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The outlook for the Bahamian economy is "stretched" and reminiscent of an "election budget", according to a retired banker.
Al Jarrett, who has also served as the chairman of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), said any gross domestic product (GDP) growth this year will be negligible based on high inflation, plummeting foreign reserves and a national debt spiraling out of control.
The assertion stands in contrast to projections made by Zhivargo Laing, the state minister of finance, who told Guardian Business at the 21st annual Bahamas Business Outlook that the Bahamian economy will grow 2.5 to 2.8 percent this year.
"We further expect to sustain our growth trajectory with 2.4 percent in 2013 and 2.3 percent in 2014, barring no unforeseen circumstances," Laing said.
According to Jarrett, the government has already contracted more than $330 million in new debt since it was pegged at $3.7 billion in September 2011.
The new debt, announced in November and December, relates to the road works, the Princess Margaret Hospital, and water and sewerage, among others.
"This will increase the total direct debt in the first quarter of 2012 (representing the third quarter of the current budget) to over $4 billion when these debts will be drawn down," Jarrett argued. "The government's budgeted debt is $3.77 billion for the entire fiscal year ending June 30, 2012. This would suggest that they are running $220 million in excess of this target. When you combine the $220 million excess debt with the deficit of $480 million, you are looking at an increase in borrowings of $700 million over the current budget for 2012, taking the total direct debt to $4.5 billion."
Combined with government guarantees of $500 million, the retired banker claims this would create a national debt of $5 billion between June and July 2012.
In response, Laing told Guardian Business that numbers such as $5 billion in debt is "speculative". "While the government knows there are additional expenditures on the table, it does not mean they must be taken on during this fiscal year. We said the government "cannot borrow a single dime" without coming to Parliament.
The state minister of finance upheld his projections on GDP growth.
Jarrett also felt the prime minister had made a "fatal mistake" by underestimating the price of oil and the inflation rate.
"He made a further mistake in assuming unrealistic inflation rates of 2 percent in 2011 and 1.4 percent in 2012. Instead of being a statesman, he chose to produce an election budget, which he knew would put the country's fiscal status in further jeopardy and create greater hardship for the Bahamian people and a possible further downgrade," Jarrett said.
Meanwhile, the retired banker next pointed to the latest statistics on the country's foreign reserves position.
As of Jan 2012, foreign reserves sit at $880 million, according to the Central Bank. In April 2011, it hit a high of 1.140 billion, but has continued to drop.
"This is a piece of bad news each consumer should know," Jarrett said.
Laing felt there are a number of things that can influence GDP growth, but foreign reserves are not one of them. He said the government does not have any major concerns that threaten GDP projections, other than oil prices, which could "temper growth".
The retired banker went on to describe the prospects for the retail business sector and the financial services sector as "gloomy". Tourism stopovers, especially air arrivals, took a hit in 2011, although thus far, according to leading hoteliers, 2012 has seen some positive numbers.
In sum, Jarrett said the GDP growth projections are entirely unrealistic for The Bahamas.
Laing, during his speech earlier this year at the Outlook, defended his position by highlighting the rise of more construction activity in the private sector, such as Baha Mar and Albany, adding that "there needs to be continuing robust public sector investment".
Unemployment, he added, will likely remain in the double digits.
He called the government's approach to dealing with the economy the most dramatic and comprehensive in recent times.
"In the process of supporting the economy and our people, we could take a long range view that would mean laying the foundation for a more resilient, robust and dynamic economy and society in the years to come, by strategically spending the necessary significant borrowing we would have to do," Laing said.
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) yesterday branded Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham as a 'bully' who has 'lashed out' at The Nassau Guardian for exposing inaccuracies in statistics his government has provided.
The PLP said the prime minister has resorted to throwing temper tantrums instead of providing straight answers to the press in the face of criticism. The Opposition added that it supported the media in their attempts to hold the Ingraham administration to a high degree of scrutiny.
The comments came after The Nassau Guardian revealed inaccuracies in conviction statistics that were tabled in the Senate by Attorney General John Delaney. It was not the first time The Guardian exposed discrepancies in information Delaney provided on convictions.
Last month, the senator tabled the names of people convicted during the Progressive Liberal Party's last term in office and compared them to convictions under the Free National Movement's term, from June 2007 up to February 21, 2012.
Delaney said only nine people were convicted of murder under the PLP while 26 were convicted of the same charge under the FNM's current term.
However, The Nassau Guardian found that five of those people should not have been included on Delaney's list because the convictions were overturned or reduced on appeal.
When confronted about the inaccuracies on Monday, Ingraham accused The Guardian of 'nitpicking'.
"I find this unbelievable," he said. "I find it's a nitpicking exercise. If this is the basis of what you put forward in the story, that's a great distortion.
"In fact, a political party involved in a campaign would not put forward such a thing. That's the height of propaganda and unbecoming of a newspaper. It doesn't matter if it was overturned. If I say that you are convicted and it gets overturned by the next court, you were still convicted. Let's get that straight."
Yesterday, the PLP said the prime minister's response was insulting and venomous.
"The Progressive Liberal Party supports the Bahamian media's attempts to gain a fuller picture of the crisis facing the nation. This is not the first time inaccurate or incomplete statistics have been presented by this government," said the party in a statement.
"No one in The Bahamas is safe, it would seem, from the prime minister's special brand of venom. Ingraham is a bully.
"He insults and attacks anyone who dares disagree with him. Small wonder that many Bahamians have begun to refer to Ingraham, who has been prime minister for 15 out of the last 20 years, as a dictator."
The PLP said in spite of the prime minister's tough talk about solving crime during the 2007 election campaign, murders and other violent incidents have continued to rise under the FNM.
The party also hit out at the Ingraham administration for dismantling its 'Swift Justice' program after the last election.
"When Perry Christie took office in 2002, he inherited a criminal justice system with terrible problems and a massive backlog of pending cases.
"Realizing that the system needed real reform, the PLP instituted Swift Justice, a program which ensured better coordination [among] law enforcement, prosecutors and judges, so that accused people might be more swiftly tried.
"The program had begun to show real success, but the FNM cancelled the program when they came to power. Swift Justice was a victim -- like Urban Renewal, Witness Protection and School Policing -- of the FNM's petty politics."
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.
A top hotel executive yesterday threw his support behind the government's move to ease the ability for Chinese travelers to visit The Bahamas.
Robert Sands, senior vice president of administration and external affairs for Baha Mar, said the signing of a mutual visa exemption agreement with China would be good for tourism.
"We certainly applaud this move, this is an important step forward in stimulating the country's global tourism base," Sands told Guardian Business.
The government announced yesterday that the signing of the mutual visa exemption agreement will take place on Thursday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.
Baha Mar, which has expressed its intention to attract a broader range of tourists to the resort in order to help fill the 2,200 new rooms it will bring to market in December 2014, has been lobbying the government to reduce the restrictions on travel to The Bahamas for Chinese tourists in particular.
The governments of The Bahamas and China have long talked of intending to find ways to make it easier for each others' people to visit.
While lengthy and onerous visa conditions have been part of the reason why Chinese people have made up only a very small portion of the visitors coming to The Bahamas on an annual basis, it is not the only impediment, with the lack of direct or convenient airlift also a major contributing factor.
However, Guardian Business understands that a great part of the significance of the mutual visa exemption move would be the ability for The Bahamas to attract Chinese passport holders who currently reside in the U.S. or Canada, for example, who while having the ability to travel to or reside in those countries would otherwise have to attend a Bahamian embassy or consulate in order to obtain a visa to travel to The Bahamas.
Chinese people are increasingly prone to traveling abroad, given rising personal incomes. According to official statistics, in 2012 the number of outbound Chinese tourists totaled 83 million, up 18.41 million in comparison with 2011.
Popular outbound destinations include the U.S., Russia, France, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and The Maldives.
The home invasion of Philip Brave Davis, who was acting prime minister at the time of the incident last Monday, was alarming and worrying on many levels.
We were of course relieved to learn that the ambulance we met in Davis' driveway about half an hour after the three armed bandits fled was empty when it pulled off with lights flashing.
The fact that those thugs could so easily enter the Davis compound, accost his driver and storm into his house reflects a level of slackness in our society that no one seems determined to address.
This represents firstly a failure on the part of the commissioner of police to keep Davis and his wife safe.
Even if he were not acting prime minister at the time, his position as deputy prime minister demands a level of security and attention to safety issues.
There were no armed aides on duty at the time of the robbery and to this day, no one has yet explained why.
In international circles, we must be a laughing stock. In a country where crime is at an alarmingly high rate, we had no security for our acting prime minister.
What we got from Davis the day after this most unfortunate incident is a statement that he was not afraid while he and his wife were being held in their bedroom at gunpoint.
Davis also declared, "They don't call me Brave for nothing"; a statement followed by a chuckle, seemingly making light of the situation.
We have no doubt that Davis will take security at his home more seriously and it is our hope that he and his family never have to face such an ordeal again.
While Davis has told us that he was brave, there can be no doubt that the incident was terrifying as it unfolded.
His wife, Anne Marie, confirmed this in a Facebook post on Friday, thanking her Facebook family and friends for their "prayers and comfort".
"After such a horrible, traumatic experience, I'm even more convinced that there is a God indeed," Mrs. Davis posted.
"Facing death was just God awful!!! Let's all keep praying for our own safety, that of our children, family and the nation. I'm always sorry when anyone is affected by crime and my prayers always include protection for ALL of us. "
She then urged everyone to be vigilant and assured, "I'm doing better as each day goes by".
We are happy to hear she is doing better, and regret that Mrs. Davis and her husband have become victims of crime.
The incident has underscored the grave state of affairs in our country.
But the response from Davis reflected a general state of denial on the part of the government.
Davis used his contribution to the debate on amendments to the Child Protection Act and Sexual Offenses Act to declare that things are getting better in The Bahamas as it relates to the war on crime.
He also denied that the party that erected murder billboards around New Providence, including in tourist areas, in 2012 had made crime political.
"We never made crime political," said Davis in the House of Assembly on Wednesday night.
"What we did is we said we could handle this scourge, this menace, better than them (the Ingraham administration)."
Winning the war?
On the campaign trail in the lead up to the 2012 general election, the PLP repeatedly accused the government of failing to keep Bahamians safe.
It said it had the answers to break the back of crime.
We are still awaiting those answers, and we are still gripped by fear, looking over our shoulders constantly, making a mad dash for the front door when we pull up to our houses at nights, and doing a walkabout through our homes before we settle in.
Many people try not to be out when night falls.
Some of us sleep with knives by our bedsides or take a knife with us when we empty the trash.
Others carry shotguns in their vehicles with no intention of hunting any animal.
We are terrified.
We are left to wonder now, if the acting prime minister and his family are not safe in their home then what reasonable expectation can the rest of us have that we are safe?
The answer is none.
We have no reasonable expectation that we are safe. We are no safer under this government than we were on May 6, 2012.
But this administration seems to be in denial about that fact.
It touts its public relations program -- Urban Renewal 2.0 -- as our saving grace. It is not. And we see no evidence that it will ever be.
But the Christie administration is standing firm in its position that Urban Renewal is a success.
"They keep bad talking Urban Renewal," said Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage, referring to the Free National Movement.
"What's wrong with you all? Anybody would tell you it's the best community policing program you can find in the region. That's a fact. Everybody in the region is mimicking it."
But we are not safe, minister.
Does anyone in The Bahamas other than the government believe The Bahamas is becoming a safer place under Perry Christie and his administration?
Despite the harrowing ordeal at his home, Davis pointed to progress in the war on crime.
"I think we are making inroads by a number of the efforts we have taken to date, and despite what they may say, there are improvements," Davis said in the House of Assembly.
"...The records are there to show that there are incremental improvements and the fact of the matter is it's not a matter to brag about because where crime is, it was and continues to be at an unacceptable level, and I don't want to compare how we met it and where it is now and I think people are feeling it. We are getting there and we will get there, Mr. Speaker."
Davis said the government will not be deterred from its crime-fighting programs.
"We will break this back of crime," he declared to parliamentary applause from colleagues.
"If there is anything to be taken out of this, we need to be reaching out more to our younger people. We need to let them know about the National Training Agency, which is set up to help us shape our attitudes, help us learn how to respect one another, how to respect other people's things."
Davis said the invasion of his home was a crime of opportunity.
He added that he has no elusions that the crime problem can be solved over night because "much of it is rooted in our mind set today".
Two days after government ministers continued to claim success in the fight on crime without any empirical data to back it up, the U.S. Embassy in Nassau issued a holiday crime warning.
It pointed out on Friday that "within the past week, a high-ranking Bahamian government official became a victim of crime during an armed invasion of his home".
The embassy said it continues to receive reports of crime, particularly armed robberies and burglaries.
The embassy warned, "robbers and burglars will often conduct pre-attack surveillance by observing the intended property and/or victims".
It said, "This underscores the need for an increased awareness of common activities which can directly impact personal security."
This is of course not the first alert the Americans have issued to their country's citizens living in and visiting The Bahamas.
As acknowledged by Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe yesterday, this could be harmful to our country's image.
Prior to the release of the embassy's latest alert, Nottage had criticisms for cruise lines that warn on crime in The Bahamas.
"The Americans put out these warnings about coming to The Bahamas," the national security minister said in the House of Assembly.
"The FBI agent who was working with me while I was in Washington told me he [came] to The Bahamas earlier this year and he said that he came on the Carnival cruise and he couldn't understand why Carnival would give [the warning] when they reached The Bahamas telling them things like don't go in certain areas of the country, and don't do this and don't do the next thing.
"He said, 'Doc, I'm stationed here in Washington'. He said they just assaulted a congresswoman and took all her money and all her jewelry and everything, right in Washington. The heart of the [government of the] United States of America.
"He said that happens everywhere. All these people in Chicago and Detroit and these places, why are they telling people don't come here and they are coming from places that are suffering much worse than we are here?"
Nottage added, "We run in a little hole and hide ourselves instead of defending our country. They (the opposition) say they want to work with us, they're always saying that, but every chance they get to work with us on this matter [they do not].
"I'm talking about crime now. This is an ideal thing for us to have a single voice, protecting our country on. So why are we carrying on like this?"
Nottage's statement was the most laughable of all that emerged during the recent House debate.
That he would criticize the cruise lines for warning on crime is truly unbelievable.
While in opposition, Nottage and the Progressive Liberal Party had no concern for the image being projected to tourists and the possible harmful effects on our country when they erected those murder billboards.
We have spoken to the minister's hypocrisy on such matters before, and highlight it here again.
There is one view out of office, and one view while in. We suppose that is politics, as they say.
We await the release of new statistics to support the claims being made by the government. No statistics have been released since July.
But with little faith in the government and the police to release statistics to give us a true picture of the state of affairs, it is doubtful that we will find any comfort in these figures.
While they are at it, we hope -- for the sake of us all -- that they will finally be able to provide those answers on crime that they so loudly and persistently claim they had.
Four days after Acting Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis was robbed in his home, the United States Embassy in Nassau yesterday warned Americans living in and traveling to The Bahamas to be on the alert as armed robbery remains a major threat facing U.S. visitors and residents.
"As the holiday season nears with its many celebrations, there is, unfortunately, often an increase in criminal activity," the embassy said in an email.
"The embassy continues to receive reports of crime, particularly armed robberies and burglaries.
"Within the past week, a high-ranking Bahamian government official became a victim of crime during an armed invasion of his home."
On Monday, three armed men drove onto Davis' West Ridge compound, accosted his unarmed chauffer and robbed Davis and his family at gunpoint in their home, police said.
The embassy cited three incidents within the last year when American visitors were robbed.
It noted that a man and woman were robbed by a knife-wielding robber in their hotel room in Freeport, Grand Bahama.
The email pointed out that other Americans have fallen victim to armed robberies in the country in the past year.
"Robbers and burglars will often conduct pre-attack surveillance by observing the intended property and/or victims," the email read.
"This underscores the need for an increased awareness of common activities which can directly impact personal security."
The embassy issued an email last month warning Americans living in and traveling to Freeport to be aware of a recent increase in reported armed robberies.
Crime statistics from January 1, 2013 to July 11, 2013 reflected a one percent decrease in armed robberies.
According to statistics tabled in the House of Assembly, there were 571 reported armed robberies up to July 11 last year compared to the 566 reported armed robberies this year.
More recent statistics are not available.
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 release of the Inter-American Development Bank's (IDB) model and study on the projected impact of value-added tax (VAT) has failed to assuage the concerns of at least two vocal stakeholder groups, with the Bahamas Federation of Retailers claiming it is "very concerned" about the report's findings with respect to the tax's impact on disposable income levels.
The BFR, in a statement sent to Guardian Business, said businesses closing and more layoffs would be a likely reality if demand weakens further, as the IDB report seems to indicate would occur under VAT.
"The Bahamas Federation of Retailers (BFR) is very concerned about the IDB report's findings that point to a significant reduction in the disposable income of both the lower and middle classes here in The Bahamas over the next few years if VAT is implemented as scheduled on July 1st, 2014. The economy of The Bahamas is still plagued by weak domestic demand following the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and the government has to be very careful that it doesn't implement measures that would prolong this weakened economic state.
"Government's attempts to raise revenues by taxing a shrinking economic pie at a higher rate by introducing new taxes and new operational costs on businesses seems like a misguided approach to fiscal responsibility," said the organization, which asserts that it now represents around 100 retail businesses throughout the country.
Joining the BFR in expressing anxiety about the study's results was Citizens for a Better Bahamas, an anti-VAT advocacy group which seeks to represent the interests of the consumer - the ultimate taxpayer under VAT.
Tamara Van Breugel, founder of the group, said the increase in poverty projected by the model and calls for increases in the social safety net to offset this impact leaves her fearful about VAT, notwithstanding the report's findings that it should have positive impacts on growth, debt, unemployment and inflation.
"We are not experts and we believe there are other segments of the community that will look in far more depth at technical aspects, but we are looking at how it will impact the daily lifestyles of Bahamian men and women.
"We believe the modelling is comprehensive and it provides value, but it's very difficult to take those statistics and make them add value to a family that is currently living month to month and faces an increase in the cost of living; those statistics won't help them."
Van Breugel questioned how the prediction that VAT will negatively affect poverty levels will "interplay" with plans by the government to reform the social assistance system, to make it one based on participants meeting certain conditions.
"Just from our preliminary understanding it seems as though that refinement will also create the performance metrics for families to qualify for social assistance. We are wondering if the new social safety net program will be more prohibitive than in the past. Then with the growth in poverty subject to VAT, will we be looking at additional people qualifying for assistance? Have they been factored into the additional cost to social services?"
Both the BFR and Citizens for a Better Bahamas were responding following the release on Friday of the IDB's long-awaited study on the likely impact of VAT - set for implementation on July 1, 2014 - on a variety of variables.
Although projected to lead to a decline in disposable income at all levels, the newly-released model prepared for the government projects that VAT will lead to higher gross domestic product (GDP) growth and tax revenue, decreased debt, lower unemployment and lower inflation after an "initial surge" in the first year.
Lower unemployment is anticipated by the IDB model in light of a projection of higher tax revenue and the assumption that with this, there would be lower levels of government borrowing which would make it easier for the private sector to borrow, invest and stimulate employment.
Meanwhile, the expectation of a decline in public debt levels is said to depend on the assumption that all of the "additional revenue" generated through fiscal reform would be "directed toward debt reduction".
The IDB study supports the government's claims that VAT will lead to no more than an additional three to four percent rise in price levels above normal inflation in the first year, and has been taken by the government to support the case for the implementation of VAT as the cornerstone of the government's fiscal reform program aimed at reducing debt levels.
The government and others, such as James Smith, chairman of CFAL and consultant to the Ministry of Finance, have argued that if steps are not taken now via the implementation of VAT to reduce debt levels, measures with much more severe consequences for Bahamians' economic and financial well-being, such as devaluation of the currency and even higher taxes, may be forced upon the country.
However, the Coalition for Responsible Taxation, formed by the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, has suggested that while the need to reduce debt and undertake other fiscal reforms is real and urgent, there may be better alternatives to VAT and other commitments may be necessary on the part of the government, such as expenditure reduction and controls.
In its statement released yesterday in the wake of the IDB study release, the BFR said it continues to stand with the Coalition for Responsible Taxation and asks that the government delay the implementation date for VAT.
The group also called for the government to "seriously look at alternative ways of raising revenue that would not place the businesses of The Bahamas and their employees at risk, especially with unemployment already above 16 per cent."
Van Breugel also stated that she is not yet convinced that VAT is the "best choice" for The Bahamas.
"We consistently say we are not experts at anything to do with economics and so we leave the modelling and technical work to technical experts. All we ask is that we would like to see appropriate independent experts provide evidence, and let citizens have access to that advice, so we can be confident. It will be a far easier public discussion if we could all buy in," she said.
Twenty-seven. It's the age when Antonyche Cooper thought she'd be winding down her "clubbing" days and really focusing on settling down. She dreamed of finally completing her banking and finance degree. It's an age she figured she'd at least be leaving home and looking forward to meeting "Mr. Right," getting married and starting a family of her own. It's an age when she thought her years of making good financial and personal decisions would pay off, and her independence would truly begin. It's not an age where she thought she would be confronted with a disease that could threaten her life.
But it was nine months ago, on March 31 at the age of 27, that the vibrant young lady was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer -- the same disease that stole her mother, Debbie Cooper, from her 22 years ago -- when Antonyche was just five years old.
It all began with a self breast exam which Antonyche performed regularly because she had naturally lumpy breasts, and because her mother had died from the disease. Over the years she had gotten a few scares, but the lumps turned out to be nothing. In early January, a new growth she noticed was different than any other lump she'd had before. Antonyche could not dismiss it.
"Even before I went to the doctor I knew something was wrong," she said. "As usual, I was a little alarmed, but I still waited until the end of January to see a doctor. He initially said that there was definitely something in the breast and I might want to do surgery to check it out, but there wasn't anything to be concerned about as far as he was concerned. So I waited almost two months before I went away to do the surgery in the United States."
By that time the lump which had started off small and firm had grown significantly and was hard and unyielding. That development terrified Cooper who knew without a doubt that something was amiss. Her other lumps had always remained the same size, were soft and shifted when touched.
It was March 25 when she received a second opinion. Three days later she had a biopsy done in Fort Lauderdale. On March 31 she was told the lump was cancerous.
Being told she had cancer she said was a "difficult thing to swallow".
"To me, it wasn't about the disease itself because that didn't sink in for me as yet. It was the immediate memories of remembering how I watched my mother die from cancer that overwhelmed me," says Cooper. "I was five-years-old when she died and the experience was one that took most of my life to come to terms with. It was because of that I had always tried to be conscious of what was happening to my body and not take 'no' or 'don't worry' for an answer when it came to my health. When the news finally really hit me that the same thing that had happened to her could happen to me, I was absolutely terrified."
But Cooper was determined that her mother's fate would not be her reality as well. She also took comfort in the fact that the medication and options available for treatment were far more aggressive than they were in her mother's time.
"I felt relieved knowing that I would be okay. I wasn't as afraid of the road I would have to walk," she says.
Even in the face of having to do chemotherapy treatments and eventually making the difficult decision to do a double mastectomy to save her life, Cooper says physically, the feeling that she had cancer did not sink in until she started losing her hair.
"Nothing made my cancer as real to me as the morning I woke up with some of my hair dropping out. I never really saw myself as sick until that moment. I was going through chemo, biopsies, MRIs, ultrasound and doing the check-ups and my hair was still there. One morning I woke up and my head felt so heavy, it was so sore and as I scratched and rubbed, my hair was coming out in chunks, that was the most devastating moment," she says.
She turned to her family for comfort -- her aunt, Sundae Cooper, whom she'd lived with since her mother died, and her uncle Kevin Cooper who shaved her head for her. As her illness became reality to her, she forced herself to look in the mirror at that point with a cleanly shaved head and she says she just cried. But with the support of her family she says was able to make it through.
Her diagnosis and fight she says took its toll on her brother, Antoine Cooper, who was eight years old when their mother died. She says he did not cope well.
"It was hard enough seeing our mother die young. He never really vented or got over that experience, so I can understand how hard it is for him to see me go through the same thing. Although he doesn't stick around too long when he does come to see me, he does show he still cares. Many days during the summer I would wake up to find a pile of guineps in my bed next to me. I think it was his way of saying 'I'm still here'."
When the chemotherapy treatments got more intense and aggressive and she eventually had to take time off from her job, she discovered how wonderful the people in her life outside of her family were. Once her co-workers learned of her battle, they rallied to raise funds to assist with her medical expenses.
"I wasn't expecting such a strong support system all around me to develop," says Cooper. "It is so amazing and I am so happy for everyone who has been here helping me."
She says her fight with cancer has shown her the goodness of people at a new level.
She has gone through good and bad days, but since her diagnosis, she says she learned quickly to make the best of everything that is happening from day-to-day. On her bad days she says she does her best to not stay down and moves around and goes out. She purchased a Nicki Minaj wig to wear whenever she's out and about. She says everyone thinks she's being fashionable, but the wig she says lifts her spirits.
From the day she first felt the lump to her diagnosis, Cooper says she's learned to listen to her instincts and not rest on the assurance of one medical practitioner. And that sometimes a second and third opinion is needed until you feel absolutely comfortable with what you hear. She also hopes that more physicians will see the need to let even younger women do mammograms so they don't miss something in a self-test and realize something is wrong too late.
"My doctors refused to let me do mammograms because I was young. I always had to do an ultrasound or MRI instead. I never saw the reason why they would say 'no'. I wasn't being paranoid since my mother died at 32 from cancer and I just wanted to ensure I was alright. I hope more physicians take these kinds of requests seriously and not just reserve it for older ladies or those with a strong family history. If a young lady is concerned and wants to do it I don't see why she shouldn't."
Bahamian health officials currently use the American Cancer Society's screening recommendations which call for screening at age 40.
Recent results from a groundbreaking breast cancer study involving Bahamian women show that 25 percent of their relatives who participated in genetic testing had been found to have a genetic mutation. This basically means that they are at a high risk of developing breast cancer, according to Dr. Judith Hurley, a breast cancer specialist at the University of Miami School of Medicine, who spoke with The Nassau Guardian.
Through other phases of the study, which came out in October, researchers say it quickly became obvious that abnormal genes were causing Bahamian women to develop breast cancer at much younger ages than their American counterparts.
According to health statistics, 34 percent of Bahamian women diagnosed with brest cancer are 44 or younger. This compares to 12 percent of American women under 44.
What researchers also found startling was that 44.6 percent of those Bahamian women diagnosed have late stage breast cancer compared to 12 percent of American women.
The average age of women with breast cancer in The Bahamas is 42 while the average age in the United States is 62.
Breast cancer is the sixth leading cause of death of Bahamian women, according to health officials.
Cooper also advises young women not to take their health for granted as more of them like her are being diagnosed below the age of 30. And she hopes that those who are diagnosed do not take the "vain route".
"It's sad to lose your breasts and you really don't want things to be different but you have to do what is right. If you are diagnosed, it is best to just take both breasts off. Reconstructive surgery is a lot easier if the surgeons have a clean slate, and the chances of finding out the cancer returned is eliminated. I am new to this and I am still learning but I do know one thing, I love my life more than my breasts. I never want to go through this again."
Cooper isn't in the "clear" yet. She is still undergoing treatments, but she is more optimistic than ever that cancer can be beat once you believe in God and have an unbreakable support system like she has been afforded. She wishes more young women can be as lucky and remember that life does not end with cancer. She says she now sees more than before, that it can be an eye-opening experience and the perfect beginning to a new life.
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 ...