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News Article
We must help tourists 'see' our value

Company: Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort

Guardian Business: Can you briefly describe your experience in the tourism sector and what your role is today?

Starlene: I have been very fortunate to work in the tourism industry since 1997 at the beautiful Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort. I have met so many wonderful people and had the opportunity to tell them about my beautiful island, as well as teach them Bahamian culture. I started working as a waitress, then operations manager's assistant, duty manager and today I'm the front desk supervisor.

GB: Why did you choose to work in tourism as a career?

Starlene: I started working in the tourism industry not by choice; it was more out of convenience at the time. My career choice was to become a teacher. When I began working in the tourism industry, I realized three things that I really enjoyed. I enjoy meeting and interacting with our many guests from around the world. I find that every day is a learning experience, and I enjoy the fact that I am able to do so many different things. If I had to do it all over again, I would not change one single thing. I enjoy what I do and this is what makes my job rewarding.

GB: What has been your most memorable moment?

Starlene: I remembered this lady Kitty Burke that came along with her friends Barbara and Harry Reurink (a repeat guest.) She wanted to see why her friends choose to visit the same island almost every year.

She had just arrived on the island for a two week vacation, and she lost her glasses on the way down. She said she can't do anything without them, as they were her eyes. She was frantic and contemplating whether to stay or leave. She contacted her assistant back home and had her second pair expedited here. The second pair finally arrived, sent via FedEx, which is located in Hamilton about an hour and twenty minutes away. Now she's wondering how she's going to get them. She couldn't drive because she doesn't have her glasses. The only other option was to send a taxi; so she asked me to send a taxi for them. I was headed to Hamilton that afternoon anyway so I offered to get them for her. I made sure she got them that very night. She was happy to have her glasses. She offered to pay me but I refused to accept it. She told me that was very nice of me. I was just happy that she didn't have to cut her vacation short. To have her tell me that I really made her vacation, it was priceless! She realized why her friends love visiting the same place almost every year. Kitty returned in 2011 for four weeks and just emailed last month to say she'll be back in February and March 2013.

GB: Has the industry changed since you started your career? How?

Starlene: The industry has changed tremendously. Tourism on Long Island has grown substantially and the Internet assists us with this. People from around the world can find us at the click of a button. Back in 1997 there were only two resorts: Stella Maris Inn and Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort. Now there is a variety of accommodations to choose from, including fishing lodges to boutique hotels. The Ministry of Tourism also opened a local tourist office that provides a number of tourism support services including monitoring of service standards. There is also a complimentary Long Island Visitor Guide, which is very useful in providing general information about the island, things to do and see, and a restaurant guide. We now have guided tours to all the historical sites and local attractions like Dean's Blue Hole, Adderley's Plantation Ruins, Hamilton Cave Tour, just to name a few. Our tourism product is beginning to diversify itself, which can only enhance the visitor's overall experience.

GB: What should The Bahamas focus on to stay competitive?

Starlene: Long ago it was just having to advertise sun, sand and sea to attract tourists to our shores; but as you know, there are many other beautiful places to visit. To stay competitive in the tourism industry requires us to be unique in what we do and what we offer here in The Bahamas. The Bahamas is known for having the friendliest people. Many tourists arrive here as guests and leave feeling like family. This is why we have such a high return rate.

GB: What advice would you give to a young person who is considering a career in tourism?

Starlene: In order to succeed you need to have an open mind and be versatile in whatever position you choose. You also have to have a passion for serving others, and become an expert in your field; be the best at what you do, and do it willingly.

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News Article
Don't be afraid to dismantle the box

Industry position:
Attorney at Law / Chairman of the Bahamas branch - Charted Institute of Arbitrators/London
 
What attracted you to the sector?
I became interested in pursuing a career in diplomacy while studying French at La Sorbonne, Paris, France.  My deceased brother, Richard Cooper, himself a lawyer, encouraged me to read law after I had finished my tertiary education in France. I studied for the LLB  in London, while simultaneously working as a full-time officer at The Bahamas Maritime Office. My primary duties were in the areas of registration of mortgages, an area of ship finance, which firmly established my interest in the financial sector.
 
How long have you been involved in financial services?
Following my call to the Bar in 1993, I practiced over a broad range of areas in the law, but my primary interest was in corporate and commercial laws. I became actively interested in financial services about one decade ago, and have been involved in the sector since then.
 
What keeps you motivated?
We all know that life is full of challenges.  I meet these challenges, and bring stability to my professional and personal like by drawing inspiration, strength and hope from God.  My conviction of The Bahamas' potential to be a premier international arbitration center in the Americas with capacity to complement other arbitral seats around the globe particularly motivates me.  Ensuring that there are successors in the industry in 2030 and beyond is also an important motivating factor for me.
 
Why do you think you have been successful?
I attribute my success to the favor of God and the kindness of persons that have touched my life.  My parents, especially my father the Late Rev. Dr. R. E. Cooper Sr. made huge sacrifices for my education and instilled in me a determination and appreciation for life and the opportunities it brings.  Along the way, persons have sowed into my success. For example, my benefactor the late Frank Lloyd was instrumental to my completing my studies in France and England after my father's death.  Of course, it was left to me to embrace the opportunities afforded to me, and as with others, hard work, dedication and a fearless determination to re-start from ground zero all contributed to where I am today.
 
Did mentoring play a part in your success?
Yes, I consider mentoring critical.  Friends, family and associates have mentored me over the years in areas as wide as business etiquette, diplomacy, and in the legal and financial sectors.  I do believe, however, that mentoring should start at home; my parents were my first mentors.  I have also found that mentorship is not hinged on age, but rather experience and a willingness to share.
 
What qualifications do you feel are the most useful in helping you perform in the sector?
Fluent knowledge of the French language has enabled me to provide professional services to the francophone community. Additionally, obtaining my Series 7 has given me the investment knowledge and exposure to respond effectively to a dynamic and evolving marketplace and particularly to the business needs of my clients.
Training with The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in London has allowed me to provide the option of  Arbitration/Alternative Dispute Resolution to clients who are keen to conduct business in The Bahamas, and want a commercially viable option to settle disputes.
 
What has been the biggest challenge in your career?  How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge in my career has been staying innovative and seeking new opportunities within the global community.  This is a continuing challenge.  In order to meet the challenge, I regularly attend legal and financial conferences  all over the world, to remain on the cutting edge of what is happening internationally, and to be familiar with what others globally perceive as the future of the financial industry. Also, I research market developments and remain abreast of the global financial regulatory climate.
 
What advice would you give young people just starting out in the industry?
I would say to young people that they should learn how the financial markets operate.  I strongly advise them to read and research to understand national, regional and international economies.  Exposure by means of travel or internships whether in The Bahamas, regionally or worldwide would prove to be very strategic for future networking, and the establishment of a competitive curriculum vitae.  I advise young people that becoming fluent in a foreign language in which business is conducted is more pertinent today than it was when I was studying.
I also encourage young people to pursue their vision with laser focus and not to be afraid of dismantling "the box" and embracing the global market.

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News Article
Butler-Turner hits back at PM's 'attacks'

Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner yesterday said Prime Minister Perry Christie's criticism of her in the House of Assembly Thursday night showed that her recent attacks against the government have gotten under his skin.
"I had basically showed where the government led under him demonstrated a high level of incompetence," Butler-Turner said. "I think that must have hit a very raw nerve because the anger demonstrated by him last night was certainly very high.
"I think that the only way that he felt that he could attack me was not on context but actually on what he perceived to be, I guess, my physical appearance and I guess what he is now saying is my incompetence."

As he wrapped up the debate of an amendment to the Constitutional Referendum Act, Christie questioned how the Long Island MP, who had ministerial oversight of the Department of Social Services, could accuse him of incompetence.
"I never mind what she says, I always resent the degree that she is patronizing," the prime minister said. "It doesn't fit her, it doesn't become her, but so be it. I want her to know that the very first problem confronted by my government was the level of incompetence by her in the performance of her responsibility of her portfolio as a minister of social services."
He said when his party assumed office in May it found that children housed in the Simpson Penn Centre for Boys did not have bedding, mattresses and proper indoor plumbing.
"She subjected poor children who had no means of taking care of themselves to savage and barbaric conditions," he said.
"She is a walking case of incompetence, she walks heavily with it, she is burdened by it and she cannot escape it," he added. "Coming around here talking about incompetence.
"She should be ashamed of herself and even though it is difficult for her to walk light, she should come in here, Mr. Speaker, at least having respect to the point where you can deal with people respectfully."
Last week in the House, the Long Island MP heckled the prime minister as he made a communication on the upcoming gambling referendum. While seated, she made repeated references to his government's "incompetence" and eventually walked out of the Lower Chamber before he could finish his speech.

When she gave her contribution on the amendment Thursday, she questioned how Prime Minister Perry Christie and the lawyers in his Cabinet could come to Parliament weeks ago with no mention of legislation needed to facilitate the gambling vote only to return with an amendment meant to pave the way for the referendum.

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News Article
Talent is one thing, patience is another

Industry position: Technical Support Officer, Underwriting, Bahamas First General Insurance

What attracted you to the sector?

Initially I desired to be a teacher. During my high school years, however, I developed a love for economics. After summer jobs at Lloyd's and Commonwealth Bank, I became interested in banking, particularly trust administration.

How long have you been involved in financial services? What keeps you motivated?

I have been involved in financial services for the last 10 years

and have been employed at Bahamas First General Insurance for seven-and-a-half years.

I am motivated by the person that I know that I am and the potential that lies within me, along with my desire to be the best and to truly be a person of excellence. I must be my best not because someone is watching but because of me. I do not judge myself based on others' actions. I am also motivated by the support I receive from those around me. Knowing that persons are pushing you to succeed is great motivation.

Why do you think you have been successful?

I have been successful predominantly because of the favor of God.

As I reminiscence, I realize that throughout my life He has allowed me to "stand out" with various key persons who have presented me with opportunities and caused me to gain the necessary exposure.

My "success" is also due to the hard work of my parents, Bradley Pratt and Theresa Hopkins. They ensured that I was educated and that I had the tools needed to succeed. I watched them push to success in spite of obstacles. Beyond that, they loved me and pushed me to success. Just about every person that I have come into contact with has believed in me, sometimes beyond what I believed in myself. This provided a great impetus and I was driven to discover what they saw in me; in other words, to see if I could actually do and achieve what they thought I could.

Finally, I would not downplay my hard work, discipline and determination.

Did mentoring play a part in your success?

It sure did. In the personal arena, I was mentored by the late Ruthmae Bonnie Miller and I continue to be mentored by Kelson Miller. Careerwise, Oscar Sawyer "took me under his wings" when I first arrived at Bahamas First and continued to ensure that I had a firm foundation and understanding of policies throughout his time at the company.

Bonnie Nguyen may not know that I consider her a mentor but she is to me. She has helped me to grow in confidence and challenges me to perform many tasks that I would not "take on" without her guidance.

What qualifications do you feel are the most useful in helping you perform in the sector?

All of my post secondary education was geared toward financial services. I knew that I wanted to be a part of the industry. The CII courses which I became involved in after my official entry to the sector were a tremendous source of knowledge and greatly assisted my understanding, paticularly of the insurance sector.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career? How did you overcome it?

This is somewhat of a hard question for me.

My biggest challenge in my career to this point, I would say, has been wanting to be promoted too quickly. Because I know who I am and what I can do, I sometimes become frustrated with where I am. I have learned to remember that some things take time and that continued diligence, efficiency, initiative and excellence in my work and personal life will take me to where I need to be in time.

What advice would you give young people just starting out in the industry?

I would tell young people that this is definitely an interesting industry. I particularly like insurance because it "touches on" many different sectors, law, medicine, construction.

I would encourage them to work hard, work well, not get caught up in office politics, contribute and participate in work related social activities as it helps to deepen your commitment to the job and wanting to see your company succeed.

Having an open mind and believing in themselves can position them to take advantage of the many wonderful opportunities that will be presented to them.

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News Article
Caribbean governments killing the hotel sector 'golden goose'

Each of the Caribbean hotel investment conferences held in April and May this year included sessions to encourage closer cooperation between the public and private sector but, immediately prior to the Caribbean Tourism Summit in mid-June, the governments of Jamaica and of Antigua and Barbuda announced significant new airport arrival taxes, with a new hotel occupancy tax also added in Jamaica. The Caribbean hotel industry's greatest fear now is that other governments will follow.
These extra charges target the region's highest spending visitors - the stay-over guests. While everyone understands the difficulties that island governments currently face in trying to balance their own budgets in times of world economic uncertainty and with increasingly youthful populations, it is a fact that much of the region's hotel industry is in deep financial crisis and has been for some considerable time. The region's largest employer and biggest direct and indirect taxpayer cannot be "the cow you take to market and milk it twice".
Today, most lower and middle market Caribbean hotels, which have significant bank loans, are in default to some degree or other. Energy and water costs on many islands are as high as US$40 per day per occupied room - with little actual utility cost differential per day per room between budget hotels charging US$80 a night and luxury resorts charging US$800 a night.
Reservation systems, like Expedia, and tour operators continue to negotiate aggressively low hotel room rates, such that Smith Travel Research projects that average room rates in the Caribbean will not recover back to 2007 dollar levels until 2014.
My own research suggests that lower end hotels will not even achieve that level of rate recovery. More tour operators are pressuring hotels for all-inclusive rates, where meals become part of the tour operator's "commissionable" package, but Caribbean hotel restaurants are already incurring operating losses in the face of escalating world food prices. Inevitably, hotel refurbishment and marketing budgets continue to be cut.
Prior to this year's two hotel investment conferences, I researched opinions from the hotel sector, relative to its perceived needs from Caribbean governments, and the following points summarize the concerns and suggested requests.

Hotel taxation
Review taxation structures for new and existing hotels, "in their role as the region's biggest export industry and foreign currency generator". Many hotels currently require major re-investment and are struggling with bank debt and increased operating costs.
Without new thinking, continuing low levels of inward investment in the sector and a downward spiral of standards are resulting in a consequent loss of global competitiveness for the overall Caribbean hotel product. At least a certain percentage of hotel taxation should go directly towards generic Caribbean global marketing in order to create world class campaigns of adequate scale.
If taxes are reduced on the hotel sector - the current principal direct/indirect "tax cow" - governments should seek to derive compensating levels of tax revenue from the following alternative targets: much higher cruise ship port fees; effective taxation of private condo/villa rental income; a wider property tax base; corporation tax increases paid by a wider range of businesses; abolish duty-free concessions for car rental companies. Governments should also take steps to re-invigorate and grow the region's agriculture and fishery industries as major components in sustainable economic activity - for export and for direct supply to the hotel/restaurant sector and to other local consumers.

Duty-free incentives
Governments should simplify and improve duty-free import concessions for refurbishment of existing hotels and for development of new hotels - but also expand them to include incentives for furnished condos and villas, providing that those units are in a hotel managed formal rental program that generates taxable income on island.
This latter action will speed up the recovery of the leisure real estate market, provide construction work, ultimately generate additional tax revenue and create new fresh resort inventory with extra earning potential for the region's hotel companies. In general, current fiscal incentives are significantly better in many Central American tourism destinations than in most Caribbean countries.

Food cost
In the light of rising world food prices, there is a need to eliminate import duties for hotels on all food items - not available from local sources -- and governments should actively encourage the growth potential for local food supply.

Utility costs
Reduce utility costs through part/full privatization of existing electricity companies in order to finance investment in better infrastructure: the proposed gas pipeline from Trinidad or on-island LNG trans-shipment facilities; replacement of old diesel generators with efficient gas turbines, hydro, wind and tidal generators.
Similar privatization of water companies should be undertaken for greater efficiency through re-investment in updated and extended infrastructure. Given likely increases in long-term energy and water demand, this is a safe investment for the region's social security funds, insurance companies, unit trusts, credit unions and private conglomerates - many of them still too risk averse to invest directly in the Caribbean hotel industry.

Human resources
Re-invigorate human resources within the hotel sector and improve the industry's profile as a career choice. Governments and the hotel sector should cooperate in developing and resourcing better, larger management and operative level training facilities throughout the region. Speed up and expand CSME to effectively allow CARICOM citizen managers and specialists to work anywhere within the region. In the meantime, expeditiously grant medium-term work permits for other skilled personnel from outside the region - where their expertise helps to drive world class standards and disseminates their specialist knowledge.

Air services
All stay-over visitors to the Caribbean (except yachtsmen) arrive by air. Greatly increased UK airline and regional airport taxes continue to have a significant negative impact on air travel to, and within, the region. The UK's APD tax was highly discriminatory and costly for the Caribbean but lobbying by the public and private sector has been completely ineffective to date and must be more vigorously pursued with the UK government.
The Caribbean Diaspora in Britain can be a powerful lobby at the next UK general election, if the APD issue is successfully communicated to them. The region now faces additional potential negative effects from the proposed European Union's airline "carbon tax" and must avoid further increases in regional airport taxes.
Almost all Caribbean-based airlines are currently loss making but their ticket prices (including taxes) are some of the highest in the world per seat/mile. The private and public sector across the region should work together to help create, finance and under-write a viable pan-Caribbean international and regional carrier, which will genuinely "partner" with the rest of the Caribbean tourism industry. Meanwhile, the cruise sector, which operates in the region virtually tax free and increases its "Caribbean hotel market share" year on year, must also be forced to make its fair share contribution to government tax revenues in the region.
I do not pretend that this commentary from the Caribbean's hotel sector represents a panacea, but the region's most vital industry is on a slippery slope, with a significant part of it in danger of being decimated by strengthening world-wide competition.
It seems very likely that middle market hotels on the islands with a lower cost base, like the Dominican Republic and Cuba, will survive. Highly likely too that the region's luxury resorts will survive, but what are the survival chances for some of the rest of the Caribbean's hotels, particularly older properties with significant debt finance? Some of the dominoes are already falling.
Governments and the hotel sector should communicate quickly and effectively to act together with the greatest sense of urgency. Arguably, the French market has already left for the Indian Ocean and most of the Germans for South East Asia. And some people still think, "These islands market themselves!"

o Robert MacLellan is CEO of MacLellan & Associates, the largest hospitality, tourism and leisure consultancy based in the Caribbean. He has 18 years experience in the hospitality industry in the Caribbean and was a cruise ship hotel officer and vice president, hotel services, of a cruise line earlier in his career. Printed with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.

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News Article
The Haitian problem

On Friday May 20th , 2011 a group of Bahamian and Haitian-Bahamian artists, hosted an art exhibit and mini musical concert in Nassau at Jacaranda House, called "Nostrum Fabula" (Latin for "Our Story").  The event was under the patronage of the Bahamian Governor General and the Haitian Ambassador to The Bahamas; the Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture also attended.  Leading broadcast journalist, Jerome Sawyer, served as the master of ceremonies.  It featured Bahamian folk musical artists like the Region Bells and the disc jockey alternated between Kompa and Goombay music.
An untitled art piece by Bernard Petit-Homme, a 26 year old Bahamian born of Haitian immigrant parents, served as the cover art for invitations and promotional material for the event.  The image features the Bahamian and Haitian flags.  The flags make up the torso of a man who is both black and white; he is silhouetted by the orange and yellow sun; his arms stretch across blue waters of the sea. In the painting Petit-Homme seeks to reconcile his Haitian and Bahamian selves and acknowledge the mixed bloodlines of many as a consequence of slavery.  He crafts a celebratory message of unity and brotherhood; a message that ran like a thread throughout the entire event, at which the Bahamian and Haitian national anthems were played.
However, the spirit of unity, tolerance, mutual understanding and respect expressed at the exhibit are not shared by everyone in The Bahamas.  Indeed, it is safe to say, that despite their proximity, their many shared cultural practices and a long history of relations between Haiti and The Bahamas, the attitudes of most Bahamians towards Haitians is one of resentment, suspicion or outright hostility.
The Haitian "problem" in The Bahamas is shaped by a number of factors.  Haitian migrants are a crucial source of cheap, reliable, motivated labor, particularly in the agricultural sector.  Increasingly, however, as the middle class shrinks and the ranks of the Bahamian working poor swell, there is growing resentment toward Haitian immigrants and their children because they are now competing for jobs deemed above their social station.  Where once a Haitain only worked as a gardener, farmer, grounds keeper or "handyman"--work young Bahamian men have looked down on for the past forty years--they are now working at gas stations, in hardware stores, and gaining employment as masons and carpenters, jobs Bahamian men have dominated.  Many a Bahamian contractor prefers Haitian immigrant labor to Bahamian, not simply because it is cheaper, but because it is better.
There is also the real and perceived strain on national services, such as education and health care, created by the immigrant influx.  And there are national security concerns, fed by the fear of Haitian immigrants "violent" people.  Added to this are Bahamians' fears of cultural erasure, and political/economic displacement due to the perception of Haitians as a lurking enemy intent on "taking over."  All of these factors make the Haitian-Bahamian encounter a vexed one; one that reveals class, color and ethnic fault lines.
The often bigoted public discourse in newspapers, on radio and television speak to the volatility of the situation.  For a time I would cut out the more virulent letters to the editor I came across in the papers.  One of the most memorable was entitled "Haitians Attract Flies."  The most recent was blaming the devastating quake in Haiti on devil worship.  I grew up with certain received notions about the Haitian people; they have been the butt of jokes my whole life.  There was no greater insult among us as children than to be called Highshun.  There is a stigma attached to Haitian origins; a social/ethnic blemish that many young people try to hide because of the stinging ridicule and contempt heaped on them through no fault of their own.  I remember a young man at COB who insisted on Anglicizing his name in my class and others who tolerated all sorts of mispronunciations because they at least didn't sound French.
In this uneasy climate, many Bahamian artists attempt to resist the stereotyping of the Haitian people.  Artists such as John Cox, John Beadle, Jackson Petit-Homme, Maxwell Taylor, and Eric Ellis, and writers such as myself, Telcine Turner-Rolle, Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, Keith Russell, Nicolette Bethel and others have attempted to prick the conscience of Bahamian society.  My play "Diary of Souls" was a fictional treatment of a true event; the tragic death of Haitian refugees at sea in the Exumas in 1990.  Sadly, these tragedies have been happening for a very, very long time and still happen.
At stake is the very notion of what it means to be a Bahamian.  Haitian immigration challenges the core values/ideals of the Bahamian state, putting the people and the nation on trial, and calling international attention to the question of just how committed The Bahamas is to freedom, equality and justice for all.
But we are an itsy bitsy country.  We cannot possibly be expected to have an open door policy.  We have the right to protect our borders from illegal entry.  We are not the continental United States or Canada; we are specs on the world map.  And even in a nation the size of the US, illegal immigration from Mexico and further south is the source of heated debate and conflict.
But though we may protect our borders, Haitian immigrants and those of Haitian descent are here to stay.  We may not all want them here but all need them here.  We need them, as we have always needed immigrants, to help build our country by doing the things we can't or won't do.  It makes no sense to drive a wedge between them and us, to create a hated, disenfranchised underclass.
The reality is that our citizenship laws ensure the imperilment, not the protection, of The Bahamas.  Disenfranchising a person for 18 years or more, while they await entry into the exclusive club of Bahamian citizenship, creates frustration, shame, anger, alienation and bitterness in the hearts thousands of young people who know, have, and want no other home but this one.  It's simply inhumane, short sighted and stupid.
If we cannot bring ourselves to make citizenship automatic upon one's birth for all those born here, we should at least amend the constitution to lower the eligibility date. Why not 10 years old instead of 18?  Avoid creating frustrated stateless teens that can't get scholarships, can't fully participate in national life.
Of course, there's always the other option.  While picking up my son from school, a gentleman who was also waiting for a child, told me he had the solution to the Haitian problem.  "I would blow their boats right out of the water when we find them."  And then he proceeded to carefully lovingly take a child's hand and lead her out of the school yard.
IAN STRACHAN is Associate Professor at the College of The Bahamas.

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News Article
Bahamian Architect Fred Perpall named CEO of The Beck Group
Bahamian Architect Fred Perpall named CEO of The Beck Group

Century-old provider of commercial real estate services will transition CEO role in anticipation of next phase of companyís growth. The Beck Group announced that CEO Peter Beck assumed the position of executive chairman focusing on marketing, strategy and international operations as of January 1, 2013. Fred Perpall, who most recently served as The Beck Groupís Managing Principal and Director of Design of the Eastern Division, has been named the new CEO.

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News Article
Heavy Haitian burden
Heavy Haitian burden

When the United Nations last week urged countries with high Haitian refugee populations to stop repatriations, the highly emotional and contentious issues surrounding The Bahamas' own immigration challenges once again took center stage.

The U.N. argues that the conditions in the impoverished country continue to be "precarious" since the January 2010 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The Bahamas, which temporarily halted repatriations to Haiti following the earthquake, says that if a formal request is made, it will be taken under consideration. Illegal Haitian migration places a heavy burden on the local economy.

It's an issue that is always there but the approach to tackling the country's immigration issues -- largely surrounding Haitians -- has been an obvious challenge for successive governments due in large part to limited resources and some would say, a lack of planning.

The Bahamas' challenge of illegal migration was a topic of a 2003 confidential U.S. Embassy cable obtained by The Nassau Guardian through WikiLeaks.

The cable, headlined, "Challenges of Illegal Migration; Can The Bahamas Manage?" addressed the need for The Bahamas to add a mass migration contingency component to its ongoing natural disaster planning.

The cable stated that the Department of Immigration was unprepared for mass migration. Then Director of Immigration Vernon Burrows admitted to Nancy Iris, Deputy Director for the Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration (PRM) who visited Nassau from October 13 - October 17, 2003 that "migration is a scary issue for us. We can't handle more (migrants) than we already have," according to the cable.

At that time, the Carmichael Road Detention Center had the capacity to house 500 migrants indoors, with enough land to erect tents to provide shelter for an additional 500 detainees. At the time there were just under 200 people being detained, the majority being Haitians and Cubans.

"If there should be a sudden increase in these numbers, there is no GCOB (Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas) plan for how to attain the additional food, beds, or shelter.

"Burrows suggested that GCOB has no contingency plan for a spike in migration, although this was disputed by other government officials who claimed that a draft plan is under preparation."

The cable also noted the "complexity and inefficiency" of processing asylum requests in The Bahamas. Once one of the few trained senior immigration officials has completed the interview, the information is sent to UNHCR in Washington for an assessment of the case.† Their recommendation is then forwarded to the Department of Immigration, who then passes it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Cabinet approval.
According to the cable, the senior immigration official who spoke with Ms. Iris admitted that this is a slow and laborious process, especially given that the final designation must be made by Cabinet, "an unusually high level of decision making for such a determination".

"The senior official told Ms. Iris that where Cubans are automatically pre screened for asylum, Haitians must request the interview.† Few Haitians actually request an interview for asylum, perhaps because they believe their efforts would be futile," according to the cable.

"Haitians are also at a disadvantage in the interview process because there is no full-time Creole-speaker at the detention center, and despite relatively high Haitian' migrants' rate of illiteracy, there is limited help in filling out the requisite forms for seeking asylum.† For calendar year 2002, only four migrants were given refugee status, according to Bahamian officials."

The cable also noted that the Detention Center used to house illegal migrants appeared inadequate in terms of space and services given the number of detainees housed there.

"Children held at this facility are given no access to education even if their length of stay extends for several months.† Limited healthcare, restricted access to outside communication and legal advice, difficulty in obtaining toiletries and necessary clothing, and small food portions are the main complaints from migrants.

"Should the Detention Center ever receive a large increase in its numbers, (an official) admitted that the sewage and plumbing systems, security and the current food distribution method would be woefully inadequate."

There were also concerns of an uprising should the migrants' numbers increase, as various ethnic groups of different languages and cultures are held in the same dorms at a time.

A political mine field

A U.S. Embassy official concluded in a separate cable that the bottom line for The Bahamas on Haiti "is the fear of mass migration and doing anything that might trigger an outflow".

This concern was highlighted in a Confidential 2003 cable headlined "Bahamas Unlikely to Pressure Aristide." While then Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell acknowledged problems with democracy in Haiti at the time, he made it clear to U.S. Embassy officials that The Bahamian government preferred continued engagement with President Aristide to any type of public confrontation.
"Mitchell's main concern is doing whatever he can to slow down illegal immigration from Haiti -- a key domestic political imperative -- and he has been fruitless pursing an immigration accord with the Government of Haiti for several months," according to the cable.

The cable noted that Mitchell in particular made conclusion of an immigration agreement his top foreign policy priority. "Our sources in the Immigration Department tell us the negotiations are not going well, stalled over Haitian insistence on an amnesty for the 30,000 - 100,000 Haitians already in The Bahamas (most illegally)," stated the cable.
"Such concession would be suicide for Mitchell in the xenophobic Bahamian political landscape. "

According to the cable, the pursuit of that agreement and any other means to slow down migration would continue to push any concerns for democracy and human rights into the backseat.

"While The Bahamas will remain engaged on Haiti, the Christie government will resist any effort to put real teeth into any diplomatic effort to Pressure Aristide, preferring (endless) conversation and dialogue to the alternative," the cable stated.

A thorny issue
The issue of Haitian migration obviously goes beyond the country's capacity to deal with a mass influx, or the political fallout of such an event.

The topic of illegal immigration and how to stem its flow and impact on the country spurs heated discussions. Author and playwright and Nassau Guardian columnist Ian Strachan recently wrote in his East St. Blues column that the Haitian "problem" is shaped by a number of factors.

"Haitian migrants are a crucial source of cheap, reliable, motivated labor, particularly in the agricultural sector.† Increasingly, however, as the middle class shrinks and the ranks of the Bahamian working poor swell, there is growing resentment toward Haitian immigrants and their children because they are now competing for jobs deemed above their social station," Strachan writes.

"Where once a Haitian only worked as a gardener, farmer, grounds keeper or "handyman"--work young Bahamian men have looked down on for the past forty years--they are now working at gas stations, in hardware stores, and gaining employment as masons and carpenters, jobs Bahamian men have dominated.† Many a Bahamian contractor prefers Haitian immigrant labor to Bahamian, not simply because it is cheaper, but because it is better.

"There is also the real and perceived strain on national services, such as education and health care, created by the immigrant influx.† And there are national security concerns, fed by the fear of Haitian immigrants 'violent' people.† Added to this are Bahamians' fears of cultural erasure, and political/economic displacement due to the perception of Haitians as a lurking enemy intent on 'taking over'."

Well-known businessman Rick Lowe, in a recent letter to the editor wrote that the approach to finding a permanent solution to the country's immigration issues has been "lackadaisical".

Lowe offered the following suggestions:
o Policing of illegal immigrants who are here must be improved.
o Legalize the status of many of the Haitians who have been here for generations.
o Provide property rights for the squatters and figure out how to phase their status in so they can eventually become full citizens or leave voluntarily.
The U.S. Embassy cables also note the sensitive social issues connected to the Haitian population in The Bahamas.
"Bahamians strongly resent the social cost, cultural impact, and crime linked - in popular stereotypes certainly - to Haitian immigration.† These sentiments are confirmed in contacts with government officials, political activists, especially the youth, and NGO leaders who interact with both communities," the Americans observed in a cable.
"Haitians are thought to impose disproportionate demands on inadequate social services, primarily health and education, due to the higher birth rate in the Haitian community."
These issues, the Americans observed, have the potential to explode someday in The Bahamas if constructive policies are not introduced to further integration.
Immigration is a national issue that will no doubt top any administration's national agenda and will require some tough and politically tough decisions.

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News Article
Enemies of the state

o Author's note: This article was first published on August 27, 2012. Since then, some of the objectionable actions by those who are referred to as "Enemies of the state" have considerably degenerated. Notwithstanding vociferous objections by persons affected by the "Enemies of the state", those persons who can affect change seem either unwilling or paralyzed to deal with such persons who continue to severely damage our Commonwealth. Hence, we reprint this article hopeful that decisive action will be taken to ameliorate this situation.
Over the years, there have been persons in our society, Bahamians and foreigners, who have impacted our lives and our economy in ways that are not in the best interest of our national development. Some of those persons engage in criminal behavior. Others are simply obstructive, counterproductive and outright destructive. Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider This... who are some of these enemies of the state and how are their actions thwarting national development?
In its normal connotation, an enemy of the state is a person accused of certain crimes against the state, such as treason. Undoubtedly, criminals and hooligans are enemies of the state. Our recent past is replete with such people and the effects of their "handiwork", so we need not dwell on them. Also, on occasion, bona fide freedom fighters or political dissidents have been characterized by authoritarian regimes as enemies of the state.
However, for our purposes, we prefer to address those persons who are neither crooks, freedom fighters nor political activists. There are more subtle enemies of the state who live among us and parade around in business suits and hold high office. Such persons include regulators, foreign consultants and a misinformed and ignorant media.
Regulators
It is amazing how destructive some regulators can be to our economy. Regulators are established to ensure that individuals and businesses comply with the relevant legislation governing their activities. While there are some regulators who perform their responsibilities competently, too many Bahamians complain about being frustrated by regulators themselves or by those persons and institutions that are heavily regulated.
A clear example of this is the simple exercise of opening a bank account in The Bahamas. From personal experience and that of clients, friends and acquaintances, the simple act of opening a bank account becomes a major production that can take days, if not weeks. This makes absolutely no sense and some of our banking regulators and the regulated banks have become some of the biggest enemies of the state in this regard. It is ludicrous for our citizens to have to endure such exasperating practices, simply because our legislators chose to kowtow to those foreign elements who forced us to change our banking industry a decade ago.
The contrast is stark. Two weeks ago, I walked into a United States bank and opened a bank account in 15 minutes. I did not reside in the state in which the bank account was opened, did not have a home there, was not required to produce a utility bill or any such regulatory nonsense that the enemies of the state impose on us here.
Then there are regulators of several Bahamian industries who make it their life's goal to frustrate Bahamian citizens and businesses. We are aware of at least two instances where foreign institutions that operate in The Bahamas, and are therefore regulated here, were told that (1) in the case where the regulated institution was Bahamian owned, that they must seek a foreign investor to be its business partner in order to "enhance its credibility" and (2) in the case where a Bahamian investor group was seeking to acquire a regulated institution, the foreign owners were told by the banking regulator that the latter would be more comfortable if the vendor sought a non-Bahamian purchaser. This is a blatant pernicious example of how some regulators act as enemies of the state.
We are also aware of other regulators who frustrate Bahamians by requiring superfluous information, and who impose overly-burdensome and costly procedures and sometimes extend the regulatory process beyond reasonably expected time frames.
There are several common characteristics that have been observed about some of these enemies of the state:
1. Some regulators are often career bureaucrats who never had a job in the private sector and, if they did, never excelled in their jobs and therefore returned to the public sector where they were promoted to senior positions, ultimately morphing into super-bureaucrats whose primary objective is to frustrate and obfuscate;
2. Some regulators have never taken the risk of starting a business because the most miniscule iota of entrepreneurial acumen escapes them, and often prevents them from understanding how things operate in the "real business world";
3. Some regulators have never had to produce a payroll for their staff because they work for an institution where their salaries are guaranteed by the state; and
4. Some regulators are often privy to the personal wealth of individuals whom they regulate and are jealous of the latter's successes. Consequently, instead of assisting such persons, their myopic regulatory perspectives and practices often achieve the intended effect of thwarting the progress and advancement of the persons whom they regulate, sometimes with a damaging effect on domestic output.
Foreign consultants
Bahamians seem to have a perpetual love affair with foreign consultants. This is especially true of some politicians and high-level bureaucrats. Bahamians would be astounded if they really knew how much of the public purse is spent annually on foreign consultants. A classic example of this was the recent privatization of BTC, where many tens of millions of dollars were spent on consultants in what can best be described as an agonizing and astoundingly poorly executed privatization exercise.
Bahamians need to be far more demanding of their government when it comes to foreign consultants who are enemies of the state because these individuals often provide services that can very easily be offered by highly trained Bahamians.
Misinformation and ignorance
Perhaps the biggest enemy of the state is ignorance. Every day, enemies of the state perpetuate this ignorance and misinformation in our media and on the various blogs and social media sites. Sometimes it does not involve lying, but rather contorting the truth or omitting all the facts. Sometimes this is caused by ignorance of the exact facts, exacerbated by laziness in pursuing those facts to their source in order to glean the actual, seminal truth of the situation. Sometimes this is caused by agendas that exist deep within our so-called balanced media practitioners.
It is those hidden agendas that cause things to be presented to an unsuspecting and trusting public in ways that cleverly erode and undermine the beneficial policies of the state. It is those agendas that cause information to be imparted in an insidiously slanted and unbalanced way in order to please and promote one side over another. Those who do this are clearly enemies of the state.
The blogs and social media sites that impart their versions of the truth oftentimes are perceived as purveyors of the truth instead of what they really are: disseminators of self-serving rhetoric, often driven by purely political motivation and/or mischief. The individuals behind these sites are determined and committed, and their sometimes vile and always hard-hitting tone is crafted to destabilize belief systems, damage reputations and call motives into question. These are not places to find truth and concern for the welfare of the state. Therefore, these places, the bitter blogs and the poisonous social media sites, can also sometimes become enemies of the state.
Conclusion
Nothing is more important to a healthy democracy than an informed electorate that is ever vigilant about these enemies that seek to undermine our state. Whenever they raise their ugly faces, we must be ready to stop them.
The most effective means to rid ourselves of these enemies of the state is to identify them, to call them out into the light and to take them on before they destroy our lives, our economy and our country.

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

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News Article
Govt: Public should be more aware of benefits of cooperatives

A final consultative workshop on repositioning and restructuring of the Department of Cooperative Development has been told that the department will be allowed greater flexibility that will enable it to respond in a timely manner to the ever-changing needs and opportunities facing its client enterprises.
Addressing the workshop, held December 2, Minister of Agriculture Marine Resources and Local Government V. Alfred Gray said that the department will become a "respected, competent, authority responsible for marketing, developing, monitoring, and supervising registered societies, with emphasis on education, professional services and compliance".
The workshop was held at the Russell Road offices of the Bahamas Cooperative League Limited, where participants discussed the national policy, the strategic plan, the new bill, and regulations.
Gray said the department, subsidized by an annual government grant, will exert greater control over its expenditure and revenue generation, and will be allowed to operate with "greater flexibility, efficiency and vigor".
"The department will focus on improving the organizational management and financial skills of members, employees and leaders of registered cooperatives, who will also be empowered to access new technologies to improve relevance and profitability," said Gray.
He said the operations of the producer/services cooperatives will be strengthened through collaboration with various departments and agencies such as the departments of Agriculture and Marine Resources, The Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Society (BAIC), the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (SMEDA), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The Department of Cooperatives believes that by stirring up a new passion in the sector their efforts will result in greater efficiencies and higher productivity, a more inclusive sector strategy that will positively impact the macro-economic landscape, the creation of more jobs and increased income, and stimulation of growth through youth empowerment, innovation, and improved management.
Gray said with effective marketing the general public will be made aware of the nature, uniqueness, and benefits of cooperatives.
He said it is anticipated that the department will identify and strengthen at least four vibrant, model co-ops each year for the next three years from the services, agriculture and fisheries sectors.
Gray said in order for all this to come to fruition, a broader base of professional disciplines and fresh talents will be required for stimulating new confidence in the reliability of the department of cooperative development.
"Careful recruitment and appointment of trainable persons with the right attitude, specialized knowledge and competencies will make the breakthrough for the re-engineered process and the new co-ops dispensation," said Gray.

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