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Freeport, Grand Bahama -
Crime is at an all time high....the murder count to date has surpassed
last years first quarter reported statistics. As you go about your
lives on a daily basis, you hear reports of criminal activities through
and through our communities; whether it is from the local news or print
media or just simply by word of mouth person to person.
Crime today is becoming ever so common in our once peaceful nation. We
are being plagued daily with rogue elements that wreak havoc in our
communities. Last year there were a record number of murders committed
due to many reasons, one being the lack of proper conflict resolution,
especially among our young adults and school environments...
It never fails. On the eve of an election, sleeping trade unions in the country awaken and suddenly take notice of 'the plight of their membership'. It is almost as perennial as the grass. They carry on about agreements that have been languishing at the negotiation table for years, company bosses who ignore them and a government that moves too slow. They summon the media to announce, time after time, that they are about to resort to industrial action to shut the country or a business down.
The truth is that these worn tactics - in the face of the global economic downturn and changing dynamics in the demand for labor worldwide - are becoming increasingly dangerous for the union's members. Unionists have to, more than ever, work with employers, certainly to protect the 'rights of the working man' but also to ensure that this same man has work to go to the next day. No one can force a business to keep its doors open and no one would blame someone for closing up shop if that shop was not profitable. And as the events of the past few years have shown us, there is no such thing as a company too big to close its doors.
The most talked about issue over the social networks over the past few days was the nine-day closure of KFC. While many disgruntled customers joked about the lengths they would go to get their hands on a 'two piece spicy meal', the human element of the situation was glossed over. During the closure KFC executives said they would not pay staff, who they accused of engaging in 'illegal' industrial action on February 20.
For the 300 employees of KFC who sat in limbo, reporting to work every day under the union's orders only to the find doors locked, there was more at stake than getting a fix of the Colonel's 11 herbs and spices. They were forced to loiter outside the company's nine Nassau locations, chatting amongst themselves, some with children on their laps or underfoot. Many of KFC's employees are single mothers with, as a few of them told me, two and three 'deadbeat baby daddies'. Unsure of when the next paycheck was coming in, some workers applied for the dole, desperate for emergency food stamps to feed their families.
Luckily for them, the standoff between the union and their employer was brief. After a series of negotiations mediated by Labor Minister Dion Foulkes, both sides came to an agreement over the terms of a new contract and stores opened on February 29. But the tentative contract terms contain reduced benefits for new employees and some concessions, albeit with expiration dates, for current employees. And those employees are today without a week's pay.
The unions overextended their hand and underestimated the lengths their opponent would go to prove his point. The franchise owner of KFC Nassau, George Myers, doesn't need the doors of the chicken restaurant to be open to put food on his table - the union's members do.
George Smith, former Cabinet minister and a good friend of Myers told The Nassau Guardian that Myers was 'pushed too far'.
"We (the country) are having economic problems. They (the union) should have said, 'Look, when the economy turns around can we revisit these things and set some benchmarks for when the economy improves?' They know that their union isn't about to supplement those people but [executives at KFC] know they could afford to hold out for a long period of time. I assure you, George Myers used the time to give his top people holidays and clean the place up a bit," Smith said.
The only resort chain in The Bahamas to have two proprieties on two different islands, Sandals, faced recent union drama of its own. There was no actual industrial action taken by current employees of the Sandals Royal Bahamian, the resort's property on New Providence. During the whole ordeal, I wondered what would have happened if in fact there was a walkout of workers at the property. Chairman of Sandals Resorts International Gordon "Butch" Stewart just invested $20 million in the refurbishment of a block of rooms at Sandals Royal Bahamian and millions more expanding his current holdings at Emerald Bay in Exuma.
His general manager in Exuma, Jeremy Mutton, recently spoke about the cost of running a resort on the out island. His son and CEO, Adam Stewart, has said that Emerald Bay will not be profitable until at least 2014. Royal Bahamian General Manager Patrick Drake is on record referencing the high cost of utilities in Nassau.
Gordon Stewart is essentially the sole proprietor of the multi-billion-dollar company. He has no shareholders, no board of directors to consult if either property does not make money. It is not out of the realm of possibility that he could one day pick up his marbles and leave. No one does business in The Bahamas - whether they are local or a foreign investor - because they think Bahamians are cute. They do so to make money. Let's not fool ourselves; unions are a business as well too. They make money from the salaries paid to their members. Pushing an employer so far that he would rather close the doors of his business is like a parasite killing its host.
Labor unions have always had to negotiate in the context of the economic realities in which businesses and the employees who work in these establishments exist. As the world attempts to rebound from the worst global recession since the Great Depression, they have been focused on keeping the doors of businesses open and securing their members' jobs. Nowhere is this truer than in the United States.
The Washington Times reported that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, major work stoppages -- situations when 1,000 workers or more go on strike or are locked out -- dropped 95 percent in 2009 compared with the previous year. This is the lowest level since the U.S. government began keeping a tally in the 1940s, the Washington Times said.
Even the mighty automobile unions of Detroit, in order to save the jobs of their members who are employees of General Motors and Chrysler, agreed to no-strike clauses which expire in 2015 as conditions of the government bailout.
However, here at home it seems the threats, and sometimes follow through, of work stoppages have not gone dormant because of the recession. Union leaders continue to threaten to withdraw labor and shut down essential services.
It's not much of a stretch to say that the trade union movement has been flexing its muscles recently because of the looming general election. Union leaders, and their members, know that politicians will say and do anything to quell any discord that could derail their political ambitions.
"Unions tend to try to get what is duly, rightfully theirs at this time in the political season because over the past years unions have not been getting their fair share before elections. So if it takes a union this period of time to save their problems until now, then there you have it," said Dwayne Woods, president of the Bahamas Utility Service and Allied Workers Union (BUSAWU), which represents workers at the Water and Sewerage Corporation.
"It doesn't mean that they are not entitled, and it doesn't mean that they are being political. Whatever is going on here is non-partisan and non-political. I don't play games; [these are] the wishes of the membership," Woods added.
A few dozen of his members protested and withdrew their labor for at least two days last week. They were pressuring government to immediately address a list of labor concerns, including the regularization of several contracted workers, some of whom had been working with WSC for 11 years, and who did not enjoy the same benefits as permanent workers. The union is also pushing for the corporation to revisit its 'unfair' promotion policies; pay separation packages to workers made redundant after government ended its practice of water barging from Andros, and rehire two employees who were recently let go from the corporation or pay them severance packages.
Over the last few months, unions representing Customs and Immigration officers, air traffic controllers and the public service have also been agitating against government to address their issues - or face industrial action.
Labor Minister Dion Foulkes said while some unions do have genuine concerns, it is no coincidence that they have ramped up their efforts to conclude trade disputes as the next election draws nearer.
"It does seem that some of the unions are using the election season as leverage in their negotiations. Some of the issues that have come forward have been very legitimate issues by the various unions. Some of the matters have been in negotiation for quite some time and they are just coincidentally coming to head at the same time when the next elections are due.
"It seems to be there may be some political motivation behind the actions by some unions, but the public will have to draw their own conclusions from the facts presented," Foulkes said.
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.
In a proclamation dated November 21, 2013, Acting Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis proclaimed this week as National Women's Week (NWW) 2013, acknowledging the struggles of the women's suffrage movement, the involvement of women in the strengthening of our democracy and the important role of women in the building of our nation. It is noteworthy to state that national women's week is often set to coincide with the anniversary of women's right to vote in The Bahamas as well as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is usually recognized on November 25 each year.
History of women in leadership
A brief review of world history and female leadership dates back to several centuries ago when Egyptian queens ruled territories and kingdoms. The involvement of women in government took a different turn in the aftermath of World War I as few women became members of the revolutionary governments in countries such as Ukraine, Russia, Hungary and Ireland. Nina Bang is recorded as the first woman to be minister in a democratically elected parliamentary government between 1924 and 1926.
Sirivamo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the world's first female elected premier minister in 1960 and Isabel Peron of Argentina became the world's first woman president in 1974, albeit women had acted temporarily in similar capacities prior to these aforesaid elections. The United Nations currently has about 193 members; however, there are currently only 29 female leaders in countries or self-ruling territories which equates to about 15 percent of the total U.N. membership and does not include non-members of the U.N. The Caribbean presently boasts of woman prime ministers in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, excluding self-governing territories.
Bahamian women in leadership
It is fitting that the theme for this year's National Women's Week is "Promoting Women in Leadership in a Developing Bahamas" as our country stands at the door of opportunity in the midst of changing dynamics in the global economy and landscape. This week promises a number of discussions on our historical role in the development of The Bahamas and the part we wish to play in the future of our beloved country. The discussions will be incomplete if we fail to take an introspective look at ourselves as invaluable assets with unlimited potential as opposed to victims of discrimination and marginalization.
There seems to be a general consensus that The Bahamas has benefitted and continues to benefit tremendously from the contributions of the women of this great country from one generation to another. It is imperative therefore that the transfer of the mantle and passing of the torch remains seamless to ensure the continuous prosperity of our commonwealth. This reiterates the important fact that past and current female leaders assist in preparing the next generation of Bahamian women for leadership via mentoring, proper guidance and advice. It is incumbent upon today's leaders to ensure that the glory of the latter house is greater than the former.
Representation in decision making
The world-renowned business mogul Warren Buffett, in an article that appeared in Fortune some months ago, noted America's history of not promoting women he identified as one of America's greatest potential resources. Buffett delves into the minds of readers with the imagination of how much more success the US could enjoy by employing the other half of its talent. This anomaly is shown in the low level of representation of women in management, executive and senior management as well as board, as supported by myriad research and surveys in the private sector internationally. It would be interesting to see similar data for The Bahamas to ascertain the extent to which women are involved in corporate leadership.
Across the globe, studies continue to show that women are underrepresented in several areas of our society albeit studies also confirm that women are the main drivers of the global economy having a high consumer appetite and in most cases the principals of the decision- making process in terms of domestic purchases.
The gender disparity that exists in representation around decision-making tables in government and the private sector globally, and The Bahamas in particular, is in contrast with the results of research that suggest that women in leadership are more assertive, persuasive, empathic and results oriented. Female leaders have also scored high in building consensus and taking more risks in the achievement of objectives.
Coexisting and partnership in nation building
It is unfortunate that often times the idea of women's empowerment seems to be overshadowed by the fact that some men, and in some cases women, are of the view that women's empowerment equates to female dominance and a supposed eradication of the male species from the governance structure.
Consequently, it is necessary to dismiss the myth that allowing women to progress and take on more leadership roles and participate in the decision-making process renders the presence or contribution of men less vital. Women do not want to replace or become men; our objective is to work hand in hand and complement the men in the development of our beloved country by remaining consistent with the changing social and demographic landscape within society. In fact, it must be stressed that women's empowerment is not to be seen as a sexist or feminist idea or an idea that seeks to emasculate our male counterparts; rather, it must be seen as a necessity toward equality within our race and the increased social and economic prosperity of our nation.
Empowerment to achieve potential
During this week, the Zonta Clubs of The Bahamas, The Bahamas Crisis Centre and Bureau of Women's Affairs of the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development will work together to highlight a zero tolerance within our archipelago toward violence against women and girls. This is vital, as putting an end to violence against women is central to women being empowered to use their God-given talents and achieve their full potential. The message is clear: no physical, psychological, mental, emotional or financial barrier should prevent women from being able to achieve their potential and fulfil their destinies.
In the Bahamian society, it is well documented that during the last general election, more women registered to vote compared to men. In addition, the most recent census conducted in 2010 is evidence that 51.6 percent of the Bahamian population is made up of women. In addition, the census reveals that more women possess educational qualifications beyond a high school degree. It is recorded that of the 43,467 persons in The Bahamas who attended college, 61 percent were females. In addition, of all degree holders, women account for 63 percent. The only segment where men outnumbered women was in the area of doctorate degrees, where 54 percent of the men held such a qualification.
Such statistics evidence that Bahamian women have and continue to position themselves for increased economic benefits as well as leadership opportunities. In this sense, leadership in The Bahamas, particularly at the government level, should begin to reflect statistical data.
The clarion call to women of our country is to become that which they have been created to be. We are victors and not victims; there are no limitations on that which we are able to attain. While we feel we have more to prove and work twice as hard as our male equivalents, this is only useful if it serves as fuel in our quest for excellence. The tendency to doubt ourselves must give way to resolve and confidence as we confront and overcome the challenges of 21st century Bahamas. Happy Women's Week!
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to email@example.com.
Death, taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them. - Margaret Mitchell, "Gone with the Wind"
Over the past few months, there has been considerable debate about the government's plan to introduce a value-added tax (VAT) regime in The Bahamas by July 1, 2014 and also about the likely effects that such a tax will have on the Bahamian economy. In fact, the government has made the introduction of VAT the cornerstone of its efforts to reform the country's taxes.
In a series of articles on VAT over the next few weeks, we will address the benefits and costs associated with this new tax system and the challenges that we will face with its introduction and operation. This week, we will begin the VAT series and ask our readers to Consider This... just what are the facts about the state of the country's finances that have necessitated such a quantum shift in our tax system?
Central to the discussion of the country's finances is a clear understanding of four basic concepts: gross domestic product, government revenue, the national debt and expenditures. A serious consideration of the facts about the nation's finances must engender a discussion and understanding of each of these four components. This week, we will consider two of the four components, namely gross domestic product and government revenue.
Gross domestic product (GDP)
Normally referred to as GDP, the gross domestic product is the total value of the nation's output or the size of our economy. Even more simply put, GDP is the total value of money that is generated annually by the economy. It is an important economic indicator for two reasons: (1) it measures the total size of the economy and reflects its growth or contraction over time; and (2) many of the other financial indicators such as revenue, expenditure, the deficit and national debt are reflected as a percentage of this widely accepted measurement in order to provide an indication of how we are doing generally and how we compare with other countries.
Based on information provided by the Department of Statistics, the GDP for the past six years is as follows:
We can see from the information above that, for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, the Bahamian economy returned to the general level of output achieved in 2008. The intervening years reflected a contraction in the economic output as a result of the world-wide recession.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that our GDP will grow at rates of between 3.4 percent to 4.7 percent for the years 2014 to 2017, reflecting both a recovery from the recession and natural growth of the economy. The projected GDP for 2014 to 2017 is presented below:
It is important to note that an overwhelming amount of the country's economic activity is generated in the area of services. It is estimated that the services, industrial and agricultural sectors account for approximately 91 percent, seven percent and two percent, respectively, of total economic activity. Hence, The Bahamas has developed a vast services economic platform. We will discuss the implications of this reality for government revenue generation in greater detail in subsequent articles.
The government derives its revenue from three broad categories: tax revenue, non-tax revenue and capital revenue. Tax revenue accounts for approximately 85 percent of total tax and non-tax revenue, while non-tax revenue accounts for approximately 15 percent of the total. Capital revenue, which is generated from the sale of government assets, is generally negligible except for the sale of BTC in fiscal year 2011.
For a very long time, customs duties and excise taxes constituted the largest share of tax revenue. Customs duties are import taxes that are imposed at the border on imported goods and the schedule of such taxes could range from a low of duty-free items such as for breadbasket commodities to an average rate of 35 percent for certain imported goods to even higher rates in other cases.
Excises taxes are different from customs duties. Whereas customs duties are import or border taxes, excise taxes are imposed on goods manufactured or produced and sold in The Bahamas as well as certain specified imported products. For example, tobacco, alcohol and gasoline are the three main targets of excise taxes in most countries around the world as they are in The Bahamas. These are everyday items of mass consumption that generate huge revenues for governments. Tobacco attracts an excise tax of 220 percent, and gasoline is taxed at more than $1 per gallon. We also impose excise taxes on imported cars, in some cases as high as 82 percent of the first cost.
Historically, The Bahamas has not imposed taxes on capital gains, corporate earnings, personal income, sales, inheritance and dividends. Instead, we have relied on a very narrow range of revenue sources other than customs duties and excises taxes, namely real property taxes and stamp duties.
Hence according to Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis, "Our current system is one where the burden of taxation falls on a relatively narrow base of goods and makes us particularly vulnerable to economic shocks."
For the years 2008 to 2012, recurrent revenue has remained virtually static in the range of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion. The recession has adversely affected economic activity and consequently tax collection.
Additionally, the government revenue as percent of GDP in The Bahamas is approximately 17 percent, which is low by a regional comparison of approximately 22 percent, which accentuates the need to increase the revenue base in order to bring us in line with our regional neighbors. The most effective way to achieve this is to broaden the tax base to ensure that a wider cross section of the goods and services available within our economy are subject to taxation.
The WTO and taxation
In addition, The Bahamas government has applied for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and would like to complete that process by the end of 2014. The WTO, whose primary mandate is to level the playing field for trading between its member states, as a condition of membership has required its member states to reduce, if not eliminate, what it perceives to be barriers to trade.
Historically, one of the most effective national tools that countries have employed to limit trade within their borders is the imposition of customs duties. Ironically, in the case of The Bahamas, we have not used customs duties as a barrier to trade because we produce very little that we would wish to protect from the importation of similar and competing products. In reality, for us customs duties have primarily been a vitally important revenue measure, as we have already noted.
Accordingly, The Bahamas' accession to the WTO creates an interesting and perceptibly intractable quandary: How do we join the WTO, which by its very nature will require us to eliminate a significant portion of the government's revenue, while simultaneously being able to continue to offer the level of public finance to which we have become accustomed? The answer to this question lies at the heart of reforming our taxes.
Next week, we will review the state of the nation's expenditures and the resulting impact on increasingly challenging deficits, as well as the national debt. In subsequent articles, we will closely examine alternative tax options and provide our assessment of the government's planned value-added tax.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Jamaican call center company that has invested significantly to set up an operation in Freeport claims the response from international companies to the center has been "phenomenal", and the hiring and training of local employees has been an "awesome" experience.
Yoni Epstein, chief executive officer of Island Outsourcers, told Guardian Business that the company has already hired 65 of the 100 individuals it expects to take on in its first phase and anticipates going live with its operation on December 2. All hired are Grand Bahama locals.
Island Outsourcers is based in Montego Bay, Jamaica and has chosen Freeport as the site of its second major operation.
The company's Freeport operation will be based in a 5,0000-square-foot facility on West Atlantic Drive.
Employees will handle customer service inquiries for large companies, primarily out of the U.S.
Epstein said the response from the corporate community to the new facility has been extremely encouraging.
"In the last eight weeks on several different business hunts in North America. We obviously have a site in Jamaica but when we mention the site in Freeport that really starts to perk their ears, mainly because it's new and it isn't a site that's been looked at before.
"The North American clients like it because no competitors are there and they can expand their business and get new people to train, so we have a lot of interest. In the first quarter, next year we have some pretty large prospective clients who will be visiting to see what we have achieved so far."
Different sections of the building are being outfitted to represent the company whose services are being carried out, bringing a sense of brand identity to those who are working on each account.
As the company gains additional "credibility" over the course of the first six months in operation, Epstein said he expects that it will be able to move into the second phase of its operations, where up to 300 staff may be hired to take on additional company accounts, by the second half of 2014.
New employees have been enthusiastic about the opportunity to start work, said Epstein. Unemployment in Grand Bahama was revealed to be 19.5 percent in the last Labour Force Survey carried out by the Department of Statistics.
"We're pretty much three quarters of the way there with the hiring. Mostly everyone is in training right now," said Epstein.
"The training has been awesome; I must tell you I have never seen such proud individuals and individuals that want to work and be a part of something that is growing. We've got emails upon emails from those who've been involved in the training about how amazed they were, what a great company it is, how happy they are that Island Outsourcers came to Grand Bahama, letters saying 'Thank you, we love what your company is about.'
"A lot of that is the development of culture. Our motto and our vision is quality, integrity, reliability and most importantly family, and we wanted to create that family environment. For our staff we have chill rooms with bean bags, televisions and consoles, so they can relax and then when they come into production it's straight work."
Part of the attraction of the facility, added Epstein, is the ability for the company to offer built in "redundancy" into their offering to business clients, who can ensure that by having some Island Outsourcers staff representing their company in Grand Bahama, and some in Jamaica, they will be less likely to suffer any severe impact to their service levels should an adverse event - such as a hurricane - affect operations in one place.
Epstein, whose company also offers business process outsourcing (BPO) solutions in Jamaica, said he intends to focus on call center/customer service outsourcing in Freeport initially, but does not rule out moving into other areas of BPO in Grand Bahama.
"The focus on the call center side of things is because to start with it is a new industry in The Bahamas and given the years of hospitality and so on customer service side is an easy win, so we'll get that under our belt and then go to market to say, 'Here's what we've achieved.' But there's other industries we can look into - IT outsourcing, medical outsourcing, legal outsourcing..."
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.
The Bahamas' economy is in trouble. Construction is at a standstill. Small businesses are failing. Fishermen report this to be the worst crawfish season in memory. The financial services sector is downsizing, tourism performance is weak and the cost of living is rising.
Having presided over an economy that lost 1,260 jobs in its first year in office, the PLP would have us believe that they are adopting policies that are helping to create jobs in an economy that has "turned the corner", as the prime minister has said on more than one occasion. The claim is made in spite of the fact that the employment survey shows that no new jobs have been created since their election. Instead some 1,260 jobs were lost during the PLP's first 12 months in office. Far from creating any of the 10,000 new jobs promised in their first 12 months, the PLP's policies have stalled economic activity, turned back progress being made in growing the economy and contributed to further growth in unemployment.
The Department of Statistics reports show that apart from the year of the Great Recession 2008/09, the Bahamas' economy has consecutively created jobs in each and every year since 1992 until now. Clearly the economy is moving in the wrong direction.
Still in the face of these statistics, the PLP government continues to try to take credit for what its predecessor in office accomplished during terrible economic times.
Lies, damned lies and statistics
When the Department of Statistics in August 2011 released statistics recording a decline in unemployment rates, a chorus of PLP spokespersons, led by the party Chairman Bradley Roberts, attacked the numbers as inaccurate and politically motivated. But when the same department, using the same ILO approved standards of reporting employment levels, showed a continuation in the decline in unemployment six months after the PLP came to office in May 2012, the same litany of PLP spokespersons, new "converts" to having faith in the Department of Statistics, raced to the newspapers to claim the signs of economic recovery were signs that the PLP had placed the economy on the right track.
Unfortunately for these "converts", the recovery reported in November 2012 was an economic recovery occurring up to May of that year; it had nothing to do with what had happened in the economy following the election of the PLP. We now know that the recovery slowed after May 2012, with a loss of 1,260 jobs.
In February 2013, the leader of "the converted", Roberts, applauded the Department of Statistics' numbers, saying that, "This economic recovery also proves that the country is on the right track to full economic recovery and we applaud the 'no new tax' and pro-growth economic policies of the Christie government."
Impact of 2013-2014 Christie tax policy
Of course this was ahead of the Christie government's recent tax increases which astronomically increased the level of taxation on the Bahamian people and very directly on Bahamian business - doubling and tripling business license fees for some of the larger business operators and adding one percent on the cost for all imports to the country. All these new taxes have not only caused an increase in the cost of living for ordinary Bahamians. They have served as a disincentive to both new investment and to additional employment directly contributing to the stall and ultimate decline in job creation in the economy. Daily, there are reports in the newspapers of small Bahamian businesses closing their doors and of others postponing plans for expansion.
These new taxes have been a real drag on the economy which ultimately reflected in unemployment and reduced economic welfare. Furthermore, developments in credit markets have not been favoring economic growth during the PLPs 18 months in office and this too is reflected in the unemployment data and in the economic situation. Domestic credit to the private sector, which is the ultimate driver of economic growth, is presently lower than it was when the PLP came to office in May 2012. The increase in domestic credit of over $300 million which took place during that period was entirely directed to the government sector and principally central government.
PLP apologists and pseudo-economists need not try to stretch our imaginations; the mismanagement of the economy by the PLP is directly connected to the unsatisfactory Bahamian economic situation.
At some point the self-styled economists who continue to berate the Ingraham government for the stellar job it did in bringing the standards of infrastructure around our country up to 21st century world standards will acknowledge that the FNM got it right in creating real legitimate jobs in the economy by investing in projects which represent an enormous expansion in the country's capital assets.
More importantly, the liberalization and modernization of the telecommunications sector and those infrastructure projects, including the dredging of Nassau Harbour, the removal of the cargo port from downtown Nassau, the three-phase redevelopment of Lynden Pindling International Airport, the New Providence road and utilities improvement project and the Airport Gateway Project, when taken together with a better trained workforce, have positioned the Bahamian economy to achieve the maximum benefit from the international economic turnaround as it occurs - so long as this PLP government does not jeopardize the economy's prospects.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham often claimed that the FNM was a sower and the PLP a reaper. This was ironically confirmed by the new PLP member of Parliament for North Abaco who himself described his party as a party of reapers, stating in Parliament just in very recent times that now theirs "is the harvest".
Make the government account
But we should not be satisfied to sit by and allow the government to reap the harvest for their personal benefit. The government may be justifiably asked to account for what it has done with the more than $1 billion it has borrowed since coming to office 18 months ago. After all, it has discontinued the infrastructure improvement program left in train by the FNM. It has chosen to allow all of the jobs and skills training initiatives introduced by the FNM to come to an end without replacements; and its National Training Institute has proven to be a bust.
It is simple logic that all those thousands of people engaged on infrastructure projects which are now completed or in their final stages of completion, and those thousands of others engaged in the various skills and job training initiatives which the PLP has deliberately brought to a close, have swelled the numbers of the unemployed. Surely there is no surprise in the decrease in the numbers of employed persons during their time in office.
Surely, the continuation of important infrastructural upgrade programs for our country would be a far more effective use of borrowed sums than expenditure for consultancy contracts for old PLP hangers-on.
And, continuing training and employment of capable, young Bahamian high school and university graduates who had been productively engaged under the 52-week program in preparation for assuming full-time posts at the new, expanded critical care wing of Princess Margaret Hospital, at the Business Licence Unit of the Ministry of Finance, throughout the government-operated school system and in public corporations would certainly be a more useful expenditure of government revenue than the financing of a seemingly unending list of foreign jaunts by PLP Cabinet ministers.
The PLP has been the government for 18 months; it is time that it stops seeking to take credit for what its predecessors in office did, or attempting to explain its failures as consequences of what its predecessors did, and begin to govern and make decisions to move our economy forward.
"Lies, damned lies and statistics" is how Mark Twain popularized a refrain sometimes attributed to a variety of British pundits and politicians when forced to address opponents using statistics to bolster their position.
Just a few weeks ago, the Department of Statistics released the annual unemployment report reflecting a dramatic increase of two percent in unemployment. Immediately, government ministers became "spin doctors" issuing silver lining statements as rings around the ominous dark cloud portrayed by the latest labor force survey. The increase in unemployment should not be of concern, we are being told because it does not truly reflect a loss in jobs in the economy; rather, it is claimed, it reflects an increase in the number of previously discouraged workers who have rejoined the labor market because they are now hopeful of finding employment, and they have swelled the numbers of the unemployed.
But this is "spin". It does not reflect the facts. There has been a loss of jobs in the economy. Between May 2012 and May 2013 the number of persons employed decreased by 1,260. Furthermore, there was an increase in the rate of unemployment as 3,455 new entrants came to the job market while the number of employed persons was falling by 1260.
Trying to find a silver lining
Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Michael Halkitis was first out of the gate with that fanciful story. He was soon followed by Minister for Grand Bahama Michael Darville, who advised that employment had increased at the Freeport Container Port since May of this year. And he claimed to be hopeful that the employment numbers would be up in Grand Bahama before the next survey, as a number of new small businesses had opened on that island.
Then, the prime minister joined the chorus expressing hope that by next year the "economy will begin to shift in our favor..." This was followed with the live radio coverage of the signing of a heads of agreement that would see the construction of a number of condo-hotel units in collaboration with Club Med in San Salvador.
These PLP ministers remind me of the propaganda spun by a Jamaican prime minister in the 1970s when he told his party faithful to ignore criticisms about the "devaluation" of the Jamaican dollar against the U.S. dollar. He told them what had happened was that the Jamaican dollar had not been "devalued"; it had been "revalued". And the people cheered. Just like Bahamians cheered when then Minister of Finance Carlton Francis announced at a PLP convention that following years of a balanced budget under a socially deficient UBP government, The Bahamas under the PLP would have a deficit budget for the first time. Today of course, Jamaicans no longer cheer at the thought of their severely devalued currency, and Bahamians shudder with the thought of the long-term consequences of a growing national debt.
The reality of the Bahamian economy
We have come through a terrible economic period; an economic and financial crisis which sent the entire global economy into collapse and recession, even if the PLP in opposition refused to acknowledge it. The fallout from the Great Global Recession caused the Bahamian economy to lose more than 17,000 jobs between 2008 and 2009; the number of employed persons fell from 174,920 in 2008 to 157,805 in 2009. Those 17,000-plus jobs lost in the Great Recession have not returned.
In times of international and national economic and financial crisis, it is left to the government to seek to adopt policies and programs to stimulate economic activity in the private sector so as to sustain as many jobs as possible and to maintain to the extent possible employment in the public sector.
Thousands of jobs were created in the private sector between 2009 and 2012 through infrastructural projects undertaken by the FNM government. These were supplemented by additional real jobs created through the jump start and self-starter programs and through the national jobs and skills training 52-week program, which put qualified and capable young Bahamians into positions to begin to earn honest incomes to support their families.
Such infrastructural and skills training policies are exactly the kinds of policies that the international financial organizations and the international ratings agencies recommend governments adopt during difficult economic times. One wonders whether the PLP government understands the value of the millions of dollars spent by contractors and their workers in the Bahamian economy with Bahamian construction suppliers, food stores, utility corporations, restaurants, lenders, motor vehicle dealerships, etc.
These various and legitimate programs undertaken by the last FNM government helped to sustain and create jobs in our all-important construction and services sectors during tough economic times.
The Department of Statistics reports for the years 2008-2012 indicate that the economy had begun a slow recovery by 2009. By May 2011, some 2,380 new jobs had been added to the economy. In the last year of the FNM government from May 2011 to May 2012, an additional 5,070 new jobs were created. This gradual recovery came as a direct result of government policies.
Tourism is the engine of the Bahamian economy; and tourism is in serious trouble. Small wonder then that the economy is performing poorly and the number of the unemployed is increasing.
A senior tourism executive was recently quoted in the media commenting on declining air service to The Bahamas. The official admitted to "a loss of over 50,000 seats" for 2013. We know that the loss is nearer to 70,000 seats, which is more than any other destination in our region in terms of both absolute and percentage loss of air seats. This significant loss of air seats also explains why The Bahamas is performing poorly in terms of the lucrative stopover visitor segment.
We have experienced more than a seven percent year-over-year decline in stopover visitors as compared with competing destinations in our region. Unlike The Bahamas, most countries are recovering from the effects of the Great Recession and recording positive stopover growth.
With tourism, our most important economic sector performing so abysmally, it is not surprising that we are now experiencing the highest level of unemployment in 35 years. According to the Ministry of Tourism, each air arrival represents more than $1,300 per person in expenditure in the Bahamian economy. The loss of 70,000 seats represents a loss of more than $100 million in visitor expenditure.
When the FNM administration left office in May 2012, air arrivals were growing at more than 11 percent, which was equal to the best performing start of any year for foreign air arrivals in recorded tourism history. Tourism, which accounts for more than 60 percent of our GDP, is such an important driver of our economy that a fall-off in air arrivals and stopover visitors of that magnitude easily explains the current state of our economy. The treasury of The Bahamas will lose millions of dollars in departure taxes, room taxes and import duties alone. Under these circumstances, businesses will continue to close, no businesses will hire additional staff and existing workers will suffer through prolonged periods of two- and three-day work weeks throughout the industry.
While the overall performance of The Bahamas is the worst in the region, Grand Bahama in particular has recorded a jaw dropping 17.4 percent decline in air arrivals so far this year, according to the latest information from the Ministry of Tourism. To make matters worse, even the cruise business is down in Grand Bahama.
It has been stated publicly on several occasions that we will need an additional 300,000 air seats annually in order to satisfy the needs of Baha Mar. With the loss of 70,000 air seats so far this year, that required number has now increased by 23 percent to 370,000 or an average of roughly 1,000 additional air seats needed per day.
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 ...