Nassau Guardian Stories

Bahamas Striping turns five

June 24, 2015

What started out as a $5,000 home-based start-up has grown into a group of four companies valued well over $1 million.
As Bahamas Striping celebrates its fifth year anniversary, company executives pointed to expansive local and regional growth plans as proof that the asphalt rejuvenation and striping business will continue to withstand the test of time.
Whether it was competing with foreign-based companies that for years benefited from a local monopoly, or accessing capital funding, or whether it was seeing its state-of-the-art office complex and manufacturing plant rise from a rocky ground, Bahamas Striping has faced more than its fair share of challenges.
"We faced many daunting tasks on our journey to becoming the leading striping and road maintenance company in The Bahamas," said President of Bahamas Striping Group of Companies (BSGC) Atario Mitchell.
Today, the group of companies encompasses Bahamas Striping, Airport Maintenance Services Ltd., Caribbean Pavement Solutions Ltd. and BSGC.
Collectively, the group has trained and employed 13 Bahamians from the capital and Grand Bahama.
Recently, the company cemented a deal which would help the government secure up to $50 million in infrastructural funding from the Export-Import Bank of the United States at a low interest rate of 2.69 percent.
The money from that public-private partnership (PPP) will go towards BSGC's proposal to the government for airport and road maintenance work on 10 islands.
"Our plans for the next five years is to strategically move forward with our proposed PPP initiatives that are designed to address chronic safety deficiencies across our nation's road networks and Family Islands airports," said the company's managing director, Dr. Allen Albury.
The company has estimated that it will utilize at least 75 local persons per family island, making for a total employment figure of 750 additional workers.
"Our medium term goal is to construct a manufacturing plant in Grand Bahama for our environmentally friendly, cold patch asphalt rejuvenation product which is used in pavement maintenance and repairs of potholes," Mitchell told this media house.
"We also have plans to ultimately exit the road rejuvenation business and focus on franchise development opportunities for entrepreneurs to retail our road rejuvenation product line. At that point, our primary business focus would be airport maintenance and product manufacturing. Ultimately, we intend to export our products and services throughout the Caribbean."
The young company quickly gained a reputation for providing excellent service. Brand loyalty from its clients coupled with fiscal prudence resulted in each of the companies owning all materials, equipment and vehicles free from liens and being virtually debt free.
And, when it could ill-afford to be generous, Bahamas Striping embarked on a philanthropic path.
"We believe in giving back," Director of Business Development Dominic Sturrup. "That's why we established our "The Dollar That Could" project."
In 2013, its launch year, the program raised $16,000 for four charities.
This year BSGC is committed to giving up to $50,000 in charitable donations with up to $30,000 earmarked for New Providence and up to $20,000 in Grand Bahama.
Charitable organizations expected to benefit from this initiative - based on BSGC attaining key sales targets - include Rotary, REACH and the Bahamas National Trust in the capital.
Grand Bahama charities include the Grand Bahama Children's Home, the Humane Society of Grand Bahama and Rotary Grand Bahama.
To date, the company has sought to do good for others via its hurricane relief giving, back-to-school program, Christmas giving initiative and its restriping program, which has seen 36 basketballs courts and other worthwhile road improvement projects receive a face-lift.

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Davis 'ready for PM job'

June 24, 2015

Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis declared yesterday that he is "ready for the job" of prime minister.
But Davis said his plans are dependent on whether Prime Minister Perry Christie steps down ahead of the Progressive Liberal Party's (PLP) October convention.
"If there is a vacancy I'll be there," Davis said outside Cabinet.
Asked if Christie has indicated whether he intends to seek another term as prime minister, Davis said, "Not yet."
When asked what he brings to the table, Davis said, "me".
Davis' confirmation came after Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said that he is ready to the lead the party.
On Tuesday, Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller said he believes Davis would be a better person to lead the PLP.
"I support Brave Davis...Mr. Davis is always the PLP's go-to man. Whenever the party is in trouble who do we go to? Brave Davis," Miller said.
Davis said yesterday that he is "warmed" by Miller's support.
The Guardian also caught up with Wilchcombe outside Cabinet and asked him his feelings on Miller's comments.
"That's democracy. At the end of the day I am hoping that if the opportunity comes I can convince the brother," Wilchcombe said.
"He's a great guy. We've worked together and served in the Cabinet together.
"We've had many exchanges on many issues, so hopefully one day I'll get an opportunity to prove to him that I deserve his support."
Wilchcombe was also clear that the PLP has a "sitting leader that we support".
When asked if Christie is stepping down, Wilchcombe said, "We are working on the premise that Mr. Christie is going to stay.
"At the appropriate time he will indicate to us what he wants to do.
"What we must do, we who have interest is to constantly prepare ourselves and constantly give the knowledge and experience to step in if the opportunity provides."
Christie has remained tight-lipped on whether he will retire ahead of the 2017 general election.
PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts revealed that the party will hold its convention in the last week of October at the Melia Nassau Beach resort on Cable Beach.
The last PLP convention was held in 2009.
The party was scheduled to have a convention in 2013, but that was postponed until November 2014. However, it did not happen then either.
It is mandated to hold one annually.

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Murders up 16

June 24, 2015

Murders increased by 16 percent between January 1 and June 22, 2015, compared to the same period in 2014.
There were 72 murders recorded during this period compared to the 62 murders recorded last year.
There were 10 murders in January, 15 in February, 12 in March, 11 in April, 15 in May and nine this month.
The most recent victim, who was out on bail on a murder charge and being electronically monitored, was shot dead on Sunday night, police said.
Yesterday, police classified the death of a woman, who was struck by a vehicle outside a bar she worked at on Saturday, as a murder.
Police said the 19-year-old mother was struck following an argument with a female patron at the bar on Gladstone Road around 1 a.m.
National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage was expected to speak about crime trends and the government's crime fighting efforts during the budget debate.
But he never spoke as the government aborted the debate early last Wednesday.
What the minister did say about crime on June 10 in response to Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn, who said the murder rate today is worse that it ever was, caused controversy.
Nottage, who rose on a point of order, said "The murder rate today is no worse; in fact, less than it was in 2011, their last year in office".
But police data showed that the murder count was 17 percent higher that it was in 2011.
The murder count when Nottage made the statement was 68.
Up to June 10, 2011 the murder count stood at 58.
Nottage did admit that the murder count is higher than it was in 2014.
He has not since made a public address about crime or the government's efforts to reduce crime.
On June 4, Prime Minister Perry Christie pointed at some discord between the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Defence Force when he spoke about crime at the Caribbean-United States High-Level Citizen Security Dialogue at Atlantis.
Six months ago, Christie said he has confidence in the police force and its efforts in combatting crime.
While Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade said earlier this month that serious crimes with the exception of murder are down, he admitted that the public does not want to hear that.
He said murders continue to challenge the police and called on all stakeholders, and the wider public to do more in the fight against crime.

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Butler-Turner blasts PM on Baha Mar

June 24, 2015

Shadow Minister of Labour Loretta Butler-Turner said yesterday that Prime Minister Perry Christie's "baffling" statements on the Baha Mar project suggest "he is out of touch with reality".
In a statement, the Long Island MP said with thousands of jobs at risk at the resort, it is past time for the Christie administration to "demonstrate better leadership on the economy and in the protection of jobs".
"At times the prime minister engages in a deafening silence on Baha Mar," she said.
"When he does speak about Baha Mar he often raises serious questions about his grasp of events related to the opening of the mega resort."
The opening of the $3.5 billion resort has been delayed three times and it remains unclear when it will open.
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said on Sunday he does not expect the resort to open until November.
In his most recent comments on Baha Mar, Christie said that while he has received good news about the resort, it could suffer payroll issues if its challenges are not resolved soon.
"Thousands of Bahamians have made decisions to go and work there and every day is a day of challenge and we could see it coming when the point can be reached where the developer says 'I could no longer carry a payroll'," he said last week.
"I am now directly involved in a very meaningful way in that exercise to try and bring a resolution to it."
There are approximately 2,000 Bahamian employees at Baha Mar.
Butler-Turner said the opening of Baha Mar is critical as "thousands of current and future jobs are at stake".
"As various Chinese entities are critical partners in the Baha Mar development, a competent and strategically minded government would have appointed an ambassador to China to assist where possible in getting the resort open as soon as possible," she said.
"Yet three years after coming to office, and with China a major ally and investor, the prime minister has failed to cause the appointment of an ambassador to the People's Republic of China.
"This is bad for both foreign and economic policy. It is an undiplomatic slap in the face to the Chinese government.
"It is also a sign of an incompetent and poorly run government with weak and distracted leadership unable to make decisions in a timely manner."
She said the government has failed to live up to its legal agreement to reimburse Baha Mar for funds related to infrastructural roadwork
Under the heads of agreement between the resort and the government, the cost of the construction associated with the re-routed West Bay Street was meant to be shared.
The government is obligated to pay $47.8 million to Baha Mar if the cost of the reconfiguration of West Bay Street exceeded $70 million.
Minister of Works Philip Brave Davis has said that if the figure is less than $70 million, the government would only be obligated to pay 50 percent.
Government technical experts have reportedly assessed the value of the roads at around $58 million. However, Baha Mar officials said the cost is over $100 million.
The government paid Baha Mar $30 million last year.
"The payment of these funds were owed to Baha Mar and should not be tied to any new quid pro quo by the government of The Bahamas, as was suggested in a story today in one of the daily papers," Butler-Turner said.
The Tribune claimed yesterday that the government has agreed to pay Baha Mar $21 million, relating to the road works. But it quoted an unnamed source.
Last month, Christie told The Nassau Guardian that the road dispute had been settled, but he did not provide any details.

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Alfred Sears considering running in Ft. Charlotte

June 24, 2015

Former Fort Charlotte MP Alfred Sears said yesterday he is considering re-entering frontline politics as the Progressive Liberal Party's (PLP) candidate in that constituency, and suggested that he would be open to taking on a leadership position within the party if one opens up.
Sears was responding to PLP Fort Charlotte Branch Chairperson Donna Moxey, who said last week that the branch "welcomes another opportunity to work with Mr. Sears".
She made the statement after Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins resigned from the PLP.
She said the branch was already in the process of finding another suitable candidate to represent the people of Fort Charlotte as Rollins was on a course that would take him outside the PLP.
Sears worked with Rollins to assist him in getting elected ahead of the 2012 general election. He described Rollins as a talented individual.
Rollins resigned from the PLP following his contribution to the budget debate in Parliament last week. In that contribution, he lashed out at the Christie administration over several key issues, charging that the PLP only cares about protecting its own.
Sears declined to comment on Rollins' resignation, but he said he is happy to serve the PLP.
"It has been placed on the table," he said when asked if he would run on the PLP's ticket.
"It's been a great privilege to serve the community of Fort Charlotte and I can tell you one thing, I could never have been the member of Parliament for two consecutive terms were it not for the support of not only members of the PLP, but FNMs and people from the DNA and I tried to serve the community. So it was a privilege."
As for his leadership aspirations, Sears said while he isn't actively seeking a position just yet, he would consider taking on the challenge.
"I would have to consider it if it is offered and if it is available," he said.
"Of course, one would consider and make a decision based on the best contribution you can make. But certainly it isn't something that at this time that I'm preoccupied with.
"I will serve the party in any way that the party would find useful for me. Of course, I have never stepped away from serving.
"When I returned to The Bahamas it was with the intention at some point to give public service and at different times you serve in different positions."
Both Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis and Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe have declared an interest in running for the leadership position of the PLP.
The convention is set for the last week in October.
Christie has not yet said when he intends to retire from frontline politics.

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Rigby: Country ready for new leadership

June 24, 2015

Although former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Raynard Rigby acknowledged that Prime Minister Perry Christie still enjoys overwhelming support in the PLP, he said yesterday that it is time for a "generational shift in leadership".
Rigby, who responded to questions from The Nassau Guardian, said if Christie does decide to run for leader again, he would be "difficult to defeat".
Christie has not indicated whether he will seek re-election.
"He is extremely, very popular in the party," Rigby said.
"He still enjoys the confidence of the majority of members of the party.
"So this question about whether he is going to be leading the party in the next election, the question as to whether he is still relevant for PLP politics I think are just academic questions.
"Personally, I believe that given where the country is today and the challenges that befall upon us, that we do require a generational shift in our leadership.
"When that will occur I think depends on a lot of dynamics that will occur in politics and I think this is true not just for PLP politics, it is true for FNM politics.
"I think the country is ready for new leadership and is ready for new leadership which transgresses the generation of (former prime minister the late) Lynden Oscar Pindling and is ready for broad leadership, which understands the enormous challenge that befalls us," said Rigby.
"And the leadership must be able to communicate with the Bahamian people in their language...where people can have hope in the future."
Asked last year whether he was running again, Christie indicated that he would make that decision in concert with his family and the PLP.
"You know who decides whether I'm running again? Firstly, me and my family," he said last July.
"Secondly, the people, the members of Parliament and the political organization throughout the country.
"So I'm not going to be distracted by that now. I see people saying I am running again. That's fine. They are able to say that. I am now running to get results from the Progressive Liberal Party government. That's what I'm running for. I am running full speed all the time."
Christie, 71, said previously that he was grooming the next generation of leaders in the PLP.
However, last year January, Christie suggested that if former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham returns to public life there is no guarantee that he, Christie, would exit.
PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts said on Monday the party will hold its convention in the last week of October at the Melia Nassau Beach resort on Cable Beach.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis and Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said they would run for leader if Christie decides to step down.
Both have indicated that they support Christie as leader of the party.

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Smith: Unfair of chairman to wait to announce if running again

June 24, 2015

Former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) MP and Cabinet Minister George Smith said yesterday that it would be "unfair" of PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts to wait "just before" the party's convention to decide whether he will run as chairman again.
"It is unfair to anybody who aspires for the position of leader, deputy leader, or chairman," Smith said.
"It is unfair to those people and the delegates that the leader not indicate well in advance, for the present deputy to indicate well in advance, for the chairman to indicate well in advance whether they intend to go."
Smith said potential candidates need at least two months to gather support from the delegates.
Roberts has confirmed that the party will hold its convention in the last week of October at the Melia Nassau Beach resort on Cable Beach.
This will be the first PLP convention since 2009.
Smith said yesterday that this is long overdue.
It is unclear whether Prime Minister Perry Christie will step down as leader of the party.
However, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe and Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis both said this week that if given the chance to lead the party, they would take it.
Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller said he supports Davis for leader.
When asked about Wilchcombe's chances of winning, Miller said, "I hope to live forever too, but that's not going to happen."

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Murder trial postponed

June 24, 2015

A murder trial was postponed yesterday because the defendant's lawyer is in another trial.
Attorney Ian Cargill could not begin the trial of Shakatoure Thompson, 26, of Yellow Elder Gardens, yesterday because he had empanelled a jury in another murder case on Monday.
Prosecutors say Thompson fatally shot Nadia Cartwright on August 11, 2013 and attempted to murder her boyfriend, Henry Burnside, during an armed robbery.
Cartwright was riding pillion on Burnside's motorcycle on Baillou Hill Road when individuals in a gray Nissan Tiida pulled alongside them and fatally shot Cartwright in the head, according to police.
Burnside was forced off the road and into a guardrail before one of the occupants of the car got out of the vehicle and made off with the motorcycle.
While requesting an adjournment, Cargill also notified the court that Burnside, the complainant, was one of his clients.
Acting Justice Gregory Hilton has set a fixture hearing for July 2.
Assistant Director of Prosecutions Sandra Dee Gardiner is the prosecutor.

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A lucrative industry under threat

June 24, 2015

Dear Editor,

The following is an open letter to Minister of
Agriculture and Marine
Resources V. Alfred Gray:

Dear Minister Gray,
I am writing per your suggestion that stakeholders should email their thoughts to you on the proposed fishing regulations restricting sport fishing on the flats for non-Bahamians.
I first came to the Bahamas with my family for a one-week spring vacation 20 years ago. I wanted to go to place in the Bahamas or Caribbean where I could bone fish for a couple of days and the family could enjoy the beach.
We ended up visiting Treasure Cay and fell in love with the place. I fished with a guide named Orthnel who guided me to hundreds of fish and was patient with my many mistakes as an inexperienced flats fisherman.
Hooked on the Treasure Cay area, I came back many times, sometimes with family and sometimes with a fishing buddy, but I always went home with a friendly feeling about Abaco, the water, the fishing, and the people.
In those visits I had the privilege to fish with some very famous guides: O'Donald McIntosh, Danny Sawyer, Buddy Pinder and Justin Sands to name a few. The experience of visiting Abaco became the highlight of the year and as the years went by my wife and I took a big chunk of our life savings and bought a second home in Treasure Cay.
Originally we came to Abaco for the beaches, the swimming, the flats fishing and the warm weather, but in the end it was the genuine warmth of the Bahamian people that cemented our decision to become part of the community. We now spend three to five months a year in Abaco and consider it our winter home.
I fish with guides once or twice a month, especially when we have guests staying with us. I regularly walk and fish the flats around Treasure Cay in awe of the natural beauty. I like to think of myself as one of the Bahamas' best salespeople, always selling the assets of my adopted home.
This positive feeling was shattered by your letter outlining the new proposed rules for fishing the flats. After years of doing my part to be a responsible member of the community I am in your words "a foreigner" rather than a welcome guest and the activity that I enjoy the most, flats fishing, is being priced out of my reach.
Since I fish about 15 days out of a month, the $30 daily permit would cost me over $2,250 per year. This is way excessive in comparison to license fees in other countries.Further, if I want to take my boat fishing I will now be required to hire a guide.
Since the cost of a day trip with a guide is significant, I would be compelled to greatly limit the number of times per month I can enjoy this treat. So the impact of the law on me would be to seriously limit my fishing experience to the point where I am not sure it makes sense to continue visiting Abaco. As you can imagine, as a second homeowner with a large group of good friends in the community, this thought causes me great distress.
While the distress of one family may not be significant in your planning process, my many conversations over the last two days with other fishermen/homeowners confirmed that I am one among many. In fact, one friend was in the process of looking for a house in Treasure Cay but has put this plan on hold. Without a reasonable fishing environment, he is no longer interested.
If you care about our relationship, and you genuinely want my suggestions here they are:

Offer an annual license to people who have invested in second homes in The Bahamas
Make it reasonable so your seasonal guests will feel it is a fair value (Anything over $130 is out of line in my experience). These are the people who buy groceries, pay VAT, pay property taxes, buy cars, pay for auto registration, pay house repair bills and pay real estate commissions! Treat them right and income to the Bahamas consolidated fund will grow. Treat them wrong and they will disappear like spooked bonefish!

Charge a reasonable fee for daily flats fishing
Anything over $10 is out of line with the competition. These are the folks you want to come back year after year and stay in your hotels, lodges and vacation homes. Please remember they have other flats fishing choices including Mexico, Belize, the Florida Keys, Caymans, Christmas Island, Hawaii, South Texas and soon Cuba.
To attract their business the Bahamas must deliver an excellent fishing experience. Treat them as good friends like I was treated in Treasure Cay 20 years ago and they will buy homes and pay taxes.

Make the application for fishing permits available online with payment by credit card
This should be simple and quick. Don't even think about making your customers hunt down a guide or minister to buy a fishing permit every day at dawn. Applicants should be able to buy and print the permit for the specified duration of their stay on their home printer.
The Bahamas government will have the money before they arrive and they will have a permit in hand when they get off the airplane.

Drop the requirement that every flats fisherman have a guide in their boat all the time
Lots and lots of people want to come to the Bahamas to fish with guides a few days and on their own for a day or two. Embrace the do-it-yourselfers. Their money is good and, in a tourist-based country, that money creates jobs.
New visitors, treated right, become regular customers. They come back time and again, they hire guides and then they buy houses and become permanent contributors to your economy.

Don't make guides responsible for selling fishing permits
Use the money from the online permit sales to support the marine conservation program including hiring trained wildlife officers to administer the program. Guiding and bookkeeping are different jobs. Besides the really good guides are too busy taking care of customers to mess with selling permits and being bookkeepers.

Encourage the flats sports fisherman to report poaching, (netting of bone fish, killing of turtles, etc.) to authorities
Put an email address or a phone number on their permit so they can report poachers. The visiting flats angler loves the flats more than anybody. They release all their fish and can help maintain the quality of flats fishing you say you are concerned about. And they will do it for free.

Good guides are in demand
They quickly become successful based on their hard work and acquired skill - at spotting fish, positioning the boat, and helping the client cast to the right spot. They are among the hardest working people in the Bahamas and because they work so closely with visitors they are your most important ambassadors. Treat them right and listen to them!

Don't worry about overcrowding from do-it-yourself fishermen
According to Wikipedia The Bahamas has over 7,000 miles of coastline! That is about the length of the east and west coast of the United States combined.
There are thousands of square miles of bonefish habitat. Do-it-yourself fishermen who arrive by plane for a week fish by wading or maybe by kayak. They can't fish much more than a mile or two away from their starting point.
Guide boats zip by them on their way to hundreds of square miles of flats the wade fisherman can only dream about. Often, the following day the do-it-yourself anglers hire a guide to get out where the action is.
Do-it-your self anglers that have boats can be frustrating to guides who run miles to a favorite spot and find someone already there. This is understandable but the problem can be addressed by setting up guidelines and schedules for when DIY boat anglers can fish certain high use areas and then posting the rules agreed on. No need to get the government involved.

Listen to your best guides and best customers
These are the folks who can tell you if you are running a sound program and meeting the needs of the sport fishing market while, at the same time, ensuring good conservation practices. Be suspicious of disgruntled guides who are not working. There is a reason for this.
Good guides are always in demand.

Be aware that there are rogue guides
Guides who are willing to slash tires and sabotage boats of anglers fishing on their own.
Make honest efforts to bring them to justice. A few bad apples can ruin the reputation of a whole country.

- Richard Swan
Reno NV and Treasure Cay, Abaco

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Same-sex marriage, tolerance and changing social norms

June 24, 2015

The Supreme Court of the United States is set in a few weeks to make one of its most historic rulings. It will decide whether or not same-sex marriage will be legal in America. Currently, same-sex marriage is only legal in 37 states.
The ruling will have the attention of the world, as the U.S. is the richest and most powerful country. Here in The Bahamas the issue is not up for debate. There is no court challenge pressing for that right for homosexuals, and public sentiment is quite against it.
While we have not reached where the U.S. is on the issue, it is important for Bahamians to move beyond the bigotry and hatred of homosexuals so common in our society.
In conversations in offices, restaurants or parties it is still common to hear terms of hatred expressed toward and about gays. "Faggot" or "punk" or "nasty sissy" are uttered by the educated and not so educated. This primitive fear of homosexuals is unfortunate and against the democratic way.
Democracy is about inclusion. It is about pluralism. It is about tolerance. Those concepts are what have allowed progressives to achieve the successes they have over the last century. In Western societies, of which we are, women, who were once thought of as the property and servants of men, are now leaders in industry. Blacks, who were once thought of as a lower species to whites, are now free to pursue whatever endeavor they choose. Workers now have fair wages and access to the courts if their employers violate labor standards.
These advances have come, and our communities have become more just, because we have increasingly accepted that those who are outside the power structure have the same human dignity as those with power.
If the U.S. Supreme Court does legalize same-sex marriage, which is expected by many legal commentators, the prophets of doom in The Bahamas will profess fears of all manner. All that, of course, is nonsensical. Social norms constantly change. When they change democratically toward expanding rights for minority groups there is nothing to fear, even if you disagree with the change.
Here we would do well to mature in our discourse. The hate-filled terms too many use to describe homosexuals need to die out. We need to be tolerant of difference. Just as Muslims, Hindus, Jews and atheists all have the right to their beliefs, consenting adults too have the right to love each other without being harassed in public or belittled.
The price of living in a free society and having your rights protected is that you have to agree to have the rights of others protected, even if you disagree with their legal behavior.
We can do better when it comes to our behavior toward homosexuals. Harassment and hostility need to give way to respect and brotherhood. We're all part of the same human family.

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Freedom of movement is good for all citizens and investment

June 24, 2015

At the end of this year the heads of the Commonwealth countries will meet in Malta. The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states, with a combined population of more than 2.2 billion citizens. It is an anachronism perhaps, but one that survives because it serves a genuine purpose, allowing countries of all shapes and sizes to discuss their issues and concerns in a friendly setting.
Its origins date back to 1887, when the first Colonial and Imperial meeting was held in London on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. This year's meeting in November is likely to be on a less grand scale, but among other things will appoint a new secretary general and feature a business forum that will discuss economic matters, including the sustainability of small islands.
I strongly believe that the islands of the Caribbean should work more closely together to further their economic interests.
St. Kitts & Nevis, the country of which I have recently been elected prime minister and which is proud to be part of the Commonwealth, is very much open for investment by the private sector. When the world's financial system crashed in 2008, small islands of the Caribbean were hit as if by a hurricane. Tourism and real estate investment, the mainstays of our economy ever since the production of sugar was halted in 2005, declined dramatically.
A clever initiative came to our rescue. Citizenship by investment is a program that encourages investment in a country. In return, assuming all the due diligence procedures are met, the investor can apply for citizenship of the country. Many people around the world, through no fault of their own, live in countries from where it is difficult to travel. Citizenship of St. Kitts & Nevis gives visa free access to more than 140 countries, including the United Kingdom, Brazil and Germany.
However, our citizenship program was dealt a heavy blow to its reputation when Iranian sanction evaders began travelling with a St. Kitts & Nevis passport. Some even had diplomatic passports. This raised the eyebrow of the U.S. and Canadian authorities, among others.
Eventually last year, the Canadian authorities put an end to the visa-free access our citizens had enjoyed for decades.
As the new prime minister of St. Kitts & Nevis, I have made a number of guarantees to restore the legitimacy of the program:
o To our partner governments across the world, I pledge my word that no undesirables will be allowed to take advantage of our program. We shall work actively with you to make this happen. We shall not issue any diplomatic passports to people who are neither citizens nor residents of St. Kitts & Nevis.
Our reputation is not for sale at any price. We shall be revoking any passports that were issued fraudulently. We will not allow our good name to be traduced. Anybody who made false claims or provided us with misleading information at the time of making the application will have their citizenship revoked. We are very serious about this.
o To genuine investors, we welcome your interest and investment in our beautiful islands. We are working hard to ensure that the procedure becomes more efficient and transparent. IPSA International, a consultancy that specializes in due diligence and risk management and works for many governments around the world, made 20 recommendations to us on how to improve the program, including such measures as establishing a commission for the oversight of the Citizenship by Investment Program; reviewing the regulations for the establishment of escrow accounts and amending the policies accordingly; and conducting a "look back" of approved and reviewed applications, as well as conducting periodic reviews of approved applicants thereafter.
My government is adopting all these 20 recommendations with immediate effect.
o To developers who are creating projects that will bring employment and investment to our country, we say: "You are most welcome".
We understand that citizenship by investment is a useful source of income. Legitimate developers who create a positive economic impact on our islands will continue to enjoy the benefits of the program as a funding source.
Tourism is a great source of income for this country, and we have a shortage of hotel beds. However, we are looking carefully at those projects that are only benefitting the individuals who are building empty boxes. Not only is this of no benefit to the citizens of St. Kitts & Nevis, but also it has a negative impact on the beauty of the landscape and we shall be reviewing some of the schemes that are being proposed.
Genuine developers need have no concerns. In fact we shall work tirelessly to ensure projects proceed in a timely manner.
These are the suggestions that I shall make to my Caribbean colleagues when we meet to discuss citizenship by investment next week in St. Kitts. And it is with these concerns, and in this spirit, that we shall journey to Malta in November.
I think most countries appreciate that genuine investment is a necessity these days. Globalization is not something that is going to go away. In the same vein, responsible citizenship-by-investment programmes only help to encourage this trend.

o Dr. Timothy Harris is the prime minister of St. Kitts & Nevis, one of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean and a proud member of the Commonwealth.

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Eighty-five selected for China-Bahamas Bilateral Training Programme

June 24, 2015

A reception was held in honor of the 85 Bahamians who have been selected to take part in the first China-Bahamas Bilateral Training Programme, at Choice Dining Room, The College of The Bahamas on Friday, June 19, 2015.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis said the topics chosen for the program are:
o Tourism resource development and environmental protection;
o Green low-carbon industry and climate change;
o Application of bio-technology infrastructure;
o Garment manufacturing.
Davis told the participants, "I am pleased that you have been afforded this grand opportunity, an opportunity not only to receive training in your particular areas of interest, but to be ambassadors of our nation, to share with the people of China the richness of our heritage, traditions and culture.
"I encourage you to take full advantage of this opportunity, learn all you can and strive for excellence in your endeavours."
Davis said that he wished to express sincerest gratitude on behalf of the government and people of The Bahamas, to the People's Republic of China for the technical assistance and cooperation that has been kindly extended to The Bahamas.
Lin Xianjiang, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in The Commonwealth of The Bahamas, explained that the China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Cooperation Plan (2015-2019), which was released at the 1st Ministerial Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum in January 2015, announced that China will provide 6000 full government scholarships, 6000 short-term training opportunities and 400 one-year master's degree scholarships to Latin America and Caribbean countries during 2015-2019.
"In the past six years, about 230 Bahamian officials, managers, technicians and students have been granted Chinese government scholarships, short-term training opportunities and one-year master's programs scholarships in China, which is a remarkable number compared to the population of The Bahamas.
"This year alone, we expect to have over 100 Bahamians receive training in China, which is almost half of the total of the past six years."
He said besides the regular multilateral training courses, one-year master's degree programs, and the new bilateral courses, the Chinese government has also launched the MOFCOM (Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China) Scholarship to support up to six years of master's degree and PhD programs in more than 20 top Chinese universities.
Xianjiang said this is also the first time that China will sponsor bilateral courses specifically customized for the needs of The Bahamas in tourism, green low carbon economy, food technology and garment manufacturing.
"This marks a key step forward in China's long-term endeavour to help further improve the skills and knowledge manpower in The Bahamas. Through these tailored courses, we believe that the trainees would gain the necessary knowledge and skills for making a better Bahamas and a better life and also have a better understanding of China."

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Reduction in real property tax for pensioners

June 24, 2015

The Department of Inland Revenue advises the public of the proposed reduction in real property tax for pensioners which will come into effect on July 1, 2015.
The reduction can be found in section 20A of the Real Property Tax (Amendment) Act 2015 and is available to citizens of The Bahamas who are entitled to receive a National Insurance retirement benefit, is not less than sixty-five years old, and is the beneficial owner of the property for which the tax reduction is to be claimed, provided that such property qualifies for owner-occupier exemption under the Real Property Tax Act.
Individuals who qualify will be entitled to receive a reduction of 50 percent on the balance of the annual tax, which is payable on the occupied property after the deduction of the owner-occupier exemption. The reduction for pensioners is limited to the first $1 million of the assessed value of the occupied property.
Before a person will be eligible to receive the reduction, however, all specified criteria will have to be met to the satisfaction of the chief valuation officer.
For more information, individuals can email businesslicenceinquiries@bahamas.gov.bs, or call (242) 325-2233, 325-1171 or 325-2126.

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PLP convention set for October

June 23, 2015

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) will hold its convention in the last week of October, PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts confirmed yesterday.
Roberts said the convention will be held at the Melia Nassau Beach resort on Cable Beach.
The revelation came after Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said that he is ready to lead the party.
Wilchcombe said if the door opens for him to be prime minister, he would take it and serve with distinction.
Roberts had no comment on Wilchcombe.
"I wouldn't comment at this time. We will see what transpires with regard to who will be running for leadership," he said.
Roberts said he will make a determination as to whether he will run for chairman just before the convention. Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller said yesterday that he supports Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis for leader.
When asked about Wilchcombe's chances of winning, Miller said, "I hope to live forever too, but that's not going to happen."
The PLP has not held a convention since 2009.
It was scheduled to have a convention in 2013, but that was postponed until November 2014. However, it did not happen then either.
It is mandated to hold one annually.
Roberts had said that the party hoped to hold the convention when Baha Mar opens, but the resort has already been delayed three times.
The party has held several mini conventions on the Family Islands.
It remains unclear if Prime Minister Perry Christie will step down or seek another term.
In January, Christie revealed that he would need a compelling reason to stay on as leader of the PLP.
He said that he promised his family that 2012 would be his last election.
But he admitted that people constantly urge him to remain as leader and said, "At this stage I do not know."
Last year, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell said his aspiration for leadership is no secret and that people have used his support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights to say he should be disqualified from ever attempting to lead the country.
But he said that a person's sexual preference should be irrelevant to whether he or she should be elected to public office.
"There is no vacancy at the moment. When it comes I don't see any reason to step back from the breach," he said at the time.

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Leslie Miller suggests Wilchcombe has no chance of being PM

June 23, 2015

A day after Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe declared his interest in leading the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller suggested that it won't happen.
Miller said he believes that Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis would be a better person to lead the party.
"I hope to live forever too, but that's not going to happen," said Miller when asked about Wilchcombe's chances of winning a leadership bid.
"He has indicated that he has a preference to be prime minister. I have no inkling to be [anything] except the good member of Parliament for the good people of Tall Pines.
"First of all you can't be the leader of any organization until you have a convention."
Miller said he thinks Davis has what it takes to be the next party leader.
"If we have a convention, we'll see what happens," he added.
"I support Brave Davis... Mr. Davis is always the PLP's go-to man. Whenever the party is in trouble who do we go to? Brave Davis.
"Whenever any of our colleagues get in trouble, in the legal sense or anything happens, we go to Brave Davis.
"In trying to raise funds for the party to set us on the right course, we go to Brave Davis.
"I think he has been around for so long and has dedicated his entire life to the PLP that he is serving as the deputy prime minister to move up to the next step.
"But you all are missing one question: Where is [Prime Minister Perry] Christie going?" Miller asked.
He pointed out that while Christie has acknowledged that he is in the twilight of his political career, he has not definitely stated whether he intends to retire ahead of the 2017 general election.
Christie has said that "all bets would be off" if former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham returns to frontline politics.
"I don't know if Mr. Christie is going anywhere," Miller said. "Most leaders never go until you run them out of town. Whether he goes is his choice."
Miller said he believes that there should be a two-term limit for prime ministers.
Christie is serving his second non-consecutive term as prime minister.
Notwithstanding his belief, Miller added, "I don't know whether it is time for him to go".
Miller said if Davis is to become leader, the time to run is now.
"Mr. Davis has just turned 64," Miller noted.
"If he has any chance of serving the Bahamian people, it has to be now. Why would I vote for a guy who is going to be 70 at the next election?"
Wilchcombe declared on Sunday that he is prepared to "lead with distinction".
The West Grand Bahama and Bimini MP said if given the chance to become prime minister, he would take it.
"I ran for deputy leader of the PLP in 2009. I ran because I'd like to be leader of the PLP," said Wilchcombe, who appeared as a guest on the Guardian Radio talk show "Q and A" with hosts Quincy Parker and Adrian Francis.
"There is no question about that.
The party has not held a convention since 2009.
It was scheduled to have its convention in 2013, but that was postponed until November 2014. However, it did not happen then either.
The party has held several mini conventions on the Family Islands.
PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts said the PLP will hold its convention in the last week of October.

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Miller says BEC bills down 30 percent since 2012

June 23, 2015

Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) Executive Chairman Leslie Miller questioned the government's plan to cut BEC bills by 40 percent, compared to what it was in 2012, claiming that the outgoing BEC board has already gotten the government more than halfway there.
Miller was contacted for comment following a statement by Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis that there will be a 40 percent reduction in electricity bills "immediately" after a management deal with PowerSecure is finalized.
"We should expect a decrease in our light bills of at least 40 percent from what it was in May 2012," Davis said last week.
But Miller told The Guardian that electricity bills have already been reduced by 30 percent since that time.
"I don't know [how] they arrived at those calculations," Miller said.
"I know for a fact that since we've taken over BEC back in July of 2012, the cost has gone down significantly, around 30 percent since we took over. Much of that is due to the lower oil prices... over the last six months."
This month crude oil prices stood around $60 per barrel, compared to 2012 when oil prices were more than $100 per barrel.
"I think the board has done an excellent job of bringing down the cost," Miller said. "It's already around 30 percent from when we took over."
He said he doesn't know how the government or the management company is going to further reduce the cost of electricity so soon.
The government announced in April that it selected PowerSecure International to manage the transmission, distribution and generation of electricity at BEC.
Asked how BEC would be able to cut bills, given the state of its aging infrastructure, Davis, who has Cabinet responsibility for BEC, said a reduction in the cost of electricity is among the requirements for the agreement.
"It's because of the manner in which we have negotiated the management contract and what we have required and also because of some of what we have been able to negotiate in respect of the legacy debt," he said.
"The legacy debt will be replaced by a rate reduction bond, the cost of which would not negatively impact our desire to reduce the cost as I've explained."
Miller said that it's a "slap in the face" that the board has been kept in the dark regarding the negotiations surrounding BEC's management deal.
"It bothers me that the board has not been, even today, officially informed of anything relative to BEC," he said.
"That to me is a slap in the face, especially when the prime minister in his budget address indicated that they are going to put in a competent board.
"I'm sure whoever wrote that speech for him didn't have the slightest idea of what the competency is at BEC, so I would forgive him for that.
"But to me that was a slap in the face to the board and the chairman, that you would talk about the competent board.
"We saved the Bahamian people in excess of $15 million in overtime since we have been there... And we also cut down on the theft."
When PowerSecure assumes management of BEC it is expected that the current board will be dissolved.
It is unclear who will be appointed to the new board.
Davis said that decision will be finalized this week.
The government is also expected to finalize its agreement with PowerSecure this week.
One of the terms of the deal calls for the establishment of an entity, which will be known as Bahamas Power and Light Company, Davis said.
BEC's operations and assets, with the exception of its land holdings, will be transferred to that entity.
Bahamas Power and Light Company will be owned by BEC.

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Latest murder victim was on bail in relation to murder

June 23, 2015

A man who was out on bail on a murder charge and being electronically monitored was shot dead on Sunday night, Chief Superintendent Paul Rolle said.
Rolle said police were alerted by monitoring personnel that the man had not moved from a certain location for a while.
He said police found the victim's body in bushes off Cox Way, off East Street South, after 10:30 p.m.
Rolle said the man, a resident of Coconut Grove, was shot to the head and torso.
"We are appealing to persons who would have any information with this latest homicide to reach out to police and help us move this investigation forward," he said at the scene.
"We believe that the person responsible may have been driving a Nissan vehicle, possibly a Sentra."
The victim was on bail in connection with a murder that occurred on Abaco in January 2014.
The latest killing was the 71st murder to occur for 2015.

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Several Marathon residents concerned about health screenings

June 23, 2015

Several Marathon residents expressed concern yesterday about the government's efforts to screen them for health problems that could have been caused by a Rubis fuel spill more than two years ago.
While health officials have not confirmed the status of the screening exercise, several residents told The Nassau Guardian they had not been tested because of long waiting times or lack of awareness about the screenings.
The government said it expected health screenings, with the assistance of local clinics, to be complete by June 1.
Screenings were held on May 16, 17, 23 and 24, The Nassau Guardian understands.
Ted Forbes, owner of Picture 21 Studio, said after waiting for six hours at the Elizabeth Estates Clinic to be tested, he left.
He said health officials contacted him and arranged a visit to complete a questionnaire.
"If they could have called us and scheduled for us to see them at our home, why then, if you are going to do a serious testing at the clinic, why not call us?" he asked.
Forbes said his daughter also visited the clinic during one of the screening days and was not seen.
Brenneth Chisholm, a resident of Robinson Road for 34 years and owner of Fine Furnitures Upholstery, said he too was unable to get tested because of extensive waiting times.
"I don't know what is going on," Chisholm said.
"I went there, but I could not get tested. They said they would contact me and no one has called."
Trevor Sangster, a resident of Old Trail Road, said he had not been tested because of his work schedule, but would seek to get tested this week.
Latoya Hanna, a resident of Soldier Road North, said she was tested at the Elizabeth Estates Clinic after being invited to do so, but understands many residents are still waiting to be contacted.
Hanna, spokesperson for Justice for Marathon, said she believes residents were not properly informed about the testing and it was not properly organized.
"I was tested and the results came back normal, but I was denied a hard copy of those results," she said.
"I questioned about further testing... I asked the nurse and the doctor present if we would be contacted in six months or a year.
"I was told by the doctor and the nurse that because my results came back normal there is no need for any further testing."
Ministry of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Glen Beneby and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Delon Brennen were said to be out of the country until the end of this week.
Glenn Wells, who lives off Old Trail Road, said he has only heard "talk and more talk" about the health screening.
He said he was not aware that screening was being conducted at the clinic.
"Two ladies were here from Environmental Health, I think, and they asked a few questions and I filled out some forms, but nothing else," he said.

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Jury picked in murder, attempted murder case

June 23, 2015

A jury was yesterday impaneled in the case of a 35-year-old man accused of murdering a woman with whom he allegedly had a relationship and the attempted murder of her male friend.
Oman Ferguson, of Munnings Drive, is accused of killing Tracey Rolle and attempting to murder Renardo Moncur on January 12, 2013.
Rolle, who was wearing an ankle bracelet, and Moncur had just arrived at a home in South Beach around 4:30 a.m. when a man kicked in the front door and began stabbing them.
Justice Vera Watkins released the jury until Thursday at the request of Ferguson's lawyer Ian Cargill.
Raquel Whymms is the prosecutor.

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BTC union rejects industrial agreement proposal

June 23, 2015

Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) President Bernard Evans said yesterday the union has reached an impasse with the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) over aspects of its new industrial agreement.
Evans called BTC's final proposal a "slap in the face".
The union's previous agreement expired in April 2014.
The new agreement would cover a three-year period.
According to Evans, BCPOU members unanimously rejected BTC's final proposal during a meeting last week.
"The next step from a procedural standpoint is to write the Ministry of Labour and management of BTC to let them know we are at an impasse," Evans said.
"The Ministry of Labour will get involved to try and remediate, to see whether or not there can be movement between the two [sides].
"Failing that, we will have to seek a strike vote.
"The members are pretty much ready to do whatever to ensure they get a fair deal."
Evans said the union proposed a base salary increase, beyond a performance-based increase, to reflect the increased cost of living.
The union proposed a five percent increase per year over the lifespan of the contract.
In its final proposal dated June 9, BTC offered employees a lump sum of $2,700 or $900 per year.
"To suggest $900 for each year in the contract is really a slap in the face," Evans said.
"...The government's contracts for ZNS, the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), Water and Sewerage and Bahamasair far exceed, in terms of value, what BTC is offering us now."
BTC also proposed a six-day working week.
Employees would be provided with a lump sum equivalent up to four times their annual increment with a total cap of $5,760.
There would be a premium of $150 for working on a Sunday. This is intended to cut down on overtime, according to Evans.
He said while the union understands the desire to cut overtime, management needs to put more money behind the new schedule.
"We are going to give up a lot in terms of our way of life, having enjoyed a way of life for so long," Evans said.
"They are asking us now to change it, and so, it should come with significant recognition and value."
Evans said with redundancies looming over employees and the new agreement outstanding, tensions are high and morale is low.
He said the union wanted to sign off on an agreement sooner to potentially provide any additional benefits agreed upon to employees made redundant.
BTC is engaged in a redundancy exercise as it prepares for competition in the cellular services market.
The downsizing follows a "failed" voluntary separation package drive.

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