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Several religious leaders expressed concern yesterday about the high rate of births to unwed mothers, which has doubled since 1970, according to information in the Birth Report 1970-2010, compiled by the Department of Statistics.
"It is not a good thing to have this high rate of children born out of wedlock," said Bishop John Humes, national overseer of the Church of God.
According to the report, which details birth rates from 1970 to 2010, births to unwed mothers remain "the largest annual natural increase to the Bahamian population".
"Births to unwed mothers in The Bahamas escalated in the past 40 years, from 29 percent in 1970 to a high of 62 percent in 2009. For the period 1990 to 2005, the annual birth trend, though high, leveled at 57 percent," the report said.
"Four years later, births to single mothers advanced by five percentage points and declined to 59 percent of the national total in 2010."
While Bishop Humes said he is not happy about the high rate, it is an imperative of the church to offer support to those young mothers.
He also encouraged young people, especially women, to be more careful when dealing with men.
"We also try to encourage our young men to get married because it is a healthier relationship for children to be born in a home both parents are in," he said.
"That is the pattern that God designed for the preservation of mankind."
Former President of the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) Bishop Ros Davis said the country is reaping the effects of "what liberalization and modernization brings".
"We are seeing the effects all the time, every day," Davis said yesterday.
"Much of what we are experiencing now is the fringe of undisciplined lives, and so when a person thinks it's ok to ignore what teachers say and do exactly what he thinks, this is what happens."
Others like Bishop Victor Cooper Jr., vice president of the BCC agreed, saying it "speaks to people moving away from the traditional values of the church".
Cooper said it is incumbent upon the church to hold forums with people so as to expose them to the values that Christians prescribe to.
"We believe that the family is an ordained institution by God; so there is a prescribed way that children ought to come into the world, not in a single parent home, but with both parents present."
Department of Statistics is pleased to announce the release of its Births
Report for The Bahamas. This is
the first time the Department has produced in one volume an analyses of the
reproductive trends and patterns for the country over a forty year period.
1970, when the population of The Bahamas was about 170 thousand, women were
expected to have an average of four live born children throughout the
childbearing age. Four decades later, with a population more than doubled, the
number of children to women has decreased to two during their life time...
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.
An overview of the data collected by the Department of Statistics on births in The Bahamas over the last 40 years shows that women, domestic and foreign-born, are having fewer children.
The data in the births report, collated from 1970 through 2010, shows that with a population of about 170,000 in 1970, there were 4,894 live births recorded. Juxtapose those numbers against the 5,362 live births recorded among a population of more than 340,000 in 2010, and the downward shift is apparent.
The report also shows that the birth rate fell almost 50 percent, from 28.8 births per 1,000 persons to 15.8 births per 1,000 persons from 1970 through 2010.
The conclusion: Women between the ages of 15 and 49 were having an average of four children during the course of their lives in 1970. By 2010, women were only having an average of two children.
The data doesn't indicate why birth rates have dropped so dramatically, but a scrutiny of the numbers does uncover some interesting trends among particular groups of women.
Births by foreign women have dropped in the past four decades, from about 30 percent in 1970 to about 18 percent in 2010.
However, an unavoidable fact - as pointed out by The Nassau Guardian several days ago - is that the birth rate among Haitian women in The Bahamas has nearly doubled in the past 40 years.
"The number of births grew from 7.2 percent in 1970, to an average of 13.7 percent by 2010," the report noted. "In contrast, births to women of Jamaican ethnicity declined by some 50 percent. For females from countries outside the Caribbean, the numbers of births plunged, especially since 2008 to (nearly zero) from 12.1 in 1970."
The report also points out that births to unwed mothers have practically doubled since 1970, and remain "the largest annual natural increase to the Bahamian population".
"Births to unwed mothers in The Bahamas escalated in the past 40 years, from 29 percent in 1970 to a high of 62 percent in 2009. For the period 1990 to 2005, the annual birth trend, though high, leveled at 57 percent," the report said. "Four years later, births to single mothers advanced by five percentage points and declined to 59 percent of the national total in 2010."
Meantime, the birth rate among teenage mothers (ages 10-19) has dropped significantly.
In 1970 the birth rate in this group was 32.4 per 1,000 women. The birth rate in that group now stands at 17.6 per 1,000 women.
"When compared to the annual national totals the proportion of births to teen mothers fluctuated, reaching a high of 21.7 percent in 1980, to a low of 9.7 percent in 2005," said the report.
"During the last two years, the percentage of births to females under the age of 20 dropped to single digits, indicating some degree of stability in terms of the annual number of births to this group of females."
Females ages 15-19 had a birth rate of 40.9 in 2010, compared to 38.9 in 1970.
Women ages 20-24 had the highest birthrate in 1970, with a little over 100 births per 1,000 women. Now that group has a birth rate of 96.7 per 1,000 women and has been eclipsed by women ages 25-29, with a birth rate of 106.3 per 1,000 women.
Women ages 30-34 had a birth rate of 91.7 in 2010, compared to 54.2 in 1970.
Some women are also having children at an older age. Women ages 35-39 had a birth rate of 49 in 2010, compared to 40.8 in 1970.
However, women ages 40-44 had a birth rate of 13 in 2010, compared to 16.7 in 1970.
Women ages 45-49 were having two children per 1,000 persons 40 years ago, and that rate has now fallen to one child among that age group.
As was the case 40 years ago, most children are still born in New Providence.
"In 1970, 63.3 percent of the nation's children were born in Nassau. Between 1970 and 1980, births in New Providence grew by more than seven percentage points, and about 11 percent by 1990. Thereafter, the proportion of births remained in the low 80 percent range, peaking at 83.9 percent in 2008," the report found.
"Over the past four decades, the proportion of births which occurred in Grand Bahama decreased by more than four percentage points; from 20.5 to 16 in 2010.
"Forty years ago, the Family Islands accounted for 16 percent of births in the country. By 2010, these island communities experienced a significant loss of birth occurrences, from 794 births during 1970, to a record low of 17 births in 2010."
The number of boys and girls born in The Bahamas has consistently remained almost equal for the past 40 years, with the majority number fluctuating slightly between the genders.
Most babies are still being born in August and September, although many children are also born during the months between October and January.
But for all the babies being born, there are still many who don't make it out of their mothers' wombs alive - though that number is decreasing.
In 1970 there were 105 stillborn children in the country. By 2010 that number decreased to 61.
Expressed as a rate, it would mean that in 1970, for every 1,000 live births there were 21.5 stillborn children.
In 2010, for every 1,000 babies born alive, 12.1 died in utero.
Ed. Note: This information can be viewed on the Department of Statistics website at http://statistics.bahamas.gov.bs
Shaun Munnings is just 49 years old, but she's already had the photographs taken that she wants to be used for her obituary. After being diagnosed with lupus two years ago, she took the photographs because she says she knows that tomorrow is not promised to her.
"People get upset when I talk about death, but I tell them I'm not promised tomorrow, and with lupus, I could die this afternoon from the complications -- that's just how it is."
Munnings has suffered through misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis in her life, going as far back as her childhood when she said would indiscriminately break out in sores and swell up and would be treated for allergies. In her adult years, the trend pretty much continued -- misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis -- from spinal arthritis to one doctor telling her she needed to have surgery. And don't even think about the many different types of medications she's been prescribed over the years. When her mother died in 2007 it all came to a head.
"Everything pretty much went out of control because I was stressed out about my mother's death and grieving. I lost a lot of weight. I had rashes. I had sores in my mouth, and I was extremely tired...not the 'oh, I had a hard day' kind of tired; it was like, 'I can't move my body'. It was like my brain was telling my limbs to move, but it just wasn't working," said Munnings.
As in the past, she sought medical help.
"When the doctor asked me what part of me did I not feel pain, I said my eyelashes and my hair. Just to move to try to shift my body to get into a comfortable position, that was pure pain. Having the sheets touch me was pure pain. My body felt like it was on fire. I got to the point where I could not move and I was having pains in my chest like I was having a heart attack," she said. "I knew it wasn't a stroke because I felt the pain." Through it all she said the fatigue was extreme. "I was so tired that sometimes I would have to lift my legs to get into the tub and on a few occasions would end up being stuck in the tub because I could not get back out. My body wouldn't work for me to lift it over the tub."
After seeing too many doctors to count, Munnings finally found a medic who noticed the rash on her face and told her it looked like the malar rash also called the butterfly rash. It meant that Munnings could have lupus. After a battery of tests, Munnings was finally diagnosed in the latter part of 2011.
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body's immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. It can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms often mimic those of other ailments. The most distinctive sign of lupus is the facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks. Some people are born with a tendency toward developing lupus, which could be triggered by infections, certain drugs or even sunlight. While there's no cure for lupus, treatments can help control symptoms. It's important to remember that no two cases are exactly alike.
Munnings said she felt relieved at finally being diagnosed correctly, especially after the frustration she felt when she knew something was wrong with her, but people kept telling her that it was all in her mind.
"I know lupus can be difficult to diagnose, but when you know something is wrong and people are telling you it's all in your mind, it can get frustrating," she said.
Having lupus she said also made her realize just how strong she is and what she can deal with. That's why she said she had the strength to have the pictures taken that she wants to use for her obituary. As for plans, that's the only one she says she can make, as she does not know how she will feel each hour or each day, so she makes no other plans.
"I can't plan ahead. If you want to invite me somewhere I can't tell you, 'yes I will be there', or 'I will not be there'. When I first started the medication after I was diagnosed, a week later I was like, 'yes, I'm back'. I'm a person who is used to doing things for myself...I like to work in my yard, and if anything needs to be fixed I'm going to try it myself, and if I can't do it then I call someone else. The medication was working very well for me and I felt like the old me, so I started cleaning the house from top to bottom. Cleaned the swimming pool, went swimming. Later on that night, I could not move. I [lay] in the bed and I cried. I called the doctor who said that I needed to remember that the woman I was, was gone."
It was after that that she realized she had to take each second and each hour at a time.
"Yes someone could walk outside and get struck by a bus, and their life is over. But with us, it's like, 'do I have the next second, do I have the next minute, do I have the next five minutes'."
She has a handicapped sticker for her car that allows her to park in handicapped parking spaces. When she started feeling good again, she removed it from the window of her car; the doctor told her to leave it up, because she may walk into a store but might not be able to leave without someone carrying her out.
"I just take one day at a time, and through prayer all things are possible," she said. "Right now I'm feeling good, but about two weeks ago I was like, 'Oh, Lord I'm ready to meet you'. When I first started out, I told the doctor...you know what it is for a person who knows that she serves a happy God to be praying to him -- the God of life -- to die."
The mother of a 23-year-old son said that while she may only have been diagnosed in the last two years, when doctors went back through her medical history, they noticed that she showed lupus traits during her pregnancy, going as far back as her childhood sickliness that left everyone wondering what was wrong with her.
Munnings, who works in accounting, said her employer has been understanding of her struggles over the years and has worked with her. When she can't get into the office, they allow her to call in from home.
Even though she has insurance through work, she says lupus has also hit her hard in the pockets. She has to spend at least $600 per month out of pocket for medications and doctor's visits.
Munnings who is a member of Lupus Bahamas 242 also credits the group with helping her to get through.
"What people don't realize is that while we try to keep ourselves on a happy note, we still have the reality of lupus looming over us. I love the members of the group because you realize even though lupus treats everyone differently, at some point we've all gone through the same thing. So it's like, 'How did you go through this', and it's truly a support group, because you can go there feeling in pain, but when you leave, you still have the pain, but you're laughing."
The month of May is recognized around the world as Lupus Awareness Month, and Nassau-based support group Lupus 242 is leading the way in the education about the debilitating disease that affects an estimated 5.5 million people globally. There are no real statistics on the number of people in The Bahamas with lupus. Lupus 242 to date has 50 active members.
FREEPORT, Grand Bahama - The government would have spent $17 million by the end of the summer to keep the Treasure Bay Casino at Our Lucaya open, and has pumped millions of dollars into the island's struggling economy in direct support, thereby saving thousands of jobs, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said Saturday night.
"Without the support of the government in 2010 after the Great Recession took hold, Grand Bahama's tourism would have collapsed," said Ingraham at the opening of the Free National Movement's (FNM) Marco City constituency office.
"Many of you used to go to Miami or Florida on Discovery Cruise Lines [and] that cost us (government) nearly $8 million," Ingraham told supporters.
"We supported the Norwegian Cruise ship which made 48 calls here [with] 120,000 passengers; we paid half a million dollars for that.
"We gave some of the support to Carnival, to Delta, to U.S. Air, WestJet out of Canada and more recently Vision Airlines. [We gave] more than $4 million for direct marketing support for the Grand Lucaya hotel."
Ingraham said this support gave hundreds of businesses in Grand Bahama the ability to survive.
Unemployment on the island stands at 21.2 percent, according to the Department of Statistics' latest labor force and household income survey released earlier this month.
The survey, which was conducted in November 2011, also showed that jobless people who are no longer looking for work (discouraged workers) jumped 42 percent.
Ingraham said strong economic and financial headwinds worked against the country and the government during this current term.
However, he said things would be worse under the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
"Like the rest of the world, our economy faltered, the great economic recession, the worst in more than 80 years, made the bad state the PLP left you in worse," he said.
"I'm not happy about our results, but I did the best I could, and anybody who thinks somebody else could do better - vote for them. But I assure you, if you think this is the frying pan, that's the fire."
New airlift initiative
Ingraham said Bahamasair will acquire another jet and take over the service now being provided by Vision Airlines to Grand Bahama.
This will mean that a 160-seat Boeing 737-400 Jet aircraft will have the capacity to deliver 6,600 seats monthly to Grand Bahama and when combined with the seats Bahamasair now has coming out of Fort Lauderdale, it will be 8,800 seats per month delivered to Grand Bahama - nearly 100,000 seats a year coming to Grand Bahama, he said.
This service will reduce travel time from cities like Baltimore, Maryland; Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia and Louisville, Kentucky, Ingraham said.
He added, ticket costs will be reduced from $600 round trip to $300 round trip.
"We expect that the Grand Lucaya and Grand Bahama Airport Company will view this initiative as a life saver for both the airport and the hotel," the prime minister said.
"We also expect that this effort could result in the opening of the Reef Resort by next winter, resulting in the creation of hundreds of jobs directly and spinoff jobs indirectly for you here in Grand Bahama. We are taking steps to take advantage of the continued turnaround in the world economy."
Saying he was talking to Grand Bahamians straight, Ingraham said, "Papa knows that you have been catching hell for almost 10 years now. The PLP left you catching hell - they didn't meet you catching hell. But when they left, they left you catching hell. And they spent their five years in office promising, but doing nothing for you in Grand Bahama."
Ingraham also said, "The first challenge we have for Grand Bahama is to get you back to where we left you in 2002, before you dabbled with and touched Perry Christie and the PLP and got your hands burnt.
"We did it before. We are going to do it again. Once bitten, twice shy. You had them - once with them is more than enough. We know exactly who they are. We know what they represent. We know what they will do."
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.
Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Perry Christie last night accused the Free National Movement (FNM) of 'attacking' his party's candidates.
Christie said the FNM is in so much trouble as a government it is taking the low road in its campaign.
Speaking at the official opening of the PLP's Golden Isles constituency office, Christie said the FNM is "attacking PLP candidates of such impeccable integrity and character that you almost can't believe they'd be so vicious and so stupid".
He told supporters the country can not afford to have an election based on such attacks.
"The real challenges facing our country are too serious," he said. "So every time they invent some new charge, or recycle some tired, old already-discredited allegation, every time they do this, we'll show you how baseless and ridiculous they are, and then we'll go right back to telling you about the PLP's innovative plans to fight crime and create jobs."
Christie pledged: "They'll take the low road, and we'll take the high road because the low road doesn't take us where we need to go. The low road is not the way to a safer and more prosperous nation."
The PLP leader did not specifically name which candidates are being 'attacked', but his comment came on the same day that Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell accused Leader of Government Business in the Senate Dion Foulkes of 'carrying things too far' on Wednesday when he tabled a 2007 United States Embassy cable in which a senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official alleges Mitchell was involved in a visa scam while he served as minister.
Mitchell has sued the official - Dorothea Lafleur - and has told Foulkes in a public statement he takes what has been done personally. He was referring to the tabling of the document.
The former minister also told Foulkes: "This blood libel by you has now set enmity between me and your house."
Christie previously said Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has attacked another PLP candidate - Dr. Perry Gomez, the AIDS program director who is running in North Andros and the Berry Islands.
Ingraham suggested last weekend that Gomez does not have a true commitment to the people of that constituency, but is only entering politics because he is facing mandatory retirement from the government health services sector.
Christie said last night that Bahamians are focused on fighting crime, creating jobs, and investing in people.
"The PLP is focused on fighting crime, creating jobs, and investing in people," he said.
Christie said the FNM does not want to talk about fighting crime or the economy.
"Why would they, when they made the recession so much worse in The Bahamas, with higher taxes, contracts for foreigners instead of Bahamians, and their failure to control energy costs?" he said.
He said all the FNM government has left is the national stadium and the Lynden Pindling International Airport project, which were initiated under his administration.
Christie claimed that when the PLP left office The Bahamas was a regional leader in employment. "After the FNM, The Bahamas is at the bottom, among the worst-performing economies in the region," he said.
Last week, the Department of Statistics released the results of a November 2011 labor force survey, which revealed the unemployment rate jumped from 13.7 to 15.9 percent nationally, the highest in more than a decade.
The data painted a grim picture for Grand Bahama which saw unemployment figures rise from 15.4 percent in May 2011 to 21.2 percent in November 2011.
Christie said that with PLP Golden Isles candidate Michael Halkitis on his team, "we will lead the way forward".
"We see the problems, but we also see the potential," he said. "We know we can create a booming economy here once again, with innovative ideas and a committed team of experts."
Halkitis served as parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Finance during the Christie administration. He lost in his 2007 re-election bid to the FNM's Charles Maynard.
The PLP's Golden Isles constituency office is located on the corner of Carmichael Road and Bacardi Road.
Our financial services sector is believed to be the number two industry in The Bahamas after tourism, accounting officially for 15 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP).
In recent times the sector has come under significant pressure due in part to the global financial meltdown, the high debt-to-GDP ratio in many countries and the need for resources to fund social safety nets promised many years ago as populations age.
Just recently the Department of Statistics released its newest survey of the economy. While it was a commendable effort, it fell short in analysis as it relates to the various sectors of the economy - i.e., tourism, financial, construction, etc. Having said that, and based on our internal analysis, we are of the opinion that our financial sector has contracted by as much as seven percent over the last three years.
This is of great concern to us because it has broader social implications for policymakers, regulators and the economy at large. Overall, the department's statistics confirm our internal forecast and in some instances understate what we believe to be the true unemployment rate in many quarters.
The Bahamas cannot afford to sit back and wait for the international markets to turn around and hope that we continue to be the beneficiary of global economic advancement. Even if we are the beneficiary of a global economic turn around, which we coincidently don't expect for another three years, our economy is different today and will be different in three years and as such we must chart our own course in this new global environment. We should anticipate and plan accordingly.
There have been attempts to promote the financial services sector with a number of pieces of financial legislation enacted in the last few years. In our opinion it is not enough. The rules of engagement have changed and now require participants other than the government to act. We need the private sector to lead the charge with the support and blessing of the government. If this does not happen we are afraid we will continue to see a deterioration of the financial sector in the foreseeable future.
We believe the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) in recent times appears to have a real handle on what's going on in the financial services sector with the list of new initiatives and committees enacted with new faces, which we may add bring a new sense of commitment and focus. From the outset, the BFSB was structured with term limits to ensure that new faces are brought to the forefront and given a chance to contribute. The BFSB by itself, however, cannot move the industry forward.
We opined many years ago that the financial services sector can contribute much more (in terms of its contribution to GDP) and we still maintain this position notwithstanding the recent attack on our jurisdiction and the enactment of many new pieces of financial legislation.
What is required is a road map designed and developed with the government, private sector and the regulatory regime which speaks to what 'Financial Services Sector', subsidiary of Bahamas Inc., will look like in 10 years. What resources will be required to facilitate this? What macro-economic and fiscal policies, if any, would have to be realigned to support the plan? We believe that once a non-partisan long-term flexible business plan is created for the sector and the necessary funding allocated, with buy-in by regulators and the private sector, we can re-position our financial services sector for long-term growth into the 21st century.
One of the sad commentaries on our system we believe is that we only seem to have confidence in a few individuals. You see the same people on all the advisory boards. This makes it questionable whether there is a natural flow of new ideas and vision. It is imperative that we tap in to the best talent we can find irrespective of their social, political or economic standing in our community.
There are too many examples where advisory boards consist of fine Bahamian citizens, but who unfortunately lack the ability to add value to the specific area of the board's mandate. We need a good cross section of both local and international persons on our most critical advisory boards that have the requisite skills and experience to add value. It is time for us to make the bold decisions which will enable us to position The Bahamas' financial services sector as a credible and growing part of our economy.
As we approach an election perhaps the leaders will take note and design the necessary team of skill sets from among the brightest Bahamians.
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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 ...