Business

Labor conditions a concern in LAC

December 12, 2014

The International Labour Organization's (ILO) Labour Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean 2014 cites unemployment concerns exacerbated by problematic labor force participation, poor quality of work and insecure working conditions throughout the region.
The ILO report noted that labor indicators for Latin America and the Caribbean reveal the regional economy did not create enough jobs in 2014, as reflected in the decline in the employment-to-population ratio. Additionally, the labor force participation rate experienced a downward trend, especially among women and young people who withdrew from the labor market.

Slower growth
The organization asserted that economic growth is clearly slowing in the region. While global economic growth for 2014 is estimated at 3.3 percent, that figure drops to just 1.3 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or 1.1 percent according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). For the third consecutive year, the average growth rate for the region will be below the global rate, the ILO reported, noting that the year has been characterized by a constant downward readjustment of this indicator. This, the ILO says, demonstrates that the economies of the region have not performed as well as expected.
Still, while South America (Andean and Southern Cone countries) had a rate of 0.7 percent, Mexico recorded growth of 2.4 percent and Central American (3.8 percent) and Caribbean (3.8 percent) countries had growth rates slightly above the global average, according to the IMF.

Labour and employment
The ILO found that in 2014, wage and salaried employment grew less than own-account or self-employment, which the organization said means that the employment-to-population ratio would have fallen even more if people had not created their own (often informal) employment.
The ILO also noted that wage increases were smaller in 2014. The overview said that real average wages continued to climb, although to a lesser degree than in 2013.
Meanwhile, minimum wages continued to improve in the region although the pace has slowed over the past year. Wage and salaried employment as a share of total employment grew in most of the countries with available information, although at a slower pace than in previous years.
The ILO also found that the quality of employment in rural areas is a pressing issue in the region, and that low social protection coverage is particularly critical.

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Longstanding Marathon Bahamas Supporters Meet with Sunshine Insurance Officials

December 11, 2014

Bahamas Waste Managing Director, Francisco de Cardenas poses in front of the Big Pink Truck with Sunshine Insurance VP of Development...

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Smith to head Resolve board

December 11, 2014

Ending more than a month of speculation, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis has confirmed that former Central Bank Governor James Smith will head the board of directors of Bahamas Resolve Ltd. (Resolve), and that Deloitte and Touche has been appointed to go after the $100 million in bad debt that makes up the company's portfolio.
Guardian Business previously reported that Smith had been shortlisted for the post.
Resolve was formed on October 31, 2014. The company was formed for the express purpose of relieving Bank of The Bahamas of a crippling $100 million in non-performing commercial loans. At the press conference announcing the formation of the company, Halkitis and Prime Minister Perry Christie said an accounting firm with experience in collection of non-performing commercial loans would be named the following week, as would the management of the company.
In the time since, the government had -- until Halkitis addressed the matter in the House of Assembly yesterday -- been silent on the matter, despite Christie's promise of "transparency".
Halkitis explained the government's thinking to members of Parliament.
"The mandate for Resolve is that it must operate at arms length from the government and go out and collect the loans that it has acquired," Halkitis said. "With the almost singular purpose of Resolve, we are convinced that it will be successful at collections, given the more varied operational issues to which the management of the Bank of The Bahamas must devote itself."
"The collection and management of the Resolve portfolio is being contracted out to the accounting firm Deloitte and Touche. Resolve itself will have in place a Board of Directors headed by James Smith, former Central Bank governor, and former minister of state for finance," Halkitis announced.
"We are confident that this combination of the board and portfolio manager will allow Resolve to maximize its collection on the portfolio of assets over which it has taken charge," he said.
The minister did not identify any other members of the board.
Halkitis explained that as payment to Bank of The Bahamas for the loan portfolio, Resolve issued the bank "a $100 million promisory note."
"The note -- which has a maturity of up to ten years -- pays interest at a rate of prime less one half percent, or 4.25 percent in today's terms. The promisory note is also backed by a letter of comfort from the government," he reported.
This exchange of assets allowed the Bank of The Bahamas to reverse $49 million in loan loss provisions. Loan loss provisions are the funds set aside by banks to cover outstanding loans: these are funds that are then taken out of the bank's lending capital. With the exchange of assets, the Bank of The Bahamas' capital ratios at the end of October were subsequently within the regulatory limits established by the Central Bank.
"Now, as majority shareholder, we have charged the leadership of the bank with developing a plan to steer the bank in a new strategic direction. We are giving close attention to bolstering the capital position even further, and to how other strategic reforms can be launched, for which we will provide further updates to this House in coming days," Halkitis said.

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Smith looking forward to Resolve process

December 11, 2014

Former Central Bank governor James Smith is "looking forward to being a part of the process" of realizing a return for the Bahamian public on the bad debt acquired by Bahamas Resolve Ltd. from the Bank of The Bahamas on October 31.
Smith was named in the House of Assembly on Wednesday as the head of the Board of Directors of Resolve, but had yet to meet with the government to get his marching orders when he spoke with Guardian Business.
He spoke about the company's ability to collect on a loan that is considered non-performing.
"The ability to make good on the collateral, for instance: you can be in arrears, but let's say you own a hotel on Paradise Island, and you just don't find a buyer for that within 90 or 180 days. The collateral may be more than sufficient, but the bank in this instance has to remove all of the bad debt off the books in order to comply with the regulator."
"If they didn't run into this problem," he said, "it doesn't follow that they couldn't actually realize these loans over time."
Smith was reluctant to speak in specifics until he sees the underlaying assets, the terms of the loans, etc.
"This exercise may be new to The Bahamas, but this is what they've been doing (recently in the global financial arena). So there's a lot of precedent for it," he said.
Smith noted that the Bank of The Bahamas was an important part of the banking system in The Bahamas, and that having gotten itself into trouble, it needed to find a way out of that trouble. The creation of Resolve was the way out.
"It tells you on one hand that the support (of the Bank of The Bahamas) is very real from the government's standpoint. Secondly, that the institution is regarded as a very important part of the financial services sector, and thirdly, it also recognizes the importance of compliance with the Central Bank as regulator."
"I'm looking forward to being a part of that process that -- if even partially successful -- will go some way towards playing a small role in keeping the (Bank of The Bahamas) alive and hopefully at the same time reducing the burden to the taxpayer, who would be the ultimate payer in something like this."

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Import tariff calculation change on January 1

December 11, 2014

Customs will calculate import tariffs according to the freight on board (FOB) method in lieu of the cost, insurance and freight (CIF) method that is currently calculated as of January 1, a Value-Added Tax (VAT) Education Task Force member has confirmed.
Andrew Rodgers yesterday told Guardian Business that the new import tariff method would considerably lower landed costs for certain imports, especially for those industries with high freight charges, such as those importing goods from the western United States. Industries importing substantial inventory, including wholesalers and supermarkets, stand to benefit the most from the duty overhaul.
"The government is going to be calculating FOB and there will be some substantial reductions in cost before VAT is added.
"When this new tariff costing comes into effect, your duty will be calculated at first cost from the source only. You will not pay duty on any freight charges or insurance charges. That is an incredible cost savings [development]," said Rodgers.
Under the existing CIF method, duty is calculated on the initial cost of the commodity, as well as any associated freight and insurance charges.
However, Rodgers warned that consumers needed to be wary of price hikes for certain goods after January 1, noting that the VAT inclusive and exclusive pricing currently displayed by some retailers ahead of the tax were inaccurate because of the duty changes.
"(Some of the pricing being displayed is not accurate) because with the restructure of this tariff costing, I'm not saying it's going to be cheaper, but it definite shouldn't increase by the 7.5 percent of VAT. This reduction in import charges should be taken into consideration. If merchants are fair, prices could even go down with the additional 7.5 percent tax," said Rodgers.
Rodgers claimed that the duty drops for some of the country's largest merchants would help curtail the increase in the cost of living. While recent estimates have placed the increased cost of living follow VAT implementation between eight and 10 percent, Rodgers said that he did not expect the cost of living to go up more than five percent.
"If the merchants are fair and they do their calculations as of the first of the year, taking into consideration this recalculating of duty in some instances the prices should go down.
"I'm excited about this. This is a positive because it's good for [merchants] and in return it's good for the consumer. It's going to simplify importing products," he said.

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Union leader: Govt dragging feet on oil bills

December 11, 2014

National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas (NCTUB) President John Pinder yesterday accused the government of "dragging its feet" on producing legislation that would enable the creation of an oil industry in The Bahamas.
Speaking at a press conference for the unveiling of the Bahamas National Citizens Coalition's (BNCC) 25-year national development plan, Pinder said the country's growth prospects largely hinge on the creation of a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) tied to the exploration of the country's natural resources, namely aragonite and oil.
"The government is supposed to have put some legislation in place for the drilling of oil. Although the oil prices on the global scene have reduced, we have not seen any reduction in our electricity bills. We are not satisfied that the government has brought economic relief," he said.
Pinder, who also serves as the president of the Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU), accused the government of dragging its feet on the regulations and called for immediate action to be taken in exploring the country's natural resources.
Aside from his ongoing aragonite concerns, Pinder voiced his frustration with the delayed petroleum act and regulations, which would allow Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) to proceed with plans to drill an exploratory well near the Cuban border.
"The government, in my view, has been dragging its feet in trying to put legislation in place for the natural resources to be further exploited. As a result of that, we are losing millions of dollars each year," he said.
Minster of Housing and the Environment Kenred Dorsett has stated that the new petroleum act and regulations would be put to Cabinet before the end of the year amid growing frustration from BPC.
The company has invested an estimated $80 million over the past three years and is awaiting a more modernized regulatory framework before acquiring a "farm-in" drilling partner.

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No Moody's downgrade, outlook stable

December 11, 2014

After a series of downgrades, ratings agency Moody's this week kept its rating of The Bahamas sovereign credit the same - Baa2 with a stable outlook - noting that the government's fiscal consolidation plan could - if successfully implemented - lower deficits and help stabilize government debt levels.
Moody's rated The Bahamas' susceptibility to "event risk" as "moderate", balancing moderate banking sector risk driven by the relatively large size of the system against the absence of political risk and low government liquidity concerns due to a large domestic investor base, which limits refinancing risk for domestic debt.
Among those areas of risk is government debt. Moody's analysts noted that debt accumulation has been driven by a relatively large and deteriorating fiscal deficit in the years after the global financial crisis. Budget deficits in 2012 and 2013 escalated to 5.5 percent and 6.3 percent of GDP, respectively, from 1.6 percent in 2008, and the fiscal shortfall has averaged 4.7 percent in the last five years.
"In this context, the government has laid out a fiscal consolidation plan calling for the implementation of a value-added tax (VAT), reforms of property taxes, and the introduction of measures to enhance tax collection efficiency. If successfully implemented, we expect tax reforms currently being pursued by the government to lower fiscal deficits over the next three to five years, which will help stabilize government debt levels," the agency said.
The stable outlook for The Bahamas sovereign credit rating offsets a comparatively high level of GDP per capital and low external debt ratios relative to peers against comparatively high government debt levels, a low government revenue base and increasingly uncertain prospects for off-shore financial sector.
Moodys's analysts explained that the stable outlook reflects the agency's expectation that the medium-term fiscal consolidation plan will contain the government's debt burden in fiscal 2015/16 and afterwards lead to a gradual reduction in the debt-to-GDP ratio.
The rating outlook also envisages that real GDP growth will strengthen somewhat to 2.0-2.5 percent in 2015.
Among the other strengths of the Bahamian economy, Moody's cited the stable political system with high policy predictability.
Credit weaknesses cited by the agency included low long-term economic growth prospects, comparatively high government debt levels, low government revenue base, an economy heavily dependent on tourism from the US, and increasingly uncertain prospects for off-shore financial sector.
The agency noted that it had assessed the economic strength of The Bahamas as "Low (+)" based on "a very high national income level, offset by the economy's small size, limited diversification and weak growth dynamics."
Moody's noted that The Bahamas' GDP per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms was $32,036 in 2013, more than twice the Baa category median, but that The Bahamas' economy is the second smallest in its rating space and has managed an average growth of just 1.1 percent in the last four years, following a two-year recession in 2008-09.
"We assess The Bahamas' institutional strength as "Very High (-)" based on the country's favorable scores on the World Bank's governance indicators, which place its government effectiveness, rule of law, control of corruption and other dimensions of institutional quality in or around the 70th percentile among sovereigns in our rating universe, according to the latest figures based on 2012 surveys," the analysts said, adding that regulatory quality is the only criteria where The Bahamas lags, although coming in at the 50th percentile it is in line with Baa-rated peers.
"These scores reflect a history of political stability, policy predictability, and broad social consensus. In addition, we think the Central Bank of The Bahamas (CBOB)'s policy credibility is high, and supports confidence on the currency peg to the US dollar. This contributes to maintaining macroeconomic stability," Moody's said.
The Bahamas' relatively high debt burden, partially offset by moderate debt affordability, a captive domestic investor base, and a favorable maturity profile, together are reflected in the agency's "Low" Fiscal Strength assessment.
"The debt-to-GDP ratio exceeds the Baa median (39.4 percent), having more than doubled over the last decade to 59.0 percent in 2013, while government interest payments relative to revenues have also increased to 14.3 percent from less than 10 percent in 2008, suggesting a somewhat limited fiscal space in comparison with most peers," the analysts noted.

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New green energy company enters market

December 11, 2014

A new energy solution company aims to set itself apart from competition in the country's emerging renewables market by offering a "holistic" approach to reducing energy costs and investing in renewable technology.
Speaking with Guardian Business, SuperGreen Solutions Bahamas General Manager Jason Mortimer said that the company also distinguishes itself through internationally certified installation and maintenance technicians.
"The whole concept of SuperGreen is a holistic approach to reducing your carbon footprint. We encourage you to reduce before we ask you to produce," said Mortimer.
SuperGreen currently operates branches in six countries. The Bahamas branch plans to have a soft opening by the end of December, with a grand opening slated for late January.
Mortimer said that the Bahamian branch currently has eight certified technicians specializing in solar and HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) systems, and is exploring partnerships with other local technicians.
"Once you are affiliated with SuperGreen, you have to have those certifications. We're willing to work with local installers and fly them over to any particular training they need," said Mortimer.
Nic Mayo, operations advisor for SuperGreen Solutions and United Franchise Group, stated that SuperGreen provides customers with full energy consumption assessments before presenting tailored electricity reduction options.
"A lot of people think that going green means that they need solar panels all over their roof structures, be it residential or commercial, and that's not the case.
"We want to show how making that investment now not only reduces customers' carbon footprint and electric bill, but also puts money back in their pockets," said Mayo.
He stated that the company is in talks to develop a solar field in the Family Islands to supply power for 11 residences completely off of Bahamas Electricity Corporation's grid, but could not provide further details at this time.
Interest in renewable technologies within the private sector has grown considerably in recent months as the high cost of electricity continues to be one of the largest contributors to the cost of doing business in The Bahamas.
Mortimer assured that SuperGreen technicians would be fully capable of complying with the Ministry of Environment's proposed Renewable Energy Self Generation (RESG) program.
The RESG program allows residential and select commercial customers with capacity for renewable energy generation, such as approved manufacturers under the Industries Encouragement Act (IEA), to connect to the BEC grid. The program is currently restricted to solar photovoltaic power sources and wind turbines, but could expand after the program's two-year pilot phase.
"Our technicians will be grid tie-in trained so that we can be ready for any government policy changes. Regarding emission reduction, it's better to light a small candle than to curse the darkness. One person cutting their emissions down by 10 percent may not affect us right now, but think about 100 people," said Mortimer.

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OAS calls for renewed anticorruption commitment

December 11, 2014

In his message on International Anti-Corruption Day, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insulza called for regional cooperation on transnational corruption -- notably through extradition and reciprocal prosecutorial assistance -- and for regional businesses to not only abstain from bribery, but to detect acts of corruption and report them.
December 9 was International Anti-Corruption Day, and in his message, Insulza called on the international community to renew its commitment to jointly tackle corruption.
"With respect to the OAS, in addition to contributing the first international legal instrument on the subject, namely our Inter-American Convention against Corruption, we have also continued to support our countries' efforts to combat this scourge by helping them to enhance their legal frameworks and to strengthen the institutions responsible for enforcing their laws," Insulza said.
He cited the Follow-up Mechanism for the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, known by its Spanish acronym MESICIC, and noted that the initiative has thus far completed three rounds of review geared, among other things, to improving provisions that are essential for preventing conflicts of interest, safeguarding public funds, punishing corrupt practices such as illicit enrichment and national and transnational bribery, and achieving transparency in both government procurement and with respect to the hiring of public servants.
In addition to having adequate legal provisions in place, Insulza called it "crucial" to have adequate institutions to enforce those provisions, and said it was for this reason that the MESICIC has now focused on the strengthening of the oversight bodies in OAS countries that are responsible for preventing, detecting, investigating and punishing corrupt practices.
Insulza added that the fight against corruption does not rest solely with public authorities.
He added that corruption should not be envisaged solely from the perspective of civil servants' duty to be honest, and said the MESICIC has also made very specific recommendations that the private sector, and businesses in particular, not only abstain from bribery but, in addition, establish internal controls that allow them to detect acts of corruption and comply with their duty to report them.
"Finally, all nations, and in the case of the OAS, its member states, have a very important role to play given the transnational nature of corruption, such as by providing the broadest possible reciprocal assistance for the prosecution of the corrupt, their extradition to the country where they should answer for their corrupt actions, and doing everything necessary to recover stolen public assets," Insulza said.

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Alcatel jumping into Bahamas mobile market

December 11, 2014

The newest entrant into the smartphone market in The Bahamas, Alcatel OneTouch, considers The Bahamas a "very high-end market" and already has plans to roll out new models in the new year.
Alcatel launched its POP S3 4G LTE smartphone and its POP 7 tablet - retailed through the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) - on December 5.
Alcatel is a registered trademark of Alcatel-Lucent, used under license by TCL Communication. TCL is a Chinese company that designs, develops and markets globally a growing range of mobile and Internet devices.
Alcatel Caribbean and Central America Commercial and Marketing Manager Adriana Pirela told Guardian Business on Wednesday that Alcatel considers The Bahamas an important market.
"Yes, of course, The Bahamas is a very high-end market and mainly a smartphone market. Our partnership with Cable and Wireless Group and BTC as part of it is key for Alcatel's business within the Caribbean and Central America region," Pirela said.
The executive noted that this time of the year is the most important sales season of the year and added that Alcatel wants to be the best option for Christmas - affordable and cool.
"This is the perfect time for everyone to give or buy a new tablet or phone for themselves this Christmas," she added.
Alcatel plans to introduce the Hero, an affordable 3G phablet (phone-tablet) in time for Christmas as well, with a number of affordable higher end 4G smartphones, tablets and wearables slated for introduction next year.

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Shipyard donates $30,000 to Eight Mile Rock High School

December 10, 2014

Santa came early this year for high school students in Eight Mile Rock as the Grand Bahama Shipyard helped them tick something off of their Christmas wish list. This Christmas Eight Mile Rock High School (EMRHS)...

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Lawyer: Court of Appeal ruling sets The Bahamas back to 1950s

December 10, 2014

The Court of Appeal has issued a ruling against the Commonwealth Union of Hotel Services and Allied Workers in its dispute with Hutchison Lucaya Limited, operators of the Grand Lucayan hotel in Grand Bahama. Union lawyer Obie Ferguson said the ruling effectively returns industrial relations in The Bahamas to the 1950s.
In short, the Court of Appeal has set aside Supreme Court Justice Hartman Longley's ruling that the workers are entitled to Christmas bonuses agreed under an industrial agreement, even after that agreement expired.
It is a ruling Ferguson intends to challenge in the Privy Council "as a matter of urgency" and an issue he feels so strongly about that he has urged Prime Minister Perry Christie and Labour Minister Shane Gibson to ensure that the people of The Bahamas help defray the cost of taking the case to the law lords in London.
The court held in a 14-page ruling that there was no express incorporation of the industrial agreement, nor could it be implied given the circumstances.
The court additionally noted that the proper parties to the action ought to have been the employers and the named employees.
Ferguson explained that it is long-standing practice in The Bahamas that once a properly registered industrial agreement expires, and in the absence of a subsequent registered agreement, the terms of the agreement are superimposed on the employment contract for the individual worker.
The ruling by the Court of Appeal - in Ferguson's view - appears to reverse that practice.
In fact, Ferguson said the Court of Appeal ruling will have "a sweeping effect" on 100 cases where the practice has been upheld, even by the Supreme Court and the deputy registrar of the Supreme Court.
"Now we have a complete reversal of those rulings and the workers are left high and dry," he said. "It has national importance and implications."
Ferguson told Guardian Business that "in practical terms the ruling means an employer can refuse to negotiate in good faith... and wait for the time to expire" and then treat the worker however the employer deems fit.
"I have filed an application to the Privy Council seeking to have the matter reviewed as a matter of urgency," Ferguson said.

Background
The hotel and the workers entered an industrial agreement in 2002. That agreement, which was registered, expired in 2006. Under the agreement, workers were entitled to Christmas payments and a ham or turkey of a specified size. After the expiration of the 2002 agreement, the hotel continued to pay the Christmas payments and give the hams and turkeys until 2010. The hotel said these payments were "ex gratia" and were given "in the interest of maintaining good industrial relations".
Beginning in 2011, the hotel varied the payments from what had been agreed in the industrial agreement. No payment was made in 2011: instead, a voucher was given. In 2012 and 2013, payments were given but they were less than agreed to in the industrial agreement. In both years, vouchers were also given.
The union - and a number of workers - sued the hotel, claiming that this was unilateral action by the hotel that constituted a breach of the employment contract.
Supreme Court Justice Hartman Longley agreed, referring in his February 2014 ruling to the continuing practice in The Bahamas that the terms of an expired registered industrial agreement become part of the terms of employment of the individual worker. He ruled that accordingly, the employees were entitled to the Christmas payments and the hams and turkeys, and that not paying them was a breach of the individual employment contract of the workers.
Last week, the Court of Appeal set aside Longley's ruling.

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Christie courts Cuba partnership

December 10, 2014

The Bahamas affirmed its support for a move to end the United States embargo against Cuba, as the heads of state of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Cuba adopted the Declaration of Havana on Monday at the close of the fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit.
Prime Minister Perry Christie asserted that CARICOM and Cuba have always been able to overcome challenges and to develop strategies for mutual advantage.
"In fact, our forty-one years of diplomatic relations have been markedly fruitful as a result of functional cooperation in the areas of health, education, sports, culture, agriculture, disaster management, energy and construction," Christie said, addressing the summit in Havana on Monday.
"We must continue to support each other in international fora, always providing reciprocal support for our initiatives, whether it is in advocacy for the rejection of any blockade against Cuba; support for the reclassification of middle income economies; negotiations for a strong post-2015 agenda that favors small island developing states; support for Cuba's leading role in the CELAC process; and support for candidacies for election or appointment to multilateral bodies," he said.
The prime minister said that The Bahamas and Cuba must continue dialogue on facilitating joint ventures in the tourism industry, particularly in concretizing the concept of multi-destination marketing initiatives and packages.
"This would surely make our region more competitive with other regions in the global tourism market," he said.
Noting that transportation is key to national and economic development and the travel routes of both countries' national carriers, Christie said Bahamasair and Cubana need to be further expanded to facilitate tourism, travel and international trade.
"The Bahamas, like Cuba, is also interested in seeking out new strategic partnerships for investment in renewable energy; partnerships that will facilitate access to new capital, more efficient technologies and new markets," he said.
Christie also welcomed ongoing progress towards the finalization of a CARICOM-Cuba trade agreement, and said that at a bilateral level, negotiations for two Bahamas/Cuba Agreements for Cooperation in Animal Health and Plant Health are now well advanced.
Those issues and more were enshrined in the Declaration of Havana adopted on Monday, wherein CARICOM and Cuba committed to strengthen South-South cooperation as an expression of solidarity and the promotion of bilateral and regional programs as well as triangular cooperation for development.
In the declaration, heads of state - citing the cooperation between Cuba and CARICOM in health, the development of human resources, construction and sports - reiterated a commitment to continue promoting social initiatives as well as the implementation of projects to improve air and sea infrastructure and connectivity, and to broaden economic and trade relations through the implementation of the revised trade and economic cooperation agreement between CARICOM and Cuba.
The declaration also hails progress in the negotiations to expand market access and improve economic cooperation under the trade and economic cooperation agreement. Heads of state noted a desire to conclude negotiations by the end of the second quarter of 2015.

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Wilchcombe: Full recovery for tourism in 2015

December 10, 2014

Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday that 2015 will be the year of "full recovery" for The Bahamas' tourism sector.
While Wilchcombe acknowledged that The Bahamas faces stiff competition from other Caribbean countries, he noted that hotel room growth and a series of airlift initiatives will stimulate the recovering industry, particularly in New Providence and Grand Bahama.
"We've held our own. We've seen airlift in particular grow by about five percent, although that's not where we want it to be yet. Of course, with all of the inventory coming back on stream [next year], I think we're going to be good. I think next year is going to be the year of full recovery for tourism," he said, citing the rooms coming on stream through Baha Mar and Holiday Inn.
Wilchcombe said that forward bookings for the Rosewood and Grand Hyatt hotels are "well over the $1 million mark" ahead of the spring opening.
"We're on the upward climb right now and we want to get back to number one within the Caribbean and then we'll try to take on the bigger boys in terms of their hotel occupancies and inventories," said Wilchcombe.
He also anticipated a series of announcements related to Grand Bahama to be made in the coming week.
"There will be new cruise lines going to Grand Bahama and an additional 400-500 new jobs. I think Grand Bahama is going to see a great year and New Providence will see an even greater year," said Wilchcombe.
He also expected direct flights from Houston, Texas to Grand Bahama in 2015, following United Airlines direct flights from Houston into Nassau, which went into effect on December 3.

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Recycling company: Massive leap forward in 2015

December 10, 2014

Renew Bahamas is poised to take a "massive leap forward" in 2015 as it prepares for a planned 2015 expansion.
Renew Bahamas President and CEO Gerhard Beukes told Guardian Business yesterday that while the waste energy company's recycling program is "still in its infancy", it would have broad environmental benefits for the country.
"I think from an environmental point of view, it's a massive leap forward for the country in what we are doing here.
"We are recycling some product already. We have finalized our planning for the large materials recycling facility that we plan to launch in 2015, and at that phase we will be recycling the majority of the recyclable waste that New Providence produces," said Beukes.
He confirmed that Renew Bahamas has already sent three waste shipments to China, India and Taiwan, respectively. He said that recently added infrastructure now allows the country to determine the volume of waste coming into the landfill facility for the first time in many years.
According to Beukes, Renew Bahamas maintains a close working relationship with Bahamas Waste and other waste collectors in the country as it moves from test volumes to larger-scale recycling.
"We built new weighbridges at the site and these are now operational and providing us with accurate tonnage that is coming into the site, as of the 24th of November. Once the larger facility is in place we expect the volume to increase substantially," he said.
Following last week's Bahamas Energy Security Forum, Beukes stated that The Bahamas needs to further invest in renewables while acknowledging that fossil fuels still play an important role in the country's energy sector at present.
"Obviously there's been a very large dependence on fossil fuels and one can understand the necessity to explore cheaper routes of exploring fossil fuels. But at the same time, if there are cheaper and greener routes available to relieve the burden on the country, such as alternatives, it should be explored," he said.
Renew Bahamas is financed by Aubaine Capital, a U.K.- based private equity firm which also has an interest in ITI Energy, a British company. ITI Energy manufactures a gasifier system that produces a synthetic gas from garbage that can be used in electricity generation.

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BCH employees to meet, sign with new owners today

December 10, 2014

Employees of the British Colonial Hilton are expected to meet with management today to sign an assignment clause, which will have the effect of transferring their employment from the old owners of the hotel to the new owners, China Construction America (CCA).
It's the latest in the complex and lengthy process following the sale of the landmark hotel in October.
Guardian Business understands that all jobs have been retained and no redundancies are anticipated. The expectation is that nothing will change for the hotel's employees but the signature on their paycheck, according to sources close to the matter.
Hotel industry observers note that it is not always the case that ownership changes are accomplished with no job losses.
Guardian Business spoke with BCH Chairman Gerhard Beukes about the ongoing negotiations.
"We are very pleased with where we are now," Beukes said, declining to say more at this time.
"We are certainly very pleased that a pathway has been provided for all the employees to form a part of the future of this historic property," he added.
CCA purchased the British Colonial Hilton after 20 months of negotiations. While the sale price was undisclosed, it appears the hotel, the adjacent six acres of property and the two office buildings all sold for around $60 million. The closing is expected to take months still.
While the hotel's ownership has changed, the British Colonial will continue to be managed by Hilton.
CCA plans to create a luxury hotel and condominium units on the vacant adjacent land, along with a new multi-story garage building with a roof top garden and banquet rooms, high-end retail shopping, restaurants, a gymnasium, movie theater, nightclub, marina and boardwalk along the entire waterfront."

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Telecoms CEO welcomes infrastructure sharing

December 10, 2014

The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority's (URCA) proposed infrastructure sharing regulation is a vital step in providing a more "level playing field" for cellular providers, according to a telecoms CEO.
Speaking with Guardian Business yesterday, IP Solutions International (IPSI) CEO Edison Sumner said he supports URCA's proposed regulations aimed at reducing the entry barrier cost for new competitors in the electronics communications sector (ECS).
URCA released its proposed regulations earlier this week, which call for operators to share their telecoms facilities with competitors where possible as the country prepares for mobile competition.
"I think it's a fantastic idea if it is executed properly. Being able to enter into an agreement to do network sharing with the incumbents will save a lot of capital spending and reduce the amount of equipment and other infrastructure on the island by tapping into the resources that exist already.
"This something that we certainly encourage. This does not negate the fact that there will still be operators who have to put equipment in place to build up their own network, but what it does is give other operators an opportunity to compete on a more level playing field," he said.
URCA released a statement yesterday outlining the benefits of facility sharing, which included reducing the public and environmental impact of erecting new towers along with substantial cost reductions. More importantly, URCA argued that the proposed regulation would result in a much faster rollout of cellular services by future operators.
"URCA is conscious that with the imminent introduction of mobile competition, there will be an increased need for the construction of facilities by new operators.
"In an effort to reduce the need to duplicate all existing facilities, thereby reducing the capital investment required to enter the market, URCA proposes to introduce regulations which will require operators, where possible, to share their facilities," reads the URCA statement.
While the government will receive bids for a second cellular license next year, Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) CEO Leon Williams earlier stated that the government had already expressed its intention to award a third mobile license in 2016.
Sumner did not expect BTC to resist the proposed regulations, stating that facility sharing would help generate more revenue for the provider.
"This will help the incumbent operators to improve their level of service and also the efficiencies that they bring to the consumer while also bringing revenue to those companies sharing facilities," said Sumner.

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Renewed call for fiscal reform bill

December 10, 2014

Coalition for Responsible Taxation (CRT) co-chair Gowon Bowe expressed frustration over the lack of tangible progress in providing wide fiscal reform as the country prepares to implement a value-added tax (VAT).
Bowe told Guardian Business that Bahamians needed to take a more active role in demanding fiscal reform from the government leading into 2015.
"The tangible movement on fiscal responsible as well as freedom of information has been slow to get out of the gate. The movement still has to be very strong, but it has to come from all quarters. It has to come where persons who made an outcry over the VAT implementation must continue the mantra to ask for fiscal responsibility.
"As opposed to simply doing it on the street corners or in conversation, we must be making a chorus line that goes to the government and says that while we've accepted tax reform, it must be accompanied by a reform of how you spend our money," said Bowe.
The CRT has largely broadened its focus from VAT-exclusive concerns to promoting wider fiscal responsibility through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA).
Bowe reiterated that the country required legislation that would hold the government more accountable for its spending while providing updated information services.
Overall, Bowe said that the process was necessary due to the poor quality of information and data systems in the country, stating the auditor general was "two years in arrears in terms of the information he's auditing" due to antiquated systems.
However, Bowe recognized some of the initiatives that the government had taken in streamline its purchasing process, listing the request for proposals for the implementation of an integrated electronic procurement program as a step in the right direction for reducing government expenditure.
"We still need a lot more from the government. We're doing things backwards where we are determining what it is that we need to spend and then trying to find revenue to fund it, when we should be looking the other way around and looking at what revenue we have available," he said.

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Bar president concerned about judge selection

December 09, 2014

In the face of reports about who wants to be a judge, President of the Bahamas Bar Association (BBA) Elsworth Johnson has warned that compromising the selection process risks the independence of the judiciary in The Bahamas. Johnson expressed serious concern regarding the appointment process of justices, warning that compromising the impartiality of the judiciary is a "recipe for disaster" in The Bahamas.
Speaking with Guardian Business, Johnson stated that the prospect of justices beholden to political parties is dangerous for the country's judicial system.
"There is a serious concern at the Bar about the persons who are now coming forth and want to sit on the judiciary. What I'm hearing in this community, if it is real, it's a dangerous thing. We're seriously concerned about that and we want to warn the government.
"You cannot risk the independence of your judiciary and you cannot compromise your selection process. When your judiciary is compromised, or when public confidence in your judiciary is compromised, it is a recipe for disaster and chaos in your country," said Johnson.
While he did not name any individuals, he expressed concern that some prospective justices are guided more by upward mobility and personal gain rather than a sense of service to The Bahamas. Johnson said that the Bar is also worried about the possibility of political bias in the selection process, and the public mistrust that would likely result from such impartiality.
Johnson noted that any compromise to the judiciary's impartiality could have ramifications for foreign investment in The Bahamas, adding that the country needs to avoid a scenario where alternative dispute resolution (ADR) becomes the only impartial avenue for conflict resolution.
"An independent and impartial judiciary is fundamental for a stable democracy. It's very important in terms of investment, because one of the things that investors look for is where they will go to have matters resolved.
"Investors look for a stable, independent judiciary. They want to be sure that if there is a dispute they can go to court and rest assured that at the end of the day justice is going to be fair. We must guard that," said Johnson.
He was troubled that the BBA did not have what he felt was an adequate voice within the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC), the body responsible for making recommendations for the appointments and promotions of judicial and legal officers. He said it is necessary to
increase the Bar's role in the vetting process for future justices in order to better protect the rights of those in the country.
"The rich, the poor, women, children, all of the people that are in this country who are not Bahamian, all of them have to look to the court. We want all roads to lead to an impartial, fearless and independent court when there is a dispute.
"The alternative to that is that you have some warlord or gangster running things, and we don't want that," he said.
Earlier this year, President of the Court of Appeal Justice Anita Allen similarly stressed the importance of public confidence in the judiciary by stating that it is the "real source" of the judiciary's power.
In response, Johnson argued that the courts need to both act and present itself without bias, stating: "Justice must not only be done, but it must appear to have been done. Your appointment process must not only fair, but also appear to be fair. No questions should ever have to be asked about [appointments]."

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