Nassau Guardian Stories

Cop on child porn charge

January 23, 2015

A police officer was yesterday charged with one count of child pornography.
Edmund Lewis Jr. appeared before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt.
Constable Lewis was charged with producing child pornography between July 2014 and January 21, 2015. He was not required to enter a plea and was remanded to Her Majesty's Prisons until March 9.
Ferguson-Pratt asked Lewis if he was a serving member of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and he said 'yes'.
"I ask because you will be remanded and I am aware that security issues may arise," she said.
"Your counsel has not made an application but the court will alert the superintendent of prisons that you are coming so that you can be as safe as practical."
The charges stem from scores of sexual videos circulating on the Internet showing a man having sex with multiple females.
Attorney Yolanda Rolle represented Lewis.
Lewis' fiance was also in court and at one point mouthed to him, "I love you". She left the courtroom before he was charged.
Ferguson-Pratt stared Lewis down and told him that he was "doubled over and bent over" and hoped that he was "embarrassed".
"I make no comment on whether you are innocent or guilty," she added.
"But you are from an esteemed organization. A matter like this should never come before any court."
Lewis spent most of the time with his head lowered and fought back tears as officers cuffed him.
Before he was escorted to the holding cells, Lewis' fiance told him, "Be strong, EJ."

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Second officer arrested in sex tape scandal

January 23, 2015

A second police officer was arrested in relation to a sex tape scandal that led to Police Constable Edmund Lewis Jr. being charged in court, Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade said yesterday.
The officer, who Greenslade said is also a constable, will "in all probability" be charged with an offense, he said.
Lewis was charged before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt yesterday with one count of child pornography.
Scores of videos depicting explicit sexual acts with a man and multiple women have been widely circulated on the Internet since Thursday.
Greenslade said Lewis and the other officer were still employed with the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
"We suspect, based on the conversations that we have been having, we expect to see far more complaints and so this appears to be an investigation that may be very protracted but it is going to be very deliberate and very focused," he said during a press conference at police headquarters.
The commissioner said police were inundated with complaints about the videos.
When asked how this incident reflects on the RBPF, Greenslade said he did not want to comment on the specific matter.
But he said where officers "run afoul" of the law, police will take swift action.
"I am not going to accept any behavior that falls below the standard, which is expected of law enforcement officials in this Bahamas," he said.
"I am not going to give refuge to anyone that commits a criminal offense or certainly any act that is egregious to cause the public any disaffection towards us."
He added that there are scores of officers who are decent and hardworking.

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Government working to bring youth unemployment 'to its knees', says minister

January 23, 2015

Lamenting the state of unemployment in the country, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Dr. Danny Johnson said the government is working to bring joblessness among the nation's youth "to its knees".
According to the Labour Force Survey that was released this month, youth unemployment rose by three percent between May 2014 and November 2014.
The national unemployment rate is 15.7 percent while youth unemployment is 31 percent.
"I'd like to see youth unemployment somewhere in the teens and general unemployment around six or seven percent," Johnson said in a recent interview. "That's our goal. It's a lofty goal, but that's the goal that we're trying to set and that we're reaching toward."
Officials have attributed the high rate of unemployment among young people over the years to a lack of experience when entering a competitive labor market, in addition to other factors.
"We have to remember, every year several thousand kids come out of high school who may not be equipped for the work force and who the work force may not be able to absorb," he said.
"So you will see some fluctuation in those numbers. But we will not be happy until youth unemployment is down."
Johnson said the National Youth Policy seeks to address the issues facing the youth including unemployment and crime.
"We want to impact the largest group of people in the country who are affected by crime, who are affected by underemployment, who are affected by immigration issues. These people are between the ages of 16 and 25. So it is our desired result to have a focus on the youth agenda this year," he said.
"If you look at the youth policy you will see that the policy is designed to attack exactly that group of people with exactly that series of issues. And so we're excited about this year because we're going to focus on youth and we're going to implement that policy. We're going to see a reduction in unemployment, a reduction in crime and a reduction in immigration problems."
At a CARICOM meeting in Guyana last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell said the government believes "culture and sports" point the way to the future in addressing human development and youth unemployment.
"It is the hope of our prime minister that we will have a detailed discussion on the issue of human development and, in particular, addressing the question of youth unemployment; their sense of despair and hopelessness," Mitchell said.
"In his statement most recently in China at the CELAC meeting, he opined that if we do not address this issue, we do so at the peril of all of our societies.
"The Bahamas believes that culture and sports point the way to the future."
Johnson agreed that sports and culture could be a part of the answer to the country's youth unemployment problem. He said both areas provide people with the opportunity to find self-employment.
According to a draft report of the CARICOM Commission on Youth Development (CCYD), youth unemployment in the region is among the highest in the world.

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BEC reform decision delayed again

January 23, 2015

A decision on the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) reform process has been delayed until Prime Minister Perry Christie returns from the United States, where he is expected to meet with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on energy reform in the Caribbean, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis said yesterday.
Christie is traveling to Washington, DC this weekend to attend the first ever Caribbean Energy Security Summit. He is expected to return next week.
Davis said while the task force that is responsible for the reform process has completed its work, there are a few issues that Christie wants to address.
"There are one or two Is to be dotted and Ts to be crossed," Davis told The Guardian. "The prime minister has indicated that he's having a meeting next week with the vice president of the United States of America where energy will be discussed as the topic and he thought before they make the announcement perhaps he should hear what they are saying about this aspect of energy in the whole Caribbean.
"So we think we are where we want to be and it's only a question as to those things happening."
The decision has been delayed multiple times.
When Christie announced the decision to restructure BEC in August 2013, the government proposed a timeline for reform, which would have seen private companies launch their operations by May 2014.
Asked about the multiple delays, Davis said it's important that the government make the right decision.
"First of all, it is a monumental step we are taking and I think we want to ensure that what we are doing is in the best interest of the Bahamian people," he said.
"And we are listening and assessing and evaluating. When any question arises, we attempt to get answers to those questions before we make the final decision. But you will get a decision very, very shortly."
Earlier this month, Davis said the company that has been identified to manage the troubled utility company will also "provide some needed capital on the basis that it does not add to our national debt".

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Govt pledges support for maritime academy

January 23, 2015

Government officials yesterday said the country's first maritime academy, which opened its doors in October, has the potential to create a "new pillar in the Bahamian economy" and pledged support for future expansion efforts.
The academy is expected to create up to 3,000 part time and full-time jobs, officials said.
Prime Minister Perry Christie, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis, Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin along with several other ministers toured the LJM Maritime Academy on Crystal Cay, near Arawak Cay.
The $30 million facility welcomed its first batch of Bahamian students last year and its founder, Lowell J. Mortimer, said the school is hoping to attract international students following the expansion project.
Hanna-Martin underscored the impact that such a facility will have.
"We are a maritime nation," she noted. "This has the potential to take the country forward as a quantum leap.
"It's going to create a new pillar for our economy. It's going to stimulate new desires in our people and it's going to open new horizons for the Bahamian people. This has the potential to be such a pivotal force in the maritime development in our country.
"I'm very excited by this. It points out that our people are poised to take on the world."
The Bahamas is home to the world's fifth largest maritime registry. Nearly 1,500 ships around the world carry the flag of The Bahamas.
The academy offers two program options including a 36-month nautical science deck/navigation program and a 39-month marine engineering program.
"This is an extraordinary stepping stone to new careers," Christie said shortly after the tour ended.
He said the school will also help to empower Bahamians.
"This is so integral in preparing our people."
Christie said given the potential impact the school will have, the government will review what assistance it can provide ahead of phase two of the project.
"We will review with you the extent to which we will collaborate with you," he said.
Mortimer, said he will look forward to getting assistance from the government as he seeks to position the school to become "the premier maritime campus worldwide."
Mortimer said the $45 million project has been broken down into three phases.
The Simulation Block, which is complete, was built during the first phase at a cost of $30 million. The block consists of several classrooms, a workshop, engine room, library, a bridge simulator room, and administrative office along with a firefighting similar block.
A $6.26 million residential campus, maritime museum and an on site restaurant are proposed for the second phase of the project.
Phase three will comprise construction of an administration building and recreational spaces, estimated to cost $8.8 million.
The school welcomed 41 students, comprised of high school graduates from New Providence, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama and Abaco.
Mortimer said officers from the Royal Bahamas Defense Force will also train at the academy using the special simulators.
He said the school is the second of its kind in the region and though new, it has already surpassed international standards.

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Tax reforms and fiscal accountability

January 23, 2015

Dear Editor,
Well, those of you who are reading this contribution to national dialogue are to be congratulated in that we would have arrived safely into 2015. We in this wonderful nation have much to be thankful for. Yes, the economy is picking up a bit slower that some of us would like but we are still doing a whole lot better, economically, than all other countries in this region save for the great U.S.A. and Canada.
It is also to be conceded that we have ongoing challenges with our educational and health care facilities but, again, we are far ahead of all countries in the Caribbean and, indeed, even some European nations. Our literacy rate hovers above 60 percent even if the celebrated national grade average is a D. Education straight through high school is still free and is accessible to all who reside within The Bahamas, regardless of nationality.
Our infrastructure in New Providence has been greatly enhanced thanks to the road works done under the last Ingraham administration, even if there were massive costs overruns.
Potable water in New Providence and many of the Family Islands remains a debilitating challenge.
Our tourism product is in a mediocre state and it must be addressed now. With the proposed improvement of relations between the U.S.A. and Cuba, the handwriting is on the wall for the sustainability and relevancy of our tourism industry, despite the false optimism of many. The opening of Cuba could result in a dramatic decline in our tourist arrivals based on the mystical allure of that nation.
On balance, however, I am more than convinced that 2015 will be a banner year for our nation if we strive to ensure real tax reforms and demand fiscal accountability from our political directorate, across the board. Our national debt is pegged in excess of $6 billion. The annual deficit is rumored to be around $500 million per year and counting.
More revenue is needed to deal with both of these but our leaders have to demonstrate that they are able to work within a balanced budget and account for every cent spent on our behalf. It is alleged that some $500 to $700 million is owed in outstanding Real Property taxes. What is the plan, if any, to recover these monies?
Millions of drugs allegedly have gone missing from within our public health care system and an audit was done but nothing further has been heard or revealed about this. Why?
Ministers make frequent trips abroad with large delegations at the public expense but we are told absolutely nothing. What are the results of these trips?
The civil service and government corporations are used as political tools by all administrations to secure support and/or to provide jobs for colleagues. As it stands now, over 65 percent of all governmental revenues are used to pay the wages and salaries of these people. Add wastage and cronyism to this and we have a toxic financial situation.
I invited this government, which I basically support, to let us get on with the business of the people but we must demand real tax reforms and certainly fiscal responsibility and accountability. Tax reforms should be real and designed to encourage private sector growth and revitalization.
The long awaited Freedom of information Act must be brought into force. I doubt, however, that the enactment of that legislation will do much, if anything, to encourage our political leaders and senior civil servants to be more accountable to the people.
The year 2015 is here and there is much work for all of us to do. Serious allegations of bribery and corruption have, traditionally, been made but in the absence of credible proof, the beat will continue to go on.
In the meantime, however, let us call for real tax reforms, economic stimuli and fiscal accountability. Happy New Year and, in all things, to God be the glory!

- Ortland H. Bodie Jr.

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Where was Minnis

January 23, 2015

Dear Editor,
In watching the coverage of the opening of the much-needed Critical Care Block at Princess Margaret Hospital, I noticed a strange thing. There were many senior politicians and important persons in attendance, but one person seemed to be conspicuously absent.
Certainly, Prime Minister Perry Christie and his team were center stage, as would be expected, but where was opposition leader Dr. Hubert Minnis?
Could it be that Minnis decided not to show up? Perhaps he wasn't invited.
Could it be that the coverage by the press purposely left the leader of the opposition out of the frame, in the case of ZNS, on orders of their political controllers?
This, it must be said, seems unlikely. Particularly as the governing PLP does not seem to fear Minnis and would probably not see the need to go out of their way to marginalize him.
Meanwhile, everybody knows they are terrified by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.
Yet Ingraham joined Christie at center stage during the ceremony.
On the surface, it is fitting that Ingraham and Christie - the man who initiated and began the Critical Care Block, and the one who saw it through - should share the limelight on this day.
At the same time, all Minnis supporters should be worried by his absence or marginalization on such an important occasion. As every Bahamian knows, once you take a back seat to Ingraham, it is difficult to be seen as the driver once again.
- F. Bain

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Stingrays and Pros set for gridiron battle

January 23, 2015

In the first game of the Commonwealth American Football League's (CAFL) playoffs last Saturday the no. 1 seed and CAFL Pennant winning BaOilco Jets dismantled the fourth ranked Kingdom Warriors 54-0. Today things are expected to be much more competitive when the number second ranked V-8 Fusion Stingrays take on the no. 3 seed Orry J. Sands Pros. Kickoff for the opening round matchup is set for 1:30 p.m. at D.W. Davis.
CAFL President Mel Ferguson says that the teams' contrasting styles of play will make for a very intriguing matchup, and that he feels this game will be decided in the final few minutes.
"The Pros come equipped with some very sound players," he said. "Their running back Jamaal (Coleby) is very good, he leads the league in scoring and he has been doing extremely well. At quarterback they have Renaldo Dorsett, who is a very solid quarterback that can do a number of good things with the football. What I look forward to when the Stingrays play is their defense. They have an awesome linebacking core that has been doing extremely well, and I look forward to seeing how that turns out."
The Stingrays finished the regular season with a win/loss record of 4-2, while the Pros finished 3-3.
The team that wins the game will take on the Jets in the Boil Fish Bowl on January 31.
In last week's game, the Jets scored early and often. They overpowered the Warriors' defense on almost every down and found success in the air and on the ground.
Jets Head Coach Tito Bethel credited the team's improvement to his decision to place the team in the Bahamas Flag Football League (BFFL) during the offseason.
"The BFFL kept the players together and playing for over six months," he said. "Whether this will help the team to win it's first CAFL title in over 40 years is yet to be determined."
Ferguson says that the Warriors' inexperience showed in the game and throughout the season, but feels that they will get better with time.
"It's the Kingdom Warriors first year back in the league and it has been a little rough for them, but they're a good young team" he said. "Probably in a couple of years or so you will be hearing from them."
Jets Quarterback Philmon Rolle was named as the game's most valuable player. He completed 12 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns; he also had 98 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.

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Lyford Cay International School prepares for Football Fest

January 23, 2015

The Lyford Cay International School (LCIS) is preparing to host the third annual "KPMG Football Fest" on Jan 30 and 31. Almost 150 players from international schools across the Caribbean and The Bahamas will converge on the LCIS campus for two full days of competitive matches. More than 100 visiting 14 and under boys and girls will be hosted by LCIS families for a weekend of great football and camaraderie.
The event is sponsored again this year by KPMG with Subway and Thompson Trading once again providing food and snacks throughout the entire weekend. The two-day event will also be monitored by an EMT team from Doctors Hospital which will work alongside the LCIS school nurse, to ensure that all players and spectators are well looked after.
Seven international schools are attending the two day-event include: The Codrington School (Barbados), Cedar International School (BVI), The American International School of Kingston (ASIK, Jamaica), Cayman Prep (Cayman Islands), Lucaya International School (Freeport), St Andrew's School (Nassau) and LCIS (Nassau).
The tournament is part of the Caribbean International Schools Association's (CISA) plan to enhance sporting competition between international schools in the Caribbean.

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Operators cruise to easy win over the Saints

January 23, 2015

The Boomer G Operators made quick work of the Dee Saints in their New Providence Women's Basketball Association (NPWBA) regular season matchup on Thursday night at the D.W. Davis Gymnasium.
Antenique Young scored 18 points on 8-15 shooting in 24 minutes of action as the Operators cruised past the Saints, 71-41.
Keica Smith added seven points and a game high 12 rebounds for the Operators. Both Diasti Delancy and Chrishanda Rahming finished with eight points each, and Sherell Cash chipped in with six points and six rebounds.
The Operators jumped out to an early 7-0 lead in the first five minutes of action. They forced the Saints to commit several turnovers that they converted into points and boosted their lead up to 10 by the end of the first quarter, 15-5.
Another big run put the Operators on top by 12 points with 3 minutes to go in the second quarter. The Operators led, 31-15, at the break, as the Saints made just 5-20 shots in the first two quarters.
Young scored eight of the Operators' first 12 points in the second half in a stretch of just four minutes as the Operators took a 20-point lead, 46-26. The Saints never got closer than 16 the rest of the way with the margin peaking at 28.
The Operators shot 54 percent from the field in the game while holding the Saints to 41 percent. They also outscored them in the paint 14-6 and edged them on the glass 38-37.
Ball movement was also a major factor in the win for the Operators as they dished out 18 assists compared to just five by the Saints.
Keva Barry led the Saints with 15 points and five rebounds. Nikira Rolle finished with 10 points and Lakeisha Rolle came off the bench to score seven.
The NPWBA is scheduled to be back in action at the D.W. Davis Gymnasium with a double-header tonight. In the opener at 7:30 p.m., the Johnson Lady Truckers will take on the Boomer G Operators, and at 8:30 p.m., the Super Value Cybot Queens will take on the Saints.

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Critical Care Block opens

January 23, 2015

After months of delays, the new $100 million Critical Care Block at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) was commissioned yesterday.
During a grand ceremony at the new entrance of the facility, several officials said the commissioning marked the beginning of a new era for the country's oldest hospital.
It has been more than a year since it was originally scheduled for completion.
The Ingraham administration broke ground on the project in November 2011.
It was expected to be completed no later than June 2013.
During his remarks, Prime Minister Perry Christie acknowledged the presence of former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who sat in the front row.
"I remember in 2007 when I went to a particular opening and the Right Honourable Hubert Ingraham saw me in the audience," Christie said.
"He figured I was still a little pained. So, he looks at me and he says, 'Christie, some of us sow and others of us reap.'
"Former prime minister, it is with the greatest of pleasures that I look at you, acknowledge your presence, thank you for your presence, and say to you, this is an extension of the democracy you and I have both served."
Christie's statement was met with a round of applause.
He called the Critical Care Block the single largest financial investment in the public health system in The Bahamas since the construction of PMH over 60 years ago.
"We are therefore looking at a one shot investment of close to $100 million," the prime minister said.
"As I alluded, we have to believe and see that this money was well spent for a number of reasons."
During the months leading up to yesterday's commissioning the project has been rife with challenges, including a lack of funding for essential technology.
The facility obtained a $35 million loan from CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank for equipment and furniture late last year.
"I believe this compares, from the point of view of the physical edifice, with anything built in The United States of America; I think so," said Christie to another round of applause.
"And it is a reminder of how far we have come in terms of the level and quality of health care that is available in our public institutions.
"It comes at a cost. But in terms of the benefit and the quality of care, which this facility will provide, I believe this will far outweigh the cost."
Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez said as staff move into the new state-of-the-art facility, it is imperative not to lose focus on the quality of care that will be provided.
"As we move into our new critical care unit - despite the wonderful buildings we have and the wonder accommodations we have - it is so important that the quality of care delivered is of the same standard," he said.
"By using the quote from the 19th Century physician Sir. William Osler... 'The best care you can give a patient is to first care for that patient.'"
The facility boasts a new Central Sterile Department, 18 recovery beds and 20 private Intensive Care Unit rooms.
It also has 48 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit beds, new laboratory facilities and a main entry that is accessible to the disabled.
The People's Republic of China recently donated more than $570,00 worth of new state-of-the-art medical equipment and supplies to the hospital.
Chinese Ambassador to The Bahamas Yuan Guisen, Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling, several Cabinet ministers and Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis were also in attendance.

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Heather Hunt resigns from Senate upon request of Minnis

January 23, 2015

Free National Movement (FNM) Senator Heather Hunt resigned from the Senate yesterday after Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis asked her to.
Hunt said her resignation was in line with Minnis' decision that the appointments to the Senate would be for a period of two and a half years.
Hunt was sworn in as a senator in May 2012 along with former Pineridge MP Kwasi Thompson, former Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing and former Minister of Education Desmond Bannister, who was named leader of opposition business in the Senate.
In a statement, Minnis also said Hunt's resignation is consistent with the policy he announced in 2012 to periodically review the members of the upper chamber to allow for as
"many persons to serve as senators as could do so".
Minnis said he spoke with Hunt yesterday morning.
However, he made no mention of Thompson in his statement.
When asked whether the public should expect Thompson's resignation, Minnis declined to comment.
In the 2012 general election, Hunt ran on the FNM's ticket in Marathon and lost to now Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald.
She said yesterday she will now focus again on the Marathon Constituency Association with her sights on the 2017 general election.
"It has been a tremendous honor to serve my party and the people of The Bahamas in the Upper Chamber and I thank Dr. Minnis for the opportunity extended to me over the last two and a half years," she said.
"Indeed, it is the leader's privilege to appoint senators and equally to disappoint them.
"I look forward to continuing to work within the Free National Movement as we strategize to win the next general election.
"I fully expect to enjoy the support of my leader for my nomination as our party's standard bearer in the Marathon constituency.
"It is now left for me to give complete attention to the Marathon Constituency Association with an eye on 2017."
Minnis thanked Hunt for the "outstanding and important" role she played in the Senate.
He said he looks forward to her continued support and expects her to serve at a "high level in the next FNM administration".
Laing resigned in late 2012 for "deeply personal" reasons.
Weeks before Laing's resignation came into effect, Minnis spoke of his plan to introduce a rotation system with FNM senators.
"Our senators, some of them would have been informed that the policy we are moving with going forward is that we would have a rotation type procedure," he told The Nassau Guardian.
"They may only be in the Senate for two or two-and-a-half years.
"So, when we reach the rotation, those other 10, one can chose two or three out of that group depending on how many we're rotating.
"All senators would have been told that in advance, so we would not have to go through this because we'll know who the senators are going forward."
Former Bains and Grants Town candidate John Bostwick replaced Laing, but was fired in May 2014.
Defeated Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador candidate Michael Pintard replaced Bostwick in June 2014.
Bannister resigned in September 2013.
He previously said it was never his intention to remain in the Senate for a full term.
Former FNM Chairman Carl Bethel replaced Bannister October 2013.

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PLP MPs shut down bid for committee to probe nolle prosequi

January 23, 2015

Government MPs on Wednesday night unanimously rejected an attempt by Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn to get Parliament's approval to establish a select committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the granting of a nolle prosequi by Acting Attorney General Jerome Fitzgerald in 2012.
In December 2012, Fitzgerald entered the nolle in the case of George and Janice Hayes, who were charged with possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition.
While in opposition, Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson represented the couple at their arraignment.
"Everyone that I spoke to who has been an acting member of the cabinet said they would never, for one moment, have the need to go into an office to deal with a matter which is before the courts," said Lightbourn as he moved for the appointment of the select committee.
"It's shameful and this government wants to go and sweep it under the carpet and think it is just going to go away.
"I would have thought and expected that the members opposite would wish to support this application because if they do not support this then that would send a clear signal to the entire country that they would sweep anything under the carpet to support their friends, lovers and family."
Seconding the motion, East Grand Bahama MP Peter Turnquest said the request for more information on the matter is a "reasonable thing to do".
But Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez said what Lightbourn was asking of the House was "improper" and "dangerous".
Gomez suggested that the House has no right to intrude on the rulings of the attorney general.
He pointed to Article 78 of the constitution, which describes the functions of the attorney general.
Gomez pointed to section four, which states, "In the exercise of powers conferred upon him by this article, the attorney general shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority."
"In essence, what is being advanced by the loyal opposition is quite improper because what is being invited is the intrusion into the prosecutorial system of politics," he said.
"That is what in essence this House is being invited to do. This is a very dangerous thing to be advancing in our society.
"These things simply are not to be delved into by the House of Assembly.
"I am opposed to the motion and I urge the government to join me in voting against it."
But Lightbourn responded, "We have every right to ask for it."
Before the vote, House Speaker Dr. Kendal Major said there would "be no sweeping under the carpet from this chair".
"This House has the right and responsibility to air any matter of national import, notwithstanding member for South and Central Eleuthera what Article 78 says, the House still is duly bound to debate any matter," he said.
"A meeting of the minds of the leaders would have avoided this unusual occurrence today."
Every government member present, including Prime Minister Perry Christie and Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis, voted against the motion.
The Criminal Procedure Code gives the attorney general the power to halt proceedings at any stage of a trial before a verdict is rendered.
From 2013, Lightbourn has lambasted the government for not providing answers on the nolle.
Fitzgerald has said the matter had national security implications.
Christie had promised to share the file with Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis, but that has not happened.
"To me that is appalling," said Lightbourn, as members from the governing side heckled him from their seats.

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Lawyer says anonymity order in Latore Mackey murder invalid

January 23, 2015

A magistrate lacked the constitutional authority to issue an order sealing the identity of a witness to the murder of the prime minister's press secretary Latore Mackey, a lawyer argued yesterday. During a constitutional motion before Justice Bernard Turner yesterday, Geoffrey Farquharson, who represents the accused man, Delvin Deveaux, says this voids the order issued by Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt in respect of the matter on November 4, 2014. Deveaux and Dereck Neilly are charged with Mackey's murder on August 25, 2014.
Farquharson is seeking damages, costs and Deveaux's release. Neilly is not party to the application. Mackey was shot in the neck while driving his government assigned sports utility vehicle (SUV) on Market Street around 4 a.m.
Farquharson said that Deveaux was denied due process because he was not represented at the application for the anonymity order.
The application was made in chambers by the Crown without notifying the defense.
In response, Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Sandradee Gardiner said that if the magistrate lacked the jurisdiction to issue the order it could be discharged.
However, she said there was other evidence on which the charge was grounded.
Turner has adjourned to make his decision at a date to be fixed.

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PM: Mortgage relief failed because banks did not understand problem

January 23, 2015

The government has not given up on its failed mortgage relief plan, Prime Minister Perry Christie said on Wednesday night.
"You will find when we make the report on the mortgage relief program again, you will find that the reasons why we had a difficulty at first, the banks did not understand the depth of the problem and the extent to which consumer lending has really messed up the mortgage portfolio," said Christie in the House of Assembly Wednesday night.
The mortgage relief plan was a major pledge the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) made ahead of the 2012 general election.
"One of the most pressing challenges we faced and we still face is mortgage relief," Christie said.
"I remember all of the naysayers saying how we have failed, how we are debating all sorts of matters that are not relevant to the human condition and how we failed.
"We have to be judged on the time we have been allotted in our democracy, which is five years.
"I can tell you without fear of contradiction that my government has not given up or given in with respect to mortgage relief, that we are just as committed today as when we were elected, that we are just as anxious as the member for Fort Charlotte (Dr. Andre Rollins) with respect to results that are tangible and meaningful for people who are under served and who are challenged in their circumstances and who are the most disadvantaged people in our community.
"But we are infinitely closer to the results we set out to achieve. Those who wait, will not be waiting in vain."
In its original plan, the PLP pledged to get local banks to agree to a 120-day moratorium on foreclosures and to write off 100 percent of unpaid interest and fees for those facing foreclosure.
The PLP also said it would encourage banks to reduce the interest rate on the mortgages in question to prime plus one percent.
However, these details were not included in the modified mortgage plan, which was later presented to Parliament.
In a watered down version, the plan was projected to assist 1,100 homeowners.
But when the government implemented the program it helped fewer than 10, officials admitted.
The government allocated $10 million for that plan in September 2012.
According to the government, there were around 4,000 homeowners in arrears.

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Hall: Several voter's cards were stolen

January 23, 2015

Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall confirmed yesterday that five voter's cards were stolen from the Parliamentary Registration Department in December.
Hall was asked to respond to a statement from Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis, who called on the government on Wednesday to investigate an allegation that thousands of voter's cards were stolen in addition to the government seal.
"The report is not accurate," Hall said.
"We had an incident on the 18th of December, 2014. Some unscrupulous persons came to our department and moved about five blank voter's cards off a desk with no numbers on them.
"The matter has been reported to the police. The investigation is still ongoing and we will brief you when the matter is complete."
He confirmed that a seal was also stolen.
Asked if he is concerned about voter fraud, Hall said no.
"There's no concern for the next election because the color of the voter's cards will be changed."
The color of the voter's cards changes ahead of every general election.
Voter's cards are only used for a five-year period.
However, Hall acknowledged that those cards could be used if a by-election is called or in the event of a referendum.
The government intends to hold a referendum on gender equality on or before June 30, according to Prime Minister Perry Christie.
Hall said he's not overly concerned about the use of a stolen voter's card in the referendum either.
"A fake voter's card that did not go through the proper channels can't be used because the name would not be on the official register," he said. "If you steal something we would not have record of you, therefore you would not be eligible to vote."
Additionally, Hall said the department has copies of each registered voter's counterfoil, which includes a picture of that individual.
"So anyone who believes they can beat the system will be caught. We have counterfoils with every voter in the country," he said.
Hall said if the situation arises where a person presents a voter's card that doesn't match the records of the Parliamentary Registration Department, the police will be contacted.
Minnis, who addressed that matter as he concluded his contribution to the debate on the Electricity and Renewable Energy Amendment Bill, called on the government to reveal the details surrounding the theft.
"I need to know and the public must know how many cards were stolen and the numbers of the cards in terms of sequence, so that these cards would not show up at a later date.
"I'd like to have a report on the stolen cards, so as to ensure transparency moving forward."

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VAT and the proposed Freedom of Information Act

January 23, 2015

Dear Editor,

By your medium, I wish to ask the radio talk show pundits and some of the political leaders to explain to the consumers and merchants how a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) would help them with value-added tax (VAT).
As part of their cry that a FOIA will help us with VAT, some also say that they do not know how the money collected from VAT will be spent or cannot trust the government to spend the same.
More recently, even my bishop is reported to have called for the government to give a proper account of how taxpayer's money will be spent with the introduction of VAT. In reading the actual text of the bishop's speech, it become clear that he did not actually say these words.
Like all other taxes, VAT is required to be paid into the Consolidated Fund (see Section 12(9) of the VAT Act). Each year the Minister of Finance by Article 130(1) of the constitution is required to introduce in the House of Assembly an appropriation bill containing, under appropriate heads for the several services required, the estimated aggregated sums which are proposed to be expended (otherwise than by way of statutory expenditure) during that financial year.
In recent years, it has been the practice for the Minister of Finance to table in the House of Assembly the appropriation bill and other budgetary documents (the budget) on the last Wednesday of May.
The budget, inter alia, sets out how the government revenues are to be spent in the following year.
It must be noted that the budget is debated by both houses of Parliament in the month of June to coincide with the fiscal year which begins the first of July.
Any person concerned with how our taxes are being spent need only read the budget documents or listen to the parliamentary debate on the same.
While a FOIA in certain circumstances can be helpful to inform the public on certain matters, it is not the answer to or a magic wand for the myriad of issues facing the country. The pundits would appear not to have noticed or appreciated that Part III of the FOIA Bill exempted 10 classes of records from disclosure.
Furthermore, those who are expounding the implementation of a FOIA should consider certain provisions of the Freedom of Information Bill 2012 and in particular the new bureaucracy that will be needed to give effect to that bill or any other and the cost of implementing the same.
It may be more helpful to us at this time to require the government to establish fully the Public Procurement Department as provided for in the 2013 amendment to the Financial Administration and Audit Act 2010.

- Lester J. Mortimer, Jr., QC

P.S. The 10 exempted classes of records are as follows:
Records affecting security, defense or international relations, etc.;
Records relating to law enforcement;
Records subject to legal privilege, etc.;
Records effecting national economy;
Records revealing government's deliberative processes;
Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs;
Records relating to commercial interests;
Records relating to heritage sites, etc.;
Records relating to personal information;
Records likely to endanger health and safety.

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