Nassau Guardian Stories

A contradiction in public policy

September 08, 2014

It is important for political leaders to be consistent when advancing legislation related to fundamental rights and discrimination. For members of the public to come along with the cause, they need to believe that their leaders believe in what they are saying, what they are doing.
A contradiction exists between the policy positions of the government on the issues of constitutional reform regarding citizenship, and gaming liberalization. On the one hand, we are being urged to support the end of gender-based discrimination when it comes to the passage of citizenship. But on the other, Bahamians will still not be able to enter casinos and participate in an activity visitors to their country can enjoy.
This inconsistency is glaring and should not exist in a 21st century Bahamas. Visitors should not have rights we do not. The government's decision to create a two-tiered gaming sector - web shops for Bahamians and casinos for foreigners - undermines the message it is pushing in the effort to fix archaic parts of our constitution.
There should be gender equality
I'm a big supporter of the gender equality reforms being proposed by the Perry Christie-led government - which are also supported by the opposition. I see no credible argument against the changes to our supreme law. Many who oppose these steps forward are stuck in a bygone era when misogyny and bigotry were mainstream.
The laws are simple. Two bills seek to extend equal rights to women in the passage of citizenship to their children and spouses. Another extends to single men the ability to pass citizenship on to their children, just as women now can. The fourth bill seeks to end discrimination based on sex.
"The changes to the constitution foreshadowed by these bills will not only help remediate the problem of structural gender inequality and discrimination in our country but will also assist in bringing greater inclusiveness and cohesion to family structures while at the same time ensuring that The Bahamas lives up to its international obligations in these matters," said Prime Minister Perry Christie at the presentation of the bills in the House of Assembly on July 23.
Leader of the Opposition Dr. Hubert Minnis also noted the importance of the equality push.
"Though there is much which divides us in this place, let us speak with one voice when the issue is equality before the law," he said in the House on that same occasion.
"Let us, Mr. Speaker, speak as one in this place. If we can do so, we will signal to every Bahamian and the watching world our unified commitment to the advancement of human dignity in our beloved Bahamas."
Minnis went against this view a few weeks later, before supporting it again. We shouldn't hold the flip-flop against him too much, however. He did the same thing in the run-up to the gambling referendum. He was for legalization, then urging abstinence, before being against it. Vacillation and flip-flopping may just be his style.
Right-thinking Bahamians know that it is time for us to move beyond laws that give advantages based on sex. The problem is that there are many in our community who are stuck in the mindset of the past. Consequently, there is a need for a proper educational campaign on the importance of equality and ending gender-based discrimination.
We must remember where we came from as a people. The Bahamas is a majority black country. Institutionalized racism was the order of the day in the pre-majority rule era. It was then postulated that blacks were of a lower dignity than whites and they should therefore not be entitled to all the privileges of human dignity and citizenship.
That thinking was wrong then. It is wrong now to advocate that Bahamians should have fewer rights than their counterparts just because of gender.
The message stalls on gambling
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, who is responsible for gaming, presented the Gaming Bill in the House on Wednesday.
The law would allow Bahamians to gamble in web shops and foreigners in hotel casinos.
The government was criticized for creating the discriminatory system.
"For me or any member of the government or opposition to come into this place and perpetuate discrimination against its own people who put them in this place, in my view, is a non-starter. It's unacceptable and it does not, in my view, demonstrate a commitment to modernization," said the PLP MP for Fort Charlotte Dr. Andre Rollins, last week in an interview.
"Nobody who has been given the remit to come in this place to represent the Bahamian people should be perpetuating discrimination against its own."
I suspect two reasons dominate why this two-tiered system was created. Some Bahamians do not believe that "regular" Bahamians know how to "behave" in the presence of our foreign guests. They think Bahamians would pose a security threat to guests if allowed in casinos.
The other reason pertains to financial interests. The web shop owners want a captive audience. They do not want to have to share their customers with the foreign casino owners. By creating this divide, Bahamians become their exclusive market.
For whatever reason, it is wrong to perpetuate discrimination as national gaming policy. This wrong then turns to hypocrisy when those who are selling equal rights also defend barring Bahamians from casinos.
Coherent policy
In the last few months, Christie's government has moved some of the most significant legislation since independence. The VAT Bill marks a restructuring of our tax system. The constitutional reform bills, if successful, would right a wrong entrenched in our supreme law. The Gaming Bill legalizes a form of gambling for Bahamians, who are now barred totally from the sector.
As we move through these and other momentous shifts in governance and our laws we must hold to coherent guiding principles. If it is wrong to discriminate based on gender, then it is also wrong to bar Bahamians from entertaining themselves in casinos while others can do so.
The state should not herd us to the gaming bosses. And all the wannabe-moralists who rail about the evils of gambling should accept that adults have a right to spend the money they work hard for on the recreational activities of their choice.
It's a shame that we are not ending discrimination totally via these two initiatives. It will probably take another generation of politicians to make the necessary change to allow Bahamians to have the full rights that travelers enjoy on our shores.

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Rollins must find a new political home

September 08, 2014

When Dr. Andre Rollins, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) MP for Fort Charlotte, stood up in the House of Assembly in March of last year and proclaimed that he was "absolutely 100 percent heterosexual", I thought his political career was over. That was an odd and unnecessary thing to say in a deeply homophobic country.
Rollins, who is now married, should not have felt it necessary to proclaim his manhood. He allowed opposition low blows to get to him. He showed he could be easily rattled.
Three months later, the deputy leader of the Free National Movement (FNM), Loretta Butler-Turner, slapped Rollins in that same House. He said something she thought deeply offensive and the Long Island MP took a swing that connected. It was a blow the whole country was talking about.
At this point, Rollins was about as low as a politician could go. His one term in frontline politics seemed like it would end with him being the joke of Parliament.
Things have changed, however.
Rollins has emerged as the leader of the backbench. He has also become the most articulate critic of his PLP and its leader, Prime Minister Perry Christie.
Crossing the line
In the months following, Rollins spoke up against what he thought were the errors in the PLP's tax policy with value-added tax (VAT). He spoke up against discrimination in the party's gaming policy. He challenged the party's leadership over its criticisms of young MPs who break away from the PLP's line. He asked if his party was living up to its 2012 election promise to "Believe in Bahamians".
Things started to get heated in August when Rollins opposed some of the constitutional reform legislation on gender equality. He went head to head with Christie at several points, not backing down from his leader, who is also the longest-serving member in our legislature.
Things were tense. And it all came to an end in the House of Assembly with a few words.
"The political threats uttered by the prime minister and minister of finance this morning left me with one impression, and that is we need new political leadership in The Bahamas," said Rollins while contributing to debate on the VAT Bill on August 20.
"When a leader and minister of finance, and prime minister, could take a debate as important and critical to the pockets and wallets of the Bahamian people, a debate as critical as that, where he could spend most of his contribution threatening members of this side, it is evidence that we need new leadership."
Rollins even ridiculed Christie's speaking style.
"I know that a lot of people will be angry at me for saying this, but I will say it," he said.
"The prime minister's statement earlier today, and he consistently refers to Psalm 103 where he says, 'Our lives are like grass', etc.
"We have heard it a million times now, and quite frankly I am tired of hearing it. The reason I am tired of hearing it is [because] when I want to hear scripture read repeatedly, I go to church."
In our political system an elected member of a party should be expelled from caucus for attacking his leader and saying the country should be rid of him.
Backbenchers should criticize government policy. Parliamentary democracy is enhanced when this happens. What Rollins did went beyond that, however, as was noted by the deputy prime minister, Philip Brave Davis.
"It pains me to note that the member for Fort Charlotte crossed the line today," he said in the House in response to Rollins.
Davis explained his conclusion.
"He crossed the line because I think he called the prime minister's leadership into question. It's his right to do that. I will defend his right to be right or wrong. I defend that right. I defend his right to be right or wrong," he said.
"And he could do that, but he has crossed the line having questioned the leader in his motives and in fact, suggesting that he should no longer be leader. I think he has an honorable thing to do."
Rollins did not do "the honorable thing" and resign as chairman of the Gaming Board. He was fired from the post two days later.
While Christie has not moved for Rollins' expulsion from the PLP, a party he has led for nearly two decades, the Fort Charlotte MP should know there is no chance he will get another nomination from that party to run again under its banner.
Rollins should make a strategic decision now to hitch his wagon with the political movement of his future. He's done in the PLP.
An articulate critic of the prime minister
Outside of the PLP, there's the Free National Movement (FNM) and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA). The FNM is the official opposition with eight elected members. The DNA has no seats in the House, but it won 8.5 percent of the vote at the last election.
Let's start with the FNM.
Dr. Hubert Minnis is the party's embattled leader. He is not charismatic. He's not the best speaker. His recent repetition of the phrase "a quagmire of web" in Parliament is all the proof you'd need of that.
Minnis will have to defend his leadership next year. Butler-Turner will likely be his most serious challenger. The winner of that race should take the party - barring another surprise leadership change - into the next general election.
Rollins, who is 38 years old, wants to be leader. He wants to be prime minister. If he joined the FNM, he and Theo Neilly, the North Eleuthera MP, would be the party's only 30-somethings elected to the legislature.
Rollins is smart. He is a good speaker. He is passionate. With some discipline, learning to be a team player and building alliances among the party's elite, the Fort Charlotte MP would have a chance to pursue his dream on that side. There is, of course, no guarantee he would ever come close to leadership in the FNM. But, he'd be able to try at least in a place with deep roots and an extensive base.
Now, let's look at the DNA.
Branville McCartney, the DNA's leader, needs to build momentum. His party has stalled from where it ended at the 2012 general election.
If Rollins joined the DNA, he would automatically be the party's leader in the House, being its only elected member. This would boost the profiles of both sides.
The problem here is ego. McCartney views the DNA as his party. I do not think he would be able to share the spotlight with Rollins, who thinks of himself as quite special. McCartney would fear that DNA successes would be linked to Rollins and not him.
If the men could put aside their vanity, it could be a win-win.
A voice that is connecting
The Bahamas has some challenges. The crime rate is high. The unemployment rate is high. The cost of electricity is high, and the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) can't keep the lights on. Taxes are going up. Many Bahamians feel as if they can't catch a break in their own country.
Rollins' challenge to the prime minister and his party is resonating with voters. He appears courageous in being willing to stand up to a man who is more powerful.
I don't think Rollins planned the journey he is on. He appears the emotional type. When he gets stirred, he speaks and what comes out probably surprises him at times. Nonetheless, all the bluster and all the words have moved him in profile to the head of the class in his generation of politicians.
Rollins should not waste this moment. In politics, grand opportunity often only visits once. He should begin talks, if he has not already done so, with the party of his future. He should maximize his time remaining in this Parliament with his new colleagues, further sharpening his skill as a critic of the government.

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Still relevant

September 08, 2014

Timing in politics is so important. If you are patient and strategic you can end up as leader. Hastiness and unbridled ambition lead would-be kings to miss their thrones.
By creating the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and leaving the Free National Movement (FNM) history may show that Branville McCartney ultimately made the wrong move at the wrong time, preventing him from ever achieving his great dream of being our prime minister.
McCartney left the FNM in March 2011. He was the Bamboo Town MP and a junior minister in Hubert Ingraham's Cabinet. By all accounts, the young man had a bright future. He was well spoken, charismatic, good looking - these being some of the necessary superficial traits for success in politics.
McCartney gave the usual reasons for leaving, saying he needed to follow his conscience, etc. But the truth was that he no longer was able to restrain his ambitions under the rule of Ingraham.
His departure had a consequence. Ingraham, a man who does not take political slights lightly, cut up the Bamboo Town constituency in the 2012 election. It was not the same seat McCartney won five years earlier. That factor, and having to face three opponents, made McCartney a third-place finisher in the race to retain his seat. The winner, Renward Wells, a new Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) convert, ended up with nearly twice the number of votes as McCartney.
Looking back, if McCartney had humbled himself, stayed with the FNM and Ingraham had left the old Bamboo Town intact, he would have won his seat. He would have been one of the few FNMs to make it to the House of Assembly. Just winning would have made McCartney someone considered to succeed Ingraham as leader.

Where he is now
McCartney's DNA won 8.5 percent of the vote in the last general election - an admirable effort for a new party. But that tally was not enough to win any seats.
So, Bran is in the political wilderness. He is not a member of Parliament. He is not a senator. He is not in Cabinet. The well-liked politician has been relegated to issuing press releases and holding press conferences out of his law office. But is this enough to keep the party relevant in the eyes of voters?
The truth is that the DNA is fueled more by a negative than a positive. It is a New Providence-based protest movement against the leadership of the two main parties and their leaders.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, the DNA's great message was, "If you are tired of Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie, and the FNM and the PLP, come with us." The party's message is quite similar today. All you have to do is insert the name Minnis for Ingraham in that slogan.
Rather than being a party to choose, the DNA's identity is defined by the desire of the Bahamian people to vote against the status quo.

The limitation of being a protest movement
Being a New Providence-based protest movement will not make the DNA the next government of The Bahamas. The party may get a few more votes if the two unpopular leaders of the two main parties, Christie and Minnis, remain. But a bump up from 8.5 percent to 12 percent of the vote would make little difference in the DNA's status.
Bahamians are deeply conservative people. Regionally we were late to independence. We voted against women's rights in the 2002 referendum. We are afraid to vote to end gender discrimination now.
The last time we had a third party make an impression was when the opposition coalition fractured in the lead-up to the 1977 general election. The Bahamas Democratic Party (BDP), led by J. Henry Bostwick, came out as the official opposition, with the FNM placing third.
McCartney's movement is different. It is not part of an established broad-based coalition. The DNA is about McCartney's ambition and disgruntlement with the current political choices.
Is the DNA still relevant? As it stands today, only as a spoiler in New Providence. The party has no traction in the Family Islands. McCartney has not shown since the general election the ability as a leader to significantly expand his party with well-know talent and capacity.
When he announced months ago that Rupert Roberts, one of the wealthiest Bahamians, joined the DNA, momentum could have been gained by subsequent high-profile additions. This has not happened.
Our democracy is expanded when people like McCartney come forward to challenge the established players. Winning, however, requires more than ambition. The DNA is nowhere near winning at this time - it might not even be near being able to win a seat.
A showing at the next general election where the DNA attains a respectable minority vote and no seats would all but end the party. Its leader's star would dim as a result too. The young man so many like would then be a middle-aged, two-time loser who was unable to transform his passion into votes.

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Former Atlantis VP loses dismissal case over 'gross misconduct'

September 08, 2014

A former vice president (VP) of operations for Atlantis has lost a claim of wrongful dismissal against her former employer after the Industrial Tribunal said there is a "preponderance of evidence" that she schemed with others to sell and upgrade rooms against policy to the financial detriment of the company over many years.
The Industrial Tribunal said Ingrid Higgs' claim that she was not treated fairly by being denied a review board hearing over her dismissal was not admissible, since any hearing of her case would have been a "fait accompli" in the circumstances.
According to evidence brought before the tribunal by the Island Hotel Company Ltd. in defense, Higgs was accused of working with a group of other employees at Atlantis' Royal Towers, where she was VP of operations, and with the assistance of "a host of persons loyal to her" including members of her church, to sell and upgrade rooms, contrary to policies, for personal gain and to the detriment of the company.
Island Hotel Company is the company which holds the hotel license for Royal Towers and is the official employer of all of its staff.
IHC alleged that rooms would be booked in the names of certain employees at discount employee rates, only to be sold on to other non-employees and upgraded. Among those who stayed in the rooms were individuals by the names Adrian Fox and Sebastian Bastian, according to evidence in the case.
Higgs "steadfastly" denied any wrongdoing in the matter, said the Industrial Tribunal, in a September 4 decision. The senior employee, who rose from her first position of front desk agent in 1995 to hold the VP post, claimed that she had been "predetermined" to be guilty and was denied a chance to see the investigation that led to her termination.
Higgs' job, for which she earned a salary of over $93,000 at the time of her dismissal, made her directly responsible for room inventory and ensuring that no one circumvented established procedures or deprived the company of revenue by improperly upgrading rooms or "selling" rooms for personal gain or profit.
Higgs was accused by senior staff who testified that she used her "position/authority and unique knowledge" of the company's systems to ensure the activities were not likely to be uncovered.
A senior vice president and general manager at the hotel said that in all of his 42 years of experience in the industry he "could not believe the creativity employed by (Higgs) in circumventing the (company's) policies".
IHC brought a slew of witnesses who testified over suspicion of such a scheme dating back to 2009 and extensive investigations into the matter. Evidence from that internal investigation suggested at least $760,000 was lost between the years 2008 to 2011 as a result of the alleged scheme.
The decision to summarily dismiss Higgs from her post was taken at the "very highest levels" in meetings that ultimately included Atlantis President George Markantonis.
Dismissing Higgs subsequent wrongful dismissal claim, Industrial Tribunal President Harrison Lockhart said he was "satisfied on a preponderance of the evidence that the [company] honestly and reasonably believed that [Higgs] had committed a fundamental breach of her contract of employment" and was guilty of gross negligence and/or misconduct over the alleged scheme.
"The tribunal is satisfied that the [company] conducted an eminently thorough and reasonable investigation of [Higg's] conduct prior to arriving at its conclusion that she had been guilty of gross misconduct and/or gross negligence.
The Industrial Tribunal noted that, following this investigation, the company had been satisfied that Higgs wrote off legitimate charges for friends and family and failed to report and discipline a male employee "who was loyal to her and who had committed a sexual assault against a female employee".
The conclusion was reached by the tribunal in its decision that Higgs was not treated unfairly "in any way shape or form" by being denied a review board hearing for her case as it was "pellucidly clear from the evidence that the very highest levels of management (including its president) were completely in sync at all material times with the investigation" into Higgs, along with her suspension and ultimate dismissal.

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Chamber warns of 'massive litigation' over BEC

September 08, 2014

The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) claims the government will face "a blame game between all parties involved, huge cost overruns and massive litigation" unless it awards a contract for the responsibility of generation needs to an entity with an "impeccable track record".
Commenting following the latest announcement by KPMG (Bahamas) regarding the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) reform process, the chamber also expressed disappointment with the government for continuing to "remain so secretive" with regard to information about BEC, saying the KPMG (Bahamas) release on the reform process "leaves as many questions unanswered as it answers".
Last Wednesday, KPMG (Bahamas) stated that the government now plans to create a new company, owned by BEC, into which the assets and operations of BEC will be transferred. The company will have two divisions - one for transmission and distribution and one for generation. Generation may be "split" from this company at a later date, said the company.
It added that negotiations will now be entered into for a management agreement, which will cover issues such as optimization of existing assets, installation of new "dual fuel" generation capacity and fuel supply agreements.
Suggesting that the government has entered into a "final negotiation" phase with a short list of bidders, KPMG (Bahamas) said it is intended the process would conclude by November.
No further information was provided on who the remaining bidders are, or on their proposals.
In a statement, the BCCEC questioned the announcement, claiming it left much to the imagination. The organization has, to date, been critical of the secrecy surrounding the BEC reform process, suggesting a decision so important should not be made without greater information sharing and input from the wider private sector.
Speaking yesterday via the statement, the BCCEC called on the government to ensure it negotiates with "a respected and highly experienced company".
This, it suggested, would be one which would "own the entire process from design to operations, one who has built and continues to operate numerous plants successfully and with whom it can demand accountability and a lower costs of electricity, as benchmarked in the BCCEC Oxford Economic Study (22 cents per kilowatt hour)."
If the government opts to move forward with a company offering a price higher than this, the people of The Bahamas "will deserve a detailed explanation", added the chamber.
It added: "The private sector and many others are interested in a transparent process that clearly articulates what the ultimate cost of electricity will be to the consumer; that electricity will be provided on a more reliable basis than it has been in the past; that environmental issues are addressed; that Bahamians will be involved in the construction and operation of the facility; that Bahamians have the opportunity to invest in any new venture; and that government-owned monopolies that are not competitive, efficient and or profitable are sold to companies that are experienced in running them in this fashion.
"Anything less is unsustainable long term and risks pushing the country, businesses and citizens into greater economic hardship. The country, nor its businesses or people, are in any financial position to get this process wrong. It is imperative that competitive electrical prices are attained in the very near future in order to foster GDP growth, reduce unemployment and reduce our national debt."
Last week Guardian Business learned that the government has yet to select a "preferred bidder" in the Bahamas Electricity Corporation's request for proposal process, but has narrowed the field to four in a move which has excluded a U.S. bidder - Caribbean Power Partners - whom the U.S. government had vigorously supported and whom the chamber had partnered with on a report.
That report, which demonstrated its bid, could provide major cost savings and a huge growth boost over the 25-year life span of the project.
China State Construction and Engineering Corporation is among the four remaining bidders, however Guardian Business has been informed that the government is sensitive to the potential risks - both in terms of its relationship with the U.S. and otherwise - of handing the nation's control of its power generation to a foreign state-owned entity.

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Govt's PPP call already generating inquiries

September 08, 2014

The government's recent request for expressions of interest (EOI) in large-scale infrastructural projects has already generated considerable interest, according to the minister of state for investments.
Speaking recently with Guardian Business, Khaalis Rolle stated that the initial private sector response to the proposal, which involves forming public-private partnerships (PPP) between the government and private development firms, had been largely positive ahead of the September 30 EOI deadline.
"We've had quite a number of inquiries...wanting to know how to participate and what level of funding the government is looking for... The reality is that the government just doesn't have the capacity to meet its obligations in terms of infrastructural development," stated Rolle.
He argued that the country's antiquated infrastructure, particularly insubstantial airports, poses a significant risk to several high-profile developments in the Family Islands moving forward, including Cat Island, the Exumas and the Berry islands.
"We have 28 airports, and with all of the developments that are taking place throughout the Family Islands, we need to upgrade these airports. We have some massive developments taking place in Exuma, and the airport in Exuma, as it exists now, is completely inadequate.
"Investors are very concerned about what it's going to take to make their developments work. The government does not have the fiscal room to fund these things, so we're looking for ways to be creative," said Rolle.
While the current request of EOIs outlines infrastructural projects, including roadwork and airport upgrade projects in New Providence and certain Family Islands, valued at $175 million, Rolle
noted that other facilities were desperately needed.
"We don't have the luxury of waiting until the fiscal consolidation plan reaches its peak in terms of reducing the deficit. These things require immediate attention," claimed Rolle.
The government's list of requested PPP projects all include a minimum investment value of $15 million.
The government's plan to engage in PPPs has been well received from members of the private sector. Coalition for Responsible Taxation co-chair Gowon Bowe suggested last week that the PPPs could ironically force the government to adopt greater measures of fiscal responsibility through direct involvement with private sector companies.
The PPP model involves private investor financing, building and maintaining public infrastructure in exchange for an annual payment from the government or other assurances from the government, such as Crown land.
Rolle added that the government was still considering its reimbursement options, stating: "We're looking at the structure for reimbursement as we speak. It may be in government bonds; it may be a combination thereof."

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Smith: VAT rate increase in 2015 unlikely

September 08, 2014

An advisor to the government and a former minister of state for finance has said he doubts that there will be an increase in the rate of value-added tax (VAT) applied in its first year of implementation.
James Smith told Guardian Business that the government should allow time for the "systems to settle in" before moving to make any changes of this nature.
What ultimately happens will be dependent upon at which stage the government decides it will join the World Trade Organization (WTO) - an initiative which will require it to lower duty rates, which are presently at levels considered prohibitive to trade by the WTO.
Minister of Financial Services and Trade Ryan Pinder has stated this year that WTO accession negotiations were on track to conclude in 2015, putting The Bahamas in a position to join the trade body over a decade after it first initiated steps to do so.
At present, The Bahamas remains one of a small minority of countries which have not joined the organization, a fact which places it at a competitive disadvantage in attracting trade and investment, claim Pinder and others.
Smith, chairman of CFAL, said that The Bahamas may be easily able to put off joining the WTO in order to prioritize seeing how VAT plays out once implemented on January 1, 2014.
He said that, in his opinion, the "attitude for one world order in free trade has dampened" of late given the "sluggishness with which the world is emerging from global recession".
"So arguments for it have generally lost their thrust," he said, adding: "I think the external pressure that would've been coming from certain countries to join, I don't think that's going to intensify."
In an interview with The Tribune in June, John Rolle, the Ministry of Finance's financial secretary, acknowledged that the proposed 7.5 percent rate would have to rise to compensate for the customs/excise tax cuts that will be required for full World Trade Organization (WTO) membership.
Asked whether the VAT rate would soon have to be increased, the Financial Secretary said "the experience" with the tax in its initial six months would be a key determinant.
"It's difficult to put a timeline on when that will happen," Rolle said of a VAT rate increase. "There is expectation that it will happen in the not-too-distant future."
The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation via its Coalition for Responsible Taxation fought hard to have the government lower the rate of VAT from its initial level of 15 percent to 7.5 percent.

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Gaming Bill 'first step' toward 'economic equality'

September 08, 2014

A lawyer for five major numbers houses has claimed that last week's tabled Gaming Bill represents a "significant first step" in creating economic equality within the country's gaming industry, despite lingering concerns of discriminatory elements in the legislation.
Alfred Sears, former attorney general and representative for FML, Island Luck, Island Game, Chances and Asue Draw, argued that a transition period following the passage of the Gaming Bill is in the "best interest" of the economy.
"The bill represents a very significant first step in dismantling historic exclusion within the gaming industry...I would have preferred that the bans of Bahamian patrons [gambling in or owning casinos] were removed immediately, but I understand that the government has to consider the impact on the economy.
"Especially at a time when the economy of the Bahamas has been downgraded...From a public policy standpoint, I can understand why such a move would have to be done with a careful review of the impact on the economy," said Sears.
Chief among Sears' concerns were continued bans against Bahamians from owning casino licenses, and tax discrepancies between foreign-owned casinos and local web shops.
"Bahamians who engage in the same activity as foreign entrepreneurs ought to be treated equally. If there is a preference, it should be in favor of the Bahamian entrepreneur," said Sears.
The 2014 Gaming House Operator Regulations stated that web shops will be taxed at a rate of 11 percent of taxable revenue, or 25 percent of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, depending on which is greater.
Sears additionally hoped that the legislation would adapt to allow Bahamians to own and operate casinos, while also providing Bahamians the right to gamble in casinos.
"It is unconscionable in 2014, given the significance of gambling in our economy, that we have not had any Bahamians granted a casino license with all of the incentives and cash contributions that all of the casinos in our country enjoy.
"But I applaud the government for providing the mechanism for this to be done in a reasonable amount of time...Within this new framework, Bahamian entrepreneurs in the gaming industry will be afforded the opportunity to own casino establishments," said Sears.
In response to concerns of discrimination within the bill, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe pointed out that Section 69 of the Gaming Bill authorized the minister responsible for gaming to remove the restriction on Bahamians gambling in casinos and foreigners from gambling in web shops.
Sears stated that concerns over the minister's powers outlined in the section were "disingenuous", given the country's current gaming legislation.
"It is disingenuous to say that giving the minister certain powers is a departure from the existing law," said Sears, noting that the current gaming law contained similar provisions.
However, Sears remained confident that all concerns would be addressed in the near future.
"The bill is only the beginning in terms of creating economic equality," claimed Sears.

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Sears: Web shop license restriction needed to avoid 'proliferation of web shops'

September 08, 2014

Provisions to restrict the number of web shop licensees under the most recent draft of the Gaming Bill will ease the regulatory burden placed on the government and avoid the "proliferation" of web shops, according to a lawyer representing five major numbers houses.
Alfred Sears, former attorney general and representative for FML, Island Luck, Island Game, Chances and Asue Draw, commented on the unclear future of small web shops, arguing that the license limit was in the country's best interest by regulating the number and location of web shops.
"[The restriction] is generally expected in terms of avoiding the proliferation of web shops on every street corner or school areas... It promotes greater efficiency of regulatory supervision that is consistent with global practices," stated Sears during an interview with Guardian Business.
Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe earlier claimed that the government would likely issue licenses to no more than eight web shops following the passage of the bill, which would likely force smaller web shops to close.
"The goal is to ensure that the regulatory capacity is not overwhelmed, while still remaining competitive," stated Sears, noting that lowering the burden on regulators would increase the efficiency of tax collection.
Sears' remarks followed last week's tabling of the 2014 Gaming Bill in the House of Assembly, which stated that web shops would require a government invitation to apply for gaming house licenses.
Section 3 of the Gaming House Operator Regulations, 2014 reads: "No gaming house operator license or gaming house premises license may be applied for, other than in response to an invitation to apply for such licenses issued by the board, with the concurrence of the minister."
While the bill will undoubtedly cut down on the number of web shops in the country, Wilchcombe has suggested that the number of licensed web shops may change according to demand. The bill additionally reads that all such invitations will be issued in the form of a request for proposal (RFP).

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Service boost as Resorts World Bimini completes ferry terminal

September 08, 2014

Bimini is set to receive an influx of visitors at Resorts World Bimini with the completion of the first phase of a port facility built by developers Resorts World Bimini and an announcement that it will receive passengers via the ferry service six days a week from Florida.
With the completion of the controversial North Bimini Ferry Terminal, whose progress was challenged in the courts by environmentalists and concerned citizens out of fear that it would damage the surrounding marine environment and diving industry, Resorts World Bimini said that guests will now be able to spend up to six hours on Bimini.
Prior to the construction of the terminal, passengers would have to be brought by tender from the ferry to the island, cutting down on when and for how long visitors could come to the island. Now that the terminal is complete, passengers can disembark directly onto the island.
"The completion of the port at Resorts World Bimini further enhances our commitment to the island, offering guests more time in port and uninterrupted cruise service during the winter months," said Dana Leibovitz, president of Resorts World Bimini. "Growing demand for cruises to Bimini among passengers hailing from Broward and Palm Beach counties, and points north, has led us to add service from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale during the week. This move will make our day cruises even more accessible to the South Florida market and increase the economic impact to the island of Bimini."
The cruises will begin September 18, 2014.
The company announced that Bimini SuperFast will complement its current Friday, Saturday and Sunday cruise schedule from Port Miami with a weekday schedule from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale to Bimini every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday beginning October 14, 2014.
The round-trip cruises will depart Port Everglades each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 9 a.m., arriving directly to the new port at Resorts World Bimini and returning to Ft. Lauderdale at 9 p.m. that evening. Bimini SuperFast will continue to sail from Port Miami three days a week, Friday through Sunday.
Phase one of the new port, which includes a temporary customs and immigration facility, brings many benefits to the island and provides day-trip visitors with more time to enjoy Bimini's miles of white sand beaches and the resort's six restaurants and bars and world-class casino.
Phase two of port construction will feature permanent facilities for customs and immigration; the third and final phase of construction of the port will include a new beach experience, offering guests the opportunity to enjoy a variety of water sports onsite, as well as a restaurant and beach club, and a craft market.

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Law firm to be represented at China Offshore Summit

September 08, 2014

Two Callenders law firm partners will head to Shanghai next month for a major offshore financial conference on wealth and asset management, expected to attract some 500 advisors and professionals serving China's fast-growing population of high net worth individuals.
Senior attorneys, trust and asset recovery specialist Courtney Pearce and aviation and development specialist Llewellyn Boyer-Cartwright, will attend the China Offshore Summit where The Bahamas is set to figure prominently. Set for October 15-16, the summit is aimed at providing China's burgeoning wealthy population with the latest information on maintaining and growing the mounting capital being amassed by the world's fastest growing economy.
"As China's economy has exploded over the past decade, it has given rise to a generation of high net worth individuals who are intent on identifying the safest places for investment," said Pearce. "They may be new to financial markets, but they are very sophisticated, very savvy and very cautious. Because of that, we believe that The Bahamas is ideal, as we are both an attractive place to invest and a great place to reside, at least part-time."
The Bahamas has another distinct advantage over other jurisdictions - a wealth of experience, said Boyer-Cartwright.
"Financial service providers in The Bahamas have spent decades developing and fine-tuning an array of wealth management and asset protection products that we are able to offer to those who now find they have the need for such products but have not yet developed the requisite financial infrastructure," he said. "Our history and experience speak for themselves. The Bahamas has been successfully managing more than $1 trillion in global wealth while meeting ever-greater regulatory requirements."
According to China Offshore, which organizes the conference, "By the end of Q3 2013, China had reached annual non-financial ODI (outward direct investment) levels of 87.3 billion and over 1.2 million in identified HNWI (high net worth individuals). These figures accentuate both the opportunity and the challenge present for local and international practitioners to deliver reliable 'offshore' solutions to their mainland clients."
This is the fourth year of the conference, which has been billed as a "premium platform for information exchange, business development and much-needed education for Chinese intermediaries in this burgeoning market." The need to find counsel and investment opportunities is so pressing that there are daily stories of wealthy Chinese persons paying cash for million dollar high-rise apartments in some of the world's most expensive cities because of a belief in the safety of external real estate investments.
The Ministry of Financial Services and the Bahamas Financial Services Board will also be in attendance at the China Offshore Summit as part of comprehensive outreach efforts in Asia that also include events in Hong Kong and Beijing.

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FNM to oppose Gaming Bill

September 08, 2014

Branding the Gaming Bill as a "violation of every principle of trust", Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday announced that the opposition intends to vote against it.
"Having taken the nation through a meaningless public relations exercise and opinion poll called the gaming referendum, and having committed to respect the results of that failed referendum, [Prime Minister] Perry Christie has shown that his word as the nation's leader cannot be trusted," Minnis said at a press conference at FNM headquarters on Mackey Street.
"His word means nothing, especially when it comes to rewarding alleged campaign financial backers and guarding their privileges.
"The Gaming Bill itself is nothing short of a charter for law breakers and the select few, in that it legalizes previously criminal acts and
provides a statutory
advantage to existing law breakers."
In explaining the opposition's decision to vote against the bill, Minnis said the Christie administration has violated "every principle of trust, accountability, transparency and fairness" owed to the Bahamian people.
He made a similar argument in March when Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe announced that the government planned to regularize web shops in The Bahamas.
The move went against the results of the January 2013 gambling referendum where the majority of voters who participated voted against the regularization and taxation of web shops.
Prior to the referendum, Christie pledged to abide by the results.
As pointed out by Minnis, the day after the referendum Christie ordered web shops to cease their gaming operations with immediate effect or face prosecution.
Minnis said the prime
minister has the gall to table the Gaming Bill without having the courtesy to apologize to the Bahamian people. In an interview with The Nassau Guardian, Christie admitted that if he had the opportunity he would have done things differently and moved to regularize web shops without going to referendum.
The government intends to tax and regulate web shops retroactive to July 1.
Minnis also said yesterday if the FNM is successful in becoming the next government, his administration would legislate that referenda, including non-constitutional referendums would be binding.
The failed gambling referendum cost taxpayers just over $1.2 million.
"It is the settled view of the FNM that as a matter of principle and a matter of good governance, whenever the government submits a question to the people in a referendum it must be legally bound to accept the results," Minnis said.
Minnis slammed both Christie and Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade for failing to act after the gambling referendum in the interest of the Bahamian people with respect to web shops.
As it relates to the particulars of the Gaming Bill, which was tabled last Wednesday, Minnis said the bill does not allow Bahamians who have no current involvement in the industry to apply.
Under the bill, any applicant for what will be called a Gaming House Operator License, must be invited to apply by the Gaming Board.
He said this provision gives a distinct advantage to a select few.
"This is so, because the members of the Gaming Board would have no way of knowing which persons, who have not been previously involved in the illegal web shop rackets, might now wish to become involved in the business unless they employ a psychic to help in reading minds," Minnis said.
The opposition leader also took exception to the continued discriminatory clause in the bill that prevents Bahamians from gambling in casinos or utilizing their mobile gaming services even if they are guests of that hotel.
Fort Charlotte MP and former Gaming Board Chairman Dr. Andre Rollins also recently criticized the bill, claiming it would enable corruption by giving the substantive minister too much power.
He also likened the continued discrimination in the bill to South African apartheid.
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, who also has responsibility for gaming, last week acknowledged that the Christie administration does owe the Bahamian people an apology for not abiding by the results of the referendum.
He also pointed out the new bill allows the minister to make laws to circumvent the discrimination built in to the legislation.
Debate is expected to begin on the Gaming Bill on Wednesday.

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PM: Stem cell research application approvals expected this month

September 08, 2014

More than a year after Parliament passed the controversial Stem Cell Therapy and Research Bill, Prime Minister Perry Christie said the government has completed the accompanying regulations and expects to begin approving applications for stem cell centers this month.
In an interview on Thursday, Christie told The Nassau Guardian that he expects Cabinet to approve stem cell regulations tomorrow.
Following a tour of a boutique hotel on Rose Island, Christie said, "The stem cell regulations are on the agenda of the Cabinet now.
"They have been completed. They have been seen by experts who we had retained, who contributed to their making, like the University of Miami."
Christie did not say how much the government spent to engage the consultants to advance the regulations.
"The Cabinet will approve them without any doubt whatsoever on Tuesday next," he said.
"And then, at the first available opportunity, and why it is critical that we move it is because we have applications waiting to be approved.
"And so, therefore, one can anticipate that the stem cell environment will be initiated within the month of September.
"Applications will begin to be processed. And where most certainly the group in Grand Bahama, who have spent over $10 million and are waiting for approval, [will] have their application processed."
The prime minister was speaking about an institute in Grand Bahama that is looking to treat coronary artery disease using cardiac stem cell therapy.
Christie has said stem cell regulations will ensure the highest standards of research and treatment are adhered to, to ensure, on the medical tourism front, that there is no doubt about standards in The Bahamas.
In March, Christie said the University of Miami was studying the application of stem cells to seven different diseases with the approval of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
He said the dean of the medical school has agreed to be a part of the administration of the laws and regulations in The Bahamas.
"This will give us all the international credibility we want," Christie said.
"And they have a researcher who they recruited from Johns Hopkins University, who is a fellow of the University of Miami in charge of stem cell research.
"He will be on the National Ethics Committee that we appoint, made up of Bahamian and foreign physicians to, again, give us the credibility we want."
Parliament passed the Stem Cell Therapy and Research Bill in August, 2013.
The law is meant to place strict limits on the practice and to set up scientific review and an ethics committee to police the sector.
Bahamian heart surgeon Dr. Conville Brown has said he plans to open a stem cell center once the relevant laws are passed.
As of December, the government had four or five applications before it for stem cell centers, according to Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez.
Christie indicated that quite a bit of interest has been expressed, but believes people are waiting for the regulations to be passed before they apply.

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Gibson: NHI report complete

September 08, 2014

The government has received a report from international consultants on the projected cost for the implementation of National Health Insurance (NHI), according to Minister of Labour and National Insurance Shane Gibson, who suggested that, based on the report, NHI is doable.
However, Gibson did not reveal the projected cost of NHI.
The government engaged Costa Rican accounting firm Sanigest Internacional in April to come up with the overall cost for NHI.
"Sanigest are just about winding down now," Gibson told The Nassau Guardian in a recent interview.
"They have just given us their first draft. We are reviewing it now.
"Once we have completed the review, then, of course, we will make recommendations to our colleagues."
When asked whether NHI is doable based on the contents of the report and the government's research, Gibson said, "No question.
"Like everything else, we expect there will be challenges because we are moving into a new era of trying to provide universal health care. [We are] trying to upgrade all of our infrastructure, trying to put all of the backbone in place to make sure the system is in place to ensure that it is not personality driven, but an efficient system."
Asked whether the draft report surprised him, Gibson said, "No. The thing about it is they have very extensive terms of reference.
"Of course, [there were] some things we knew, but once you see it, it sort of brings everything back into focus again.
"The information was very, very useful to us, and we should be on a good path to bringing universal healthcare to The Bahamas.
"I think what they did will really help us to put everything that needs to be done into focus because there are a number of things we must do. Some things in the short term and some things in the long term. We appreciate that and think that the report is very timely."
The government has said it expects to introduce NHI in January 2016.
Gibson said he believes the government is on course.
He said once Cabinet reviews Sanigest's report, it will meet with the company to make recommendations, if any, and move from there.
While NHI has not been implemented, the National Prescription Drug Plan is being administered through NIB.
NHI was previously estimated to cost $235 million annually.
The projection was made years ago, under the first Christie administration.
Gomez and Gibson have acknowledged that the cost is expected to be significantly higher now.
Gibson said even with the best efforts to reduce the cost of NHI, it would present a challenge to the government.
While Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez previously pledged to make the report and its findings public, as well as the cost to engage Sanigest, Gibson has said the government would not make that information public immediately.
"National Health Insurance right now is being funded by the National Insurance Board," Gibson said in June.
"Once we implement it fully then we will release everything. We don't want to release it piecemeal because we won't know the final costing until it actually happens.
"It would be premature for us to really start releasing figures prior to the implementation of National Health Insurance.
"We would know of course what it is costing, but that would be introduced in course to the public."
NHI has been proposed as a means of providing universal access to affordable healthcare for Bahamians.

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Bahamian human smuggler pleads guilty in U.S.

September 08, 2014

A 35-year-old Bimini resident faces up to 25 years in a U.S. prison for attempting to smuggle 18 Brazilian and Haitian nationals into Florida in July.
George Rolle pleaded guilty in a Fort Lauderdale federal court last week to one count of encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the U.S. and one count of illegal re-entry by an aggravated felon.
He returns to court for sentencing on November 14.
Rolle was deported in 2011 following another failed smuggling venture that resulted in multiple deaths.
According to court documents, in 2006, a boat rescued Rolle and four immigrants
after their boat capsized 30 nautical miles off Fort Lauderdale on April 21, 2006.
The body of Rolnique Metayer, a Haitian national, was found near the capsized vessel. The bodies of two others, John Fitzgerald Lewis, a Jamaican, and Haitian, Yves Jean, were never recovered. They are presumed dead.
Rolle was to receive $9,000 after the immigrants arrived, according to court papers. He was sentenced to 60 months in prison.
In the recent case, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircraft on patrol on July 14 spotted Rolle's boat traveling west from The Bahamas toward Fort Lauderdale.
Authorities said Rolle's vessel was running without its lights and attempted to evade before a border protection vessel fired seven shots at its engines to disable it.

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No inquest for Saunders' custody death

September 08, 2014

Shortly after Tyrone Saunders was found dead in the lock-up at the Central Detective Unit, police promised that the circumstances of his July 2012 death would be made public in a coroner's inquest.
However, according to attorney Christina Galanos, who represents Saunders' estate, she was recently informed that a decision was made not to hold an inquest.
Galanos told The Nassau Guardian that she received a letter from Acting Coroner Jeanine Weech-Gomez informing her that former Coroner Linda Virgill had determined that an inquest was not necessary.
The Coroner's Act mandates the holding of an inquest where a person dies in a place of detention.
Saunders was in custody on suspicion of murder.
Inquests into the circumstances of the deaths of Aaron Rolle and Jamie Smith, who died within hours of each other in February 2013, were held within months of their deaths amidst public outcry.
A coroner's jury found that Rolle, 20, who died from a ruptured intestine caused by a beating while in custody, was killed unlawfully. A determination on whether authorities will prosecute based on the jury's finding has been put on hold pending an appeal.
The officers involved claimed that Rolle attacked them after confessing to housebreaking and armed robbery. They said they used to force to subdue him after he tried to escape through a louvered window on the second floor of the Quakoo Street Police Station.
Smith was placed in a chokehold after he allegedly attacked four officers when he allegedly tried to escape from the Central Detective Unit after confessing to two armed robberies. He died from asphyxia, or a lack of oxygen.

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Two arrested in web shop money murder probe

September 08, 2014

Police have arrested two men in connection with one of the country's most recent murders, head of the Central Detective Unit (CDU) Superintendent Paul Rolle said yesterday.
Rolle said police were questioning a 29-year-old and a 19-year-old in connection with the August 12 killing of Prince Prudent.
Prudent, a father of two, had just collected money from a web shop in Nassau Village at 8:45 a.m. and was on his way to collect money from another, when he was killed in an armed robbery.
Police said Prudent was driving west along Sapodilla Avenue, Pinewood Gardens, with a car behind him providing security, when a gold Honda Civic sped up and blocked his path on Willow Street.
Two armed men reportedly exited the Civic and sprayed Prudent's car with bullets, hitting him multiple times.
The men then ran into his car and grabbed a bag that had Prudent's personal effects, but not the cash.
The occupants in the car following Prudent then got into a brief shootout with the suspects.
Police said they were able to recover the money.
Relatives at the crime scene described Prudent as a non-confrontational and fun-loving person.
Rolle said officers acting on information picked up the 19-year-old of Cowpen Road on San Salvador sometime on Friday. He was transported to New Providence and turned over to CDU for questioning.
According to Rolle, officers from the Flying Squad, acting on intelligence, went to Taylor Street around 1 a.m. yesterday and arrested the 29-year-old man.
The 19-yr-old is expected to be charged in connection with Prudent's murder today.

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Police: Witness anonymity helping with assistance from the public

September 08, 2014

A senior policeman says that providing anonymity to witnesses in qualifying offenses has given people the confidence to assist in investigations.
Assistant Commissioner Anthony Ferguson told The Nassau Guardian yesterday, "If you look at the matters before the courts, persons are making themselves available. Anonymity has given people the confidence to come forward."
The Witness Anonymity Act, which came into force in November 2011, allows investigators and prosecutors to shield the identities of witnesses at the investigative stage up to the trial.
While defending the drastic law during debate in the House of Assembly, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham referred to the murder of Robbie Rolle, who was shot multiple times during a home invasion on October 18, 2011.
Police suspect that the gunmen were in search of a witness to a murder earlier that year
He said, "It is my information that they tried to kill him before. This is the second attempt to kill this man, and they killed the wrong man".
Prosecutors can apply for anonymity orders in cases such as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery while armed with a firearm, dangerous drugs, terrorist acts and trafficking in persons.
Anonymous witnesses testified in the recent murder trial of alleged leader of the East Street based Border Boys gang, Tony Smith, last month.
The witnesses testified from an undisclosed location via videolink and used false names. Their faces were obscured by an opaque screen and their voices were altered mechanically.
A jury acquitted Smith of the charges.
An armed robbery case against Valentino Bastian and Charles Pandy collapsed last year after the alleged victim refused to appear because a judge refused a request for him to testify via videolink.
The witness believed that the defendants were members of the One Order gang.
Justice Vera Watkins ruled,
"The court has no information on the article of association or purpose of this organization. There is no information with respect to the activities of the organization. There is no basis for the court to arrive at any decisions with respect to this organization. It follows, therefore, that the court cannot find 'John Doe' is a vulnerable person, as contemplated by the schedule merely because 'John Doe' believes that the accused men are members of the notorious 'One Order' gang."
In 2012, Keith Bell, the minister of state for national security, told the Senate that 25 witnesses have been killed in the past five years.

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Time to come clean on BAMSI

September 08, 2014

Dear Editor,
Prime Minister Perry Gladstone Christie really needs to come clean and tell the Bahamian people what is really going on with the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) in Andros. The leader of the opposition, Dr. Hubert Minnis has caught him off guard again and he needs to step up now.
For a politician who lacks acumen according the critics, Minnis is besting Christie at every turn.
He checked him on the referendum legislation. He has asked questions about value-added tax (VAT) that this administration can't seem to find answers for, and now BAMSI is being exposed as a $27 million waste of tax payers' money.
He has the PM ducking; the chairman of the PLP is fumbling for an explanation. The president of BAMSI, Godfrey Eneas, is lost for words, and Dr. Ian Strachan of COB is being set up as the fall guy on the opening of BAMSI and how it is being structured.
Roberts said that the leader of the opposition doesn't understand policies, but perhaps the PLP chairman can explain to the people of The Bahamas what the PLP's policy on is on agriculture, if there is one.
Truth be told, the last reasonable policy on agriculture was under the UBP when the produce exchange in Nassau was the marketing and distribution center for agricultural and marine products throughout The Bahamas.
The farm complex on Potter's Cay is a sad and sick indictment on a government that claims to have a policy on producing quality food for Bahamians. Up until the mid 1960s, Exuma and Long Island produced all the mutton consumed in The Bahamas. Now our mutton comes mostly from old wool sheep in Australia.
Exuma, Eleuthera and Cat Island farmers produced some of the best tomatoes, pineapples, watermelons and citrus to be found anywhere, and the Ministry of Finance would impose flexible tariff rates on imported produce. Exuma, Eleuthera, Abaco and Cat Island once exported produce as far away to the U.S. and England; now, they can't truck produce a half-hour's drive to hotels that populate their islands.
Our traditional farmers need assistance in modern farming techniques. We have the perfect soil and climatic conditions to support a wide variety of growing techniques, including greenhouse agriculture, but what farmers need is real advice on how to grow the foodstuff that the modern consumer and the hotel industry needs. Nearly every county in the world subsidizes agriculture to some degree, but perhaps we are too sophisticated to do that in The Bahamas.
Nearly every country serious about agriculture supports research facilities that provide farmers with extensions services, with qualified and trained experts. There are no such experts in the Family Islands and when they do make an attempt to provide such services it is again a party supporter with no training or background in agriculture and who takes his or her cue from the current minister, who visits farms in his polyester suit.
Real assistance to farmers is not forthcoming from this government. The Ministry of Agriculture is a ministry of processing permits for large-scale food importers and friends and relatives of PLP supporters. This year the government allocated $7,000 for land clearance for farmers in Exuma. This is an insult - perhaps the PM should take the $9 million they are allocating to the already disliked Carnival and assist farmers with land clearance and irrigation programs.
Perhaps the minister of agriculture can also explain to the Bahamian people the permitting process for the landscape of Baha Mar and who received the $12 million contract to import plants from Florida.
The prime minister, Roberts and V. Alfred Gray should first answer the leader of the opposition's questions on the cost overruns on BAMSI: where the student body is to be drawn from, and why did it cost $27 million to construct an educational complex to host a mere 50 students?
If they could get through that then they should come back to the Bahamian people and tell us of their government's true policy on agriculture, but there is none, and there never was one.
The people of The Bahamas should remember that BAMSI is being built on the old BARTAD site, which was a $6 million independence gift to the people of The Bahamas from the government of the United States and which was designed to change agriculture in The Bahamas. It was built around a training and research center with thousands of acres of cleared land for satellite farms.
It didn't work because politics entered the equation. The farmland was distributed along party lines to PLP supporters who had little interest or inclination in modern farming. One of the biggest land recipients was a relative of the then deputy prime minister.
We should also remember who the minister of agriculture was in the last days of BARTAD when starving cows were dying in the roads in North Andros. It was our own current prime minister.
The PM should also explain the relevance of an association with the University of Miami, a school not noted for agricultural research. Perhaps the University of Florida at Gainesville would have been a better fit, or even Tuskegee, the alma mater of the BAMSI president.
Christie needs to come clean and answer the questions put to him by the leader of the opposition, Minnis, who every day is proving to be a politician with insight, integrity, imagination and conviction, and who, if he can muzzle his chairman, can rebuild the FNM to be the next government of The Bahamas.
- M. Thompson

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