Nassau Guardian Stories

Tourism must develop new products, destination assessment reveals

March 27, 2015

Stakeholders in the tourism sector must not be lulled into a false sense of security through increased arrival figures into the country, which do not "tell the whole story" according to Sustainable Travel International (STI) vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean Seleni Matus.
Announcing the results of the Ministry of Tourism's rapid sustainable
destination diagnostic for Nassau and Paradise Island earlier this week, Matus praised the industry for its highly rated efforts in monitoring the economic impacts of tourism and general visitor satisfactions, along with the MoT's efforts in establishing a unit for developing sustainable tourism.
However, Matus cautioned stakeholders to be mindful of the need for overhauls to the country's tourism products, particularly in the vein of cultural heritage tourism, new product development, and increased adaptability initiatives for climate change. Matus noted that there was a clear agreement from tourism and industry stakeholders that the country needed to focus its efforts on developing new non-homogenized products to remain competitive.
"You have been succeeding in terms of one side of the equation, which are arrivals. Arrivals have been growing and I know that's the easy thing to focus on, but that doesn't tell the full story of what's happening. While you have that growth occurring there isn't a collective vision for growth. What's lacking is a sustainable tourism strategy. You don't have one, and so that's something that will have to be addressed.
"There is also the issue of how to engage the private sector to adopt, not only quality standards, which you're doing well in, but sustainability standards," said Matus, adding that the sector needed to move beyond simple compliance and make a more proactive approach in engaging the visitor community to encourage repeat visits.
The Ministry of Tourism conducted with the diagnostic with the help of the Sustainable Destinations Alliance of the Americas' (SDAA) implementation and convening partner STI. The process explored industry concerns beyond the traditional concerns of environmental sustainability for Nassau and Paradise Island.
Ministry of Tourism Deputy Director General Ellison Thompson welcomed the findings of the diagnostic, stating that it was a vital step in ensuring the competitiveness of the country's tourism product.
"We're one of seven countries that participated in the pilot scheme and this is important to a small island nation because it helps us consider the vulnerability that we have in terms of environmental threats, loss of cultural identity, as well as global increases in competition in the industry. We must act to ensure that The Bahamas remains competitive and strong in the market," said Thompson.
"We think it's going to be very exciting, and there's really some critical work that needs to be done for the sustainability of tourism in The Bahamas," he said.
The MoT plans to address these issues through stewardship council comprised on industry stakeholders and hopes to achieve tangible results in developing new products within the next 12 months.
Of the 23 themes evaluated in the initial assessment through a 'traffic light' grading system, The Bahamas received four themes marked green, 11 marked yellow, demonstrating progress, and eight areas marked red, denoting the need for urgent attention.
"There were 35 percent of all themes that were rated red, which means that you have a fair level of risks to address, hopefully urgently," said Matus.
Matus particularly commended the strong community involvement in the process, stating that industry stakeholders had taken their "first serious step" in tackling these issues due to what she described as a high level of fragmentation within the tourism sector.
There was a clear agreement by stakeholders that they wanted to focus on developing a new product that was more connected to the community. Second was the issue of climate change, particularly adaptation strategies.
"Think of all the investment that you have along your coastal areas for tourism. It deserves attention and the private sector, whether they understand it or not, will have to be a part of that solution," said Matus.

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Turnquest says expiration of tax concessions premature

March 27, 2015

Allowing a set of tax concessions under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA) to expire in August would be "premature" and could have an overall detrimental effect on the economic recovery of Freeport and Grand Bahama, according to Shadow Minister for Finance Peter Turnquest.
Turnquest told Guardian Business that Freeport still had "tremendous" potential as a free trade zone, but was concerned that the expiration of some taxes, most notably for business license fees and real property tax, would result in considerable losses in investments made by current Freeport stakeholders.
"Letting the exemptions expire is not helpful. There are those who believe that it will inspire real estate sales, and it may, but it will also have an effect on the value of that real estate. In some respects that may be good for those who are on the lower end and trying to get into the real estate market, but for those who have invested it represents a real loss of investment so I don't know if that is the way to go."
"I believe that Grand Bahama has tremendous potential as a free trade zone. We should develop, support, and promote that. Grand Bahama has only developed to the extent that it has because it has had these incentives. To remove them I believe I believe is premature and I don't believe that that's the way that we ought to be going at this particular stage.
"I believe that we can win some concessions with respect to Hutchinson and to the Grand Bahama Port Authority and I think that's what we ought to be looking towards how do we sweeten this deal for the Bahamian people so that they have more input into the operations of [Grand Bahama]?" said Turnquest.
Prime Minister Perry Christie questioned the success of the HCA given the state of Grand Bahama's economy earlier this month at the Grand Bahama Business Outlook (GBBO), confirming that the government would allow some of the tax exemptions under the HCA to expire in August 2015.
Christie said that he intended to use the expiration as a opportunity to procure a suite of new arrangements to encourage economic development and increase Grand Bahama's contribution to net fiscal receipts. The government has formed a six-member committee to review the HCA and ultimately secure an agreement with the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) for a long-term economic development plan to promote shipping, industry, tourism, real estate, and other commercial sectors.
Giora Israel, senior vice president for Port and Destination Development for Carnival Corporation and a board member of the Grand Bahama Shipyard limited (GBSL), told Guardian Business earlier this month that the government should consider expanding the HCA blueprint to other family islands, rather than curtail it in Grand Bahama.
"Why don't we have another [free trade zone] in Andros? There should be more of these areas. I know The Bahamas, and in giving those economic benefits will spawn more and more activities. We're for keeping Grand Bahama very competitive and the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, though it ultimately maybe didn't deliver everything it was expected to, [resulted] in one of the biggest port operators in the world with the container terminal and the Grand Bahama Shipyard," said Israel.

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Gape: GBPA ownership families must go, and soon

March 27, 2015

Outspoken Freeport lawyer Terrence Gape told the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce that he believed the government has come to the conclusion that the St. Georges and the Haywards - the joint owners of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), known in Freeport as the 'ownership families' - must sell their stake in the Authority, and soon, if Freeport is to go in a different direction.
Gape has spoken before of the need for the GBPA to change hands: part of his prescription for what ails Freeport is not only a need for the St. Georges and Haywards need to go, but the need for the ownership of the Port Authority and its assets to include the Grand Bahama Development Company (DevCo) to be in the hands of a developer.
"It was not meant to be a fiefdom to be handed down to new generations. Our experience of the last 12 years is proof of this. I believe the government has also come to this conclusion, hence the obiter task given by the prime minister to his committee to advise on," he said.
"I also believe... that effective change in the direction of Freeport can only happen when this sale by the ownership families takes place and soon," Gape said.
He also told the Chamber that he welcomed Prime Minister Perry Christie's appointment of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement Review Committee, headed by Dr. Marcus Bethel.
"I believe the appointment of this Blue Ribbon Committee bespeaks the belief held by the prime minister and growing members of the government that Freeport needs to be given the ability to grow and prosper, and they understand what needs to happen to accomplish this goal," Gape said.
Among other things, the new committee has been directed to create a framework for immediate and long-term investment promotion on the island to attract investors that can operate assets competitively at a world class standard, and effectively and efficiently utilize the land resources with proper environmental safeguards.
"This designated task for a government committee is extremely important and significant, not only for what is says but because it signifies to me the first time that the Bahamas government has declared its active interest in an intended direct involvement in the attraction of visitors to our island," Gape said.
He lamented the continuing stagnation of the Freeport and wider Grand Bahama economy. To illustrate, he cited a survey of the construction industry in Freeport which revealed that there is no housing of over 3,000 square feet presently under construction, nor are there any Hotel Resort/Condominium buildings or commercial buildings presently under construction.
"We are still a long way from attracting the quality tourist to our shores, which would probably take some further years of marketing and the building of more luxury hotel product. These are the tourists that fully support our restaurants, bars, fine shops, and we are in dire need of their patronage. These are also the tourists that would invest in the vibrant second-home market we need to create," Gape added.
Still, he was mildly optimistic.
"Aside from the depressing state of the economic affairs of Freeport, I am excited about the prospects we have before us in this exciting year of 2015, to bring about change in our wonderful town, to cause it to be the work engine and job production engine that it should be for the whole Bahamas," he said.
"I believe this year will mark the beginning of a new experience for Freeport and The Bahamas, subject to certain things happening."
Among those things that need to happen - a prescription he has given before - Gape reiterated his call for the creation of a professional marketing organization (PMO) fully funded by the Port Authority and DevCo, with a board of directors from the three groups: government, Port Authority/DevCo and the licensees.
"We already have the product but it needs an organized group of two or three professionals continuously on the road at seminars, private meetings and professional marketing events in Florida and across the globe and constantly bringing international groups to our island," he said.
"I believe and pray that the government realizes that Freeport and Grand Bahama represent the one Island in The Bahamas where the next 10,000 jobs can be created and, for this reason and many others, I believe that the Committee and the government should have as their goal ... the revitalization of the Freeport economy by the establishment of this PMO," he said.
Gape also noted that he had changed his position on the real property tax exemption: he now believes that exemption ought to be extended. He had previously argued that new investors and land sales in Freeport were stymied because the present owners of the land - largely DevCo and the ownership families - have no carrying cost.
"I now believe that the exemption should be extended, say for a further 10 years, subject to the establishment of a PMO and perhaps a proviso that any and all undeveloped land should pay Real Property Tax if it remains undeveloped after the next five years," he said.

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URCA fines BTC 1.5M over March 2014 outage

March 27, 2015

The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority has fined the Bahamas Telecommunications Company Limited (BTC) $1.5 million for breaching its Individual Operating License (IOL) in March 2014.
The Company had 30 days from December 18 to pay the fine without penalty.
On March 20, 2015, URCA announced that it had issued a final determination in its investigation of BTC's March 22, 2014 unplanned network outage, which resulted in significant interruption and disruption to the landline and mobile services provided by BTC to the majority of its customers across The Bahamas.
"This resulted in loss of service or severe service disruption to customers for periods of up to 15 hours. The final determination and order sets out the findings and conclusions of URCA's investigation of the circumstances leading up to the outage, as well as the remedies which URCA has imposed on BTC," URCA said in a press release announcing the determination.
Citing confidentiality and commercial sensitivity of the information contained in URCA's final determination and order and germane to URCA's decisions, URCA explained that it had issued the document containing its final determination and order to BTC only, and would make public only certain "salient details."

Salient details
URCA determined that BTC breached the terms of its IOL by failing or refusing to take all reasonably practicable steps to maintain, to the greatest extent possible, the proper and effective functioning of the public telephone network provided by BTC at all times, and further, failing or refusing to comply with URCA's final determination and order issued to BTC on March 7, 2013 which required BTC to take certain specific remedial and maintenance actions in relation to its networks (consequent to BTC's June 2012 outage).
The authority placed certain requirements on BTC, including a demand that BTC undertake various actions to implement adequate various redundancies, resiliencies and contingencies in its network to effectively remove all major weakness and vulnerability in its network; introduce and systematically conduct preventative maintenance measures on its network as identified in the order, and submit to URCA a pre-determined schedule for same; introduce and systematically perform testing on certain network elements as identified in the order, and submit to URCA a pre-determined schedule for same; submit a report to URCA providing further and better particulars regarding the compensation already given by BTC to consumers impacted by the March 2014 network outage; and, pay a fine in the amount of $1,581,384.61, such fine to be paid within thirty (30) days of URCA's order and in a manner to be directed by URCA.

BTC's response
In its own press release yesterday, BTC noted that it had launched its own investigation, and discovered that the outage was due solely to a failure in BTCs back-up power system. According to BTC, the problem has since been rectified.
BTC reported that it had begun improvements to its power plant in April 2014. Those works are 95 percent completed with an expected completion date of March 31, 2015.
CEO Leon Williams said, "Since the incident a year ago we've worked with URCA to meet their requirements and have implemented adequate redundancies, resilience and contingencies in our network to effectively remove all major weaknesses and vulnerabilities."
Mr. Leon Williams continued, saying that they are reviewing the URCA report for any other ways that BTC can make further improvements to the networks and systems.

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Hutchison principal's moves not affecting FCP

March 27, 2015

The recent moves by Li Ka Shing - the billionaire tycoon known in Hong Kong as 'Superman' and the chairman of the Hutchison-Whampoa conglomerate - to perhaps reposition Hutchison Ports Holdings (HPH) Trust should not affect operations at the Freeport Container Port (FCP), insiders say.
HPH, which owns the FCP, sold 60 percent holding in a Hong Kong terminal for $322 million (HK$2.5 billion), in a move that excited speculation from business analysts in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Guardian Business noted recently that Hutchison Whampoa and four mainland companies had been in talks since 2014 year over a 40 percent stake in HPH. Those companies were China Merchants Holdings (International), Cosco Pacific, China Shipping Terminal Development and State Development & Investment Corporation.
Two of those companies were involved in this most recent sale - Cosco Pacific acquired the 40 percent stake in Hong Kong's Terminal Eight, and China Shipping Terminal Development bought a 20 percent share.
MSC, through Terminal Investments Ltd., owns 49 percent of the FCP, and - should HPH decide to sell its interest in the Port - first rights of sale would go to TIL (MSC), those with knowledge of the matter say.
"(But) - especially given what's happening with the Panama Canal - Hutchison plans to hold on to (FCP)," Guardian Business was told.
And in fact, an official overseeing the project, told international press this week that the expanded Panama Canal is expected to open in April 2016, after months of delays and cost overruns. Grupo Unidos Por el Canal (GUPC) is upgrading the canal's system of locks to allow the waterway to accommodate ships carrying up to 14,000 containers of freight -- triple the current size.
The project was initially expected to cost $5.25 billion, but in January it was reported to have incurred $2.39 billion in overruns.
About five percent of global maritime trade passes through the Panama Canal, mainly from China and the United States, and as the canal project enters the final stretch of its massive expansion, the Panama Canal Authority is eying an even more ambitious project worth up to $17 billion that would allow it to handle the world's biggest ships.
Workers are now installing giant, 22-story lock gates to accommodate larger "Post-Panamax" ships through the canal. The project involves building a third set of locks on the canal. Of note, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC), a subsidiary of state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd., has voiced interest in building and financing a fourth set of locks in Panama.

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IT expert urges standardized cybercrime framework

March 27, 2015

The Bahamas needs to adopt a standardized framework for preventing and reporting local cybercrime activity to prevent further security breaches in its financial services and healthcare industries, according to Dr. Raymond Wells, deputy director of Information Technology for the National Insurance Board (NIB).
Wells told Guardian Business yesterday that while he had not seen any data breaches relating to NIB, both the financial services and healthcare sectors are particularly at risk. With National Health Insurance (NHI) slated for January 2016, Wells said that The Bahamas needed to either develop its own framework or look to international models to ensure that the information in the country's healthcare system remained secure.
"I am seeing data breaches in the financial industries and the healthcare industries that are significant. Organizations need to ensure that their systems are developed along best practices. It's no longer acceptable to be connected and have a system that's just there, implemented without any serious thought, because the ramification of that data being leaked is very significant. And so that's what's happening in those industries," Wells said.
Wells identified the U.S.' Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which contains strict provisions for addressing and responding to security breaches that are identified either during audits or the normal course of operations, as a potential model for The Bahamas moving forward.
"Depending on how NHI is developed and implemented, I think it's important that The Bahamas uses some framework to roll out that system in accordance with something like the U.S.' HIPAA, which the healthcare industry used as a guide to implement their system," he said.
While Wells said that the number of cybercrimes in The Bahamas was on rise, he noted that concrete cybercrime figures were difficult to calculate given the country's lack of data breach reporting act, which would require companies or government organizations to notify clients in the event that a security breach compromised their personal information.
"I think one of the first things we need to do is ensure that we have a good reporting of breaches. The reporting of breaches should take place to the customers that are being breached and that should be in the form of a data breach reporting act where if certain classes of personally identifiable information (PII) are breached, then that would be reported to the persons that are impacted and reported to the government through a regulatory body as well. Once we have that in place, I believe that the government needs to start looking at aligning itself with the international fight on cybercrime," said Wells.
Wells encouraged the country to sign onto the Budapest Convention, the first international treaty addressing cybercrime through the unification of laws and increased member state cooperation, if The Bahamas wished to take cybercrime seriously and engage the issue on an international scale.
44 states have ratified the convention since October 2014, with another nine states having signed the convention but not ratified it. To date, the Dominican Republic remains the only Caribbean state to ratify the convention, which went into effect in July 2004.
"I think we should sign onto the Budapest Convention. It requires a set of laws that needs to be enacted but we do have quite a number of the laws already in place. It's now just a matter of making sure that they meet the requirements of the Budapest Convention and that will enables us to engage internationally in the fight on cybercrime," he said.

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Gray under police probe

March 26, 2015

MICAL MP V. Alfred Gray has been relieved of his duty as minister for local government pending a police investigation into the allegation that he interfered in a judicial matter, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced yesterday...

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House in turmoil

March 26, 2015

The House of Assembly came to a dramatic and abrupt halt yesterday afternoon when members of the governing party banged loudly on their tables in a bid to block Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis from making a communication regarding the allegation that Agriculture Minister V. Alfred Gray interfered with a judicial matter...

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'I asked Gray to help my son get bail'

March 26, 2015

The mother of the young man at the center of the firestorm that has triggered a police probe into the recent actions of Cabinet minister V. Alfred Gray said yesterday she called Gray last Thursday asking him to assist her son get bail...

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Prosecution 'likely' to follow judicial interference probe

March 26, 2015

It is "highly likely" that the investigation into the allegation of judicial interference against MICAL MP Alfred Gray will result in a criminal charge, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez said yesterday...

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More blackouts

March 26, 2015

More than a week after a fire at the Bahamas Electricity Corporation's (BEC) Blue Hills Power Station triggered a "catastrophic failure" of its generators, BEC said yesterday "challenges on its generation network" yesterday led to power outages for hours.
The corporation said two engines at its Clifton Pier Power Station were taken offline yesterday morning for necessary repairs.
Two more engines at the Blue Hills Power Station were also offline yesterday, according to BEC.
As a result, BEC said it was unable to meet peak demand in New Providence.
The corporation said customers in New Providence may experience interruptions in supply until repairs are completed.
However, there was no clear timeline provided on the repairs.
"BEC officials assure the public that best efforts are being made to bring these engines online in the shortest possible time, ending the generation shortfall and also providing BEC with a necessary reserve," the corporation said.
"BEC apologizes to customers impacted by the outages and requests the public's patience as they work to carry out repairs and return the engines to service."
Over the last couple of weeks, frequent power outages have disrupted businesses and thousands of residents.
The government has long promised to provide long-term energy security to producers and consumers; increase energy efficiency and to provide modern and expanded energy infrastructure.
Speaking about the establishment of the National Energy Task Force in Parliament yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis said restructuring BEC is imperative, noting the "energy provided by BEC can be unreliable at times".
He said the incident on March 13 resulted in the second island-wide outage for the year.
A restructured BEC with a new partner is expected to save consumers around $200 million and significantly improve service, according to Davis.
More than 18 months have passed since the government announced its plans to restructure the struggling corporation.
The government has delayed announcing the deal several times.
Davis said recently that questions relating to the deal should be directed to Prime Minister Perry Christie.
Last Wednesday, Christie repeated that the "ball is in my court".
But a decision has yet to be announced.
"The administration has set out on the journey to totally reform the energy sector of The Bahamas," Davis said in Parliament.
"This journey is not short and must be continued across administrations until we arrive at a desired destination.
"As a government, we are doing our part. Change will come to positively impact cost, reliability, efficiency and environmental sensitivity."
In accordance with the amended Electricity Act, customers can install and operate renewable energy generating stations that can be connected to the electricity grid.
The act came into effect last Friday.

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Contractor rejects Baha Mar's criticism

March 26, 2015

Baha Mar's move to publicly blame the contractor of the $3.5 billion project in western New Providence for the delay in its opening has been called "wholly inappropriate" by the contractor's local company...

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Flabbergasted that Gray will continue as minister

March 26, 2015

Dear Editor,
I am flabbergasted by today's announcement that a minister is resigning from the post of minister of local government but retaining the position of minister of agriculture and marine resources while allegations concerning his conduct are being investigated.
What is the conduct? An administrator in a Family Island (for which the minister happens to be the representative), in the exercise of a judicial function of his office, convicted an accused of a criminal offense. Apparently the convict made an appeal to the Supreme Court.
It is alleged that the minister engaged in a conversation with the island administrator, and that in the conversation he made statements which may have led or contributed to the release of the convict on bail by the administrator.
The root of the allegations go not just to his fitness to be functioning as a minister in that office, but to his fitness for office as a minister in any capacity. To say that it is appropriate that he resign one ministerial responsibility but retain another is tantamount to saying that a bank manager who is responsible for two branches of the bank should be relieved only of his responsibility for the branch in which he is charged with theft, but retain his position in respect of the branch in which no charges were made.
Let me say, there is no charge of theft here but in the case of both it is a charge of inappropriate behavior which, if true, will signify that the officeholder is unfit for office.
I am flabbergasted because we have leaders who believe that we are too ignorant to appreciate the gravity of this. No resignation at all would have been more defensible than a resignation from one position and not the other, as it would mean the prime minister was taking a stance that the controversy is not at all credible and that the government is prepared to stand or fall by the eventual outcome.
Having him resign from one ministerial position but retain another means that while you want to stand by him, you are accepting that maybe there could be some merit to the criticism and you want an avenue of escape in the event he actually is found culpable in any way.
I pass no judgment yet on the allegations, as I have always had respect for Minister V. Alfred Gray, but as a citizen of this country I feel my intelligence is being insulted. The prime minister should not be allowed to take a middle road on this.
- Luther H. McDonald

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Hubert Ingraham wa different, Mr. Christie

March 26, 2015

Dear Editor,
I'm sick of these excuses from Prime Minister Perry Christie and the PLP whenever they are caught doing the wrong thing. They always say that the FNM did it too. Well, even if that were true, it is no excuse for them. But it is not true.
Christie said recently that the FNM empowered FNM contractors by giving them contracts. Well, why shouldn't FNM contractors get contractors under an FNM government if they are qualified and competitive? Should they be excluded under the FNM as well as the PLP?
Now, I'm not saying that there may have been a few borderline cases of favoritism under the FNM, but the truth is that the FNM government under the leadership of Hubert Ingraham was different, very different.
The FNM government in all its three terms in office put projects out to bid as required by law and awarded the contracts to the best bids regardless of political affiliation. I can name some of the PLPs who benefitted.
The FNM never assumed the PLP attitude of entitlement and did not believe that people who had different political views should be punished and ostracized in their own country.
In fact, Hubert Ingraham was in some cases very compassionate, despite the false image the PLP tries to paint of him. I'll give you a case in point.
Everybody should remember how before one election Steve McKinney, who was a deputy director of Bahamas Information Services, went on the radio and lambasted Ingraham mercilessly on ZNS, the people's radio station, not the PLP's.
Ingraham and the FNM won that election and very justifiably took McKinney off the air. People would have understood if he had also got rid of McKinney from BIS because how could he serve the new prime minister in that sensitive position after saying what he did about him?
In fact, one might have expected McKinney to resign of his own volition. He must have been very uncomfortable working with Ingraham whom he had to record on numerous occasions.
But Ingraham did no such thing. In fact, when McKinney's contract expired, Ingraham renewed it! I think it was for another two or three years!
By contrast, just recently the BIS contract of Earl Thompson expired. Thompson is a qualified Bahamian who is known to be an FNM supporter.
Did Christie renew his contract?
No, he is now out of a job while some PLPs have been hired at BIS.
Big difference, don't you think?

- For Justice

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An unacceptable response by the prime minister

March 26, 2015

The V. Alfred Gray matter is quite simple. We have three independent branches of government in The Bahamas with constitutionally defined powers and responsibilities: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. There is a separation to ensure checks and balances exist between these centers of authority.
The courts exist to ensure fairness, to protect the constitution and to ensure minority rights. Judicial officers are to make decisions based on the law and should not be interfered with by anyone.
When a member of Cabinet, who sits as part of the executive, interferes with a judicial officer he has violated one of the cornerstones of our constitutional system. That individual should be asked to resign from Cabinet or be fired if he refuses to do so.
Gray has admitted that he had a conversation with Mayaguana Island Administrator Zephaniah Newbold about a case the administrator was involved with.
Gray, the MICAL MP, which includes Mayaguana, told The Nassau Guardian that he told Newbold, the local magistrate, that he could release a man convicted of a crime on bail. That man has been identified as Jaquan Charlton, 19.
Gray said, as far as he knew, Newbold did just that after their conversation. Newbold has contradicted that account. The administrator told The Guardian that he released a convict (Charlton) outright, and not on bail, "after an order came forth".
Newbold has reportedly told officials that Gray called him twice on this issue - whereas Gray told this newspaper that he does not recall who called whom. The administrator has detailed the conversations and has reported that he freed Charlton after the second conversation he had with Gray.
These basic details make the political side of this affair simple. Gray should be out of Cabinet. What Prime Minister Perry did yesterday was unacceptable and unbecoming of a leader.
Christie announced in the House of Assembly that Gray was relieved of his duty as minister for local government pending a police investigation into the allegation that he interfered in a judicial matter. However, Gray is still minister of agriculture and marine resources. His local government responsibilities were transferred to Financial Services Minister Hope Strachan.
"In reference to the allegations recently made against Minister Alfred Gray, I am advised that the honorable attorney general has referred the matter to the Royal Bahamas Police Force for a thorough investigation," Christie said.
"As a result of this development, Minister Gray has invited me to relieve him of his ministerial responsibility for local government pending the outcome of the police investigation.
"In all circumstances I consider that this is the correct thing to do."
This is not the right thing to do. The prime minister should know this. There is a question as to whether or not Gray obstructed justice. The matter should have been referred to police. But Christie, as chairman of the Cabinet and as prime minister, should have put Gray out of Cabinet. Leaving Gray as a member of the executive brings our system of governance into disrepute.
Christie risks harming what is left of his legacy if he continues to protect Gray. The prime minister must decide if he is a defender of the constitution or if he is a man who prefers to protect his colleagues regardless of their transgressions.
Gray remaining in the prime minister's Cabinet would mean that Christie thinks it acceptable to contact judicial officers about matters they are involved with. Christie, therefore, demonstrates that he is no longer fit to be prime minister if Gray remains a minister.
These are the stakes, Mr. Prime Minister. A country is watching.
Be careful that you don't lose your place by keeping a man you should have fired last week.

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The Alfred Gray affair: A grave crisis for the PM and the judiciary

March 26, 2015

From the moment Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister V. Alfred Gray offered the Mayaguana island administrator certain advice about a criminal case involving a constituent, he breached a wall of separation between the executive and the judiciary.
For this grave breach he must resign forthwith or be immediately fired by the prime minister. Temporarily relieving Gray of the local government portfolio is a stalling tactic, makes a mockery of the system and suggests a bunker mentality in the government.
Gray has admitted to discussing the case with the administrator telling him that he could release the man charged on bail. This is a clear-cut case. There need be no more investigation as to whether Gray should resign or be fired.
The only outstanding question is whether Gray should be criminally charged. What should be investigated are the details and the full nature of the breach by the MICAL MP, who is also an attorney.
There are two major issues at stake: The independence of the judiciary and any remaining credibility of Prime Minister Perry Christie and his government already seriously damaged and compromised by the grave breach of the public trust and parliamentary conventions by DPM Philip Brave Davis who recently misled the House and who must also resign or be fired, in what is also a clear-cut case.
A minister misleading Parliament and a minister perverting the course of or obstructing justice are both cardinal sins in our system of government. Both require a minister to resign. Even with compelling evidence of ministerial conduct, in the PLP there appear to be no consequences for ministers who breach public standards and conventions.
If Gray remains in the Cabinet, the prime minister and his entire government will be complicit in perverting the course of justice. The Alfred Gray matter presents a crisis for the prime minister and for the chief justice and chief magistrate.

Usurped
The prime minister cannot possibly let stand a minister telling a judicial officer what he could or could not do. And the chief justice and chief magistrate cannot allow the judiciary to have its independent authority usurped by a Cabinet minister. If Gray remains in office, our system of justice is at risk to all manner of future interference by Cabinet ministers. This cannot be overstated.
Once the administrator heard the case and ordered the convicted person to prison he had no further authority to deal with the matter. The police had a responsibility to carry out the decision of the court and present the individual for incarceration.
If the convicted felt aggrieved and was determined to appeal his conviction and sentence he would have had to appeal to a higher court, for example, a magistrate assigned to the district or a magistrate in New Providence.
The administrator had no power to change his own order. The police should be requested by the appropriate authority or advised by the attorney general to ensure that the court order is carried out with no reference to the telephone conversation or conversations between the administrator and Minister Gray.
It is deeply disturbing that Gray has not tendered his resignation and barring that, he has not been fired by Christie. Gray's conduct cannot be allowed to stand. It is a fundamental tenet of our system that there is an independent judiciary.
If Gray refuses to resign or is not fired it will be another indictment of Christie and his Cabinet, who will have condoned his grave ethical breach.
Any excuse that the Gray matter is before the courts is nonsense. It was before the courts when he spoke to the magistrate. What is not before the courts is the admitted conversation he had with the magistrate and his grave ethical breach.
It is telling that the Brave Davis matter and the Alfred Gray matter followed in rapid succession. It speaks to a culture of impropriety in the PLP where various standards are breached with little or no repercussions, tolerated by an ineffectual prime minister whose out-of-control Cabinet scarcely respect his authority.
Within mere weeks the fig leaf has been ripped from the pretension of minimal propriety by the current Christie administration, with the Gray and Davis matters grave examples of the PLP's contempt for the rule of law, parliamentary conventions and good governance.
We are witnessing a replay of the 2002 to 2007 Christie administration, with a weak leader with delusions of grandeur, unable to fulfil scores of election promises and presiding over a helter-skelter government with scandals, allegations of corruption and misconduct exploding with frightening regularity, as he keeps singing his happy song and doing his happy dance in his world of make-believe, while he wishes against hope that his problems will somehow simply vanish into thin air. They will not.

Gravest
The Gray affair is one of the gravest crises Christie has experienced in his two non-consecutive terms as prime minister. The head-in-the-sand no comment routine he has employed in other crises will not work this time.
Christie and the party were warned by veteran party supporters before the last election not to run certain individuals including Gray, Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes, all who have now proven terrible embarrassments and distractions to Christie and the PLP.
Witnessing Christie's toleration of all manner of misconduct, both from 2002 to 2007 and now, Gray and other ministers may have concluded that they can do and behave exactly as they please as Cabinet ministers.
Gray is known for his unmatchable and unbridled arrogance. Many Family Island administrators find him tyrannical. His call to the Mayaguana administrator is in keeping with a certain mindset.
Many who voted PLP desperately hoping that the party would be better this time have been fooled again, let down and are deeply disappointed. Those who were depressed on election night at the prospects to come have, sadly, been proven correct and are now more depressed.
Christie seems to have learned little since his previous term, except this: he has gotten worse. If he fails to fire Gray and Davis he will have conclusively demonstrated how much worse is his leadership this term and that he is simply the same old face of the PLP, though he promised to be a new kind of leader.
At a 2002 rally at Clifford Park Christie solemnly declared: " ...If I hear about any minister of mine trying to practice any victimization on anybody the next time he hears from me, it will be to tell him to clean out his desk and head for the door. Victimization is an evil I put on par with corruption in high places. Neither will be tolerated under an administration headed by Perry Christie. Of that you can be assured."
As the facts of the Alfred Gray matter continue to unfold, we shall see whether Christie was just mouthing platitudes as usual.

o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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