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Cecile Williams-Bethel's unexpected job loss and failed business venture presented her with an opportunity to take her talents to higher heights.
Williams-Bethel confirmed to Guardian Business in this week's edition of Da Plunge that it was through a failed business venture that occurred more than a decade ago that she was inspired to start The Balloon People.
"In 2001, while employed at the National Insurance Board (NIB), I started taking an interest in producing cookie bouquets. However, I was challenged with finding ways to keep the cookies on the stick in this weather," according to Williams-Bethel.
"In fact, one of the things that I wanted to do with the cookie bouquets was to have a balloon bouquet emanating out of the cookie bouquet. That's when I became interested in balloons."
In October 2001, Williams-Bethel attended her first international balloon artist convention, sparking her interest about what could be done with balloons.
Focused on her full-time job, Williams-Bethel admitted that her balloon wasn't a priority and operations were
limited to evenings and weekends.
"My interest in balloons grew from there. Over the years, I developed a clientele. I continued to attend various conventions in my spare time to build on where I was," she said.
"I wanted to exceed people's expectations, so rather than just doing an individual inflation which persons are very accustomed to, I wanted to go beyond what people would normally see."
Then in June 2009, Williams-Bethel lost her job, and it was at that point, she shared with Guardian Business, she decided to take "Da Plunge".
"Initially I wondered if I would be able to make a living from it. I went to a summer balloon camp and learned some additional stuff," she added.
"For the first year, I tried it out as a full-time home-based business. After that, I recognized that I needed to venture out further, while I maintained my clientele, I wanted to expand my client base if I was going to be able to support myself."
Williams-Bethel opened a retail store in the Clarawill Plaza located on Carmichael Road in November 2010, learning firsthand the intricacies and challenges that are associated with having a full-fledged brick and mortar business.
"It has been challenging. In my line of business, people look at balloons and expect it to be cheap. It's a concept that has to change. When you shop with me, you come to me for my creativity. I am constantly honing my craft. It's been challenging when you consider the present economic climate," she explained.
"They say you get 80 percent of your business from 20 percent of your clients and I have recognized that. But that doesn't stop me from reaching out to see how many additional persons that I can attract to my business."
She further revealed that in addition to balloon décor, the store offers party supplies, with a special emphasis on the children's party line.
"It's been a ride but it's one that I have been enjoying so far. I love those clients that give me free reign to be as creative as possible. It gives me opportunity to go wild and be as creative as I would want to be. I just love it when creativity has no bounds," Williams-Bethel noted.
Williams-Bethel said $20,000 was spent to get the business up and running and it now has one full-time employee.
Next on the agenda for The Balloon People is the opening of an online kids' party store.
"That's what we are working on right now. Our website is presently under construction. We want Bahamians to get to the point where they recognize that you don't have to physically go into the party store, when you can order it online, pay for it and have it delivered," she noted.
The countdown is on to 2012 and of course there are fabulous events being held island-wide where you can party away 2011 and ring in the New Year, and The Nassau Guardian has the entire scene covered for you -- from the hottest party in the east to the wildest and most glamorous affairs in the west.
Mario's Bowling and Family Entertainment Palace
It's being billed as two levels and two parties all at one venue, at Mario's Bowling and Family Entertainment Palace in the Summer Winds Plaza on the Tonique Williams-Darling Highway.
With a $5,000 balloon drop, scheduled for 1:12 a.m., (to ensure that people have time to make it out after church to collect their change) Leslia Miller says their Masquerade Party is one not to be missed.
With two levels, two parties, one venue, in the Heineken Platinum green lounge cake and champagne will be circulated all night. Every twelfth person will also receive a New Year's gift bag filled with goodies until the clock strikes midnight. And anyone attired in green will gain admission into the Heineken lounge for half price
The second lounge will be the Countdown VIP Dance Floor, where the balloon drop will take place.
Besides the money, Miller says Mario's will have the hottest deejays, drink specials and fireworks.
Doors open at 10:30 p.m. until 6 a.m.
Compass Point Beach Resort
Anastacia Kemp says the Compass Point Beach Resort New Year's affair will definitely appeal to people who want to relax to bring in 2012.
"You don't have to be over-dressed so you can feel relaxed," says the front desk manager. For $185 per person, you get a four-course served meal and access to an open bar. The event which starts at 8 a.m. and runs through to 12 midnight, will feature a deejay, live band, Junkanoo rushout and fireworks.
Hammerhead's Bar and Grill
Hammerhead's Bar and Grill on East Bay Street invite you to dive into 2012 at their establishment with a party that party kicks of at 9 p.m. with $2 shots and $4 drink specials. With bottle service all night, and music by Nassau's hottest deejay, they say it's the spot to be.
SuperClubs Breezes will host a New Year's Eve Gala at the resort on Cable Beach from 6 p.m. until you say when. In the main dining room you have a raw bar with iced cocktail shrimp and Caribbean claws, a soup station with four soups, a salad bar which allows you to mix it up as you like it, their famous trio station, their taste of the world station, a Caribbean-style ratatouille station, and an unforgettable sumptuous dessert station.
The Marley Resort on Cable Beach hosts a New Year's Eve cocktail party on Saturday, December 31 from 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. A live band plays for your enjoyment. The $75 cover charge includes appetizers, party favors and a free glass of champagne at midnight.
Crime and the economy have been persistent problems in The Bahamas for the past few years. There have been murder records four of the last five years and the unemployment rate is nearly 15 percent. As we approach the New Year, these issues appear likely to be the two dominant problems facing the administration in 2013.
Last week Moody's downgraded the country's credit rating from A3 to Baa1, citing weak revenue prospects in the face of ballooning debt over the past five years, in addition to the current administration's continued spending.
"It reminds us why we must continue to be very, very proactive in direct foreign investment; why we must continue to look for opportunities to control costs; why people who represent workers and have to deal with the government must be mindful of the condition of the economy of our country, and why we must recognize that we are in this together and we must get out of it together," Prime Minister Perry Christie said last week discussing the issue.
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) campaigned on being better able to handle the economy than the Free National Movement (FNM). It is easy to criticize when in opposition. Now in the seat of power, 2013 will be the PLP's first full year of governance. Next year this time no one will accept the excuse that the cause of the problem is the FNM. Thousands of Bahamians who are unemployed will be looking to the PLP to help create opportunities for them. The party must deliver.
While overall crime was down six percent up to November 8, crimes against the person, or violent crime, rose five percent. This was led by an increase of 18 percent in armed robberies. While it is unlikely that there will be another murder record in 2012, the murder count is above 100 and will end the year not far from the 2011 record of 127 murders.
Former Minister of National Security Tommy Turnquest has said the high incidence of armed robberies could be traced to crime rings and prolific offenders who are on the streets.
"It's a result of these criminal enterprises," he said. "The same groups that we've always been talking about. Until we get them under control and locked away we're going to continue to have that problem."
Despite numerous efforts, the last FNM administration was unable to significantly push back against the crime problem. The PLP has not found the solution yet either. Its defense is it is still early in its term. This, however, won't be a reasonable defense much longer.
The FNM certainly lost votes in the 2012 general election because it had no success to present to the people after five years in office regarding crime. While the PLP is still basking in the pleasure of winning two elections, next year this time it will solely own the crime problem in this country if it persists. There will be no Tommy Turnquest to beat up on.
The governing party's honeymoon period is coming to an end.
Hubert Ingraham and the Free National Movement (FNM) have tried desperately to make this political campaign a referendum on his leadership. They have attempted to compare his leadership record and style to that of Perry Christie's. All things being equal it may have worked; apparently it did work in 2007. We now have a track record of both leaders taking political office after a recession.
Firstly, any credible leader would leave his country better off than he met it. Can Bahamians honestly declare that they are better off in 2012 than they were in 2007? I think that most reasonable people will concede that Christie left The Bahamas in better condition in 2007 than he met in 2002. Better condition refers to the quality of life of Bahamians. Let us examine some of the indices that underpin quality of life and form the basis for Ingraham's hubris.
Here is what the prime minister promised in an earlier Speech from the Throne: "My government will restore fiscal discipline to the public finances of the country, and will ensure that value is obtained for public expenditure and public business."
Time has proven that Hubert Ingraham cannot credibly lecture anyone on his leadership merits when it comes to fiscal discipline. When he returned to office in 2007, Hubert Ingraham met the national debt at $2.9 billion. It has now ballooned to $4.6 billion and by the end of this fiscal year the national debt is expected to be in the area of $5 billion. That is a net increase of some $2.1 billion in just five years. What kind of leader would make such a promise and then explode the national debt by over $2 billion in just five years?
One of the most important indicators of a nation's quality of life is the safety of its citizens. Can Bahamians truthfully claim that crime and the fear of crime are less now than they were in 2007? How can you boast of your leadership prowess after having presided over the most murderous and violent era in the history of The Bahamas?
Over 457 murders over a period of less than five years! Additionally, every other category of violent crime increased during this glorious leadership reign. A true leader would have taken measures necessary to reduce the incidents of violent crime and the fear of crime. Hubert Ingraham and the FNM have not demonstrated the kind of leadership needed in mobilizing and uniting communities in the fight against violence and criminal behavior.
Other areas where Hubert Ingraham's leadership has failed miserably are education and immigration control. These are issues vital to the quality of life of Bahamians. The FNM under Hubert Ingraham's leadership has failed to improve the education system institutionally, structurally or systemically and his leadership has failed to adequately prepare Bahamian students for the world after school. This is a terrible indictment on leadership.
Moreover, Bahamians feel that because of the immigration policies implemented by the FNM they have very little stake in the ownership of the county's economy, nor are they permitted to compete fairly in their own country. The immigration policies seem to curry favor foreign labor and foreign investors. This state of affairs does not bode well for the stability of the society.
Most failed leaders look to something or someone to blame for their failure. The global recession has been a convenient whipping dog for Hubert Ingraham and the FNM. However, Hubert Ingraham once pronounced that any leader worth his salt would anticipate a future recession and take corrective measures to mitigate the impact of that recession. Here is what he had to say in one of his earlier budget communications: "Furthermore, these budgetary problems were allowed to develop at a time when a prudent government would have recognized that cautionary measures should have been in place to meet any likelihood of a major recession in the U.S. economy, and to cushion the resultant impact on our tourism-driven economy."
How prudent was Ingraham's government? He went on to indict the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government by pronouncing: "It cannot be said that those who were responsible for managing the economy did not know hard times were coming, they just chose to ignore all the indicators."
Surely in 2007/2008, Ingraham knew a recession and resulting hard times were approaching? All fiscal and economic indicators pointed to it. Judging by his reckless response to, and the irresponsible choices made during, the recession Ingraham appeared to have been caught off guard by the recession. So much for leadership!
Leadership in government is about building and strengthening institutions that enhance democracy and improve the quality of life for citizens. Leadership in government is about inspiring people to achieve their dreams and ambitions. It is about building national consensus and compromise. Leadership is about mobilizing and consolidating the resources and talents of citizens toward national development. Leadership is not about demagoguery; it is not about power, intimidation and bullying.
So if I were the PLP or Democratic National Alliance, I would welcome a campaign based on leadership. I would put Ingraham's record, all of it, against the acid test of true leadership. I would seek to determine whether his five years of leadership improved the quality of life of Bahamians. I would simply ask if Bahamians were better off in 2012 than they were in 2007 - a simple and measurable reality - and let the people decide.
- Eric Gardner
Prior to 1999, Renee Dean had never even heard of the word lupus -- she did not even know that there was such a disease. So the day she visited the doctor because she was feeling under the weather, she thought she was suffering with the flu. That doctor prescribed medication that did not seem to improve her situation. Finally, frustrated with the fine bumps on her back that kept itching and from which she could get no relief, she went to see a skin doctor. After a battery of blood tests, she was told she had lupus. It was the first time Dean had ever heard the word and found out that it was a disease.
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 may be triggered by infections, certain drugs or even sunlight. While there's no cure for lupus, treatments can help control symptoms.
Shortly after Dean's diagnosis in early 2000, she was hospitalized for the first time for approximately nine days. To this day she says she can't recall exactly what happened. She says she only knows what people have told her, and that it has not been good at all.
"It was like I was out of my mind or something, so I think they had me heavily sedated," said Dean.
The last time she was hospitalized for a flare-up was in 2008 as she suffered with severe leg pain.
No two cases of lupus are exactly alike. Signs and symptoms may come on suddenly or develop slowly. They may be mild or severe and may be temporary or permanent. Most people with lupus have mild disease, characterized by episodes called flares, when signs and symptoms get worse for a while, then improve or even disappear completely for a time.
Dean says she is currently in remission. She has not had a flare since her 2008 episode.
The one downside to her lupus diagnosis was that she was told not to get pregnant because of the risk -- she could either lose her life or her child. Dean does not have any children. With the world recently celebrating Mother's Day, being childless is something she says she has accepted. And she says having lupus isn't the only reason she is not a mother.
"I've always said I don't want to have children unless I'm married ... and I'm not married, so it doesn't affect me a whole lot -- not now," said the 42-year-old.
Signs and symptoms of lupus depend on the body symptoms affected by the disease. Symptoms include fatigue and fever; joint pain, stiffness and swelling; butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose; skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure; fingers and toes that run white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods; shortness of breath; chest pain; dry eyes; headaches; confusion or memory loss.
"The flare-ups happen whenever they happen," she said. "You can look at someone today and say nothing's wrong with them and the next day you can see them totally different [and] in a lot of pain."
Dean who is naturally slim and who normally tips the scale at around 135 pounds said she lost weight during her flare. The needle on the scale dipped below 100 pounds.
"For me to wear my clothes I would have to wear like four pants to keep the main pants up," she said.
For the past 14 years, Dean has been taking five different medications -- some she takes once a day, others she takes twice daily in her fight against the disease. While she's comes to terms with lupus, the one thing she says she's certain of, it's that she is sick and tired of taking all the medication that she does.
"It's tiresome," she said. "Some days if I miss when I'm supposed to take it (medication) I don't worry about it, I take it the next day."
As she looks to her future her hope is that one day a cure is found or that one day she goes to the doctor and is told that her lupus is "all gone".
And Dean says it's her trust in God that has helped bring her through the last 13 years living with lupus.
"Even when they told me [I had lupus] I was calm straight through because I said I can't change the situation there's nothing I could do about it, so I just accepted it and trust and believe in God. I have had great support from family and coworkers and that too has helped me," she said.
During the month of May Bahamians will join millions around the world to raise awareness for lupus. Nassau-based support group, Lupus 242, is leading the way with events planned to educate locals about the debilitating disease affecting many people living in The Bahamas.
An estimated 5.5 million persons globally live with the chronic autoimmune disease brought on by genetics, environment and hormonal imbalances in the body. There are no real statistics on the number of persons in The Bahamas with lupus. In addition to raising awareness, Lupus 242 is working to establish a local database of lupus patients.
"May is Lupus Awareness Month and we are appealing to the general public and to corporate Bahamas to support our events and activities," said Shanelle Brennen, Lupus 242 president and a lupus fighter for more than 20 years. "It's amazing the amount of Bahamians who are suffering in silence. We want to provide them with much needed support through events and through our monthly meetings. Lupus is not an easy illness to live with, but there is hope," she said.
Since Lupus 242 launched in April 2012, persons throughout The Bahamas have reached out to share their stories on how lupus has impacted their lives. In addition to the events, the group is also releasing a public service announcement entitled "But You Don't Look Sick" and will be selling wristbands and bumper stickers to the general public.
Dean is appreciative of the Lupus 242 group -- a group that she says has interesting and informative meetings.
"The have different health persons come in and talk to us. And just to know different people that have lupus is good. Since I've been with Lupus 242 I haven't been sick, but it's a good support," said Dean.
LUPUS 242 CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Monday, May 20
9:30 a.m. - Hope Floats Balloon Release ceremony in honor of lives lost to lupus at the top of Fort Charlotte.
Sunday, May 26
3 p.m. - A Purple Hat Tea Party Affair at St. Matthew's Parish Hall.
Much has been written in the press recently on the need for a new tax system in The Bahamas. Value added tax, or VAT, has emerged as the frontrunner to supplement or completely replace our system of customs duties.
In this first of a two-part article, we will examine why we need to change our tax regime in the first place, give an example of how VAT taxes work in practice and describe the basic structures that will be needed by both the government and private sector to make VAT work.
Next week we will highlight Barbados' experience in moving to a VAT system in the late-1990s and continue with a discussion of the challenges and opportunities of moving to a similar system here in The Bahamas.
Finally, we will review other tax methods that can potentially raise government revenues and increase competitiveness for a key segment of our economy, financial services.
So why all the fuss over taxes? Quite simply, our government's spending is outpacing our tax revenue by a greater and greater amount, especially since the recession of 2008. In other words, we have been running increasingly large government deficits and borrowing the difference. According to the Central Bank, our deficit has increased from $182m in fiscal year 2006/2007, hitting $361m in 2008/2009 and is now estimated to be over $550m for 2012/2013.
As former Central Bank governor and Minister of State for Finance James Smith remarked in a recent article, this revenue gap now appears "structural" in nature, meaning it will not correct itself on its own through normal reduced spending or increased collection of the existing taxes on the books.
What ultimately is needed is a concerted effort to either cut public spending, raise more revenue or some combination of the two. Both Moody's and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have warned that our growing financial deficit at approximately 4.7 percent of GDP is unsustainable. Central Bank statistics show that government debt has ballooned from $3 billion in 2007, or about 31 percent of GDP, to over $4.3 billion in 2011, or 53 percent of GDP.
Studies have shown that as debt approaches 60 percent of GDP, the need to service that debt and pay the interest begins to slow the growth rate of the economy. With official unemployment at almost 16 percent and over 40,000 people unemployed, the last thing The Bahamas needs is to have its already anemic growth rate slow even further.
So what is wrong with our current tax system based on customs duties? Most obviously, it is not providing the government with the revenue it needs to support current expenditure (of course, this could also be framed as a government spending problem - more on this next week). According to the CIA World Factbook, The Bahamas ranks 167th out of 210 countries in terms of tax revenues paid to the government as a percentage of GDP.
Our government takes in about 19 percent in taxes versus the global average of 29 percent. By comparison, Jamaica takes 27 percent, Barbados 28 percent, Trinidad & Tobago 34 percent, Canada 39 percent, Brazil 40 percent and most of Europe between 40 percent and 60 percent. The United States, with the largest economy in the world, takes a tax haul of 15 percent of GDP, highlighting the "fiscal space" it still has to address in contrast to Europe which is looking increasingly "maxed out". It is clear that we are lightly-taxed in this country by global standards.
Secondly, by putting most of the tax burden on imports, our tax base is fairly narrow and completely leaves out our dominant service-based economy. It also requires merchants to pay their taxes upfront, prior to making the final sale to consumers, thereby tying up capital unnecessarily.
Therefore, if we can broaden the tax base we can tax everyone at a lower rate and still provide the government with the revenue it needs to help balance the books and even start paying down its debt.
A final reason for changing our tax system is the fact that The Bahamas has entered into a number of international trade agreements, including the Economic Partnership Agreement, or EPA, with Europe. Moreover, the current administration continues to work towards full membership for The Bahamas in the World Trade Organization, or WTO. Our high rates of duties will most likely be viewed as a barrier to trade by these bodies, forcing us to either reduce them or eliminate those tariffs completely. So the clock is already ticking - The Bahamas' EPA obligations with Europe require us to reduce tariffs on EU imports by 2014.
What is VAT?
So what exactly is a value added tax? VAT is a consumption-based tax, much like a sales tax, but it is collected "in pieces" along the production chain. It is estimated that over 70 percent of the world's population live in countries which apply VAT.
Unlike customs duties, it is applied on all sales, including goods and services. VAT tax rates generally vary between 10 percent and 20 percent and the final rate selected for The Bahamas would depend on how much revenue needs to be raised to replace other taxes as well as to close the deficits mentioned earlier.
Let us look at an example of how VAT actually works, taken from The Atlantic Magazine, May 2010. Consider a loaf of bread you buy in a grocery store for a dollar. You have a farmer, a baker, and a supermarket along the production chain. Finally, let's set the VAT rate at 10 percent:
1. The farmer grows the wheat and sells it to the baker for 20 cents. The VAT is two cents. The baker pays the farmer 22 cents, and the farmer sends two cents in VAT to the government.
2. The baker makes a loaf and sells it to the supermarket for 60 cents. The VAT is six cents. The supermarket pays the baker 66 cents, of which six cents is VAT. The baker sends the government four cents, which is the six cents in VAT on the bread sale less a two cent credit from the government for the VAT he paid when he bought the wheat.
3. The store sells the loaf to me for a dollar which costs me $1.10, including tax. The store sends the government four cents total - the 10 cents it collected in VAT on its sales, minus the six cents it paid to the baker in VAT, which it gets back in a credit. In total, the government gets two cents from the farmer, four cents from baker, and four cents from the store. That equals 10 cents on a final sale of a dollar for a 10 percent VAT.
If that sounds overly complicated, you might be asking yourself why not simply add a sales tax on the final transaction? Believe it or not, it is easier to collect VAT than a sales tax because of these various stages and built-in paperwork along the chain.
A retail sales tax would have been very easy to avoid because there's no counterparty to the transaction besides the end consumer.
Look at the baker in the VAT. The baker may want to avoid paying the VAT to the government but he knows the grocery store will report the purchase in order to claim its VAT credit. If it is paying attention, the government should be able to go to the baker and say "you forgot to report your 60 cents of sales and six cents of VAT which you owe".
That mechanism represents the system of checks and balances within the VAT system. A lot of research suggests that sales taxes are difficult to enforce when you get to rates above six to 10 percent because people find ways around them, such as under-invoicing or unreported cash sales that occur under the table.
From the example above, it is clear that the introduction of a VAT system will require significant changes on the part of the government, as well as from the private sector, which would be forced to assume the role of tax collector.
Government would need to address organizational issues such as setting up a separate VAT or Tax Office, staffing requirements and training, deciding how much lead-in time is necessary and informing the general public of the transition.
Companies involved with VAT administration will face significant invoicing and bookkeeping requirements, will have to coordinate filing and payment requirements and will ultimately be subject to VAT audits, refunds and penalties.
Next week we will look at the Barbados experience with implementing VAT and the lessons learned for The Bahamas. We will also make the argument for why a modest corporate tax should be included in the discussion.
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NASSAU, Bahamas -- Lupus fighters and their biggest supporters gathered at St. Matthew's Anglican Church this past Sunday to worship and to kick off Lupus Awareness Month in May.
Fr. Crosley Walkine (center), rector of St. Matthew's, welcomed the group and urged them to continue their fight to raise awareness in the Bahamas.
Lupus 242 is a non-profit group started in 2012 to provide support to persons living with the chronic, autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation, fatigue and pain. The group has a series of events planned for this month including P.O.P. (Put On Purple) for Lupus on Friday, May 10, Hope Floats (Balloon Release event in memory of those lost to lupus) on Monday, May 20 (Whit-Monday) and a tea party on Sunday May 26 at St. Matthew's Parish Hall.
For more information on how you can support the cause visit facebook.com/lupus242 or call 448-1825
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and nothing kicks off the holiday season better than the Bahamas National Trust's (BNT) Annual Christmas Jollification.
Jollification with a Caribbean flair takes place November 18-20 at The Retreat on Village Road, with Friday a special evening for members only, and Saturday and Sunday open to the public. More than 100 vendors offering the best in artisanal crafts, designer jewelry, plants and food from around the world will be on display.
It's the event that's perfect to find unusual and unique gifts for Christmas. Pippa Cole will display wonderful needlecraft. Nadine's Garden will provide handpainted glassware and unique wind chimes for the discerning shopper. And Island Flava, with their Junkanoo designed tableware can insure that your holiday celebrations will not only taste good, but will get everyone ready for that Boxing Day beat.
For the women that love bling, Jollification offers many choices of unique and wonderful jeweled creations with elegant pieces to accent holiday attire. Pirates and Pearls will also have the perfect pair of earrings or bracelets. If beads are your thing, the Karike offerings will make it almost impossible for you to make a decision. And Marlee Mason of Abaco Seaglass will provide beautiful silver and seaglass creations that will be perfect for the holiday party on the beach.
Jolly Market continues to grow and has become one of the liveliest areas at the Jollification. The area features beautiful straw work, homemade jams and jellies, delicious pastries, and creative and delicate shell work. Monika Zeilder, of For Heaven's Cakes will be on hand with her delicious cheesecakes, scones and artisanal breads.
And once again Jim Whitehead from the Nassau Florist will create the mood with his decorations under the pavilion and around the garden.
Jollification has also become popular with local artists and Dion Lewis, Jennifer Marbury and Tiffany Barrett will display Bahamian scenes in oils, watercolors and silk paintings respectively.
For the "green thumbs" the Jollification plant area will certainly be the place to browse. Tanya Nunez of the Potting Shed always has something new and different, and Flamingo Nurseries with their exotic orchids is always a favorite. Edem Nursery offers native fruit trees among other garden specialties.
And then there are the people who come to the Jollification just for the food. This year, they will not be disappointed. Back again by popular demand is the Greek Annunciation Church and Filipino Delights. Hands For Hunger will offer healthy soups and Inner Wheel of East Nassau will offer a sumptuous variety of sweet and savory treats. The Batter Girls will be in attendance with their conch fritters. The conch corner will also offer conch chowder, conch salad and grilled conch. Sands beer will feature their new Bush Crack beer.
The Jolly Book Stall will have for sale many bestsellers at great prices. A quilt by the Stepping Stone Quilters will be raffled off.
Bristol Wines & Spirits will have a number of holiday spirits on display for guests to sample, such as Jacknogg, as well as two new Bacardi flavors -- Torched Cherry and Oak Heart Spiced Rum. Also featured will be the Alpenglow non-alcoholic ciders. A variety of holiday cocktails and liqueurs will be available for sampling, to give you options for your upcoming holiday gatherings.
Just for the kids will be Jolly Land where children will be able to create a Christmas Craft, have their face painted and take an animal balloon by Desi Cuevas.
When: Saturday, November 19
Time: 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
When: Sunday, November 20
Time: 12 noon - 5 p.m.
Admission: $10 general admission, $5 BNT members, $2 children under 12.
Moody's Investors Service is one of the three major international credit rating agencies; the others being Standard and Poor's and Fitch Ratings. These rating agencies perform financial and economic research on governments and large businesses. They derive their ratings using a standardized rating scale that allows comparisons across countries and businesses.
The rating agencies are required to be unbiased and dispassionate in their analysis and reporting.
On August 31, 2011 Moody's Investors Service, announced in a press release that it was affirming the Government of The Bahamas' A3 bond rating but that it was downgrading the outlook for the Bahamian economy from stable to negative.
The reasons given by Moody's for the revision of the economic outlook from stable to negative were:
o The significant run up in government debt levels in recent years.
o The country's limited growth prospects.
o The challenges that the government is likely to face in raising revenues.
Moody's goes on to detail some other areas that should cause real concern for policymakers and citizens alike.
What might startle most Bahamians is the revelation by Moody's that the level of the national debt has increased by 40 percent in the past two years alone.
Moody's opines that the limited growth prospects of the Bahamian economy means that there is little prospect that the revenue that the government needs to pay the interest on this debt will show much growth.
We are challenged therefore; to address the persistent, large budget deficits in order to have surplus funds that can go toward paying down some of our national debt.
Moody's concludes: "A failure by the government to reverse the recent trend of rising debt would likely result in a downgrade of The Bahamas' rating. In order for the outlook to return to stable, the government would need to demonstrate a credible plan not just for stabilizing debt, but for reducing it to a level more consistent with the current A3 rating."
There is therefore no consolation in the fact that the credit rating is unchanged. Without a credible plan to address the ballooning national debt, a downgrade of the credit rating is sure to come.
We must recognize that, while we presently have the ability to service our debt, the more money we are required to pay to support the national debt, the less money will be available for national security, health, education and other essential services.
In its response, the government gave its standard and now familiar recitation:
"The recent global economic and financial crisis profoundly impacted the Bahamian economy and required extraordinary levels of spending on the part of the government to safeguard the financial system, boost economic activity and provide assistance to Bahamians badly in need of help in these trying times when government revenue experienced precipitous declines."
Well written sure, and it sounds good; but does it hold water. What money did the government spend to safeguard the financial system? What programs were involved?
We also know that the unemployment benefits program is being funded by the National Insurance Board, through a payroll levy and therefore did not involve money coming directly out of the Consolidated Fund.
Additionally, information in the public domain suggests that the amount of money borrowed directly by or guaranteed by the government to fund infrastructure projects combined for a total of approximately $350-$400 million. This is what is presumably meant by spending aimed at "boosting economic activity".
Yet the Central Bank of The Bahamas shows government debt rising from $2.887 billion at the end of 2006 to $4.268 billion at the end of 2010; an increase of $1.381 billion.
What this is telling us and what the government appears to be reluctant to tell us directly is that we have actually been borrowing money to pay recurrent expenses; salaries, rents and interest on the national debt. Imagine an individual going to one bank to borrow money to pay the interest on a loan at another bank! This is clearly unsustainable and very dangerous.
In addressing Moody's comments on the high debt levels the government said:
"Despite this, we maintain in the circumstances a debt to GDP ratio that is one of the lowest in the region." Another one of its standard responses which is totally inadequate.
When we look at the region, we have Jamaica which is in the middle of an IMF restructuring program, and Barbados which has gone through two IMF restructuring programs. Guyana, a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States all are in various stages of negotiation with the IMF on structural adjustment programs.
We should really be comparing ourselves to countries with similar ratings. In fact Moody's says as much:
"As a result The Bahamas' debt levels which were at the median for its rating range until 2006, are now nearly 40 percent higher than the median. Its relatively high wealth levels -- The Bahamas' GDP/capita is nearly twice the median for the rating range -- enable The Bahamas to support a somewhat higher level of debt at a given rating level to other countries, but not 40 percent higher."
Simply put, when compared with our ratings peers, our debt levels are just too high. So, has the government gotten the message that things must change? From its responses, apparently not.
What must be done?
Firstly we must admit we have a problem and stop pretending that everything will work itself out as soon as the United States economy turns around.
Secondly we must get a handle on spending. The government spends over a billion and a half dollars every year. Whose job is it to ensure that we, the Bahamian public, get value for the money spent?
If we can save 10 percent of this amount through a combination of improved procurement processes and quality control, we can save over $100 million per year.
The Department of Statistics in its latest employment survey pointed to a substantial increase in the number of discouraged workers and workers migrating to the informal sector. The Central Bank in a recent report pointed to "considerable slack" remaining in the job market.
Bottom line, fewer Bahamians are working. So we must stimulate the creation of good, permanent jobs. One way to do this would be for the government of The Bahamas to commit to building five new, state-of-the-art schools across the country; fully equipped with the latest technology. Other schools would be renovated to bring them up to the new standard.
The objective should be to promote standards of excellence in academic and vocational training.
Immediately, hundreds of Bahamians would be put to work. In addition, we begin to better prepare our students for success in the 21st century workforce. A Private Public Sector Partnership can be explored to address the issue of cost.
Going forward we must be serious about financial management particularly when it comes to deficits and debt management.
Earlier this year the government amended the Financial Administration and Audit Act to, among other things, require governments, when a budget deficit is forecast in any particular year, to provide Parliament with a plan on how that deficit will be eliminated.
A positive step indeed; except that just before breaking for the summer, the government brought another amendment whereby the coming into force of that particular provision can be delayed indefinitely. So the whole purpose of the initial amendment is defeated and the way is clear to continue with business as usual.
In conclusion, there is no magic formula to cure our debt woes. Many of our problems are structural and have become entrenched over many years. To work our way back to economic and financial health will take hard work and sacrifice. The first step, however, is to admit that we do have a very serious problem.
We should use this warning from Moody's as an opportunity to build a national consensus and begin the reform process. To do nothing is not an option.
o Michael Halkitis is a Chartered Financial Analyst and Progressive Liberal Party Senator.