Nassau Guardian Stories

PM, minister, financial secretary agree: Payroll tax not a viable option

April 15, 2014

Bahamian workers would face grave reductions in take-home pay if a payroll tax were implemented instead of a value-added tax (VAT), said three of the leading voices in financial affairs, including that of the prime minister.
"You would need a payroll tax of 20-25 percent to equal what a VAT of 15 percent would generate," said Prime Minister Perry Christie.
The prime minister was addressing a gathering of more than 100 people, ranging from those with farm interests in Abaco to consultants from some of the nation's largest businesses and the financial services industry at a national conclave for Chambers of Commerce at SuperClubs Breezes resort on April 2.
Most of his address dealt with the way forward for The Bahamas, and touched on subjects including the advancement of an international arbitration center and international aircraft registry, and the untapped potential of seabed products. He then turned to the ever-present topic of national conversation - the broad-based tax system the government proposes to implement to raise annual revenue by $200 million, in hopes of avoiding the devaluation of the Bahamian dollar.
Asked if the government had considered alternatives to VAT, the prime minister said absolutely, adding that he was still listening to and talking with persons from a wide range of perspectives. But a payroll tax would penalize the working individual, he said, a conclusion echoed by Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis and independently at a later presentation by Financial Secretary John Rolle.
Both men said government had plugged payroll tax into a model, and the results showed that the impact on the economy, including smaller take-home paychecks, would be far greater than the anticipated 5-6 percent increase on the cost of living, which is expected to accompany the first year of VAT.
According to the government's figures, it would take a 16 percent salary deduction to equal what a 10 percent VAT rate across the board would generate. The deduction would have to be between 20 percent and 25 percent to generate as much as a 15 percent VAT rate would net.
"The net positive impacts (of implementing VAT) outweigh the net negative impacts," said Halkitis, noting that The Bahamas still does not have capital gains tax, estate taxes, corporate or individual income tax.
And, according to Minister for Financial Services Ryan Pinder, The Bahamas remains one of the lowest percentage tax regimes in the region and in the world.
The Bahamas rate of taxation to GDP is 16 percent, he said, while other countries collect far greater percentages of their total product, including the U.S., where taxpayers cough up 32 percent of the gross domestic product in taxes every year.
"The real question," said Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle, "is can we afford not to do it?"
Warning of the increased scrutiny of credit rating agencies, he said, "It only takes one person, one suggestion that The Bahamas is not a good place to invest, not a safe place to put your money, and guess what happens - it not only impacts the government, it impacts everyone. We have only one chance to get it right."

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WTO executive meets with Freeport industrial players

April 15, 2014

A World Trade Organization (WTO) executive who visited The Bahamas to help raise awareness about issues surrounding The Bahamas' decision to join the WTO, was welcomed to Grand Bahama last week by Minister for Grand Bahama Dr. Michael Darville.
While there, David Shark, deputy director general of the WTO, met with executives at a number of major Freeport companies.
Traveling to the second city on April 10, Shark was accompanied by Ryan Pinder, minister of financial services; Rhoda Jackson, ambassador and permanent representative of The Bahamas to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva, Switzerland; June Young Lee, WTO legal advisor, and Keva Bain, acting director of trade and industry.
The Bahamas is in the process of negotiating accession to the WTO, primarily to secure favorable market access for its goods and services in the international community.
Shark arrived in The Bahamas on Wednesday, meeting with senior government officials in New Providence prior to traveling to the nation's second city.
His visit to The Bahamas is expected to increase public awareness about the WTO accession process, the multilateral rules governing international trade, how those rules impact access to foreign markets by Bahamian companies, and access by foreign companies to the Bahamian market.
His first stop in Grand Bahama was a courtesy call at the Ministry for Grand Bahama. He then went on to meet senior executives at the Grand Bahama Port Authority, the Freeport Container Port, Grand Bahama Shipyard, the Bahamas Oil Refining Company and Pharmachem Technologies Limited. Shark was also the featured speaker at a luncheon hosted by the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce, which was held at the Pelican Bay Hotel.

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Minnis should let the chips fall where they may

April 15, 2014

Critics and naysayers of Free National Movement Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis are becoming impatient with him because there has not been a convention held in the two years since he was elected leader on Saturday, May 26, 2012 at a one-day convention held at the Holy Trinity Activities Centre in Stapledon Gardens...

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Strange practices at the House of Assembly

April 15, 2014

We Bahamians are not good with time. In fact, we are so bad with punctuality that the term "Bahamian time" has emerged to indicate a time consistently later than when something should occur or when someone should arrive. Sadly, tardiness is part of our modern culture.
This tardy culture has been the norm in our House of Assembly this term. The House is supposed to start at 10 a.m. With the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) majority led by Perry Christie, however, that almost never happens. The House could start at 10:15 a.m., or 10:25 a.m., or 10:35 a.m. It seems as if it starts whenever the politicians who are in charge of it want it to.
This is disgraceful, and it sets a bad example for a country and a people who are already poor with punctuality. We recall when the Free National Movement (FNM) won in 2007, then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham emphasized that the House would again begin at 10 a.m., rather than the "anytime culture" that existed under Christie's PLP from 2002 to 2007.
The constant late starts at the House represent just one of the problems with the conduct of that chamber. Once the chaplain has spoken and the initial formalities are done, Speaker Dr. Kendal Major has taken it upon himself to start sessions off with an update from his constituency, Garden Hills.
Major talks about the basketball tournaments and the walkabouts. He gives birthday wishes and sends condolences to the families of those who died; he tells the country what new plans he has for his area. Major's updates are inappropriate. He is the speaker of the House. He should be an impartial judge of the proceedings of the chamber who ensures that the rules are maintained and members' rights are protected.
Once the chaplain has said his brief remarks and the initial procedurals are conducted, Major should go to the list of House business. He should not use his chair to push his "constituency news segment".
There is another issue we raise, when it comes to Major and impartiality. Major is a member of Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Dr. Myles Munroe is the leader of the church. Munroe is also one of Major's mentors.
Last month, Munroe and Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell engaged in a heated public debate on gay rights. It culminated in Munroe and his supporters coming to the House in strong numbers to sit in the gallery. Major spent considerable time lauding his mentor in his "message" before the House began. While Munroe signed some of his books for members while he was in the House, it was clear that the move was a show of strength to Mitchell.
When two high-profile figures, such as Mitchell and Munroe, are in a public spat, the speaker using his chair to gush over one of the combatants gives the impression that he is taking sides. In this case, it seemed as if he was taking sides against a sitting member of our elected chamber. Again, the speaker should attempt to be impartial. Major, instead, was an over-exuberant follower of Munroe that day.
Our parliamentary system is old. It dates back to the 18th century. It has evolved along with our electoral system and constitution to be more liberal, democratic, pluralistic and sophisticated. For this progression to continue, the men and women who lead our houses of Parliament must think of the greater good above narrow self-interest. They should not just do what they feel like just because they can.
Our leaders need to immerse themselves in the rules and practices of our Parliament and those of other legislatures in other Westminster jurisdictions. If they do this, our parliamentary process will continue to progress. If they do not, future leaders will add to the bad habits that exist in our current House, debasing further the place where our laws are made and our democracy is represented.

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The essential reform

April 15, 2014

The next installment of the fiscal reform series that evaluates the successful implementation of value-added tax (VAT) by Singapore and New Zealand with a view to ascertaining if and what lessons The Bahamas can learn from their experiences as we voyage into unchartered territory had been drafted for subsequent publication.
However, in the midst of this debate, we must pause to recognize Holy Week - a week that is observed by Christians the world over in commemoration of the travails and ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ.
This week we shift focus to examine not the much debated fiscal reform or the popular topic of tax reform; rather we consider a different kind of reform. This reform is an essential reform that will probably not attract the level of public discourse or press time that political and economic issues attract within our country.
The triumphant entry
The four gospels of the New Testament of the Bible record the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a colt. The entrance into Jerusalem was preceded by specific order from Jesus to two of his disciples to go into the city and bring him a colt that was bound and had never been ridden before. The choice of animal is also symbolic in that the donkey is perceived in Eastern tradition as an animal of peace as opposed to a horse, that is often associated with war. It is no surprise therefore that the Prince of Peace would choose a colt (or a donkey) as his vessel of transportation.
The inexperienced vessel that was the colt was chosen for an assignment that it appeared not to have any qualifications for and was perhaps not trained to embark upon. This is more puzzling when one considers the magnitude of the assignment and stature of the rider.
Several messages abound in this aspect of the story but the hope it provides to the Bahamian youth in this dispensation is apparent. The next generation of Bahamians should continue their strive for excellence and maintain their hunger for knowledge; however, we must remember that greatness is in us and we must be ready to answer the call to serve.
The response Jesus recommended to his disciples if they were questioned is ever so relevant to the young people of our country: the Lord needs you. The recently celebrated Palm Sunday also offers the hope of freedom from bondage as the colt that was hitherto bound was released to be a part of history.
Challenging the status quo
The pageantry and celebration that accompanied Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem were eloquently described in the gospels. From the cloaks that were laid on the colt and the ground upon which He rode to the palm branches which symbolize victory, triumph and peace, our imaginations may never do justice to the re-enactment of the scenery in our minds.
In spite of the glamour of his advent into Jerusalem, the Bible records the clearing of the temple courts of those buying and selling there. This act was aimed at bringing order to the temple and reiterating the purpose the temple ought to serve.
Bahamian leaders and aspiring leaders, having been lauded by the populace and ushered into positions of power, must never be afraid to do that which is right, although some of their decisions may prove to be unpopular. Leadership must not be reduced to a popularity contest and it is high time that our leaders address matters based on convictions and more importantly doing the right things even at the risk of offending supporters.
The voyage of purpose
The agony of the cross was felt prior to Calvary at Gethsemane as the Messiah sought to avoid the cross only to yield to the will of His Father. It is interesting to note that in His moment of despair and hour of sorrow, he could not rely on his disciples to hold Him up in prayer.
Leaders must be prepared to stand alone in their darkest hour and face their biggest trials on their own in a lonely place. We the people must follow the biblical instruction to pray for our leaders and those that govern us for the prosperity of our country.
The inherent dichotomy of human nature is pronounced in the crucifixion story with the change in proclamations by the people. It is interesting to note that within just a few days, the chants of Hosanna would change to the shouts of "Crucify Him". In essence, those who had hailed Jesus as a hero would soon reject and abandon Him; some even demanding His execution over that of a serious criminal.
The betrayal of Judas and the denial by Peter are testaments to some of the struggles of leadership and relationships. The journey from judgement hall to judgement hall may have been prevented if Jesus' commitment to and faith in His assignment was not unflinching. These experiences paled in comparison to the punishment inflicted upon the Son of God and we should expect no less if we profess to be Christians as no servant is greater than his/her master.
As we transition from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, the hope of resurrection must come alive within our Bahamaland, from Inagua in the south to Bimini in the north. In spite of the current challenges that confront us, hope ought to rise again in our hearts during this season that this too shall pass, the sun will shine again and roses will bloom again in this land.
The model reform
While various studies on tax reform in The Bahamas have been and are being conducted, this writer also recommends another study - the detailed study of the life of Jesus by leaders, aspiring leaders and the entire populace. All accounts confirm the reformist that He represented in the challenging of established doctrines and the status quo.
The pain and suffering that He bore were direct results of an unwavering commitment to His assignment. It is indeed a paradox that He was born to die; He fulfilled purpose by being tortured and subsequently going to Calvary to die a gruesome death. As followers of Christ commemorate His resurrection this week, in our personal lives we must rest assured that any perceived suffering of the present is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.
We need not look far to find individuals to which the clarion call is being made. For indeed the clarion call for the essential reform is being made to one and all.
The charge is made to this generation to be vessels in bringing about much needed reform to the social, cultural, religious and economic landscape of our commonwealth. In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, "...sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you (we) can be that great generation".
However, how can we change our communities and our nation if we do not begin by reforming ourselves and changing our thinking for the better? How can we say we love God when we do not love our brother, sister or neighbor, who we can see? The Bahamas will be a better place and will experience much prosperity if we are able to successfully implement this model reform. Happy Holy Week
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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Prison officers threaten action

April 15, 2014

The Bahamas Prison Officers Association (BPOA) warned yesterday there would be a "serious breakdown" in prison operations if the government does not address its mounting concerns...

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Men charged with gun smuggling

April 15, 2014

Two men accused of smuggling guns and ammunition from the United States made their first appearance before a magistrate yesterday.
Taxi driver Shamar Ellis, 36, of Campbell Street, and Leonard Saunders, 28, of Churchill Subdivision, were arraigned on 17 counts related to the seizure of five firearms and 387 rounds of ammunition.
The men were arrested following a joint operation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Bahamas Customs and The Firearms Tracing and Investigation Unit, police said.
The seizure was made at Prince George Wharf on April 8, but the contraband also transited Georgetown, Exuma.
The seized firearms included an Austria Glock 27.40 pistol, an Austria Glock 9x19 pistol, a Del-ton DTI 15 rifle, and a .223 5.56 assault rifle. Police also recovered ammunition for the weapons.
Ellis and Saunders also face charges of possession of guns and ammunition with intent to supply and conspiring to import guns and ammunition from October 20, 2013 to April 7.
They denied all charges at their arraignment before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt.
They return to court today at 1:30 p.m. for a bail hearing.
Inspector Don Bannister said he was "strenuously objecting to bail" as the men faced a multiplicity of offenses and were the subject of a further investigation.
Bannister said that Ellis had a 1999 conviction for attempted murder for which he served three years, a claim that Ellis denied.
Ellis is represented by Jomo Campbell, who was not present at the arraignment because he was in the Supreme Court.
Dorsey McPhee appeared for Saunders.

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Businessmen claim intruder stole 31,000 from hotel room

April 15, 2014

Police are investigating claims by two Florida-based businessmen that an intruder stole more than $31,000 from their hotel room on Sunday.
Joaquim Lopez and Elvis Perez, the owners of J & R Import and Export in Hialeah, Florida, said they woke around 6 a.m. to discover a Coach bag that contained cash missing and the door to their room at the Melia hotel at Cable Beach ajar.
The Dominican-Americans said the missing money represented the proceeds of a business transaction with a client.
Lopez said it was not unusual to conduct business with large sums of cash.
The men said they unsuccessfully searched for the bag on the seventh floor and in the stairwell. However, they claimed the hotel's security staff recovered the bag in the stairwell next to room 710 about three hours later.
Although Perez's passport and wallet were still inside, the money was gone, they said.
The men said there was no sign of forced entry, leading them to conclude that someone with a key entered the room.
According to well-placed sources, only the keys assigned to Lopez and Perez were used to access the room.
The men claimed that no one else besides hotel staff knew they were still in the country on Sunday as they returned to the hotel after missing their flight home on Saturday.
The men said that prior to the alleged theft they "always felt secure" at the Melia, where they stay during their three times per month visits to the country.
The men are now of the view that it's "not safe".
Not only have they vowed not to return to the hotel, they said they have consulted their lawyers about the possibility of filing a lawsuit.
Robert Sands, Baha Mar's senior vice president of administration and external affairs, said the resort received reports of an "alleged incident" that is under investigation by the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Melia is a part of the Baha Mar resort.

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Fraser apologizes for 'pastoral misjudgment'

April 15, 2014

Convicted sexual offender Bishop Earl Randolph Fraser apologized to the country for his "pastoral misjudgment" during the launch of his new church, Palms of Victory Kingdom Ministry.
"I take this step further and say to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and, indeed, the Christian church that I apologize to you for my pastoral misjudgement which has brought disdain to the body of Christ," Fraser told a crowd at Workers House on Sunday.
"For this I am sorry."
Fraser was convicted in November 2011 of having sex with a dependent.
The Court of Appeal condemned Fraser as a sexual predator who "disgustingly defiled the sanctum of his church" when it upheld his conviction for having sex with the teenage church member who had come to him for counseling.
Fraser was fired as senior pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church during a meeting of its board of trustees late last year.
During the opening of his new church, Fraser said he will press forward with his life.
"The Punch has punched you out," he said.
"The Guardian didn't guard you. The Tribune was the tribunal, three courts. The Bahamas Press pressed me to pieces. Facebook messed up my face. They said you were finished, but God, despite all that, was going on and blessed me."
He added, "I want to assure you that I am living in the present. I am not looking back. I am pressing forward, so I say to you, let it go."
Fraser was released from prison last November.
He was sentenced to three years in prison.
During Fraser's trial, evidence revealed that he began the illicit affair with the 16-year-old girl shortly after their counseling sessions began in July 2005.
The sexual relationship ended in February 2006, his accuser said.
The girl said she and Fraser had sex on Mondays and Wednesdays on the floor of his office before services, and, occasionally, at his home when his wife was not there.
Police found Fraser's semen on carpet swaths collected from the church office.

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FNM chairman says govt appears divided

April 15, 2014

Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Darron Cash said yesterday the government appears to be divided after Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez said July 1 is not a realistic deadline for the regulation of the web shop industry.
"Sadly, the Gomez statement is yet another example of how governance under [Prime Minister] Perry Christie continues to be a race to the bottom, as he seeks to have governance sink to the lowest levels this country has ever seen," Cash said in a statement.
"The statement shows that this government has not yet learned how to work together, govern and speak in a way that inspires confidence that they know what they are doing.
"What is also clear is that the Bahamian people can no longer put up with this shambolic, pain and suffering-inducing style of government."
In the House of Assembly on March 5, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe announced that he intended to soon present a proposal for the regularization of web shops to Cabinet and was pushing for this to be official by July 1.
But, Gomez said in an interview with The Guardian on Friday that, due to the complexities of establishing a regulated sector, July 1 is an unrealistic date.
When asked what would be a more realistic date to start taxing web shops, he said December 31.
Cash said the government appears to be adrift with no clear focus or agenda.
"They have abandoned the long-standing principle of Cabinet government with collective responsibility, and they don't seem to care," he said.
"This is a government of every man or woman for himself or herself."
He added, "It is the FNM's position that this dysfunction cannot be permitted to go on much longer.
"It is time for Prime Minister Christie to call for the dissolution of Parliament and go back to the people for a fresh mandate. His government has failed on policy and it has failed on process."
Cash said Christie is far more concerned with giving grand speeches than he is with the details of writing laws, setting policies or governing departments and agencies.
FNM Senator Carl Bethel said last week the government is suffering from a "chronic lack of legislative focus," and called on the Christie administration to "get its act together".
Bethel was responding to comments made by Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney who said the government may have to delay its promised constitutional referendum on gender equality for a third time.

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Man cleared of attempted murder

April 15, 2014

A Supreme Court jury yesterday cleared a man of attempted murder.
Prosecutors alleged that Rashad Paul, whose street name is "Eyes", shot Gregory Miller twice near a club on Nassau Street on December 12, 2012.
By the time the case came on for trial before Justice Indra Charles, Miller was murdered. He was shot dead at Cordeaux Avenue and Key West Street on April 20, 2013.
The Crown relied on a statement that Miller gave to police after the first shooting.
In the statement, Miller claimed that Paul whom he had known all his life shot him in the stomach and ankle at the Yardie Dance.
However, Paul's defense lawyer Ian Cargill relied on a sworn affidavit made by Miller in which he repudiated the statement.
According to the affidavit, which was used during Paul's bail hearing in the Supreme Court, he did not know who shot him and only named Paul because police told him to.

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Pastors say Fraser should have taken more time to mend

April 15, 2014

A prominent pastor said yesterday while he believes in "second chances" it may be too soon for convicted sex offender Bishop Earl Randolph Fraser to lead another church.
Fraser, who served three years in prison after he was convicted of having sex with a dependent, launched a new church, Palms of Victory Kingdom Ministry, on Sunday.
Dr. Victor Cooper, of New Bethany Baptist Cathedral, who was contacted for comment, said before Fraser resumed a leadership position in ministry he should have gone through a "period of counseling and a period of personal introspection".
Cooper said that would ensure Fraser is aware of the magnitude of his position.
"We would want to ensure that they are whole and ready to take on the mammoth task of pastoring, leading and helping people, who are hurting," said Cooper, referring generally to disgraced religious leaders.
"It is a personal matter, but it is a matter that ought to have been given serious consideration.
"We always want to give people second chances, but we want to ensure that they are whole and ready to take on such a mantle."
During the launch of his new church, Fraser apologized to the country for his "pastoral misjudgment".
He told a crowd at Workers House that he will press forward with his life.
Rev. Dr. Philip McPhee, of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, who attended Sunday's event, said in a separate interview that Fraser would have done well to take more time before resuming pastoral duties.
"I still feel that even though he has been called to pastorage he could take some time for his own self-examination before taking on full time pastorage," McPhee told The Nassau Guardian last night.
"We pray that the shortness of the period does not hurt his coming back, and makes him a better pastor, a better husband and a better father."
Fraser was released from prison just under five months ago.
"From a personal position we hope that one would take enough time to mend and grow and I agree he should take some time to ask God for new strength and new direction," McPhee said.
Asked how long Fraser should have waited before resuming pastoral responsibilities, Cooper said at least a year with counseling.
"Certainly we always want to provide people with an opportunity to serve once we feel they have paid their debt to society and they are given that opportunity under the guidance of someone," he said.
"Having gone through that counseling of whatever domination the person is associated with [he] should be vetted to ensure [he is] ready to resume an office like that."
However, McPhee said that no one knows or has control over when "God lights a fire back into your life".
"I am hoping and praying it is a God call back and not a personal call back into ministry," he said of Fraser's decision to lead a new church.
"If God calls you, then he will prepare you and there is no set time for when one can come back to ministry."
Fraser was convicted in November 2011 for having sex with a dependent.
He was fired as senior pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church during a meeting of the Board of Trustees late last year.
Cooper said he has not spoken to Fraser, who was his classmate at The College of The Bahamas, but in time he plans to reach out to him.
McPhee said he spoke with Fraser yesterday morning and asked that they become closer friends and colleagues.
He said he also encouraged Fraser to surround himself with other pastors who he feels comfortable with so that "if he needs help he does not have to hesitate and come to us".

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Men expected to be charged with Market Street murder

April 15, 2014

Two men are expected to be charged this week in connection with the murder of Market Street resident Ricardo Johnson, who was found dead in his home earlier this year, police confirmed yesterday.
Police said investigators recently wrapped up the investigation and are waiting on officials from the Office of the Attorney General to review the file.
The suspects were identified only as young Bahamian men.
Johnson, a 53-year-old mechanic, was discovered in his home by anxious relatives who had not seen him in days, police said.
Officers said Johnson's relatives forced their way into his home on January 23.
Johnson was stabbed multiple times, police said.
Police said previously that Johnson may have been dead for up to three days before he was found.
Johnson's murder was the eighth for the year. The murder count has since swelled to 30.
Police have recently noted an increase in homicides.
On Sunday, police said the partially clothed body of a woman was found in bushes near the entrance to Dignity Gardens, off Carmichael Road.
Superintendent Paul Rolle, who heads the Central Detective Unit, said a girl made the discovery at 10:15 a.m.
Rolle said the woman was partially naked.
He said the body was in an advanced state of decomposition.
Up to yesterday, police were unable to determine the cause of death or the woman's identity.

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Govt worried over banking sector layoffs

April 15, 2014

Minister of Labour and National Insurance Shane Gibson said yesterday he does not know if more layoffs are on the horizon for the banking sector, but added that the government is concerned about recent redundancies.
On Friday, RBC Royal Bank and RBC FINCO announced that "across the board" layoffs were imminent due to plans to create a third shared banking location.
The move is part of an effort to cut costs, improve efficiency and give better customer satisfaction, bank officials said.
Gibson said the Department of Labour was made aware of the impending layoffs and the bank's reasons for the redundancies.
While concerned about the job losses, he said the only thing the Christie administration can do is refocus on job creation and economic stimulus.
"Our position is whenever one employee is sent home, from any institution, whether it's from government or private sector institutions, it is a concern for us," Gibson said.
"I have no idea whether it's going to happen anymore.
"We can only go with what they present to us at the time.
"They've met with us. They've shared the information. We've shared our concerns.
"We are working feverishly around the clock trying to see how we can create new employment and that is why we are so happy with what we've been doing in Grand Bahama, Bimini and [at] Albany."
On Friday, Nathaniel Beneby Jr., RBC Royal Bank's managing director in The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Turks & Caicos Islands, said the restructuring was ongoing.
Beneby could not say how many employees will be let go as a result.
However, he said some of the affected workers have applied for other job opportunities within the bank and have already secured different positions.
As part of the restructuring, RBC FINCO's main branch on Shirley and Charlotte Streets will relocate to RBC Royal Bank's main branch on Bay Street as of May 12.
RBC FINCO's Mortgage Centre in the Prince Charles Shopping Plaza will be consolidated with RBC FINCO's Carmichael Road branch as of May 5.
The bank's other shared location is in Grand Bahama.
RBC's announcement came nearly a month after officials from UBS (Bahamas) said 70 employees would be impacted by the closure of its private banking unit over the next 10 months.
In January, Scotiabank confirmed its plans to move certain functions from The Bahamas to Trinidad and Tobago in an effort to enhance "the efficiency and effectiveness" of its operations.
It is unclear how staff levels will be impacted because of Scotiabank's move.

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Participants in Bahamas Against Crime training course graduate

April 15, 2014

Bahamas Against Crime recently held its eighth security officers training course; a total of 54 graduates received certificates at the graduation, which was held on March 28 at the Paul Farquharson Conference Centre.
The participants underwent an intense four-day training course with Paul Thompson, retired assistant commissioner of police. The course, which was provided free of charge, has seen over 200 young men and women graduate, and, while a job was not promised following graduation, Bahamas Against Crime has assisted most of the graduates in finding employment.

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Christie opens phase two of Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve

April 15, 2014

GOVERNOR'S HARBOUR, Eleuthera - Phase two of the Leon Levy Plant Preserve is officially open. A ceremony marking the event was held on Friday, April 11 at the sanctuary in Governor's Harbour, Eleuthera.
Prime Minister Perry Christie officially opened the event. A delegation, which included Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe; Minister of State for Legal Affairs and Member of Parliament for Central and South Eleuthera Damian Gomez; Minister of the Environment and Housing Kenred Dorsett, and Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle, accompanied him. Also in attendance were the former Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette and his wife.
Lauding the contributions of non-Bahamians to the country, Christie said he was extremely pleased by this gesture of goodwill.
"There are people who come to The Bahamas and make meaningful contributions to this country, " he said. "This project exemplifies such a case."
Christie said that the preserve could serve as a 'model' for other parks in the country, in addition to being an attraction for visitors and Bahamians. Further, he said that parks such as the preserve could be used to facilitate research in order for people to learn about various plants and their medicinal benefits.
The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve is a 25-acre, ecologically-sustainable sanctuary created jointly by the Bahamas National Trust and the Leon Levy Foundation. The Foundation was founded in 2004 and is a non-profit organization created from the estate of Leon Levy, an investor whose family has a home on the island of Eleuthera.
Shelby White, Levy's wife, approached the Bahamas National Trust in 2006 about setting up a memorial for her husband in Eleuthera. Consequently, the Leon Levy Plant Preserve was created. White said that she felt tremendously 'honored' to be able to realize this dream in her husband's memory, and hopes that it would make a major contribution to the island of Eleuthera.
"The preserve has already welcomed more than 10,000 visitors and has helped make Eleuthera a must-visit tourist destination," said White. "We hope more visitors will join us to experience the real Bahamas, the mangrove boardwalk, the fresh water wetlands, our orchid strewn trails, the tower which affords a 360-degree view of the island, glimpses of native birds, including the rare Kirtland's Warbler, and even our collection of poisonous plants."
Serving as the master of ceremonies was Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) Eric Carey. The Central Eleuthera High School Band and Brendalee Petty provided entertainment.
Following the opening, the Christie and his delegation were led on a tour of the compound and were also treated to a tasting of teas and infusions made from local plants grown at the preserve.

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High school students learn how to reduce, reuse and recycle with Bahamas Waste

April 15, 2014

Though not so pleasant to most people, waste can actually help lower the cost of businesses and improve the environment.
The students of both Aquinas College and C.V. Bethel High School recently learned more about how to reduce, reuse and recycle while touring the facilities of The Bahamas' largest waste management company, Bahamas Waste. The students toured the facilities, learned about the services provided and were given a demonstration of how biodiesel is produced and then used to fuel the Bahamas Waste fleet.
"The process of recycling and making biodiesel was very interesting and captivating as students were amazed by how simple garbage could be turned into useful products," said Raymond Knight, a biology teacher at Aquinas College. "The knowledge obtained on the tour will be useful to them as they prepare to take their SAT 2 biology examinations."
Knight further commented, "I enjoy these tours as it gives students an invaluable experience about the vast innovations and possibilities that recycling waste can achieve. The tour also eroded any negative notions or perceptions about working with 'garbage.' There is a lot of potential for The Bahamas, if they should consider serious waste management."
Chanise Bailey, a teacher from C.V. Bethel, said, "It was an eye-opening experience to learn about biodiesel, especially in that the students had no idea that that area of waste existed. They recorded information, wrote notes and asked endless questions. Overall it was a remarkable experience that the students still talk about."
C.V. Bethel has already planned two additional tours of the facilities, and Knight said he looks forward to bringing more students to tour Bahamas Waste, as it is an extremely valuable experience for students. Tours or school visits can be organized by contacting Ethelyn Davis or Karon Gordon at Bahamas Waste at (242) 361-6841, or info@bahamaswaste.com.

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Motor dealers: Tax measures will cause 'major realignment'
Motor dealers: Tax measures will cause 'major realignment'

April 14, 2014

The Bahamas Motor Dealers Association (BMDA) will launch a campaign this week in which it warns that new tax measures could force a "major realignment" in the industry, including staff cuts, facility downsizing and the shelving of potential new investments...

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Accountant: End defined benefit pension, cut civil service head count

April 14, 2014

A top accountant has argued that the enormous size of the government's unfunded pension liability is yet further evidence of why the government must not only act immediately to reform its current pension system, but also begin to reduce the size of the civil service as a critical component of addressing this "unsustainable" financial situation.
Raymond Winder, partner with local accountancy firm Deloitte and Touche (Bahamas), said he is pleased to see some recognition by the government of the size of the unfunded liability and said the key question now is, "What is the government's response to this?"
He further argued that the government must ensure that it does not push the problem down the road, seeking to address it in the short term through tax measures, such as the implementation of value-added tax (VAT), but get to the root of the issue.
"This isn't a matter of tax reform, it's a matter of government reform. It's an issue of how we give benefits to government employees and how we deal with it. We shouldn't be seeking to raise taxes to compensate for an unsustainable system, but we are. We should be looking at how we reorganize this, how we work and how we operate, to stop the bleeding.
"In my humble assessment, this is something that needs to be done or we will find it very difficult to continually raise taxes to try to deal with it," said Winder.
Turning to pension reform, the accountant proposed that the government should act to ensure that no new government employees are brought into the civil service on a defined benefit pension plan, which offers retirees a set financial benefit, notwithstanding their contribution level or the performance of the pension fund. At present, all government employees who benefit from a pension plan through their service are entitled to a defined benefit plan.
He also suggested that the government could move to "lock down" its current pension liabilities by transitioning current government employees from their defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans, allowing them to access their benefits from the original plan, but ensuring no further growth in liabilities.
He was commenting after Deputy Financial Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Simon Wilson revealed that government calculations suggest that the government is facing a "very, very rapidly" growing $1 billion unfunded pension liability. An unfunded liability relates to where an organization's liabilities, in this case benefits owed to civil servants in the public pension program, exceed the financial holdings available to meet them.
Wilson, speaking at a pension breakfast organized by Royal Fidelity Merchant Bank and Trust, a provider of pension plan products, said that while no actuarial studies have ever been done on the size of the liability, government calculations suggest it has reached this level.
He blamed the government's offering of the defined benefit plan, in part, for the problem, adding that it was particularly problematic given that it calculates benefits based on "final pay." This, he explained, would allow for individuals promoted to a higher pay grade just days prior to their retirement to receive higher retirement benefits, notwithstanding contribution levels or salary paid leading up to that point. Wilson admitted that he sees the role of pension reform as "critical" to the sustainability of government finances going forward, and admitted that the government's growing pension liabilities have played a role in driving demand for tax reform.
In an interview with Guardian Business, Winder said it is "extremely important" that the government takes steps to address the financially unsustainable position.
"That $1 billion is real, and there's nothing we can do to address that, and the government must just now find excess cash to respond to that. I don't seriously think that the government would be able to change what it is currently in the short term. That would be a big, big, political hurdle for the government to reduce what's owed as of today's date. I'm not saying it's totally impossible to do it. It's a greater hurdle to overcome."
He added: "I think the government has to not take on any new employees in a defined benefit plan. If any new employee joins government, they must have a new plan for them which is a defined contribution plan. That's the first thing they must do.
"Another thing the government can do is stop the existing defined benefit, as of today, and lock in what's there and for today forward, then they have a second plan, which is a defined contribution.
"So you could lock off the plan and start over here, and there would be two plans. That would mean that if I am a current employee of government it is possible for me to receive value as of today's date as if I left the government and start new employment.
"Doing that would require actuarial analysis, but then you would've locked that down and for existing employees would've started a new plan to deal with them going forward."
Winder said that if the problem is not "taken into hand" now it will only rear its head further down the road, in the form of major cuts in benefit payments by the government to retiring civil servants, depending on the financial position it finds itself in.
The accountant urged that, in addition to tackling the issue of liabilities through reforms to the pension system, the government must take steps to address it via reductions in civil servant numbers.
"We have a potential for in excess of $1 billion in unfunded pension liability and the reality is unless we can find a way to be more efficient at actually reducing through technology the number count, we have a problem.
"There is a huge challenge for the government in the sense that if, for example, we had an employee who, as an example, earned $1,000 a month, and if that employee when he or she retired, for the sake of example, gets $300 per month, now if after that person retires there's still a need for government to fill that position. So the government in the total picture now finds itself in a situation where that position is costing them $1,300. That's $1,000 for new employee and $300 for the person who retired out of that position, so it is one thing to say we have these liabilities to pay, but it is an even bigger problem if we can't find a way to actually reduce that job count; to consolidate that job and not have it available anymore, or to somehow find a way to reduce the cost of that job.
"The big challenge for the government is that it has to begin to put itself in a position where, as these individuals retire, the government has been able to so organize themselves that there isn't a need to continually add new employees to replace retiring employees.
"That would reduce the possibility of new liabilities, and secondly it can basically stabilize the cost of government overall."
Winder noted that if added to the government's debt levels, as it would have to be in the case of a corporate entity under standard accounting rules, these unfunded pension liabilities would significantly add to the national debt.

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