September 11, 2014
Two Bahamians are among six men hit by a multi-count indictment unsealed on Tuesday in a U.S. federal court over an alleged $500 million offshore asset protection, securities fraud and money laundering scheme based in Belize.
Bahamians Kelvin Leach, 34, and Rohn Knowles, 29 - both described as residents of Belize City - along with Robert Bandfield, a U.S. citizen; Andrew Godfrey, a Belize citizen; Brian De Wit and Cem Can, citizens of Canada, and six corporate defendants, were charged with conspiracy to commit securities fraud and money laundering.
Bandfield, Godfrey and Can were additional charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, according to court documents.
The indictment was unsealed in a federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., on September 9. The U.S. has announced that it will seek the extradition of the men.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. prosecutors allege that Knowles, Leach and the other men, along with six corporate defendants: IPC Management Services, LLC; IPC Corporate Services Inc.; IPC Corporate Services LLC (collectively IPC Corp); Titan International Securities, Inc. (Titan); Legacy Global Markets S.A. (Legacy), and Unicorn International Securities LLC (Unicorn), defrauded legitimate investors in U.S. stocks by manipulating prices; helped their own clients evade paying U.S. taxes on bogus profits, and laundered $500 million in criminal proceeds.
The allegedly "corrupt clients" represented by those charged include over 100 unidentified U.S. citizens and residents, the indictment asserts.
Jacob Frenkel, a U.S.-based lawyer for Leach, Knowles and Titan International Securities, Inc., told Guardian Business in a statement that his firm, Shulman, Rodgers, Gandal, Pordy and Ecker, is "confident that our clients would be exonerated".
"Titan and its principals take seriously and comply with the laws and regulations of all countries in which they do business.
"The Department of Justice returned an indictment without even the slightest of advance notice to Titan, Mr. Leach or Mr. Knowles of an investigation, or an invitation to speak with prosecutors or regulators to resolve any concerns or inquiries," said Frenkel.
He added that his clients will "respond at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner to the allegations".
Prosecutors claim that in order to conduct their alleged scheme, the defendants created shell companies in Belize and Nevis for their "corrupt clients" and placed nominees at the helm of these companies.
Investors whose ownership interest in the companies was hidden were able to manipulating stocks, make profits and transfer the proceeds back to the U.S. against U.S. tax and anti-money laundering laws, it is alleged.
The indictment was identified as part of efforts underway by United States President Barack Obama's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF), created in November 2009, to wage an "aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes", according to a release issued by the FBI on the case.
Over the past three fiscal years, the United States Department of Justice has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants, the release added.
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September 11, 2014
A Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) official has lamented a series of recent strikes by members of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), warning that the demonstrations were "unreasonable" and would not "benefit anyone".
BCCEC CEO Edison Sumner claimed that the strike was not in the best interests of the country and warned both employers and employees to reach a solution quickly to avoid harm to the country's already fragile economy.
"It's unfortunate that the TUC has taken the decision that they have to put their members on strike alert... Taking a strike at this point in time, especially given the economy when we're in a fragile position, we don't see how it's going to be beneficial to employers and workers... It's not going to benefit anyone," said Sumner.
He added that the BCCEC was in talks with employers and extended an offer to mediate the dispute and bring it to an end swiftly.
"We understand the plight of the worker. Even though the chamber is the representative body for the employer...we acknowledge that workers ought to be protected, respected and treated fairly by employers.
"Everyone needs to get back to the table with the government to discuss their concerns and try to get them resolved... If they need the chamber to assist them in mediation, we're very open to do so and bring resolution to their outstanding disputes," stated Sumner.
TUC President Obie Ferguson called on workers across the country to go on strike earlier this week after months of threatening to take action, claiming that the congress had given the government ample time to address the unions' concerns.
"The employers cannot say that the Trade Union Congress and its affiliates have not been reasonable. We have been in talking since 2011 and 2009, in some cases," said Ferguson.
Workers within various groups, including Customs and Immigration, Water & Sewerage Corporation (WSC) and the Bahamas Nurses Union BNU), took action yesterday over various disputes regarding pensions, employment contracts, shifts and payment issues.
Minister of Labour Shane Gibson had earlier warned against any demonstrations, claiming that they would be illegal according to the Industrial Relations Act (IRA).
A press release issued yesterday by the Ministry of Labour further stressed that Section 77 (1) of the IRA prohibited unions from calling strikes due to trade disputes "while proceedings taken in relation to that dispute are pending before the Tribunal or the Court of Appeal".
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September 11, 2014
A leading downtown developer said he would personally welcome proposed Chinese investment in downtown Nassau, arguing that the area is in desperate need of "a catalyst" for development.
Downtown Nassau Partnership (DNP) Co-chair Charles Klonaris responded to the fact that Chinese state-owned entities are considering major renewal projects in the downtown area.
Guardian Business sources yesterday confirmed that Baha Mar's general contractor, China State Construction and Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), had presented an "impressive" master plan for the redevelopment of Downtown Nassau as a whole. The corporation is also currently a frontrunner to buy the British Colonial Hilton.
Klonaris, himself a major investor in the downtown area, dismissed concerns over foreign influence in the area, stating that the present state of East Bay Street demonstrates the urgency of further development and renovation.
"What I would say to those who oppose potential Chinese development is that they should walk down Bay Street, east of East Street, and you will see a desolate, deprived and abandoned part of our city.
"We need a catalyst to raise the level of our thinking and provide a space for young, educated Bahamians. We need these heavy players to think beyond day-to-day operations of what Nassau currently is. Right now what we see is a reflection of who we are as Bahamians," stated Klonaris.
The proposed foreign involvement in renovating downtown has generated polarized responses from the business community.
Speaking with Guardian Business, Shadow Minister for Finance Peter Turnquest argued that, while further developments for the area were sorely needed, the country needed to promote local investment.
"The development of downtown Nassau is and has been a unique Bahamian experience. Yes, it needs upgrades, and yes, it needs further development in what it offers to the Bahamian public as well as the tourist.
"However, given the right set of incentives and promotion of an encouraging environment, the Bahamian investors and entrepreneurs who are owners and stakeholders in the area will do their part in fulfilling a coordinated vision," stated Turnquest.
Turnquest further claimed that significant foreign direct investment (FDI) in the area would strip the country of control.
"If they do not feel that they do not the resources to make the development happen then that is unfortunate, but...in wholesale allowing foreign entities to own or do all the heavy lifting we give up a certain degree of control," said Turnquest.
Aside from bidding for the British Colonial Hilton, CSCEC has an equity interest in Baha Mar and is widely believed to be a bidder for a contract under the Bahamas Electricity Corporation request for proposal.
However, Klonaris, who is also the owner and developer of the Elizabeth on Bay Marketplace and Marina, claimed that foreign direct investment was often necessary, and dispelled fears over the effect of foreign involvement on the area's cultural heritage.
"I'm not concerned with the vision if it fits in with Nassau's heritage. I honestly think they'll do a better job of preserving our architecture...and taking into account all of the elements of downtown."
The $14 million Elizabeth on Bay plaza, which would stand to benefit from the proposed developments, has faced challenges partly due to its location, argued Klonaris.
"It's challenging. There are a lot of issues that have to be resolved, but I see more demand in terms of rentals for the plaza, and increased traffic down East Street," said Klonaris, adding that foreign development could help realize the area's full commercial potential.
"There's a lot of potential in adding to the city. The only thing I see is something very positive and for those concerned with foreigners [investing] downtown, I don't buy that."
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September 11, 2014
A leading accountant has thrown his support behind the implementation of a fiscal responsibility act (FRA) to restrain "unfettered" government expenditure, suggesting that his "major concern" ahead of what he predicts will be an 18-month "rough ride" for the economy is that the government is not serious about controlling spending.
Philip Galanis, managing partner of accounting firm HLB Galanis & Co., said that it is a lack of legal framework prohibiting additional spending and borrowing by the government that has left the Bahamian economy in a "very, very troubling" state, in which debt to GDP has increased from approximately 32 percent in 2007 to 59.0 percent in 2013.
"The absence of a fiscal responsibility act has landed us exactly where we are. Successive governments have done a deplorable job of managing the economy in terms of managing its public finances, and that's where we are, and that's why the national debt is so high, because there has been nothing to contain the government from borrowing.
"The Financial Administration and Audit Act only goes so far. More definitive fiscal responsibility needs to be placed on the government... We can't continue to do things in an unfettered way because that is going to be very, very difficult for us; not only for us, but for our children."
The implementation of a fiscal responsibility act has become a priority issue for the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), which has called for FRA to be implemented within the next 18 months to ensure that the government manages increased revenue expected to be obtained through VAT in a responsible manner.
This, it has suggested, would involve additional revenue obtained being put towards reducing the deficit/national debt, rather than engaging in additional spending.
The BCCEC has gone as far as to call the act a "non-negotiable" issue, suggesting it could withdraw support for VAT, planned for January 1, 2015, if the legislation is not passed.
Such a law was considered pivotal to the fiscal turnaround of New Zealand, which the government has pointed to as its model for the design of VAT following a visit from top NZ tax specialists. In that context, an FRA was passed some eight years after VAT.
Expressing concern that the country is facing an uncertain year and a half ahead, with a number of investments coming on-stream unlikely to have a significant impact on the economy within the "next 18 to 24 months", Galanis said it is also for this reason that the government must make greater commitments to restrain spending.
"We have got to be, and the government has got to be, extremely careful that it doesn't allow further slippage in the deficit or an increase in the national debt. This could lead to further downgrades and higher financing costs, which take money away from other programs."
Galanis said his "major concern" to date is that the government has not placed "sufficient attention" on its spending, in addition to raising revenue.
"Governments tend to spend more money when they get more money in, and the concern I have is whether they will continue to spend as freely as they have in the past once they see the additional revenue coming in," said Galanis.
He emphasized that he remains "hopeful" that VAT will ensure higher tax intake by the government, but this, too, is uncertain.
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September 11, 2014
A Turks and Caicos-based airline has revealed plans to bolster airlift into The Bahamas within the next six months in the hopes of promoting trans-Caribbean business and tourism.
Speaking with Guardian Business, interCaribbean Airways (ICA) CEO Trevor Sadler stated that the airline continued to target Caribbean businesspersons and offered unparalleled convenience for traveling within the region.
"We are by far the fastest way to travel throughout the region from here. We're about reducing the connectivity time at very competitive pricing and helping to facilitate doing business throughout the Caribbean," said Sadler, arguing that The Bahamas' location offers an ideal hub for regional business travel.
"Everybody flies into [Nassau]...so what this does is create the ability for someone to come and do business in multiple Caribbean locations...and create 'preview vacations' in these countries."
In addition to offering a convenient method of travel throughout the Caribbean, Sadler argued that the airline could boost regional tourism by circumventing the need to connect through the United States.
"For the Bahamian traveler who perhaps doesn't need a visa to visit some Caribbean destinations, but needs a visa in order to transit through the United States, this is a new option for travel through the Caribbean," said Sadler.
While Sadler noted that the airline's presence in The Bahamas was currently minimal, he claimed that it would expand its airlift into the country within six months. Reports from entities such as ratings agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) have indicated that airlift concerns were one of the greatest issues plaguing The Bahamas' tourism sector as the opening of Baha Mar looms.
"We've been flying to The Bahamas for a number of years now, but what we're doing now is expanding our distribution footprint...through the Global Distribution Systems (GDS). We have just three flights a week right now out of Nassau, but we think we can grow to five soon, which allows us to multiply the number of destinations and the frequency of flights from Nassau.
"Everything we're doing is incremental at this point... We'll only get to grow the airline when we make the connectivity successful, so it's not just about connecting our flights to other [ICA] flights, but about connecting to other airlines, such as Bahamasair," stated Sadler.
The Providenciales-based airline, which has operated for over 20 years, currently employs over 200 people within the region and maintains a fleet of 18 aircraft.
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September 11, 2014
The Ministry of Tourism has announced a reduction in the price of tickets for the HBCUX football game at Thomas A. Robinson this weekend.
The tickets for the game have now been reduced to $10, $20 and $50. General admission is now at $10, while platinum tickets are just $50.
HBCUX, an American football game, is being held on September 12-14 at the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium.
Central State University (CSU) and the Texas Southern University (TSU), two historically black colleges, will square off in the first college football game ever held in The Bahamas.
Sports Tourism General Manager Virginia Kelly said fans would appreciate the dropped prices.
"We want people to know that this is their chance to see an official NCAA game. This is something you don't want to miss and so get your tickets at these incredible prices," she said.
Thousands of persons, including celebrities, sports legends, football players and fans, are expected to attend the weekend festivities being hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and HBCUX Network, a new digital media network formed to showcase the unique and diverse experience at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The planned activities include a NCAA Division One Football game between Central State University (CSU) and Texas Southern University (TSU) and a star studded tailgate concert featuring The Bahamas' hottest recording artists as well as other internationally known Caribbean and American soca, calypso, hip hop and R&B musicians.
CSU's Invincible Marching Marauders band and TSU's, Ocean of Soul band and some of The Bahamas' award-winning bands will compete in a "battle of the bands" contest, while a freestyle Greek step show will culminate the tailgate experience.
Additionally, one of the activities surrounding the HBCUX Football Classic is the College Fair and Empowerment Workshop scheduled for Friday, September 12, 1-3 p.m., at the Melia Nassau Resort Hotel , Cable Beach.
Central State University and Texas State University along with The College of The Bahamas and Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute will be on-hand to disseminate information regarding attendance at their respective institutions. CSU and TSU have each donated three full four-year scholarships, inclusive of tuition, room and board, to their respective universities. The Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund Foundation will also be on-hand.
High school students, particularly 11th graders, are encouraged to come and participate in this opportunity to hear about attending these institutions of higher learning.
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September 10, 2014
KFC Nassau, along with KFC restaurants across the globe kicked off its annual fight against hunger with the launch of its annual Yum! Brands sponsored World Hunger Relief (WHR) campaign...
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September 10, 2014
AMID numerous complaints of poor cellular service from Bahamas Telecommunications (BTC), company Chief Executive Officer Leon Williams promised customers yesterday that they could expect relief "by the end of October or November..."
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September 10, 2014
Consultants on National Health Insurance (NHI) have claimed that millions of dollars are "leaking away from Bahamian [healthcare] providers" under the present healthcare system. In 2013, just over 50 percent of $270 million in private healthcare insurance premiums went towards paying for healthcare in this country.
Meanwhile, as much as 25 percent went to non-healthcare-related costs and over $60.5 million left the country.
Sanigest Internacional (SI), in a presentation to private and public healthcare providers on September 2 which was obtained by Guardian Business, revealed that $66.7 million of the total amount spent on private health insurance went to cover costs related to administration and brokers' fees, among other non-healthcare-related costs.
A further 22.4 percent of premium dollars collected left the country to pay claims to overseas healthcare providers. Such overseas claims made up 30 percent of all claims put into private healthcare insurers, said SI, as a large number of Bahamians seeking medical care did so abroad, either through choice or finding the treatment sought unavailable in this country.
SI provided the data as a sign of the extent to which money ostensibly spent on healthcare is "leaking away from Bahamian [healthcare] providers" and to a large degree, the country as a whole.
The company is currently consulting with the government on the proposed implementation of a National Health Insurance scheme, which is intended to see Bahamians provided greater and more affordable access in this country to a wider array of publicly-funded healthcare services.
The figures were released in a presentation made during a workshop in which Guardian Business understands that SI provided advice to private and public healthcare providers on how they can more closely connect their pricing of healthcare services to the cost of healthcare provision, with the extent to which this is not occurring in The Bahamas considered an issue that must be addressed prior to the implementation of NHI.
The failure to closely link the costs of healthcare provision with the prices paid by consumers and inefficiencies are also believed to be among the causes of rising expenditure by consumers and the government on healthcare overall.
As reported in Tuesday's Guardian Business, SI showed that while total spending on healthcare has ballooned over the past 12 years, from $380 million to $800 million in 2013 - equivalent to a rise from 4.9 percent to 9.7 percent of GDP - health indicators have shown remarkably little improvement.
Healthcare costs as a proportion of government spending has also risen from 15.2 percent in 2001 to 19 percent in 2013.
Meanwhile, there are major deficiencies with respect to equity of access by Bahamians of different socioeconomic standing and in terms of access to needed high tech medical treatments, such as MRIs and CT scans.
The data on The Bahamas' $270 million spending on private healthcare in 2013 and how it is allocated among actual health-related costs and non-health related costs, further suggests a level of inefficiency in spending on healthcare by Bahamians via the private health insurance industry.
SI maintains that currently in the Bahamian healthcare system "high wastage" emerges from a combination of "administrative, operational and clinical" waste, driving up costs while impinging upon health outcomes.
Operational waste is seen in the high levels of drugs procured but expiring before use, the overprovision of various medical tests and inefficient processes, among other areas. Meanwhile, clinical waste is demonstrated, said SI in its presentation, in the high level of emergency department treatment sought by patients.
SI suggests that under an NHI system there would be lower wastage in spending on healthcare. The consultants maintain that at present, The Bahamas is getting a "low return on its healthcare investment" due to high levels of "wastage".
Part of addressing this problem, SI suggested, is moving to a system where the price of healthcare provided in The Bahamas is more closely linked to the cost of provision.
Healthcare service providers at the workshop including Doctors Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital and others were told that changing payment processes could stimulate a eduction in waste within the medical system, but "costing will be required in order to effectively manage this transition".
Specifically, providers were advised during the workshop to switch to a mode of costing used more commonly in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, known as activity based costing (ABC). ABC is a technique which identifies the relationship between an activity and the resources needed to complete it and then assigns costs to the resources consumed by the activity.
The method involves tracking costs more directly and has been credited with helping to reduce or keep a lid on healthcare costs elsewhere.
By improving costing, SI proposed that Bahamian providers can more effectively budget, understand variations in their costs and contract with the NHI under a universal healthcare scheme, should it come on stream as proposed in 2016.
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September 10, 2014
The owner of The Cove Eleuthera Spa and Resort has claimed that the hotel has "narrowed down" its list of potential buyers ahead of substantial improvements in occupancy for the season.
Speaking with Guardian Business, The Cove owner Sidney Torres IV also claimed that he is not actively seeking to sell the resort and is "happy" running it until the right deal materializes.
"We've narrowed it down to one group that is still active. We'll know pretty soon here because they have a [limited] window of time to move forward... In the next couple of weeks they're basically going to make it happen or not," said Torres, noting that the party was close to raising the bulk of capital needed for the sale.
Torres noted that the resort's performance during the traditional off-season had significantly improved compared to the same period last year, which he attributed to aggressive TV marketing campaigns.
"We've been averaging about 15-20 rooms per day for the month of September...and October's really picking up. September and October is a break-even scenario.
We're able to [retain] our salaried staff and still are able to break even, which is a good sign after last year.
"Occupancy has nearly doubled from the same period last year...and our projection for next year is to be at 58-60 percent occupancy coming out of year two heading into year three," stated Torres.
The 75-room resort of villas, cottages and suites spent $1.5 million in TV advertisements since it opened in 2012. Torres additionally claimed that The Cove had doubled its average daily rate (ADR) compared to the same period last year.
Regarding the potential sale, Torres felt that more potential investors in family island developments are drawn to pre-existing infrastructure due to rising construction costs.
"Historically, a lot of people in the outer islands have these resorts that are in distress... What I'm starting to see is people that want to be in the outer islands realize the difficulty of building in the outer islands.
"People that want to get in, don't want to go through a huge development or major construction project. They want to find something that already exists that they can [renovate]," said Torres.
He suggested that the remaining resort property would be well-situated for an expanded residential component in the event of a future sale. However, Torres claimed that he would not pursue such developments in the near future and would instead focus on The Cove in its current "stabilized" state.
Although Torres suggested that there were no massive plans for expansion in The Cove's near future, he added that a host of smaller additions, including a movie theater, reworked roads and a tennis court, were in development.
"The property is doing very well... If the deal materializes, and we're all on the same page, then it'll close. If it doesn't, then I'm happy continuing to run it until the right deal comes along. But over the next year there will be somebody that will buy it. It's just a matter of who it's going to be," stated Torres.
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September 10, 2014
A leading Queen's Counsel (Q.C.)has urged the government to have the "vision" to allow Freeport to gain a further competitive advantage under value-added tax (VAT), rather than seeking to impose VAT on services among Freeport licensees in "breach of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement".
Fred Smith, partner with Callenders and Co. and an ardent supporter of maintaining Freeport's "tax free status", said it would be "shortsighted" of the government to apply VAT in the Grand Bahama city.
"I urge the government to be visionary and exclude VAT from Freeport; it would be a feather in the government's investment cap and it would enure to the election benefit of the PLP, because if Freeport could be a place for businesses to set up head offices, and so on, it would provide economic growth and obviously spillover economic effects throughout the rest of The Bahamas," said Smith.
Within its "VAT Guide" released on the government's website last week, the government noted that goods imported or removed from bond by the Grand Bahama Port Authority or a port licensee will not have VAT applied, and neither will it apply if supplied by the port authority to a licensee, or by one licensee to another.
Any transaction that is not included in clause two of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA), which outlines tax exemptions available to port licensees, will be subject to the normal rules outlined in the VAT Bill 2014 and VAT Regulations, say the guidance notes.
These would include the sale of goods by a port licensee to someone in The Bahamas who is outside of the port area.
Furthermore, VAT will be applied to services provided by one port licensee to another, despite these transactions not being taxable at present, according to the guidance notes.
Smith, who is currently waging a legal battle with the government over taxes imposed in Freeport last year, said: "The HCA has not worked effectively during the first 50 years because so many governments in the last 30 years have attempted to extract taxes when they ought not to have and have not breathed life into the spirit of the HCA.
"Putting aside the legalities of whether VAT can be implemented in breach of the HCA, it is shortsighted of the government not to use the VAT as another opportunity to promote Freeport as a tax-friendly investment environment for both Bahamians and foreigners."
The attorney called Freeport the "goose that lays the golden eggs for The Bahamas" and insisted that the government must "stop being myopic, insecure and frightened" of the city being given independence from government control and taxation.
He added, "I ask the question, why do successive governments continue to beat on Freeport instead of recognizing its potential and capitalizing on the opportunities for growth?"
jump headline: VAT exemption would have 'spillover' benefits
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September 10, 2014
The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) must "work smarter" in the future to avoid further penalties from the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), according to Leon Williams, CEO of BTC.
Williams called for change within BTC after announcing that the company had recently been required to pay over $1 million in combined Utilities Appeal Tribunal (UAT) fees and fines to the utilities regulator. Although the UAT fee did not constitute a fine for BTC, Williams acknowledged that the fines and fees had forced BTC to re-evaluate its practices.
"We have to work smarter. We must recognize that there is an authority above and beyond that of the company... There is a regulatory authority in the country [and] the laws have teeth in them.
"When they give you advice and they suggest to you that you modify your behavior, you should modify your behavior. Otherwise there are fines," stated Williams, who became BTC's CEO in June, taking over from Geoff Houston.
Williams confirmed that BTC had recently paid a $244,000 fine for anti-competitive behavior issued against it earlier this year. URCA fined BTC nearly $244,000 in July over complaints of anti-competitive practices made in 2012 by SRG, a subsidiary of Cable Bahamas.
URCA found that BTC had secured exclusive supply agreements with certain wholesale businesses, which prohibited those suppliers from selling SRG calling cards.
"This is an incident that took place almost two years ago, but it suggests that BTC did not modify its behavior, and as such URCA fined BTC for aggravation," said Williams.
"We're also paying the $850,000 UAT fee... So over the last month-and-a-half, we have written some checks in the neighborhood of almost $1 million to URCA," said Williams.
The UAT, established in 2009, is funded by license fees determined by utility operator turnover.
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Atlantis: 'Majority' of gamingAtlantis: 'Majority' of gaming requests approved in bill requests approved in bill
September 10, 2014
The head of Atlantis has revealed that the government implemented "the majority" of 17 "modernization" requests made by the casino gaming industry in recently tabled gaming legislation, but the country's three major casinos are continuing to provide feedback on the bill ahead of a debate on it.
George Markantonis, president and managing director of Atlantis - also confirmed that once passed, the bill will unleash millions of dollars of investment via the establishment of a private, high-end gaming salon.
"This has already been planned and designed, and so we would expect to be able to go forward with that project very quickly, and perhaps complete it by January or February of 2015," said Markantonis.
This would be only the "most immediate" of a number of projects that the passage of the updated gaming legislation will preface, suggested Markantonis.
In an interview with Guardian Business on the tabling of the Gaming Bill last week, the hotel executive said that members of the Gaming community, specifically the three large casinos in the country, have met and are "going through [the legislation] in detail, gradually providing comments to the government".
"We were pleased that this has finally been tabled, because we need the passage of this bill, specifically the gaming regulation recommendations that the casino industry had provided to keep us competitive with casinos opening up and down the U.S.
"The gaming industry had proposed 17 such modernization requests to the government and, of those 17, all were addressed, although not all were approved. The majority, the most important ones, have been implemented."
"So we are very pleased with that as an industry, and we continue to fine tune the language and seek clarity. We'll have to see what comes up in the debate. We were provided an opportunity to make comments and we have done that as an industry.
"There is not much more I can comment on at this time until there is a final bill," said the Atlantis chief.
The regulatory changes provided for in the Gaming Bill would allow Bahamian casinos to offer international travelers the latest gaming-industry amenities, including Internet, interactive and mobile gaming; in-play sports betting and proxy wagering.
The bill also provides for the regularization of web shops, a move undertaken by the government primarily to allay fears that the ongoing operation of illegal gaming establishments could threaten The Bahamas' financial sector as a whole when it is subject to external review by entities such as the Financial Action Task Force.
In a statement issued immediately after the tabling of the long-awaiting bill, Baha Mar called it a "sweeping revitalization of the country's gaming regulations". Baha Mar, in particular, has been eagerly awaiting the legislation in order to have greater certainty as it invests in the technology it will offer to guests come its grand opening in spring 2015.
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September 10, 2014
Calling for more research before it is launched, former vote yes coordinator and parliamentarian Philip Galanis has argued that provisions for a national lottery within the recent Gaming Bill were "not just a symbolic gesture", and that the domestic marketplace should be large enough to accommodate both a national lottery and regularized web shops.
However, Galanis said that much more research is needed.
"I've always maintained that I thought that the country was big enough to have both an organized web shop industry and a national lottery...I believe that it is not a symbolic gesture. I think it makes sense...once the research is done.
"[The lottery] is yet another opportunity for Bahamians to participate in gaming at a level that is separate and apart from what goes on in a web shop, so I think that it is viable," said Galanis amid concerns that allowing both web shop gaming and a national lottery would spread the player base too thin.
Section 58 of the 2014 Gaming Bill allows the minister to authorize the conduct of a national lottery. The bill also includes provisions for charitable and private lotteries, as well as lotteries incidental to certain entertainment events.
Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe stated last week in an interview with Guardian Business that he had "no concerns" over the viability of a national lottery if it were established, and envisioned foreign participation in the lottery.
"It depends on how many people are betting and how much they are betting. It can be substantial, and it can also include visitors who come to the country... But I have no concerns whenever it happens," said Wilchcombe.
Tourists, meanwhile, cannot participate in web shop gaming.
While Galanis similarly advocated international participation in the lottery, he felt that its success depends on the government conducting extensive research before its implementation.
"We really don't know until we do the research. We have to do the research to understand how many people are likely to participate in a national lottery. My sense is that they will... There are some Bahamians who will participate in the lottery who will never walk into a web shop, and there are persons who engage in web shop activities...who will also participate [in the lottery].
"Much will depend on the winnings, what amount will people likely win, how frequently is it held, will the regulations be in place to ensure that there is credibility, transparency, accountability for the process," claimed Galanis.
Galanis also responded to comments made last week by web shop representative Alfred Sears, who supported the government's plans to restrict the number of licenses it granted to web shops, as it would avoid "proliferation" of web shops. Galanis similarly supported the regulations, but suggested that the country could expect several large and small web shops to merge due to the restrictions.
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September 09, 2014
Apple (AAPL) on Tuesday introduced two new iPhones, its long-awaited Apple Watch and a mobile payment system as part of a marketing blitz aimed at drumming up consumer excitement. Now the question is whether the new gear will live up to the hype...
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September 09, 2014
Consultants to the government on National Health Insurance (NHI) have warned that The Bahamas is getting a "low return on its health investment" even as total healthcare expenditure as a percentage of GDP has ballooned in The Bahamas from 4.9 percent in 2001 to 9.7 percent in 2013, equivalent to a rise from around $380 million to close to $800 million last year.
Within this spike in spending is a major rise in out-of-pocket health care spending - that which is not financed by private healthcare or public spending - and in spending by private health insurers. The former appears to have risen from around $80 million in 2001 to close to $200 million in 2013, while the latter has more than doubled from around $100 million to over $200 million during the same period.
Meanwhile, general government health expenditures, which includes everything the government spends on health-related functions, rose from 15.2 percent to 19 percent of gross government expenditures over the 12-year period.
The figures were revealed in a presentation by Sanigest Internacional, the international consultants hired by the government to do a costing of the proposed NHI scheme, in a technical capacity building workshop for public and private healthcare providers held on September 2 at the British Colonial Hilton hotel. Those represented included Doctors Hospital, the Public Hospitals Authority and the Medical Association of The Bahamas, among others.
Consultants advised providers on how to appropriately cost medical services provided to healthcare consumers.
In its presentation, Sanigest Internacional's Etoile Pinder pointed to high administrative costs in the public and private healthcare sectors as causing less than $0.75 of each dollar spent on healthcare to go to actual health care provision.
"High wastage", including "inappropriate care provision", which causes patients to often not be seen at the "right time, in the right place" were also blamed for escalating costs.
To make matters worse, Sanigest Internacional has found that health indicators have "lagged". Infant mortality has remained stubbornly high, falling to 21.1 in 2009, compared to 22.3 in 1981 and female life expectancy has risen by just three months between 2000 and 2010, to 76.8 years. Meanwhile, over 100,000 Bahamians, around 28 percent, have "no healthcare safety net", the consultants report, with just 20 percent of adults holding private health insurance.
Equity is also a problem. Among the Bahamians deemed of the "lowest socioeconomic status", just 16 percent have private health insurance. This rises to 43 percent among those in the middle of the range, and 68 percent among those deemed to be of the highest socioeconomic status.
Access to high technology medical equipment is also low in comparison to other countries, despite the high levels of spending. The report finds that The Bahamas ranks second to last among 28 countries including the U.S. (top of the ranking) for the number of MRI scans per 1,000 people, and at fifth from last for the number of CT exams per 1,000.
Pinder pointed out that in contrast to the unimpressive gains in healthcare outcomes achieved by The Bahamas for its hike in healthcare-related spending, other countries were able to obtain much greater improvements in their health indicators for less money. Turkey saw its female life expectancy rise to 76 years from 71.7 as its total healthcare expenditure rose from just 4.9 percent to 6.1 percent; Belize saw female life expectancy rise from 75.4 percent to 79.2 percent during the same period.
Finland and Italy, spending roughly the same amount on health as The Bahamas relative to GDP, obtained female life expectancy projections of 83.8 and 85.3 years respectively, consultants pointed out.
Sanigest Internacional said that over 30 middle income countries are implementing programs to advance the transition to universal healthcare and many other low/middle and upper income countries are considering launching similar programs.
The consultants recently presented a report to the government analyzing healthcare costs in The Bahamas and presenting a costing of various options available were an NHI scheme to be introduced, but its full contents and recommendations have yet to be disclosed. The government has indicated plans to move forward with implementation of NHI in 2016 in order to improve access to healthcare among the population.
Private sector stakeholders have expressed concern about the cost of implementing such a plan, particularly in light of other looming policy measures which will result in cost increases to businesses, such as value-added tax (VAT) and an increase in the minimum wage.
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September 09, 2014
The proposed delay of a long-sought Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) until 2016 is a "damn shame", according to a chamber of commerce official, who argued that the legislation should be a top priority for government.
Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) Chairman Robert Myers claimed he is "very disappointed" that the legislation is slated for spring 2016, claiming that the FOIA is of far greater importance to the country than several high-profile government projects.
"It's a damn shame that they're not prioritizing it and don't seem to be willing to spend the time on it...knowing that the public is looking for this to happen. It's about doing what's right; more emphasis should be put on it," claimed Myers.
He further criticized the government for prioritizing expensive investment projects over the FOIA, including the delayed Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI).
"They seem to find the budget and provisions for things that they want to get done. When they want to do BAMSI or build a race track, they somehow figure it out," said Myers.
The BCCEC has been pushing for the implementation of a FOIA, calling it paramount to effecting proper fiscal reform by allowing for greater accountability in government spending.
Minster of Education Jerome Fitzgerald, who is responsible for overseeing the legislation, claimed last week that the FOIA would not be presented to Parliament until 2016 at the earliest.
Myers discounted Fitzgerald's claim that the draft FOIA contained over 100 provisions in need of amendments as politically motivated "delay tactics", claiming that the BCCEC had substantially fewer issues with the earlier legislation.
"There are maybe 10 items that needed cleaning up...There's enough in there that's of substance and useful that they don't need to scrap it.
"It's not something new. This should've been addressed in this year's budget debate [yet] they don't seem to be making it a priority," stated Myers.
However, he agreed with Fitzgerald that proper administration and substantial revamps to government ministries are vital as the act moved forward.
"[Fitzgerald] is absolutely right with regards to the administration... People need to be trained," said Myers, noting that the ministry would benefit from the reallocation of existing staff as opposed to hiring and training more civil servants.
"There are already too many people in the civil service. There are plenty of people in the ministry to deal with this [act]."
The Free National Movement tabled the FOIA in late 2011 and passed a revised version of the legislation in the Senate in February 2012. However, an enforcement date was never set, and the Progressive Liberal Party subsequently claimed that the legislation needed further amendments.
"It needs to get done, but to start the process in 2016... It's a shambles," said Myers.
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