Nassau Guardian Stories

Faith Fest to attract tourists to Grand Bahama for spiritual rejuvenation

August 24, 2016

Grand Bahama Island can expect to see a spike in visitors, October 27-29, 2016 as hundreds converge at the beautiful Grand Lucayan Resort to attend Faith Fest, a fun-filled weekend designed for spiritual immersion and physical rejuvenation.
The event, led by Bishop Henry Fernandez, senior pastor at the Faith Center in Florida, is a joint partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and its Religious Tourism Department.
Religious tourism, which is also commonly referred to as faith tourism, targets people who travel individually or in groups to destinations for the purpose of pilgrimage, missionary or for leisure fellowship. It is estimated that some 40 million persons in this growing tourism sector, spend approximately $4 billion to visit places of worship, missions and for the discovery of Christian culture.
"Known the world over for its stunning beaches, crystal clear waters and warm and friendly people, The Bahamas is a Christian nation and is oftentimes referred to "as the place where God lives," said Dwight Armbrister, director of religious tourism for the Ministry of Tourism.
The planned group, which was formed by the ministry's Plantation office and developed through its relationship with Bahamian Bishop Cardinal McIntosh and his association with Bishop Fernandez, took more than two years to materialize.
At a special "Bahamas Day" church service held this past Sunday at the Faith Center, which was attended by thousands as well as representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, Bishop Fernandez said, "the government of The Bahamas is to be commended for the wonderful position it has taken in carving out a special program for religious tourism. This partnership, made by God, brings us together as one and is the beginning of many other great things to come," he said.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism Harrison Thompson, who presented Grand Bahama beach bags to Bishop Fernandez and First Lady Carroll Fernandez, said "The Bahamas and its government, led by the nation's prime minister, knows the importance of, values and appreciates religious tourism. Our prime minister's major advisors are not from political leaders but are from our religious leaders," he said.
Betty Bethell, director of tourism for Grand Bahama, said "Attendees can expect to encounter the ambiance of natural serenity and intimacy and the warmth of the Bahamian people in Grand Bahama. Come prepared to connect and fellowship, we are awaiting you."
Among some of the planned activities at Faith Fest are spirit-filled sessions with Bishop Fernandez, Cheryl Brady and Bishop Cardinal McIntosh; praise and worship from renowned psalmists James Fortune and Tye Tribbett; a comedy show featuring noted comedian Marcus Wiley, a beach-side exercise workout and an all-white party and concert with Jonathan McReynolds, Simeon Outten and the Cooling Waters.

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No public access to Baha Mar docs

August 24, 2016

At the request of the government and the Export-Import Bank of China (CEXIM), the Supreme Court sealed documents relating to the agreement the parties signed on Monday to get Baha Mar completed and opened, preventing public access to the deal, according to Baha Mar's receiver-manager Ray Winder, managing partner of Deloitte & Touche.
"We have information in there that we don't think should be in the public stage," Winder told The Nassau Guardian.
Explaining why the parties made the request to have the documents sealed, Winder said, "It is for commercial reasons and I can't discuss it any further".
Pressed on the matter, he said, "Until we have completed the process, I don't think it would be correct to have the information in the public domain."
Winder indicated that the public should appreciate there are many stakeholders involved and numerous moving parts to make the project happen.
At a packed press conference at the Cabinet Office on Monday night, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced the government and CEXIM signed an agreement that will see the bank put up the capital to complete the project and pay the former employees and unsecured creditors money owed to them.
But Christie took no questions from the media.
He said under the agreement, remobilization at Baha Mar "will commence immediately" with China Construction resuming construction next month.
According to Christie, China Construction will also resolve outstanding claims with its suppliers and subcontractors, an announcement that was applauded by the dozens of local contractors in the room.
He said the project will be completed before the end of the 2016/2017 winter season, approximately March 2017, before being sold to a hotel and casino operator.
But Christie did not reveal any details on who the potential buyer is.
Although he acknowledged concessions were made, Christie did not provide specifics.
He also did not say how much the project will cost to complete, when the unsecured creditors and former employees will be paid and how many former employees will be reengaged.
"As it has been done with all major investments, the government will extend the appropriate concessions to facilitate the construction and promote the successful future operation of the resort," Christie said.
"The completed project will then be sold to a qualified world-class operator."
There has been widespread speculation in recent months that the government was planning to give exorbitant concessions, including 500 Bahamian citizenship approvals to Chinese investors in exchange for restarting the stalled mega project, but Christie has dismissed this.
Christie has acknowledged that the public will have many questions on the details of what has been agreed.
He said in the coming days the government will make available "all of the key items of information" to the public.
He added that there was a lot of paperwork still to be completed to implement the agreement, but did not provide specifics.
Asked yesterday what will happen next, Winder said, "You will know in due time".
In May, Christie announced that CEXIM and China State Construction and Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) entered into a "framework agreement" to remobilize construction to complete Baha Mar.
It is unclear if the deal announced on Monday differs from that framework agreement.
No details were provided on the framework agreement when Christie announced it in Parliament.
As a part of the agreement announced on Monday, the government and utility companies, including Bahamas Power and Light (BPL), will receive "some" of their outstanding claims against Baha Mar.
Baha Mar owes the government more than $58 million.
It owes BPL approximately $24 million.
"The lease holders will also be allowed to maintain their contracts," Christie said.

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AG: PM gave many details on Baha Mar

August 24, 2016

Despite some opinions that Prime Minister Perry Christie's announcement of a signed agreement that will see to the completion, sale and opening of Baha Mar was "too vague", Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson believes Christie presented "many details" in his speech.
"The prime minister will continue to be the primary spokesman on this matter and he will give more details," Maynard-Gibson told reporters on Tuesday.
"Many, many details were given last night (Monday) - the provisions that have been made to take care of all Bahamians that were involved in the project, the employees and contractors of Baha Mar and of China Construction America (CCA) and the persons who hold commercial pieces.
"The prime minister has spoken about that and that in itself is very, very significant."
While giving his speech on live television on Monday night, the prime minister said that under the deal, former employees and unsecured creditors will be paid "a significant part, and possibly all" of the outstanding money owed to them.
However, Christie failed to mention a named buyer, the cost to complete Baha Mar or what concessions the government had in the Cabinet Office.
He also did not take questions from the press.
Nonetheless, Maynard-Gibson believes the agreement is good for the country.
She said the entire situation "teaches the country the importance of faith".
"Everybody believed and was praying that God would take us through all of this and lift the burden and obvious pain that many have been experiencing," she said.
"He (God) had the prime minister, whose focus was only on how do we be sure we can assure that Bahamians come out of this as unskewed as possible.
"So we live in a country where we openly profess our faith and this shows that faith pays off.
"God was in the midst of this, trust me."
The attorney general said overall, the prime minister's announcement showed how many people trust him, regardless of their political persuasion.
"... Bahamians have rallied around a prime minister that they can trust," she said.

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CDC issues alert against Bahamas

August 24, 2016

The United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday issued a level two alert to those traveling to The Bahamas advising that they "practice enhanced precautions", as two of the four confirmed Zika cases in New Providence were reportedly transmitted locally.
"Local mosquito transmission of Zika virus infection has been reported on the island of New Providence in The Bahamas which includes the city of Nassau," said the notice issued on the CDC website.
"Local mosquito transmission means that mosquitoes in the area are infected with Zika virus and are spreading it to people.
"Because Zika virus is primarily spread by mosquitoes, CDC recommends that travelers to The Bahamas protect themselves from mosquito bites.
"Sexual transmission of Zika virus is also possible, so travelers are encouraged to use condoms or other barriers to prevent infection or not have sex."
On Monday, health officials announced their findings.
In addition to the four confirmed cases, officials reported 83 suspected cases throughout The Bahamas; eight are pregnant women.
Monday's announcement sent the country from being on a level one watch to a level two alert.
Level three warns travelers against visiting a specific country.
Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez predicted that because of the new confirmed cases, the entire country would be labeled as a Zika hot spot which could pose a problem for the tourism industry.
"I was informed this morning (Monday) that ... a travel advisory would be issued against The Bahamas sometime today if it has not already been done," Gomez said.
"I thought it was a little unfair to say 'The Bahamas', because we've only had Zika in New Providence. We are an archipelago of 130 inhabited islands. It's not scientific to say the entire Bahamas at this moment in time, but there you are, that's how it is."
Taiwan's CDC issued a level two alert for the country on Monday afternoon.

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Minnis: Nobody trusts Christie

August 24, 2016

Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday the Official Opposition and the entire Bahamas would be more than happy to see Baha Mar open because of what the project represents to Bahamians and the country's economy.
But Minnis said his optimism is hinged on whether the government can be trusted, noting that details of the agreement Prime Minister Perry Christie announced on Monday night between the government and the Export-Import Bank of China (CEXIM) to get Baha Mar open and completed, were largely absent.
"Nobody trusts the prime minister," Minnis said.
"I certainly don't. The FNM doesn't and the people don't.
"He has made many promises and never delivered."
Christie said under the deal, Baha Mar will be completed, sold and opened before the "end of the 2016/2017 winter season".
CEXIM is providing the capital to complete the project, Christie said.
Christie also said former employees and unsecured creditors will be paid "a significant part, and possibly all" of the outstanding money owed to them.
According to Christie, China Construction will resume construction on the site in September.
The company will also resolve outstanding claims with its suppliers and subcontractors, Christie said.
Minnis called on the government to make known what was given to Chinese investors.
Speaking to the concessions to facilitate the deal on Monday night, Christie said, "As it has been done with all major investments, the government will extend the appropriate concessions to facilitate the construction and promote the successful future operation of the resort.
"The completed project will then be sold to a qualified world-class operator."
Heralding the deal as a "signal achievement for The Bahamas", Christie said under Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian's chapter 11 bankruptcy efforts, "our people had little prospect of being paid anything".
Minnis was a proponent of allowing the developer to proceed with the chapter 11 in the U.S. over the government's countermove to wind-up the project in local courts.
Baha Mar was eventually put into provisional liquidation and later went into receivership.
All of the Chapter 11 cases have since been dismissed.
Minnis said if an FNM government learns of any element of the deal that does not serve the interest of the Bahamian people, "it has to be dealt with appropriately".
He said an FNM government will do what is in the best interest of the Bahamian people.
"And one wonders whether they had brought the Baha Mar release at this time so as to deflect away from Moody's downgrade and its impact on our economy," Minnis added.

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Residents warned of developing weather system

August 24, 2016

A "strong tropical wave" a few hundred miles east of the Leeward Islands could result in severe flooding in the next 24 hours for several southeastern islands of The Bahamas, including Long Island, Ragged Island, Acklins, Crooked Island, Mayaguana and Inagua, according to the Department of Meteorology.
Basil Dean, deputy director of the department, said the tropical wave has a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical storm, but even if it does not, gusty winds and heavy rains are likely to accompany this system beginning Thursday morning and could result in severe flooding.
"Residents on these islands should monitor the system and be prepared to take quick and necessary actions to minimize possible flood damage," Dean said in a statement.
"Drainage systems should be cleared of all debris between now and Thursday to maximize the free run-off of rain water."
Asked about the extent of flooding, Dean said, "That all depends on the localized areas.
"This is more of a heads up for the persons in those areas to be prepared to secure your property if the need arises."
In a statement, Minister of Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin urged residents who reside on potential impact areas to heed all weather alerts.
Hanna-Martin said residents should take every necessary precaution to assure the protection of life and property.
"Please also pay attention to all updates from the Department of Meteorology on this weather system, and be vigilant and responsive," read the statement.
The islands that could be impacted by the developing tropical storm are still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Joaquin last October.
Packing winds up to 140 miles per hour, Joaquin churned over several islands in the central and southern Bahamas, but Long Island, San Salvador, Samana Cay, Crooked Island, Acklins and Rum Cay experienced the worst of the storm.
Meanwhile, the Department of Meteorology reported that Hurricane Gaston of 6 p.m. yesterday was approximately 765 miles west of the southernmost Cape Verde islands.
Gaston is not expected to make landfall, but it could have some indirect impact, namely ocean swells impacting the eastern islands of The Bahamas.
The weather system was traveling west-northwest at around 18 miles per hour.
It had winds in excess of 65 miles per hour and was expected to become a hurricane by yesterday.

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Suspected serial rapist charged

August 24, 2016

A suspected serial rapist is behind bars after he was charged with three sexual assaults that occurred during home invasions.
Randy Bain, who is otherwise known as Raymond Rolle, of Sumner Street, Nassau Village, appeared before Magistrate Subu Swain yesterday on charges of rape, burglary, robbery and attempted rape.
Prosecutors say that the 36-year-old raped a 56-year-old woman on August 15 after burgling her home.
On August 10, Bain allegedly burgled another home and attempted to rape a 22-year-old woman. He is also accused of robbing that woman of $20.
He is further accused of raping a 26-year-old woman on May 22 and burgling her home between May 21 and 22.
Bain was not required to enter pleas to the charges when he made his initial appearance before the magistrate.
Swain advised Bain of his right to apply to the Supreme Court for bail, as she did not have the jurisdiction to consider bail for the offenses.
Bain makes his next court appearance on October 17. At that time, he is expected to be committed to the Supreme Court to stand trial on the charges.

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Attempted murder case against teen begins

August 24, 2016

Police arrested a teenager accused of attempted murder as he left court, a Supreme Court jury heard yesterday.
Prosecutors say that the 17-year-old shot Jared Miller multiple times at Eaton Road in Yellow Elder Gardens on April 2, 2015.
He has denied the allegation at his trial before Acting Supreme Court Justice Joyann Ferguson-Pratt.
Sergeant 2054 Jermaine Moultrie said he was at the Nassau Street Court Complex on May 12, 2015 when he saw the defendant, who was known to him, exiting Juvenile Court.
Moultrie said that he cautioned the suspect and arrested him for attempted murder.
The defendant replied, "Officer, I ain't shoot nobody."
Defense lawyer Moses Bain suggested that the suspect was in police custody as he left court; however, Moultrie said this was not the case.
Sergeant 848 William Major testified that the shooting victim selected the accused from a 12-man photo gallery on May 13, one day after his arrest.
Bain questioned why police did not hold an identification parade since the suspect was in custody.
Major replied, "I wouldn't be able to answer that. You have to ask the investigator."
Bain suggested that the suspect had been in custody since May 8.
Major said, "I had information he was in custody. He could have been in the building; I didn't check."
Randolph Dames is the prosecutor.
The case continues today.

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Halkitis: Silver lining in Moody's downgrade

August 24, 2016

Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis said yesterday despite the downgrade of the country's credit rating by Moody's Investors Services on Monday, he is "relieved", as there is still a "silver lining".
"As you recall, when Moody's issued a review, they put us on review and they indicated that it could be one or two notches," Halkitis said.
"In all the circumstances, we are relieved that you know, we only went down one notch.
"It is important because we maintain our investment grade and the second positive aspect of this is that we get a stable rating which means that for the next 18 to 24 months, we should maintain this rating barring any unforeseen circumstances and it would give us an opportunity to address some of the issues they pointed out in their review."
Following a review in July, the ratings agency on Monday lowered the bond and issuer ratings of the government of The Bahamas one notch, to Baa3 from Baa2, despite the threat that they could have been lowered even more.
Low medium-term growth pointing to "weaker economic strength relative to similarly-rated peers", and the "persistent increase in the government's debt ratio leaves The Bahamas with less fiscal space relative to rating peers", said Moody's in explaining the downgrade.
Persistently high unemployment, non-performing loans in the banking system and a decrease in the competitiveness of the tourism sector, were reasons given for the "first driver" that led to the downgrade.
Moody's said it expects The Bahamas' economic performance over the next five years "will likely remain subdued and constrained by structural rigidities".
Noting that a downgrade is never a good thing, Halkitis said he wants to highlight the positive impacts it has.
"You never want to see a downgrade, but you know they have a formula and what happens is we are grouped within our rating... we are grouped amongst other countries and part of what they do is compare our numbers in terms of employment, economic growth and debt levels to those countries," he said.
"Whenever those statistics tend to fall outside of the range, they have to make an adjustment.
"So we're a little disappointed, but there is a silver lining, that we maintain our investment grade.
"The outlook is stable so it gives us time to continue our program of reform."
On Monday night, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced that the government and the Export-Import Bank of China signed an agreement that was approved by the Supreme Court that will see the stalled Baha Mar project completed, sold and opened before the end of 2016/2017 winter season.
Halkitis said the "good news" is important and could help the economy.
"It is very significant because you know we all heard the good news last night (Monday night) and so to the extent that it gets moving, it gets remobilized and it's opened, and we have people employed, it all contributes to the economy," the minister said.
"That and in conjunction with some of the developments going on in the other Family Islands, Exuma, Abaco and even Grand Bahama, when we see those become fully mobilized and gain some momentum we should see it add to the growth of the economy, employment, revenue and so it definitely brightens the picture for us."
The Ministry of Finance on Monday responded to the downgrade by admitting disappointment, but expressing confidence that the downgrade would be temporary, given Moody's stable outlook of the economy.
"The government's perspective on the Bahamian economy remains positive and its commitment undeterred in pursuing the necessary policy reform measures and initiatives to secure durable growth, accompanied by broadened employment opportunities and greater fiscal sustainability with debt reduction," the ministry said.
"To this end, the government is moving swiftly to advance the many real sector initiatives underway that are poised to deliver, over the near-term horizon, further concrete, measurable contributions in these key economic policy areas."

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Minnis urges aggressive approach to Zika virus

August 24, 2016

Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis suggested a more aggressive approach be taken to prevent transmission of the Zika virus, as its effects during pregnancy can eventually take a toll on the healthcare system.
"In a case like this, one has to be very, very aggressive because unlike dengue, you're talking about neurological deficits which can become a financial burden on the healthcare system for life," Minnis said on Tuesday.
"You may find individuals who may not be able to cope with such type infants and therefore leave the infants within the healthcare system.
"They may abandon them or just leave.
"That is an additional cost to the taxpayers.
"You have to be proactive. Not only does it affect newborns, but it affects others in terms of neurological disorders."
Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez announced on Monday that there have been confirmed cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an uncommon illness of the nervous system in which a person's own immune system damages the nerve cells causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.
After the first case was concerned on August 10, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Glen Beneby said officials are urging the public to be concerned, but not panicked.
When asked if The Bahamas would be able to handle a possible outbreak of the virus, he said, "We can only focus on prevention, because we can only handle within our resources."
On Monday, health officials confirmed four cases of Zika in New Providence and some 83 suspected cases throughout the country.
Though officials say they have sought to lessen local transmission through intense vector control and mosquito management, Minnis, a former minister of health, believes more needs to be done to prevent an outbreak.
"I think the government has to inform the people and keep them abreast about their progress, at the same time not to frighten the populace, but to ensure them that everything has been done to prevent it not only in New Providence, but the Family Islands as well," he said.
"The government knows which areas from previous matters which have high Aedes aegypti mosquito content and so those matters must be aggressively handled."
Minnis referenced methods used by his team to constantly speak with the public during the dengue fever outbreak in 2011.
He said similar initiatives should be carried out now that the country is faced with Zika.
"We went to the various areas and had town meetings to inform communities of the danger of dengue at the time and told them what to do to get rid of the mosquitos, etc," he said.
"I think once the country has a definite understanding they know how important it is for them to remove the old tires or buckets, et cetera, because that can represent them having a neurological deficit, lead to death or cause them to have a child born with a small head."
Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.
It can also be transmitted through unprotected sex and from mother to baby during pregnancy, or around the birth.
Officials are advising couples to practice safe sex, especially those who are pregnant.
Of the 83 suspected cases, most were found in the Carmichael and Pinewood areas.
Officials from the Department of Environmental Health said they are fogging the areas among others, nightly.

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Secrecy indicates there's no final deal yet

August 24, 2016

We listened to the press conference Monday night by Prime Minister Perry Christie on Baha Mar. Since it was a national address we thought he would be there along with the Export-Import Bank of China, the lender; China Construction America, the builder, and the new owner of the resort at Cable Beach.
Instead, Christie was at the center of the room in the Cabinet Office doing all the talking. From what we could see there were no representatives from the Chinese bank or builder. There certainly was no new owner.
Christie then proceeded to give a vague series of promises he thinks will make Bahamians giddy: workers will be paid, construction will start next month, Bahamian contractors will be paid, a world-class buyer will be found.
We say vague because the property is in the hands of the Chinese. The country needs to hear from them for all of this to have credibility. No one takes Christie seriously on Baha Mar anymore. He has proclaimed so many times, incorrectly, that the resort deal has been reached and work will start soon.
When reporters tried to ask Christie questions he nearly ran out of the room. He would not sit like a leader who knows what he is doing and answer the media. Why? Because he had no answers. Why did he have no answers? Because there is no final deal.
To be fair, it is clear that the Chinese are nearing a final deal on Baha Mar. Christie has no discipline, however. He went public too soon. He wants to be the beloved emperor who ushers in happy days for his people.
The public relations stunt on Monday was beneath the stature of the office of prime minister. Christie must hold Bahamians in contempt to think we would believe a deal has been finalized when it is obvious that is not the case.
A further indication that the deal is not done came when it was revealed that the government and Export-Import Bank of China asked the Supreme Court to seal documents filled in connection with Baha Mar. This means the public cannot see them.
The prime minister has a responsibility to keep Bahamians updated on this serious matter. The country is in recession; we have double-digit unemployment, two thousand people lost their jobs a year ago when Baha Mar went into bankruptcy. The prime minister, however, should not fill Bahamians with false hope.
"Tonight's hastily convened address does nothing to satisfy the needs and worries of the Bahamian people," said Leader of the Opposition Dr. Hubert Minnis on Monday night.
Minnis is right. When negotiations are done and all the parties have agreed, the prime minister should come to the Bahamian people with the Chinese bank, the Chinese builder and the new buyer. They should all be willing to take questions and provide specific timelines as to when things will move forward.
They all should also be willing to make public the deal, as much Bahamian land is involved along with millions of dollars in tax concessions. Then, if there is transparency in this manner, we will believe the way forward has been reached.

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More investment needed in Eight Mile Rock

August 24, 2016

Dear Editor,

Thank you for allowing this humble message to be sent to the Bahamian people by way of your daily.
When general elections are imminent, it always gives reason for pause and reflection on the state of the country and its perspectives for the future. Undoubtedly, there are some dismal feelings about the current state of affairs in our beloved country. We are still battling high incidents of violent crime, not only in the capital, but also on the island of the nation's second city. In New Providence and its capital Nassau, as well as in Freeport and Grand Bahama on the whole, unemployment continues to loom. The recent layoffs of Sandals workers only helps to add to the fear of many other service industry workers throughout the archipelago.
Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama, is no exception. With its high percentage of young persons in its population, Eight Mile Rock represents a settlement teeming with great possibilities, yet seemingly forgotten somewhere in the thrust to improve the lives of Bahamians.
A drive through this settlement proves this point as you see far too many buildings simply abandoned, far too many young persons idle and far too few activities and opportunities for them.
A concerted effort to remember the vision for a prosperous Eight Mile Rock could yield a better way of life for its residents, and augment the assets of The Bahamas on the whole. It's settlements like these that are in desperate need of, and deserve, specific attempts to improve their infrastructure and provide them with every opportunity to become a more viable contributors to the Bahamian economy.
For example, a community like Eight Mile Rock would benefit greatly from the investment of a manufacturing plant, producing products of native raw materials. It would employ thousands of Bahamians from this and surrounding settlements.
Eight Mile Rock is also ripe for a technical and vocational institute. As it stands, when Eight Mile Rock students graduate from high school they must take the bus to Freeport in order to continue studies. If parents are unable to fund the frequent bus trips, the funds needed for essentials being so far from home in the day, and other variables, students find themselves having to drop out of college.
There are countless cases existing in the community today. These are bright minds that we should not allow to go to waste or be lost in the myriad of problems that face young people with little to no opportunities. Every child and young adult should be afforded the right to have access to free quality education. This resilient settlement has hundreds of young people who could fill the seats of a vocational and technical institute right now and in a short period of time, through diligence, determination and support from society at large, could become certified in highly needed skills to benefit their community and country.
Our settlement could become a model for the rest of the country - showing what can happen when we invest in our young people and create opportunities for them to excel. There are too few opportunities for high school graduates in Eight Mile Rock and the entire West End, Grand Bahama. We don't have to pull far for examples of what these dynamic young Bahamians can do. This is a year of extreme pride for Eight Mile Rock as we laud the victories of our hometown youth: Chavano "Buddy" Hield and Jonquel Jones - both committed in the first round of NBA and WNBA drafts respectfully, this year.
An "Eight Mile Rock Revitalization Program" would greatly assist in the rebirth of this great settlement, designed to be a model for others throughout the country. Take the young people off the streets from being idle and provide them with more education and skills training, more social programs to address teenage pregnancy and social ills, and provide them with employment. Our settlement is in dire need of this kind of revitalization to ensure the success of the next generation. With proper planning, Eight Mile Rock could become attractive to foreign investors for a variety of projects. Just imagine: first-class roads, state-of-the-art modern government buildings, proper street signs and lights along the adequate handicap facilities in public and private areas.
It would bode well for our community if the powers that be consider an aggressive redevelopment program to commence immediately. The community could be better serviced by the government facilities in Eight Mile Rock. There are so many abandoned buildings along the front road in the settlement that the government should consider acquiring some of these buildings in order to create new facilities to provide proper and modern services to residents.
Many government facilities are not even along the highway. Residents, after arriving at the bus stop, must take a seven- to 10-minute walk to arrive at some facilities. This can pose an issue in the event of rain, or if a pregnant woman or elderly individual must make this trek.
Take the police station for example - not on the main highway. And, even this building is in need of better accommodations for the officers to work in in order to properly execute their duties. The force's crime issues could be adequately addressed by a revitalization program. Eventually, this would lead to officers being able to implement more community building programs, fostering a better relationship with residents. This, again, is a recipe for making this settlement a model for all others.
If government facilities are refurbished and updated, it could employ hundreds of Eight Mile Rock residents. Many of them are very talented and skilled in areas such as masonry, carpentry, steel and finish work. However, many of them do not have the necessary qualifications on paper to prove/support their qualifications (thus, the benefit of a technical and vocational college in the settlement). Therefore, many of them are in the communities unable to get the kind of construction contracts they deserve; with the required proof of qualifications they may be offered these contracts, including government jobs. If they are the ones assigned to rebuild their own community, it would help to boost the sense of pride and ownership that they have in their settlement. We could start with the administrator's building, the police and fire station, courts, social services, local government offices, the post office, schools, etc.
In the primary and high schools, students are starving for more creative teaching methods and teachers are deserving of a better environment to influence the minds of the next generation. They are hard-working, underpaid teachers who deserve to be afforded with adequate spaces dedicated to departing and receiving knowledge. A vigorous after-school program would greatly benefit the students. Teachers are too often dipping into personal funds to ensure that extra-curricular activities, school events and presentations; and sometimes even school lunch is provided for the many students who are in obvious need. The students are also in desperate need of more access to guaranteed tertiary education. We need more Hields and Joneses going into universities worldwide and making an indelible mark.
These kinds of initiatives would boost the morale of the community and turn it around for the better. These are achievable dreams and the community must be involved in the decision-making process. There was a time when I was a young boy, sitting behind one of those school desks in Eight Mile Rock holding on to big dreams about my future. As I continue to excel in my personal career, I cannot help but reflect on my humble beginnings in this unique settlement and ponder on the many young children who are still going through the same thing. I could not continue excelling without attempting to make sure that opportunities like those provided for me are available to our stars of tomorrow.
It is my opinion that considering just the sheer size of Eight Mile Rock, the government should consider these suggestions. We have in good numbers the greatest resource we need to ensure that these projects are successful - people. These are a resilient people who have overcome the hardships of Out Island living thus far. It sits poised for a boost to its economy and community pride.

- Joshua C. Forbes

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Prosperity lost

August 24, 2016

You know, there was a time when we were a proudly prosperous people. Wherever we went in the world we took pride in our economic fortunes. It was no secret. We were the financial jewel in the crown of the Caribbean. We were the envy of developing countries. We boasted that we were one of the only Third World countries displaying First World characteristics.
And why not? Our per capita income, the most common objective measure of national prosperity, was the third highest in the Americas. Of the 34 countries of the Americas, only the U.S. and Canada were more prosperous than us. True or not, we believed ourselves to be special; the best little country on the planet. The late Dr. Myles Munroe said everywhere he went that The Bahamas was "the place where God lives". That's surely how we felt.
Over decades our economy, driven by tourism and financial services mainly, grew robustly. O we had economic challenges but they were intermittent. Disruptions to our economy almost always resulted from some global financial fallout or at least some significant slowdown in the U.S. economy. However, there was always a sense that whatever downturn we experienced would not last long, maybe only a year or two. Jobs were abundant and hope even more so. Our dollar's parity with that of the U.S. was never in doubt, in real or perceived terms. We were happy and hopeful. Economic optimism was second nature for us. Yes, in those days, there were Bahamians struggling, but, generally speaking, the country felt prosperous and proud. When was this? It was much of that period from the late 70s to the late 90s; if not a golden age, an age of at least silver sentiments.
Fast forward to today and we, in general, hardly feel prosperous. The heads of far too many are bowed in poverty rather than raised in pride. Worse than our present desperate financial problems is the deep sense that the future seems without real hope of getting any better. Today, we go few places in our region, yea our world, feeling much better off than our neighbors. Yes, there are many nations less fortunate than we are but pride in lesser poverty is not the same as pride in greater prosperity.
Bahamians in great numbers are now looking elsewhere for jobs, opportunity, fortunes. They are now emigrating in numbers that might soon rival the days of "The Contract". They speak frequently now of the devaluation of their currency. Add to this the constant downgrades or threat of downgrades of international credit ratings agencies. We are not now so prosperous. We feel poor.
There are many Bahamians who are working hard to keep up appearances. There are men and women in nice suits and dresses driving fancy cars, living in big houses who are struggling to pay their mortgages, children's school fees and power bills.
Yes, they go out for cocktails with friends, but the squeeze is on. Thank God for overdrafts, loans - institutional and personal - and some residual income that may keep them afloat. These Bahamians sleep uneasy, if at all, wondering when the bottom will fall out and when everyone finds out just how bad they have it.
Up and down the social ladder of our country, things are not well. Many will tell you, especially folks who have been around for decades, they have never seen it this bad in The Bahamas.
Don't get me wrong, there are Bahamians who are doing exceptionally well. They have economic niches that continue to prosper. Some have businesses in the tourism, financial services and wholesale and retail trade; yes, some gambling entrepreneurs raking in millions in the wake of their new found legitimacy. A few others have close ties to the government and get lucrative contracts from it. Life is good for them but for the rest of The Bahamas the struggle is real, very real.
What will we do or can we do to end this bleeding? Surely we cannot continue this way. If we do the social decline that we are already seeing will worsen. The drain of our national talent to other countries will accelerate. The poverty in our nation will deepen and soon we will not merely be a shadow of ourselves. We will be a shadow period. Generations of Bahamians will know nothing but poverty and frustration and loss. Our politics will become more tribal, perhaps even venturing into violence. Our businesses will become more oligopolistic with greed being the core value of operation more than it is today. Our society will be more pessimistic, making national unity impossible. If this happens, who would want to be here?
Probably not even the immigrants who came here to have a better life. This may not happen in our time but it will happen in time and it will be our legacy to our children, grandchildren and their children. What can we do? What shall we do? How do we stop this economic bleeding? How do we create new days of plenty? Next week, we will look at possible answers to these questions.

o Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.

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Sears urges structural changes in wake of downgrade

August 24, 2016

The decision by Moody's Investors Service to downgrade The Bahamas' sovereign credit rating presents The Bahamas with a historic opportunity to change its economic strategy and political processes to produce a more sustainable and secure future for The Bahamas, according to Alfred Sears, QC, the Progressive Liberal Party's (PLP) candidate for Fort Charlotte.
Sears said, "What we must not do is wring our hands and say, 'Oh, this is bad'. We should seize this moment and make the kind of structural changes that will put our national development on a more sustainable path."
Moody's lowered the bond and issuer ratings of the government of The Bahamas one notch, to Baa3 from Baa2, despite the threat that they could have been lowered even more.
Moody's expects The Bahamas' economic performance over the next five years will likely remain subdued and constrained by structural rigidities "relatively high energy costs, a bureaucratic burden that hinders doing business and labor market rigidities, as reflected in high unemployment, a high rate of non-performing loans and declining competitiveness in the tourism sector.
Despite the measures implemented by the government, the downward trend of the economy has not been arrested, with real GDP growth expected to average 1.3 percent during this period, the fourth weakest economic performance out of the current 22 Baa-rated sovereigns.
"Apart from obvious need for fiscal restraint, what Moody's ratings downgrade demonstrates most clearly is the need for a rational diversification policy, a robust growth strategy with specific targets and transparent and efficient governance practices," said Sears, who plans to run for the leadership of the PLP in November.
He said projected GDP growth of under two percent is insufficient to meet employment and generate economic growth.
"It is time to change this unsustainable path. Let us pursue a growth strategy to expand productive sectors, empower Bahamians to own capital and produce sustainable and balanced national development," Sears said.
Among the proposals Sears put forward to achieve this goal is an aggressive increase in Bahamian ownership and entrepreneurship, through incentives and private/public partnerships, in all sectors of the Bahamian economy.
In fact, Sears said his proposals would diversify the economy by increasing the contribution of agriculture, maritime, marine, technology and innovation hub and cultural sectors, each by 10 percent to GDP over the next 10 years.
Addressing the weakness Moody's noted in the tourism product, Sears proposed the structured implementation of private/public promotions of convention, medical, heritage, entertainment, sports and cultural tourism, with an emphasis on boutique and bed and breakfast Bahamian owned hotels to improve the tourism product for both foreign and domestic tourists.
Sears also insisted that there be an end to the saturation of the public service and public corporations and an end to political cronyism.
This would be facilitated by privatizing state subsidized public corporations by an initial public offering to Bahamian investors; restructuring the national incentives system and encouraging Bahamian entrepreneurs, through exemptions from customs duties, real property tax, the provision of Crown land and the promotion of joint ventures between Bahamian and foreign direct investors.
The other major concern for Moody's was The Bahamas' limited fiscal space following the persistent deterioration of the government's balance sheet.
Moody's baseline, which the agency pointed out differs from that of the government, forecasts that the debt/GDP ratio would peak in 2016/17 at about 67 percent and then stabilize around 65 percent.
This somewhat grim news suggests that a new paradigm must obtain, according to Sears, who said the approach to governance must change if the nation is to see an improved result.
He pointed out that Moody's said a strengthening of budgetary processes; including expenditure controls and improvements in revenue collections that lead to a rapid deficit reduction, would be credit positive.
In addition, the rating would also move up if implementation of structural reforms fostered higher potential growth and contributed to a significant improvement in The Bahamas' debt metrics.
Among the other areas Sears said reform must focus, he cited energy, devolution of government and empowerment of local authorities, attacking wastage and bureaucratic rigidity, fiscal discipline and accountability through the creation of an office of contractor general and integrity commission; improving the ease of doing business; and improving labor relations through the implementation of an effective tripartite mechanism, and enacting a Pensions Act to ensure industrial harmony, fairness and respect in the workplace.
"In the best case scenario - even with Baha Mar's remobilization and opening - the structural rigidities to which Moody's refers will remain," Sears said.
"We must seize this moment and strike out in a new direction. The Bahamas is essentially using an economic model developed in the 1950s, and has yet to transform itself into the 21st century economy that is needed if we are to realize our full potential.
"Moody's has given us an opportunity to rethink how we are doing things. I say we embrace the urgency of now, and change."

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Anglican Diocese mourns the passing of Canon John Colin Clarke

August 24, 2016

The Anglican Diocese of The Bahamas and The Turks Caicos Islands is mourning the loss of the Rev'd. Canon John Colin Clarke who passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, 20 August, 2016 at Doctors Hospital. He was 75 years old.
The diocese offered condolences to and prayers for his wife, Florinda, his children, Elizabeth, Michael, Miriam and Andrew, his grandchildren Shaniece, Ife, Traice, Justin, Jordan, Philip and Azaria, his siblings, the parish families of St. James and St. George, N.P., and all those who mourn.
"We thank God for his life and ministry as we mourn his sudden passing," the diocese said in press release.
The following information has been provided from family memoirs:
John Colin Clarke was born in Nassau on the Eastern Road on November 7, 1940 to James and Elizabeth Clarke. Tragedy struck young John's life early as his mother died during childbirth. He was then raised by Ms. Ethel Cooper, his grandmother. He was a real "Fox Hill Boy" and grew up in St. Anne's Church.
Young John obtained his formative education at St. Anne's High School, New Providence. He then attended St. Aidan's Theological College, Liverpool, England (1962-1965). Prior to seminary, on Sundays, he would often ride from the east to the west, to assist with evensong at St. James Parish Adelaide, New Providence.
He was ordained to the Diaconate in June, 1965, at St. Chad's Kirby Parish Church, Cheshire, England, by Bishop Lawrence of Warrington. Upon returning to The Bahamas in 1965, he was posted to Christ Church Cathedral and became the first black Bahamian on staff. In June, 1966, on the feast of The Holy Trinity, he was ordained to the priesthood. While attached to the cathedral, and having studied clinical psychology at St. Aidan, he began a pastoral ministry at Princess Margaret Hospital. There he met and fell in love with Nurse Florinda Archer. They were married in 1967.

Ministry assignments
1967-1970 - Parish priest, St. Philip's Parish, Matthew Town, Inagua. It was while at St. Philip's that he initiated the ecumenical movement among the churches in Inagua, and was responsible for the purchase of the house which serves as the present rectory.
1970-1975 - Parish priest, St. Stephen's Parish, Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama. While in Grand Bahama, Fr. John was also one of the founding members of the Grand Bahama Christian Council. As he had done in Inagua, he initiated the ecumenical movement among the churches in the Eight Mile Rock Community.
1975-1977 - Succeeded Bishop Donald Knowles as parish priest of St. Margaret's Parish, New Providence.
1977-1984 - Co-rector of St. Anne's Parish, New Providence, and served as Anglican chaplain at Her Majesty's Prison. While at St. Anne's he was instrumental in the formation of the mixed choir.
1984-2000 - Officially appointed prison chaplain at H.M. Prison, New Providence. During his time as prison chaplain he was part of the initial dialogue to recommend, upgrade, and promote from within the prison staff. He initiated Prison Officers' Week, and was instrumental in providing the extension of social interactions between inmates and their children.
2001-2006 - Priest in charge, St. Margaret's Parish, North Andros.
2006 - Canon John retired.
After his retirement, Canon John assisted in various parishes, was still very active in ministry, and was always willing to serve, particularly in the parishes of St. George and St. James, New Providence. He continued that ministry each week.

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Downgraded

August 23, 2016

True to its word, Moody's Investors Service yesterday downgraded The Bahamas' sovereign credit rating following a review initiated in July.
The ratings agency lowered the bond and issuer ratings of the government of The Bahamas one notch, to Baa3 from Baa2, despite the threat that they could have been lowered even more.
Low medium-term growth pointing to "weaker economic strength relative to similarly-rated peers", and the "persistent increase in the government's debt ratio leaves The Bahamas with less fiscal space relative to rating peers", said Moody's in explaining the downgrade.
As it stands, the credit rating remains "investment grade" status, a relief for the government, as it could have been looking at disastrous aftershocks should the rating have fallen below that mark.
Moody's also announced lowering of the risk ceilings for The Bahamas' long-term and short-term financial obligations.
Dismal economic growth, ballooning debt in recent years and government's inability to meet its own projections were among the main concerns that prompted the recent review, according to Moody's.
And though yesterday's downgrade echoed those issues, Moody's did provide a bright spot in returning the country's economic outlook to stable from the negative watch status it was placed on this summer.
Persistently high unemployment, non-performing loans in the banking system and a decrease in the competitiveness of the tourism sector, were reasons given for the "first driver" that led to the downgrade.
Moody's said it expects The Bahamas' economic performance over the next five years "will likely remain subdued and constrained by structural rigidities".
"Moody's forecasts that the Bahamian economy will recover in 2016-20, with real GDP growth expected to average 1.3 percent during this period, the fourth weakest economic performance out of the current 22 Baa-rated sovereigns," it said.
"While authorities have implemented some measures to address these issues and have put forward a pro-growth reform agenda via the National Development Plan, progress has been slow so far."
Moody's also said it is not as optimistic as the government when it comes to getting debt under control.
It pointed out the Christie administration's "medium-term plan forecasts continued deficit reduction and a balanced budget by 2018/19 on the back of strong revenue growth mainly from VAT (value-added tax) and a reduction of expenditures in real terms after 2016/17".
"According to the authorities this will lead to a reduction in the government's debt/GDP ratio, closer to 60 percent of GDP," Moody's said.
However, Moody's projections weren't nearly as bullish as the government's.
"Moody's baseline, which incorporates a more gradual fiscal consolidation path, forecasts that the debt/GDP ratio would peak in 2016/17 at about 67 percent and then stabilize around 65 percent," the agency said.
"In addition, the Bahamian government has a moderate interest burden, with an interest-to-revenues ratio of about 13 percent."
That gives the country "limited fiscal space", according to Moody's, "reducing The Bahamas' capacity to respond to economic shocks".
The agency also didn't rule out a further downgrade.
It said "downward rating pressure could emerge if the government's commitment to fiscal discipline diminishes", delaying debt stabilization projections.
"Slower than anticipated economic growth, particularly if it lowered government revenue growth, a key component of the deficit reduction strategy, would also be credit negative," Moody's said.
"The rating could also be downgraded if the government's contingent liabilities, in the form of guaranteed debt of state-owned enterprises, were to crystallize on the government's balance sheet."
However, the government could also see its credit rating rise, according to Moody's.
"A strengthening of budgetary processes, including expenditure controls and improvements in revenue collections that lead to a rapid deficit reduction would be credit positive," Moody's said.
"Upward rating momentum would also emerge if implementation of structural reforms fostered higher potential growth and contributed to a significant improvement in The Bahamas' debt metrics, aligning these with Baa medians."
The Ministry of Finance yesterday responded to the downgrade by admitting disappointment, but expressing confidence that the downgrade would be temporary, given Moody's stable outlook of the economy.
"The government's perspective on the Bahamian economy remains positive and its commitment undeterred in pursuing the necessary policy reform measures and initiatives to secure durable growth, accompanied by broadened employment opportunities and greater fiscal sustainability with debt reduction," the ministry said.
"To this end, the government is moving swiftly to advance the many real sector initiatives underway that are poised to deliver, over the near-term horizon, further concrete, measurable contributions in these key economic policy areas."

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4 Zika cases confirmed, dozens more suspected

August 23, 2016

Health officials yesterday confirmed four cases of Zika in New Providence.
Of the 83 suspected cases found throughout The Bahamas, officials say eight are pregnant women.
"On the 10 of August, the first case was reported," said Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez at a press conference.
"Since that time, we have received notification of three additional cases.
"All cases sought medical attention after having symptoms suggestive of Zika virus infection.
"All patients have been treated for associated symptoms and are doing well."
Two of the confirmed cases are women and the other two are men.
None of the confirmed cases are pregnant women.
Gomez said based on the histories received from the cases, it has been determined that "there is a mix of travel associated and local transmission".
He called the issue "an enormous challenge for The Bahamas".
The minister said because of the new confirmed cases, the entire country is set to be labeled as a Zika hot spot.
This can pose a problem for the tourism industry.
"I was informed this morning that ... a travel advisory would be issued against The Bahamas sometime today if it has not already been done," Gomez said.
"I thought it was a little unfair to say 'The Bahamas', because we've only had Zika in New Providence. We are an archipelago of 130 inhabited islands. It's not scientific to say the entire Bahamas at this moment in time, but there you are, that's how it is."
So far, Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a level two alert for the country warning pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant about travel to The Bahamas.
Under the CDC's three-tier system, a level one travel warning urges vigilance and health precautions, level two calls for a high degree of caution and strong protective measures and level three advises against travel to or from a specified destination.
Health officials say they are doing all that they can to prevent an outbreak through intense vector control and mosquito management.
Director of Public Health Dr. Pearl McMillan said officials are unable to say exactly where the two people who were infected while traveling had traveled to.
She said officials are still awaiting the results of the suspected cases, most of which were found in the Carmichael and Pinewood areas.
"Based on our case definition with the 83 suspected cases, samples will be taken and sent off to a reference lab and based on review of the history that we would have provided and all of the information we send out with each sample, then the lab may or may not test every case and once they get a confirmed case, of course, they will then send it back to us," McMillan said.
The wait time for results depends on whether the samples are tested in reference laboratories abroad or locally.
"We have our reference laboratory, but in the private sector they can be sent to other reference laboratories as well," McMillan said.
"So the turn around has been a week or two weeks. Hence, us not waiting on confirmed cases to do what is required as it relates to the environmental monitoring and treatments."
McMillan was unable to say how many cases they are waiting the results for.
Officials have stressed the importance of prevention.
Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.
It can also be transmitted through unprotected sex and from mother to baby during pregnancy, or around the birth.
Officials are advising couples to practice safe sex, especially those who are pregnant.
Gomez said,"We wish to remind the general public that Zika virus infection is of major concern due to the confirmed association between infection in pregnancy and birth defects such as microcephaly, an abnormally small head in babies.
"There have also been confirmed cases of Guillain Barre Syndrome, an uncommon illness of the nervous system in which a person's own immune system damages the nerve cells causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis."

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Baha Mar agreement, but PM gives few details

August 23, 2016

Prime Minister Perry Christie announced last night that the government and the Export-Import Bank of China have signed an agreement that was approved by the Supreme Court yesterday afternoon that will see the derailed Baha Mar project completed, sold and opened before the "end of the 2016/2017 winter season".
Christie said under the deal, former employees and unsecured creditors will be paid "a significant part, and possibly all" of the outstanding money owed to them.
However, Christie's announcement, which he hailed as a "signal achievement for The Bahamas" requiring a "herculean effort", was void of a named buyer, the cost to complete Baha Mar, what concessions the government had to concede to facilitate the deal, and how many of the former employees will be re-engaged.
At a press conference in the Cabinet Office which was carried live by the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas, Christie said the bank has committed to fund all remaining construction costs to complete the project and under the head of terms signed yesterday, remobilization at Baha Mar "will commence immediately" with China Construction resuming construction next month.
But questions surrounding the cost to complete the project went unanswered.
According to Christie, China Construction will also resolve outstanding claims with its suppliers and subcontractors, an announcement that was applauded by the dozens of local contractors in the room.
He said many of the people and companies previously contracted will be reengaged to complete the project.
Speaking to the concessions to facilitate the deal, Christie said, "As it has been done with all major investments, the government will extend the appropriate concessions to facilitate the construction and promote the successful future operation of the resort.
"The completed project will then be sold to a qualified world-class operator."
There has been widespread speculation in recent months that the government was planning to give exorbitant concessions, including 500 Bahamian citizenship approvals to Chinese investors in exchange for restarting the stalled mega project, but Christie has dismissed this.
"My fellow Bahamians, there has been much gossip and speculation and downright false allegations made about the whole history and progress of the Baha Mar dispute," Christie said last night.
"In such a sensitive negotiation, the government thought it wise not to offer a running commentary on the discussions, not to say anything that might put the future of the project in jeopardy.
"It is a shame that others were not so prudent and that so many uninformed views were promoted in the media."
Christie said the government and local utility companies will receive payment for "some" of their outstanding claims against Baha Mar.
Baha Mar owes the government more than $58 million. It owes local utility companies, including Bahamas Power and Light, approximately $24 million.
"The Baha Mar companies owed money to thousands of Bahamian creditors when they filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy," Christie said.
"Under their chapter 11 efforts, our people had little prospect of being paid anything.
"Under this agreement, made today, funds will be made available to them to receive a significant part, and possibly all of the value of their claims."
Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian filed for chapter 11 protection in Delaware on June 29, 2015.
The government made a counter move in Bahamian courts.
All of the chapter 11 cases have since been dismissed.
Christie said throughout the negotiations, the government has been mindful of the impact the stalled project has had on people.
He said those who held leases with Baha Mar will be allowed to continue on with those contracts.
"I know you will have many questions as to the details of what has been agreed," Christie said.
"Over the coming days, the government will make publicly available all of the key items of information, so that you can read for yourselves exactly what the facts are.
"There is a raft of paperwork to be completed in order to implement this agreement.
"The difficulties of a project this size have hit our economy hard.
"But we will recover."
Christie added that over the coming months, economic opportunities will be "felt in more and more homes".
He said, "The government will redouble its efforts to continue the program of modernization that we began four years ago.
"My entire public and political life has been dedicated to fighting for Bahamians.
"I give God thanks and praise that we have been blessed with this outcome.
"This is a good day for The Bahamas.
"This is a great day for Bahamians."
The prime minister did not take questions at his press conference last night.

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Global tender for NHI, but details still sketchy

August 23, 2016

As the government issued a global tender yesterday for a company to run its public insurer for National Health Insurance (NHI), there remained uncertainty surrounding the timeline for NHI and whether the government will be able to constitute a public insurer and get stakeholders onboard within the next four months before its proposed January roll-out of primary care services under the universal healthcare plan.
Asked whether primary care services under NHI will be rolled out in January 2017 as set out by the government, Damara Dillett, the legal consultant to the NHI Secretariat, said, "At this particular juncture we are waiting for the NHI Bill to officially become [the] NHI Act so we can meet with our policymakers and make those critical decisions, and advise the public right away.
"Before now we had absolutely no authority. NHI did not exist on the books.
"Now that we have that legislative power we are able to make the critical decisions that are necessary."
The NHI Bill was passed in Parliament last Monday.
Pressed for an updated timeline on the next phase of NHI, Dillett said, "It gives us the opportunity to strategize as it relates to the timeline, having regard to the first step, which is the passing of the NHI legislation."
Primary care services under NHI were set to begin in April.
Days before the roll-out, Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez said it will be delayed by six months.
Primary care, a subset of the vital benefits package, is a basic level of healthcare that includes programs directed at the promotion of health, early diagnosis and prevention of diseases.
It also covers laboratory work; diagnostic services such as X-rays, mammograms and prostate exams; and the medications required from primary care.
According to the government, primary care services under NHI will initially be administered without cost.
In its latest policy paper, NHI Bahamas said as coverage and benefits expand under NHI, funding will be supplemented by other sources, including "a reallocation of the national health budget, new or supplemental broad-based taxation measures, dedicated funding streams and/or contributions".
Medical services providers have yet to sign onto the scheme.
Regulations also have yet to be completed to flesh out the details of NHI.
The NHI Secretariat was unable to provide a timeline for the completion of the regulations.
"We are working very hard towards completing the regulations," Dillett said.
"We have internal deadlines. We are trying to ensure that the framework is put together in such a way that we can now go out and engage with the stakeholder industry to get their input on the regulations."
Gomez said last week that NHI does not mean beneficiaries will have to give up their private insurance benefits, but it will allow them to renegotiate their private plan to only pay for services outside of those covered under NHI.

Schedule and cost
Dillett said the public insurer will only administer NHI benefits, while services outside the scope of NHI, referred to as "supplemental benefits", will be exclusively available via private insurers.
According to the target schedule outlined in the request for proposals (RFP) document, the government will select a preferred bidder to manage its public insurer by October 28, 2016, execute a service agreement by the end of November and launch the public insurer by the end of this year.
As a part of the management services agreement, the company is expected to present a three-year business plan.
It will be responsible for claims and case management, handling and processing requests for payments, health risk management, wellness management services, beneficiary and provider relations, communications with and education of beneficiaries and providers, and the management of NHI funds and other services as detailed in the services agreement.
The government has budgeted $100 million for the first year of primary care services under NHI.
But the full cost of NHI remains unclear.
Government consultants, Sanigest Internacional designed the NHI scheme and estimated it would cost between $362 million on the low end and $633 million on the high end.
But the Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) priced NHI at more than $1 billion.
The association asserted that the Sanigest NHI model represents a "hostile takeover" of the private health insurance sector and the "nationalization of private assets".
The government engaged KPMG earlier this year to advise on NHI.
When asked if Sanigest's plan had been scrapped in favor of KPMG's advice, Permanent Secretary for the NHI Secretariat Peter Deveaux-Isaacs said, "Sanigest did a lot of credible work for the NHI plan, so some of the work has been incorporated, much of the work has been incorporated into what KPMG is doing."
But he could not confirm how much Sanigest was paid, noting that the Ministry of Health contracted the Costa Rican-based company.
Asked for KPMG's consultancy cost for NHI, Deveaux-Isaacs said, "We'll let you know that in due course."

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Former Sandals workers sit exam, reapply for jobs

August 23, 2016

Latoysa Walkes worked at Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort for 18 years before she was sent home a week ago as part of a mass redundancy exercise officials said was necessary as the Cable Beach property embarked on crucially needed renovations.
Walkes had worked her way up from a kitchen helper, to a waitress, to a hostess.
The mother of two young boys was among dozens of former Sandals employees who reapplied for their jobs on day one of a job fair at Christ the King Anglican Church in Ridgeland Park yesterday.
"I was off the island when everything took place, but it was sad," Walkes said.
"Now ... I [feel] more positive.
"I thanked God for blessing me with the job for 18 years.
"Though it came to an end, I'm looking at it [from] a positive side.
"I want to encourage other team members to look at it as a positive thing.
"I feel like I'm one of the best employees they had.
"I'm going to give it a shot and I'm going to do my best.
"With taking care of my kids, I really need a job at this time so I'm going to do my best."
Arizona Rolle, who worked for Sandals for nearly 19 years, also reapplied for her job yesterday.
Rolle said her trust is in God and not man.
Her faith is keeping her grounded, she said.
"Today, I decided to reapply for my job at Sandals," said Rolle, who was a dining room supervisor.
"I'm feeling good about it.
"I'm taking a risk at this time.
"I'm feeling that if they call me back, I'm ready and if they don't, I can move further on because my source is in God.
"I don't put my trust or source in man; my source is God.
"I am ready for what is about to take place for me.
"Persons may [still] be angry about it, but it's nothing I can do. God controls everything so let his will be done."
Former employees said that after handing in their resumes, they had to sit an exam consisting of "basic knowledge" questions before sitting through a formal interview.
The temporary closure of Sandals and the loss of 600-plus jobs came amid ongoing tensions between the union and management.
On Friday, Minister of Labour Shane Gibson said it is "very suspicious" of Sandals to host a job fair after making workers redundant.
"Sandals said to the public and to us that it had no choice and said their lawyers advised them the only way to deal with employees was to terminate them, giving the impression that if they did not have to terminate them, they wouldn't, " Gibson told The Nassau Guardian.
"Well, if they didn't have a choice and they terminated them, why would they then turn around to these good employees and say reapply for your job?
"Why not just bring back the employees?
"I was trying to be as open and as objective as I could about this.
"But the more and more you look at this, it does not look right."
The fair continues until Thursday.

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