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Non-communicable diseases (NCD) are an "epidemic" in The Bahamas that cause 60 percent of all deaths and afflict half of the people who are checked into local public hospitals, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said yesterday at the United Nations (UN) high-level meeting on the prevention and control of NCDs.
Ingraham, speaking at United Nations Headquarters in New York City, also said NCD sufferers in The Bahamas typically require a convalescence period of seven days in hospital and they cause half the deaths of people 45 years and older.
He added that NCDs are putting an increased strain on the health care system of The Bahamas. "Health and related socio-economic costs associated are enormous," Ingraham said.
Of the drugs administered through the National Prescription Drug Plan (NPDP), which was implemented by the government last year, those that treat hypertension and diabetes represent 80 percent of the cost of the plan, according to the prime minister.
He told the room of high-level, global government officials that the NCD "epidemic" has forced his government to strengthen the health care system by integrating family medicine specialists at primary health care clinics, rolling out the NPDP, promoting healthy living, facilitating patient self-management programs, partnering with non-governmental organizations, developing national food and nutrition guidelines and policing and improving NCD services through the appointment of a stakeholder committee.
Ingraham said to the group that more has to be done to stem the increase of NCDs.
He suggested that the UN increase international and regional budgetary allocations, increase access to training in policy formulation, change policies for inter-sectoral involvement in the NCD prevention initiative, and share best practices in trade and industry.
"My government welcomes this morning's adoption of the Political Declaration as a sound platform upon which to build," Ingraham said.
"Nevertheless, we note many of its shortfalls, particularly in the areas of concrete commitments towards scaling up of resources and actions at all levels and more importantly, the lack of agreement on establishment of an effective follow-up mechanism."
He also noted generally, that governments have to continue to promote healthy lifestyles and appropriate food choices for children.
"My government applauds some of the initiatives undertaken to curb the increasing rate of childhood obesity," he said. "We must continue to fight the global health challenges facing us. We owe it to future generations."
This [past] week Bahamians witnessed what may well have been overt interference by the president of the Republic of Haiti, Michel Joseph Martelly, in the internal politics of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas. It has been reported that the president 'encouraged' his country men/women to vote 'as a bloc' for the Bahamian political party that had their 'best interests' at heart.
The recent 'rush' to regularize and to grant citizenship to foreign-born residents of this country by the FNM administration and its retiring minister of immigration has caused grave concerns among many indigenous Bahamians. It is almost as if the prime minister and his colleagues could care less about the concerns of 'real' Bahamians over this bogus exercise.
Brent Symonette (FNM-St. Anne's) has an in-your-face attitude to many of the concerns of the unwashed masses. His smug persona has not served him well during his soon to be concluded, mercifully, foray in frontline politics.
Martelly's alleged remarks are tantamount to direct interference in our political process and are to be condemned. It is a disgrace, in my view, that the leader of the opposition would have actually met with the president just for a photo opportunity. If I were Perry Christie, I would have delegated Frederick Audley Mitchell (PLP-Fox Hill) to receive him.
Are you able to imagine what would have happened if a Bahamian prime minister had gone down to the Republic of Haiti and made such alleged remarks about how Bahamians in Haiti should vote and support a political party, keeping in mind that not a single Bahamian would have been granted Haitian citizenship must less would be eligible to vote in Haitian elections.
Martelly, obviously, came to this country late at night on a private jet to work the local Haitian community on behalf of a certain political party in the few short weeks before The Bahamas goes in to its general election. The recently 'pauperized' Bahamians have now received their marching orders.
While we need foreigners to assist us with nation building and in certain areas of our economic fabric, it is astounding to have witnessed the speed with which the FNM administration 'regularized' many of these people, mostly of Haitian descent, just before a general election is scheduled. Why now? This government has been in place for almost five years and did nothing, apart from a patently bogus exercise, years ago, to regularize them.
Indigenous Bahamians need to wake up and look around. Look around within our educational plant and you will see that over 65 percent of the students in our primary schools are of Haitian descent. Look around at our medical health institutions and you will see that more than 50 percent of the patients who visit these institutions are of Haitian background.
Go over to the clinic at Marsh Harbor, Abaco and you will see that 70 percent of live births are to mothers of a Haitian origin. Scattered throughout our militarized organizations are persons with Haitian surnames. Where will this madness end and who will have the political will to stop it?
I have absolutely nothing against legal migration and the front door entry of any nationalities, inclusive of Haitians. What I do have a serious problem with is the massive and seemingly unchecked migration of illegal nationalities with the complicity of Bahamians.
A few months ago, the leader of the opposition 'admitted' that it was not 'politically' expedient to appear to be targeting persons of Haitian descent, especially during electoral exercises. Christie is a friend, sometimes, but he could not have been serious.
It is of little surprise that Martelly could have entered our nation, in the dark hours, and talked his shaving cream. He may well be the president of the Republic of Haiti and the dependent territory of The Bahamas.
To God then, in all of these things, be the glory.
- Ortland H. Bodie Jr.
To be considered by political parties during election time groups and individuals at least have to be interested in the political process. The apathetic, uninterested and uninvolved are more likely to be ignored.
Young Bahamians, those under 35, have an opportunity in the months to come. The more that group engages with the democratic process, the more its issues will be part of the campaign.
For this to take place, young Bahamians must register to vote, go to political meetings and participate in discussions, form groups in and outside of political parties to project a collective voice, write to newspapers, call talk shows and read.
The issues of crime, education and joblessness are key issues nationally, but they are especially of concern for the young. Young men are the main group incarcerated. Young people are the ones most recently exposed to the poor national education system and many of them now face difficulty finding jobs.
The first step to pushing for change in these areas is engagement. Too many young people have embraced vacant consumerism - that is, the mindset that life is merely about enjoying the pleasure derived from purchasing things. Too many young people also spend too much time focused on entertainment culture. The latest song, TV show and film are more a focus for some than why it is that the public education system in The Bahamas produces such poor results.
In democracies we the people are responsible for agitating for the change we desire. It is not good enough to complain from the sideline while no effort is being made to bring about the result that is hoped for.
When politicians see well organized groups or passionate individuals who will not back down, in free societies they listen. And at election time they listen and attempt to satisfy those people or groups in the hope of securing votes. The young should seize this moment.
Remembering those who sacrificed
With Remembrance Day being celebrated yesterday we should not forget, in the contemporary setting, those in our security forces who sacrifice much to keep us safe. They do today something similar to what those soldiers of yesteryear did to ensure we have the freedoms we now have.
Our police and defence forces, prison officers and immigration and customs officers in various ways put themselves in harm's way to ensure that we can live more peaceful lives. The men and women of these organizations do not make large salaries. They are often criticized also when they do not get it right or when some who wear the uniforms violate the law and trust of the community.
The overwhelming majority of the men and women in these organizations, however, are honest and hardworking and we owe them our gratitude. Some of the work they do will never be seen or will never be known. That work makes The Bahamas a better place.
The year 2013 is only at its sunrise, yet three major international events have set the tone for a Cassandra-like adventure for the forthcoming days in Haiti.
o The United States and Canada have sent a travel warning discouraging their citizens from visiting Haiti because of alleged insecurity.
o The Canadian international aid agency is freezing aid to Haiti because of poor results.
o The Turks and Caicos immigration minister has sent a memo to pursue Haitian people in the territory whenever they might be found.
Yet, I am advising the Haitian people to have no fear because, with St. Michael up front and St. Laurent at the back, the barque will remain au beau fixe on the water.
As a practicing Catholic, I am aware of the power of St. Michael, as he was instructed by God to take the leadership in chasing out from heaven the rebellious angels led by Satan to insult the Maker. His power in protecting the believers on earth was reminded to me by a good friend, Bishop Jean Marie Kozick, the superior and the founder of the Catholic institution, Fraternity Notre Dame. I was not aware of the powerful influence of St. Laurent. My father's driver told me of the mythic hand of St. Laurent, who is the patron saint of his village. He told me the pilgrims there need not engage into voodoo practice because, with a candle at the feet of St. Laurent, justice will be done swiftly against those who do them harm.
While involved recently in my morning exercise it dawned on me that the appellation of Michel and Laurent rhyme with Michel Martelly, the president of Haiti, and Laurent Lamothe, his prime minister. I then amused myself with a script that hopefully Martelly the musician will put to music: With St. Michael up front and St. Laurent at your back, have no fear, Haiti, everything will be all right!
The story of international ostracism and Haiti is closely related. For 60 years after its independence, the United States imposed an embargo upon the new republic. It was so tight and so effective that the new countries of Latin America that gained their freedom due to the good auspices of the leaders of Haiti could not entertain intimate contact with the country.
It took the humanitarian leadership of the Vatican to break the ice and open the first international relations with Haiti, opening the door to the United States to follow with Frederick Douglass as its first ambassador to Port au Prince in 1862.
The on and off relationship of gunboat diplomacy has been a constant staple of Haiti with the major powers of the world. Germany, Holland, France and the United States used their influence to have their citizens enforce military penalty against usurious loans made for arms that fomented endless internal conflict and revolutions in the country.
Today, under the disguise of insecurity, Canada and the United States have issued a travel warning for their citizens, claiming Haiti is too fragile to permit their people to enjoy the idyllic culture, weather, music and cuisine of the country.
I have in a previous essay revealed the fact that the major travel wholesalers are eager to take the case of Haiti and sell its sand, sea and surf to tourists eager to taste the next big thing in the Caribbean where unbeaten paths lead to unknown sensations that will last a lifetime.
The great shakers of international public opinion, whether from the United States or Europe, have often said when they need inspiration, Haiti was their preferred destination.
The Christian denominations of the United States and of Canada have found a field day in Haiti, where any seedling they put in the ground grows by leaps and bounds in the heart of the people, rewarding the givers more than the receivers.
Haiti, amongst all the islands of the Caribbean, has one of the lowest rates of murder and general crime incidents. The population is extremely poor but very resilient and proud. Whether in the countryside, where the police presence is null, or the crowded slums of the cities, the Haitian people are surviving every day with a solidarity that sustains life on a shoestring.
Visiting Haiti is an education and a life-changing event for the spoiled children of Canada, the United States or Europe. Countless people from the fast-paced life of New York, London or Paris have felt, upon their return from Haiti, renewed and rejuvenated.
On the issue of the Canadian aid, the Minister of Finance of Haiti Marie Carmelle Jean Marie told the press that there is not one cent from Canada in the Haitian treasury. Indeed a cursory review of the documents available will indicate that of the $60 million allocated by Canada in 2010 to Haiti, some $30 million went to WFP (World for Poor), $15 million went to UNICEF, $11.5 million was distributed to six Canadian organizations and $8.5 million went to the International Red Cross.
We have only to follow the trail of the money as described by Deborah Sontag in a recent article in the New York Times to understand that these funds leave "no permanent footprints" in Haiti.
Michelle Pierre Louis, Haiti's former prime minister, added: "All the money went to pay the salaries of foreigners and to rent expensive homes and cars for foreigners while the situation on the ground is degrading."
The story of American aid to Haiti is no different. Indeed the island nation is, after Afghanistan, the largest recipient of American aid in the 2011 budget year - $970,910,392. In an article published in The Associated Press, Martha Mendoza and Trenton Daniel found that "the fruits of the ambitious program of 1.8 billion dollars of the U.S. reconstruction program are hard to find". Indeed most of that money is still in the U.S. treasury, bogged down by red tape and the lack of coordination and capacity of absorption on the Haitian side.
While Haiti can rightfully be blamed for a deficit in infrastructure and a deficit in number of hotel rooms that can accommodate an avalanche of tourists, the issue of insecurity is a spurious one at best, disingenuous at worst.
As far as the chasing of the Haitians by the Turks and Caicos government, Haiti is occupying the chair of CARICOM for the next six months; the chairman, President Michel Martelly, will have to bring the issue of the orderly transfer of goods, services and human labor within the geography of the Caribbean, as such interstate commerce will spur the economic recovery of the region.
In the end, Julian Fantino, the Canadian minister of international cooperation, may have done more good than harm through his statement on freezing aid to Haiti; the donor countries will have to revise their plan of giving the lion's share of the funds to the NGOs.
Haiti will have to endure this embargo to concentrate in caring for its own citizens. Chile created its renaissance under the international embargo imposed upon Pinochet. A well-tended garden attracts birds from close and afar. With a population of 10 million people, Haiti has nine million people in extreme poverty to enrich through agriculture, animal husbandry and art craft. A sign, "Do not disturb," will facilitate the task. May St. Michael and St. Laurent continue to assist and protect!
o Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, former vice-dean of students at City College of the City University of New York, is now responsible for policy and public relations for the political platform in power in Haiti, Répons Peyisan. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Published with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.
The National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas (NCTUB) has recommended to the Constitutional Commission that Bahamians have the right to participate in any form of gaming in the country.
"The constitution should be so amended to reflect that all Bahamians should have the right if they so choose to participate in any form of gaming within The Bahamas and any law that discriminates against any Bahamian and restricts such rights should be voided," NCTUB President Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson said.
Isaacs-Dotson presented the recommendation during a meeting of the Constitutional Commission at the British Colonial Hilton hotel yesterday.
Trade Union Congress (TUC) President Obie Ferguson, who also made recommendations yesterday, said he supported Isaacs-Dotson's proposals.
Prime Minister Perry Christie previously told The Nassau Guardian that the question of casino gambling
would be a part of the constitutional referendum promised by the government for later this year if the Constitutional Commission recommends that it be addressed as part of broader constitutional reforms.
The gambling referendum is set for January 28, but the casino question is not on that ballot.
Many Bahamians, including former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, have said the question of whether Bahamians be allowed to gamble in casinos in The Bahamas should also be included.
"The Government of The Bahamas when it appointed the Constitutional Commission knew that the Constitutional Commission had within its remit the question of looking at the constitution, listening to people and taking all of the issues that will be put before the people in a constitutional referendum," Christie previously told The Nassau Guardian.
"And so, we did not want to mix up the two, and so in the general election campaign we put into our platform, which we called the Charter for Governance, that we will deal with this issue of web shop gambling and lotteries and that's where we are.
"And so, I expect the other issue (the casino issue) to come about under (Sean) McWeeney's commission. McWeeney and Carl Bethel (the opposition's representative) and others are on that.
"And then we will take a look at that (the casino issue) as to whether that will be a question on the referendum that will follow. They have until the end of March to report, so it's not long."
Isaacs-Dotson appeared before the commission during its latest round of consultations, which involves discussions with the leaders of the country's major political parties, leaders of civic groups and other organizations in the country.
She also recommended that the constitution be amended to eliminate discrimination against women; to provide for the ability for constituents to recall their member of Parliament, and a fixed election date, among other recommendations.
The commission is expected to present its recommendations on or before March 31, 2013. Former Chief Justice Sir Burton Hall also made recommendations yesterday.
I was in the Dominican Republic at the Club Med in Punta Cana. A group of French tourists from Brittany told me they would rather be in Haiti where the cultural experience is stronger, the food tastier and the people nicer, if only the Haitian people would stay put a little bit.
The police department in Haiti has started to keep meticulous records of crimes, and other incidents, including the permit for and the containment of public demonstrations. During the year 2012 the policemen had to deal with some 360 demonstrations. Remember there are only 365 days in a year.
Coming back from the Haiti International Jazz Festival at the idyllic city of Jacmel my road companion, a young student from Cornell University majoring in the hotel industry, told me the major stumbling block for the policy of Haiti Open to Business is the political instability, not insecurity or the lack of infrastructure. Listening to radio, in Haiti and watching the political landscape, it dawns on me that maybe Haiti is experiencing the theory of the cat holding its tail; what come first, jobs leading to political stability or political stability leading to jobs?
In a year when the indications are pointing towards a difficult year for Haiti the dry season is forcing the peasants to abandon the countryside for begging in the city; economic meltdown in the rest of the world is closing the vein of donating funds; donor fatigue due to a lingering malaise where both the NGOs and the government are accused of and are guilty of self-serving and lack of coordination in services delivery it would be wise and helpful if the politicians, pro and con, could declare peace and start creating a common front to deal first with the endemic problem of misery of the majority of the Haitian population.
Decades, if not centuries old, neglect and ill-governance put Haiti in a situation where compounded problems in environment degradation, nonexistent infrastructure, lack of education and no sense of common destiny, aka poor citizenship practice, cause incessant emergencies. Flooding, major destruction due to hurricanes or earthquakes, public health deficits caused by cholera or AIDS are a constant demand upon the government or donor agencies.
It would have been encouraging if the press, the churches, the legislature, the major political parties, the elite civil society, could converge their resources to nurture a climate of stability that could lead to a sense of political stability. Usually the governments upon their inauguration benefit from a honeymoon period before they face the bullet of criticism and assault. The present Haitian government did not have such a wedding gift. It could not institute at three instances a working administration. When it did it was pilloried for a minor infraction as a major affront against the Constitution.
The government did not help either, as I have defined in a previous essay "The Dilemma of Michel Martelly". Its friends have displayed a keen arrogance in their use and abuse of the state privileges. The sirens on their cars are always on the emergency mode, disturbing peace and tranquility. The expectation of the downtrodden has been put on a high scale for meeting at least, and at last hospitality at home. The consensus is it has not been met, or the remedies have been cosmetic at best lacking in structural underpinnings.
Haiti at peace with itself, yet akin to a country where war took place, must be reconstructed from the ground up due to the recent earthquake and century's old ill-governance aggravated by delinquent and predatory governments in the last 60 years.
The Haitian people, because of the culture of tolerance taught by the Catholic Church and the voodoo sect, have a surprising resilience to pain and suffering. It is only when demagogic or well-minded leaders test their resilience that the lack of education and the lack of the sense of citizenship prevail where we observe the irrational behaviors that tend to frame Haiti as the poster child of insecurity.
Solving the endemic problems of Haiti is on the ticking time of detonation. Twenty-five years ago, I personally alerted the then government that the rate of the degradation of the environment was alarming. Its quick response that we have no time for such a minor subject reflects the extent of today's disaster.
The constant attempts by the Haitian poor to leave Haiti in a fragile journey for a better climate in The Bahamas, Florida, Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic or Dominica is enough of a signal for the Haitian government and the international institutions, including the U.S. maritime authorities, to devise a solution where Haitians peasants could stay home to enjoy a paradise that most visitors or foreigners refuse to leave.
Nine out of the 10 million of Haiti's population lives in a condition of extreme poverty and extreme degradation that requires a common front to incrementally reduce the misery of so many people and stop the intergenerational decadence of the Haitian family. The Catholic Church, a strong tenet of the structure of Haiti, has been since its indigenization a timid conduit for the transformation from and to the middle class status.
The Brittany clergy that precedes the Haitian clergy did stop at the doors of the towns and the cities in its mission of civilization. I have personally written to the two archbishops of the Catholic Church suggesting a commitment and a policy of systematically covering all the rural counties with a priest or a nun for providing a secure environment of education to the young boy and girl of the countryside; I am still awaiting for an answer. Yet the church, through the voice of its archbishop in Port au Prince, is adding its voice in pounding the government for real or alleged expense padding of its foreign trips.
The legislature that recently embarrassed the prime minister through a strident noise making, in front of the foreign dignitaries established in the country, at the opening session of the Senate and the Assembly is guilty of not only bringing in an army of security personnel and political fanatics that often irritate the population at the home base, but it sits rarely to conduct a regular course of business leading to the promulgation of necessary laws and edicts to keep the country functioning normally.
The press, so proud of its so-called human rights acquisitions since the end of the Duvalier regime, has not made an accurate balance sheet of the progress since the fastidious day of February 7, 1986. In fact, the dehumanization of the Haitian poor has been so deep that he readily accepts to live in conditions so fragile that one could question the sanctity of the Homo haitinis.
The political parties refuse to engage in the enormous task of building the common sense of (le vivre ensemble) living together. The cannibalism is the preferred game in town for any party that seems in front, on the back or in the middle. In a recent declaration in Leogane, the epicenter of the January 10, 2010, earthquake, a coalition of several political parties has declared war against the Martelly-Lamothe government.
The elite civil society has erected the barriers of their domain several inches higher, preferring to escape the Haitian scene on weekends to Miami or Santo Domingo, while at home watching the circus at the national coliseum with a morbid interest that reminds one of ancient Rome.
The international organizations in public or in private are aware they have failed Haiti in the conception and the implementation of policies to bring the beleaguered country into the status of the incremental progress of a nation state.
Yet changing the face of Haiti is not such a colossal task beyond the means of the Haitian people, the Haitian government and of the international institutions. Kita Pita Kita Nago, the experience of one individual (pushing a mountain) with the support of the population, crossing the entire Haitian landscape from the southern corner to the northern with a piece of a mahogany trunk is a strong indication that the entire country is ready to experience le vivre ensemble.
It must start with empowering the nine million of the 10 million population in extreme poverty to be ushered into the middle class status through education, nostalgic and organic agriculture, animal husbandry, art craft and citizenship formation.
Note: The "Kita Nago" initiative involves people from all over Haiti carrying a large, half-ton polished cedar pole 700 kilometers (over 430 miles) from Les Irois in the southwest of Haiti all the way to Ouanaminthe in the northwest. The trip takes days and is meant to be a way to foster unity among Haitians, and make people think of how people of the nation can come together and work as one. Wherever the cedar goes there is a carnival atmosphere, with people pitching in, dancing, and helping to carry it several kilometers, as others take over and continue. Once the wood reaches its final destination, it will be placed in a park to serve as a reminder that Haitians should work together.
o Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, former vice dean of students at City College of the City University of New York, is now responsible for policy and public relations for the political platform in power in Haiti, Répons Peyisan. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
In a couple of hours from now, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) will commemorate two years since the general elections that ushered the party into power. The PLP won the 2012 general election in a landslide victory over the incumbent Free National Movement (FNM) government, after what was generally considered to be a remarkable election campaign.
The PLP came into power in the aftermath of the Great Recession and was confronted with challenges of great proportions. There was no doubt that the expectations of the electorate in relation to the new government were high and there was an urgent need for relief, which the PLP promised during its campaign for office. As a result of the state of the economy and the myriad issues the new government was expected to address, the PLP government did not have the luxury of a honeymoon.
Simply put, the Bahamian people wanted solutions and demanded an immediate change in circumstances. Two years later we seek to objectively assess how the government has performed, provide a prognosis on the rest of the administration's term and offer some recommendations on the way forward.
The Charter for Governance
The PLP deviated from the orthodox format of manifestos which outline the agenda of a political party during its term in office. Upon the release of the Charter for Governance (Charter), the PLP noted that the document, termed Vision 2030, was designed to be a road map to go beyond the guaranteed five-year tenure in our political system.
While some might consider this to be presumptuous, the PLP articulated its belief that the nation's development could not be planned five years at a time. The reality remains that the proposals and initiatives documented in the charter are so numerous and significant that it is unreasonable to expect them to be actualized in full within five years in the democracy that we practice without radical and/or autocratic decisions.
It is appropriate for the populace who are the employers to review and assess the government - the employees - based on the representations made in their plan as contained in the charter, although it is unclear how specific goals will be selected for examination. Subsequently, it is up to the Bahamian public to grade the government during and at the end of its current term in office to ascertain whether the mandate should be renewed.
A consensus building government
Prime Minister Perry G. Christie has been consistent in his approach to governance. Christie could very well be regarded as the great consensus builder based on his inclination to practice inclusive politics. He is known for seeking to involve the citizenry in the decision-making process of governance. There are commentators that oppose this approach with criticisms on its impact on the speed of decision making and surmising such as a sign of indecisiveness or weakness.
The late Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who was not deemed to be a proponent of consensus building, had the following to say on this topic; she noted that consensus is "The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner 'I stand for consensus'?" This mind-set was perhaps one of the greatest criticisms of her leadership and is believed to have contributed to her political demise.
Nevertheless, leaders have differing philosophies and styles; hence, no one approach could be regarded as being superior to the other. The government must continue to collaborate with the people and relevant stakeholders in order to ensure continuous engagement and involvement in matters of national interest. However, where such consensus building will contradict the beliefs, principles, values and policies of the government, our leaders must be prepared to proceed with their agenda in spite of opposition as long as the decisions are in the national interest.
The highs of the first two years
In order to fairly assess the first two years of the current administration, one must refer to the content of the PLP's charter, which should govern the government's policies and agenda during its term in office. It is fair to state that the government has had some high moments during its first two years, including in no particular order: Budget 2013/2014, which was praised by international observers and rating agencies; the establishment of the National Training Agency; the establishment of the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute; making deliberate efforts to reduce the cost of electricity; engaging in active negotiations to remedy the BTC/Lime deal; the development of a fiscal consolidation plan and commencement of the tax reform process that included the release of a white paper, the implementation of the Central Revenue Agency and a Real Property Tax Amnesty program that nets much millions into the government's coffers.
The Bimini economy has benefited significantly from foreign direct investment and the opening of the Resorts World Bimini project, while Grand Bahama has also seen a boost in its economy as a result of Memories Grand Bahama Beach and Casino Resort. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) is also set to gain from the procurement of the necessary vessels and equipment to increase its efficiency in securing our borders and stemming the scourge of illegal immigration and poaching.
Past and present challenges
As promised in its charter and the manifestos of other political organizations, the government held a non-binding referendum on the establishment and regulation of a national lottery and web shop gaming. While it remains to be seen how the government will bring closure to this matter, this administration will be remembered for having the courage to address an issue ignored for decades by successive administrations.
Gender equality remains an important national matter that ought to have been addressed a long time ago. The government commissioned a Constitutional Review Committee which provided its report on proposed changes to our constitution. However, the first of the proposed changes, which seeks to provide Bahamian women with the same rights as their male counterparts, is yet to take effect due to the delay in the requisite constitutional referendum.
The pandemic of crime continues to be a major challenge for the government by its own admission and as evidenced by the level of lawlessness in our society. The other issues relating to the detention center and the level of union activism over this period has indeed presented challenges to the government. When combined with the sluggish global and local economic growth, as well as the declining yet still high rate of unemployment in The Bahamas, it would not be an understatement to state that this PLP administration has its plate full.
Artists often highlight the beauty of a plain canvas that many may not view in the same light. A plain canvas presents a unique opportunity to start something unique and create a special piece. In other words, whether the plain canvas is new or wiped clean the opportunity remains available to do something great and exceptional.
The government need not dwell on any of its accomplishments or get side-tracked by distractions and challenges of the last two years. Rather, it must embrace the gift of a new day to accomplish its goals and objectives. The government should wipe its slate clean - if it must - and focus on its agenda as documented in the charter.
While it may be argued that time is of the essence (and it sure is) and is running out, there remains ample time for the government to make the necessary changes to put The Bahamas in better standing for greater success. In the words of the "Oracle of Omaha" - Warren Buffett: "Someone sits in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago." The government must be resolute in ensuring that the necessary trees are planted and the requisite foundations are laid today to protect, shield and preserve the future of generations yet unborn.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In light of suggestions by the opposition that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) may be operating outside the law, Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage said legislation for the NIA would be tabled and passed in the House of Assembly before the end of year.
Nottage said the draft bill for the NIA is "virtually completed".
"It (the draft legislation) is being considered now by various interests," he said recently.
"When it is finished, it is going to be brought to Parliament. So that is not very far off either.
"We will see it well before the end of the year. It will be passed as well before the end of the year."
Free National Movement (FNM) Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner has claimed that the government is using the NIA to "engage in domestic spying on the Bahamian people".
At a rally at FNM headquarters last week, Butler-Turner said the NIA may be a "possible illegal agency engaged in spying on the Bahamian people, possibly listening to our telephone calls, reading our texts and emails, gathering
However, Nottage dismissed those claims as "foolish" and "irresponsible".
Butler-Turner said yesterday that she "wouldn't hold her breath" on the legislation passing before the end of the year.
"The end of the year may turn into the end of their term in office," she said when contacted for comment.
Nottage said the NIA is simply another tool in the fight against crime.
"They (the NIA) are gathering intelligence to help us in the fight against crime, plain and simple," he said.
"There's nothing unusual about it. Intelligence organizations exist in many countries. The one in The Bahamas, the National Intelligence Agency, it's there to supplement the gathering of information against criminals."
The NIA was created by the Christie administration.
According to government officials, it is responsible for collecting and transmitting valuable intelligence to various law enforcement agencies to aid in the fight against smuggling and terrorism.
Former Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Commodore Clifford 'Butch' Scavella heads the agency.
In 2012, Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell told The Nassau Guardian he expected Nottage to bring legislation to Parliament to strengthen the proposed unit, but said the NIA will be able to do some work without any new laws.
On the rally stage, Butler-Turner said no legislation was brought to Parliament to set up the agency and questioned its legality.
She questioned whether information is being collected for political purposes and then being passed on to the most senior members of the Cabinet.
Nottage denied that any such activity was happening and said Butler-Turner's claims were unbecoming of a member of Parliament.
The creation of the NIA was a campaign pledge of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and outlined in its Charter for Governance.
A new public interest
group The Council for Concerned Bahamians Abroad (CBA) has recently
been established. The Council is a non-partisan, apolitical group of
Bahamians Abroad, and Friends of the Bahamas concerned about policies
and initiatives affecting the Bahamas, its people, its economy, and its
development. The Council's concerns include the protection and
preservation of the economic and family interests of Bahamians residing
or domiciled outside the Bahamas. A primary concern of the Council is
the impact of Bahamian governmental initiatives.
The Council has
issued an invitation to all Bahamians and Bahamian organizations
residing or domiciled outside the Bahamas, Bahamian-Americans, and
Friends of the Bahamas with concerns about the future of the Bahamas and
St. Anne's MP Hubert Chipman said yesterday the government is putting the cart before the horse in how it is handling the constitutional referendum it has scheduled for November 6.
Both he and Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn confirmed to The Nassau Guardian that they were not consulted about the bills and the questions before they were tabled in the House of Assembly two weeks ago.
"We did not see the bills. We did not know the questions," Chipman said.
"What it is I'm looking at now in this whole thing is the cart before the horse.
We have not had an opportunity to go to our constituents and see how they feel.
"The first time I saw the questions were when they were brought to the House. So we weren't able to sit down, talk about them and digest them."
Chipman said he is getting a lot of feedback from his constituents, many of whom believe that citizenship for spouses should not be automatic.
One of the constitutional amendment bills seeks to enable a Bahamian woman who marries a foreign man to pass on her Bahamian citizenship to him.
However, the bill will still outlaw marriages of convenience.
As it stands, a Bahamian man is able to pass on his citizenship to his foreign wife.
Chipman noted that by the time the Constitutional Commission holds further town meetings, the four constitutional amendment bills might already have gotten through Parliament.
Chipman said it would annoy people that the specific questions will be discussed after the bills are passed.
"How do you vote on something on behalf of your constituents without having a chance to talk to them?" Chipman asked. Lightbourn made a similar observation.
Chipman also said he is concerned about bill number four.
The bill seeks to make it unconstitutional for any law or any person acting in the performance of any public office to discriminate based on sex.
Chipman said at this stage he could not vote in favor of such a bill.
"As far as I'm concerned, it is too vague; it opens speculation as to whether it will go further on. I am not clear on four," he said.
"[I cannot support it] unless it is clarified to me."
Chipman is the latest public figure to express concern over bill number four.
Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells and Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins recently expressed worries about question four as well.
Both Wells and Rollins believe this could leave the door open for challenges in support of same sex marriages.
Bahamas Christian Council President Rev. Ranford Patterson has the same concern, but Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney told The Nassau Guardian abandoning question four would be to abandon the core principle upon which the other three bills are based -- equality of the sexes.
Chipman said yesterday some of his constituents have raised similar concerns about bill number three that were raised by Lightbourn, the Montagu MP.
That bill seeks to reverse the law that prohibits an unwed Bahamian man from passing his citizenship to his child if he or she is born to a foreign woman.
"People in St. Anne's constituency are asking a lot of questions," Chipman said.
"One of the things that is troubling to me is the same one that Richard has, and most of the men I've spoken with have said they don't think citizenship should be automatic. Some ladies are saying this too."
Chipman also said he has a problem with the wording of the four referendum questions on gender equality.
"As far as equality, I am 100 percent for equality for women, but we have to understand what we are voting for," he said.
"I believe the wording needs to be simplified. It is too complicated for the average Bahamian to understand."
On Friday, Government Leader in the House of Assembly Dr. Bernard Nottage also said the questions need to be simplified.
Nottage, who is also the minister responsible for elections, said the government would abandon the November 6 vote if it does not have the opposition's support.
When the bills were tabled in the House of Assembly, Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis pledged the opposition's support for the measures.
"Though there is much which divides us in this place, let us speak with one voice when the issue is equality before the law," Minnis said. "Let us, Mr. Speaker, speak as one in this place.
"If we can do so, we will signal to every Bahamian and the watching world our unified commitment to the advancement of human dignity in our beloved Bahamas.
"The success of this effort will require a bold and unified, multi-partisan and multi-sectoral effort on the part, not just of the political parties, but of civil society organizations, the Constitutional Commission, as well as social, civic and religious leaders."