December 03, 2013
Bahamasair has agreed to relaunch service to Treasure Cay, Abaco, following an outcry from resort properties in the area - choosing to outsource the service in order to save costs associated with the "expensive" route, according to its general manager.
The news was welcomed yesterday by General Manager of the Treasure Cay Resort and Marina Stephen Kappeler, but with caveats.
Henry Woods, general manager for Bahamasair, told Guardian Business that a team from the state-owned airline met with a representative of the local chamber of commerce and the local government administrator, along with representatives from Treasure Cay hotel properties a week and a half ago and reached a resolution on the situation, which had seen Bahamasair discontinue service from Nassau to Treasure Cay in September.
The service pull-out had led to an outcry from resort property representatives such as Kappeler, who yesterday indicated the airlift reduction had resulted in a "deafening" 20 percent drop in occupancy at the Treasure Cay Resort and Marina, whose residents number 900.
"They accepted that Bahamasair doesn't have sufficient equipment to provide the service, but we've secured sub-service with one of the other local carriers (Pineapple Air) on Mondays and Thursdays as requested by the Treasure Cay community, the hotels and the chamber of commerce," Woods told Guardian Business.
Those flights will start this Thursday at 3.30 p.m.
Woods explained that a shortage of equipment in addition to the "taxing" nature of the short flight between Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay on a plane's engine and structure, which Bahamasair had offered via its Nassau to Abaco service, meant the airline "had to find ways" around continuing the service using its own planes.
Bahamasair also recently determined that servicing more international destinations would become a greater part of its strategic plan going forward, and having shifted out of Treasure Cay, went on to launch a new Nassau/Palm Beach service.
"It wasn't simply a matter of economics but also long-term planning," said Woods of the decision to end the direct service.
"Treasure cay didn't warrant a 50 seat Dash 8 going in there; the loads were very dismal."
Among the other resort properties that will benefit from the newly re-launched airlift, which will see Pineapple Air fly a 19-seater plane into Treasure Cay, are the Bahama Beach Club and the Pineapple Point Resort.
Kappeler said: "Bahamasair did find the answer of Mondays and Thursdays for time being, but the group did ask that they do some due diligence and they agreed to do so, to see if Mondays and Thursdays is when the highest demand was there historically.
"Traditionally vacation rentals are rented Saturday to Saturday so we proposed that they please look at Monday and Thursday, as we are certainly concerned that it is Saturday that is absolutely one of the busiest days for travel. They agreed to do it but they haven't got back to us."
Kappeler said that with a 900-strong resident community, 88 employees and as many as 600 people who work inside Treasure Cay servicing the privately owned villas that are entered into a rental pool, it is important that the government "recognize we need to do more to assist that traffic" flowing in and out of Abaco in a convenient and cost-effective fashion.
Michael Albury, former president of the Abaco Chamber of Commerce, said he supported Bahamasair "farming out" the service.
"(The Nassau/Marsh Harbour/Treasure Cay service) is losing proposition. They should definitely fly with a smaller airline. If there's not enough business for a big plane send a smaller one -that's the only way Bahamasair will stay in business."
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December 03, 2013
Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe (center) is pictured with Chris Uphold, left, chief customer service officer at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), and James Love, chief mobile subway supervisor, Transit Control, Nov. 29, 2013, after launching a comprehensive media and advertising campaign in Toronto, Canada. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Train Wrap consists of images and logos representing The Bahamas covering six subway trains along with interior ads throughout. The Toronto Transit Commission, North America's second busiest transit system, carries over 460 million passengers per year.
BIS-MOT/ DEREK SMITH
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December 03, 2013
One of the world's top supermodels is eyeing The Bahamas as a venue to host one of the industry's most coveted events - a fashion week.
Just off a recent trip to Nassau last week, "Real Housewives of Atlanta" star Cynthia Bailey told Guardian Business in an exclusive interview that she was interested in bringing a fashion week to The Bahamas after discovering lots of local talent and having been in the fashion industry for the past 25 years.
Bailey also owns The Bailey Agency, a full-service fashion and modeling school based in Atlanta, Georgia.
"As any business woman would do, I am always looking for possible business opportunities wherever I go and so being in The Bahamas is no different. There is a lot of talent here and I don't know if the resources are really here to put together a fashion week and really bring in people from all over who would be really instrumental in terms of bringing that fashion presence to The Bahamas," she said.
"Coming from New York City, I have been in the business for the past 25 years, I am very connected to everyone there that's relevant in the fashion industry. I have those connections to get them to come and be a part of a Bahamian fashion week if it's done on the level that it would need to be done on."
In addition to a fashion week, Bailey is looking at the possibility of conducting model searches and even her Miss Renaissance pageants.
According to Bailey, the branding business opportunities she found while visiting The Bahamas are "endless".
"A fashion week is just one of the first things that popped out. I also have model searches, the Cynthia Bailey model searches; I may bring that here to The Bahamas. I have my pageants that I do, such as Miss Renaissance. The possibilities are endless. There are a lot of the branding business opportunities that I can do in The Bahamas," she confirmed.
"Outside of the show, one of the biggest things that I have going on is my school, the Bailey Agency School of Fashion. I was actually talking to Andy Ingraham, the gentleman who is hosting me while I am here in The Bahamas, about possibly doing a fashion week here. I just spoke with an upcoming designer here."
While in The Bahamas, Bailey spoke to the Bahamas Telecommunications Company's (BTC) team of promotional models, Divas and Dudes, at a reception at the Luciano's of Chicago restaurant. The program was developed three years ago to provide support at the company's sales and marketing events.
"The main thing I had to say to the young entrepreneurs is to go for it. It's up to you to make the decision to be successful. It doesn't just happen like today is going to be your lucky day and it just happens," Bailey said.
"It takes an incredible amount of work and focus of where you are trying to go. Pursue something that you like doing. If you love doing a job, then you will be successful at it. Get out of your own way, don't worry about what other people are saying and doing. Just decide that's what you want and go for it."
Andy Ingraham, president and CEO of the Ft. Lauderdale-based Horizons Marketing Group said visits from celebrities like Bailey will not only drive more traffic into The Bahamas, but give Bahamians opportunities to purse their dreams. Plans are currently underway to create a film and music festival. Film stars like Terrence Howard, Jecaryous Johnson and Megan Good are also expected to visit The Bahamas, scouting location for future projects this month.
"With The Bahamas being close to the U.S. marketplace, our goal is try to make entertainment just a short flight away," she added.
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December 03, 2013
With construction underway on the $30 million Venetian West development, a leading real estate firm will host the first open house for Nassau's newest gated community this weekend.
The 42-acre residential project, nestled in the Old Fort Bay area, is being developed by the Quantas Investment Group, and a number of units are expected to be completed by March 2014.
Venetian West offers a variety of amenities including 24-hour security, a clubhouse, a community pool and a gym, basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts, an event lawn, playgrounds and walking trails.
Realtors see Venetian West continuing a trend of development in the west.
Tim Rodland and Ashley Brown, both agents at Mario Carey Realty, are teaming up to host the project's first open house.
"The developers, Quantas Investment Group, have filled a void that the market has been looking for. This is one of the few gated communities in New Providence that primarily caters to younger professionals, with all of the amenities that other communities offer at an affordable price," he told Guardian Business.
Brown added: "The location is perfect. With nearby gated communities such as Old Fort Bay and Lyford Cay, and the new Old Fort Bay Town Centre, Venetian West is conveniently located for all of your shopping needs. This fast growing area is within close proximity to the airport, gas stations, grocery stores and there are plans for Meridian, an all age school, to start construction just behind the development in the near future. As a young professional myself, I must say that it is the best investment on the market."
In Venetian West buyers have four options to choose from: A two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo; a three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo; a three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse, and a three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse with a garage. Properties start at $239,000.
Phase One of the project consists of 211 condominiums and town homes. The Venetian West development will be completely built out of light-gauge steel (LGS) technology. Developers have chosen a contemporary European style that makes Venetian West different from the norm and attractive to both local and foreign investors. Turnkey furniture and appliance packages will also be offered.
Persons who register and reserve their unit at the open house are being guaranteed the option to get the limited time offer of five percent down and a 5.95 percent interest rate for the first year.
Venetian West's first open house will take place December 7 from 12 noon-5 p.m.
Recently, Quantas Investment Group President Jeffery Kerr said to Guardian Business he believes that potential homeowners have been looking for a concept like Venetian West, and he is confident about the development's prospects in the market.
"The beauty about Venetian West is that it has been designed in such a unique way. We feel that the market is ready for the Venetian West concept because I believe that potential homeowners are more interested in gated communities. But more so, I believe that Bahamians are buying into condominiums and townhouse styles because it's a concept that has caught on well. Now we are more susceptible to that type of living space in comparison to the early days," he said.
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December 03, 2013
The $2.5 million executive office complex for the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) is nearly 60 percent complete and is expected to open its doors February 2014.
Ground was broken on the complex back in July. During yesterday's site tour, the corporation's Executive Chairman Arnold Forbes told the media that he was pleased with the progress that's been made so far on the project.
"Since the project started six months ago, we have come a long way in getting this building in the park where it needs to be. We are pleased with the work so far. Construction on the new BAIC headquarters is coming along nicely. We are about 60 percent complete. We hope to occupy this building, hopefully, by the end of February," he revealed.
Once completed, the 10,000 square foot building is expected to house close to 100 of BAIC's employees and be outfitted with energy-efficient and powered with solar energy. Forbes said between 25 to 35 employees are currently on the site working. The new office complex is also part of the corporation's plans to modernize the close to 40-acre property.
"We're putting a full solar installation in here. It will be a hybrid system, so it's tied into the grid and I don't think we will go over 250 kilowatts. We are hoping to generate power so that we cut back on our bills and make this building the first green building. The goal of BAIC is to make this the first quasi-government corporation to have a building that's operating on solar power," he explained.
To date, Forbes confirmed that less than $1 million has been poured into the project. He also pointed out how there has been an increase in the number of applications of young entrepreneurs interested in setting up shop in the park. It averages between 20 to 25 applications daily.
"We have inquiries almost on a daily basis for a number of businesses. Once we are organized, we probably won't be able to house everyone. But this park will be full to capacity at the end of the day."
Future plans for the park also include the redevelopment of the entire park that houses several businesses.
In the meantime, BAIC officials are working feverishly to ensure businesses that have fallen behind in their rent are brought up to date.
"There is a new day in this park and it starts with this building. We have been collecting a bit more than has been done in the past. There are some people who have been formally evicted. We are trying to work with the others," according to Forbes.
"We really don't want to evict Bahamians out of the park, especially in these hard economic times. So we are trying to work with those individuals who have fallen behind, so that we can try and bring them up to date and get them organized so that they can continue to be in the park."
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development Philip 'Brave' Davis was also on hand at Monday's site tour.
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December 02, 2013
Mario Carey Realty (MCR) is going the extra mile – 3,840 miles to be exact -- to attract buyers to The Bahamas...
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December 02, 2013
The potential to lose at least an estimated $30 million in revenue annually has driven the government to determine in the latest draft of the value-added (VAT) tax legislation, released to the public on Friday, that both commercial and residential consumers of electricity will be asked to pay VAT on their bills.
Ishmael Lightbourne, VAT consultant to the government, said that while the administration is "struggling with" the issue, not wishing to further raise already high electricity costs while it is in the midst of a reform exercise aimed at reducing this already high cost, it is thought that not taxing supplies of electricity would be "too generous than (the government) can afford".
A prominent businessman yesterday suggested that it is VAT on residential bills that he is most concerned about, as this would not be a "deductible" cost for the household, as it would with a business.
However, in both cases, Dionisio D'Aguilar said the decision to add the VAT on these major expenses will "only contribute to its inflationary impact" that has been a much-touted concern with respect to VAT implementation.
The VAT legislation and regulations, uploaded to the Bahamas government's website, were almost exactly the same as the August version of the documents obtained and publicized by The Nassau Guardian earlier this month.
However, in a difference to what was stated in an October draft of the bill, which removed VAT on commercial BEC customers, the government again calls for both commercial and residential consumers to pay VAT on electricity.
The October draft had exempted electricity supplies for both.
Under the draft released on Friday, VAT on electricity would kick in for residential consumers once they consume over a certain amount of electricity per month.
The legislation and regulations left blank the space where the exact amount that would constitute this threshold would have appeared.
Ishmael Lightbourne, VAT consultant to the government, told Guardian Business in an interview on Friday that the number "in consideration" is 200 kilowatt hours per month.
"That's the number being thrown around. It's a fairly low number developed in conjunction with BEC. It covers a wide swathe of low income users. It's really about trying to soften the burden on the poor," said Lightbourne.
The consultant added that for those who breach this threshold in their residential consumption, the "whole amount (that they consume) would be 'vatable'" rather than just the quantity of electricity consumed over the threshold.
D'Aguilar said that for commercial consumers of electricity, the ability to "net" VAT paid on inputs - including electricity bills - against VAT collected from customers would allows businesses to mitigate some of the direct costs to themselves from VAT on their inputs.
However, it would also mean that if the company intends to collect the same amount of revenue but does not wish to pass on a full 15 percent to their consumers they would need to charge less for their goods sold.
"Assuming your inputs made up 50 percent of your costs, and under the current scenario you are making $100 in revenue. You don't want to go to $115, the customer won't pay, so you reduce the price to 93.50 and then add 15 percent to that, which is $107.50.
"The customer would experience 7.5 percent increase in price, and you would be getting 6.50 percent less in profit."
Residential consumers, who cannot "deduct" the 15 percent VAT paid on their BEC bill, would experience a "direct" inflationary impact in this area, which would in turn impact businesses through its effect on discretionary income levels of consumers, noted D'Aguilar.
"The consumer has to pay the full 15 percent; there's nothing they can offset it against."
Lightbourne said that discussions within the government over how to treat VAT under the forthcoming regime, set to be imposed on July 1, 2014, have been conflicted.
He suggested that the government may yet shift on the question of residential supplies of electricity, but was fairly set on taxing commercial supplies.
"I don't know yet if it's resolved; it's in the legislation, but it's still being considered. Clearly, we all would admit the cost of electricity here is extremely high. I think the inclination was not to not want to tax electricity at all, but given the need of revenue to take electricity out of the equation is to take out some almost $30 million in revenue.That would be a little bit more generous than we could afford."
In September, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis told a Bahamas Association of Compliance Officers (BACO) conference that to add VAT to the cost of electricity supplies would conflict with the Christie administration's undertaking in its election campaign to reduce the cost of this utility.
The VAT regulations read as such: "A supply of electricity is exempt where a) such supply is made to a residential dwelling; (b) in relation to an established customer, the total electricity supplied to the residential dwelling on a monthly basis does not exceed (-) kilowatts of electricity, commencing with the billing period that begins on or after the date the act comes into force; or the average monthly consumption within the preceding calendar year did not exceed (-) kilowatts of electricity; and (c) in relation to a new customer, the supplier estimates that the average annual consumption will not exceed (-) kilowatts of electricity; or that the monthly consumption is likely to fall within (b)."
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December 02, 2013
In the wake of a court hearing which opponents of Resorts World Bimini described as a victory for their side, a representative of the development said Friday that it too was "extremely happy" with the outcome of the court matter, denying any "undertakings" to refrain from particular activity were given by the company with respect to the project.
On Thursday, Romauld Ferreira, attorney for the Bimini Blue Coalition, which has received leave last Monday to apply for a judicial review of the North Bimini Ferry Terminal project being carried out by Resorts World Bimini, said that the development had given an undertaking in the Freeport Supreme Court to halt dredging work.
No written judgment issued on the part of Senior Justice Hartman Longley was available following the Thursday sitting of the court, where Longley had heard an application for an injunction called for by the Bimini Blue Coalition, part of the "interlocutory relief" sought in its application for judicial review.
Bimini Blue Coalition, a group of concerned Biminites and others, argued in their submissions to the court last week that without an injunction until the judicial review of the North Bimini Ferry Terminal project can be heard, environmental damage would be done that would negate the purpose of the review.
Speaking with Guardian Business at the conclusion of the court hearing, Ferreira said that while the injunction was not granted by Longley, Resorts World Bimini "made an undertaking through their counsel that neither them or their agents would begin dredging until the matter is heard".
Ferreira also claimed the company admitted in court that it did not yet have a permit to dredge. The dredging of 220,000 cubic yards of material from the seabed off North Bimini's western shore to create an entrance channel for cruise ships accessing the terminal is a major component of the project. The fill will be used to create a 4.5 acre artificial island, where passengers of the ferry will disembark.
Asked to respond to the claim that these commitments and revelations occurred in court, Michelle Malcolm, director of public affairs for Resorts World Bimini said: "We are extremely happy with the outcome of the judicial review.
"As no dredging has yet started on our project, the courts determined that no injunctions were necessary, nor were any undertakings necessary to be given.
"We were asked to produce documents on the aspects of our development that are underway, and the judge was satisfied with the documents we provided.
"Our intention is to begin dredging once the necessary permits have been issued and in the meantime, construction will continue on the pier."
Malcolm said that the company "does not expect any delays" to the project as a result of the court matter, adding that Resorts World Bimini "welcomes the judicial review as we have complied with all regulations related to our development project".
Malcolm added Resorts World Bimini is committed to working closely with the government on the project, following all guidelines and receiving all necessary approvals.
"We are following best practices to minimize impact on the surrounding environment, and we pledge to continue to do so throughout this process of development."
Resorts World Bimini became the name of the former Bimini Bay Resort and Casino in March of this year when Malaysian conglomerate the Genting Group purchased the resort.
The company broke ground on Phase II of a 350-room hotel in August. The hotel is expected to be completed by Christmas 2013 with the remaining 50 garden villa suites being completed by the end of January 2014.
Meantime, the company launched a 1,500 capacity superfast ferry service between Miami and Bimini in July and the ferry terminal project is intended to cut down on time taken ferrying passengers to shore by tender.
The Bimini Blue Coalition is awaiting a court date for a hearing of the requested judicial review.
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December 02, 2013
The government's release of the value-added tax (VAT) draft legislation and regulations via its website on Friday elicited grateful responses from members of the business community yesterday, but several noted they still could not make a realistic determination of VAT's impact on their operations without the release of the details surrounding what changes will be made to import duty and excise taxes when VAT is implemented.
The legislation was released along with a Guide to VAT Legislation document, but no indication was given as to when the tariff schedule will be released.
The legislation broadly remained the same as the earlier draft obtained and publicized by The Nassau Guardian earlier this month, with a handful of significant adaptations including the exempting of all insurance sectors from VAT, and the addition of VAT to residential electricity supplies for those who consume over a given amount of energy per month. The previous draft suggested only commercial energy bills would be "vatable".
A 15 percent VAT rate for most businesses was confirmed, with VAT on hotel accommodation and hotel food and beverage purchases to be charged at 10 percent. One hundred thousand dollars in actual or anticipated annual revenue will be the threshold for VAT registration, and filings will be made on a monthly basis.
The latest version of the legislation, which the Guide suggested was being released to enable "an intensive and extensive public education and consultation exercise" did not appear to include any specific amendments taking into consideration concerns raised by the Chamber of Commerce and Employer's Confederation's Coalition for Responsible Taxation in their letter to the prime minister and Ministry of Finance earlier this month regarding VAT.
Robert Myers, co-chair of the Coalition, which has been seeking to dialogue with the government on the basis for VAT and potential alternatives, said the legislation and regulations were an update to that which had been made available to the Coalition co-chairs by the government previously.
"We're reviewing it now," he said. "It helps that they have released it, it's very helpful, but our recent statement is still valid: we need the (financial/economic) modelling and the tariff schedule."
Meanwhile, Rick Lowe, operations manager for Nassau Motor Company, suggested that an example provided in the Guide to VAT released alongside the legislation and regulations by the government left more questions than answers as it included an assumption that excise tax would be reduced by 18.9 percent - not the roughly 17 percent previously suggested by the government.
Lowe said he is concerned that the government "keeps tweaking the numbers" and called for the release of the tariff schedule.
"The sample calculation provided by the government suggests there will be an 18.9 percent reduction in the Excise Tax and because no mark up is allowed on the VAT portion of the taxes paid at the port, this attempts to force a 13 percent reduction in a businesses mark up," Lowe said.
"Meanwhile, the government is projecting an increase in taxes taken of 21.05 percent. Businesses that fall under the Price Control Act will have no choice but to accept the reduction, unless these controls are removed, but that aside, adjustments will have to be made if profitability levels are to be maintained.
"You've got to maintain some level of gross margin and if they are automatically taking it away by the force of law, it only leaves other alternatives: delay renovations, don't give benefits, or if someone leaves you don't hire a replacement. Or do you in fact get to the point of lay offs? Heaven forbid it's bad enough in the economy."
The government has previously indicated that it intends to reduce import duties when VAT is implemented, in order to offset the inflationary impact of VAT on goods.
In the Guide to VAT provided, the government notes of its intentions with respect to import tariffs: "The Government plans to reduce tariff rates, as of July 1 2014, by an amount just sufficient to compensate for the introduction of VAT for nearly all most products that are now subject to a tariff rate above 15 percent. Tariff rates at or below 15 percent would be eliminated. The structure of the existing protections for domestic manufacturing and agricultural products would continue to be enjoyed. "With the rebalancing of tariffs to absorb the VAT, the prices paid for some goods by consumers after the introduction of VAT could remain unchanged."
Lowe has been a vocal critic of VAT.
Edison Sumner, president of the BCCEC and a member of the government's consultative committee on VAT, said that the release of the documents will enable the broader membership of the Chamber of Commerce to review it and provide feedback that the BCCEC can bring into its consultations with the government.
"The Chamber is still concerned that we don't have all the documents. We are glad the draft has been released and that it is now in the public domain so business people and consumers can be more informed going into this discussion, but we are still waiting on other documents and hopeful we will be seeing those soon. Once that happens we can review all in concert and put all the pieces together."
The government proposes to implement VAT on July 1, 2014, as part of a fiscal reform package intended to stabilize the government's fiscal position in the medium to long term.
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December 02, 2013
A local seafood wholesaler is looking to tap into a booming Chinese demand for live lobster, with the help of the Ministry of Trade, but meeting the demand will require local fishermen to change their techniques and upgrade their vessels.
Glenn Pritchard, president of Tropical Seafood, said his company exports an average of 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of live lobster to Hong Kong every month to five weeks at present, but the new product is something his company is "trying to develop" further.
"We only have one or two guys who are actually catching them for us now. It's still in its infancy. I'm hoping it will develop," said Pritchard.
Traditionally The Bahamas has exported frozen lobster tails only, captured when fishermen dive and spear the catch.
Chinese elites consider live lobster a symbol of luxury and projections are that desire to consume it will only grow as the country's economy develops. Typically, China has sourced live lobster from Australia, but high demand has caused prices to rise significantly.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service, Chinese imports of live lobster increased in the first nine months of 2012 alone, roughly quadruple that in 2011.
The Ministry of Trade is working with its Chinese counterparts to ensure that The Bahamas is fully aware of the food safety certification requirements for exporting live lobster to China.
Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder, who also has responsibility for trade, said the ministry saw the need to facilitate the process given that prices that can be fetched for live lobster are as much as "six fold" that for a lobster tail.
"The profit margins are there, we are working on the certification side of things with Beijing and the fisherman have to adjust their fishing techniques and their fleets. Some are doing it on a small scale, but to make it commercially viable there will have to be adjustments in the private sector."
Pritchard acknowledged this, adding that the adaptations needed to successfully trap and store the lobsters are "very expensive". In order to export a live lobster they must be sent into "hibernation" using a technique where they are exposed to cold temperatures. They are then carefully packaged to avoid any damage during transportation.
Adria LaRoda, president of the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance, said he has seen "very limited" involvement of Bahamian fishermen to date in capturing and exporting live lobsters, and he has concerns about developing the market.
"While it could be a profitable thing because there are people who would want to see them and pick them out before they eat them, we have to be careful. From the commercial fishing standpoint it is not something we would want to see, because there are other things involved in the process of whole live lobster.
"It could promote the harvesting of spawning lobster to replenish stocks that may have been depleted somewhere else, to establish stocks. We have to be careful how we do it," he said.
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December 02, 2013
After an initial delay in the launch of fixed number portability due to a lack of operator readiness on the part of Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) yesterday commended Bahamian telecoms providers for meeting today's launch date within a timeframe that is significantly shorter than their Caribbean peers, setting a "benchmark" for the region.
Beginning today fixed line phone customers will have the option to change their service provider - opting for either BTC or Cable Bahamas (CBL) - without being forced to change their telephone number in the process.
URCA had set a September 3, 2013, launch date for fixed number portability (FNP), but in a later review of the factors that contributed to a decision to postpone that deadline the regulator pointed to a lack of readiness on the part of BTC. It committed to launching an investigation into BTC's lack of preparedness for the launch, which is intended to add a higher level of competition to the liberalized fixed number market in The Bahamas by removing the "inconvenience factor" of having to change telephone numbers and stationary as a consideration for consumers in who they wish to provide their telephone service.
Guardian Business understands that the regulator has been very pleased with BTC's work since September to ensure readiness for today's launch.
In a release issued yesterday, Stephen Bereaux, director of policy and regulation for URCA, expressed his satisfaction that The Bahamas has been able to launch fixed number portability in The Bahamas just two and a half years after initial consultations on the subject began.
"What our industry has achieved and the timeframes they have achieved it in is best practice in the region, this is a benchmark. The December 2 launch date brings the implementation process to an approximate two and a half-year conclusion; compared to places like the Cayman Islands where the process reportedly took about seven years and other Caribbean countries which after several years of working towards number portability, have yet to achieve the goal. What Bahamian service providers have been able to achieve, at required industry standards, yet in a substantially shorter space of time Bereaux said is highly commendable."
Both operators met the deadline to prove they had completed installation and testing of all required systems and processes necessary for FNP implementations.
URCA has now issued Certificates of FNP Readiness to BTC and CBL.
The ability to change service provider without having to change phone number will now be available throughout The Bahamas.
The FNP implementation process began in April 2011 when URCA launched initial consultations on the matter.
In November 2011, following the initial consultation, URCA established and chaired an industry working group comprising representatives from existing telephone service providers in The Bahamas.
That industry working group's primary responsibility was to identify a solution for number portability in The Bahamas and to develop a detailed work plan for its implementation. The industry working group approach to addressing the number portability issue in The Bahamas also ensured the engagement of operators throughout the process.
URCA has long argued that number portability is a critical step in the process of liberalizing the Bahamian telecoms market, introducing competition that should benefit consumers.
The regulator recently ruled that each telecoms provider will cover their specific internal costs relating to the implementation of FNP - contrary to the desire of BTC, who had hoped other companies would help it cover some of its costs in this regard - and that BTC and Cable Bahamas will share the common industry costs associated with the system. Cable Bahamas had sought to argue that it should cover around 18 to 20 percent of these "common" costs alone, given BTC's incumbent position.
Cable Bahamas said it expects number portability to allow it to grow its fixed line customer base going forward.
URCA saud will continue to monitor the FNP system and will also take steps to monitor the consumer experience with number porting, to ensure that the service remains at the required standard.
"The system used to implement FNP will be the basis for future mobile telephone number portability, when that market is opened to a second provider," it added.
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December 02, 2013
The Bahamas and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have "mutually agreed" to postpone a working group meeting as The Bahamas forges ahead with the completion of a master document outlining this nation's entire economic regime, as it relates to trade and the finalization of legislation on intellectual property, food safety and animal and plant health.
The Bahamas had been due to provide an update to its progress towards accession to the WTO at a working group meeting this month.
Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder said that with The Bahamas still in the process of completing its factual summary on its trade regime, and with the WTO Bali Ministerial meeting fast approaching on December 3-6, the two sides agreed to postpone the meeting until February.
"We are completing a thorough factual summary, which is the basis of our accession. It looks at the regulatory regimes, the permitting regimes, the incentive regimes, corporations and how they have an impact on trade, all of the subsidy programs; anything in that context that has a bearing on the accession to the WTO and anything that can have a bearing on the rules requirements of the WTO forms the base document.
"It's a master document that will allow for the determination of our succession. It's a very onerous task with multi-agency input, but we're substantially complete," said Pinder.
He added that the goal is to have the document completed and submitted by the first half of December. Pinder said he believes the WTO process is still "on track" notwithstanding the postponed meeting.
The Bahamas is in the process of acceding to the WTO, a global, multilateral institution which aims to promote international trade and with it economic growth and development. This nation is presently the last country in the Western Hemisphere to become a member - a fact which Pinder has suggested leaves our exporters vulnerable.
To date, the WTO has received this nation's offers as it relates to goods and services, indicating to what extent The Bahamas is willing to liberalize its trading regime in these areas.
Among the primary requirements of accession are a reduction in the average import tariff level, a fact which feeds into the discussion on the need for alternative forms of revenue, such as value-added tax (VAT), upon WTO accession.
Pinder said that he expects to provide an update on where The Bahamas stands on introducing legislation required by the WTO for accession when the Third Working Group meeting takes place, including intellectual property and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) legislation, and in particular the resolution of the dispute between Cable Bahamas and U.S. television network HBO.
"The resolution of the copyright dispute between Cable Bahamas and HBO was an issue for our accession able to get past that," said Pinder.
The minister described the IP and SPS legislation as "substantially complete". He hopes that they can be introduced to Parliament in December or January.
"We've had a series of bilateral discussions with [the office of the] U.S. trade representative and the EU on comments to the legislation, and those we viewed as acceptable the attorney general's office is working to incorporate those consequential amendments, and those we felt are not in the national interest we'll not incorporate.
Commenting on some of the points raised in those discussions, Pinder added: "The EU, some of their concerns had to do with copyright questions, conventions the U.S. would like us to sign on protection of plant varieties, but nothing of super consequence that will halt the whole process."
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December 02, 2013
North Abaco's chief councilor has called for the public release of an environmental impact assessment demonstrating the projected impact of a dredging and development project being carried out by a foreign developer in the Treasure Cay area.
His comments come as an environmentalist group is raising the alarm over the project, which they call "yet another irresponsible construction project" in the Family Islands.
Following a recent tour of the Treasure Sands Club in Abaco, directors from Save The Bays expressed concern and dismay over dredging off a world-famous beach.
Treasure Cay is known for its pristine three miles of uninterrupted sand. Save The Bays said Bahamians are expressing "deep pain" over the alleged lack of transparency and dialogue by developers, a sentiment being echoed by local officials.
Tim Blakely, vice president for the Treasure Sands Club, has maintained that the company received approval from the central government for the project and that it will bring much needed economic development to the island.
"We just want to know what the impact will be," said Gary Smith, chief councilor for the North Abaco District. "We want to see an environmental impact assessment performed by an independent, reputable company. We want to see the environmental management plan written by Keith Bishop, principal engineer at Islands by Design, and we would like to see the extent of the plans that Treasure Sands has for this area."
The development currently features a high-end club, pool, bar and restaurant experience, although plans are afoot to build a boutique hotel on the beach and docking facilities.
Smith urged both the developer and government to engage the public and follow the rules of public consultation before starting construction in a delicate ecosystem.
Joseph Darville, Bimini waterkeeper and a director for Save The Bays, said the dredging may cause "irreparable damage" to the habitat of bonefish, tarpon, snappers, turtles, lobsters and a host of other marine species. Development could "drive away" wildlife, he said, and the area is bordered by fragile mangroves.
Save The Bays' protest in Abaco is the third major campaign against unregulated development for the growing environmental movement in recent months.
In Bimini, Malaysia-based conglomerate, the Genting Group, is moving ahead with a 1,000-foot pier to accommodate cruise ships from Florida in an effort to fuel a new mega project and Save The Bays has continued to agitate to make Clifton Park a protected marine area.
Similar to the issues that have arisen in Bimini, the Treasure Sands Club did not release an environmental impact assessment or an environmental management plan to the public and local residents were not consulted prior to the start of construction, Save the Bays asserts.
Fred Smith, QC, a top attorney and another director for Save The Bays, noted "that activities in Treasure Cay are indicative of what is happening throughout the country."
Smith, who is also a partner at Callenders & Co, has pushed government for the promised Freedom of Information Act, which he feels would offer more transparency and accountability.
"More than 5,000 people have signed a Save The Bays petition urging passage of a Freedom of Information Act and an Environmental Protection Act," he said and he called on central government to stop "ignoring the laws and casting aside the pleas of local officials".
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December 02, 2013
With international business and cross-border transactions increasing dramatically, a partner in a local law firm said it is critical for Bahamians practicing law to keep pace with legal precedence, trends and changes in other jurisdictions.
Fresh from attending the International Lawyers Network (ILN) 2013 conference in Miami, Halsbury Chambers partner, Nerissa Greene, said issues of taxation, employment, energy and natural resources - once thought to be local - have such global repercussions today that attorneys who practice in The Bahamas need to keep abreast of evolving trends.
"It is no longer a luxury to remain abreast of changing judicial precedent, practices and procedures in other parts of the world, it is essential," said Greene, who specializes in real estate, conveyancing, family law, and civil and corporate law. "As responsible legal advisors and consultants, we must be 110 percent current with the ever-evolving face of law."
Although much of the conference focused on energy production and dissemination, including issues related to natural gas and fracking that don't pertain to The Bahamas, the value of seeing how fast law was being created in new fields could not be underestimated, Greene said.
"I think there is a misconception among the general public that law is static, that it's what is written in those leather-bound books that dominate law libraries. The reality is that while principles largely remain constant, nuances in the law change with great frequency and the procedural matters, evidentiary requirements, standards are always under scrutiny and can flip with a single case that sets new precedent," said the attorney who first rose to prominence by highlighting the benefits of pre-nuptial agreements.
Greene said attending the ILN 2013 conference also allowed her to network with attorneys from Asia, the U.S., Canada, Latin America and Europe. Membership in the ILN is limited and by invitation only. Halsbury Chambers is the official Bahamas member of the association of 91 high-quality, full-service law firms with over 5,000 lawyers world-wide. The ILN provides clients with easily accessible legal services in 67 countries on six continents.
"As attorneys, particularly in civil matters, we represent clients who may have interests in multiple jurisdictions so whether those clients are individuals or large enterprises, we need to be prepared to advise them appropriately because they may be comparing doing business in The Bahamas with doing business elsewhere," said Greene, "and that counsel can range from employment to taxation matters."
Greene's participation in the international conference was the second by a Halsbury Chambers attorney in recent weeks.
Earlier in November, estate planning specialist Mikia Cooper, a Halsbury Chambers associate, attended the 1st Annual Private Wealth Latin America and the Caribbean Forum in Miami, helping to boost the profile of The Bahamas. Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder was among the speakers at that conference, touting this country's competence in handling the most complex of wealth, asset management and investment matters.
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December 02, 2013
With international business and cross-border transactions increasing dramatically, a partner in a local law firm said it is critical for Bahamians practicing law to keep pace with legal precedence, trends and changes in other jurisdictions...
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November 29, 2013
A lack of Central Bank of The Bahamas approval for the issuance of shares to U.S. shareholders by deadlines stipulated in the merger agreement delayed the completion of the last of four U.S. acquisitions by Cable Bahamas, and forced the company to find ways to make up a $7.8 million funding shortfall for the transaction.
In a statement issued yesterday by Cable Bahamas, the company announced that it completed the last of its four U.S. acquisitions on Tuesday, when its wholly-owned subsidiary Summit Vista Inc. successfully acquired Summit Broadband Inc., an Orlando-based telecommunications provider, for US$53,426,935 in cash.
It described the agreement as opening up a "world of opportunity for Cable Bahamas" which gives the company "access to over 1,000,000 homes and customers and provides the stimulus for sustained growth".
Although not going into details, the statement also noted how the BISX-listed company had "decided to replace" a planned six percent preference share issuance that had been called for in the merger agreement as part of the consideration for the purchase of Summit Broadband Inc. with unsecured promissory notes, totalling US$6 million.
In a separate letter to shareholders, Cable Bahamas explained that the decision to cancel the preference share issuance was taken after it was decided by its board of directors that approval from the Central Bank of The Bahamas for the issuance of the Series 6 shares "was not likely to be received within the deadline contained in the merger agreement".
"Therefore, the issuance of the Series 6 preference shares would be "removed as a part of the consideration price for Summit".
Cable Bahamas had expected to acquire Summit via a payment of US$28,255,000 in cash in addition to the issuance of the 7,795 Series 6, 6 percent non-voting cumulative, redeemable preference shares due in 2023 to 31 Summit Broadband shareholders.
Given the delay in central bank approval for the issuance, an agreement was reached with the shareholders and the company issued the unsecured notes to "make up for the shortfall".
Shareholders were advised that due to this decision, the vote on the Series 6 issuance would be taken off the agenda at the upcoming annual general meeting on December 5th.
The delay is not the first time the U.S. transactions have been left on shaky ground by a failure of government agencies to act as expected ahead in the time period anticipated.
Earlier this year, the National Insurance Board "withheld" voting its 22.3 per cent equity stake in favor of the company's U.S. expansion at an extraordinary meeting called to seek approval for the acquisitions because the government had yet to appoint three directors to the Cable Bahamas board of directors. This left some uncertainty about the validity of the vote.
Not dwelling on this unanticipated change of plan with respect to the final acquisition in yesterday's statement, Anthony Butler, Cable Bahamas' CEO, described the completion of the U.S. transactions as "a fantastic day for our company".
"We're delighted to have a protracted closing behind us and we fully intend to take full advantage of the many opportunities that will be available in the new territories.
"We're immediately starting our integration of all of the Florida entities and it will now be centralized in Orlando with an office in the southwest in Bonita Springs and all back office operations in Florida will be run out of Orlando."
Cable Bahamas said the deal completes the latest stage of a long-term strategy to establish the company as a predominant regional telecommunications company.
"It heralds exciting times ahead for everyone associated; our customers, staff and shareholders. In all, this adds another 150 employees and provides additional expertise and knowledge to the already high tech company - further evidence that Cable Bahamas continues on the strategic path to success.
"Our extensive operating experience, together with our varied product portfolio, positions us well to offer a superior telecom experience to our Floridian customers while significantly improving our financial performance. This latest acquisition will significantly broaden the already extensive nature of our local assets and international capabilities."
Rick Pardy, Summit President and CEO, said: "We can only see great things in this deal as we continue the march to be a full service provider in Florida. I see a lot of parity between the vision and operations of the company and that should mean positive service, technical and operational results."
Cable Bahamas will have principal offices in Nassau, with satellite offices in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Orlando and Bonita Springs, Florida. The company will immediately begin the integration of all the Florida operations to take advantage of the operational efficiencies and synergies.
In Cable Bahamas' Annual Report 2012, which was released on November 13, the company noted that the decision to set "our sights for growth... beyond the shores of The Bahamas" was taken as a result of a January 2012 review by telecoms consultants engaged by the company to assist with a five-year strategic plan.
In that report the company also described the international acquisition process as "protracted" but added that once completed the acquisitions would represent a "keystone in our immediate business strategy".
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November 29, 2013
Fears about client confidentiality issues, liability, compensation and other matters are being reviewed on behalf of the Bahamas Real Estate Association (BREA) by an attorney, after its members were approached to sign on with a Canadian company that will act as a manager of Bahamian appraisal services on behalf of some local banks.
Concerns began to pour in to BREA after a copy of a contract sought by Nationwide Appraisal Services (NAS) was disseminated to BREA members in October.
Calling itself "Canada's premier appraisal management company and the most comprehensive source for real estate valuations", NAS is said to be working to establish itself in this country as an intermediary between RBC and Scotiabank in The Bahamas and appraisers providing appraisals of property to the banks.
"They are trying to standardize the appraisal system in The Bahamas, there are all sorts of issues involved," said a prominent realtor, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The appraisers committee has done some due diligence, not only on the company itself, but proposed agreement in other jurisdictions, and others have locked horns with NAS for the same concerns we have.
"At this point in time the BREA board has realized the far reaching implications of this contract and has agreed to engage an attorney to represent BREA to look into this contract."
Guardian Business understands that during a meeting held at the offices of Scotiabank in October the company indicated it would like to see NAS begin to operate as a manager of appraisal services being provided by Bahamian appraisers to the bank by this month.
This would see appraisers sending their property appraisals to NAS, instead of to the bank, and being remunerated by NAS on behalf of the bank rather than the bank. The appraisals would be maintained in a centralized database by NAS.
Following concerns raised by BREA members after a service level agreement was disseminated, NAS agreed to wait for BREA to formally collate members feedback and to providing answers to concerns raised.
"The main thing a lot of people are questioning is whether or not NAS has a right to carry out real estate business in The Bahamas. The Real Estate Act says real estate is reserved for Bahamians, and there is a question whether or not NAS is, in effect, circumventing that," said another concerned realtor yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"There's a question of whether they are just a technology company, or if they are involved in the business of appraisals."
The terms of the agreement sent out to realtors, which was obtained by Guardian Business, call for NAS to be fully indemnified by the appraiser, and for it to be treated as the appraiser's "most favored customer" - that is, to be provided appraisals at the lowest rate they give to any customer.
Another realtor said he is most concerned about issues of information confidentiality under the NAS agreement.
"On one page it defines who could become clients of NAS and one is a government or any agency or ministry of any government, so if you have an appraisal on your house today for $500,000 done through the NAS system, and subsequent to this department of real property tax becomes a client of the database they will see that your appraisal before may have been $200,000, but it's now $500,000 and say 'we're increasing valuation to $500,000'. It puts the public at real disadvantage.
"Then there is the situation with foreign home buyers, and whether the IRS could become a client of NAS and seek information on their citizens assets in The Bahamas. It's absolutely scary," said the realtor.
Contacted yesterday for comment, a Scotiabank representative working on the project declined to comment, suggesting he could do so at a later date.
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November 29, 2013
The 2013 lobster season has "picked up" in terms of volume of product being caught, but incidences of dangerous confrontations with Dominican poachers are on the rise, according to the head of the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance (BCFA).
After describing the season in dire terms closer to its opening, Adrian LaRoda said that lobster fishermen had to "bite the bullet" and by staying out at sea for more extended periods of time, they have been able to increase their catch to more acceptable levels.
"There has been some improvement. We had to change some of our methods in terms of how we go about fishing and harvesting product and I think because of those we are seeing an upturn in the quantity of the product. Some of the divers had to go out and stay out longer, sit and wait in the area, extending their trips.
"It doesn't necessarily equal profitability, but it's a matter of survival and at the end of the day, it's survivable," said LaRoda.
The BCFA head added that catch volumes have been enhanced by a rise in the number of large crawfish being caught, a phenomena he said he has no explanation for as yet.
"It's now more commonplace where it used to be unusual. It's commonplace to see 10 to 15 pound lobster or a 10 ounce tail."
Prices have remained largely stable since the economic downturn, suggested LaRoda.
The extended fishing trips taken by fishermen have led to more interactions between Bahamian fishermen and poachers entering Bahamian waters.
"Because they are staying out longer, they are not giving the poachers the greater opportunity to come and fish their apparatus, and there have been some confrontations where poachers didn't see them being out as long as they were."
LaRoda lamented a lack of support for crawfishermen from the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, which he suggested has emboldened poachers.
"There are incidents where poachers will come up to your boat and ask you to call their mother-ship, or give them fuel," said LaRoda.
"There are more incidents. The poachers are getting more bold. They must know the RBDF is not going to respond to our call. When you see a poaching vessel is prepared to harvest lobster product from the traps of the Bahamian fisherman within a half mile of that fisherman they are becoming bold."
When support does come, it is often in the form of the U.S. Coast Guard, which LaRoda said has shown a willingness to attend incidences of confrontations between Bahamian fishermen and Dominican poachers as an "unofficial act of kindness".
"It's a new thing. They will respond, but it has to be a real threat, unfortunately."
LaRoda noted an incident where the U.S. Coast Guard arrested a group of Dominican poachers and radioed for help from the RBDF to take custody of them.
While a boat was dispatched, it never arrived to the Southern Bahamas location where the group was being held, and as such, after a day in custody, the men were released, claimed LaRoda.
"The RBDF must do more. They have to step up the patrols. The thing about a lack of equipment is nonsense. It doesn't take 20 vessels to patrol the southern bank. They only need one."
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