Hon. Fred Mitchell Mid Year Budget Debate 11th Mar 2013

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March 11, 2013

Intervention by Fred Mitchell MP Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration Mid-Year Budget statement

House of Assembly Nassau 11th March 2013 CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

I wish to thank the leaders of my constituency branch for their support. I looked at them on Saturday as they worked the souse out on the Fox Hill Park and admired them all for their hard work and dedication: Charlene Marshall, Altamese Isaacs, Deidre Rolle, Hazon Pinder, Sherene Glinton Armbrister, and Ellamae Collie. Took time out from their leisure Saturday to make sure the branch is funded. We must do something for them. I wish to extend condolences to the Member for Golden Gates on the passing of his mother. I wish to recognize the passing of T Baswell Donaldson, the former Central Bank Governor whose funeral I attended on Saturday.

My condolences also to the family of my late friend B.K. Bonamy, the former Commissioner of Police. I also extend sympathies to the Cargill family on the passing of Patriarch Alton who was buried at St. Anselm's on Saturday past. It gave me an opportunity to sit next to the former Prime Minister. Now that was an interesting experience.

He accused me of spreading propaganda that he is coming back. I told him I had no idea what he was talking about but yes I had heard he was coming back. He claimed that he was not coming back. That he is finished with it. He claimed to be detoxified of politics and that it is out of his blood.

He asked whether I believed him. I told him I did not. All around his troops are mobilizing and his agents are secretly in the field I told him. I always find it an interesting paradox in dealing with the former Prime Minister, as a private citizen he is socially engaging, even convivial but do not allow him to return to power, his personality becomes monstrously different from anything you would recognise and I would say let us not go soft on this man.

I wish to show you a picture. This picture shows the group of PLP MPs that held a press conference after the Prime Minister’s budget statement last week. This is the group that is principally charged with rescuing The Bahamas. Whether they know it or not, that is what they are charged to do, and I think they are acquitting themselves well.

I start off with that because the country is in need of reform and this is one of the signs that reform is on the way. I start off there because of the criticism from the side opposite that they don’t have a budget book this year. Let me remind them that there is a difference of opinion between the PLP and the FNM on this exercise. We said over and over while in Opposition that this business was largely a cynical waste of time.

It cannot be prudent stewardship to simply bring a budget book, slice the money in half that you allocated for the fiscal year and then pronounce that you have reported to the country in the mid-year. It was foolish, a waste of time and took us no further than we were. That is the PLP’s position. So what you get this time is what the PLP’s view is of how to conduct the country’s affairs.

You get a budget statement which gives the midyear position and there is a debate on that statement. That is the way we intend to conduct the business of the house and the country. Further, let us hope that the time lines will permit the House to exercise its authority over the process through the Committee process in advance of the next budget. I will talk mainly about immigration today and very little on foreign affairs.

I say this about foreign affairs that I was surprised but then again not surprised at the tact that the Shadow Minister took in his statement about travel. I find those arguments puerile, pedestrian and beneath the intellect of someone at his level. Yet I find that even the most recent statement by the group of the College of The Bahamas find this tiresome argument about too much travel for a foreign minister, a convenient argument to excite the passions of the ignorant. My honourable friend from West Grand Bahama and Bimini I think dealt sufficiently with the matter so I leave it there save to add that this cannot be the same Shadow Minister who joined us on a trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands last year. Presumably that too was a waste of time and money.

This is a vexing problem for our country. I begin with these propositions, some of them in the form of questions:

Firstly, Bahamians are for Bahamianization in a macro sense but in a micro sense they want their immigrant to be granted permission to work in The Bahamas.

Secondly, left to their devices investors would and their Bahamian surrogates would plan Bahamians out of the economy of The Bahamas. Thirdly, immigration policy has two competing objectives—protecting the work place for Bahamians and regulating the inflow of workers to The Bahamas where the skills are not available in The Bahamas.

Fourthly, immigration is a processing ministry and has the mission of processing applications for the workers and residents who wish to work and live in The Bahamas in a timely fashion.

Fifthly, immigration is an enforcement ministry and has the responsibility of arresting, detaining and expelling those non Bahamians who are not lawfully in The Bahamas, while at the same time being responsible for welcoming those people who are entering The Bahamas for a lawful purpose.

To carry out all of these propositions, the Department of Immigration has a staff of 231 people, who must administer these rules, laws and policies over 26 inhabited islands that stretch over four hundred miles of territory from north to south.

The question then is this: are Bahamians willing to pay for an immigration department?

Some idea of the cost of all of this: In this fiscal year, we budgeted one million dollars for repatriation. This has been reduced by ten per cent due to the budget exigencies and the amount is now 900,000. So far this fiscal year, we have used $736,420.98 of the allocation, with a balance left for the annual allocation of $143, 479.02. This figure should be reduced further by tow charter payments of $27,000 each to Bahamasair and additional charters to bring migrants from Cat Island and Crooked Island at a cost of $20,000.

The Detention Centre has an approved budget of $260,000; there is a budget reduction of ten percent. We have spent so far this year at the detention Centre $204,892.30. The balance left to be spent for the rest of this fiscal year $29,107.70. The estimated monthly maintenance is $3,000; cleaning is $4300 and food $5,000. For a total estimated monthly expenditure of $12,300. In addition, there was an unexpected expenditure of $9300

In terms of revenue generated by the Department, the projected revenue for the first six months of fiscal year: $22,829,082.00. In the first six month of the year, Immigration took in some $20,511,374.93. There was therefore a shortfall in the projections for the mid-year of $2,317,707.07. I am advised that there are two reasons for this. The projections for the year were over ambitious and secondly, there is the need to collect monies which are owed the Department. I have been assured that the Department will be pursuing these arrears of payments.

In terms of total migrants repatriated by the Department last year. In the period January to December 2012, some 3134 people were repatriated. Of that number 2,496 were Haitian and 638 were other nationals.

Clearly, the incursion into our country of undocumented migrants from Haiti is our challenging immigration issue. It is also a national security problem, a social problem and an economic issue.

The fact is the migrants are drawn to this country because their labour is in demand in this country. They are willing to do jobs which Bahamians are said not to want at the prices which are now on offer in the labour market.

When I spoke to this issue last year, I said that I was unwilling on my own to start a revolution in terms of turning down the thousands of requests for work permits for live in maids, companions, caregivers, labourers and farm hands.

The story of a former Minister who ended up losing the job because she started turning down the permits of her own Cabinet ministers. One of the FNM cabinet ministers complained to me that the former Minister had turned down the work permit for his housekeeper saying that it was against the policy. Well the next thing we knew, she had joined in the diplomatic corps, sipping wine on the great wall of China. The conventional wisdom is that Bahamians will not do these jobs. The result is that people from Asia now populate the homes of the well to do from Lyford Cay to the Eastern Road and all points in between. Haitians are the nationality of choice in the laboring sector.

Bahamian business people come to the Department all the time and say that they are unable to find Bahamian labourers with the necessary work ethic at the price being offered for their labour.

The Cabinet has asked that we work in conjunction with the Department of Labour and the National Training programme so that within a year we will be able to stop issuing work permits for maids, housekeepers and labourers. I say this only as a warning shot about what is likely to come. I also say this in the presence of MPs because of what you can expect in the way of significant pushback from the business community if the policy is implemented and the attendant political costs.

Immigration products Citizenship

Wife of a Bahamian man (Generally not granted before five years of marriage) Resident Spouse Permit - $250.00 (five years) Permanent Residence Certificate - $250.00 Citizenship - $20.00 Husband of a Bahamian Woman (Generally not granted before ten years of marriage) Resident Spouse Permit - $250.00 (five years) Permanent Residence Certificate - $250.00 Citizenship - $500.00

Registration of a minor child That of a person who is the child of a Bahamian woman born aboard to a non-Bahamian father to whom she is married. Commonwealth Citizen $20.00 each child under 18 years. Over 18 years $50.00 each upon application.

Other Nationalities - $100.00 first child $20.00 each additional under 18 years, provided the applications are submitted at the same time. Over 18 years $500.00 each upon application.

That of the child of a Bahamian naturalized after the child’s birth. $100.00 first child $20.00 each additional under 18 years, provided the applications are submitted at the same time. Registration of persons of the Commonwealth ( ten years residency certain categories by policy like doctors and other professionals not granted until at least 20 years of residency). $500.00.

Needs to be an omnibus provision to grant citizenship to anyone in the public interest. I agree Economic citizenship, not presently offered. Question is should we do so and under what circumstances and at what cost? Citizenship is granted by the Cabinet.

PERMANENT RESIDENCE

Child of a Bahamian born outside The Bahamas to a parent who got their citizenship under Article 3(2) Minor Commonwealth - $20.00 Other national minor - $100.00 Adults (all) $500.00 – The fee for adults should be broken into the two categories as above: Commonwealth $500.00; other nationals $1,000.00. Child of a Bahamian born to a Bahamian woman married to a non-Bahamian father outside The Bahamas Normally the minors use form 4 and apply for registration as a citizen.

All above age 18; $250.00 Person who invests $500,000 in a property in The Bahamas (granted without the right to work so called economic permanent residence) Question how is the value of the investment determined? Is it the assessed value or the conveyed value? Should this amount be raised? To how much? Should it be in a residence or any investment? Can the individual hold it if he buys a residence in a company? This is granted without the right to work Property is assessed on the purchase price as shown on the conveyance or an appraised value. The stamp duty is not included. Stamp duty should be included as a part of the value.

A new home is given the value of the cost of the property, the cost to build and, the cost of the contents and landscaping. Again, stamp duty is not but should be included in the overall value. When a home is purchased the value is assessed by the amount paid plus any renovations made. And again, stamp duty is not but should be included in the overall value. The amount should be raised to $1,000.000.00 and should be in any investment of that amount or above. The purchase may be in a company as long as the individual is the beneficial owner of the company.

This is a product marketed by the financial services sector. Criticized because of the slow approval process. Also political criticism is that with the threshold of investment being so low, it is being used for people to get a back door way to get into the country to work and compete with Bahamians. The product was not designed for that.

Various permutations: With the right to work in one’s own business $10,000.00; if increasing the investment amount the cost should also be raised, $20,000.00. (Another financial services product) With the right to work as a teacher $1,000.00; this should also be increased, $2,500.00. (Given to teachers who live here for ten years or more and have given good service to the country with the support of the Ministry of Education or the school in which they work) An unrestricted right to work (i) Granted to the spouses of Bahamians generally after five years of a resident spousal permit, now possible for rsp to be given indefinitely but the banks are not recognizing it and certain amendments have to be made in the property laws to recogise it for the purposes of the purchase of land.) ($250.00) this too should be increased; $1,000.00

• Granted to people living in The Bahamas who have applied for citizenship and given a lesser status. $50.00 Non-nationals born here who miss the application by their 19th birthday under the constitution or who have run afoul of the law in some way and the Cabinet determines that they want a period of testing before granting citizenship) $500.00

• Granted to someone who has been living and working here for a long period of time but does not want to give up their citizenship (generally granted after ten years of residence) $5,000.00

(iii) Granted to high net worth individuals. $10,000.00 Question is whether are some other specific policy requirements that ought to be attached to the granting of this status.

There should be a provision where the investment is maintained for a period of ten (10) years at least; if they wish to sell there is another investment to maintain the conditions of the PR.

Permanent residence is granted by the Cabinet. ANNUAL RESIDENCE This is a form of extended stay in The Bahamas which is granted annually for those who have a home here, or who just want to live here and can support themselves without working; and do not want to have Permanent residence or who are the family of Bahamians, like mother-in-laws and need a status longer than a visitor’s stay ($1,000.00) HOME OWNERS CARD

(Please say how this is granted and at what cost) Applicants must own a principal home in another country while owning one in the Bahamas. Proof of ownership in both cases is required. The card is issued in accordance with the International Persons Land Holding Act 1993, Chapter 140. A Homeowner Resident Card permits someone with a residence in the Bahamas to enter the country as often as they like during the course of the twelve month period in which the card is valid. $250.00; may want to increase to $500.00.

WORK PERMITS Can be granted in law for any period of time but the costing is done in annual terms by various categories ranging from as low as $1,000 dollars per annum for the ordinary worker to as high as $10,000 for the top categories. This is correct. Labourers, caregivers, live in maids by far the most applied for category: Caregivers, live-in-maids, housekeeper and the like grouped together: New – 343; renewal – 1458 Total 1,801 Labourers, gardeners, handy man and the like grouped together: New – 449; renewal – 1891 Total 2,340

Policy is not to grant a work permit where a Bahamian can do the job. A labour certificate is required to show that. Until recently labour certificates granted routinely. Professional bodies now consulted on whether or not the work permit should be granted. No limit on the number of times they can be granted and what happens is that over time, people build up residency and ties in the country and qualify then for permanent residence.

There is some resistance at the policy level to this and the suggestion is to re-impose a limit of a maximum of three three-year work permit terms. This proved unworkable in the past because of the lack of an enforcement mechanism; there are no written policy guidelines which survive from minister to minister; the business community complains about the lack of expertise in the Bahamian community and the lack of quality in that expertise and complain that for The Bahamas to compete it must have flexible work rules and policies to allow for the importation of labour. Granting of work permits is therefore highly subjective. We have since coming to office attached as we can in law various conditions: that an understudy must be identified and hired before a work permit is granted. This is still a difficult policy to enforce.

We have been trying work with the Ministry of Labour a view to eliminating the granting of work permits for labourers, maids, handymen. I fear the reality is that that given the demand from the Bahamian worker for foreign labour that this is an idle hope and I expect that this subject will continue to be a matter of debate for some time to come. Indeed the policy on work permits is filled with traps where the aims and objectives of the policy are antithetical to one another.

Recently, we granted a work permit to a law firm to manage their business. They pleaded the case that this was a specialized skill not available in the country. The Bar Association opposed it. The lawyers in their own firm opposed it. It is unlikely in those circumstances to be granted again. The management of the firm made a compelling case. One of the newspapers continues to ask for work permits to manage their newspaper. There is no question in the minds of the board that this paper can be run by Bahamians. This is a case where on appeal we have asked that an understudy be identified.

I have been spending much time in Grand Bahama where the issue of the granting of work permits is most vexing. I intend to spend every Friday there in support of the work of the Ministry of Grand Bahama, until I have sense that this immigration matter in Freeport is brought under control. I have met with the Grand Bahama shipyard; Quality Services; I will meet with Borco and Club Fortuna and other businesses and businessmen in Grand Bahama. We provide a support role to the Ministry of Grand Bahama and the Minister of Grand Bahama sits in on all Immigration Board meetings in Freeport.

If the complaints continue, we have made it clear to industry in Grand Bahama that we will begin to refuse all requests for work permits cold turkey, unless there is a clear understanding of the need for polices to hire and train Bahamians. Indeed one of the more fascinating conversations that I have had in Grand Bahama in relation to immigration policy is with a well-known FNM activist and relative of the Leader of the Opposition who argued strongly in favour of a programme that will enforce training as requirement. He argued that over the years since Pindling, the training regime which allowed many Bahamians to take their places managing the companies in Grand Bahama fell away and the result is that in Grand Bahama we have to start all over again.

My concern as Minister is that in too many cases Bahamians are being planned out of investments in The Bahamas. The investor comes with the view that Bahamians need not apply and in the past twenty years, fifteen of those headed by the FNM, the polices have tended on an official level to support that view. I say no more and enough of it. The question I have is whether this next generation has the stomach for the push back, knowing that in many cases the push back will come from the very Bahamians you are seeking to help.

I would like to respond to the concerns of our supporters in Grand Bahama who have complained about the coming of foreign workers to the facilities of Quality Services who have just gotten a big job to build a device for a company in New Jersey. The Ministry of Grand Bahama has met with the company and warned them that they are to perform the promises that they made when we agreed to grant the work permit. This means that Bahamians on the job who were dismissed were to be rehired and there is to be a training programme. The permits will be revoked if the Ministry of Grand Bahama certifies that the conditions under which they were granted are not met.

There is a general workers permit which is granted to spouses of Bahamians ($1,000.00) where a spousal permit is not granted and may be a substitute where a widow or widower of a Bahamian loses her status in an rsp because of the death of her husband or wife ($1,000.00).

The law allows the minister to grant a work permit for any period of time but usually not granted for more than three years and most times annually.

One product that the financial services sector has been thinking about is the ten year work permit which will be given to managing director level jobs for half a million dollars. Another alternative is to restructure the fee for 5 years at a cost of $250,000.00, and renewed for the other 5 years, as I would hope that the fee is non-refundable. Given that there may be a necessity to change the top management due to the sale of the company or God forbid due to illness or the passing of the person etc.

The fees for work permits, permanent residences and citizenship are all being looked at and are likely to be adjusted to reflect the premiums which they draw and the actual cost of delivering the service. More then should be heard about this when the annual fiscal budget is done.

I encourage those who have views about these matters as I propose from this statement to reduce this to a permanent form as the framework of the new policies of the department going forward.

My suggestion is that the fees will increase substantially. I wish now to turn to some meetings that have arisen with various professional and trade bodies in The Bahamas and the decisions on policy which are likely to come arising out of those meetings.

Photographers and videographers have complained that they are being denied jobs in the tourism sector by foreign photographers and videographers. They have also met with the Ministry of Tourism. I have agreed that all the hotels are to be called in and advised that we take a dim view of this and that in the future there will be increased scrutiny of requests for these artists to come into the country to work. There will also be increased scrutiny at the border where people say that they are part of the family in a wedding but are actually professional photographers or videographers.

There are to be no work permits issued to foreign fishermen. There will be increased scrutiny for any request for gemologists at various jewelry stores in The Bahamas. Given the report to us that this is a skill that can be taught within a relatively short space of time, the idea is to stop issuing them altogether by next year. We have met with the publishing community and agreed that there will be increased scrutiny of travelling ad and print salesmen coming into The Bahamas. We intend to meet with all hotels and major businesses and advise them that work permits must be produced form anyone who is marketing those skills in The Bahamas who is not a Bahamian. There will be increased scrutiny at the border on this.

Similarly, we are concerned about the number of applications we are receiving for Assistant Hotel Managers and for Food and Beverage Directors and Butlers. This is a matter which ought to be addressed by the Hotel sector and there appears to be a need for additional training opportunities since this is becoming an increasing practice. Given the developments in Bimini and the construction programme in Cat Cay, there will be increased scrutiny about the work practices in Bimini. We are working with the Ministry of Tourism to ensure that local fishing guides in Bimini are not facing competition from outside fishermen again using the guise of standards as a means of excluding Bahamians from the right to take tourists out to fish in their own country.

The Department of Immigration wants to be certain that the plea that there is a need for excellence in service is not a mask for preventing Bahamians from getting jobs in the sector which are rightly theirs. I also want the people at Emera and Freeport Power in Grand Bahama to be aware of the increased scrutiny that is being conducted with regard to their applications as well. The concern that is flagged is that applications for work permits are being used to help to deregister the union at the power facility in Grand Bahama.

I wish also to say that we are going to look more closely at the use of the short term work permit procedure which some have been using to get long term work permits by stealth and without getting the necessary checks like a labour certificate done. As I said earlier, the Department now consults all the professional bodies before a work permit is issued. These included but are not limited to: The Bahamas Contractors Association, the Bahamas Bar Council, the Bahamas Engineers Board, the Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Bahamas Christian Council.

Where there is some greater latitude with regard to bringing in professionals is likely to be in the Financial Services Sector given the international nature of the business and this will include as we move along the setup of international arbitration matters within The Bahamas. Again, however, we will need to know that Bahamians can maximize the opportunities in this sector through training and exposure to opportunities and we will seek to ferret out whether the plea for the international nature of the business is not a mask to keep Bahamians out of the sector.

I wish to comment also on the interdiction activities of the Department. The people of The Bahamas have never quite made up its mind which side of the immigration debate it is on. I am now the Immigration Minister, one in a line of Ministers of Immigration pursuing a policy that has veered from rounding up Haitians and throwing them out of the country, while having to grant work permits to scores of landed immigrants and illegal immigrants who Bahamians want to work for them. I described it earlier like this: “Bahamians in a macro sense are for Bahamianization but in a micro sense they want their immigrant to work for them.” There is another issue within the immigration debate. That comes when it comes to the processing of applications for legal immigrants or to regularize those immigrants who have applied for status when they have no status. These days it is taking routinely seven or eight months for applications to be considered, a combination of poor equipment and slow processing for one reason or the next.

The Nassau Guardian in a recent editorial made the point that immigration processing is slow. They said that if The Bahamas wants to be a modern and progressive financial services centre they had better get their act together and get it together fast. I agree but I ask the question: In a time of scarce resources is The Bahamas, and by this I mean the Bahamian people, are they willing to set aside the resources to run a properly funded immigration department? Right now there are 231 officers tasked with running the immigration affairs of The Bahamas. They have no boats, few vehicles and an enforcement capability of twelve people. Compare this to the police who have 3,000 men and women and the RBDF that has about 1,500. So you figure what can be done and cannot be done in those circumstances. Clearly a reevaluation is required on this issue; that will be no neat hat trick in these days and times. Part of what we think needs to happen is that immigration fees will have to increase to cover the cost of operating the department but that will also mean that the cost of business is going to go up in the coming years.

Is this the price we have to pay however? There are checks made by the Enforcement Department and within the next two months, there will be increased scrutiny in New Providence at the various shanty towns, communities where there are complaints including but not limited to Eleuthera, Harbour Island and Abaco. When I spoke at the start of the term, I indicated that Bahamians may need to become accustomed now to carrying on their persons some document which ties you to citizenship or residence in this country. This is a civil rights issue and one which I do not like myself but given the demand for increased scrutiny, I know of no other way to resolve this. Some are even calling for a national identity document which would then be conclusive proof of your status in the country.

The increased scrutiny however puts additional strains on the department’s manpower already strained for the demands. It needs modern weapons and non-lethal interdiction equipment. It requires substantial overtime. Promotions have been put on hold by me in an attempt to rectify certain anomalies and this has adversely affected morale but we are working to get it out as quickly as possible. The Detention Centre will require an upgrade; as you have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary, there are serious challenges there.

You are aware of the incursions into our waters by Haitian migrants. A meeting will be immediately convened with the American government with regard to this matter. We also consulted with the Haitian government as well. One story is that the incursions are being driven by people who market the journey to the US from the north of Haiti by telling these unfortunate people that President Obama will be offering an amnesty in the United States soon. This is certainly bad information but the result is that we are in the first two months of the year and we are already over half of where we were in all of last year in terms of interdictions.

I again say there will be no publicity connected with these immigration checks, they will continue without fanfare on a sustained basis. I however want to be sure that the message goes forth that even though someone is here illegally they are human beings and have a right to the security of their persons and to their property. We do not encourage or condone the violation of any of those rights and on this occasion, I specifically deplore it where it occurs and demand that it stopped if people are contemplating it.

The fact is we are dealing with human beings; many of their compatriots helped to build this country over the centuries and must be treated with dignity and respect even as we enforce the laws. We are working with the United Nations, the International Organization for Migration and the United States to do our best in terms of manpower, equipment and intelligence to spot those who are setting out to sea and to stop them from coming here and getting into The Bahamas illegally.

I deplore prejudice of any kind and I do not think Haitian is the equivalent of illegal; that is why in our visa policy Haitians are now treated like any other individual who wishes to come here and not discriminated against as if they are criminals from the start. As I close I wish to address a more general concern I have a philosophy on these matters of budgets, finances and deficits. When the Ministry of Finance’s people came to see the Cabinet to tell us of the expected 500 million dollar deficit and how it was to be financed, I had one question. Are you saying that you will have problems finding the money? They answered no. After that I closed my mind to any discussion or further thought on finances.

I am a great believer in division of labour. Finance people do finance work. I am the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration. I do Foreign Affairs and Immigration work. Finance’s job is to find manage the money. Once the budget is passed, once you give me a task to do then it’s the job of the finance people to deliver the money. I am interested of course in how it’s going but I am not concerning myself about money. I have my job to do. It’s cold and efficient perhaps but that’s my view.

These young ministers have been given a job to do and my view is, give them the money and let them do it and if they don’t get us results then you know what to do. I warned them: don’t come back swinging ya hands. What I would say about the philosophy of budgeting though, and perhaps this is a hangover or the influence of the debate in the US and in Europe - we concentrate far too much on saving, like a matron trying to stretch her pennies, rather than concentrating on finding money or revenue.

This country needs to grow and we are not going to grow by cutting back on spending. We simply need to find the money. The money did not disappear into thin air. It is still out there somewhere and we need to find a mechanism, a product in The Bahamas that people want to buy. What is it that people want to buy from us? I think professionals need to be applied to this, but if I were to guess it is the right to live and work in The Bahamas. So the question of revenue then should be an easy one: What mix of products in The Bahamas can we offer today which provides a cash injection into the country, a right to stay here without affecting adversely our way of life, our culture, and our sovereignty? I intend to speak to some suggestions on the immigration policies that can garner more revenue for the country.

I will do that in the form of proposals and then ask the question, is that what we want to do? Whatever we do though we have to fix some things. The culture of sloth and inertia in our country has to be corrected. That is the great value of having young people around. They can be trained in the new ways, they can bring innovation to a project and they do not resist change.

We at foreign affairs have a cadre of smart young people and we are in the process of hiring more. But we are also losing the smart ones. Just last week, Kyle Chea, a young Foreign Service officer announced that he will leave the Ministry. The issue is the salary. How can you keep someone that smart and pay them what you pay them? There is no incentive to stay and we will continue to lose the talent in our ministry if we do not do something about it. The permanent secretary and I were talking about this the other day. There is another really smart young man there Mikhail Bullard. He is a leader in his church, valedictorian in his class at the under graduate level. He has a Master’s Degree. He wants to pursue a PhD but there he is slaving away for king and country but is not provided with the means to be independent in his existence.

You know I remember when I came home from school after law school. Levi Gibson took me to the bank manager Harold Longley and said he needs a car; he needs some startup money and the bank manager asked how much do you need? I walked out with it in my hand; never once had to worry about money. Surely that is the standard that the country in this day and time should provide. He should not have to wait until he is 60 years old to make a decent salary. To do this, we can’t go on talking about spending cuts. We have to find ways to make the money.

Part of that lies in the tax structure, but part of it is simply the innovation to make money. And these folks around here preaching the prosperity gospel ought to be well advised to spread that message on how can this country become more wealthy and not how to can stop spending money. Perhaps with more young people around and I would surround myself with every young person I can find. All those who worked with me in my campaign, I would have them all come and work for me in the government. Right now, this minute if I could. I would not have them hanging round Nassau for two years in some idle rotation either but send them to work overseas.

There is a crisis coming in foreign affairs because during the interregnum of PLP administrations, the FNM allowed foreign affairs to collapse and decay as they all sat in their offices in comfort with the status quo. The world simply passed them by. I am terribly sorry that these young people are leaving us and the present iron bound rules of the public service have to be scrapped. I remember proposing in 2002 as the public service minister that all new public servants work on contracts. That means we could get rid of all the rules on salaries and pay people what they are worth, with the flexibility to dismiss with the contract providing for a generous gratuity at the end of each term but this caused a big uproar. But look how the society suffers now.

There is a resistance to new ideas and what grieves me most is the lack of sensitivity to the public and its concerns. Too many people walking up to me as minister about this immigration matter or that, this visa matter or that, this passport matter or that, this repatriation or that, this job issue or that. When you ask the question, whether they went through the channels, inevitably the answer is that they cannot get an answer through the channels. The system is simply impervious to public inquiry and public opinion. It is culture that must be destroyed and eliminated.

When I was a boy my father used to take us around to visit our aunts who with the exception of one were spinsters and none of whom had children. This was a miserable time for us. Sit down. Don’t touch that. Keep still. Sit up straight. Don’t let me have to speak to you again. My brother and I wondered why they wanted us around if we made them so miserable. In retrospect, I discovered that they liked having us around because young people uplifted their spirit, the energy and fun of having young people around. This nation needs a dose of that of young-ism. Infect all these agencies with young people.

In order to accomplish the tasks given to you to do as a public official, reputation is everything. I don’t have money and I will not have money. I have said previously what my views are on that. I intend to leave nothing material when I am gone. But in the meantime, to accomplish what I have to do, I need my reputation intact. My reputation as the political leader of the ministry is tied to so many things. My reputation affects the staff and whether they want to work with me and in that ministry. My reputation affects the government and whether it can survive or not. My reputation affects the ability to get things done in the sense that people will do things for someone who has a good reputation.

So there is no surprise then when people who are opposed to you try to sully your reputation. It is an occupational hazard of politics. You all remember Dion Foulkes, the former Minister seeking to sully my name by suggesting that I was involved in corrupt behavior, using in aid and comfort the word of a corrupt public servant. I fought that. In the forty years or so of public life and twenty years of official public service there have been many attacks on me.

When I spoke last in this place, I made a passing reference to my support for the rights of LGBT people as far back as 1978. That has now become the subject of an assault on my reputation which is an example of the kind of prejudice at work in the country which is the kind that cannot be outlawed but which exists all the same.

I have no doubt that the public commentary that uttered forth from a pulpit about that one reference was designed to sully my character and to prejudice people against me. It is quite sad. At the age of 59 I say again, do not confuse politeness and civility for weakness. I say again, render under Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

I try in so far as I can to mind my own business and to stay out of other people’s business. I never imagined for one day that in 2013 people would go to the lengths they have to so mischaracterize what I said and then accuse me of what is in effect a contempt of Parliament by suggesting that I am doing something other than simply representing the best interests of the Bahamian people in Parliament.

Even now I want to restrain myself in connection with this matter so incensed am I over it. Part of my problem is that I am not afraid but many of my friends are afraid for me as if this is some issue that can result in me being perceived as being so close to my ultimate political goal that I will be swallowed up by the prejudice that my comment excites and which they fear I will be unable to defend myself against. I understand their fears. I have none. I am fearless.

When my mother died it was the last time I felt the fear of being alone but that fear has long since passed. I am absolutely secure in who I am and what I believe and I want friend and foe to know and I want the preacher to know as well. If this is to be a time of testing then so be it. I happily enter it. Lies will not prevail.

Notes by Fred Mitchell Mid-Year budget debate 4th March 2013 Nassau, House of Assembly There was once an article in Esquire magazine about a forty something year old man who woke up and looked in the mirror and said to God: Help, I am beginning to look like my father. At the age of 59 then you can well imagine my thoughts each day as I look at myself in the mirror. I am indeed becoming my father’s son and in more ways than one. In the last years of his life, my father did two things as habits which I now recall and increasingly have come to adopt. One is he kept reading the Bible and I had never known him as a man of faith. And in that connection I recall the quip reportedly from W.C. Fields, the American actor, who was a well-known atheist and who at the end of his life was seen reading the Bible. One of his friends asked him what he was doing and he replied: “checking for look holes”. So maybe that is what I am doing but I will come back to the Bible later.

The second habit he had which we always found as an amusement and my godmother Setella Cox reminds me of it all the time. My father’s solution to every intractable problem was: “if only I had my cutlass”. And this harks back to the days when he used to sleep with a cutlass under his bed and when he rode with a cutlass in his car wherever he went. Increasingly, when I am faced with nonsense these days I am thinking to myself: if only I had my cutlass.

I don’t believe I know Paula Hall, for all I know it may be a nom de plume but I want to thank her for standing up for me in what I considered a most offensive attack on me given the innocuous nature of the words I said when I last spoke in this place. I became the butt of two sermons: One, suggesting that somehow because I said what I said in support of what the Anglican Bishop and President of COBUS said about sexual orientation being a protected right in the constitution that this is somehow promoting some kind of agenda.

Let me tell you all something: friend and foe alike. I recalled when I spoke here last that in 1978 I spoke up for the rights of LGBT people. They weren’t called that in those days but that is what they are called now. I was 25 then. The resultant firestorm was an experience unlike any other for me. Imagine me a young man, doing my job, minding my own business and then all sorts of stories made up about me and what I do and did not do. Not a problem, I lived through it and a friend called up and told me something which I have never forgotten: “this too shall pass”. And it did.

Now we have someone trying to start this all over again. This time though it does not matter to me. I am an old man and believe me it does not matter. You see, if you are against the PLP then be against the PLP. Just don’t try to dress it up as religious theology misusing a religious platform for a purpose for which it is not intended. My colleagues have faced this before. The Member for Golden Gates was telling me of his experience. His protests brought an apology and he was in a position to take legal action. The Member for Tall Pines also had a similar incident with a preacher. That too was going to lead to legal action but ended up with an apology. I am neither contemplating legal action nor an apology. None is demanded and none required.

All I say is to quote the late Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield who when he was dying of cancer came back to this place and said this to his opponents. He would refrain from attacking anyone but he reserved the right to defend himself. I have told the Prime Minister, I do not intend ever to ask permission of anyone to defend myself.

I begin like this. When we were in Opposition, at one of the press conferences of the then Leader of the Opposition, he was asked did the PLP support a resolution at the UN which the FNM government had voted for which supported the rights for LGBT people. He said yes we did.

But the rationale was this: How could The Bahamas, a nation of majority Black people ( and I mean no disrespect to any other race but simply drawing attention to the fact of our peculiar history), victims of discrimination, prejudice and violence support a resolution which if passed in the negative could mean that The Bahamas supported violence against people.

I say that deliberately. I have taken the issue of orientation aside. The resolution was to support measures to stop violence against people. In other words, the resolution was saying that those with a particular sexual orientation did not deserve - no matter what - to have violence exacted upon their persons. How could The Bahamas not support that? Fast forward to today’s arena, how pray tell can a nation which espouses Christian values support then discrimination against these people because of their orientation? How can it do so? The cultural issues on marriage equality - that is a separate argument. It does not arise in the public policy of The Bahamas today. There is simply a public discussion going on. The church has its opinion, others have their opinions. Indeed some say orientation is a matter of opinion or choice and if that is so then Maurice Glinton may be right that it is already a protected right under the constitution.

So how can someone who has been a progressive all his life, a liberal all his life, when faced with the question of the protection of rights say anything other than yes, I support the rights of all people regardless of who they are to the protection of the law and equality before the law. I am not seeking to get into a moral argument or a religious argument. I said before that is not my business.

I am an MP for everyone: black, white, in between, Jew, Gentile, Gay, Straight, in between, man, woman. Indeed I even have to be an advocate for the animals. What is my business is this? When the PLP asks me to go campaigning in Fox Hill, I go from door to door. And I have been to at least two homes in the constituency where women live together. I ask in the course of discussions what is the nature of the relationship. In both cases they would say, that is my friend. Now tell me what am I supposed to do there? They are not engaged in anything unlawful. What they do is their business, not mine. My job is to get them to vote for the PLP and I treat them with the same respect that I treat other people. And that is all life is about as a public official.

The Bible has lots of wonderful quotes which support what I have said about life: Judge not and ye shall not be judged He that is without sin let him cast the first stone. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

I wish finally to thank the Principal and teachers of the Sandilands Primary School for teaching and instructing the winners of the primary school spelling bee and the science competition. This is a remarkable accomplishment and I am happy that the progress is being made in the school.

I thank the principal and teachers of L.W. Young for hosting a lunch with the students who lost one of their classmates late last year. Sadly the young man died. I plan to have more lunches with them so bring home the fact that in this world they are expected to live until their 70th birthday. That is for them a long time and they can make it if they make the right choices. In all things choose life and the side of right.

I am grateful to the principal and staff of the Doris Johnson School for putting out some of the most successful students in the high schools of the country. The Minister of Education has promised additional resources for the building of a track and a new entrance to ensure the safety of our students and a new perimeter wall.

That is my focus. The future; the young. I got a public school education up to primary school. I want to ensure that the next generation succeeds one hundred fold. I support this budget statement and will vote for the bills and the resolution.

News date : 03/11/2013    Category : About Bahamians, Politics, Press Releases

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