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I have been disappointed but not surprised by the failure of Members Opposite to recognize that my Government has made considerable and measurable progress in making lemonade from the lemons which they left on the table when they were put out of office in 2007.
In addition to the hiring of as many "able-bodied" local people as are available, a boost in economic activity over the course of its two-year construction period, an expansion in local and international trade, and the sourcing of materials and equipment locally have been touted as spin-off benefits of the construction of a new $39 million port in North Abaco.
A Bahamian/Chinese labor split of 70 percent and 30 percent respectively has been promised in regards to employment opportunities at the port, which is set to be constructed in the Coopers Town area, along with more than $3 million in subcontracted work going to Bahamian contractors.
These were some of the assurances of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works Philip Brave Davis, who was in North Abaco on Monday evening to address a town hall meeting about the North Abaco Port project, which is set to break ground in the next six weeks.
The China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) is the lead contractor on the project, which is being funded by a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China, the same Chinese state-owned financial institution which has provided the multibillion-dollar Baha Mar loan.
Davis addressed what onen attendee estimated to be between 200 and 250 local residents, along with Felix Chang, principal, CHEC (Bahamas) Ltd.; Colvin London, senior business manager for CHEC, and Daryl Vaz, a Jamaican MP who came to speak about Jamaica's experience working with CHEC.
Davis said: "This is going to be of great benefit to the Abaco economy and the Bahamian economy in general. You'll have modern infrastructure and a transshipment facility that will facilitate national and international trade. It will generate new business revenues from all of the things that will be built up around it. It will engage Bahamian service providers and suppliers. We expect that with the port, trade between China and The Bahamas will improve."
Davis said that he met with CHEC as recently as the morning of the town hall meeting to discuss issues related to maximizing the local benefit from the project in the areas of labor, materials and equipment. Noting a comment made by Felix Chang indicating that $3 million of the $39 million in investment would go to local businesses, Davis said that this would in fact be increased.
"I heard that is going up. I am advised that $3 million is an error. We'll correct that," said Davis.
The deputy prime minister said he was advised that an inventory of the skills of all people available to work in the community is being drawn up and they will get "the first choice to start working" when the project begins.
"The materials, steel, cement and whatever else is required, they will source it locally. The only thing that is required is that we have competitive prices. I can't force them to buy steel or anything else if you are going to sell it for more than they will import it. I don't mean two cents more, yes they wil take into account that you have to import it, so it may be a bit more expensive, but it can't be too much more expensive.
"The only equipment that will be imported will be those that are more technically advanced to ensure they are on budget and on time. I have that assurance from them," said Davis.
Chang said that CHEC foresees "huge benefits" for local people from the project, and will implement training programs to help prepare locals to work on it. He claimed that to date, $300,000 has been spent locally, spread among 70 companies.
CHEC falls under the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) Group, which forms part of a Fortune 500 company listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, and is the 11th largest construction company in the world. CHEC is one of the largest marine contractors worldwide.
Emphasizing the company's belief in corporate social responsibility, Colvin London explained that the company hopes to be involved in The Bahamas for a long time.
The company has not been without controversy in Jamaica, which may help to explain why it decided to bring Jamaican MP Daryl Vaz to essentially vouch for it at the town hall meeting.
In 2012, CHEC came into the spotlight when Greg Christie, Jamaica's contractor general at the time, criticized the government's decision to engage with the firm on the basis that it had been disbarred from receiving any financing from the World Bank due to concerns over alleged corruption.
Since that time, the company has been heavily involved in infrastructural works in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. It is presently building a major highway between Kingston and Ocho Rios, and is in discussion with the Jamaican government about the controversial proposed construction of a transshipment port and industrial park in the Goat Islands, an environmentally-protected area.
A source with knowledge of the company's involvement in Jamaica told Guardian Business an assessment of its reputation in Jamaica "depends like always on who you speak to".
"For the environmentalists in Jamaica they are officially public enemy number one in light of the plans for the Goat Islands. The logistics hub is a disaster for the protected areas. For those in the construction industry, they've basically taken out a large swath of the infrastructure projects because they can't be beaten on price. It's difficult to read between the lines as to what's xenophobic and legitimate criticism, but they've had far from an easy ride."
Resorts World Bimini has stated that it is working "as expeditiously on our development as approvals will allow", after attorneys and environmentalists accused it of forging ahead with the construction of a controversial ferry terminal despite a top judge's warning.
Concerns were raised about construction activity in Bimini after a 450-foot 1,200-ton cutter-section dredger arrived in the area in recent weeks, considered among the most powerful machines of its kind.
In an emailed statement to Guardian Business, Michelle Malcolm, director of public affairs for Resorts World Bimini, confirmed that the dredger, named the Niccolo Machiavelli, was in Bimini to dredge a channel that will allow the Bimini SuperFast ferry to dock at the planned cruise pier.
With the arrival of the mega-dredger, Fred Smith, QC, attorney and one of the directors of the environmental organization Save the Bays, has accused Resorts World Bimini of "racing ahead to get work done" on the ferry terminal before a decision is reached in a judicial review action presently underway, which seeks to examine the approval process supporting the resort's plans for the pier.
Smith and others have also suggested that the dredger is set to wreak destruction on reef sites in Bimini as it proceeds with the pier construction, notwithstanding the fact that Court of Appeal Justice Abdulai Conteh told lawyers for the government and Resorts World Bimini last month that construction should not be allowed to progress while the project is being challenged in the courts.
In light of these concerns, on April 25, Smith wrote to the Office of the Attorney General urging the government not to do anything to jeopardize the Bimini judicial review proceedings.
"We would be grateful if you could urgently revert with confirmation that your respective clients will maintain the status quo (by which we mean, not carry out or allow the carrying out of any further changes to the development site including construction or pre-construction operations)," the letter said.
In a letter to Resorts World Bimini, sent on the same day, Smith asked the company to confirm whether the government had granted any permits, licenses or approvals in respect to the development.
Smith said there has been no response to either letter to date.
Yesterday, Smith again wrote, this time to attorney for Resorts World Bimini, John Wilson, asking whether any application for dredging permits for Resorts World Bimini is currently pending consideration by the relevant authorities.
He noted that his clients, the Bimini Blue Coalition, who are challenging the construction of the pier, would wish for an opportunity to make objections in accordance with section eight of the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act.
Smith went on to tell Wilson in the letter that if he did not have a response to this question by the close of business yesterday, he would "assume that the dredging is commencing without permits in breach of your undertaking to the Court of Appeal (and the Supreme Court)".
In a response to Smith's claims that Resorts World Bimini appears to be moving ahead with construction activity relating to the pier in contravention of undertakings made to the court, Malcolm told Guardian Business: "Resorts World Bimini has followed the prescribed regulatory process and adhered to all applicable laws relating to our development. We have secured the necessary approvals from the appropriate government agencies and complied with all judicial orders. We will continue to work as expeditiously on our development as the approvals allow."
Resorts World Bimini intends to construct a 1,000-foot pier which would enable it to dock the Bimini SuperFast ferry that brings passengers between Miami and Bimini, rather than having to bring passengers on to the island from the ferry by tender, which takes more time.
The pier has raised fears among environmentalists, Bimini locals and dive companies, in part given that it is intended to be placed in an area populated by a multitude of popular dive and fishing sites off Bimini. The Bimini Blue Coalition is due back in court in June to challenge a Supreme Court decision to require the group to put up $650,000 in costs if it is to move ahead with its judicial review of the project.
Baha Mar, the largest single-phase resort development in the history of the Caribbean, celebrated another milestone with the driving of its first of 5,700 pilings yesterday -- marking the beginning of construction for Baha Mar's core project.
A recent ceremony which highlighted the milestone included the embedding of a gold commemorative Baha Mar coin as a symbol of good luck for the $3.4 billion resort, gaming and entertainment complex slated to open in late 2014. Officials from both the Ministry of Public Works and executives from Baha Mar were in attendance for the occasion.
"With the start of construction of our core project, Baha Mar continues on its planned timeline to deliver the largest resort development presently under construction in North America. Today's ceremony is yet another milestone in the development of a project that is vital to the economy of The Bahamas, and which will go a long way to helping address the current economic challenges facing the country," said Don Robinson, president of Baha Mar. "The realization of Baha Mar is due in large part to the confidence and strong support given by the Bahamian people and the Bahamian government."
The placement of the first piling of the core project is another significant accomplishment in the construction phase of Baha Mar. In February Baha Mar held its ground-breaking ceremony, and in the intervening four months significant work has been done on both a new commercial village and substantial road works surrounding the resort, both of which are slated for completion by November. In addition, Baha Mar has so far provided employment for almost 900 Bahamians, and has awarded over $90 million in contracts to Bahamian firms.
Representing an unprecedented alliance of powerhouses in the hospitality, financial and construction industries, Baha Mar is an example of a collection of diverse international partnerships. In addition to securing a number of internationally-recognized brands as hotel partners, Baha Mar has appointed China State Construction and Engineering Corporation as its general contractor, and has also secured project financing from the Export Import Bank of China.
The ceremony was attended by Baha Mar executives, including, Don Robinson, president; Tom Dunlap, executive vice president of construction and development; Rick English, senior vice president sales and marketing, and Robert (Sandy) Sands, senior vice president of external affairs and government relations. Also in attendance from the Ministry of Public Works were Craig Delancy, building control officer; and
Edwin Yuklow, senior structural engineer; and from China Construction America (The Bahamas) Tiger Wu, executive vice president.
For additional information, visit www.bahamar.com.
More than 50 percent of the thousands of construction workers in the country will be ill-prepared to capitalize on billions of dollars in opportunities if the Contractors Bill is not soon finalized.
President of the Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) Stephen Wrinkle asserts it's never been more important for the country to ensure this bill - proposed to license and regulate the industry - gets passed. His comments come as Baha Mar revs up construction and Atlantis gears up to go ahead with a multi-million project.
"Clearly we're not prepared to accommodate Baha Mar and Atlantis with the labor we currently have without additional training," he told Guardian Business on Monday. "Both are extremely prestigious for the industry and the country and it [speaks] to the [need for the] passage of the Contractors Bill and a training program, otherwise (we will) be faced with huge imports of skilled labor.
"We certainly need to get our own house in order to accommodate these giant projects."
Wrinkle said the Ministry of Works is presently finalizing the draft of the bill in order to submit it to Cabinet, after input by the BCA, insurance representatives and the Attorney General's Office.
As far as he sees it, there should be no further impediments to passing the bill. However, there has been one delay after the other in recent years as construction workers, in the meantime, grapple with myriad issues.
Wrinkle argues it is even more important for contractors in The Bahamas to be up to international standards with regards to licensing and surety obligations ahead of the economic turnaround projected. The bill proposes to do just that, as well as ensure that Bahamian contractors are considered first for projects.
The introduction of the bill coincides with one of the biggest economic slumps the nation has ever suffered through, stemming from a U.S. housing and credit crisis that has zapped consumer confidence and dried up prospects for commercial developments.
To date, a number of these projects have been delayed or canceled altogether, with restart dates only now being offered.
Just Monday, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham confirmed that the shelved Hurricane Hole project was now back on track at mega-resort Atlantis.
"Kerzner International expects to commence the development of its new timeshare resort and expansion of the Hurricane Hole marina this year," read Ingraham's speech on the Budget debate 2011/2012.
Wrinkle yesterday welcomed the news, saying it would speak to employment opportunities for construction workers.
"The BCA will continue to lobby on behalf of contractors for better positions," he said.
A $225,000 program signed into effect two months ago is expected to make the local construction industry more competitive internationally over the next 18 months. Called the "Strengthening of the Bahamas Contractors Association", the project is funded with a $150,000 grant from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and $75,000 from the BCA.
In February of this year, the prime minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas addressed Parliament, and the Bahamian public for that matter, as he introduced the conversation regarding the possible change in our current tax structure. He introduced the discussion of value added tax or VAT.
Baha Mar's top lawyer is leaving the company with immediate effect and being replaced by a former top global gaming executive, as the mega-resort approaches its completion deadline.
General Counsel and Senior Vice President Uri Clinton will be relocating with his family back to Las Vegas, Nevada. He is being replaced by Whitney Thier, former executive vice president of legal and government affairs, CG Technologies, L.P. and former general counsel of Fontainebleau Resorts.
Thier will assume the position of general counsel and executive vice president for Baha Mar, thereby also taking on a key role in the company's executive committee in addition to leading the company's legal team.
Joining Baha Mar in 2011, Clinton has overseen Baha Mar's development from a legal perspective, leading the resort through the establishment of hundreds of major legal deals and choppy legal waters. This included navigating the dispute with one of Baha Mar's hotel brand partners, Morgans Hotel Group. The dispute concerned a non-disturbance agreement sought by Morgans from the resort; it culminated earlier this year with Morgans pulling out of its contract with Baha Mar. Morgans was later replaced with SLS Hotels.
In an interview with Guardian Business yesterday, Clinton said it is simply "time to come home".
"I wanted to get home to my family. Honestly, it was my choice and it was a timing thing; (it was) what was right for my family."
Clinton said the resort development had reached a transitional point.
"We got through a lot of critical stuff from the construction side so now they are preparing for operations and so it was a breaking point. Sometimes if you don't put your family first, you never will," he said.
Thier's position at CG Technologies, formerly Cantor Gaming, saw her involved with delivering technological solutions to the worldwide gaming industry, making her seemingly well-suited to guide Baha Mar in its uptake of the more-advanced gaming methods that the proposed Gaming Bill would legalize in The Bahamas. Baha Mar and Atlantis have led the push for the passage of that bill, with Clinton himself vocal on the benefits it would bring to the tourism industry and government revenue collections by enhancing the competitiveness of the gaming in industry in The Bahamas.
The work of CG Technologies has included operating race and sports books and mobile gaming at eight Las Vegas resorts, as well as offering turnkey wagering systems to Baha Mar's major competitor, Atlantis, Paradise Island.
A release from Baha Mar announcing the shift in leadership yesterday highlighted Thier's "extensive experience" in regulatory law, management agreements, gaming technologies, intellectual property, capital financing structures, human resources and resort operations in the United States and internationally.
Thier holds a Juris Doctor degree from Tulane Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College. She will be relocating with her family to Nassau.
Baha Mar recently announced that it will move its "grand opening" to spring 2015, and will offer a "preview opening" in December 2014 only, with invited guests offered the chance to view and stay at the resort.
When hindsight is always 20/20, it implies a longing for things to have taken place differently. But this isn't the case with the rapid evolution of contemporary Bahamian art, which for the last 20 years has expanded the boundaries of how Bahamian artists define themselves and their practices.
Hoping to pay homage and expand this conversation, two contemporary abstract Bahamian artists, Toby Lunn and John Cox, reunite in the collaborative exhibition "20/20" opening next week at Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts.
For the pair - who have known each other all of their lives - the exhibition is not so much a retrospective imbued with finality but rather another significant milestone in the conversation they've held with themselves and the wider art community since their first exhibition together in 1992 at the Bahamian Art Gallery in downtown Nassau.
At the time, with their understanding about art practices being shaped on a global scale through their studies abroad - Cox at Rhode Island School of Design and Lunn at Maryland Institute College of Art - the pair presented a wildly contemporary show ahead of their time.
With his use of unconventional materials in his sculptural constructions, Cox urged his viewers to take a second look at art in everyday life and landscapes - something that continues in the material choices as well as in the repetitive symbolism he uses in his work today.
"I remember being challenged by artists early on because people don't generally understand the visual construction of their surroundings, but that was something I was always in tune to - all of living is art and design, and I think that's where my fascination with materials and what I choose to use comes from," says Cox.
"I think RISD was the best thing for me at the time," he adds. "It was the right combination of being intimidated but also exhilarated. It boosted my confidence and taught me to see that there is no ceiling. All of the stuff from before, we questioned it, and we could do anything."
Meanwhile, Lunn dissolved the human figure into abstractions, passionately
applying paint and wood stains on canvas to explore the emotional undercurrents of everyday categorizations.
"A lot has changed in the way I look at art," says Lunn. "I guess it was an organic solution for me. I got sick and tired of race and gender in portraits, all of our labels, and abstractions delved into the inner workings, the psyche, in a way I thought portraiture couldn't - but of course that's incorrect, and now years later I'm revisiting the figure from a different perspective alongside my abstract work."
Besides displaying their current work 20 years later, the exhibition will also include first time collaborations between Cox and Lunn through diptychs and large canvases that evoke the spirit of the "Jammin" sessions of their mentors Jackson Burnside, Stan Burnside and John Beadle.
"With the collaborations, John and I have a synergy as friends, but there's also a tension, and we are trying to use both in our work," says Lunn. "It's a collective experience. When you look at the work, you will see John's hand and my hand. That's the idea - you can feel the two energies."
"Stan showed us that we could be successful and sophisticated artists, and Jackson encouraged people to stick to what they believe in," he adds. "I'm grateful for that influence, for the courage in if you have something to say, find a way to say it. Because what are you going to do, paint someone else's painting?"
"Art is about truly expressing yourself and this show is about being true - not necessarily to everything we have accomplished, but rather to our journey. This is a milestone I'm so excited to accomplish."
Yet the pair recognizes that "20/20" is bigger than the two of them. Even though the two have shared spaces in exhibitions many times since then - at Caripelago, the Pro Gallery, Popopstudios, in Miami Beach and in Harlem - the 1992 exhibition and the imminent "20/20" act as parenthesis around a time when Bahamian art has changed in significant ways. With the growth of several art spaces and a National Art Gallery, globalization and mass communication, and the opportunity for younger artists to practice abroad, the understanding of what constitutes "Bahamian art" has greatly expanded into exciting territory, and both artists have a hand in that development.
Indeed in many ways, Lunn and Cox were very ahead of their time, yet with the invaluable guidance from great Bahamian artists before them - Jackson and Stan Burnside, John Beadle, Brent Malone, Kendal Hanna - the two have continued to shape the cultural landscape through mentorship of up-and-coming artists producing stunning work in today's artistic climate.
"I feel very excited about what's going on and very honored to have been a part of that," says Cox. "I think when Toby and I did that show in 1992, that work in the context of that period of time was pretty out there, really on the periphery of what was going on. It was not a mainstream show. But I think if we were to do that show now, it would be quite mainstream."
"I'm excited to think that Toby was at The College of The Bahamas twenty-something years ago with Stan Burnside putting wind in his sails, and nowadays Toby in his own way and me in my own way with my reaching at The College of The Bahamas put wind in the sails of young artists who are just killing it today," he continues.
"If we compare what we did in 1992 with the successful work they did this year for Transforming Spaces in 2012, it's unbelievable. I can't even believe first of all that they would think to take such risks and then actually follow through."
At one point, however, the pair - along with other notable contemporary peers like Heino Schmid - were making art with a similar kind of abandon at Popopstudios ICVA through collaborative exhibitions like "Love", "Exit" and "Exhibit A" that placed contemporary art at the forefront of the Bahamian imagination. Though Popopstudios has grown and changed in many ways since its establishment, having "20/20" displayed in the space is an exciting and poignant homecoming for the duo.
"I think those first shows, collaborative shows, were collective and interactive experiences," says Lunn. "I think even in the beginning though people didn't buy a lot of work, they enjoyed the experience. There was a lot of breakthrough work happening and investigating and you could feel the love."
"It's an example about how things can develop from an organic collection of energy and creativity and focus," adds Cox. "There was a rebellion happening, but not a deconstructive rebellion, more of a constructive rebellion - it's like, you know what? I don't really get that, and I respect what's happened, but I'm doing it this way, and you can either come along for the ride or you can not."
In creating that path off of the mainstream through their practices at Popopstudios, its creators unknowingly made one of the most significant contributions to advancing alternative visual art practices in The Bahamas through the last two decades. Yet Cox and Lunn know the conversation does not stop here, especially as the Bahamian art community continues to grow at a rapid pace with exciting new talent.
"I feel a little bit like it's a community conversation and I feel like the dialogue Toby and I had in the show was part of something bigger," says Cox.
"You know when you go to a baseball game and three people in the game will start chanting and clapping something, and then it's five, then it's ten, and then half the stadium is doing the same thing? I feel like that's been the metaphor for 1992 up to now," he continues. "You get this energy - and then it stops, which is probably a good thing before it gets commoditized and you can buy it at Target. That's when you know it's over."
o "20/20" opens Wednesday, December 19 at Popopstudios ICVA from 6-9 p.m. For more information, visit www.popopstudios.com.
THE BAHAMIAN Contractors' Association (BCA) honoured several top industry players during its second annual Christmas and Awards Luncheon, held on December 15, 2011.
Awards were given to contractors in four major BCA membership categories, which include Building Contractor of the Year levels one through three, and General Contractor of the Year.
Building Contractor of the Year Level One, which recognises contractors certified to build single-storey structures up to 5,000 square feet, went to BJ's Cabinetry and Construction.
The Building Contractor of the Year Level Two, which recognises contractors certified to build two-storey structures of up to 10,000 square feet, was awarded to D.H. Buil ...