists from as far as Slovenia and as near as the United States were set to address the theme "Our Children, an Endangered Species".
The Bahamas Bar Association is co-sponsoring the conference with the ISFL. The last Family Law Conference in 2011, which was sponsored by the Eugene Dupuch Law School, was well-attended by local and international practitioners.
Retired Justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice Desiree Bernard was scheduled to address the theme at the opening ceremony last night, which was to feature an opening address by Damian Gomez, minister of state in the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
Also included in the program is the Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin, who will speak on "The state of The Bahamian Family". Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage will address the conference on the newly-enacted Marco's Law.
Some of the sessions on day one include "Family law in The Bahamas: Imminent reform", moderated by retired Justice Cheryl Albury, a consultant at the Eugene Dupuch Law School Legal Aid Clinic. Another session on the first day will address "Children's rights and the state". Presenters in this session will include United States Professor Marsha Garrison, who will speak on why the United States has failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Sessions will also be held on "Racial and cultural issues impeding children's rights", and "Corporal punishment", among other topics.
The second day will feature an address by Nottage on "Child protection: Reform in the criminal law - the Marco Archer Law".
There will also be sessions on issues Of child custody, access and maintenance; juvenile justice issues, and perspectives on law reform.
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November 20, 2014
On Wednesday, December 3, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation will host the Bahamas Energy Security Forum 2014 at the British Colonial Hilton hotel from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
This one-day forum will bring together industry stakeholders, key decision makers, environmental activists, government officials and members of the general public to focus and deliberate on energy-related issues. Topics such as oil exploration for competitiveness; greening the Bahamian tourism industry; competitive energy for The Bahamas; the Bahamian grid dialog and alternative energy for The Bahamas are featured on the agenda.
The connection between economic growth and energy is well-established. As energy in The Bahamas gains significant attention, investors, business leaders, consumers and the government seek innovative, clean and cost-efficient energy alternatives. This has opened the door for business opportunities within the sector, which could fuel economic diversification and growth. Energy sector reform would lead to lower electrical costs and a more sustainable and responsible energy future.
The forum is particularly relevant due to the urgency in finding solutions to reduce consumption and alleviate high energy costs which drain the resources of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation. Millions of dollars are spent annually on oil imports and there is a need for energy sector reform and effective legislation.
Confirmed participants include Graham Weatherford, John Bostwick, Romauld Ferreira, Kevin Burrows, Kenred Dorsett, Raymond Jones and Stuart Bowe, with Lester Cox and Ortland Bodie as moderators. A special presentation will be provided courtesy of the United States Embassy and the public is invited to join the discussion.
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November 20, 2014
Bahamians must better understand the relation between climate change and energy conservation, according to Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) Executive Director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert.
McKinney-Lambert told Guardian Business that BREEF will distribute 500 educator's toolkits to high schools across the country, beginning in January, to raise awareness of climate change and energy conservation.
"We're trying to get across the message that something that is good for the environment, and will help mitigate climate change, is also good for people's wallets.
"If you're in a situation where electricity costs are in excess of $0.38 cents per kilowatt hour, it makes a huge difference when you can have something that benefits the environment and benefits your wallet. Making that connection is really important for what we're doing right now," she said.
The toolkit, funded through the Atlantis Blue Project and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grant Programme, is comprised of teacher resources, consumer guides to energy conservation, and several radio and TV public service announcements designed to address national confusion surrounding climate change.
"There's a big disconnect between the level of threat that people perceive climate change to be for The Bahamas and the reality. It's not a murder on the street, but it's going to affect all of us.
"It's such a huge issue here in The Bahamas, particularly given that most of us live within a few feet of sea level, and the majority of our infrastructure is in low-lying areas. We wanted this resource to take into account the most current scientific information relevant to The Bahamas," said McKinney-Lambert.
She hoped that the initiative would encourage climate-friendly behaviors to rehabilitate reefs and provide opportunities for hands-on learning through BREEF's coral reef sculpture garden.
BREEF launched the underwater sculpture garden last month, the largest in the world.
In addition to the toolkit program, BREEF continues to create a draft coral reef protection act and is currently developing a website for climate change awareness in The Bahamas.
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November 19, 2014
Representatives from the Department of Human Development, Education and Employment (DHDEE) of the Organization of American States (OAS) met recently 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.
Led by Juliete Mallet Phillip, DHDEE coordinator for the partnership program, the group also discussed ways to improve on the relatively low level of Bahamian participation in the myriad of scholarship opportunities provided by the OAS.
In attendance were representatives from The College of The Bahamas, the Ministry of Education, Bahamas Information Services, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Lyford Cay Foundation.
Of particular interest was the partnership program for higher education and training. Created in 2000, the OAS Consortium of Universities currently comprises over 100 higher education institutions and has significantly increased the number of scholarship 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. Philip bemoaned the fact that even though the partnership with the University of Brussels made available some 60 scholarships in 2013, no Bahamians applied.
It was agreed that more public education is needed to raise the level of awareness among the student population and the public at large of these scholarship opportunities. Distinct advantages of the partnership program over traditional OAS scholarships are that these scholarships include language training; they cover about 90% of education expenses and the academic disciplines of medicine and law are included.
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.
According to the OAS, the Department of Human Development, Education and Employment (DHDEE) through its OAS scholarship and training programs continues to provide diverse scholarship opportunities for academic and professional development studies to citizens or permanent residents of OAS member countries, to study in recognized educational institutions of the OAS member and observer states, with the goal of strengthening human and institutional capacity and thus, foster integral development throughout the Western Hemisphere.
All interested persons can access additional information at www.oas.org/en/scholarships/ or contact the Student Affairs Department at The College of The Bahamas; the communications division at the Ministry of Education; the technical support division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Bahamas Information Services Department or the Lyford Cay Foundation. Bahamian students living and studying abroad can also contact the nearest Bahamas embassy or general consular for additional information and assistance.
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November 19, 2014
Four students from Cat Island - Jurique Russell, Donea Burrows, Deshone Johnson and Terran Moss, were accepted to be young ambassadors from Cat Island on an exchange program to Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C., by the school's Principal Maria Tukeva and three students from her school - Lauren, Saba and Jumar - who came to Cat Island to attend the 2nd Annual Cat Island Earth Day in April.
The Bell Multicultural High School students helped the students clean up the beaches on the island's northern coast and were challenged to create an art piece to enter into an eco-art competition, in which they came in second place. Then the Bell Multicultural High School students invited the Cat Island students to visit them at their school in Washington, D.C. From the proceeds from Earth Day events, along with the support of very generous sponsors, the students departed Nassau on October 17 with their chaperone Pamela Poitier for a two-week exchange program, where they lived with host students and got a real taste of life in Washington, D.C. They went to school, wore their uniforms and took classes alongside their hosts in Chinese, Yoga, wood craft, football, and returned the favor by helping clean up the Anacostia River. They also spent the day at a horse farm as guests of Principal Tukeva and learned how to clean the horses and their stalls, put tack on them and ride them as well. It was a life-changing experience the students will never forget.
The Cat Island students toured the White House, the Capitol building, the Smithsonian Institute, the National Air & Space Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall, Howard University and Lincoln University.
The students have vowed to restart the recycling club on Cat Island, and become the young ambassadors to the next group of students on their exchange trip to Washington, D.C. Jennifer Calaria, who created the Cat Island Earth Day two years ago, was thrilled to give the students the exposure that allowed them to see the world and their part in it, and most importantly how good they have it on Cat Island, how they can help preserve the island and celebrate their own history and heritage.
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November 19, 2014
RBC Royal Bank recently made a $10,000.00 donation to the Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute (BTVI). The donation represents the third and final installment of a $30,000 RBC commitment to BTVI which provides tuition assistance to three deserving students. RBC has invested in hundreds of youth development programs throughout The Bahamas and remains committed to educational programs that make a difference to the community.
The recipients of the 2014 RBC tuition assistance are Victorian Knowles, Dexter Laidley and Philip Curling. Curling is pursuing an associate of applied science degree in information technology management. Laidley is working towards a certificate in electrical installation and Knowles is enrolled in the associate of applied science in information technology management program.
"I was surprised to receive the call telling me that RBC had donated and as a result I was selected as a recipient", exclaimed Knowles. Grateful for the opportunity RBC has afforded her, she explained, "I have always wanted to pursue a degree in information technology since I was nine or 10 years old, and now with this assistance I am able to achieve a lifelong dream. My ultimate goal is to work as an X-ray technician and this training at BTVI will allow me to build on a very strong foundation."
Dr. Iva Dahl, BTVI manager/consultant, expressed her gratitude to RBC Royal Bank for its contribution. "RBC is well known for its philanthropy in The Bahamas. At BTVI we are elated to have again been selected as recipients of such a kind gesture."
Dr. Dahl added, "Your donation proves that you are concerned about education in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and more importantly that you see the value in technical and vocational education. We are most appreciative for the donation which has assisted three more students to obtain tertiary education. We now have three additional dreams being realized as a result of this corporate sponsorship."
"RBC supports a wide range of initiatives that help young persons to realize their potential. Our contribution to BTVI allows us to expand educational opportunities for young Bahamians with the expectation that they will lead and inspire future generations," said Nathaniel Beneby, managing director, RBC Royal Bank, The Bahamas, Cayman and Turks & Caicos Islands. He continued, "I wish this group of young persons the best of luck and continued success as they pursue their academic and career goals."
If you would like to know more about courses offered by the Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute, please visit http://www.btvi.org.bs/jhome/.
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November 19, 2014
FREEPORT, Grand Bahama - Buckeye Partners L.P., Bahamas Oil Refining Company International Limited (BORCO) and their sister affiliates started the third year of their Petroleum Products and Measurement Program at Bishop Michael Eldon School (BMES) last week. The program aims to educate students on possible careers in the petroleum field, and this year, 26 high school students from BMES were chosen to take the afterschool program.
Headed by Andrew Williams, operations planner at BORCO, and Perez Burrows, a Statoil operator, the eight-week course offers young possible recruits an insight into everything oil related, mechanical and scientific.
Principal of BMES Anita Docherty encouraged the students to embrace the opportunity. "I encourage you to do better than your predecessors and to surpass the expectations in this course. These young men have chosen our school to help and I want you to embrace the opportunity this industry can offer you - it's a well kept secret and the prospects are endless," stated the veteran educator.
Led by Williams, Burrows and affiliates from Inspetorate, Amspec, Intertek/Caleb Bret and Saybolt, students will attend free afterschool classes on Thursdays and also have various field trips to BORCO and Statoil labs. "My colleagues and I donate our time to this education opportunity," said Williams. "Thanks to finding this job, I have traveled all over, the Middle East, Europe and the U.S., and I can work anywhere now. Luckily enough I can work at home and I want others to consider this career and embrace the chance we have in our own backyard."
Speaking to the students at the opening day, Perez Burrows urged the students to grasp this time with persons in the business to give them an advantage over other students they are competing with worldwide. "This is the time to excel and show us what you are capable of," said Burrows. "Those of you who take this chance may gain a better advantage for college acceptance or placement in trainee programs."
According to Williams, six of the top 10 companies in the world by revenue for the year 2014 are petroleum companies. "Some of these mega companies are affiliated with BORCO, Statoil and their affiliates and our little country is in the midst of a mass petroleum movement worldwide. My advice is to make smart career choices and become part of the fastest-growing industry right here."
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November 19, 2014
My Friend, as you daily travel the road of life with all of its 'Up's' and 'Down's', it's various battles which need to be fought in order to finally reach the target, which is of course Success City; do you anticipate, expect 'Victory Or Defeat?' Now hopefully, your immediate answer to that question was, that you always expect victory, you expect to succeed at all that you undertake. However, many, without perhaps being fully aware of it on a conscious level, have a rather defeatist attitude due to some negative programming that they received during their young, formative years.
That's right, although some people appear on the surface to believe in themselves and their ability to win in the end thus achieving their goals one by one; in reality deep down in their subconscious mind they really doubt that they will be able to achieve victory in the end. This of course is deadly and in the end can only result in utter defeat, in failure. As Earl Nightingale put it "Everything in life is an attitude, it's a mindset".....Yes indeed it is!
But as stated already, some appear to have a positive mindset and are thus poised for success; when in reality, thoughts of failure dominate their subconscious mind. If you suspect that this may be happening to you as so many of your efforts to get ahead seem to ultimately end in defeat, in failure; well then, I believe that it's perhaps time for you to get the much needed assistance you obviously require in order to reprogram your subconscious mind with abundant thoughts of Victory....of succeeding.
My Friend, to reprogram your subconscious if you feel it's repeatedly causing you to fail in life, you need to visit a fully qualified counselor, life coach or clinical hypnotherapist who is able to assist you in getting down to the subconscious level of your mind and putting in a new program which will indeed assist you to win again and again in the future.
Actually, if you wish to log onto my website at www.dpaulreilly.com you can subscribe to The Winners Club or The Gold Club where you will have access online to my Affirmation-Relaxation exercises which will assist you with this reprogramming process, which is so vital to your future success.
o Think about it!
Visit my website at: www.dpaulreilly.com.
Listen to "Time to Think" the radio program on STAR 106.5 FM at 8:55 a.m. & 6:20 p.m.
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November 19, 2014
Laser, Finn and finally, quite literally, a Star debut is the natural course of things for many, including Josh Junior, courtesy of the 2014 Star Sailors League Finals, which is set to take place in The Bahamas in the first week in December.
Josh Junior, born Joseph Jon Joshua Junior, something of a record number of J's in anyone's initials, is a warm, bright, open character who is extremely cordial and very competitive. He made his sailing debut at the Worser Bay Boating Club in Wellington, New Zealand, having been encouraged into the sport by his father's passion.
Junior started off with the optimist and then the 420 before moving on to the Laser for which he earned a silver medal in the 2007 International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Youth Sailing World Championships in his last year in school. Since 2008, he has been moving from continent to continent, alternating study, work and training.
Junior finished 11th in the Laser worlds in Canada in 2009, having financed the trip himself. The following year, 2010, all the hard work really paid off when he was sixth in the worlds in Britain and second in the ranking even though he, unfortunately, did not qualify for the Olympics.
Since 2012, Junior has been focusing on youth training and promoting his native city through the Wellington Spirit Sailing Team. In the same period, he moved onto the Finn also, taking home impressive results such as a ninth place finish in 2013 and fifth this year in the world championships (he was the best of the non-Europeans) behind class experts, and old and new faces from the Star Sailors League. Josh Junior also took a major victory in the worlds test event at Santander in 2013.
He said: "I had a great season in the Finn, and finishing fifth at this year's worlds was really cool. I never sailed in the Star before, but I am really looking forward to a new and exciting challenge, and The Bahamas won't be too bad either! It is going to be really amazing to race against some of the world's most famous sailors. Torben Grael and Robert Scheidt have achieved a lot and are two people I really look up to, so to get the opportunity to race them will be incredible."
Junior will be just one of many high profile sailors coming to these shores for the 2014 Star Sailors League Finals.
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November 19, 2014
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, who has Cabinet responsibility for gaming in The Bahamas, told Guardian Business that web shops, together with the casinos, see more than $1 billion a year in turnover.
The initial estimate of web shop earnings by the Ingraham administration, according to Wilchcombe, was $400 million a year. The gaming minister said that figure is now $700 million, which is the unaudited number.
He said that there were a number of surprises when the government began digging into the industry: More than 100,000 people participate in gaming every year, for example, and there is one operator who has 59,000 names in his database and can tell who played and how often.
"We were shocked," Wilchcombe said.
The numbers alone explain why the government had to regulate the web shop business, Wilchcombe said: a $700 million a year turnover and the government was getting none of it.
In terms of what the government stands to take in even before taxes on earnings, Wilchcombe pegged the figure at about $30 million: back taxes, licenses and fees as set out in the Gaming Regulations 2014 and Gaming House Regulations 2014.
The minister said he had met with a group of 16 web shop operators on Monday night, to go over the rules for those companies that decide to continue in a regulated environment. Those who choose not to continue, he said, will have to shut down. It may even come down to the government confiscating equipment in order to ensure that another unregulated environment doesn't simply spring up to replace the old one.
Wilchcombe also addressed the number of licenses: The government has pegged eight as a manageable number, but he admitted that there is no maximum number of licenses. Still, when pressed, he was clear.
"You will not have 16 licenses," he said bluntly.
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November 19, 2014
Competitiveness is the watchword of the policymakers responsible for the strategic direction of the government's interaction with the financial services sector, as demonstrated by both Director of Financial Services Dr. Nicola Virgill-Rolle and Prime Minister Perry Christie, whose Cabinet portfolio is minister of finance.
It is competitiveness that has driven The Bahamas south instead of continuing to push across the sea in search of new customers as well.
The question of taxation came up during the launch of the public phase of the National Development Plan: Vision 2040.
Virgill-Rolle, in addressing questions about the role of the financial sector within the domestic economy, stressed the importance of remaining competitive as a financial jurisdiction, even while seeking ways to grow the contribution of the highly lucrative sector.
"This is an area which we, at the Ministry of Financial Services, have been trying to help people understand: Financial services plays a role. It's 15 percent of our economy. You always hear that number, but what does that mean? That means that through the inputs, the jobs, the indirect expenses, they contribute 15 percent of our economy already," she said.
"Notwithstanding that, what we are looking at is how to deepen that, how to grow that 15% in terms of expanding our sector. When we look at expansion of the sector, we have to always understand that its a very competitive environment, so the level of taxation matters."
Virgill-Rolle said the goal is always to create a "supportive environment" so the sector can flourish.
"(That way) more institutions want to come here. More Bahamians feel empowered to open up their own establishments within the sector to grow it, and therefore we grow the tax base and the contribution to the economy indirectly, but in a more meaningful way in terms of a value-added approach," she said.
The prime minister also chimed in on competitiveness, from a political perspective.
"Every day in the OPM, Office of the Prime Minister, there is a need to find money," Christie said.
As an example, he noted that the consultancy on airport needs indicates that $148 million is needed to properly address airport redevelopment or construction across the country, to bring those facilities into the 21st Century.
Recognizing that some of those airports are strategically more important than others, the prime minister said the government had "boldly" begun redevelopment plans for as many as five of those airports with the hope that between now and the time the drawings are finished a path will exist to begin rehabilitating
"We're looking all the time at how do we go about adding to the taxation regime (in different ways," he said. "(Sometimes) we reach a point where we (realize that if we take a particular action) we are not competitive, and people will go to another country. So that's what we face."
The prime minister also said that financial services is looking for new products because "private banking in the old European way has now become really difficult in The Bahamas."
"So we're going into Brazil and Mexico (and other) places in Latin (and Central) America looking for new customers, offering new products that are consistent with their laws...We're always trying to find new opportunities because of the level of competitiveness that exists."
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November 19, 2014
CIBC FirstCaribbean Managing Director, The Bahamas, Marie Rodland-Allen has stressed that a letter from the bank to some of its customers, which raised alarms across the Caribbean, was not about a fee increase. Any changes to fees have to be approved by appropriate regulators and the bank must give customers appropriate notice.
Still, Rodland-Allen acknowledged that the letter had caused some concern.
The letter was sent by Mark St. Hill - the bank's managing director for retail, businesses and international banking - to customers who had opened their accounts prior to 2007. Those customers are already operating under the rules disclosed in the letter.
In a statement released to Guardian Business in the wake of concerns raised as a result of the letter, Rodland-Allen said CIBC FirstCaribbean's plans for restructuring and the consolidation of its data centers had been presented to and approved by governments, social partners and regulators across the region.
"The restructuring exercise was announced in October of 2013 and continues until 2015," she said. "There will be no additional impact on our employees arising out of any of the matters addressed in the letter.
"We understand some of our customers may have concerns about the letter as it involves a change. We have been managing customers' concerns in our branches and through our call centers and we remain accessible to speak with our customers as they contact us," she said.
"We'd like to re-emphasize that the letter was not about a fee increase - any changes to fees have to be approved by our regulators and we must give our customers appropriate notice."
Rodland-Allen said the language contained in the agreement, which she said is similar to other financial institutions in the region, is designed to bring old customer agreements up-to-date.
"We have always abided by the terms of any agreements between the bank and its customers, and have always given the required 30 days' notice of any change. This will continue. Any contract between our customers and the bank resides in the jurisdiction in which that contract has been signed and is subject to the laws of that jurisdiction. This also will not change," she said.
The executive said that CIBC FirstCaribbean is made up of a number of legal entities in 17 countries, and that the change to the account mandates is "simply to update them to allow our individual companies, some of which are located in the same countries as our processing centers to work together in serving our customers."
"The change is not related to our FATCA programme, which is being managed separately and in conjunction with governments and regulators," she added.
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November 19, 2014
In his first public appearance, new President of The College of The Bahamas Dr. Rodney Smith outlined his basic vision for the role the institution will play in the development of The Bahamas.
"Universities are centers of knowledge transmission, but most importantly, knowledge creation," Smith said.
"The University of The Bahamas will play a critical role in national development. This great institution will provide a neutral space to engage in critical thinking and inquiry, as we focus on challenges and opportunities for current and future generations."
Smith said he expected the institution to forge lasting ties with international partners like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and a panoply of national partner agencies as the university provides support and professional expertise for national initiatives.
"The University of The Bahamas, with ready access to and in full partnership with the world's most progressive international research faculties, at its best will serve as an engine for the Bahamian economy," he said.
"That is our expectation. That is our vision."
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November 19, 2014
Financial Secretary John Rolle said yesterday that the government will work to "streamline" the Ministry of Finance's business license payment process as the deadline for value-added tax (VAT) registration approaches.
Speaking with Guardian Business, Rolle addressed the matter of business license and national insurance fees, which must be current to register for VAT, stating that the ministry is primed to process a surge of businesses in the next two weeks.
"The system could use some work in terms of getting [applicants] through it more swiftly, but we're going to look at it. We're going to go back and review the process as we receive feedback, to see what additional refinement can take place to get people through [registration] quickly. I know that National Insurance is aware that it will be seeing increased traffic from persons who are trying to get their business licenses up to date," said Rolle.
The VAT Private Sector Education Task Force noted earlier this week that many VAT registrants had been stalled in their registration attempts by having their business license and national insurance fees out of order.
The task force also voiced its concern over continued procrastination from some corners of the private sector in getting all relevant fees current, and called attention to the potential fines and prison time resulting from late registration.
Rolle remained firm that all business license and national insurance fees need to be up-to-date prior to VAT registration in spite of the delays that the policy has caused the registration process.
"We would be facing a serious dilemma if we tried to use VAT registration in any way to legitimize any business that is not licensed. We don't want a willingness to regularize one's business license to be slowed down in any way. We will make this process more and more streamlined so that they can have their applications processed as quickly as possible," he said.
Although it is unclear when the government plans to revamp the process, it is clear that many local businesses remain either ignorant of the business license policy in relation to VAT registration, or continue to procrastinate.
Still, Rolle stressed that the government will accommodate all businesses in their regularization process.
"The bottom line is that businesses are now working to become properly regularized because of the business license requirements and we're going to see that they're able to accomplish that. We will not frustrate that process," Rolle said.
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November 19, 2014
Prime Minister Perry Christie used the occasion of the launch press conference of The National Development Plan: Vision 2040 to discuss the importance of reorienting the government structure in The Bahamas to a more results-based and data-driven model.
The ceremony was held on Monday at the Harry C. Moore Library at The College of the Bahamas.
The development of the Vision 2040 plan is being funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) - which is also providing technical assistance - and is expected to be a comprehensive, long-term economic development strategy that will guide the government's policy decisions over the next 20 to 25 years.
A secretariat led by Dr. Nicola Virgill-Rolle, director of financial services, will oversee the development of the plan, which Christie said will primarily focus on the economic future of the country, but will also "seriously consider" socioeconomic matters that affect economic growth. He said the planners will seek to devise a policy direction for unlocking the economic growth and development potential of The Bahamas.
"It will assist us in prioritizing the national development objectives and government initiatives to meet these objectives," the prime minister said.
"Planning would be a useless exercise without good data. And so, to ensure that we implement strategic and evidence-based planning and analysis, my government is also working with the IDB to strengthen our data collection and statistics capabilities," Christie added.
He explained that through another program with the IDB, the government has focused on ensuring that the data collected is "so valuable that it will be demanded by policy technicians as the basis for evidence-based policy and planning."
"As the Bahamas Investment Authority analyzes investment projects, I want to be able to have well-researched and stronger data to support our decisions," Christie said. "I have always supported the work of the Bahamas National Geographic Information Services (BNGIS) and the important work which is being done by our environmental organizations like the BEST (Bahamas Environment, Science & Technology) Commission, the Bahamas National Trust and The Nature Conservancy. Our economic decisions must continue to consider, in a systematic way, the economic, environmental and societal impacts as we forge ahead."
Taking note of work done previously in both the private and public sectors - and that the scope of such a plan must of necessity include the entire Bahamas - Christie said that at the end of the process, the result should be a national plan that shapes budget allocations, identifies actions for the public service and opportunities for the private sector that are critical to achieving a transformation and enhancing of the quality of life of Bahamians over the next 25 years.
Christie also talked about a desire for "a more results-oriented government".
"I firmly believe that such an approach to government will support accountability... In this vein, I have partnered with the IDB, once again, to implement greater results-based management within the public service," he said.
The prime minister explained that the IDB is developing a computer application to help the OPM (Office of the Prime Minister), as the center of government, to monitor progress with the key goals elucidated through the development plan.
"We are designing a governance arrangement around this reporting tool to ensure that it is used appropriately and that public servants are held accountable for reporting their progress in achieving the government's key initiatives. We feel that the addition of this tool will make government more responsive and more accountable to its citizenry," Christie said.
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November 19, 2014
"Gaps in consistency" regarding family island business license receipts are causing considerable delays in value-added tax (VAT) registration, according to a Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) official.
Frank Comito, BHTA executive consultant, told Guardian Business yesterday that outstanding business license issues are "quite a concern" and have been raised during the BHTA's ongoing VAT workshops for members of the Family Islands tourism sector.
"We're getting a number of reports where businesses have not been provided with business license numbers or receipts from the payment of business license taxes, and that's a requirement for [registration]. So we believe that there may be some gaps of consistency in the processing in some of the Family Islands. We're hearing a lot of that," said Comito, noting that many businesses claimed to have made repeated requests for business license fee receipts over the years.
The Ministry of Finance released a complete list of VAT registrants as of November 11. The figures for family island registrants were heavily skewed towards Abaco and Grand Bahama-based businesses, with less populated islands, including Inagua and Long Island, each registering fewer than 10 businesses as of last week.
"That's why we're doing these workshops. We're finding out that the Family Islands certainly need more help in registering," said Comito.
Yesterday the BHTA held a VAT readiness workshop in Eleuthera and will conduct its final workshops in Harbour Island and Andros before the November 30 deadline.
Earlier this week, Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) CEO Edison Sumner said that basic Internet issues are partially responsible for registration delays in the Family Islands.
However, Comito suggested that misunderstandings surrounding the tax remained the greatest challenge for Family Island businesses.
"There are some situations where Internet is intermittent, but that's not a huge problem. I think it's more of an awareness [issue]," he said.
Over the past three weeks, the BHTA has reached nearly 500 individuals from tourism-related businesses throughout the Family Islands, with assistance from the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Tourism.
Comito noticed a correlation between the published list of family island VAT registrants and the number of complaints he has heard regarding outstanding business license receipts.
"In places like Abaco you see consistency in how that's administered and delivered to the business community, and in other places you see what appears to be a real deficiency in the delivery of the service to the business community," he said.
Despite the lingering business license issues, Comito encouraged family island businesses to try filing for the tax while notifying the Ministry of Finance of any additional problems.
In a press release issued earlier this week, BHTA President Stuart Bowe warned against further procrastination from local businesses.
"Those businesses which wait until the last minute to register, or who seek to register after the deadline, may find themselves in a situation where they have insufficient time to be fully prepared when VAT comes into effect on January 1, 2015," he stated.
Businesses must register for VAT in order to receive a tax identification number (TIN), which is required to claim input credits.
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November 19, 2014
The first in a series of lectures was held recently at the Harry C. Moore Library at The College of the Bahamas, where there was a lively discussion on the whole concept of freedom of information.
To date, ineffective freedom of information legislation, limited access to environmental decisions and even less public participation in the decision-making process, has made the task of getting information regarding governmental decisions quite difficult.
But, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
"Our Right to Know" is a multi-perspective lecture series sponsored by The College of the Bahamas and NGOs Save the Bays, BREEF and the Bahamas National Trust. The series has charged head on into the fray with an initial lecture series on the Freedom of Information Act and the Latin American and Caribbean regional instrument on Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration and their importance for government transparency.
The series, set to focus on pressing environmental law and policy issues, held its first lecture on October 22 in the library.
Lecturers included retired Justice Jeanne Thompson, Assistant Professor at The College of The Bahamas Lisa Benjamin and Dawson Malone, Eugene Dupuch Law School graduate of Callenders & Co.
Retired Justice Thompson started off the forum with an in depth look at the Freedom of Information Bill. With an absurdly long shelf life, The Freedom of Information Bill has sat through two successive governments, only to yield a bill with noted deficiencies.
As Justice Thompson took audience members through the bill's wording, cogent problems such as the lack of access to judicial or quasi-judicial bodies to challenge decisions made by ministers became increasingly apparent.
Further, Justice Thompson exposed the lack of a definition of "public interest". This is important because information concerning the public interest forms certain exemptions to information which would otherwise be excluded from disclosure. Justice Thompson asked, "How do we interpret any of these clauses if there is no definition of public interest?"
"What we seem to be left with is an act with no teeth," said Thompson. "We would still be in a position waiting for a whistle blower to let us know what is going on."
The second panelist, Lisa Benjamin, led spectators to consider the international perspectives on access to environmental decisions through the Aarhus Convention and the ongoing regional negotiation on Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration by Latin American and Caribbean States.
According to Benjamin, "The Aarhus Convention, which has not been signed or ratified by The Bahamas, is the only binding international convention that enshrines the three pillars of environmental democracy: Access to justice, access to Information and public participation."
Urging audience members to put more pressure on the Bahamian government to incorporate these principles into domestic law, Benjamin outlined the accountability the convention places on respective governments.
"Parties to the Aarhus Convention are bound by international law to incorporate the principles of access to justice, access to information and public participation in their domestic law to afford their citizens access to the decisions making process concerning environmental sustainability".
While Aarhus has been signed and ratified by 47 countries mainly centered in Europe, eighteen countries in the Caribbean and Latin American have adopted a regional approach to the institutionalization of access to information, access to justice and public participation.
The Declaration on the Application of Principle 10 on the Rio Declaration of Environment and Development (CELAC), signed by countries like Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Vincent & Grenadines and the Dominican Republic, launched the way toward developing a regional instrument on access to environmental information, public participation and justice in June 2012.
The declaration has since gained traction through a series of negotiations and plans that have culminated in the Lima Vision for a Regional Instrument on Access Rights Relating to the Environment in October 2013.
In response to this vision, Caribbean and Latin American countries have since developed national legislation reflecting passive access to information, active access to information and arguably most importantly, the government's responsibility to disseminate information to the general public.
On the regional instrument Benjamin noted, "It is important to build a citizenry that is informed on sustainable development". Benjamin ended the presentation by emphasizing the need for countries like The Bahamas, where sustainable development is an important issue, to incorporate these international and regional conventions to make the government accountable.
The final speaker of the evening, Dawson Malone brought the debate home by placing the discussions of the Freedom of Information Act and international instruments on environmental democracy in the context of the largely controversial Bimini Bay development project.
Dawson explained the need for a viable Freedom of Information Act to prevent environmentally disastrous developments, stating, "If I am relying on access to the court to vindicate my rights, I must have information to do so".
The case against the Bimini Bay development project was unfortunately lost due to a number of factors. Dawson said, "It's difficult to say the decisions made by the court to go through with the development was access to justice."
Dawson emphasized the major pitfall in the case was the lack of information available to the public to stop the development in time.
"In order not to render your constitutional rights obtuse, you must have a Freedom of Information Act," he said.
"Our Right to Know" will continue the debate with the second part of the series on November 19th, 2014 in the Harry C. Moore Library.
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November 19, 2014
The political establishment must agree to the creation of a national development plan, according to Prime Minister Perry Christie, who said it is time to begin approaching national development in a results-oriented, data-driven manner.
The government has launched the public consultation phase of the process to create a plan - known as Vision 2040, and expects it to be complete by June 2015.
"We are going to reach out to all of the political parties," he said. "We know that all political leaders are responsible persons and they are going to understand the value of this.
"Politics is savage, so they may show over the next two years that they are not interested in that kind of thing, but I think you're going to find in the fullness of time that they are all going to be committed to this national plan."
The prime minister said the existence of a national development plan would be critical in determining things like how and when to introduce new taxes.
"The concern I have is that coming into a ministry as a minister of finance and looking at it, and knowing that The Bahamas has been used to 'macho' politicians - oh, Christie can't make decisions or this and that, meaning you don't plan. You shoot from the hip."
Christie said it was wrong for one or two men - even a Cabinet - to arrogate unto themselves all knowledge of a country without connecting to the private sector, or to academia.
"It doesn't make sense," he said. "And when you see how we have squandered in the past through injudicious decisions, this whole nonsense about how you define political leaders is (just that)... The time has come now where we put into play a national development plan, and you ask the question about whether politicians are going to agree? They better agree."
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