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Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham yesterday signed an exigency order that will allow residents, businesses and hotel owners in Cat Island and Acklins who have been hard hit by Hurricane Irene to bring in certain goods duty free for up to six months.
Residents on Long Cay, Mayaguana, Rum Cay, San Salvador, Inagua and Ragged Island will also benefit from the order.
However, their duty exemption period will be 90 days, the government announced yesterday.
The tax exemption effort, which begins today, will likely impact hundreds of residents and businesses on those islands.
In order for the residents to qualify for the exemption, the minister of finance has to be satisfied that the goods are intended for the relief of residents in the islands mentioned who suffered hardship or loss as a result of Hurricane Irene, the statement said.
Duty free goods include building materials, electrical fixtures and materials, plumbing fixtures and materials, household furniture, and furnishing and appliances.
Also duty free are motor vehicles, motor cycles, and golf carts.
Claims or applications for the duty exemption of those products and goods must be certified by the director of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Those in the farming industry whose crops or machinery were damaged can apply to bring in duty free items including supplies for reconstruction and repair to greenhouses, including plant sleeves, timers, plant pots and soil-less growth; supplies for the reconstruction and repair to poultry houses; supplies for the reconstruction and repair of irrigation systems; nursery stock for the re-establishment of fruit orchards; and items required for fencing.
Those in the fishing industry can apply to bring in goods including galvanized sheeting and other materials used in the construction of fishing habitats; fishing boats and fishing gear and apparatus.
The notice added that an individual located anywhere in The Bahamas who suffered hardship or loss to property as a result of Hurricane Irene may also apply for duty relief and will be certified by the appropriate official.
"Where any abuse or misuse of goods imported under this declaration is observed, the goods may be seized and disposed of in accordance with Section 83 of the Customs Management Act," the notice added.
By ALISON LOWE
TAKING on more than 30 employees, and with plans to expand in coming months, a new Gladstone Road building and home supply store yesterday said it expects to benefit from what its owners and others forecast to be a boom in retail demand in western New Providence.
Wong's Home Centre, which includes a 10,000 square foot retail space, is a "one-stop shop" for those seeking lumber, paint, other building supplies, home, pet and garden accessories, tools, lighting, plumbing, electrical and automotive products, according to manager Milly Wong. It opened on November 17.
"My husband always liked to fix and build stuff, so th ...
A multi-million-dollar fishing lodge now under construction in Abaco plans to attract "the best of the best" when it comes to tourism, while providing the heart of a development that could change the island's economy.
Through a powerful joint venture, The Black Fly Fishing Lodge in the Schooner Bay development is trying to catch the big fish.
"Fly fishing clientele are top of the food chain when it comes to tourism in this country," said Clint Kemp, one of the key investors behind the project.
"Not only are they high net worth, but they tend to come in private aircrafts and are excellent repeat visitors. They aren't just coming for one week. They bring their friends and family and their presence often leads to further investment."
The lodge, slated for completion in 2013, will feature eight large rooms, a restaurant, bar and supplies store. A new fleet of boats will also be offered, giving guests access to salt-water fly fishing and deep water fishing.
Coming in at $1,000 per night for the full experience, the boutique lodge is meant to cater to exclusive guests which are often synonymous with the sport.
Meanwhile, Black Fly has also partnered with Nervous Waters, one of the most recognizable names in fly fishing, which operates 14 establishments all over the world.
Kemp told Guardian Business that Nervous Waters has bought a stake in the lodge and now acts as a shareholder.
"They bought a substantial stake in the company," he explained.
"That gives us the good housing seal of approval."
Kemp said the lodge will also be open to the general public, although certain areas are meant for guests only, such as the cigar smoking room on the top floor.
Kemp estimated the initial cost of the project to be between $4 million and $5 million.
But beyond the exclusivity of one lodge, Orjan Lindroth the president of the development company behind Schooner Bay, added that this venture serves as a centerpiece for what should one day become a flourishing harbor town.
"The lodge sits at the head," he told Guardian Business.
"It's very important architecturally and creates that feel. It will become a meeting place for friends and family."
Lindroth explained the idea behind the property is to create a "robust business model" that can cater to not just the tourists but the community as well.
As work on the lodge kicks into gear, Schooner Bay continues to rise up around it.
Lindroth said five houses are now complete, and another 10 are expected to be done in the late winter or early spring. Five other separate dwellings are slated to begin construction around Christmas.
A six-unit condominium unit, consisting of traditional buildings with both residential and commercial units, is breaking ground in February 2012, he added.
Several of these units have been sold already, with prices ranging from $250,000 to $350,000.
Lindroth said the pricing is meant to reflect the wide cross-section residents Schooner Bay wishes to attract.
The harbor opened in June, with the lodge resting at its mouth.
The name for the lodge, Lindroth added, came from Vaughn Cochran, the artist and owner of Black Fly Outfitters, which sells world-famous merchandise bearing his logo.
Cochran is also a shareholder in the new lodge.
Kemp called Cochran's involvement and the Black Fly name a "lifestyle statement" lending further credibility to the project.
He said no other lodge like this exists in The Bahamas. What makes the venture particularly unique, he felt, was the fact the lodge is located in a community.
"This is the only one that incorporates itself into the community," he said.
"To have a fishing lodge in a community where they can interact with people is important. It means a higher, more textured experience. As it becomes a living town, our guests will want to be a part of that."
The total cost of damage to Acklins caused by Hurricane Irene should be determined by Friday.
Government officials yesterday completed their assessment of Acklins, exactly one week after Irene ripped through that island.
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, Minister of Public Works Neko Grant and officials from the Department of Social Services were on Acklins Wednesday afternoon making final checks of the damage, and maintain it is not as bad as reported.
The delegation also visited Crooked Island, Mayaguana and San Salvador.
"I came particularly to Lovely Bay and Chesters because they were the ones reports said were 90 percent destroyed. That is not so," said Ingraham.
However, the prime minister did admit that the northern part of the island received a lot of damage.
"We're happy that supplies are getting in. We're happy that teams are on the ground doing assessments both from the public works perspective and from social services," he said.
"We are providing supplies and people are also volunteering, but the government will do what it has to do."
Acklins Island Administrator Stephen Wilson told The Nassau Guardian that nearly 300 homes were assessed in order to see what supplies were needed, and how much money would need to be pumped into the island.
Wilson added that the assessment information would be sent to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), which will then decide how many supplies will be shipped to the island.
The island administrator said he believes Acklins can be restored to a state of normalcy in about two months.
When The Nassau Guardian visited the island yesterday, debris was cleared from the roads and many residents had cleared fallen trees and debris from their yards.
However, there were still several homes in the same condition as they were last week, and many power lines were still down in the Pinefield settlement.
There is still no power at the clinic in Mason's Bay.
According to Ingraham, power has been restored to Selena Point and more than 40 percent of residents in Spring Point have electricity.
He said he expects the power supply on the entire island to be restored soon, but could not say exactly when.
For many residents however, not much has changed in the past week.
Urlene Collie, a resident of Pinefield, said she has no electricity or running water. Collie and her husband have been suffering since last week.
"It's very hard because I have [high blood] pressure and my husband has to take a straw hat during the night to fan me. We don't have any power, and we buy water but it still makes you feel bad because it is very hot," she said.
"We've lost everything in our fridge and now we're surviving off of canned goods."
Lovely Bay resident Elvis Collie said it will take him many months to repair his home, and he is struggling to do so with no assistance.
"I'm still in a bad position and nothing has changed. I have no power, no water and I'm still just waiting for help," he said.
"People say that help is coming but no help has come around here yet."
Humanitarian organization Bahamas Methodist Habitat promised to send international and local teams to Acklins, Cat Island and Crooked Island to assist in rebuilding and restoration efforts, once the government sends supplies.
With the implementation of value-added tax (VAT) just five months away, more businesses are joining the anti-VAT campaign and are petitioning their customers to do the same.
One business owner referred to VAT as "crazy", while another said the implementation of VAT could push poor people "over the edge".
Several business owners have erected posters throughout their stores, highlighting the impact that VAT would have on the price of food, entertainment, shopping, travel, electricity, phone, cable and water.
One such poster features the smiling faces of a family of four. The poster indicates that a family vacation before the implementation of VAT would cost $5,000. The cost after VAT is tagged at $5,750.
Another poster highlights the weekly cost of groceries going from $165 to $182.
The business owners are also asking their customers to sign petitions against VAT.
Many people have signed the petitions featured in JBR Building Supplies store on Wulff Road.
The company's CEO Charles Albury said he hopes the government will reconsider VAT.
Albury said the government has to look at a more comprehensive approach to taxation and should seek to collect the hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding taxes.
"They are just trying to add more taxes to already taxed out businesses," Albury said.
"And the problem that we have fundamentally is that it's going to hurt the poor people because that's who VAT is going to hit. The government has already admitted it."
With many Bahamians already struggling to make ends meet, Albury maintained that VAT is going to "push them over the edge".
"Everyone realizes that we have to do something, but this is not a fix-all," he said.
"There are a lot of other alternatives."
Faced with revenue challenges, the government intends to implement VAT at a rate of 15 percent on July 1.
VAT is expected to generate an additional $200 million in revenue, according to officials.
But Albury said a simple payroll tax would be a better alternative.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, president of Superwash, is also a part of the coalition against VAT.
"The reason I don't support VAT is simple," D'Aguilar said. "It will cause prices to go up 10 to 15 percent, salaries will remain the same, and most people will get poorer.
"You will be able to purchase less goods with your pay checks."
D'Aguilar said the government must find a more responsible way to raise revenue.
He said VAT will cause "too much of a shock to the economy".
The coalition, of which D'Aguilar and Albury are a part, is calling on Bahamians to "wake up", and demand the government delay VAT.
According to co-chair of the Coalition for Responsible Tax Robert Meyers, it represents about 700 businesses with about 65,000 to 70,000 employees.
The coalition has sent the government several alternative forms of tax.
Up to yesterday, more than 2,200 people had signed the coalition's petition on its website www.wakeupbahamas.com.
Meyers said he hopes for about 30,000 signatures.
Last month, Prime Minister Perry Christie revealed a group of American economists will undertake a final study on VAT to address concerns related to the tax regime.
This is one of several studies the government has commissioned in the last few months.
"So as to clearly demonstrate to all those who are speaking strongly, stridently, emotionally and even sometimes hysterically -- and to address every concern, my government has commissioned a final study by a team of internationally renowned economists," said Christie at the Bahamas Business Outlook at the Melia Nassau Beach Resort.
However, the coalition wants to conduct its own study on the impact VAT would have on the cost of living.
Meyers said previous studies had some "misgivings" in their projections. The coalition has therefore called on the government to provide it with the necessary data to carry out the study.
"The intent of the coalition and the intent of the petition is to demand a delay, to demand the facts, and to demand a look at the alternatives," Meyers said.
"Our primary concern is because of the level of consumer debt and because of the average wage, we are very concerned that it would have a damaging effect on the economy overall," he said.
"And if it slows the economy or puts us back into a recession, the inevitable is that there would be layoffs, cuts, and...if consumers fail then businesses will fail."
Meyers said the coalition will deliver the petition to the government at the end of February or March.
"This is a pivotal issue," he said. "If we don't get it right it could sink us."
Super Value owner Rupert Roberts also has several anti-VAT posters in his stores.
Roberts has been particularly vocal about the issue.
"VAT will kill the economy," he said.
Roberts said the government should consider income tax or some other alternative forms of taxation.
Asked how it will affect his business, he said, "It would hardly affect our business at all.
"We'll survive but we'll have to pass it on to the public. Our government is talking about introducing it in a recession...it's crazy."
The government has steadily spent more than it has collected.
Christie said previously the pace that the country is on is unsustainable.
The government approved several projects during its final cabinet meeting yesterday, including an $80 million project for Cotton Bay, Eleuthera, and a $30 million project for Norman's Cay, Exuma, the prime minister revealed.
Reporters were allowed to sit in on the final Cabinet meeting of this term.
In addition to the Eleuthera and Exuma projects, the government also agreed to purchase additional equipment for the police force and supplies for public schools throughout the country and to undertake a small infrastructural project in Long Island.
Tourism Minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace said the Cotton Bay development is something that has been a long time coming.
"It will assist in establishing Eleuthera on the tourism map," he said during the meeting held in the Churchill Building.
"What we recognize is that some of these brands bring a lot of focus to the individual islands of The Bahamas which is a part of the government's continuing campaign in talking about the individual islands of The Bahamas and this will add immensely to that thrust."
Ingraham added that the project will require the government to make investments on that island.
"The government will have to make some public investments in the airport and the road and to get water and electricity to the site to permit them to operate their own sewerage plant and to redirect the public road so it doesn't sit in the middle of their property," Ingraham said.
The project, which will sit on 300 acres of land, will include an 80-room resort, golf course, spa, shopping area, restaurant and bar.
While the government would not reveal who the developer is, Vanderpool-Wallace said the operator is consistent with high-end boutiques and has a very recognizable brand.
As it relates to the Norman's Cay project, Ingraham said the work should start "pretty soon".
The developers propose to construct three "very recognized boutique properties" on the island, Vanderpool-Wallace said.
"We are excited about that because it'll be the third drug property that was very prominent in the commission of inquiry in the 1980s while the PLP was in office that the FNM has now put to be used for productive economic lawful, legal, legitimate use," said Ingraham, noting that the government has done the same in Guana Cay, Abaco, and Hawks Nest, Cat Island.
"They were all drug havens in the 80s," Ingraham said.
Vanderpool-Wallace said as a part of that deal, the developer has agreed to upgrade the airport.
The investment is being funded by a Turkish group.
In regards to the Long Island project, Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister Larry Cartwright said the government has agreed to award a contract to a Long Island company for the extension of the water mains from Grays to Thompson Bay.
He said the contract will be signed in short order.
"This will be meaningful to the people of Salt Pond where there is no running water supplied by the government or by Water and Sewerage," he said, adding that it will bring relief to those residents.
The project is expected to cost $400,000.
The government also agreed to buy five new fire engines for the police force.
National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest said three are for New Providence and two are for Grand Bahama.
The trucks include a 2,000 gallon single cab tanker, two 1,000 gallon double cab pumpers and two 1,000 gallon single cab pumpers.
Turnquest said the total contract is for $1.28 million
Finally, the government agreed to purchase hundreds of computers that will be placed in schools across The Bahamas.
Education Minister Desmond Bannister said the government will spend $2 million on 802 desktops, 339 laptops with the appropriate education software, 333 interactive software and 340 multi-media projectors.
Asked if the government put measures in place to protect such agreements if it were to lose the election, Ingraham said that is not possible.
"No government can bind another government," he said.
"A government when it comes to office has the opportunity to determine whether or not it considers a matter to be in the best interest of the country or whether it's a matter that is a priority for them. So there's nothing you can..put in place to prevent it."
He added: "We are undertaking what we consider to be in the best interest of The Bahamas. But we are confident that we are going to be the government next week."
FNM MPs also said goodbye to some of their colleagues who will not be a part of the cabinet if the FNM wins, including Minister of the Environment Dr. Earl Deveuax, Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Larry Cartwright and Attorney General John Delaney.
"They will definitely not be in the next government of the Free National Movement," Ingraham noted.
2pm - NEMA is sending official assessment teams into Acklins and Long Island this afternoon. The media had been invited to go along, but administrators on those islands have appealed for food and water and so the media is no longer going so the plane can be loaded up with essential supplies.
These reports just in:
* Abaco- Reports of 'massive damage' to buildings in both Green Turtle cay and capital settlement Marsh Harbour. No details yet. There are no reports of injuries or deaths.
*Inagua- Accoring to police inspector Dennis Brown, the officer in charge of Inagua during the storm, assessments have been done and save for some debris and fallen branches, there is no damage to Matthew Town ...
The U.S. Embassy in Nassau,
The Bahamas has provided $50,000 in assistance to the Government of
The Commonwealth of The Bahamas to assist Family Island communities
most affected by Hurricane Irene. The funding is being used
to purchase emergency relief supplies, including generators, hygiene
kits, chainsaws, and water containers, for distribution on the Family
Islands by The Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and
The Red Cross.
"Through NEMA's assessments,
the Government of The Bahamas identified a number of critical items
that could help accelerate the rebuilding process," U.S. Ambassador
to The Bahamas, Nicole A. Avant explained. "Given the close
relationship between the United States and The Bahamas and my deep appreciation
of the unique history..."
Tiger Wu doesn't mince words. As the Vice President of China Construction America Inc- a subsidiary of the largest construction company in China- his focus can be easily summarized: Dec. 31, 2014.
That's the day Baha Mar, the$2.6 billion colossal project in Nassau, is slated to open its doors.
But there is far more at stake than the promise of thousands of luxury hotel rooms, the 1,000 square-foot casino or the sprawling list of features and attractions. For China, Baha Mar-financed by the Export-Import Bank of China and built by state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation-represents perhaps its most significant collaborative venture into the Western hemisphere.
If all goes well, the launch of Baha Mar could more accurately open the doors to the world.
"This project is essential to developing business in the Caribbean and into the U.S.,"Wu toldGuardian Business."It's only the beginning. This is part of our growth. We hope with successful completion, it will open up more opportunities in the area."
Indeed, as the face of the company in The Bahamas, a great political and economic responsibility rests with the Chinese executive's shoulders.
In a way, the revolution has already begun.
China Construction America has quietly won a series of major public works projects in the U.S., including the$91 million Metro-North Railroad station at Yankee Stadium, work on a ventilation system in Manhattan and, according to Wu, most recently a$10 million road works project in New York.
However, few projects, if any, rival the scale and glamor associated with Baha Mar.
The resort boasts world-class brands, including Rosewood, Mondrian and Grand Hyatt. It will also feature a John Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, a conventional hall, wildlife reserve, 3,000-square-feet of beachfront and a casino hotel.
Meanwhile, in the boardroom, The Bahamas and China have forged a strong and growing economic alliance. Last month, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, on his way to the Third China-Caribbean Economic and Trade Cooperation Forum, signed another technical assistance agreement with The Bahamas, bringing the total up to$30 million.
The Airport Gateway Project and the National Stadium are two other major projects in Nassau being spearheaded by the Chinese.
"There has been a quiet and long-standing relationship with China,"said Robert Sands, Senior Vice president of Administrative and External Affairs at Baha Mar."Do not underestimate it. They have been here a long time-silent but effective."
Working closely with their quiet Chinese counterparts, Bahamians expect to be the beneficiaries of the rising economic giant through the creation of jobs, a new market for tourism and other major investment opportunities down the road.
Baha Mar, and The Bahamas at large, is"East meets West"in the truest sense of the word, Sands said, and a testing ground which shows the world that great things can be accomplished between two very different places.
Wu, for his part, said he is very conscious of the need to change certain stigmas or perceptions of China as it seeks its place near the top of the global order.
He called the relationship between China and The Bahamas"fascinating". "Here we are, working together, and we have very different cultures,"he said."In the end, we find things in common."
In the future, Wu envisions a variety of new projects in The Bahamas, the Caribbean and in North America. He pointed out the expansion of the Baha Mar brand could be a distinct possibility.
But first things first-soon, more than 10,000 containers of building supplies will begin their two-month voyage from China. Other materials will be coming from the U.S.
And on the other end, more than 8,000 Chinese workers will be filing in and out during the project and housed in a man camp, with construction reaching a feverish pitch around nine months from now.
Many local business are involved and thousands of Bahamians are also finding employment through the construction.
Working hand in hand, this original odd couple might be building more than a resort. "Who knows what happens after this,"Sands said.
"The synergy here goes beyond construction and financing. It's the beginning of a continuum."
Preparations for Hurricane Irene had the command center of the Super Value grocery store chain buzzing yesterday, as managers radioed in updates on everything from supply levels to power outages.
"[Store] number eight is running on generator," sputtered a radio in the background, followed by notice of number three, number five, then number two going to generator. On it went as the chain's founder and president, Rupert Roberts, juggled a Guardian Business interview with the challenges the store faced in serving its customers.
No stranger to the pre-hurricane shopping surge, Roberts said customers seemed to be shopping earlier than usual - a situation that threatened the supply of some goods.
"We ran out of milk and are very low on produce and other perishables, like fresh fruit and vegetables and fresh meat," Ruperts said. The early rush on items meant that by "boat day" yesterday, supplies were already low. The supply freighter was docked in Nassau by 8:00 a.m., however, and supplies were en-route to stores by early afternoon.
"It worked out fine - everything in the stores this afternoon will be fresh," Roberts said.
Later this week, those perishable items may become scarce again, Roberts cautioned. Inventory levels typically would hold through the next "boat day" of Friday, but Irene has forced a cancellation of Friday's scheduled deliveries. Another vessel could bring them in on Saturday, but clearing them through Customs for delivery to stores then would require that department's "cooperation", he said.
Customs usually does in these circumstances, he explained, but if they don't it may mean customers must to wait until Monday for those perishable items.
"Precaution shopping" at the Super Value stores picked up since Sunday and has been "heavy" ever since, Roberts said, adding that Bahamians seemed to be taking advantage of the early notice of Irene's approach.
Since the weekend, Super Value has been busy with its disaster preparedness plans - shuttering all the windows they could and allowing staff to get their homes prepared.
The staff will be needed as the chain keeps its doors open to the public for as long as reasonable, with Roberts saying the store would be open until at least 10:00 p.m. yesterday, and likely all today into the evening, depending on how weather conditions deteriorate.
Local suppliers of essential items such as water and bread are playing into the retailer's inventory levels as well. Bread from Purity Bakery could become scarce, according to Roberts, who said the bakers would have to operate beyond its current levels to meet demand at the food store chain.
"Nine hundred loaves of bread go like water in the desert," Roberts said, noting that the bakery often supplied smaller retail operations first - leaving the chain at the end of the supply list in a time of increased demand.
"Unless they bake all day and until midnight they are not going to serve the public," Roberts said.
The chain had better success with one of its water suppliers -- Chelsea's Choice water company. Many water suppliers focus on retailing their products directly to meet the hurricane demand, but Chelsea's was honoring its delivery commitments to the food store chain, Roberts said.
Aquapure, another leading water company, saw lines at its Bernard Road depot an hour-and-a-half before the company opened for business at 8:30 a.m. yesterday. By late morning the queue was about 60 people long, according to Operations Manager Jeffrey Knowles, and its delivery operations were bustling.
"We have 23 delivery trucks going out and coming back in record time. The stores are stocking up, as well as customers and gas stations. They all need extra water, so it's madness," Knowles said.
The company had more than enough water, according to Knowles, but struggled to pump it fast enough to meet demand. It may seem like an accountant's dream, but Knowles said it does not all translate into profits. Historically the spike in demand ahead of a hurricane was followed by a sales slump after.
"The problem with it is whatever happens, people will probably have spare water next week. We pay overtime this week and next week every one still has water and everyone's sitting around," Knowles said.
He said Aquapure planned to remain open " until the last minute" today to meet demand.
Business was booming at JBR building supplies yesterday, too - Manager Charles Albury said, to his surprise, the uptick started as early as Monday. The added crush for nuts and bolts, screws and plywood, flashlights and lanterns, and other supplies brought with it heavy future refunds, a lot of frustration for staff and customers, and added security costs.
Customers have gotten into fights on the premises in the past, he explained.
"We don't like hurricane business," Albury said. "It's not worth it. The chaos turns people into beasts."
So far, business has been orderly, the manager said yesterday. Today, JBR will be letting customers in three at a time, and will probably have a police at the premises to help with crowd control too, according to Albury. He anticipates the business will close its doors sometime this afternoon, to give his staff time to finalize their home preparations and be with their families.