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Prime Minister Perry Christie was involved in a "salvage operation" to get back two percent of the shares in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) for the Bahamian people, said former member of Parliament Lester Turnquest, who is managing director of a financial services firm.
"First of all, my position has always been that the original sale to Cable & Wireless was a giveaway," said Turnquest in an interview with National Review.
"That is a position that I fundamentally believe in my heart and from a business point of view. My position always was that BTC ought to have been sold for a multiple of what it was sold for. But the government of the day determined to sell it. It was in my view, a fire sale."
Turnquest, of The Green Bay Group Ltd., praised the announcement made last week by the prime minister that the government has secured a majority economic interest in BTC from Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC).
"I know that there has been some criticism of the second transaction," he said of the new deal, "but for me it's a very simple assessment.
"The point is that the government of the day has gone in and secured a benefit for Bahamians of the two percent that has always been in question. Believe me, when it comes to having shares in a company, what matters most is the economic benefit of the shares.
"So the Treasury, the Consolidated Fund, will benefit from dividends on the 49 percent that the government originally held and [funds from] the foundation will go to certain community works that the trustees would determine."
Turnquest was referring to the BTC Foundation, which will hold the reacquired two percent shares in a trust.
"I am advised that all of the trustees will be Bahamians, and so there will be in the operation of that foundation no bias against Bahamian interests, but rather a bias in favor of Bahamian interests."
The former MP acknowledged that the new deal is not perfect, but said it is a much better arrangement than the controversial sale of the 51 percent shares to Cable & Wireless in 2011.
"I would have preferred never to have had to go [down] this route, but...the right honorable prime minister is essentially seeking to repair, for want of a better word, damage to a transaction that most Bahamians never supported originally.
"In fact, one former minister in the previous government told me that his vote to sell BTC under the deal and provisions under which they sold it, was the worst vote he ever cast in Parliament. I told him, I said, 'yes, it was.'
"I think in view of the landscape, in view of the limited space in which the government had to move, it was the best deal that could have been done.
"This deal salvages what was, number one, a bad deal for the Bahamian people; number two, it had the effect of restoring economic benefit to the balance of the two percent; and third, it allowed the government to come to the Bahamian people, and say 'We told you that we were going to do something with this transaction, we have done it'.
"Some persons may nitpick about this, nitpick about that, but the bottom line is Bahamians didn't have the benefit of the two percent before; they have the benefit of the two percent now."
Turnquest also brushed aside the argument that the new deal is essentially worthless as the government and the Bahamian people still do not control BTC.
"There are some persons who say, well the management of the company still rests with foreigners," he said.
"Well, the reality is that both the previous government, the Free National Movement government, and the PLP government, always had a position that a government ought to get out of the management business.
"You know and I know, worldwide there are very few governments, with the exception of Singapore of course, that effectively manage enterprises.
"And so, while we can quibble and find fault legitimately with the way Cable & Wireless is running BTC now, for example the cell service, the truth of the matter is that if it were not Cable & Wireless, it would have been another strategic partner."
Turnquest insisted that the original sale of the majority interest in BTC to CWC was a bad deal.
"There was a point at which BTC was valued literally in the hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. "There was significant expenditure of capital, that is taxpayers' money, the contributed surplus by the taxpayers to invest significantly in infrastructure, submarine cables etc., that were essentially in my view given away in this original transaction," he said.
"What any number of business persons would have done, would have been to lease the hard infrastructure to Cable & Wireless or to BTC and that way you would have had an ongoing revenue stream on the capital expenditure that the Bahamian population has made.
"But the general rule of thumb when one sells an enterprise is generally you sell it at a multiple of 10 times the net profit. When one considers the net profit of BTC, it is reasonable to conclude that, that sales figure was nowhere close to where it ought to have been.
"Now perhaps there were some other considerations that the government had that the public does not have. Certainly, from where I sit as John Q Public, BTC, that was a giveaway, but not only that. In addition to that, you provided the operating capital for the new owner.
"You left $15 million so that they could meet obligations in the short term. So what was quoted as a sales price, for eg. of $206 million, was effectively $190 odd million. And that transaction may have benefitted a narrower group of persons than Bahamians would have anticipated."
Surrounded by the grandeur of Oxford University, seven leading Bahamians in the hospitality industry made history as the country's first graduates in the Master's of Management, Hospitality and Tourism program - the only cohort where all members achieved distinction or credit.
The ceremony, held at the prestigious UK institution on Sept 24, was also attended by graduates from many different countries, including Vanuatu, the UK, Finland, Australia and Malaysia.
The degree was offered to tourism industry professionals through Revans University/IMCA in conjunction with the Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA).
In her valedictorian address, Lynne Johnson, Director of Catering and Convention Services at the Sheraton Nassau Resort, said this group of Bahamians have dubbed themselves "Bahamas Trailblazers".
"Represented here tonight are six trails for other Bahamian professionals to follow," she told the audience.
The idea, she said, is to further educate the professionals behind the country's most precious industry.
Jermaine Wright, the director of business Development at the British Colonial Hilton, who also graduated as salutatorian with distinction, said they will return home and "utilize [their] knowledge to take the Bahamian tourism sector to another plateau".
"This group of professionals will now be able to engage in consultancy as they have in-depth knowledge of various areas of research," he told Guardian Business.
During the one-year program, led by Dr J. Anthony Hall and Dr T. Jennifer Edwards, students attended classes all-day on Saturday and Sunday every six weeks.
Through the university and BHA, classes were made convenient and accessible to the working professionals.
Projects, assignments and a thesis were part of the Master's program. Topics for the thesis included food and beverage management, out-sourcing in the hospitality industry, bonefishing in The Bahamas, the mix use of condo hotels and resorts, automatic 15 percent gratuity in The Bahamas, the Americas and Globally, marine operators of The Bahamas and Cruise Conversion: capturing increased revenues from cruise ship passengers.
Wright hopes other Bahamians will blaze trails of their own.
"I would recommend this program to other senior hospitality leaders within the sector," he added.
"The flexibility of the class schedule is conducive to working professionals. The program gives one an opportunity to not only expand knowledge, but also be part of a selective fraternity of fellow industry leaders."
In fact, on the heels of this success, the next cohort has already begun, with seven new students currently studying towards their degrees.
After arriving in London with family and friends, the most recent graduates also took part in an educational workshop one day before heading to Oxford for the ceremony. Upon returning to London, the graduates also paid a courtesy call on the Bahamas High Commissioner to the United Kingdom - his Excellency Paul Farquaharson at Bahamas House.
Desire Moxey, Director of Catering and Conventional Services at Wyndham Nassau Resort, Shamine Johnson, manager at BHA, Carmel Churchill, group sales manager at Grand Lucayan Resort, Raylene Gardiner, owner services manager at Old Bahama Bay and Raymond Francis, executive director at the Out Island Tourism Board rounded out the original Bahamian cohort for this program.
The highlight of the experience was perhaps the graduation dinner and reception, when Johnson delivered her speech to a thunderous standing ovation.
She described their "Action Learning Journey" to the formation of a hurricane - growing from tropical disturbance, tropical depression, tropical storm and a hurricane - that ends with a push to "discover our abilities and achieving strengthened skills and an invaluable experience".
"Ours will show a trail of survival, leadership and growth," he said, "which we have blazed for our fellow Bahamians to follow."
THE Securities Commission is seeking to implement regulations mandating that investment advisors who provide brokerage services obtain professional indemnity insurance, ensuring there is a "consistent regulatory approach" relative all firms providing broker-dealer services.
A Canadian company bidding to provide an integrated health information system in The Bahamas said it could be "extremely risky" for the government to forge ahead with National Health Insurance (NHI) without having such an "informatics" system in place, arguing that it would enable much-needed accuracy in forecasting the likely costs involved.
Populus Global Solutions (PGS), a Fredericton, Canada-based company, provides a software product called ACSIS, which aims to allow governments to harness the power of the vast quantities of data arising from interactions between patients and their physicians as well as correspondences between physicians and other entities such as pharmacies, labs and hospitals.
In doing so, it intends to allow this data to be collected on a more timely basis and utilized more easily for evidence-based decision making by those in the health sector.
Populus Global Solutions is currently participating in a request for proposal (RFP) issued by the Public Hospitals Authority last year. The company's CEO, Tristan Rutter, said that implementing these types of "health informatics" in The Bahamas could have a major impact on the success of the roll-out of an NHI plan, such as the one which the Bahamas government has indicated to move ahead with in 2016. Rutter also believes the implementation could encourage better cost control.
This, he suggested, is due to the more informed forecasting it could enable and the ability of the system to contribute to reducing the incidence of serious disease that would require most costly healthcare interventions.
"The ideal, particularly as The Bahamas gets closer to the ideal of a National Health Insurance scheme, is that the more comprehensive and accurate the total data set is, the more reliable the forecasting on National Health Insurance will be. A lot of people would say health informatics is the penicillin of our generation: the notion is there is no miracle cure in the pipeline, sadly, to fix everything that ails us...(so) the next step for us is about using better data to deliver more quality services."
PGS states that it aims to achieve three core objectives: improving public access to the healthcare system, improving health outcomes, and enhancing fiscal efficiency - essentially value for money spent by the government and the public on healthcare in both the public and private system.
"In The Bahamas, I can see a topline of, I think, somewhere in the region of $300 million spent a year in the public sector and I think there's a number not far off that in the private sector. When the government looks at that, the question is, 'How are we doing?' We know costs are going up and know more and more people are getting more things like hypertension and diabetes.
"So when you start to look at National Health Insurance plans, the risk with it is if you are going to get into this type of program - and there's all types of reasons why you should - it becomes extremely risky if we don't know what is most likely to happen, if you don't know what is the biggest threat to the
health sector. As you move into a NHI system, that's the kind of data you need to know. With NHI you say you are going to create a basket of services, based on certain conditions, to be offered to certain qualified residents. Depending on which services you put in or take out, depending on how citizens qualify or don't, the price of the system goes up and down.
"The key point is at some point you're going to say we're going to have a consumption tax or a payroll tax or whatever it is (and) the government or tax payer needs to know are we putting the right amount in the piggybank to match the basket of services. Trying to manage it without the appropriate information is an extremely difficult task."
The ACSIS system enables the gathering and sharing of information among segments of the healthcare infrastructure, starting with the first visit to the doctor/clinician.
"It all comes down to that transaction which is that clinical encounter...you need the ability to aggregate that data in support of evidence-based decision making," said Rutter.
Each patient will be assigned an electronic record and, once a patient sees a doctor, information can be automatically transmitted to the pharmacist, to the drug dispensary and the lab, with appropriate privacy safeguards, PGS asserts.
Consequently, comprehensive data is gathered, which can share the types of illnesses that are being diagnosed and at what levels, as well as how they are being treated and to what effect; this information can be analyzed to facilitate more strategic and effective policy-making, Rutter suggested.
The company has rolled its system out in St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize, and will do so in Barbados in the next 12 months.
Rutter said: "Belize went live in 2007 and they've proven they've improved access. People have got healthier and they've saved money. The biggest thing is that the World Health Organization has essentially said that what Belize has done is trade very expensive hospital care for inexpensive community-based care. So when we get ahead of these chronic non-communicable diseases, like diabetes, we can detect these conditions and keep people on their treatment protocol.
"Belize had hypertension as the third-highest cause of death in 2007; by 2011 it was the 12th; they saw fast results."
Evidence in the International Journal of Medical Informatics supports the company's contention the implementation of the "Belize integrated patient-centered country-wide health information system" (BHIS) appears to have had an impact on mortality and been related to the stabilization of healthcare expenditures in that country.
"Hypertension-related deaths dropped from first cause of death in 2003 to ninth by 2010. Public expenditures on healthcare steadily rose until 2009 but then declined slightly for the next three years. Conclusion: For modest investment, BHIS was well accepted nationwide and, following deployment, mortality in the eight BHIS disease management algorithm domains declined significantly and expenditures on public healthcare stabilized.
"The BHIS is more than an electronic medical record or health information system but rather is an electronically facilitated health improvement system with feed forward loops (embedded patient management algorithms) to assist health care providers in making better care decisions and feedback program review loops to assist health system managers to make better health care system decisions," states the report in the journal.
It adds that the program was implemented in 2007 at a cost of $4 per citizen. In Barbados, the company will roll out the project for (U.S.) $2 million.
'Costs went flat'
Rutter said: "We put it in [Belize] in 2007, by 2009 costs went flat and stayed there for three to four years. If you were to look at that and say what happened if they stayed in the previous trend, costs would've gone up by about 25 percent. Realistically it's about whether we can make people healthier and slow down these major cost escalations."
He added: "The Bahamas is at a really interesting point as you start to contemplate this scheme. You are not alone in that, but you are going to make some big decisions that you'll live with for an awfully long time. If done right, I think it can be remarkably successful. But everyone needs to be responsible."
Guardian Business has confirmed that investigations are underway into financial "issues" at the Post Office on East Street.
A top public official refused to say that there was "stealing" at the institution, but confirmed that his investigators are "concerned" about these "financial issues".
Auditor General Terrence Bastian told Guardian Business that his department has an officer stationed at the Post Office every day in the normal course of operations, but acknowledged that there is some unusual activity at present and his office has already filed one report on the activity.
"Lately, yes we do have some issues that we will be reporting [more completely] on soon," Bastian said. "There are issues that we need to clean up and tighten up as we seek to modernize the Post Office."
Postmaster General Debbie Pennerman was not able to confirm or deny allegations of theft, and would not say whether an investigation was underway.
The auditor general explained that the results of this investigation will be shared in a report sent to the postmaster general; the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, which has Cabinet oversight of the Post Office Department; the financial secretary and the treasurer.
"Where the controls may be weak, we will make recommendations [to strengthen them]," Bastian said.
Section 29(1) of the Financial Administration and Audit Act gives the auditor general broad powers to carry out examinations into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which any department, or authority has used its resources in discharging its functions. Through reports to Parliament, the auditor general provides an independent assessment on whether government services have been managed economically, efficiently and effectively. The reports also contain suggestions on ways public sector agencies can improve resource management.
He said the report will be complete and filed by the end of October.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
BANK of the Bahamas International is eyeing an initial client base of "several hundred" Bahamian merchants for the planned launch of its e-commerce platform in six months' time, telling Tribune Business yesterday that the private sector was "crying out" for such online services.
Paul McWeeney, the BISX-listed institution's managing director, said the facility - part of its expanded electronic banking platform - would enable Bahamian retailers and other companies to establish online merchant accounts and receive payment for goods sold via the Internet.
Explaining that the bank's e-commerce platform would "add value...
China Construction America's top executive in The Bahamas says "smarter airlines" would consider a direct flight from China to Nassau over the next few years. Tiger Wu, the company's Vice President - a subsidiary of the largest construction firm in China - believes the creation of the $2.6 billion Baha Mar resort will spark considerable foreign interest in the region.
Bahamas Red Cross Society Welfare Officer Brendalee Rolle said donations to the non-profit organization are dismal this year and made a special plea to businesses to "open their hearts" to help the needy during the yuletide season.
It has become customary for the Red Cross to appeal for donations during the Christmas season, but Rolle said it is finding it particularly hard to meet demands this year.
Although she was unable to provide figures, Rolle, who has been with the Red Cross for five years, said this year "has been the worst ever" as far as donations go.
"We haven't really received much donations," she said, "not even from the schools.
"Right now we are scrapping. Our cupboards are really bare. We had two schools that gave us some canned goods.
"Some small amounts came, but compared to last year it's way down."
Rolle said the organization has seen a rise in the number of people seeking help.
"We see a greater need," she said.
"The need is much greater this year. The stories I'm hearing is a lot of people lost their job during the year. Some people are waiting to be placed on social services lists.
"A lot of people are suffering and there are a lot of single mothers who are struggling. We really can't turn them away."
Rolle also encouraged those in a position to, to donate. The donations will enable the Bahamas Red Cross to deliver the parcels of food to those most in need.
"Right now we really want the public to come out. Those who can assist please do so. I know people are tired of hearing from the Red Cross, but we need help.
"Any item, whether big or small, is accepted. One five pound [bag] of rice can help. Also, any nonperishable items are accepted. We are always looking for food items. We're asking the public to come out and help us. We also accept cash. This is the Christmas season and we want everyone to have something to eat."
Despite the low collections, Rolle said the Red Cross still managed to send out 640 parcels to the Family Islands.
Additionally, she said the Red Cross was packaging 95 parcels to distribute to New Providence residents.
However, she said there are hundreds more who need assistance.
The parcels include rice, flour, sugar, girts, oatmeal, cream, spaghetti, vegetable soup, noodles, black beans and kidney beans, peanut butter, jam, tuna, sardine, and cooking oil, among other items.
Rolle thanked those who have assisted the Red Cross.