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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.
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.
The uniformed forces are set to create up to 400 new jobs within the next six months, according to Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage.
Nottage said the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF), the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) and Her Majesty's Prison (HMP) will all hire additional members by the middle of next year.
"We have started two new classes. They are going now and another one is about to start so we'll have more than 100 police recruits in training and as soon as they're finished we will repeat that," he said. "The defense force is about to train more marines and the prison is about to train about 100 new people, so that's going to be 300 to 400 new jobs over the course of the next six months or so."
As it relates to the police force, Nottage said the additional officers will help the organization sustain its crime plan, which was recently introduced. The plan introduced a 12-hour shift for officers and included greater police presence across the island.
Nottage also noted that the RBDF is set to receive additional patrol vessels.
"Right now we are constructing nine vessels and so there is going to be a lot of work for them to do in July of next year when we get the first vessel," Nottage said.
By that time, the marines who were deployed to assist the police force are expected to resume their old duties, Nottage said.
As it relates to HMP, additional officers will go into the prison system as the government seeks to transition it into a correctional facility and tighten up on inmates' privileges.The additional jobs come as the national unemployment rate is now the highest it has been in at least 10 years, according to figures from the Department of Statistics.
Those figures show that the jobless rate jumped to 16.2 percent from 14 percent.
Socialism is a dirty word in most Western-styled democracies, as it tends to evoke images of individuals living on the economic fat of the state, at taxpayers' expense, while electing not to work or otherwise make themselves productive members of society.
From the early days of the 1970s, most European nations structured a social net whereby the ordinary citizen would be able to access basic healthcare, college level education and access to other common expectations. This worked well when population levels were relatively small and they were culturally cohesive.
With the advent of the European Common Market and relaxation of cross-border travel and migration, huge numbers of foreign nationals moved from one jurisdiction to the other, especially where the economic benefits were more attractive. They settled in and eventually had children and grand children.
Today, in most of these European countries we are now witnessing the bankruptcy of the system and challenges to maintaining the social net in the face of apparent and real resentment from the indigenous people. This is now the case in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Political parties and individuals who argue for expulsion and the closing of borders are on the rise.
Socialism is now, once again, a dirty word in many of these countries and we are seeing massive immigration round-ups of foreign nationals and their progeny. Closer to home, in the Dominican Republic, we saw where the Constitutional Court of that nation has ruled that people of Haitian descent who were born after 1929 are not, automatically, eligible to Dominican citizenship and all of the benefits that would accrue there from.
In our own country of The Bahamas, the unknown number of illegal nationals, the bulk of whom are of Haitian extraction, is causing angst and societal discomfort. It is commonly accepted that our educational facilities are maxed out due to the large number of children of Haitian parentage who are in the system.
Our healthcare institutions are also challenged due to the massive demands made by foreign-born people. Last year, according to statistics, more than 60 percent of the live births at Princess Margaret Hospital were to Haitian mothers. On any given day, the vast majority of patients at our clinics are of foreign antecedents.
We pride ourselves on being a democracy, and as self-professed Christians we say that we have a social conscience. The status quo, however, has now become almost unbearable. How do we, as an indigenous people, provide the expected social amenities for Bahamians while excluding others who are foreigners? Do we go the route of the Dominican Republic or do we bite the bullet?
Our democracy is being challenged in that during the last electoral cycle it is a known fact that thousands of individuals actually voted even though they were not born in this country. The majority of them were made citizens by paper fiats during the course of the last five or so years.
At one point, the Haitian president visited New Providence and at a very public forum he urged his compatriots to vote for the party which had their best interests at heart. Many believed that he was advocating political support for the PLP. The rest is, of course, history.
Recently that same Haitian president was a guest of honor at the 70th birthday bash for our own home-grown prime minister. During brief remarks, Michel Martelly, urged Perry Christie to create jobs for the millions of economically dispossessed Haitians. Christie did not bat an eye and promised to see what he could do.
Indigenous Bahamians are being relegated to the back of the bus when it comes to employment on the most mundane construction site, especially over at Bimini and down at Baha Mar. Unemployment rose by almost two percent but our politicians say that they are encouraged by the figures which show that more individuals are now actually seeking jobs. Mind you, it does not seem to have dawned on them that there are, in fact, no real jobs out there for them to seek.
We should not be surprised, however, when we consider that one of our erstwhile political figures, who has now, mercifully, been consigned to the dust bin, crowed that 49 percent was equal to 51 percent.
Just recently, the minister of national security boldly declared that $5 million was spent on the failed and badly executed so-called referendum on gambling. A few days later he was correcting that figure by saying that only $1.2 million was spent. Is it any wonder that our national debt and recurrent expenses are not known with any degree of certainty by anyone?
A social democracy is possible in The Bahamas, however. The problem with its implementation is that none of our current crop of politicians has any vision or plan for the same. Their archaic methods of governance and the way they wield power do not lend themselves to socially empowering individuals.
They will all die the death of a thousand cuts before we see the introduction of universal healthcare, economic incentives for ordinary Bahamians and access to a real Freedom of Information Act.
Here it is that we all know that we need to generate more revenue. We have the spectacle of the web shop industry raking in hundreds of millions of dollars, tax free, each year. Instead of the government (anyone of them) simply bringing legislation to Parliament to regulate and tax this industry, it talks stupidity about a value added tax regime.
Most of us are already taxed to the max yet the politicians are going to wring out the last red cent from our pockets or die trying. Why not introduce a sales tax? Why not introduce a flat income tax, across the board, of 10%?
Social Democracy is possible but until then, in all things, to God be the glory.
- Ortland H. Bodie Jr.
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) pointed out yesterday that murders have doubled since 2006, its last full year in office.
"While there is broad consensus among citizens and experts that violent crime has skyrocketed under this Free National Movement (FNM) government, there were recently some questions about the dramatic rise in murders," the party said in a statement.
"According to official Royal Bahamas Police Force numbers, there were 61 recorded murders during 2006. Official documents also confirm that 127 murders were recorded in 2011."
The PLP said the FNM has fundamentally failed to keep Bahamians safe. The party left office in May 2007. Seventy-eight murders were recorded that year, according to police statistics.
There were 74 murders in 2008; 87 in 2009; 94 in 2010 and 127 in 2011.
So far this year, 20 murders have been recorded.
"The prime minister has cared only about the politics of crime, not the victims of crime," the PLP said.
It accused the Ingraham administration of dismantling the Urban Renewal program, the Swift Justice initiative, Witness Protection, School Policing and Tourism Policing.
But the government has denied abandoning Urban Renewal, although it has reconfigured it.
Attorney General John Delaney also recently denied that the Witness Protection program has been dismantled. In fact, he said it has been improved upon.
The government also claims it has placed renewed focus on improving the administration of the judicial system, and has assigned police officers to work with school officials to help decrease violence in and around campuses.
According to police officials, patrols have been beefed up in key tourist areas to fight crime.
But the PLP said, "Having undone his predecessor's work, the prime minister apparently lost interest in the issue, moving on without providing meaningful or effective replacements for those programs."
The PLP also accused the prime minister of half-heartedly addressing the issue of crime "with derivative policies that don't go nearly far enough".
"It's much too little, much too late," the party said.
"Last summer, after a month in which there were more murders than in any other month during the nation's recorded history, the prime minister went on vacation.
"Opposition Leader Perry Christie worked with law enforcement experts, clergy, concerned citizens, and talented new generation candidates to create an innovative and comprehensive plan to fight crime, Project Safe Bahamas.
"The plan envisions upgraded versions of prior PLP success stories, like Urban Renewal, as well as Operation Cease Fire, a set of initiatives which include a focus on repeat offenders, saturation patrols in crime hot spots, increased surveillance of those out on bail, and a number of initiatives intended to reduce the presence of illegal weapons."
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.
Last week the Department of Statistics revealed that the unemployment rate in the country increased to 16.2 percent from 14 percent. This is the highest the jobless rate has been in a decade.
There are other concerning figures in the report. The unemployment rate on Grand Bahama jumped to 19.5 percent from 18 percent. Unemployment among young people (15 to 24) stands at 30.8 percent.
The Department of Statistics, however, said the unemployment rate is higher, in part, because of a 33 percent decline in the number of discouraged workers.
Despite the gloomy jobs report, Prime Minister Perry Christie is optimistic about the future. He foreshadowed yesterday that The Bahamas is on the cusp of a boost in employment, and said the ailing economy has "turned the corner".
Christie's comments came as the government signed an agreement for a $90 million expansion of Club Med resort in San Salvador.
"Today's event marks yet another major initiative and advance in my government's commitment to the Bahamian economy, to create sustainable jobs, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities," he said.
"There is more to come in further resort development now being planned as we implement initiatives to reduce the cost of electricity, modernize infrastructure, improve healthcare, social education and security services, expand agriculture and fisheries, create new industries and embrace emerging opportunities."
There are other positive economic signs to bolster Christie's claim. Genting has invested much in Bimini and is working on bringing people to that island. Sports tourism appears to be expanding, with the recent preseason visit of the Miami Heat and the announcement that NCAA football bowl games will be played in The Bahamas. The cruise ship business continues to grow.
While the Christie administration works on helping to create jobs through these large heads of agreements, it should be careful not to cause jobs to be lost and to stall investment through its wider tax policy.
The business community has become increasingly alarmed by the government's decision to introduce value added tax (VAT) next summer. The uncertainty over the proposed tax is slowing local investment. How can you expand your business with this new tax pending? How can you take on new staff with VAT looming?
Christie must be careful that his government's policies don't pull in opposing directions. VAT will increase the cost of living in The Bahamas. It will take money out of the pockets of consumers. Its purpose is to boost revenue to support the profligate spending of our government. Half a billion dollar deficits are unsustainable in such a small economy. The hole must be closed. But in closing the hole through tax increases a choice is being made to harm job growth.
The government has made some moves to reduce spending. Those efforts, though, need to be just as much a part of this deficit reduction discussion as tax increases.
Christie will have some tough decisions to make come budget time next year. We hope the minister of finance chooses a mixed bag of measures not overly leaning on massive tax hikes at a time when his greatest desire is to create jobs.
FREEPORT, Grand Bahama - State Minister of Finance Zhivargo Laing says he is not "delusional" about the uphill climb for the Grand Bahama economy.
The minister served as the opening speaker of this year's Grand Bahama Business Outlook at the Grand Lucayan Beach & Golf Resort. This year's event, he said, comes at a critical time. Laing believes it will be remembered as the turn of the tide for this struggling economy.
He told Guardian Business the island will begin to recover by the fourth quarter of this year, and by early 2013, the unemployment rate should fall below 20 percent.
"I'm not delusional," he said. "Grand Bahama's economy is significantly challenged. I think people do not realize for about 10 years this has been going on. That is the closest to a recession you can get.
"But I remain bullish on the future."
The minister began his speech by looking back over the last 10 years. In May 2002, he said, unemployment stood at 6.4 percent. By 2007 it had risen to 8.8 percent, caused by a lack of significant investment, the impact of hurricanes and in particular the closure of the Royal Oasis Resort.
Of course, next came the recession in 2008. The GBPA was also plagued with ownership and managerial issues at this time and there was limited promotion of the island.
Millions upon millions of dollars in government subsidies, he claimed, "stopped the island's economy from collapsing".
According to the latest numbers from the Department of Statistics, the unemployment rate on the island stands at more than 21 percent. Investment, both foreign and domestic, has remained stagnant and uninspiring.
After acknowledging the past, Laing announced to the crowd that the future holds a different story.
Continued government subsidies to the tune of $17.3 million this year, rising airlift from Bahamasair and "aggressive intentions" from the GBPA "will begin a renaissance of this island", he said.
Last week, Guardian Business reported that Bahamasair plans to inject at least $25 million into the Grand Bahama economy through significantly expanded airlift.
Through an initiative with the Ministry of Tourism, direct service from Baltimore, Raleigh, Louisville, Richmond and Fort Lauderdale will all begin in a matter of weeks.
Bahamasair is investing in new, more efficient planes for its fleet and will enlist a sub-service operator to assist with the service.
According to David Johnson, the director general in the Ministry of Tourism, airfare will be slashed 50 percent and travel time by 70 percent.
"I think we're going to gain serious momentum in the tourism sector as Bahamasair follows with this arrangement," Laing added. "I expect it will create results."
The minister said the "fullness" of the Job Readiness Programme should be felt a little later this year as spending works its way through the system. He told Guardian Business the intention is to improve the economic outlook and generate enthusiasm for those on the island.
Another concern for business interests in Grand Bahama is the future of the shipping industry.
Over recent months, Hutchison Port Holdings has laid off dozens of workers as Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), its sole client, continues to move operations over to Panama.
The booming South American nation has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in the region, offering high efficiency, low prices and convenience.
Hutchison Port Holdings owns a significant stake in the Grand Lucayan, which has also experienced major struggles in recent years.
Laing said that with light at the end of the tunnel, stakeholders in Grand Bahama will stay the course.
"The one thing I am confident about is those who made an investment here are interested in protecting it. They have the ability to be creative and innovative," he said. "The government is prepared to do what it can to provide support. I think GB is ready for the turn and things will get better."
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 ...