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News Article

January 17, 2014
Cocaine seizures up 98 percent in 2013

Police seized 1,131 pounds of cocaine last year, up 98 percent in comparison to the 569 pounds seized in 2012, according to police drug statistics for 2013.
Superintendent Samuel Butler, head of the Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU), said the numbers trended upward because of the work of the DEU and the additional resources and manpower provided to that department.
"This has helped us to spread a little bit wider throughout the [Family] Islands and in New Providence," he said.
"We are intelligence driven. We are not going to be successful just by chance and that intelligence ranges.
"...We've been able to sharpen our intelligence in terms of partnering with various law enforcement agencies, both locally and abroad."
In 2013, police also seized almost 21,000 marijuana plants, 17,597 pounds of marijuana and arrested more than 1,200 people.
In 2012, special operations led to the confiscation of more than 79,000 marijuana plants, 5,379 pounds of marijuana and the arrest of more than 1,000 people.
In 11 special operations last year, Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos (OPBAT) authorities seized 680 pounds of cocaine, 5,217 pounds of marijuana and arrested 45 people.
"We obviously have already reviewed [our] successes and activities of last year and we have looked at some of our strategies," Butler said.
"We have already strengthened some strategies on some fronts, and we have also initiated some new strategies."
With three major seizures on Grand Bahama for the year, Butler said the DEU will continue to prevent drug traffickers from bringing drugs into The Bahamas and using it as a transshipment point.
On Wednesday night, police arrested eight men in Grand Bahama in connection with the seizure of $2 million worth of marijuana.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Emrick Seymour said police were monitoring a 42-foot speed boat between 9:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.
The boat eventually pulled up on a beach in Homes Rock and a group of men began unloading several large bales into nearby bushes.
Police retrieved the stashed drugs and discovered another 41 bales of marijuana aboard the boat, according to Seymour.
The drugs weighed more than 2,000 pounds.
In a joint operation between Sunday and Monday morning in Grand Bahama, police seized more than $3 million worth or marijuana and cocaine.
A search of a Bayshore and Midshipmen Road residence and another location led to the seizure of 247 pounds of cocaine and 308 pounds of marijuana.
Two men were arrested in connection with the drugs.
And nearly two weeks ago, Bahamian and United States authorities discovered around $1 million worth of cocaine at the Freeport Container Port.
The drugs were found in two large black Nike duffle bags, which contained 45 clear plastic Ziploc bags filled with cocaine.
The drugs weighed around 112 pounds.
"Collectively we are making a significant dent in these various incidents... [and] whether it is Grand Bahama, Bimini or the Berry Islands, we are on the alert to prevent and detect, particularly in the area of drug smuggling," said Seymour.
Butler pointed out that the drugs seized in those incidents were destined for the United States.

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News Article

January 16, 2014
Police chief suggests curfew a bad idea

Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade yesterday suggested that he does not support a curfew as a tool in the crime fight.
The commissioner said 55 of the 119 murders that occurred last year happened between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. while 42 occurred between 12 a.m. and 8 a.m.
"The Bahamas is still a vibrant democracy," he said when asked if he would support a curfew in light of these numbers.
"This is still a beautiful country. I believe it is wrong for us just to take a blanket and put it over this country and call us bad people.
"I've said before and will say it again, there is a core group of prolific offenders who are in and out of the system offending against our people, giving The Bahamas a bad name."
He added: "I believe Bahamians should be very proud that we live in a country that we are free to go where we wish to go.
"...They should be allowed to enjoy The Bahamas in a democratic framework. We should never subscribe to being held hostage by a core group of people that we have the ability to deal with."
Last week, Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Leader Branville McCartney urged the government to impose a curfew in New Providence as part of its response to the high level of violent crime.
Greenslade acknowledged that the fear of crime is high although figures released yesterday show an eight percent decrease in overall crime last year compared to 2012.
The statistics also show that murders rose by seven percent last year.
According to the numbers, incidents of rape, unlawful sexual intercourse and attempted rape also showed an increase.
Death
Several politicians, including Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller and MICAL MP V. Alfred Gray, have recently urged the government to enforce the death penalty law.
Greenslade would not respond directly when asked how he felt about capital punishment.
"The commissioner has to listen when the public speaks," Greenslade said.
"Members of the public will call me to say... 'commissioner, we are of the view... that if John Brown murders someone and John Brown receives the punishment appropriate to what he's done and is executed, then you won't have to tell us that he is a repeat offender and he has murdered three other people.
"I'm sorry; I can't answer it any other way."
Greenslade said 28 percent of last year's murders occurred on a Saturday while 17 percent occurred on a Monday.
He said 76 murders, or 64 percent, occurred on the street.
In 17 of the murders, conflict between people was the motive.
Greenslade said 24 cases stemmed from robberies and 17 were domestic.
He said 39 cases were retaliation from ongoing feuds between people who knew each other.
Greenslade said police are working on reinvigorating their cold case squad at the Central Detective Unit to look into old murders.
He said retired police officers will be placed on this squad.

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News Article

July 16, 2014
All-Bahamas Merit Scholar finishes first year at university with honors

Shannon Butler, who was arguably one of the brightest minds to graduate high school in 2013, has completed his one-year university foundation program in the British pre-med system and is now eager to commence his medical school studies in September.
"I'm really excited to start medical school so that I can finally begin what I love," said Shannon, the 2013 All-Bahamas Merit Scholar, who aspires to become a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Shannon, who is at home for summer break, finished his first year at St. Andrew's University in Scotland with grades that he said were satisfactory. Shannon took organic and biological chemistry, human biology, introduction to medicine, statistics, academic English and medical ethics in his second semester and finished the year with a lot of distinctions in individual classes, and the program in its entirety with honors. In the British system, everything is graded on a 20-point scale -- grades of 17 and above are classified as distinction, grades from 14-16.9 are upper second-class honors, 11 to 13 lower second and anything below an 11 a failure.
In September he will enter the six-year medical program that he says is perfect for people who know that they only want to study medicine.
"It avoids all of the extraneous requirements of other systems where you have to get a bachelor's degree and do lots of hours of research and community service, and you always try to have the top grade point average (GPA) and all of that stuff," said Shannon.
Even though the study habits he had adopted held up through his first year at university, he's anticipating that things will now have to change for him as he enters the rigorous program.
"With medical school you don't really have much coursework and many assessments -- it's really all about studying. I was actually reading the student handbook a few days ago and for my first year, in both semesters, I only have two assessments -- a mid-term that is 25 percent and my final exams which are 75 percent -- so basically this upcoming year it's going to be studying every single day."
After his first semester at university he had described the experience and adjustment as tough. He was homesick. His second semester was a different experience. He returned to the campus adjusted and with a solid group of friends. He experienced less homesickness and felt more at home in Scotland that he said resulted in an experience that was more enjoyable for him.
"I knew the ropes so things got a bit easier for me. I started out not liking the place that much, but now I'm actually excited to return to Scotland," said Shannon.
He's not only eager to return to his studies, but to the town he's grown to love which he said has a "charm" that he did not realize it had when he first went there.
"I always wanted to be in a big city, but now I basically realize that I like the small town. I get to see a lot of people -- almost everyone that I know...professors, students, all around the town and it [town] has a lot of history and a lot of beauty to it with the pier and the beach, and even the wilderness and farms outside of it."
During his first year he extended his education beyond the classroom. He made the first of what he expects to be many sojourns over the next six years into Europe by visiting The Netherlands. In the period between the end of his exams and his first-year graduation, he and his friends visited Amsterdam. They took the train to the countryside to look at small towns and to view the famous Dutch windmills.
At home, Shannon is relaxing in preparation for his return to Scotland. After his first week at home, he lent his services to his former high school teacher for two weeks for a chemistry course work preparation class. Shannon helped the tenth grade students with course work, writing lab reports and conducting experiments.
For the remainder of the summer break he plans to relax to prepare himself for the upcoming medical program.
"I just want to hopefully relax and leave the work experience, the research and the internships all for next summer and all the summers after that," he said.
"Actually, the school does not encourage trying to prepare yourself for medical school, because it says all that studying will come in time, and actually as soon as you arrive. I spoke with a teacher of mine who actively encourages taking breaks when breaks are given."
Shannon said his reading this summer will be for his enjoyment. He is currently engrossed in a fantasy book.
Shannon amassed a total of $146,000 in scholarships to help fund his education -- the All-Bahamas Merit Scholar, a four-year $140,000 scholarship. He was also named the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity's 2013 valedictorian and awarded a $6,000 scholarship.
He's also known for his focus. The former Queen's College student in high school distinguished himself with an impressive academic record, having achieved 10 Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) awards with nine A grades and one B grade. The results earned him the award for the best BGCSE results in the country; the best results from an independent school student and the highest award in mathematics.
Shannon's advice to graduates who are preparing to transition into university life is to ensure that they attend a school that they really like, and to ensure that they pick a course of study that they like.
"Just make sure that you're in a healthy environment and be prepared to buckle down and do your work, pull all-nighters and study as much as necessary to get the grades that you need. But also try to genuinely enjoy yourself and have a great time," said the former Q.C. head boy and valedictorian.

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News Article

March 16, 2012
Report: Gas prices up 22 since 2010

Bahamians can expect to pay more at the pumps this year if the current trend continues.
According to the latest numbers from the Department of Statistics, the average price of gas in New Providence in 2011 came in at $5.17 per gallon. That compares with $4.34 in 2010 and $3.83 in 2009.
Last year, the price of gas hit a high of $5.60 in June, and remained at a premium throughout the summer months. These numbers compare with just $2.76 per gallon back in 2001.
With the price of oil hovering around $105 a barrel, the cost of filling up the car isn't likely to get cheaper anytime soon.
"What we seem to be seeing is a reliable increase in prices," an official from the Department of Statistics said. "Oil is a key element in terms of how much we pay for fuel. So generally consumers can probably expect to pay more. Even when you look at diesel, it has been going up substantially."
In fact, since 2009 diesel has risen in price from $3.02 to $4.90 per gallon in 2011.
The trend continues so far in 2012, Guardian Business can confirm, with February coming in at $5.31 per gallon for gas and $5.15 for diesel.
While the numbers might seem gloomy, the vice president of The Nassau Institute, Rick Lowe, noted that The Bahamas is still relatively low when compared to other countries in the region. That said, in order to keep gas and diesel prices in check, he pointed out that the biggest component is government taxation, plus stamp tax.
"No one individual has control in the price of gas. The one thing they can do is increase supply, but so far they refuse to let that happen. I think we can expect to see prices increase, or at least be erratic, with an upward projection," Lowe told Guardian Business.
Carpooling and downsizing your vehicle are practical ways that everyday Bahamians can try and compensate for rising prices.
As operations manager at the Nassau Motor Company, Lowe added that these costs have impacted the business, in the sense every car they sell comes with a free tank of gas. He also anticipated that the trend will not impact the general cost of doing business in the country.
"It could very well hit $6 per gallon this year," he said.
"The longer they take to allow more drilling and providing more supply, the more potential there is for higher prices," Lowe explained.

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News Article

January 14, 2014
Prostate cancer prevention: Ways to reduce your risk

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the Americas, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. In the United States alone last year there were about 240,000 new cases and 28,000 deaths from the disease last year.
In The Bahamas, there aren't any statistics, but it is known that prostate cancer is one of the five most frequent cancers in the Caribbean along with lung, colon, stomach, laryngeal (larynx) for men. And in the incidences within the Caribbean, The Bahamas is in the middle of the country list. Martinique had the highest incidence, followed by Barbados, Guadeloupe and Puerto Rico. Jamaica is at the lowest end of the spectrum for prostate cancer, according to associate professor of medicine and biochemistry at the University of Puerto Rico.
While cancer is a high priority for the Caribbean, general practitioner Dr. Patrick Whitfield says while there are no proven prostate cancer prevention strategies, that there are things men can do to reduce their risk of prostate cancer including making healthy choices and by exercise and eating a healthy diet.
"Study results often conflict with each other, and no clear ways to prevent prostate cancer have emerged, but generally, doctors recommend that men with an average risk of prostate cancer make choices that benefit their overall health if they're interested in prostate cancer prevention," said Dr. Patrick Whitfield, a general practitioner who operates out of Oxford Medical Center.
Choose a healthy diet
To reduce the risk of prostate cancer, Dr. Whitfield said men should consider choosing a low-fat diet, maintain a healthy weight and exercise most days.
"There is some evidence that choosing a healthy diet that's low in fat and full of fruits and vegetables may reduce a man's risk of prostate cancer, although study results haven't always agreed," said Dr. Whitfield, who is also the family medicine consultant at the Princess Margaret Hospital.
"In studies, men who ate the highest amount of fat each day had an increased risk of prostate cancer. While this association doesn't prove that excess fat causes prostate cancer, reducing the amount of fat you eat each day has other proven benefits, such as helping you control your weight and helping your heart."
Foods that contain fats and should be avoided or consumed in moderation included meats, nuts, oils and dairy products, such as milk and cheese.
To reduce the amount of fat consumed daily, Dr. Whitfield encourages his patients to limit fatty foods or choose low-fat varieties, by reducing the amount of fat they add to foods when cooking, selecting leaner cuts of meat and choosing low-fat or reduced-fat dairy products.
He also urges them to eat more fat from plants than from animals.
"In studies that looked at fat and prostate cancer risk, fats from animals were most likely to be associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer," he said.
Animal products that contain fats include meat, lard and butter. The doctor said when possible use plant-based fats in place of animal fats, to cook with olive oil rather than butter, and to sprinkle nuts or seeds on your salad rather than cheese. He also advocates people increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat daily.
"Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and nutrients that are thought to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, though research hasn't proved that any particular nutrient is guaranteed to reduce your risk. Eating more fruits and vegetables also tends to make you have less room for other foods, such as high-fat foods," said Dr. Whitfield.
If you don't currently eat fish, the medical practitioner advises that you should add seafood into your diet. Fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna and trout contain a fatty acid called Omega-3 that he said has been linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer.
Men should also look to reduce the amount of dairy they eat daily according to the doctor. He said studies show that men who ate the most dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt daily had the highest risk of prostate cancer. But again, he said those study results have been mixed, and the risk associated with dairy products is thought to be small.
The general practitioner also encourages men to add soy to their diet. He said diets that include tofu (a product made from soy beans) had been linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer, as the benefit of soy comes from a specific nutrient called isoflavone. Other sources of isoflavone he said include kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and peanuts.
Drinking green tea he said is a fad men should perpetuate, as studies have shown that men who drink green tea or take green tea extract as a supplement have been found to have a reduced risk of prostate cancer.
Consuming alcohol he said should also be done in moderation, if at all.
"If you choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself to no more than a drink or two each day. There's no clear evidence that drinking alcohol can affect your risk of prostate cancer, but one study found men who drank several drinks each day over many years had an increased risk," he said.
Maintain a healthy weight
While maintaining a healthy weight should be imperative at all times, Dr. Whitfield said men with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher are considered obese which increases their risk of prostate cancer. He said men who are overweight or obese should work to lose the weight by reducing the number of calories they eat daily and increasing the amount of exercise they do.
"If you have a healthy weight, work to maintain it by exercising most days of the week and choosing a healthy diet that's rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains."
While watching what they eat, the doctor said men should seek to exercise most days of the week as studies have shown that men who exercise may have a reduced risk of prostate cancer. That conclusion, he said, was not one that was arrived at by all studies. But he said men should look to get in as much exercise as possible because of all the health benefits.
"Exercise has many other health benefits and may reduce your risk of heart disease and other cancers," he said.
Dr. Whitfield said men who don't already exercise should make a plan to start, but to consult their doctor before starting any program. When they begin exercising, they should start slowly by parking their car farther away from their destination and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. He said they should aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days.
The general practitioner encourages men to open the dialogue and talk with their doctor about their risk. He said those men who have a high risk for prostate cancer have other options to reduce their risk of prostate cancer, including taking medication.

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News Article

January 06, 2014
The economics and politics of crime

Dear Editor,
Ordinary crime in New Providence, as the statistics will readily show, has decreased by more than 30 percent over the past year. Those in political opposition to the gold rush administration will opine differently, but apart from the unabated slaughter amongst mostly youthful and younger males residing in New Providence, crime is under control.
Off the 120 alleged homicides for 2013, 95 percent of those were perpetuated by males under the age of 30 and all of the victims were under 40, I think. The average resident in the capital has by and large not been directly impacted by this unrelenting plague of violent crime.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force, under the stellar and untainted leadership of Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade, is doing a fantastic job especially as it relates to detection and rapid apprehension of suspected individuals. There is room for improvement but never has the force performed better than it is doing now, regardless of the armchair politicians and quarterbacking.
Housebreaking, petty drug dealing, armed robberies and offenses of a sexual nature have all fallen dramatically but this will not ordinarily make the bold and attention-grabbing headlines. Bahamians just love scandals and all related thereto.
Petty crime is driven, I submit, largely by economic considerations. If a thief or a potential one is able to find a ready buyer for stolen items he/she is motivated to steal items which are in demand by dishonest and complicit citizens. There are only so many flat screen televisions that a criminal is able to watch at his/her home so the surplus must be disposed of for monetary gain.
Motor vehicles, especially Hondas and other Japanese-type cars, are in high demand because of the over-the-counter costs of securing replacement parts and the length of time it might take to procure them from the dealer overseas or locally. In addition, too many people are exiting their vehicles while leaving the engine running and, obviously, the doors unlocked. Valuable personal items are visible and serve as magnets to thieves and other criminally minded individuals.
As a trained lawyer and an economist, I am often shocked but not surprised by the political stupidity of many of our leaders across the board. Far too many of them seek political fodder and mileage from the carnage and mayhem being wrought in New Providence and Grand Bahama. It is so sad as we recently celebrated our 40th anniversary as an independent nation.
Without seeking to preempt any of the ongoing police investigations, it should be clear to all that with the hundreds of stolen items being recovered by the vigilant members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force on a daily basis that financial considerations are driving crime in all categories, inclusive of homicides.
Evidence that cannot be refuted has clearly demonstrated that most of the alleged homicides in 2012 were as a result of illegal drug activities, gang-related and vigilante-styled revenge killings and/or triangular domestic situations. All of this hype about crime and the fear of crime is just that, hype.
I say this not to justify in any way the senseless killings, but we need to call a spade a spade and come to the realization that we need to re-socialize and rehabilitate our up-and-coming generation of youthful males, along with some older ones, who reside in New Providence. The capital is the epicenter of literally all of the recorded violent criminal behavior.
There is absolutely nothing political about crime even if the politicians need to beef up our laws and to put in place a regime whereby easy bail is no longer granted to repeat offenders. The recent statement by the prime minister on crime was brilliant but unless it is followed up with a concrete plan of action, it too will go the way of the fabled dodo.
The reestablishment of the Gun Court and the creation of additional well-manned and resourced Supreme Courts will go a long way in reducing the inordinate backlog of serious cases in our judicial system. Our primary penal institution, Fox Hill prison, needs to be refurbished and additions made thereto.
We frequently talk about overcrowding and the need to rapidly process repeat and oftentimes violent offenders, but despite having acres of available land right next to the current premises we have failed to build additional buildings. Once there was much debate and talk about the construction of a Remand Court in the vicinity of the prison compound. That too has apparently gone the way of the dodo.
Last year there were a series of town hall styled forums on crime hosted by the Ministry of National Security. I predicted that nothing of any real value would result from them and, in fact, nothing came out of them except publicity for the participants.
A specialized gang unit must be established immediately. Younger police and defence force officers should be mandated to serve within such a unit under the command of a seasoned senior officer like Asst. Supt. B.K. Bonamy Jr., currently attached to the Homicide Squad of CDU.
Bonamy is the best individual to lead such a unit and I urge the powers that be to appoint him now. He and the unit must be un-leashed, properly resourced and clearly demarcated. Once up and running, members of the unit should infiltrate all of the known gangs and start to accumulate vital intelligence to bring them to justice and to eliminate the leadership through the judicial system.
The economics and power of crime can be defeated but all Bahamians of goodwill must step up to the plate. We have to stand and deliver. This is not a PLP or FNM fight. Never mind the strident calls of the failed DNA to combat crime.
Unless and until we as a people address the real causes of crime and the attendant violence, we are going to continue to play possum.
To God then, in all things, be the glory.
- Ortland H. Bodie Jr.

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News Article

July 15, 2014
Crime prevention initiative launched

The Bahamas has been listed as a "priority" by the United States government for assistance in the local crime fight, partly because of the local crime rate over the past several years, Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) official Shanna O'Reilly said yesterday.
The U.S. Embassy is funding the anti-violence and crime prevention initiative Resistance and Prevention Program (RAPP), which is being facilitated by the PADF.
The PADF has partnered with the Royal Bahamas Police Force to introduce the multi-year program to Bahamian officials. The initiative was launched at the Police Training College yesterday.
Crime statistics have fluctuated over the last few years. Despite a drop in crime for the first half of this year compared to 2013, crime numbers remain high.
O'Reilly said the program was uniquely designed for The Bahamas based on an extensive needs assessment.
"The Bahamas was one of the major priorities for the U.S. Embassy," she said following the opening ceremony for the program. "So that also went into the calculation."
Asked if the crime rate also factored in on the decision, O'Reilly said,"It was a part of the picture."
"The Bahamas is actually one of the countries that the U.S. government was very interested in prioritizing as well. So that was a big factor in that."
Twenty individuals from various Urban Renewal centers will go through the program. Following their completion of the program they will be accredited and will be able to teach others.
O'Reilly said the RAPP will build on what Urban Renewal is already doing.
"This 40-hour accreditation workshop is intended to prepare leaders to mentor, educate and encourage others and work with young people to take concrete actions that improve the future of the next generation," according to a statement detailing how the program will work.
"The workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to exchange experiences and discuss theoretical frameworks on social crime prevention, the root causes of youth crime and violence, gangs, organized crime, domestic violence, communication and action plans to address these issues.
"Ultimately, it will prepare participants to lead up to five day-long courses in crime prevention on a variety of topics covered in the instructor's manual and participant handbook, and serve as agents of change in the promotion of concrete crime prevention techniques through the use of action plans in targeted 'hot spots'-- areas with 5,000 or more residents -- that include the communities of Fox Hill, Kemp Road, Saint Cecilia, Pinewood Gardens, Farm Road, Bain and Grants Town, Nassau Village and Fort Charlotte."
Police said they have noted a "marked increase" in crime statistics involving youth. Police also said a large number of the murders in the country are carried out by young men.
The program will continue until Friday. Once completed, its organizers will draft and launch an action plan to ensure that participants make use of the tools they learn during the course.

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News Article

January 02, 2014
The tsunami of violence continues

In the first 48 hours of a new year we remain shell-shocked, angry, numb and panicked by the frenzy of blood from which we staggered out of 2013. These feelings are seething, snowballing towards an ever-mounting rage.
In the Advent-Christmas season, a celebration of life and peace, we witnessed a gut-churning spate of killing and violence, a culture of life battling with a culture of death. It was a blood-soaked Christmas.
Why does death seem to have the upper hand, the superior strategy and the greater will to destroy and demean life?
Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade, among others, has spoken of drawing a line in the sand. The tide of violence continues to erase and mock lines repeatedly drawn.
It is not just the number of murders recorded that is harrowing. It is also the types of crimes and the galloping brazenness of criminals: Multiple and cavalier killings in a single incident, the robbery of the acting prime minister, assaults on tourists and diplomatic personnel, among others.
The spiral of killing continues. The weekend before Christmas a woman was stabbed to death and a man gunned down. That weekend the police discovered the remains of a man and a woman at Central Andros.
Then came the bloodletting of Christmas week: On Monday the 23rd a web shop courier was murdered; on Boxing Day two people were murdered, and on Friday the 27th there was the carnage in Fox Hill which left four more dead. Christmas week averaged to a murder a day.
On Monday the 30th, following a Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced "a program of action in the wake of the tragic incident at Fox Hill". The next day, New Year's Eve, another murder was reported, a grim reminder of a gruesome year. On the first day of the new year there are reports of at least one murder.
Willpower
Christie indicated that the Cabinet was due to meet to discuss an announcement on the outcome of the government's negotiations with Cable & Wireless over reclaiming a majority interest in BTC, but switched the agenda in the aftermath of the Fox Hill killings.
This was something of an irony for many who feel that the prime minister has appeared to expend more willpower, energy and determination on the BTC matter than he has demonstrated on the crime front.
Many of the "key measures" in the Christie administration's "program of action" were measures largely introduced by the FNM such as the expansion of the number of court facilities and the appointment of new judges. The vaunted pseudo-panacea of Urban Renewal 2.0 was downplayed.
To understand the recent announcement requires a look back at a previous statement of a leader of the opposition.
He stressed: "People are afraid, and they are angry: They are afraid that the violence is going to continue to escalate, and they are angry that the government has offered no meaningful response."
"... Every shooting leaves behind a devastating legacy. Every murder leaves behind a shattered family, and a heartsick community, terrified they will never escape the cycle of violence."
He argued: "...The tsunami of violence sweeping our nation was never inevitable.
"It tells you an important reason for the escalation of crime in The Bahamas is poor governance.
"This government has been paralyzed, unable to lead on this crucial issue.
"And their determination to put politics first, not Bahamians, has made a terrible problem much worse."
He determined: "...Too many criminals have no respect for our justice system - we need to remove their sense of impunity, increase the likelihood they will not just be arrested, but prosecuted, not just prosecuted but sentenced, not just sentenced but sentenced harshly. We must be clear: violence will be punished, and justice will be swift.
"...How can it be that people accused of one horrific crime are freed to commit more crime? This violates common sense and it violates common decency. We must move heaven and earth to get persons accused of murder tried within 12 months, preventing their release on bail."
Benchmark
These were not the words of current Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis. These were the conclusions of then Leader of the Opposition Perry Christie on August 15, 2011 in an address to the nation on crime.
Towards the end of his address he urged: "So let us mark today [August 15, 2011] as the day that as a nation, we say: Enough is enough."
By his own words and benchmarks the prime minister has failed to lead in the war on crime. Nearly two years into his administration, and having promised certain actions in his national crime address of 2011, the government is announcing measures which should have been introduced at the beginning of its term.
Having unnecessarily politicized crime during the 2012 election, including the gratuitous and unseemly exercise promoted by now Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis of erecting billboards highlighting certain crime statistics, much of the PLP's crime plan was always more public relations than sound public policy.
In his 2011 crime address Christie promised: "We will bring back the Swift Justice program, stronger than ever, to coordinate police, prosecutors, prison administration and social services, to ensure that criminals are swiftly caught, swiftly tried, and swiftly punished."
Now in the wake of the Fox Hill carnage the government is pushing key measures to help prosecute offenders in a timelier manner, measures which it should have acted on soon after its election to office in 2012.
In its recent announcement the administration noted: "The government is deeply concerned about the number of persons who are arrested and charged with serious crimes while out on bail. This is a major problem in the war against crime. The government is fully prepared to legislatively intervene to impose additional restrictions on the ability of judges to grant bail in offenses involving crimes of violence and the use of firearms."
Why wasn't this acted upon before now? The government now says: "Cabinet has directed the Ministry of Works to work around the clock to complete refurbishment of additional criminal courts so that as many as 10 criminal courts will be able to hear criminal cases simultaneously."
Had this been done soon after May 2012 many of these facilities would now be up and running. The failure to have done so then is a direct failure of the Christie administration which must accept full responsibility for this grave dereliction of responsibility.
Stop talking
As in other matters, the prime minister should stop talking about what needs to be done. He needs to act. Given his and the government's track record many will wait to see how many of these key measures will actually be realized.
Further, the government now says: "This massive expansion of the judicial infrastructure will enable criminal cases to be disposed of much more quickly and efficiently which, in turn, should dramatically reduce the number of persons released on bail while at the same time ensuring that violent offenders are kept securely behind bars to serve their sentences once they have been speedily convicted."
Why did it take the bloodletting in Fox Hill for the government to act on this front?
Crime is complex in its causes and the responses, requiring action by many parts of society. As an editorial in this journal rightly noted crime is a political issue inasmuch as it concerns matters of public policy and governance. As such, political parties should debate issues of law and order.
But it is when either or both parties unnecessarily politicize or play games on the issue that Bahamians get upset. Many become outraged when a party promises action and then repeatedly fails to act, such as is the case with the current administration.
In the crime fight we don't expect magical or easy solutions from our political leaders. But we do want more considered and determined action and less talk amidst what then Opposition Leader Christie described in 2011 as a "tsunami of violence", a tsunami surging still in 2014.

o frontporchguardian@gmail.com o www.bahamapundit.com.

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News Article

January 02, 2014
Optimism and uncertainty: The outlook for 2014

A mixture of optimism and an expectation of challenging and uncertain circumstances to come characterize the views of a number of leading figures in Guardian Business' round up of opinions on what 2014 has to hold for The Bahamas in terms of growth, unemployment levels, government policy initiatives and the outlook for a variety of key sectors.
Here James Smith, former central bank governor and chairman of Colina Financial Advisors Limited (CFAL); George Markantonis, president and managing director of Atlantis Resort; Anthony Ferguson, president of CFAL; Aliya Allen, chief executive officer and executive director of the Bahamas Financial Services Board; Franon Wilson, president of the Bahamas Real Estate Association; and a top banker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, offer their views on what The Bahamas can expect in 2014.
James Smith said he expects The Bahamas to experience "some modest economic growth in 2014, but at an insufficiently high level to produce any dramatic change in the unemployment rate".
"The Bahamas is still emerging slowly from the deep recession which began in 2008 and was marked by negative GDP growth rates for most of the period, accompanied by high unemployment rates; more than doubling from 7.5 percent at the end of 2007 to a little over 16 percent currently," he said.
"Given the unflattering macroeconomic statistics of 2013, any positive trends for 2014 are likely to be at best 'modest' since we would be projecting from an already low base."
On tourism
"Our major economic sector, tourism, is likely to continue to face headwinds in 2014 because our major market, the USA, projected GDP growth and lower unemployment levels are unlikely to be sufficient to dramatically alter the fall-off in tourist expenditure, total room revenue and average occupancy rates experienced in The Bahamas over the last three quarters of 2013," Smith said. "There is likely to be an improvement in employment levels in the tourist sector as a result of accelerated job additions to meet the December 2014 deadline of the Baha Mar project."
On the financial sector
"The second largest economic sector, financial services, continues to operate under the stressful conditions induced by international regulators' demands for increased capitalization, which in turn has led to some downsizing in the local market in order to preserve profit levels or to avoid stringent regulatory oversight," he said.
"The continued losses of high-end jobs in the financial services sector would compress overall demand for goods and services locally and present a challenge to economic growth throughout 2014."
On construction
"Our third largest sector, construction, which accounts for about 10 percent of GDP but also has the highest proportion of value-added contribution to GDP, is expected to continue to perform poorly as a result of the fall-off in demand for new construction and the restraint on new mortgage loans in the banking sector, which continues to be plagued with abnormally high loan arrears portfolios of over $1.2 billion at the end of the third quarter in 2013," he said.
"The moderation in consumer prices as a result of declining oil prices is likely to be tempered somewhat with the planned introduction of a new consumer-based tax during the second quarter of 2014.
On foreign direct investment
"Plans in the pipeline for some major and minor FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) projects in the tourism sector could have a positive impact on economic growth and employment levels if they materialize over the next several months," Smith said.
"However, there is likely to be a continued drag on the economy; one that cannot be adequately addressed by increased government spending at a time when a growing public sector debt issue is being closely monitored by both local and international lenders."
George Markantonis, president and managing director of the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, the country's largest private sector employer, said he is very optimistic about 2014 based on the pace of bookings the resort is seeing for the new year.
"Only February seems somewhat weak in the first four months and we are taking steps to try and correct that," he said. "We believe that the improving American economy, the stable U.S. housing market and the climbing Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) are all creating more consumer confidence in the U.S. which realistically provides us with 85 percent of our annual business.
"A bright spot on the horizon is our group booking pace continuing to grow, while a dark spot is the declining airlift coming into the country. December numbers released (last week) show year-on-year decline in seats of eight percent, mostly due to reduced December service of American from Dallas and Jet blue from Ft. Lauderdale."
New trends in tourism that The Bahamian tourism sector will need to consider in 2014:
"New gaming licenses are being approved across the United States which will continue to add competition for our casinos," he said. "In addition cruise lines are continuing to add non-traditional attractions to their new mega-ships thereby directly competing with land-based mega-resorts, that is water slides, celebrity chef restaurants etc, etc."
Major policy steps the government could take to impact the tourism sector in 2014:
"We are very pleased that government is reviewing the gaming regulations of course but hope that there will be some significant steps taken to reduce utility costs across the sector, and to minimize the addition of more fees to business which will have to be passed on to the consumer and may impact the value perception of the destination," he said.
Anthony Ferguson said he expects a "challenging" 2014.
"I think 2014 will be a challenging one for The Bahamas as the U.S. slows in the first half coupled with the implementation of value-added tax (VAT) which would cause businesses to delay any hiring and expansion decisions," he said. "This will be countered by Baha Mar as they look to hire and train for the December opening. However 5,000 kids graduating from school in 2014 will negate Baha Mar hiring."
On unemployment levels
"I don't think we can really reduce unemployment in 2014 as the Baha Mar hiring will be offset by the 5,000 school graduates," Ferguson said. "To rescue employment the government needs to balance new taxes against incentives for businesses to consider expanding their business."
On policy initiatives which could stimulate the private sector:
"The government should reduce the red tape, allow economic passports, revisit immigration policy," he said.
"It's mind blowing that the Department of Labour are directing businesses who to interview and hire. It's also socialist. And if they sent qualified people you be grateful!
"The government needs to reshuffle the Cabinet and implement an economic planning ministry to develop a 20 year strategy for Bahamas Inc. Unless we do this we are headed in the direction of the rest of the Caribbean."
Aliya Allen, CEO and executive director of the BFSB, said she is upbeat about the potential for 2014 to generate more opportunity and greater returns for the financial services sector.
"Generally, we see a number of bright spots for financial services, as a result of the initiatives we have undertaken in recent and past years," she said.
"These include ongoing developments in the captive insurance and funds sectors, as well as continuing to solidify our position as a leader in wealth management."
Major trends or changes that The Bahamas will have to adapt to in 2014:
"The cost of compliance will continue to be a challenge, with initiatives like FATCA, for example. Indeed, I would add to that the cost of compliance with VAT, even for firms that benefit from zero rating but wish to reclaim inputs," she said.
Significant policy steps the government could take to positively impact the financial sector:
"The government has demonstrated a historic commitment to the financial community," Allen said.
"If this commitment could be expanded to include additional resources we could truly be first in class in business, both local and international. That extends to setting and monitoring turn around times in all effective business processes and departments such as the Department of Immigration, the Registrar Generals Department, and the Bahamas Investment Authority."
Franon Wilson, president of Arawak Homes and the Bahamas Real Estate Association, said he too is optimistic about what the new year holds for the economy.
"I am optimistic in large part because of Baha Mar, and in that regard even though the hotel will not open during the course of this year they'll probably be hiring a lot of people and that will be a big jolt in our economy," he said.
On unemployment:
"I do think the levels will come down. I don't think it's going to happen overnight and go back to 2005 or 2006 levels, but I do think now it is moving slowly in that direction and that will give a boost. We won't be in the clear but we'll be moving in the right direction."
On policy initiatives that could stimulate the private sector:
"At the end of the day certainty is key and I accept the country's financial position is in a state where we need some type of reform to help the government to move forward and maintain the standard we have right now, whether it's VAT or a blend of VAT and something else; whatever it is, I'm looking forward to getting that process done so we can move forward. We need to deal with it and move forward."
A leading banker, who offered his views on condition of anonymity, told Guardian Business he fears The Bahamas will "let a good crisis go to waste" in 2014.
"Rahm Emanuel, the former Chief of Staff for [U.S. President Barack] Obama said something along the lines of 'You never let a serious crisis go to waste,'" he said.
"I find that quote a very appropriate place to start as I reflect on where The Bahamas finds itself financially today.
"The Bahamas economy has suffered a body blow since the financial crisis erupted in the developed world in 2007. While the U.S. seems to be emerging from this crisis, albeit painfully slowly, we have yet to see the Bahamian economy back to pre-crisis levels. Unemployment in The Bahamas remains stubbornly high and loan delinquencies have soared. With the economy in the doldrums, government revenue has plummeted but the expense base has not changed materially. The net effect of this development has been that the budget deficit has widened and the debt to GDP ratio is in the danger zone. The government is taking steps to address the problem of the lack of revenue, through the proposed introduction of VAT. Based on public pronouncements of the business community, the government's proposal has gone down like a lead balloon with loud voices suggesting dire events if VAT is introduced."
The economic outlook in the short and medium term:
"The short-term (one to two years) does not look particularly good," he said.
"The introduction of VAT in 2014 will likely tip the struggling Bahamian consumer over the edge and exacerbate their already difficult existence. Delinquencies are likely to worsen as living standards erode. Discretionary spending funds will reduce and related consumption will decline hurting the already struggling Bahamian private sector. The Bahamian consumer accounts for a considerable percentage of the Bahamian GDP and lower consumption will hurt Bahamian economic recovery and tax revenues. The devil is in the details and the public cannot see the execution of VAT meeting the GOB revenue expectations simply because Bahamians do not have a culture for paying taxes as is evident with the $500MM in delinquent property taxes. The informal sector and cash basis society will blossom and leach the tax revenue GOB is relying on.
"The medium term (three to five years) perspective is more positive as global economies in general, and the U.S. in particular, are showing greater robustness in their economic recovery, which should hopefully translate to more tourism traffic for The Bahamas. The U.S. is particularly important to The Bahamas as more than 90 percent of our tourist traffic and related revenues come from there and signs that U.S. consumers are more willing to spend and charge up their credit cards auger well for the Bahamian economy. Coupled with the opening of Baha Mar in late 2014, I see a resurgence in the domestic economy and employment levels in 2016."
Fiscal reform in 2014 - stuck between 'a rock and a hard place'
"It appears that the government knows all the VAT related pitfalls but it finds itself between a rock and a hard place," he said.
"It needs to plug the fiscal deficit and control the growing debt to GDP ratio. The introduction of measures to reduce the deficit cannot fail as the alternatives are much worse. Barbados has already announced a reduction in civil servant levels by 3,000 to avoid going to the IMF for a bail out and Jamaica has defaulted twice. Both face many years of painful adjustments that cannot be good for their people.
"The mandarins from the IMF have persuaded it that the same medicine of VAT that has been applied with modest success elsewhere would work here, notwithstanding the tax avoidance and downright tax evasion culture that is pervasive in The Bahamas. VAT is simply a revenue generating tool that government is presently promoting - there may be other options that may be more targeted and have a greater chance of success with lower leakages and collection costs. The government is hopefully exploring all options including a phased introduction of VAT with lower starting rates. But any form of taxation will have the same impact on lowering consumer spending.
"But reducing the deficit requires not only an increase in revenue but also a reduction in expenses - from the bloated civil service to the inefficient government corporations. No administration historically has wanted to touch these sacred cows and regrettably, the time has now come where the country cannot simply ignore the vast government bureaucracy and the amounts that are used to subsidize the corporations.
"Instead of taking the opportunity to reset the public's expectations, the government is maintaining that everything will be fine soon and unemployment is dropping and economic recovery is in sight. No serious effort is being made to sit costs or wastage. We are, yet again, letting a serious crisis go to waste."

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News Article

December 29, 2011
Don't lose the future

Sub-Deck:

With the noise for the Bahamas to do something about its national debt reaching a crescendo, none of the three major political parties set to contest the 2012 general election inspire much confidence that they will be able to address the situation

Wall Street set the ball rolling. It gathered pace with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). And by the time the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had finished, the momentum pushing the Bahamas to immediately deal with its growing national debt pile had become a runaway train.

None of this is surprising to astute observers. A look at the headline statistics shows reason for their concern: A $4.25 billion national debt that contin ...

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