Democratizing our public institutions

June 17, 2015

If Bahamians got through the implementation of value-added tax (VAT), they can get through anything. Thus the confidence I have in our ability to reform the public institutions that are charged with monitoring the integrity of our systems.
No matter how altruistic a person or persons may appear be, things happen. Well, politics happens! Even when we have persons in office that are less than worthy of being in charge of a slum village, let alone a thriving country, those who replace them often taste the power of office and find that the processes and institutions they once abhorred in opposition have become very, very useful and necessary.
That's life. That's people. That's the human element. This is why advocating for strengthening public institutions and democratization should be a priority.
There was an interview conducted on one of the local radio shows. The leader of the Democratic National Alliance, Branville McCartney, is advocating for the position of attorney general to be a stand-alone elected position.He made these remarks in light of recent events concerning the rules and regulations of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and a matter involving a sitting Cabinet minister appearing to interfere with a judicial and administrative matter.
He touched on the frequent impression of the Attorney General's Office having been placed in situations where it may have to investigate and give rulings on matters involving its leader's parliamentary colleagues.
McCartney's suggestion is indeed is a very progressive and comprehensive approach to democratizing institutions, and more along this line of thinking is needed in today's Bahamas.
However, I wish to direct your attention to two other posts, both as important, both constitutionally mandated and both with latitude to carry out their duties on behalf of The Bahamas and the people they serve: the Office of the Auditor General and the Public Service Commission.
The Auditor General's Office has the constitutional mandate to investigate public expenditures at any given point in time to check for inconsistencies, irregular spending and fiduciary issues that may have arisen as a result of malfeasance, negligence or all-out theft and fraud. The Public Service Commission has the constitutional mandate to exercise disciplinary control over public servants, in addition to giving advice on promotions and increases in emoluments for public servants.
Before the recent information brought to light on improper spending in the Public Hospital Authority and the Urban Renewal Program, and just recently a 52-week jobs program, very few persons had the slightest knowledge that there was such a person as an auditor general.
Even fewer realize that we have the Public Service Commission as it is either, let alone who sit as commissioners.
While there have been calls for the creation of an Office of Ombudsman, the Public Service Commission has most of the framework to deal with administrative and policy matters as it stands now. The only difference in this scenario is that the commission only deals with internal public service matters, which means it does not hear external complaints against the civil service, wider corruption and criminal complaints of fraud and public service malfeasance, neither does it typically investigate past middle management.
In light of the myriad claims of public servants abusing their position to the detriment of the general public, and against their own colleagues and comrades in the service, productivity of their services - and even more so with regard to the recent issue of a senior Cabinet minister allegedly interfering with a civil servant's duties as an out-island commissioner and a sitting magistrate that went all the way to the desk of the attorney general (which it should not have, because the Public Service Commission has the constitutional authority to discipline, and by extension the power to investigate and probe under this one perspective) - the commission is and can be made more important to the framework of The Bahamas than many people think it is or even care to know that it is or can be.
As it stands now, both the auditor general and public service commissioners are appointed by the prime minister, in consultation with the leader of the opposition and their recommendations are given to the governor general for approval. An approval that they will not, in most instances, be withheld or rejected for any reason, slight or drastic.
So, with all of that constitutionally mandated power, why aren't they more effective and above all concerned about the public scrutiny of their work? Well, let's examine the problem:
1. They, while constitutionally mandated, are appointed positions. So, any government that has the power to appoint, has the power to unappoint.
2. Since they are appointed, it means that their first priority is to the people that appointed them. Or the person that has the power to revoke their appointment. Not the wider public.
3. While they are fixed positions constitutionally, because they are appointed, if they wanted sensitive information to carry out their work from a government that has the power to remove them, they know how far to go with regard to their request for information to carry out their investigations.
4. These positions do not have veto powers, and have no reach beyond what a sitting government allows them. Neither do they have at their command any supplementary investigations agency, public or private, which they can deputize to assist with information gathering.
5. They don't have money earmarked in the national budget to carry out their work, even if they had the manpower and all other forms of power legally mandated to them.
These five critical points are the most important issues with regard to the proper functioning of these agencies for the benefit of the wider public. All other problems, inconsistencies and administrative weaknesses, tie into these five core points.
So, how does one solve the problems that these positions of sinecure allow to become exacerbated? To follow the line of the DNA's leader, elections would be a good start.
Of course, making them elected offices means amending the constitution to stipulate that fair and due elections must take place. This almost certainly means a referendum by the people. A referendum would be fitting in such important instances such as this.
While The Bahamas has faltered on winning referenda in the past, if a referendum is what is needed to ensure such institutions are strengthened for a better democracy, then a referendum is what we must have.
Along with elections, I wish for my audience to consider some other important governmental strengthening issues that may be addressed with regard to reforming the Public Service Commission, the Auditor General's Office and introducing an Office of the Ombudsman, at the very least:
1. Earmarked money that does not go below a certain percentage threshold, and is not manipulated by the government of the day through any means other than a direct act of parliament and no more than two-thirds of the vote. Not a simple majority.
2. Allow for strict term limits for each post to run outside of the national elections. This would provide clarity during a non-election season where voters can assess the integrity of each candidate and their suitability for the position. This would also work in favor of persons not of the persuasion of the sitting government to be elected if the general population feels that a sitting government needs more oversight.
3. No person aside from a sitting member of parliament should be barred from running for any post. If a former member of parliament wishes to run for a post, he must be one parliamentary term removed in order to become eligible.
4. No person should hold the post for more than two consecutive terms. In the event they wish to hold office again, they must wait one term to again become eligible.
5. Mandate for these offices more investigatory powers, subpoena powers and disciplinary powers in light of them giving their advice on final measures to the governor general and parliament.
6. Allow for these agencies to contract and sub-contract persons or firms to assist with their duties if need be. These requests should have a time limit for approval and must be approved by the parliament in direct concert with the Public Accounts Committee on a two-thirds majority vote.
7. Allow for powers of prosecution for the Office of the Auditor General and Ombudsman, separate and apart from the attorney general on matters directly affecting their mandated duties.
These are not radical ideas. These are common sense ideas. In many countries, albeit not within the Commonwealth realm, there are elections held for the auditor general and ombudsman.
I think that in light of our loopholes and issues surrounding the lack of true oversight in many of our agencies, this is one time where the Crown has not grown with the culture of politics within its former colonies.

o Youri Kemp is the president and CEO of Kemp Global, a management consultancy firm based in The Bahamas. This column is published with permission from Caribbean News Now.

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Who and what is the new generation

June 16, 2015

The Bahamas will celebrate 42 years of political independence a few weeks from now on July 10, 2015. It seems like yesterday when we commemorated the 40th anniversary of independence and many Bahamians reflected on our journey as a nation. We took the opportunity to reflect upon the accomplishments and achievements of the past while looking ahead at the possibilities and promises of the years to come.
In the atmosphere was a sense of hope and excitement that a new generation of Bahamian leaders would also emerge and feature prominently in the change that we expect to see.
This piece is a reflection on the dream that the future will be different from the status quo and be defined by a paradigm that is to the betterment of our country. As part of this introspection, we must ascertain who forms a part of the new generation. What does the new generation represent? Why is it imperative to engage a new generation?
The winds of change, the renaissance and the so-called revolution within our country must be birthed; but by whom? The demand for change can be heard across the islands of The Bahamas, however, what are we changing from or to?

The 'new generation'
Typically, generations are grouped according to the year and time in which they were born. Individuals are normally classed as being a part of veteran generation, the baby boom, generation X, generation Y and most recently generation Z. Generation X and beyond are known to be born after 1965 and hence comprise a younger grouping of individuals.
Based upon the aforementioned terms and the term "new generation", one may be persuaded to believe that the new generation is limited to an age bracket or more specifically - a younger generation. There is no right or wrong answer, and we would be mistaken if we were to apply the terminology so strictly. The new generation could also speak to the mind-set, vision, philosophy or ideals of individuals and the relevance of the same for the time in which they live in. In the midst of this debate, the general view appears to be that a new generation simply improves upon a model that has existed before and contains members that are relevant for the times in which they live, while maintaining sound fundamentals that define a people or process.

Generations of Bahamians
In the Bahamian context, discussions around the generations are often focused on pre and post-independence. On the political front, we tend to differentiate our leaders based on the era in which their philosophies were shaped and when their political careers commenced. It is not uncommon to hear such terminologies as Pingdomites, Ingrahamites and Christites as we try to group people based on the leadership under which they cut their proverbial teeth.
The era of the late Sir Lynden O Pindling was one that started with so much promise and a vision for a Bahamas that many had never seen before. Many bought into that vision under the leadership of a young and vibrant Pindling who had little experience by the standards of many at that time.
Sir Lynden represented a new generation not solely because of his youth but also because of the newness and freshness of the vision he and his contemporaries had for our country.
In the present dispensation, we have individuals in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s who maintain that they are a part of a new generation. While this is a topic for a whole new article, the main questions have to be: What new vision do these individuals have for a 21st century Bahamas?
What new strategies have they devised to move us from third world status into the first world? What innovative and revolutionary ideas have they presented that can convince us that they represent a deviation from the status quo that stifles us as a people and a nation? More importantly, how different or renewed are their minds and thinking in relation to the operation of politics in The Bahamas?

The new electorate
It is important to note that watching intensely and with much interest is the new electorate. The composition of this new electorate and the populace as a whole has never been so different and so unpredictable. We know that there were more women registered to vote in the last general election than there were men. We also know that the youth form a large portion of the population that will determine the future political leadership of this country for several years to come.
The uniqueness of the young people that make up the new electorate should not be ignored by current and aspiring political leaders. Unlike their ancestors and predecessors, the Bahamian youth do not have blind loyalty to any political party or grouping. Additionally, they will not be told how to vote or who to vote for in an election, as they are strong-minded with independent views on what they expect from the political directorate and more importantly, what they envision for themselves. Simply put in Bahamian vernacular, 'They just ain' checking' and will not be easily swayed by any politician.
Politicians that subscribe to the old way of doing things will do well to not only speak to the real issues impacting the new electorate, but also act to demonstrate their commitment to the betterment of The Bahamas.

The identity of the new generation
It is pointless at this juncture in our journey as a nation for any politician or anyone to profess with their mouths that they belong to the new generation. That determination will be made by the people based upon the actions or inactions of the people we refer to as our leaders.
Do we still subscribe to the notion that anyone that opposes us is our enemy? Do we still outlaw constructive criticism and refuse wise counsel? Do we close our ears to the content of an argument because of the identity of the speaker? Do we still seek the personal destruction of our Bahamian brothers and sisters solely because their views are different from ours?
The Bible provides us with good advice in determining who belongs to the new generation; indeed, by their fruits we shall know them.
Having considered the above, it is important to note that in the context of people and leadership in particular - new generation does not equate solely to a younger generation of people. However, it is the expectation that young people bring a new outlook, innovation and energy to the national debate.
It should be noted that there are many young people who are keepers of the status quo, despite the fact that the status quo does not improve upon an existing model. In the same vein, there are many persons who are not so young (and sometimes belong to the old guard) but whose mind-set reflects an attitude of change and progression for the betterment of our commonwealth.
Hence, one can deduce that there are new generation imposters posing as a new order. On the face of things, they appear to have a new look, but their mindset speaks to a time and season that is long gone and is irrelevant for today's world. They are keepers of the status quo - sometimes for personal ambition, comfort and convenience.

o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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A stronger Bahamas - part 3

June 15, 2015

"The budget doesn't have much control over the government. Then again, the government doesn't have much control over the budget."
- P. J. O'Rourke

We continue our review of the Prime Minister's communication on the national budget that he delivered on May 27, 2015. We noted earlier that the prime minister's tone and tenor were generally upbeat as he expounded his government's commitment to building a stronger Bahamas which included three core priorities: "a safer Bahamas, a more prosperous Bahamas and, a modern Bahamas."
In the first of this four-part series, we addressed the foundational and conceptual framework upon which the budget was formulated. Last week, we reviewed the budget revenue provisions.
This week, we would like to Consider This... do the budgetary expenditure provisions provide a sense that they will put us solidly on the correct trajectory to achieve the government's stated national objective of building a stronger Bahamas?
Total estimated expenditure for fiscal year 2015/2016 is pegged at $2.340 billion, which is divided between recurrent expenditure of $2.098 billion and capital expenditure of $242 million.
When we consider the recurrent revenue of $2.047 billion and recurrent expenditure of $2.098, the recurrent deficit will be $51 million. Since the capital revenue, exclusive of borrowings and grants is zero, the total capital deficit is estimated at $242 million. The total deficit is therefore estimated at $293 million or the sum of the recurrent deficit of $51 million and capital deficit of $242 million.

Constraints on expenditure
It is important to note, at the outset, that there are two fixed expenditures that any government must take into account before a single penny is allocated to any ministry for discretionary purposes.
Those two items are personal emoluments and public debt service cost. Personal emoluments and allowances, (essentially salaries, wages and related costs), for fiscal 2015/16 accounts for $689 million or 33 percent of total recurrent expenditure. The second largest budgeted amount goes to service the public debt in the amount of $419 million or 20 percent of recurrent expenditure. The debt service of $419 million is divided between the interest on public debt of $266.4 million and $152.2 million for debt redemption.
These two fixed expenditures, $689 million and $419 million, place considerable constraints on the government's capacity to provide larger subventions to the various ministries and departments because these two items alone account for $1.1 billion or 53 percent of the recurrent expenditure budget.
The table above depicts some of the largest elements of recurrent expenditure budgeted for 2015/16. Other than those already discussed, those allocations are for the ministries of Public Service, Finance, Health and the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

Public Service
While there was a decrease of $13 million in its allocation for the ensuing year, the Ministry of Public Service continues to receive a large allocation representing eight percent of recurrent expenditure. The most significant increase for the Public Service Ministry is $23 million for medical health insurance.

The Ministry of Finance has budgeted an increase of $86 million over the preceding year. The primary increases include $6 million in salaries, $3 million in overtime pay for monthly employees and a gigantic increase of $20 million for the government's Special Employments Project, similar to the jobs program that was established by the Ingraham administration.
There are also substantial increases for "Other charges" including $13 million for gasoline, $3 million for diesel and $2.5 million over last year's allocation of $1 million for leased government vehicles. In addition, $1.77 million is allocated for "maintenance of photocopying machines" which was not provided last year. Similarly, the cost of printing and duplication has increased from $37,500 in the preceding year to $1.3 million for the ensuing year. These increases need to be fully explained by the minister of finance.
There is an increase of $5.5 million for "Small and medium size business support" which also needs to be explained, because there was no such provision in previous years.
Finally, under the caption "Grants, fixed charges and special financing transactions" there were several large allocations: $6 million for the preparation for 2016 IDB annual meeting in The Bahamas, $13 million for tax reform, and $3 million for The Bahamas Development Bank project.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force
It is very interesting that the allocation of $126 million for the Police force has decreased by $3 million, especially at a time when crime and the fear of crime continue to pervade our society. More about this in part four of this series.

Ministry of Works and Urban Development
The budget allocation for the Ministry of Works and Urban Development has increased by $37 million. The most significant increases are $14.8 million for Bahamasair and $24 million for Water and Sewerage development projects.

Department and Ministry of Education
The Department of Education, which is responsible for the public school system in The Bahamas, has received an increase of $8 million, from $175 million in the preceding year to $183 million for 2015/16. It is noteworthy that personal emoluments to persons in the public school system receive $157 million or 25 percent of the total personal emoluments of $689 million paid to all government employees in The Bahamas.
By contrast, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology subsidizes institutions that are outside the public school system, such as the grants to independent schools ($13.4 million), the University of the West Indies ($4.1 million), scholarships for The College of The Bahamas students ($14.2 million), and Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute ($5.1 million), to mention a few.
Overall, the increase in the subvention to the Department and Ministry of Education amounted to $8 million and 13 million, respectively.

Ministry and Department of Social Services
The 2015/16 subventions to the Ministry of Social Services and the Department of Social Services decreased by $1.2 million, with allocations of $5.2 million and $37.3 million, respectively, for a total allocation of $42.5 million, compared to $3.5 and $40.2, respectively in the preceding year, for a total allocation of $43.7 million.

Ministry of Health
With the exception of the Treasury Department discussed above, the Ministry of Health has the largest subvention of any ministry in the amount of $274 million for the ensuing year, an increase of $59 million. We will say a lot more about this in our fourth and final installment of this series.

Ministry of Tourism
The Ministry of Tourism is scheduled to receive $1 million less than the $92 million that was allocated in the preceding year. Notwithstanding an increase in personal emoluments of nearly $4 million, the ministry's operational budget has been decreased by $5 million.

Next week, in our fourth and final installment, we will critically assess whether this budget realistically and accurately addresses its stated objective of building a stronger Bahamas.

o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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CSME still an empty shell after 25 years

June 12, 2015

The CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) was intended to benefit the people of the region by providing more and better opportunities to produce and sell their goods and services and to attract investment in a larger economic space.
Sir Ronald Sanders, a regional diplomat, hit the nail on the head when he wrote recently that "Foreign investors would be more greatly attracted to a larger regional market than to the individual small markets of most CARICOM countries. It would be one effective way of creating a larger economic space for the employment of young people."
Let me hasten to add that without critical mass, political solidarity and unification of economic policies, international investors will view us simply as isolated islands (or what David Rudder calls tiny theaters of conflict and confusion) with no real investment and economic scope. Bottom line: companies often locate in particular countries precisely because they are part of an efficient and functioning single market and economy.
In a world where size, scope and geographic proximity matter for the luring of foreign direct investment (FDI), trading blocs and economic single markets are an unavoidable necessity. Not only do single markets serve as facilitators for the free movement of goods, people, capital and technology, they are critically important for trade, investment and jobs.
Membership of a single market is commonly assumed to be a key factor in encouraging foreign investors to choose to invest in a region. An increase in foreign direct investment benefits the economies of participating countries on account of larger markets, resulting in lower costs to manufacture products locally, market access and trade creation.
Yet, it is most shameful that the CSME, an integrated development strategy envisioned by heads of CARICOM countries almost 25 years ago, has only partially been implemented and exploited. To the chagrin of CARICOM nationals, the critical institutional constructs such as labour and capital mobility, aviation, integration of the services market and the harmonization of economic policies have been given scant attention, if not altogether lip service.
Although many of the initial ideals are credible, successive governments in the region have not been able to muster the courage and will to complete the process of the CSME. Economic integration, foreign policy co-ordination, functional co-operation and security, the four pillars upon which the idea of CARICOM was first established in 1973, are yet to be fully grounded and strengthened.
Of further disquiet is the fact that every CARICOM country seems to have those preconceived notions of political autonomy and economic self-determination. Rather than co-operate and collaborate, each island would rather go it alone and render itself insignificant; a circumstance Herbert W. Marsh in his bestselling book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, calls the Big-fish-little-pond (BFLPE) effect.
Unfortunately, the issue is always with regard to the level of commitment and processes to implementation, and this has been dismal. Unlike many developing and emerging nations in various parts of the world, the nations of CARICOM have failed to use the region to their economic and geopolitical advantage. Hence, CARICOM nationals have become increasingly exasperated by the limitations and constraints of the CARICOM Single Market.
Presently, CARICOM is viewed as a talk shop that makes agreements that are not followed through with action or implementation. Further, it is believed the best brains of the region are wasted in meaningless meetings, conferences and workshops that consume scarce resources. Given the weakness and lack of leadership effectiveness in CARICOM, new options and models of integration are being sought such as PetroCaribe and ALBA, to the detriment of the solidarity and complementarity of CARICOM.
One repeated chord in the symphony of shock and dismay is the lack of collective commitment among CARICOM member countries at the levels of institutions and sectors to the sharing of a single economic space. Trinidad should have taken a lead role in the CSME, but has not. Jamaica seems far away from everything and has never taken a lead role in any integration movement.
As a matter of fact, some observers in the region believe that individual countries may be deliberately placing restrictions on the free flow of intra regional trade to the disadvantage of others.
Ramesh Dookhoo, president of the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) has made his displeasure known publicly: "Trinidad and Tobago, for example, clearly believes that it is the only country that ought to enjoy the privilege of unhindered access to intra regional markets under the single market arrangement. The stronger producing countries of the region are seeking to impose their economic strengths on the region's less developed economies without going the distance to promote products from those weaker economies. If we are to create this single economic space the concept of harmonization of the economic environment is paramount. Unless we take these steps we are heading for a situation of massive trade distortions."
He does not believe that the Georgetown-based Caribbean Community Secretariat was doing "as much as it should" to synergize the needs and opportunities of the various countries in the region. "We are, for example, all absorbing the high costs of extra-regional food imports without seriously pursuing intra-regional opportunities to develop regional food security and, by extension, reduce the high cost of extra regional food imports."
Taken as a whole, the lack of initiative and will of the CSME to promote growth, competitiveness and jobs have resulted in grave social dislocation and missed opportunities in economic development throughout the region.
The CSME was supposed to be a single market space within which Caribbean-based businesses and professionals in the private sector operate with minimum barriers and costs. If the single market had worked as it was intended, there would be substantial gains in investment and market opportunities extending beyond the borders of any one member country.
Since sustainable jobs are linked directly or indirectly with trade within a single market, Saint Lucia would have expanded its economy more quickly because a more functional single market would have encouraged more foreign direct investment into the island.
Growth is the most important factor in the eradication of unemployment. The base of all economic development is investment. The future challenges of economic development give rise to three foundational principles on which economic development investments should be based: exports, productivity and sustainability.
Mindful of the challenges of small island states, there hasn't been any significant co-ordination of foreign and investment policy in the region (both at the CARICOM and OECS levels), and sadly we are still stuck in the eighties' mindset of preferential treatment in trade matters.
The Caribbean in fact gives the impression in the developed world that the region has conflicting foreign policies and priorities, enjoys a laid back, carefree lifestyle based in part on a parasitic relationship with the industrialized world from which it has no intention of diverting. Even China seems to have a strategy for the Caribbean. But do we have a strategy for China?
Maintaining the status quo means to advocate reinforcing poverty. In projecting the quality of life required in the Caribbean, we should ask ourselves about our collective Caribbean destiny in the next crucial ten years. The grandiose speeches about the single destiny of the Caribbean must be translated into more concrete steps to collaborate and deal collectively with the rapidly changing circumstances of global alliances and competing interests.

o Clement Wulf-Soulage is an economist, author and former university lecturer.

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Minister Shane Gibson at the 104th Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland
Minister Shane Gibson at the 104th Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland

June 10, 2015

On behalf of the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, I congratulate you, Mr. President and your Vice-Presidents on your election as Chairman and Vice-Chairmen, respectively, of this 104rd Conference. I am certain that colleague Ministers will join me in stating that under your able leadership this Session...

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The 2015 budget presentation - what's new

June 10, 2015

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Perry Christie presented his 2015/2016 budget to parliament on Wednesday, May 27.
As expected, there were cheers for the budget, and of course also a few jeers. Some said that the persons responsible for bringing value-added tax (VAT) into being in January, 2015 should be knighted. A little exuberant, but you can give them that if you wish.
Of course, some opposite asked if raising taxes was a pre-requisite for knighthood these days. Of course the answer is no! Tax reform must happen, however, and we have had too little of it but a great deal more of just plain old taxes.
There are some good things to be really hopeful about if presented truthfully in this year's budget, even though a great deal of it was said last year in almost the exact same manner.
The most hopeful thing in this budget was that they did raise, since January's implementation of VAT, an extra $150 million.
Last year's recurrent revenue was $1.465 billion, and this year it is expected to reach $1.771 billion. A turnaround of about $300 million, with VAT receipts amounting for $150 million of that total take. The total tax take from VAT was projected through a full fiscal year to be $300 million.
What's curious to note that while this would be the third consecutive year under the current administration, the Department of Customs has not completed its reformation exercise. Customs is the top revenue collection agency, and the government managed to net an extra $150 million in addition to the $150 million they added from VAT. But, if this is true, and of course the figures are subject to revision, it is a good achievement thus far and it is one area where we can feel that something has been done.
Expenditure on the other hand is expected to increase on the backs of a few large initiatives proposed in the budget presentation, including $60 million towards upgrading the hospital; $20 million for the Urban Renewal program; increased welfare through social services; and a bond issuance for the construction of 1,000 new homes.
Also - and this may affect the revenue side and the balance between revenue and expenditure in light of the additional taxes expected from VAT - tariffs on car imports and exemptions for first time home owners are expected to be reduced. In addition, a ban will be placed on the importation of cars over 10 years old.
As some would know already, but just to state clearly, vehicles are the main source of revenue for customs. It is the largest line item on the customs revenue side. The tariff rates are expected to be decreased from 65 percent to 45 percent. Coupled with the ban on cars over 10 years old, the revenue side will look dramatically different even in light of the gains from VAT.
Nevertheless, VAT is set to offset these reductions. By how much will be the question.
Just to give you a scenario: if all else remains the same, and VAT on car imports was $10 million, if car imports were to decrease by 20 percent thanks to the ban on older cars, the VAT take on car imports would also decrease by the same amount, in addition to decreasing generally because of the new lower rate. Get the drift?
As a result, revenue enhancement measures may be thwarted.
By and large, car imports may seem a small issue compared to the overall economic trajectory of The Bahamas, even though it is important to the revenue side of our fiscal affairs.
More importantly, in this author's estimation, efforts were missed with regard to pro-growth initiatives for the many. Since the last budget communication, 2013/2014, up until the presentation of the mid-term budget in February 2015, people were advocating more progressive forms of economic inducement.
Thus far the efforts towards such have been limited. This is notwithstanding the measure to reduce business license fees, which in itself does more for the bottom line of individual companies - during these still soft periods of economic activity - than boost growth in the main. But it is still welcomed.
Issues such as trade, economic liberalization for Bahamian citizens, the opening of services where smaller firms can participate with the government, other private sector tools to boost economic activity both locally and internationally, have been missed.
Of course, the saying is that the government does not create jobs, or spur economic activity - it is the private sector that does that. However, when we speak in terms of regulations, allowances, contracts, corporate tools and business environment systems that the government can and has employed in the past to suit its efforts, we can safely say that little or nothing has been done for the majority or in an encompassing manner that speaks to the nature of those at the bottom.
Quite frankly, this is the most appalling part of the budget communication this year, and in previous years.
Particularly true in light of the fact that the Baha Mar Resort is still not ready to open, little or next to nothing is expected in the short term with regard to growth and opportunities.
We can't all just go the prime minister's office and wait for assistance, which seems to be the norm with some. We also can't all do the same thing. We certainly can't sit there and allow opportunities to slip by while those outside get the lion's share. It just won't cut it for the future.
As an aside, in light of issues such as the ever-present inflationary pressures, which can be classified as naked stagflation, coupled with financial transparency and accountability measures, we have to continue to push for a loftier goal for all and sundry. Forward, upward, onward, together!
In total, with all things articulated in this submission, we must continue to push for better. We deserve it.

o Youri Kemp is the president and CEO of Kemp Global, a management consultancy firm based in The Bahamas. This column is published with permission from Caribbean News Now.

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Solidarity forever - does the union make us strong

June 09, 2015

Workers across the archipelago called The Bahamas commemorated Randol Fawkes Labor Day on June 5, 2015. A number of Bahamians marched with trade unions to which they belong and others provided their support by cheering on participants in the parade.
Another category of persons simply took the opportunity to get some much-needed rest or spend time with their families.
The Junkanoo rush-out, which has become one of the highlights of the Labor Day holiday did not disappoint as we wrapped up the parade by celebrating our culture as a people. This is consistent with the reality that even though we are workers, we are first and foremost Bahamians that love this land.
This year's parade comes at a time when the trade unions in our country are challenged, not necessarily by tensions with the government but by the realities of the new paradigm created by the economic environment within The Bahamas. This piece reflects on the status and strength of the trade union in a 21st century Bahamas.

Solidarity forever
"Solidarity Forever", written by Ralph Chaplin in 1915, is regarded by many as the most famous union anthem in the world. It is not unusual to hear union leaders and members sing this legendary song during demonstrations or parades as they fight for the rights of workers. Chaplin began to compose this song while he was covering the Kanawa coal miners' strike in Huntington, West Virginia in 1914. In an article titled 'Why I wrote Solidarity Forever', Chaplin expressed his displeasure at the widespread popularity of the song among politicians and within the labor movement. However, this has not reduced its popularity among members of the movement over the years.
The concerns raised by Chaplin were not unconnected to what was deemed to be a deviation from the true essence of the lyrics of this piece. The erosion of the unity and oneness of diverse individuals in pursuit of a common purpose that centered on the struggle for better working conditions for workers goes against the spirit of solidarity upon which the labor movement was founded. It is no wonder that the chorus reads: "Solidarity forever, solidarity forever, solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong".

The journey of labor
The journey to the 2015 Randol Fawkes Labor Day was one filled with challenges, tears, scars and triumphs which today's workers must not fail to reflect upon. There is no doubt that the trade union movement has played and continues to play a pivotal role in improving the quality of life for Bahamian workers. The history books ably document this notion, from the Burma Road riots to the general strike and the election of the late Sir Randol Fawkes in the 1967 general elections, which led to the first coalition government comprising of labor, independent and the PLP.
The true leaders and fighters of this movement all share a common passion for the wellbeing of all workers and hold deep-rooted convictions that are not influenced by politics or self-interest. These unique qualities distinguished the leaders of the labor movement of yesteryear from their contemporaries and secured their place in the history books of our Commonwealth. Their followers could feel the genuine dedication to the cause of the average worker and rewarded them with their loyalty and support. Current leaders in this never-ending movement can draw inspiration and motivation from their predecessors upon whose shoulders they stand.

The demands of today
In a global economy struggling with low growth and fiscal constraints, the labor movement is confronted with tough decisions and difficult choices. On the one hand, the movement must not put on hold its work to ensure that workers have a decent wage and enjoy a respectable standard of living. On the other hand, labor leaders cannot ignore the reality that the unemployment rate is high and companies are confronted with rising costs of doing business while seeking to maximize profits.
In confronting these unique challenges, labor leaders must not only become creative and innovative in their approach, but must also use their mediation skills now more than ever before. There has never been, in recent times, a moment where we needed great labor leaders

more than we do today. It would be an understatement to suggest that the leadership of the various trade unions in The Bahamas has been exceptionally vocal over the last year or two. On specific matters affecting workers, the trade union leaders have sought to ensure that the respective agreements of their member unions were addressed and finalized by the government.

The initiatives of the government
It was recently announced that the Ministry of Labor and National Insurance has petitioned for an increase in the national minimum wage, submitting a proposal for government approval. This is definitely a step in the right direction, as Bahamians have seen a reduction in their disposable and discretionary income over the past few years. The introduction of value-added tax (VAT) has resulted in our purchasing power taking a hit and as the cost of living goes up, we must be sensitive enough to make the necessary adjustments.
The public was also advised that the National Tripartite Council has been formally appointed with effect from June 1, 2015. This follows the bringing into law of the Tripartite Council Bill 2014 on April 19, 2015 by Shane Gibson, Minister of Labor and National Insurance after it having been signed by the governor general of The Bahamas on March 2, 2015.

The future of the union
The last stanza of the Solidarity Forever song reads:
In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, multiplied a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.
This writer contends that the great power in the hands of the movement is only as strong as the cord that binds its members together in unity. The strength of the unions is weakened by self-interest and selfish ambitions that take precedence over the needs of Bahamian workers and the Bahamian society as a whole.
Ralph Chaplin said it best when he surmised in his article "Why I wrote Solidarity Forever" that: "I contend also that when the labor movement ceases to be a cause and becomes a business, the end product can hardly be called progress."
The achievement of progress by the labor movement in years to come will be determined by what causes we stand for and to whom we owe our allegiance. This is indeed the type of union that makes us strong; a union of brotherhood and sisterhood towards a common loftier goal bigger than ourselves.

o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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A stronger Bahamas, pt. 2

June 08, 2015

"The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations." - Jacob Lew

Last week, we reviewed the prime minister's communication on the national budget that he delivered on May 27, 2015. In the first of a four-part series, we addressed the foundational and conceptual framework upon which the budget was formulated.
We observed that the prime minister's tone and tenor were generally upbeat as he thematically expounded his government's commitment to building a stronger Bahamas which included three core priorities: "a safer Bahamas, a more prosperous Bahamas and a modern Bahamas."
This week, we would like to Consider This... Do the budgetary revenue provisions create a sense that they will put us solidly on the correct trajectory to achieve the stated national objectives of building a stronger Bahamas?

Budget overview
The national budget, which is approved by Parliament each year, is a continuous work in progress. Although the draft estimates of revenue and expenditure (draft estimates) are presented to Parliament each year by the minister of finance, the budget is not a static document.
The draft estimates provide the details of the government's anticipated revenue and expenditure that are enacted into law by revenue and expenditure bills that are scrupulously scrutinized during the budget debate before being passed by both houses of Parliament and signed by the governor general.
The government's fiscal year begins on July 1 and ends on June 30 each year. For the fiscal year 2015/2016, the government has estimated that total revenue will be $2.336 billion. That figure is divided between recurrent revenue of $2.047 billion and capital revenue of $289 million.
The capital revenue includes $286 million from borrowings and $3 million from grants. Since borrowings are not really revenue in a technical sense, capital revenue anticipated for the fiscal year is zero. It should be noted that capital revenue includes revenue that is generated from the sale of state-owned assets such as the sale of BTC to Cable & Wireless several years ago.
Total estimated expenditure is pegged at $2.340 billion, which is also divided between recurrent expenditure of $2.098 billion and capital expenditure $242 million.
When we consider the recurrent revenue of $2.047 billion and recurrent expenditure of $2.098, the recurrent deficit is expected to be $51 million. Since the capital revenue, exclusive of borrowings and grants, is zero, the total capital deficit is estimated at $242 million. The total deficit is therefore pegged at $293 million; that is, the sum of the recurrent deficit of $51 million and capital deficit of $242 million.
We often hear the term GFS deficit during the budget debate. GFS, or government finance statistics, is an adjustment made to the annual deficit to take into account the debt that is expected to be redeemed during the fiscal period. Hence, given the expected debt redemption of $152 million for fiscal 2015/16, the GFS deficit is computed at $141 million; that is, the total deficit of $293 million less debt redemption of $152 million.
The GFS deficit is an important statistic because it is often presented as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). It is anticipated that The Bahamas' GDP for fiscal 2015/16 will be $9.22 billion; therefore the GFS deficit as a percentage of GDP will be -1.51 percent. This compares very favorably with the statistic of only a few years ago, when the GFS deficit as a percent of GDP was -5.5 percent and -6.5 percent for fiscal years 2011/12 and 2012/13, respectively.

As indicated earlier, the total revenue for the next fiscal year is projected at $2.336 billion dollars, which is comprised of tax revenue of $1.713 billion dollars, non-tax revenue of $334 million dollars and capital revenue of $289 million.

Tax revenue
In the category of tax revenue, import and export duties will decrease by $67 million dollars from $415 million in the preceding year to $348 million for 2015/16. The vast majority of this revenue, $335 million, will come from import duties, with the balance of $17 million attributable to export duties. The decrease in import and export duties is a result of the government's commitment to generally decrease Customs duties, which will be replaced by value-added tax.
Excise and motor vehicle taxes will remain at the same level as last year at $300 million and $39 million, respectively, with a slight increase of $5 million over the preceding year in property tax to $151 million for fiscal 2015/16.
Overall, tourism tax is expected to decline by $5.5 million, reflecting an increase in air and sea departure taxes to $1.5 million and $15.3 million, respectively, and the elimination of hotel guest taxes of $22.3 million which was earned in the preceding year. The eliminated hotel guest tax will be augmented by value-added tax applied to guest room rates. Tourism taxes therefore, from air and sea departure taxes for the ensuing fiscal year, will be $50 million and $90.5 million, respectively.
The government expects to realize a windfall of $30 million from gaming taxes of $50 million in 2015/16, compared to $20 million in the preceding year. This increase primarily represents the tax revenue from the web shops that were regularized last year.
The budget forecasts a decrease of $92 million in stamp tax. The principal reductions are $15 million for realty transactions between $100,001 and $250,000 and $25 million for realty transactions over $250,000. There are also substantial reductions in stamp taxes for realty transactions under $20,000 and for transactions between $20,001 and $100,000.
The most significant increase in tax revenue will be derived from value-added tax (VAT), which was introduced on January 1, 2015. For the ensuing year, VAT is projected to generate $544.7 million, $200 million of which is expected to be collected by the Customs Department and $344 million by the newly created Central Revenue Agency.

Non-tax revenue
In the category of non-tax revenue, $334 million is budgeted, which is an increase of $16 million over the preceding year's figure of $318 million. The primary items in the non-tax revenue include $281 million from fees and service charges including $140 million in business licence fees, $45 million in immigration fees and work and resident permit fees of $4.2 million.
Other non-tax revenue of $19 million from government properties includes $11.3 million from the lease of the AUTEC base in Andros. Interest and dividends of $27 million are also characterized as non-tax revenue. The largest item in this category is $20 million in dividends from BTC.

Revenue and GDP
Over the past six years, the recurrent revenue as a percent of GDP has been in the area of 16 percent to 18 percent. Given the same ratio for recurrent expenditure at 18 percent to 20 percent, the differential has enlarged the recurrent budget deficit and has resulted in either increased taxes or borrowings. The latter has contributed to the increase in the national debt to $5.4 billion.
The introduction of VAT, enhanced revenue collection and improved tax administration measures have presented the opportunity for the government to narrow the gap between recurrent revenue and expenditure and thereby reduce the deficit and ultimately, the national debt. The temptation of any government, however, is to increase spending in the face of increased taxes. We will say more about this in the fourth and final part of this series.

Next week, in our third installment in this series, we will review the expenditure provisions of the budget. In our fourth and final installment, we will critically assess whether the budget realistically addresses its stated objective: building a stronger Bahamas.

o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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Renewable energy for The Bahamas

June 03, 2015

According to The Bahamas' National Energy Policy 2013-2033, a renewable energy target of 30 percent by 2030 has already been established by the government. As country officials across the globe gather in Bonn, Germany to discuss their nation's commitments to reducing carbon emissions, mitigation technologies - including renewable energy forms such as solar energy - will be crucial in addressing the future of decarbonization.
Together, their (anticipated) domestic targets are expected to form the base of a new climate change agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) later in December this year.
Toward the end of last year's UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, our government signed itself to a 20MW solar project across select Family Islands as part of the Carbon War Room's Ten Island Challenge. The project itself is part of a larger initiative by the non-profit in assisting islands across the Caribbean in their transition to renewable technologies. Frequently in the space of such international climate conferences, island nations have raised their concerns for the two barriers to fully achieving this kind of shift: funding and capacity-building. As we head into the inter-sessional meetings before COP21 this year, developing partnerships like this is a crucial step in the strengthening and resilience of our islands in the future.
Despite the significantly lower carbon emissions of island nations in comparison to those contributed by larger developed countries, it is recognized that islands continue to face uncertainties regarding their energy security as a result of their heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels such as oil and its derivatives.
The inequity of this situation is something that is also incorporated in the structure of the UNFCCC and was touched upon during Prime Minister Perry Christie's remarks at the recent Caribbean-France Regional Summit on Preparation and Mobilization for COP21 in his role as chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Presently, several legislative reforms have been initiated in the passing of amendments to the Electricity Act and regulations on renewable energy accounting for the installation and regulation of persons operating renewable systems. Earlier this month, the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) opened its registration of persons with off-grid and grid-tied systems as part of its Renewable Energy Self Generation Program and assessment of already existing sources of renewable energy.
Depending on location, it is projected that BEC customers will be able to contribute anywhere between 1kw to 5kw for residences customers, and 5kw to 50kw for its commercial customers, with bill adjustments reflecting their various levels of output to the grid. In the context of the government's near billion-dollar expenditure on oil imports each year, investing in renewables like solar poses significant long-term benefits, both economically and socially.
Looking ahead to the necessary steps for making our National Energy Policy a reality, the involvement of local communities and businesses is crucial for the longevity of such a historic endeavor. At the educational level, reinstating trade or training programs for renewables will play an important role in the installation and maintenance of such technologies. Government involvement in educating the public and raising awareness on the relevance of this transition and its impact on consumers will also play a significant part in enhancing the cooperation required to achieve this process.
Accessibility to renewables by the public will perhaps be one of the most significant hurdles, however, in meeting the government's renewable target of 30 percent in time. Particularly in the case of residences and small businesses, financial schemes to homeowners and businesses will need to be established. In the absence of fiscal schemes such as income tax, alternative revenues - in the form of energy surcharges and payment of value-added tax (VAT) currently being collected, could be applied towards investing in renewable infrastructure on a more local level. With the current elimination of duties, micro-loans towards the purchase of solar heaters, solar installations or connection to the grid, for example, could be one of the ways to create better engagement and inclusiveness of the population at large.
Finally, with an estimated 83 percent of the population reliant on the electricity generated by BEC, consistency and reliability are key. A fully implemented Freedom of Information Act is crucial to ensuring the proper functioning and accountability of BEC as a statutorily created body. Transparency regarding its liabilities and implementation of finances - especially in the case of development funds received - will be vital in securing both the public's confidence and overall project success in the years to come.
With the approaching UNFCCC COP21, self-initiatives like these set the stage for island nations such as The Bahamas to demonstrate their commitment and achievement of a more responsible and equitable future.

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Monsignor Preston Moss: Apostle of mercy

June 03, 2015

Fifty-one years ago, September 1964, 25-year-old Preston Moss travelled to New York City with his 72-year-old beloved grandmother Hannah Wilkinson, "Mama", his rock and guide after the relatively early deaths respectively in 1952 and 1954 of Veronica Moss nee Wilkinson and Preston Samuel Moss, his mother and father.
A decade after his father's passing and months earlier in May 1964, before the New York sojourn, Mama attended at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral the ordination of her grandson as a deacon of the Roman Catholic Church.
Four months later Mama and Junior, as she affectionately called him, flew to New York City to visit her daughter and son and other relatives.
Junior soon flew on to Collegeville, Minnesota, where he was attending St. John's Seminary. Upon arrival on September 11, 1964, he was greeted with the heartbreaking news that Mama died the very morning he was making his way back to university.
He flew back home to Nassau for her funeral at St. Agnes Church in Grants Town, the church he attended as a boy until he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1956 at age 16.
Before leaving Mama in New York, she conferred a pre-priesthood ordination blessing and admonition: "Junior, when you put your hand to the plow ask the Lord to leave it there even when it bleeds." It was a reference to Luke 9:62, about the cost of discipleship.
Luke 9:59: "And He said to another, 'Follow Me' But he said, 'Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.' But He said to him, 'Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.'
"Another also said, 'I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say goodbye to those at home.' But Jesus said to him, 'No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'"

Fifty-one years hence, exactly 50 years later today, June 4, 2015, after his ordination as a priest for the Archdiocese of Nassau, Preston Alexander Moss' hands are grooved into the handle of the plow like the muscular and powerful roots of a majestic silk cotton tree are fastened to the earth, the roots and the earth in communion, near indistinguishable.
For Monsignor Moss, the plow, like the cross, is more than a blessed sacrifice or burden. It is a vocation of love and mercy. As a 25-year-old beginning his priesthood he perhaps could not truly grasp his grandmother's admonition to keep his hand to the plow.
She was speaking less to his sacrifices as a priest and more to the needs of the people whom he has now faithfully served for half a century. He has helped to plow the field that is the development of the modern Roman Catholic Church in The Bahamas.
In never letting go of the plow he helped to enrich the native soil into which seeds of hope in the form of local vocations to the priesthood were nourished, blooming into a second spring.
For the local church he is in significant ways Peter, the rock and foundation upon which the modern Bahamian Catholic Church stands. Most of his priesthood has been lived in the context of Vatican II, the church council that dramatically transformed the modern church.
When he entered seminary Pius XII was pope. He has lived through the pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis. It is telling that he has now been a priest longer than the serving pontiff.
Moss also kept his hands to the plow in the field that is the development of the modern Bahamas post majority rule and independence. His contributions to national development

over the past 50 years are

More than serving in various civic capacities, he instilled in generations a sense of national and racial pride, without ever succumbing to narrow nationalism or prejudice in any form.
He sought to enhance the role of women and the laity in the local church and has now served for 38 years as vicar general of the archdiocese.
Preston Moss is a servant of and beloved not just by the Roman Catholic faithful. He is equally beloved by the Bahamian people. The respect for him is ecumenical.
Nearing his 76th birthday in October, Moss, preternaturally youthful throughout most of his priesthood, now has a somewhat wizened countenance. His youthful hands, blessed at his ordination 50 years ago, have aged much like a mahogany or lignum vitae chalice given to a priest as an ordination gift and used on a daily basis on the altar for Holy Communion.
The hands that never let go of the plow have baptized generations; anointed the sick; comforted the dying, the grieving and the heartbroken; buried the dead; crafted thousands of homilies; pastored parishes across New Providence; offered the sacrament of reconciliation; offered communion and healing to thousands; and encouraged three bishops, Paul Leonard Hagarty, OSB, Lawrence Burke, SJ, and Patrick Pinder.

Moss' signature greeting throughout his priesthood is that of, "Peace", reminiscent of the Prayer of Peace that captures the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan religious order.
Like St. Francis, Moss has lived a life of simplicity and humility. He shares with Pope Francis, born just three years before him, a ministry of love that has issued forth in an unwavering commitment to social justice, at the heart of which is the Incarnation and the conviction of the radical dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of one's creator.
The contemporaries, one a Jesuit, the other a diocesan priest, share the grace of this prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus:
"Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will.
All that I am and all that I possess You have given me.
I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more."
Like Francis, at the heart of Moss' life and ministry has been a profound sense of the gift and the transforming power of mercy, which our local son and brother has described as, "A love shown another for their own sake without judgment." Both men are apostles of mercy.
His ministry of mercy, reconciliation and healing allows for no boundaries or divisions based on the circumstances of another's birth or the circumstances of one's life. He has helped to heal others of addiction, of broken spirits, of shattered lives, of despair, of hopelessness.

On a heartrending day in 1979, Moss, then rector of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, stood below the main cross at the altar of the old church at 4:45 a.m.
He was seeking the grace of the sacrament, of the body and blood of Christ, and the example of Jesus, as he prepared to walk the last few earthly yards with a death row inmate to be hanged later that morning, whom he had accompanied for some time as the man sought forgiveness and mercy and eternal life.
In his ministry of mercy and healing Moss has embraced both arms of the cross, burying the victims of murder and providing comfort to the families of murder victims as well as ministering to men condemned to die and witnessing the executions of five men, while comforting their families.
He exemplifies the divine mercy, the love of God and the Christ who shed his blood for and offers mercy to all bar none. He has encouraged others in the moral life while refusing to act as the ultimate judge as has Francis. Like Pope Francis he continues to insist that we hear and heed the cries of the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized, the outcast.
He has remarked that the highlight of priesthood has been the encouragement of family life and pastoring. Having lost his parents and grandparents early in life he has evinced a particular compassion for those who have lost loved ones, especially young people who have lost a parent.
When Moss laughs his entire body is engulfed, overflowing with the kind of joy that he has shared with others for over 50 years, the kind of joy that emanates from his soul and spirit when he plays the organ or the piano.
Amidst the sacrifices and human suffering he shares with us all, there is in him an irrepressible joy, a response to God's grace and a response to the love of the Bahamian people for this prince of the Church and prince of the nation.
Beginning on December 8 of this year, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, to the Feast of Christ the King next year, the Roman Catholic Church will celebrate the Year of Divine Mercy, an opportunity to experience and impart forgiveness, another name for unconditional love.
For over 50 years Preston Moss has demonstrated such mercy and love within his religious communion and toward the people of his native land. How blessed are we to have such a noble soul and native son, whom we celebrate this day with overwhelming joy, pride and thanksgiving.

o frontporchguardian@ gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Why National Health Insurance

June 03, 2015

"After consultation with the private sector insurance companies, put in place a system of National Health Insurance so that every Bahamian will have insurance coverage for major surgery and other medical services."
- 2002 PLP platform
In the lead-up to the 2002 general election, I joined a delegation led by Perry Christie on a visit to Moore's Island, Abaco. During our walkabout, we met a young man who was extremely challenged, both mentally and physically. I was moved by the interest and attention Christie showed him.
I realized then that Perry Christie was fully committed to the implementation of a comprehensive range of health services for all Bahamians.
The first system of universal health care was established in Norway in 1912. Since then, Norway has been joined by 32 of the most developed nations on the planet, with the United States establishing in 2014 comprehensive health insurance coverage for all United States residents. The time has now come for The Bahamas to join the community of nations relative to universal health care.
Universal health care does not necessarily imply a government-only scheme. Many countries, in implementing universal health care, continue to include both public and private insurance and medical providers.
I congratulate those who are sufficiently fortunate to afford medical insurance plans that fully meet their health needs. However, those persons whose health is impaired and cannot afford insurance coverage, should receive health care that is financially supported by the state.
The absence of such arrangements could condemn them to a lifetime of poverty and lost opportunities that could result from debilitating or life-threatening health problems that are not adequately addressed.
If health insurance and many other privileges are taken for granted by those who can afford access to health care services, then surely our relatively affluent society, which enjoys the highest per capita income of any Caribbean nation, can find an optimal formula to demonstrate to the poor, the needy, the aged and the infirm that we care enough for them and every family in The Bahamas to provide them with quality health care.
We deceive ourselves if we believe that we can truly have a high level of prosperity without a healthy and just society. If we recognize this fact, we will support National Health Insurance (NHI). We can and should do everything in our power to make a difference in this noble effort.
There are two primary arguments that have been advanced against NHI. The first concerns funding, often with the refrain that "we can't afford it," and that "there should be no additional taxes" to finance this endeavor. While I accept the argument about taxes "at this time", I believe that we must find the means to afford a January 2016 rollout without any new taxes. One might well ask, how is this possible? I believe that if we muster the resolve, we can find a way.
The government could find many millions of dollars by reducing the size of government (particularly the Cabinet) and reducing the expenditure of many government ministries and departments, reducing the subvention to Bahamasair and the Broadcasting Corporation, eliminating unnecessary travel and minimizing the use of foreign consultants.
The latter expenditure can be significantly reduced by engaging the local talent and skills of professionals who have the ability to compete with many foreign consultants.
I readily accept that exceptions in the reduction of expenditures should apply in the areas of health, education, public safety, social services, investment in infrastructure and tourism and foreign investment promotion.
Insurance companies and other corporate citizens should be invited to fully participate in the national discourse and assess how they can contribute to the NHI fund, in the spirit of our increased focus on public private partnerships.
Those who suggest that we cannot afford the cost of universal health care should seriously compute the considerable cost of not doing so.
The second argument that has been advanced is that "National Health Insurance could risk our way of life". If "our way of life" means ignoring the conditions of the poor, the infirm, the elderly, the chronically ill and the unemployed, then all right-thinking persons should not only risk that way of life, but publicly condemn it to the dung heap.
The private sector should be encouraged to join the government in promoting significant economic growth. This can be successfully achieved by enterprising Bahamians who can be empowered through the prudent use of Crown Land, so that by expanding the economy, such entrepreneurs can contribute to the goal of a healthy and vibrant nation.
We must find an effective way to enlist the bright minds that have been educated over the years and who have proven that they can successfully manage large businesses.
We should also ensure that the public debate on this important national issue is not relegated to the kind of political bickering that would suffocate an objective, honest and beneficial dialogue. Every effort must be taken to transcend partisan political differences to develop a scheme that is generally acceptable to most Bahamians so that successive governments will not radically alter the program which we finally decide on, much like we have done with our National Insurance Program.
Above all, as we transition to a National Health Insurance scheme, we should guarantee that those persons who are selected to manage this program are beyond reproach and are answerable to their mandate, while maintaining cordial relationship with the government of the day.
Bahamians have an inalienable right to enjoy a better life in a better land - a land where our people are healthy, educated and prosperous, enjoying an improved quality of life in safe and secure communities.
There is a guiding star in The Bahamas' firmament that points the way to that better land.

o George A. Smith served as a member of Parliament for 29 years and a Cabinet minister for 11 years. He was a member of the delegation at the London talks on Bahamian Independence.

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Budget 2015/2016: Is The Bahamas stronger

June 02, 2015

Prime Minister Perry Christie delivered the government's budget communication on May 27, 2015. There were quite a number of important points made and initiatives were announced for the 2015/2016 fiscal year.
The communication also gave the government an opportunity to provide an account of its stewardship of the nation's finances and provide clarity on matters of national importance.
As can be expected, some praised the budget and others criticized the same. In customary fashion, it was not surprising that the members of the government and supporters of the governing party touted the budget while the Official Opposition found flaws in the communication as lacking in substance and being more of the same.
The 2015/2016 budget was entitled "Building a Stronger Bahamas" and the prime minister highlighted a new initiative aimed at encouraging us all to get involved in building a stronger Bahamas. This piece objectively considers the budget and explores the question as to whether we are stronger today than we were in prior years - after all, the numbers don't lie.

Fiscal highlights
One of the biggest pieces of news coming out of the budget communication is the reduction of the GFS deficit by $342 million or two-thirds over the past three years from a high of $539 million during the FY 2012/13. Regardless of our political affiliation, we can all agree that this is a positive trend and a step in the right direction when we also consider that the government expected to borrow $182 million in 2015/2016 compared to $670 million during the 2012/13 fiscal year.
The government's projected GFS deficit for the current period is estimated at $198 million, down $88 million from the initial forecast of $286 million; 31 percent lower than initially forecast and lowest in seven years.
Additionally, recurrent and capital expenditure as well as total government debt are expected to come in slightly lower than the budget forecasts.
The introduction of value-added tax (VAT) received mixed reviews from several stakeholders and individuals within the country. However, many agree that the implementation is worthy of commendation although it was not totally hitch-free.
Like other nations that have introduced VAT, initial intake has surpassed projections as VAT receipts for the first three months of 2015 totaled $110 million. While it may be too early to tout VAT as a success, initial figures suggest that the government seems to be achieving its goal of increasing revenue.

The topic of National Health Insurance (NHI) has dominated the press for the past week with diverse views expressed on this important matter. It is important to note that the government has a duty to its people to move toward the achievement of universal health coverage. More importantly, we ought to protect the people who cannot help themselves and ensure that they have access to quality healthcare.
On this fundamental point, the debate has revealed that we are all on the same page and agree that NHI is required. The main contention seems to be the manner in which NHI will be implemented and the prime minister seemed to have addressed some of these concerns by stating NHI will be phased in and a comprehensive consultation exercise will be undertaken.
While many question the logic of imposition of VAT on healthcare and health insurance premiums as we move toward NHI implementation, it was encouraging to see that the government has determined that there will be no excise tax on medical equipment, audio/visual equipment and alarms.
The biggest announcement on this topic, however, was the fact that NHI will be implemented in January 2016 at no additional cost to Bahamians. In essence, there will be no initial additional taxes to implement NHI at this time.
In the interim, the budget provides $60 million to improve quality and efficiency in the administration and delivery of existing healthcare services. In this regard, the government would do well to ensure that the existing health infrastructure, systems and human resources are strengthened as part of this process.
The government ought to be commended for taking a prudent approach to NHI implementation to ensure that it is not only affordable but also sustainable. This demonstrates maturity in governance, which ignores political pressure and rhetoric in favor of sound economic decisions in the national interest.

Youth empowerment
The rate of youth unemployment in The Bahamas and the region is quite high. There is no doubt that this is cause for concern and should be one of the main priorities of the government.
It was therefore encouraging to note that $20 million has been allocated in the budget for youth jobs training. While the vehicle through which this program will be implemented has attracted some concerns, the commitment should be applauded.
However, it would be wise to reconsider the involvement of Urban Renewal 2.0 in this program until the outstanding issues regarding the social initiative have been properly addressed.
It is often said that perception is reality and even though the validity of this saying could be challenged, we should be careful not to taint this vital initiative with unnecessary allegations or distractions. The youth of The Bahamas need to feel like a part of our country and this initiative has the potential to empower the future leaders of our commonwealth.
An important aspect of this proposed program must be the acquisition and development of skills by our young people. Hence, the private sector must play a major role if we are to achieve our objectives in this regard.

Tax relief, housing and the environment
The prime minister announced reductions in stamp duty in real estate transactions and excise tax on vehicles. The ban on the importation of vehicles 10 years old or older is a welcome development in that it should impact the health and safety of our people. Our environment will also be better for this ban due to potentially harmful emissions from older vehicles, some of which are not roadworthy.
The granting of tax exemptions on building materials for construction in economically depressed areas in New Providence should assist the less privileged among us, provided it is not abused. The government working through its agencies will need to ensure proper policing in this regard.
The construction of 1,000 homes though a public-private partnership involving the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation should generate some economic activity and assist our people in achieving their dream of home ownership if properly implemented.

In the coming days, we will receive more details on the government's plan for the 2015/2016 fiscal year as the budget debate gets underway. The Bahamian people will be listening attentively to get an idea of where we are headed as a nation.
What they hear will either encourage them and give them hope for the future or discourage them and paint a gloomy picture of tomorrow.
While we await the presentations, the answer to the question as to whether we are stronger as a nation will remain subjective in a nation polarized by politics and political affiliation.
One thing is certain, though, in spite of the challenges we face with crime, high unemployment, unhealthy debt-to-GDP ratio and a sluggish economy, our financial position is improving and trending in the right direction.
There is much work to be done and we must continue to work to wipe every tear from every eye in our country. A stronger Bahamas is a united Bahamas in which we work together in the best interest of all of our people, not just a select few.

o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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A stronger Bahamas - part 1

June 01, 2015

"The future of The Bahamas is a bright one." - Prime Minister Perry Christie

As the Cabinet strode across Rawson Square on its short trip from the Churchill Building to Parliament last Wednesday, Bahamians across the nation anxiously awaited the budget communication that the prime minister, in his capacity as minister of finance, would deliver moments later.
The anticipation accelerated as the prime minister rose to report to the nation on his government's performance in the last fiscal year and, more importantly, what would be contained in the annual budget for the fiscal year 2015/2016.
In short, the budget communication painted a positive portrait, particularizing the government's performance over the preceding year and presenting prospective public policy pronouncements that would affect our daily lives for the remaining two years of its current term in office and beyond. The prime minister's tone and tenor were generally upbeat as he thematically expounded on his government's commitment to building a stronger Bahamas.
Therefore this week, we would like to Consider This... What can be said about the prime minister's communication on the national budget that he delivered on May 27, 2015?
The first part of this series will address what he articulated about the foundational and conceptual framework upon which the budget was formulated.
Next week, in part 2, we will specifically address budgetary provisions and allocations and how they affect key macroeconomic indices in order to provide a sense of whether they will put us solidly on the correct trajectory to achieve the stated national objectives.
In the third and final installment, we will critically assess what, in our opinion, was inadequately addressed in the budget, and whether the stated objectives are actually achievable in the remaining years of this Government's term in office.

A stronger Bahamas
The prime minister expressed the essential elements that would be required to build a stronger Bahamas, noting that those elements would focus on three core priorities: "to secure a safer Bahamas, a more prosperous Bahamas and, through a world-class education system and targeted social investments, a modern Bahamas."

A safer Bahamas
Clearly the government recognizes that crime and the fear of crime remain an intractably intricate conundrum that continuously confounds them and confronts us daily and that the safety and security of its citizens is of paramount importance. This challenge requires a holistic approach if it is to be resolved anytime soon.
The prime minister emphasized the importance of the full participation and focused engagement of the organs of state, especially the criminal justice system and the Ministry of National Security, in making their contributions to build a safer Bahamas. He announced that $20 million would be allocated to address youth unemployment through the Urban Renewal Programme.

A prosperous Bahamas
The objective of building a prosperous Bahamas significantly depends upon strengthening the growth and diversification of the economy, with the primary objective of arresting and reversing the national unemployment rate. At November 2014, this rate stood at 15.7 percent, with the unemployment amongst youthful Bahamians twice that at 31 percent.
The prime minister emphasized that the solution to the unemployment challenge rested principally on sustained economic growth and focused training and placement opportunities. This would be done through public private partnerships that would enable unemployed persons to enjoy greater participation in emerging employment opportunities.
In order to achieve this objective, the prime minister stressed the importance of creating an environment characterized by sound policies that would promote market confidence in The Bahamas by both domestic and foreign investors. He also noted the importance of devising educational and vocational systems designed to address the human capital needs as the economy expands.
The prime minister accentuated the need to constantly modernize our infrastructure in order to facilitate a buoyant economy. He placed particular emphasis on our key public utilities, including cellular liberalization and the implementation of an energy policy to address the excessively high costs associated with those operations.
In addition, a more prosperous Bahamas would necessarily require greater attention to and reform of our taxation regime, which for too long we have approached lackadaisically, both in the public and private sectors.
If we are honest about building a prosperous Bahamas, the government must also revisit its mortgage relief plan, which ended in dismal failure earlier in this term. The prime minister has promised to do that.

A modern Bahamas
The government's pronouncements about building a modern Bahamas include strengthening the educational system, transforming The College of The Bahamas into a university, and implementing a universal health care program.
Undoubtedly, the singular public policy that will concretize Christie's legacy is his planned introduction of National Health Insurance (AKA universal health care for all Bahamians who cannot afford such care) in January next year.
The prime minister's assertion that the program will be introduced without imposing additional taxes or contributions to fund the scheme, at this time, was very surprising. The operative words are "at this time". It remains to be seen precisely how the government intends to fund such an urgently needed, monumentally transformative and expenditure-laden scheme without the introduction of taxes or user-contributions if it is to be sustainable. Much more about that in part 3 of this series.
In addressing the development of a modern Bahamas, the prime minister characterized the investment climate as buoyant as he itemized numerous foreign direct investments that have started and foreshadowed others that are being considered throughout the Islands of The Bahamas.

Overall assessment
The overall assessment of the budget communication is that, while there were no new policies that introduced innovative ideas, it was encouraging that the government's custodianship of the public purse resulted in a reversal of perennially persistent and excessively enormous budget deficits.
It might appear to some that the budget communication is too vague and lacks the details of how the government intends to achieve its ambitious agenda in the time it has left. Some will go so far to suggest that the communication is a repackaging of its election promises of 2012 and that there is not much new ground here.
However, it should be noted that any budget communication, by design, is precisely that: a communication of accomplishments, aims and objectives, usually providing a review of the fiscal road recently traveled and forecasts of plans for the journey that lies ahead. This sometimes includes reiterating and reenergizing campaign promises in order to move them from the promise stage to creating an action plan for their realization.
Therefore, next week we will examine the details that are included in the estimates of revenue and expenditure for fiscal 2015/2016 to determine whether the budgetary details support the prime minister's assertion that "the future of The Bahamas is a bright one."

o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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Catholic Ireland becomes trailblazer for gay rights

May 29, 2015

It might seem a surreal joke, but Ireland became the first nation in the world to legalize gay marriage in a national referendum last Friday.
As reported by the Associated Press on May 23: "Ireland's citizens have voted in a landslide to legalize gay marriage, electoral officials announced Saturday - a stunningly lopsided result that illustrates what Catholic leaders and rights activists alike called a social revolution."
Mind you, the pope himself appeared to bless this seminal event almost two years ago.
"Pope Francis replied, when asked about the Vatican's alleged 'gay lobby', that while a lobby might be an issue, he doesn't have any problem with the inclination to homosexuality itself: 'Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?' he said."
(National Catholic Reporter, July 29, 2013)
Such sublime, passive-aggressive expression of his moral authority led CBS News to run a report headlined, "Pope Francis after two years: A revolution at the Vatican," just two months ago (on March 15). Which is why the "stunning" outcome of this referendum is wholly consistent with his revolutionary mission.
Of course it is a curious thing that, despite the pope's apparent blessing, leaders of the Irish Catholic Church mounted a crusade against this referendum. Mind you, the pope has publicly criticized church leaders in many countries for showing more devotion to religious traditions and practices than to the word and spirit of the Almighty God.
More to the point, this liturgical dissonance is thrown into sharp relief when one considers that the church's traditions and practices include condemning homosexuality while:
a) engaging in homosexual/pedophile acts themselves.
b) providing indulgences for priests who sexually abuse little boys, and/or
c) knowing full well that a "gay cabal" has always wielded dogmatic power in their Holy Curia.
This infernal legacy of hypocrisy accounts not only for the "hidden exodus of Catholics becoming Protestants," but also for the growing disconnect even between church leaders and die-hard members, which the outcome of this referendum reflects.
Still, as much as I laud what the Irish have done, I fear they have set an untenable and misguided precedent.
After all, the right to marry is as fundamental as any human right. And, as the late Justice William Brennan (of the U.S. Supreme Court) might have opined, it offends all notions of fundamental fairness, which is essential to the very concept of justice, for members of any group to have the exercise of their fundamental rights subject to a referendum.
For example, it does not offend in this regard to have a referendum on whether Scotland should leave the UK, or whether the UK should leave the EU. For not only is there no fundamental right at stake, but the result would affect everyone in the country equally.
By instructive contrast, if the right to marry across racial lines had been put to a referendum in the United States during the 1960s, the vote against interracial marriage would have been as decisive as the vote for gay marriage in Ireland was on Friday.
Thanks to the luck of the Irish, the end justified the means in their case. But it's far more preferable to have fundamental rights codified by legislatures and/or affirmed by courts - as 19 other countries, including South Africa, Uruguay, and The Netherlands, have done with respect to gay marriage.
Incidentally, in the United States, gay marriage has been legalized in 37 states: 26 by courts, eight by legislatures, and only three by referendum. But, as the fight for abortion rights demonstrated, denying citizens in any state any fundamental right, which citizens in other states enjoy, presents all kinds of constitutional challenges.
It just so happens that the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down a consolidated ruling on several gay-marriage cases (cited as Obergefell v. Hodges) this summer. I predict it will be a unanimous ruling in favor of the fundamental right to marry nationwide, relying heavily on the precedent the Court set in Loving v. Virginia, U.S. Supreme Court, 1967:
"Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man [and woman],' fundamental to our very existence and survival... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial [or gender or sexual orientation] classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.
For the reasons stated, I urge members of any minority group demanding legal recognition and protection of their fundamental rights to seek recourse in the courts, not at the ballot box."
Accordingly, with this procedural reservation, Ireland's referendum on gay marriage is affirmed.

o Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant headquartered in Washington, DC. This article is published with permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Boys need help too

May 29, 2015

It is a tragedy for our society when any child takes his or her life. The death of 12-year-old Shamar Weeks in Barbados is one more example of the many children who have committed suicide within the Caribbean region.
Teen suicide is one of the major concerns for adolescents who suffer from depression and other serious emotional problems, including trauma from domestic and community violence.
The West Indian Medical Journal (WMJ) 2012 states that: "Suicide has become a major public health problem among children and adolescents. Over the past five decades, there has been an increase in suicide in adolescents, particularly in developing countries.
"Cross-national data revealed that about 25 per cent of all suicides occurring globally are in the 15-24 year age group, referred to as transitional age youth. A global analysis of rates of suicide 15-19 year olds, revealed it as the fourth leading cause of death among young males and the third for young females.
"Estimates place the mean suicide rate for this age group at approximately 7.4 per 100,000. The rate of attempted suicide is higher in females and the rate of completed suicide is higher among males with the 15-19 year old group showing the greatest and most sustained increase in suicide rates globally."
It is widely acknowledged that adolescence represents a turbulent developmental period for young people as they transition into adulthood. Children and their parents are often faced with problems which may seem unending, and in many cases can escalate into painful and emotional turmoil at home.
Adults as well as children are sometimes unable to cope with life's many challenges, including severe poverty, lack of access to work, untreated illness and medical needs (including mental health) with limited or no access to necessary health care, lack of education, and community environments plagued by violence.
With the addition of severe domestic violence at home, or being a victim of bullying or peer abuse at school, a child is likely to exhibit some signs of emotional distress such as depression, anxiety, social isolation and withdrawal, which may include running away from home. These symptoms often precede a child's attempted or successful suicide.
A major concern for public health providers and advocates is that often neither the parents nor the child are aware of the dangerous consequences of this distress. The most serious outcome for children at risk is death.
The WMJ report notes that "male adolescent suicide rates showed an upward trend in contrast to the downward trend for females in the four-year period studied. Continued surveillance is needed for greater understanding of adolescent suicides.
"Collaboration among health services, parents, schools and communities is integral in prevention efforts. Recent media coverage of suicides provides a window of opportunity to galvanize support for research and the development of intervention strategies."
It has been shown that young men are twice as likely to commit suicide as girls within the Caribbean. This is mainly due to the social belief that boys are less likely to express emotion than females; creating an environment in which they are unable to express their emotional concerns with others like their peers and family members.
The right to live free from violence is every child's right. To take one's life is not only a human tragedy, but also a social one as it is indicative of the social problems which are left untouched by those who have the responsibility to protect others from harming themselves. It is time people understand the psychological connection between suicide and suicide attempts.
No one in their right mind would want to take his/her life, but if he/she feels that there is no light, solution or purpose for his/her existence, then it is very tragic that any human person within a society has developed such intense feelings to totally annihilate his/herself. We need to show compassion for our children and allow them to grow with hope and aspirations for the future.
We cannot continue to treat suicide as a religious taboo while our children are dying inside, wanting to abruptly end their lives. We have seen too many suicides amongst men within the Caribbean region.
Our men need effective interventions and treatment geared to recovery. We must ensure that our youths and young children are aware of the existence of these resources. They must be aware that there are people who care about their physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing.
Every case of a child or young person losing his or her life in tragic circumstances, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, should be an immediate concern for everyone. Children and young people should be given effective counseling to ensure they progress to become healthy and balanced citizens.
Trained counsellors and intervention agencies should implement suicide prevention programs by identifying high risk children and families.
It is critically important that these transitional age groups and their families have access to effective interventions within their schools and homes. Social media platforms can be utilized to provide mental health counseling and intervention like 24/7 suicide hotlines with access to appropriate hospital, outpatient and urgent care assessment/treatment services.
These should include both physical and psychiatric/psychological clinical services.

o Felicia Browne is a feminist philosopher, human rights advisor, and lecturer at the University of the West Indies.

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Christie's and the PLP's shameful record on gender equality

May 28, 2015

Near the end of November 2012, approximately six months after the PLP's return to office, a joint session of Parliament was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bahamian women attaining the right to vote.
It was a good show. The value of equality was heralded. There were the usual grand speeches. The PLP's female parliamentarians beamed with pride, though, curiously, a number of male parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle seemed bored.
On cue, Prime Minister Perry Christie strutted, boasted and emoted. Given his performance in the House of Assembly on the occasion, one would be forgiven for surmising that he is a great champion of gender equality. He promised constitutional equality for women before the 40th anniversary of independence in 2013.
A joint resolution was passed promising an end to constitutional discrimination against women, "so as to fully and irrevocably engage and utilize the indomitable spirit of Bahamian womanhood in nation-building".
Here we are three years later. There has now been a fifth and counting postponement of a referendum on gender equality.
Many have concluded that such a referendum is unlikely during the PLP's current term.
Fifty years after women attained the right to vote and over 40 years after independence, Bahamian women are still not constitutionally equal. This sad reality speaks not only to the lack of equality for women. It speaks to a deficiency in the body politic, entrenched misogyny and sexism, a feeling of inferiority among some women, a betrayal of Bahamian women by the Progressive Liberal Party, the political home of Dame Dr. Doris Johnson.
It speaks also to fear mongering and paranoia, and the adolescent notion that gender equality is a zero-sum game, that the advancement of women comes at the expense of men, instead of the reality that we all benefit from greater equality.
Relatedly, the four bills presented to Parliament by the government ahead of a referendum would, as an observer wrote, "correct two instances where the constitution discriminates against women in matters of citizenshi, and one instance where it discriminates against men, also in a matter of citizenship".

A mirror into the sad state of affairs in terms of gender equality was the brutish remarks in the House of Assembly about domestic violence by Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller. South Andros MP Picewell Forbes split his guts laughing with glee at Miller's remarks, initially seeing no reason to apologize for his buffoonish sexism.
Not a single man, PLP or FNM, rose then or afterward to fully challenge Miller's gross remarks. The collective silence seemed like consent. Seemingly cowed by the aggressive and at times vicious language of Miller and the misogyny within the party, not a single female PLP parliamentarian publicly countered the bile spewed by Miller.
The silence and the stammering evasions after Miller's violent outburst stood in stark contrast to the sentimentality and bounty of words of many of these very same parliamentarians during the 50th anniversary commemoration.
The silence on or opposition to a complex of issues associated with gender equality, such as marital rape legislation and other pressing concerns, stands in stark contrast to the easy nostalgia and the often all too flowery remarks celebrating the past accomplishments of the struggle for gender equality.
This is the context within which this struggle continues. It is a context in which the enemy of progress is ambivalence. There is a general ambivalence and a belief by many that because much has been achieved in the struggle for gender equality that constitutional equality is merely icing on the cake and of relatively little importance.
There is ambivalence by many women who should be natural allies in the struggle. There is ambivalence by many young women not yet conscious that they remain unequal under the supreme law of the land.
There is ambivalence by generally well-meaning men who have not added their voices nor lent sufficient energy in this cause, including moderate religious heads of leading mainline denominations.
It is safe for many politicians, religious and civic leaders, men and women, to remain ambivalent on this issue, a sad indictment of where we are as a country. Too many simply do not care enough, are not angry or outraged enough.
This is not only an issue on which women must aggressively campaign. Energizing the efforts for constitutional equality requires the voice of male leaders within and outside the political realm. The voices of such men may help to reach many women and men ambivalent about the issue at hand.

On the matter of constitutional equality, ambivalence has spawned gross opportunism and as gross extremism laced with fear. Many politicians have not moved aggressively on constitutional equality because they recognize the ambivalence of many Bahamians on the issue. Sensing this same ambivalence, certain demagogic misogynists have been full-throttled in their opposition to equality.
With legislation previously moving forward in the House, extremists and ignorant views within and outside the chamber hijacked the debate. The extremists are able to hijack the debate today because the well of equality was poisoned back in 2002. Writing in The Tribune Taneka Thompson picked up the story.
"Twelve years ago, on the night of February 27, 2002, thousands of jubilant supporters of the Progressive Liberal Party celebrated on the grounds of Gambier House after it became clear that the Ingraham administration's constitutional referendum, which aimed in part to obliterate discrimination against women in the constitution, had failed.
"As he moved through the exuberant crowd gathered at PLP headquarters, then Opposition Leader Perry Christie had to fight his way through the gathering as his supporters clawed at him, excited to get a glimpse of the man fated to become the next prime minister of The Bahamas. "It was just three months before the 2002 general election and the PLP was able to capitalize on voter discontent with the Ingraham administration by hijacking, instead of helping, the process for reform of our outdated constitution.
"Although Mr. Christie and members of his party supported the constitutional bills when they were read and debated in Parliament, the PLP chose to feed into the ignorance and opposition over the process, in a purely political bid to assure a successful election campaign."
Christie boasted before the crowd: "Today truth has emerged victorious. It is a bright and joyous day for The Bahamas... For those of us that have campaigned so vigorously for the results that have been achieved have a victory for the Bahamian people." Today, Christie's words look even more egregious, self-serving and disgraceful.
Had Christie and the PLP followed up on their earlier support and vote in Parliament for gender equality in 2002, it would have been a settled issue for 13 years. Truth has not emerged victorious. It is still a dark and sad day for Bahamian women, whose aspirations for equality were defeated by the PLP.
It is mostly because of Christie and the PLP's naked and shameless opportunism that Bahamian women are not constitutionally equal.
To those who seek such equality, they will have to organize for change on the ground in constituencies, through various media and among natural and potentially new allies in order to persuade citizens and to pressure political leaders on both sides of the aisle.

They cannot rely on the promises and supposed good will of the government of the day. The same PLP which sacrificed gender equality on the altar of gross expediency in 2002 does not today possess the will nor the political muscle to advance the cause.
Despite previously bragging that he had the popular appeal and the ability to advance gender equality, Christie is a vastly diminished figure incapable of doing the heavy lifting on equality.
All of which makes essential the work of groups like Citizens for Constitutional Equality, launched earlier this year. At its inaugural meeting the group was addressed by former Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes:
"... Despite all the talk - some of it bordering on hysterical - there is really not one good reason why all four of these bills should not be passed by Parliament and approved by the people in a referendum.
"One argument I have heard against at least one of the bills is that abuses are likely to occur. Well, of course, abuses are likely to occur. What constitutional right or freedom or privilege do we enjoy that is not subject to abuse by someone?
"Because our freedom of expression may be abused every day and every hour by people spreading false information or slandering fellow citizens does not mean that our freedom of expression should be abolished."
Sir Arthur emphasized: "It would be a great shame if we allowed all the red herrings, all the excuses, all the misinterpretations and all the predictions of calamity to prevent us from extending full constitutional equality to all Bahamians, including women."
Recently, Dr. Mizpah Tertullian, a leading female politician of her generation, passed away. After her death there were the ritual tributes by the PLP.
But during her life the PLP never nominated the highly accomplished Tertullian, also an author and a psychologist, for a winnable seat, though many less -accomplished men were repeatedly given such nominations. The PLP continued to run her in Shirlea, a seat the party knew she could not win.
During her last years, there were no major tributes or recognition of her contributions. But in death she is now being praised. Christie and the PLP are adept at providing rhetorical support for gender equality.
But they have not matched rhetoric with accomplishments. Indeed the PLP has done serious harm to the cause of equality, with Bahamian women continuing to pay the price for the PLP's naked opportunism and ambivalence.

o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Healthcare delivery and the proposed NHI

May 28, 2015

The discrepancy between the projected cost of National Health Insurance (NHI) per the government's consultants - Sanigest International - and the estimate from the private insurance industry is significant and glaring for all to see. While we wait on the government to give us another figure on the price tab for this scheme, it is obvious that it will cost the taxpayers quite a lot to pay for NHI. What makes this even more disturbing is that the government wants to collect and control hundreds of millions of tax dollars in order to give us quality healthcare as if it has earned our trust based on its track record in healthcare delivery over the years.

The cost of public healthcare
The current healthcare system is filled with so much deficiencies and inefficiencies, with overcrowded waiting areas and inadequate infrastructure to support the general population. The system is further burdened by illegal immigrants who do not contribute to the public treasury or the National Insurance Board (NIB) but enjoy access to healthcare in The Bahamas. A visit to the public ward at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) is all it takes to question the level of commitment of the government to providing quality healthcare to its people.
Besides the construction of the Critical Care Block, which has taken several years and is still not sufficient to meet the healthcare demands of this nation, what other upgrades have been made to the public healthcare system? Plagued with wastage, corruption, operational inefficiency and a poor records management system, the public health system in general and Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) have managed to erode any form of confidence we might have had in these institutions. When considered against the perceived reluctance of the government to address the issues raised in the recent PHA audit, it is obvious that there is cause for serious concern. This is despite the fact that over $200 million of taxpayers' funds is allocated to this failed entity on an annual basis.

What will change with NHI?
The question then is: What will change with the introduction of NHI? The reality is that we currently have a national health service through the existing framework that includes PMH and our community clinics. NHI, it appears, is just being instituted to raise money to fund the existing inefficient healthcare system and to put all Bahamians, regardless of their incomes and preferences, in one big bucket. By doing this the government is seeking to control everyone's healthcare and take away individual choice. In essence, we are looking at a nationalization of the health insurance sector and socialized medicine.
Does the government believe that the operational inefficiency, inadequate infrastructure, shortage of human resources, flawed corporate identity and culture of wastage and corruption will suddenly disappear within the next seven months? Is it the belief of the individuals with political power in this country that the overburdened PMH and clinics and the impact of illegal immigrants will vanish come January 1, 2016? Perhaps the government expects that by taxing us to pay for NHI it will have enough money to add Doctors Hospital and other private medical facilities to the pool; individuals will simply just go to the private facilities with their NHI cards as there is sufficient capacity in these entities.

The reality of universal health coverage
In the push and rush to implement NHI, we should not be naive to think that it will be the panacea for all the problems within our current health system. National health systems are normally funded by taxes and it would be unthinkable to suggest that we can afford to implement NHI without either increasing current taxes or imposing new taxes.
Human nature is such that if an individual pays for a product or service, he or she will be inclined to put it to use. Hence, once the government begins to tax for the provision of healthcare and individuals now have access to healthcare, demand will rise.
The experience of developed countries such as France, Canada and the U.K., just to mention a few, is that universal health coverage increases demand for healthcare. Persons who would normally not buy a painkiller for aches and pains, or simply sleep it off, will now visit the clinic or hospital; worse still they will rush to the emergency room. Additionally, medical professionals became burdened with a significant increase in patients with many choosing renowned doctors. As a result, doctors spent less time with their patients and rushed them out in order to attend to the long lines in their waiting rooms. This took a toll on the doctors and the significant increase in demand also led to rapid deterioration of medical facilities. The end results were long waiting lists with patients waiting for over a year for certain procedures; some even died while waiting.

Medical costs and insurance premiums
Medical inflation is the increase in the cost of healthcare services year on year. It is well known that the cost of healthcare is constantly rising and continues to account for a high percentage of national budgets the world over. New procedures brought about by medical advancements are quite expensive and the development of new medicines comes at a high cost. The level of utilization also plays a role in the cost of healthcare; simply put, the more you use the more it costs. In The Bahamas, we utilize rates developed in the U.S. for healthcare services provided locally without considering the true cost of providing the service within this country. Rising medical costs is a global phenomenon and, as Tower Watson's survey on 2011 global medical trends, which examined 37 countries, showed, the medical cost trend has exceeded general inflation rates in 95 percent of surveyed countries.
The premiums charged for medical insurance in The Bahamas are high and put this beyond the reach of numerous Bahamians. The health insurance companies maintain that the cost and rising cost of health insurance is due to the high cost of healthcare in our country. It is common knowledge that the price of healthcare service is often adjusted based on whether a patient has health insurance or not. Adding VAT on medical insurance premiums just shows the disingenuousness of the government to really assist in bringing down medical costs for Bahamians but rather to assure that medical insurance stays beyond the reach of many Bahamians.

The government cannot ignore the points noted above as it seeks to bring about universal healthcare in The Bahamas. What will be done to reduce the cost of healthcare and medical insurance premiums? How will the system be strengthened to withstand the pressure of increased demand on the health system once NHI is implemented? Will the government be relying on the same individuals within the public service and the ineffective management teams to run a new system funded by the taxes paid by the people from their hard-earned wages?
The month of May is basically gone and yet we have no answers to several questions raised by the numerous stakeholders. The coalition is concerned that the government is underestimating the magnitude and amount of work needed to make the dream of NHI come true. We have no time to waste on rhetoric by politicians and it is high time our political leaders started taking this issue more seriously. They reference the number of persons who are dying due to lack of access to healthcare but omit the fact that the public system for which they are responsible is the major cause of these deaths.
We must be honest with the Bahamian people as to how much NHI will actually cost and admit that we can only afford a streamlined benefits package. The government should also move away from self-denial and admit that it is challenged to efficiently run any organization and requires the assistance of the private sector to properly implement NHI.
More importantly, the minister of health and his colleagues need to come down to Earth from their fantasy lands, be realistic in their approach and start taking real steps to address the real issues within our health system.

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Response to speaker's ruling on Public Accounts Committee

May 27, 2015

Hubert Chipman, MP for St. Anne's, began delivering the following text in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. After objections from the governing side and House Speaker Dr. Kendal Major, Chipman ended the statement without completing it. The full statement was then forwarded to the speaker as a letter from the opposition members of the Public Accounts Committee.

We are beset in the honorable House of Assembly with a looming crisis of confidence.
This crisis of confidence involves a wide scale lack of accountability and transparency by a government that on issue after issue refuses to disclose vital information to Parliament and to the Bahamian people, information required by law or by longstanding parliamentary practice.
Last year's 2014 to 2015 national budget, an abridged document lacking in critical details, was the tip of the iceberg upon which so many calls and requests for transparency and information on public spending have repeatedly run aground.
We have yet to ascertain all of the facts, errors, spending and outstanding matters related to BAMSI.
We are confronted with serious managerial and expenditure concerns raised by the auditor general on the government's Urban Renewal and Small Homes Repair Programme.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is being stymied in its efforts to fully investigate this matter.
The attack on the auditor general by certain individuals is disturbing and should be stopped and denounced by the appropriate Cabinet members.
The PAC will insist on calling the co-chairs of the Urban Renewal Commission. They will be expected not only to meet with the PAC but to fully cooperate with the committee.
If they fail to voluntarily attend, we will use the power of the committee to compel their attendance.
This crisis of confidence of which we speak involves contempt for certain longstanding democratic and parliamentary processes, including interference in the essential work of the Public Accounts Committee of this House.
The crisis of confidence issues forth in what this side deems as a lack of respect at times for the minority in this chamber.
We rely on your protection, a protection that is not always in evidence.
There is also a crisis of confidence in terms of the interference by the executive in work exclusive to the legislative branch of government, work exclusive to Parliament.
It is Parliament which passes the national budget and has legislative oversight of government spending. The more information we have on government finances, the better.
It is Parliament which creates certain entities by statute, which made and makes the operation of the National Intelligence Agency and the Urban Renewal Program without the consent of Parliament a stunning betrayal of democratic governance and yet another example of contempt by this government for Parliament.
The proximate and compelling matter on which we write you today is the attempt to thwart, delay and limit the work of the PAC in terms of reviewing the finances and accounts of the Urban Renewal Commission.
Two bogus contentions have been made which the official opposition categorically reject.
The first bogus contention is that a resolution of the House is required before the Public Accounts Committee can exercise its powers to "send for persons, papers and records".
This has not been the practice of the House or other like chambers such as the House of Commons in the United Kingdom where the practice is to invest the committee with such power on its appointment.
We note as a reminder that: "Parliament maintains oversight of the government's finances through the Public Accounts Committee."
The PAC in The Bahamas has five members. Three are members of the opposition; the two others are government members. The chairman of the committee is appointed by the leader of the opposition. It is my privilege to serve as chairman.
The PAC as an opposition-controlled committee is envisaged as a watchdog and as a monitor of public expenditure.
It is constituted so that it has the power to carry out its functions without interference from the executive and without the majority effectively blocking the work of the committee.
The PAC would effectively have little to no power were it to need the agreement of the majority in the House through a resolution of the House to "send for persons, papers and records".
Requiring such a resolution would defeat both the purpose and the work of the Public Accounts Committee.
Again, we reject this bogus contention.
We reject also the bogus contention that the PAC "is confined to examining only documents that are tabled in Parliament".
Again, this is not in keeping with longstanding practices nor the rules of this chamber or that of other Commonwealth parliaments and in accordance with Erskine May's "Parliamentary Practice" by which we are also guided.
You have publicly noted your interest in adhering to correct process and procedure, and good order.
We find it disturbing therefore that in two instances there has been a breach in the necessary separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches in certain matters.
We note that unsolicited legal advice was forwarded to your good self on that matter at hand, by the attorney general acting on behalf of the executive.
The forwarding of such legal advice is highly inappropriate and constitutes a breach of the separation of powers with regards to the work of the Public Accounts Committee.
If the speaker required advice on the matter before him, it would have been correct and judicious to consult the clerk or speaker of another lower body such as the British House of Commons. There is precedence for this.
Your good self also sought advice from the executive in the person of the attorney general on the matter before us, yet another breach between the legislative and executive branches on this matter.
Section 7 (a) (6) of the House rules empowers you to engage legal counsel for the benefit of the House; however, this does not include the attorney general because of the constitutional requirement of the separation between the legislative and executive branches is to be adhered to at all times.
We would also point out to you Mr. Speaker that there is no provision in rule two of the House Rules of Procedure for a reference to the attorney general for advice for obvious reasons, and an earlier reference in 2004 by a predecessor in office was equally bad for the same reason. Mr. Speaker it is unassailable that a bad point does not improve with repetition.
These are worrying breaches on the part of your good self. You must not only remain independent. You must also be seen to be independent.
On the matter at hand, we are afraid that your independence appears to be in question. We trust that no such further breaches will occur, so that the minority may continue to repose confidence in your good self.
The powers of PAC are clearly set forth in Rule 17 (1) of the 2005 House of Assembly rules.
These powers are rooted in, but not limited to, accounts considered and passed on by the House of Assembly.
In particular, the PAC is entitled to avail itself of such assistance as it considers necessary to determine, for example, the appropriateness in the instant case of the expenditure of money allocated to the Urban Renewal Commission.
As you are aware we are already examining the accounts of the Urban Renewal and Small Homes Repair Programme, which appropriations have already been laid and approved by the House. The PAC is already invested with the power to send for persons and documents pursuant to Rule 17 (5) of the rules. Therefore, as previously stated, no authorizing (or confirmatory) resolution under Section 14 of the act is required.
In keeping with your view that the Public Accounts Committee may "examine and report on documents which are before the House", we note that we will be examining in short order the accounts of the Urban Renewal and Small Home Repair Programme already before the House.
This will include the 2013 to 2014 accounts and the 2014 to 2015 accounts.
In so far as the House has for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 received from the minister of finance annual budget estimates of revenue and expenditure for consideration pursuant to rule 78 of the rules of procedure and has subsequently passed appropriations acts thereon, it has accordingly approved allocations for the Urban Renewal Commission and in accordance with rule 17 (1) (a) of the rules PAC is entitled to examine and report on the accounts showing the use and application of the sums granted by Parliament to meet this expenditure.
On this basis we have already called the co-chairs to appear before the committee and they have refused our invitation notwithstanding that we have already interviewed within the Ministries of Works and Finance and the Urban Renewal Commission. Those persons have given evidence in relation to the financial aspects of Urban Renewal and consequently it is surprising to say the least that the co-chairs have taken exception to their appearing before the committee. The refusal of the co-chairs of the Urban Renewal Commission to attend at our invitation is an affront to our House and our parliamentary democracy. It is surprising that members opposite seem to have scant concern for their actions.
It is imperative for PAC to seek the assistance of the auditor general of our commonwealth who it so happens was already looking into the operations of the Urban Renewal Commission prior to our request to assist.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but we wish to assure you that PAC in no way seeks to compromise the constitutional integrity of the Office of Auditor General by enlisting his assistance in this matter.
It is inherent in the nature of the respective functions of PAC and the auditor general that PAC would invite the auditor general to give evidence in its hearings on the Urban Renewal Commission.
We have already "sent for persons, papers and records"; pursuant to the powers already vested in the committee pursuant to sections 17 and 21 of the House rules.
As the majority members of the Public Accounts Committee we wish to be clear. We are not asking for special favors. We simply wish to exercise our duly constituted powers.
It is our fervent desire that you abide by longstanding rules and practices of the House and insofar as it may be perceived that you are acting outside of those boundaries we can only suggest that you have been poorly advised.
It is our fervent wish that the executive in the person of the attorney general or any other Cabinet member refrains from interfering in matters reserved for judgment by your good self and for parliament generally and specifically by the Public Accounts Committee, all of whom should jealously guard certain rights and prerogatives.
Let us work together as honorable members to avoid a full crisis of confidence. This is the fervent desire, hope and wish of Her Majesty's official opposition.
But if it is not to be we are prepared to forthrightly protect our rights as a minority and to protect and to defend abiding democratic values and practices which have sustained our democracy and are engrained in our system of governance for the benefit of the Bahamian people.
More importantly, we intend to fully utilize the responsibilities and the powers of the Public Accounts Committee in order to investigate and report on how this government continues to use taxpayer money and the millions of dollars collected as a result of VAT for which there has been no accounting to date.
We thank you Mr. Speaker and ensure you of our personal esteem.

o Hubert Chipman, Richard Lightbourn and Peter Turnquest are Free National Movement (FNM) members of Parliament.

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