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Freeport, Grand Bahama Island - Truly Bahamian breakfast awaits you daily at Led Med, Mediterranean Restaurant located on the marina at Port Lucaya.
Delicious Stew Fish, Boiled Fish, Chicken Souse, Stew Conch, Corned Beef and Grits are all available every morning at Le Med.
So when you're craving a tasty Bahamian breakfast made homemade style, head to Le Med.
I've just returned from a blissful, exciting, invigorating, refreshing and totally awesome seven-day trip to a place that, after three days, felt so comfortable that I wanted more. The definition of ambassador was exemplified by the locals in that country in a way I've never seen and/or experienced before. As a military brat, I have traveled and lived all over the world. But until October 24, I had never traveled to the Caribbean - in particular, Nassau, Bahamas.
The definition of ambassador is: 1. An authorized representative or messenger; b) an unofficial representative traveling abroad as ambassadors of goodwill.
From the time I stepped off the plane in Nassau, as I walked through the long corridor leading up to baggage claim eyeing the Wall of Fame of beautiful female and male athletes; to the airline attendant who immediately knew my name when I asked about my lost luggage (I thought it was lost, but it wasn't); to the wonderful host, Dr. Ebbie Jackson, who sponsored a Women's Retreat at the beautiful, newly renovated SuperClubs Breezes Resort, I felt the spirit of ambassadorship everywhere I went.
Of course I realize Nassau, Bahamas is a tourism 'hot spot.' Tourism is an emerging economic driver and one would expect its people to be kind to tourists. As someone who's worked in community, small business and economic development in Georgia for many years, I get it. I also recognize that there are bad elements and crime in every city. But it's not necessary to totally focus on the negative.
But as each day passed, my mind kept visualizing how my hometown would look, feel, be seen as, or be known as if everyone became an ambassador. It's so easy to focus on the negative, dwell on, complain and do absolutely nothing about it. The rants that appear in our daily newspaper and one of the local weekly newspapers are sprinkled with negative comments, attitudes and opinions every day.
There have been many conversations about CEOs who wish to locate to Augusta and how their decisions are made based on what they perceive the culture and fabric of the city to be by things they read written by locals.
I rode the bus about five times during my stay. For $1.25, wonderful bus riders greet everyone with a "hello" or "good morning/afternoon" when they get on; and I remember the bus driver who loves to talk about the tourist sites, night spots and their beautiful beaches - it was money well spent.
Everywhere you go, the locals love to ask, "Is this your first visit to Nassau?" I sense that they really love to hear when someone says they've been to their country before. I have to admit, I grew weary of saying it was "my first time" because the looks on their faces were a little shocked. So, naturally I must hurry back so that I can respond to that question and say, "No, this is my second time in your beautiful country."
Being greeted with a smile or a hello from construction workers, waiters, bus drivers, domestic workers and everyone else you can think of was the norm. I thought everyone is an ambassador for their country here in The Bahamas. Why can't we do that in Augusta or wherever your hometown is? Someone may say, "Well Helen, since The Bahamas is a tourism country, the locals have a reason or vested interest in benefitting from being nice, kind, accommodating, thoughtful, happy, and genuinely interested in you being in their country because it's stimulating the economy and businesses, thus creating jobs."
And I would say yes, that is true. But think about it. Your hometown may not be a tourist destination. Your economic driver may be nuclear energy, alternative energy, medical, technology, call centers, military installations or many others. But consider this? Who are tourists? They are simply people, CEOs, or families who represent these industries who come to visit and/or live in your hometown. These individuals attend your schools, churches, restaurants, cultural centers, museums, performing arts theaters and so much more. They spend money in your hometown.
So if they're coming to your hometown, you, as a local, have a vested interest - an increased tax base, new small business development, and a stronger economy, which benefits the entire community. I thought about this concept every day I spent in Nassau. It resonated so much that I had to write this blog to share with you.
It's all about the people. It's people who run and manage businesses. It's people who work for these businesses. It seems to me that everyone who plays a role in being an ambassador for their hometown creates a win-win situation. Yes, I know someone reading this is saying, "Helen this is too idealistic." I beg to differ.
I witnessed this concept in action for seven days. My experience was beautiful beaches, great weather. Even with the rain a couple of days it was amazing watching the work ethic of the working people; unbelievable hospitality everywhere I went - a hello and a smile; luxurious resorts and condos; live music; a beautiful woman who served me, my two girlfriends and several other women a four-course Bahamian meal on her best china like the way you see in the movies; gospel music playing on every bus I rode on; and knowledgeable people who knew what was going on in their city with all the growth and development taking place.
I certainly can't leave out the gorgeous Bahamian men and women and the dedicated police officers.
I'd like to challenge you to become an ambassador of your hometown for 30 days and watch what can happen. All you have to do is simply say hello to everyone you greet, smile more, say something positive about your hometown, no matter what it is, and then watch for a transformation that could make an impact on you, your family and your hometown's economic stability for many years to come.
I absolutely fell in love with Nassau, Bahamas and have every intention of visiting again soon. I have no doubt that when I return, someone is going to tell me, "Welcome home Helen." I look forward to that too.
It's pageant season and the Contestant Debut & All-White Party fundraiser of Miss Teen Bahamas International (MTBI) is just one of many events lined up on the extensive calendar for the twelve incredible young ladies in this year's pageant. Scheduled for April 11, the contestants will take to the stage in their first and official presentation to the Bahamian public at The Courtyard at J-line Fitness, Shirley Street.
Miss Teen Bahamas International organization has partnered with one of the largest and most reputable modeling agencies in the world, Major Model Management. Anthony Smith, the national director of MTBI, closed the deal a week ago with great optimism and excitement.
"It was one of the most difficult tasks in terms of negotiation we have had to do in years, simply because this is not something that is orthodox in the modeling and pageant world. Model agencies are not fond of pageant ladies and beauty queens and although the pageant community has been more welcoming with young ladies who are of the model type becoming beauty queens, it is rare that the two roads meet."
Considering there are so many teen pageants now coming up, what does Miss Teen Bahamas International offer that attracts young ladies to your pageant?
We have a comprehensive "Enrichment Program" that includes modeling classes, make-up application, self-defense, film production, communication and public speaking, health and nutrition and so much more in between. We want each lady to leave feeling empowered and self-sufficient. Our program offers training that will be useful to the young ladies long term.
Why did you include a modeling competition segment in your beauty pageant? And what are the requirements?
The same as the pageant requirement. Young ladies must be between 15 and 19 years. No children and free from criminal charges. There's not a height requirement. MTBI included the supermodel competition because I've seen lots of girls who have successfully made the transition from beauty queen to cover girl, spokesperson or runway model. It seems to me to be a matter of teaching them the right way to do it. Some of them find out later that the pageant world is sometimes a light step towards introducing them to the world of endless excitement that comprises modeling. After their introductions, many of them care very little about the answering of questions, judges interviews, etc and would much prefer to walk the runway, showcasing fine designer pieces.
What are the prizes for the winner for the Teen Super Model?
A one year contract with Major Model Management agency with locations in New York, Miami, Milan and Paris, and $10,000 in prizes including round trip travel to New York for a model portfolio shoot, cosmetic products, wardrobes and cash. There is also an opportunity of a lifetime for the winner to model on the international stage for some of the major designers. The opportunities and possibilities that come with all of this are endless. This is major for any young lady who is wishing to get a jump start in the modeling industry. She does not have to compete at another competition after ours for the Super Model spot. If she wins, she is automatically contracted.
Do you feel that there is a big enough market for models in The Bahamas to find work?
Certainly not, but that doesn't mean it does not exist and the push towards developing and acquiring work for local talents is not unattainable. I see many local talents modeling for local beverage companies, clothing stores, restaurants and jewelry shops. We have to simply be able to show merchants, designers and brands that we are serious about what we are and how we do it! With our training and guidance the vast array of local talent can receive the same value, if not more, with the beautiful resources we have here.
What is the next step for Miss Teen Bahamas International?
Along with our relentless and foremost pursuit to finalizing a four-year scholarship for our queens, we are always in pursuit of putting The Bahamas on the map by winning an international title, even if it does not come in the form of the young lady winning. It might happen by virtue of one of our former delegates winning Miss Bahamas and then winning the Miss Universe. But either way, pushing for our country to take pride in enlightening our young ladies and getting the best of what we have to offer here getting only the most excellent out of them in the pageant and modeling community.
What makes MTBI different or unique from other local teen pageants?
We are risk takers. There is nothing in the form of personal development, community service and pageant program building that I will not consider as long as it stays within the context of a teen and a wholesome lifestyle. There are not sufficient programs out there that are offering modeling, make-up, self-defense, film production, life coaching, social etiquette, personal communication and public speaking. We seem to have lost it. So, there's a challenge among young good men to find great wives because some times they might be smart, career oriented but not refined. No grooming or poor grooming can determine a young ladies' fate in the world, much like the story of Queen Esther in the Old Testament.
What advice would you give to young ladies who are shy and really don't like people staring at them?
Welcome to the real world! They will regardless. So make sure when they do the staring and the talking, make it worth it. Remember, you are a child of the universe and have a right to be here, and it is up to you to ensure that your value is not diminished by other people's opinion or perception of you, or actions against you. It has been my personal experience that the things that intimidated me most, or that I feared, were the ones that were leading me to my calling and my opportunities.
How would you rate your reigning queen?
Angel is a 10 all the way. We love her! What can I say, she's a teen and a growing young lady with lots of ambition and drive, and desires to know, learn and become. She has come a long way since the evening of her crowning, and she has her own philosophy and her own way of how to make things work. It's exciting to see that. MTBI encourages that. She is a true leader, highly and strongly opinionated, so we are proud of her accomplishments and her as a representative for our MTBI title."
When is the date of your pageant?
June 1, at the Rainforest Theatre, Wyndham Nassau Resort and Crystal Palace.
oFor more information contact Miss Teen Bahamas International at 676-5156 or email@example.com. Check us out on Facebook at missteenbahamasinternational
Despite the decision of restaurant chain Sbarro to file for bankruptcy this week in the United States, and business in The Bahamas dropping by 50 percent over the past five years, sales at the local restaurants are looking up, according to the brand's Managing Director Charlton Knowles.
He confirmed to Guardian Business that sales "have been climbing every month" within the last year for the company.
"While it's unfortunate what's happening in the U.S., that will not impact our business in any way here in The Bahamas," he explained.
"Sales have been encouraging but it's not definitely at the levels they were prior to the recession. We're still a long way from achieving those numbers.
Between 2008 and 2013, sales dropped by about 50 percent. But now, we are starting to see sales climb back up. It has been gradually going up from year to year. From 2013 to 2014, sales are coming back. For us, sales have been climbing every month since the new board of directors was put in place a year ago."
Knowles believes a full economic turnaround for the pizza eatery will depend on the success of the multibillion-dollar Baha Mar project, the impact it will have on the Bahamian economy and the access that travelers will have to disposable income.
On Monday, Sbarro filed for Chapter 11-bankruptcy protection. According to court filings, the pizza chain and its affiliates have between $100 million and $500 million in debt. It is the second time the company has filed for bankruptcy in less than three years. Sbarro had filed back in 2011 and was working its way out of debt.
The franchise has four locations locally: Downtown, in the Mall at Marathon, on Cable Beach and Carmichael Road, with 68 employees.
"Our company is a separate holding company from the U.S. chain," he said.
"We're not affected by what's going on at the Sbarro corporation. That's a U.S. affair and not a Bahamian affair. Now had we had been corporate owned like the one in the U.S., their operations would have impacted us here in The Bahamas. But that's not the case because we are operating independently."
Sbarro, including franchises, has more than 1,000 locations in 45 countries. The chain opened its first location in Brooklyn in 1956.
Many times people can observe problems in their society, but few can put forth the resources and time needed to resolve them.
In 2008, a group of students wanted to make a difference in their community where so many people went to bed hungry while good food was discarded. Spearheaded by Alanna Rodgers, they formed the humanitarian organization, Hands for Hunger, and set out to resolve the problem.
"They asked: How can we bridge the gap between hunger in the community and food waste?" says Executive Director of the non-profit, Yolanda Darville.
Modeled after City Harvest out of New York City and Second Harvest out of Canada, Hands for Hunger simultaneously rescues food from local restaurants and redistributes them to centers who can reach the hungry.
Years after its inception, Hands for Hunger can measure their success in pounds--with their refrigerated trucks, they've provided 300,000 pounds of food to their community, and on average, every week they rescue and redistribute up to another 2,000--that's enough food for 2,000 people.
"We're proud to have been able to provide 300,000 meals to Bahamians," says Darville. "It's even more amazing when you think about how that's all food that could have been thrown away."
Indeed, by partnering with hotel restaurants -- like those found in Atlantis, the Sheraton at Cable Beach and the Wyndham Nassau Resort -- and local restaurants such as Starbucks, Subway and Sbarro's, they can provide discarded food to eighteen local doner centers, including the Salvation Army, Urban Renewal Kemp Road and Great Commission Ministries International.
It's a mission that for Darville, who just began working for the organization in March, is truly inspired by.
"One of the first things I did when I came on board was ride on the trucks and see what happens every day when food is picked up and delivered," she says. "It was so exciting to see -- I remember at Great Commission Ministries, people were actually running to the trucks and they were so excited to see us and they wanted to help us offload the food and they were saying thank you."
"It just hit home for me that even though The Bahamas is a wealthy country, there are still so many people in need and they're just so grateful someone is stepping up to help."
Though the focus for Hands for Hunger began on food rescue, they're now also turning their attention to education and research, pushing for a food security assesment in the nation.
A little research has been completed in that area, and they've been looking at a variety of factors that influence food security, including food importations and farming, so as to eradicate hunger at its root.
At the same time, they're going into schools and local communities to educate people about the realities of hunger in the community. On October 15th, designated World Food Day, they'll partner with the Ministry of Agriculture for a day of awareness, educating the public about food insecurity.
"That's something we're really trying to educate the public about--why do we have the issue of hunger in The Bahamas in the first place and what can we do about that?" Darville says.
"There's currently no research and there's no expert you can go to, so what we're trying to do is be one of the forces pushing for change so that we do have that assessment in the country, we can see what the issues are and how we can change them."
Yet they don't plan to drop their food rescue program anytime soon--in fact, they're pushing for more corporate involvement for the community.
With their new volunteer resources and corporate partnerships coordinator joining the team, they hope to attract local businesses who want to make a difference much like Starbucks did earlier this year during their international initiative, Global Month of Volunteerism Campaign, collecting donations from patrons for a local organization.
"We were told by Starbucks that the reason they wanted to partner with us is because they know we partner with 18 recipient agencies we donate the food to--so really by partnering with us, they were able to partner with 18 organizations all at once," says Darville.
"We know that there are many companies that want to do something with their employees," she continues. "They're into corporate social responsibility but they don't have the time to coordinate things -- companies are more likely to do it if you're organized to coordinate it, so we're excited about that opportunity."
They also hold fundraisers and reach out to the community for assistance through their annual events Paradise Plates and their bread and soup booth at Jollification every year.
Yet, Darville says, no matter their expansion or direction, the organization is truly driven by their many tireless volunteers--over 400--who give their time loading trucks, taking pictures, and putting any of their skills to use for the organization that makes such a difference in the lives of many Bahamians.
"I just love seeing all sectors of the community come together," says Darville. "One of the things I love is that we're constantly being approached by people who want to volunteer. It's great to see -- it's so heartwarming to see people who want to make a change."
For more about Hands for Hunger, visit their website at www.handsforhunger.org.
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I make the following comments as a concerned Exumian who is tired of non-Exumians trying to stop the growth and progress of the Island.
It appears that some PLP politicians in their quest for power are prepared to jeopardize the future of the people of Exuma by frustrating the largest single private employer on the island. They are treating Sandals, which is responsible for the livelihood of hundreds of Exumians and their families, as though it is not appreciated in our country.
The truth is that Sandals Emerald Bay has provided a safety net for many people on the island whose hopes were dashed when the Four Seasons hotel closed.
When Sandals came on the scene most of the commercial airlines had terminated their services even before the departure of Four Seasons, the previous operator.
Today, after just 12 months of operations, Sandals has been able to attract carriers such as Air Canada, Continental Connections, American Eagle, US Air, Delta and the domestic carriers Bahamasair, SkyBahamas and Western Airlines.
Sandals has also honored the existing agreements with Exuma Transit for the transportation of guests.
The charge of poor treatment of its employees by the hotel is totally false as is the complaint about the presence of Jamaicans on the property.
Sandals is a Jamaican investor with core expertise provided by Jamaicans who are hardworking people with good work attitudes worthy of emulation.
The fact is that as a major Caribbean and International hotel chain, Sandals employs Bahamians in a number of its hotels in its host countries including the Turks & Caicos, St. Lucia, Antigua and Jamaica.
Interestingly, no mention has been made of the many foreign nationals who worked with the former Four Seasons hotel and who treated Bahamian workers so badly. I don't recall any complaint being made about them.
As far as the charge of under-payment of staff is concerned, the government of The Bahamas has established a minimum wage. Any employer who pays workers below the minimum is in breach of the law. Anyone with proof that this is the case at Emerald Bay, should report the matter to the Department of Labour.
Indeed, the staff of the hotel should be made to understand that the property can only pay what it can afford and that higher wages could mean less staff and not so stable employment.
In any given interaction of people there will be problems; even in churches. However, I am satisfied that the resort is doing much more than its predecessor in trying to better relations with all its public.
In recent times, the hotel has been managed by some of the finest professionals of Sandals: Jeremy Mutton and Patrick Drake.
Significant efforts have been made in introducing a wide range of programs to train and upgrade staff, foster professionalism, enhance staff morale and reach out to the community and business sectors.
The hotel has introduced a wide range of programs to address training and personal development at every level, as well as entry level certification for school leavers in hospitality training and the introduction of an apprenticeship program.
In addition, there are numerous programs to enrich and enhance the everyday life of workers including luncheons, breakfasts, bingos and other recreational activities as well as access to a barber shop which provides concessionary rates to employees.
Through the Sandals Foundation, several projects are helping to transform schools and civic amenities on the island in an unprecedented manner.
For the first time in the history of Exuma, the island is blessed with a hotel choir which is a big hit whenever it appears at local churches and civic functions.
Since the acquisition of the hotel, millions of dollars have been spent on renovation and upgrading facilities, including the addition of 62 rooms, thereby increasing the capacity of the resort from 183 rooms to 245 rooms. Also, some 60 additional persons have received employment as a result of this project.
In addition, three more restaurants are to be built, providing employment for many more people.
In the current climate of unemployment in Exuma, anyone responsible for providing jobs for over 500 permanent and 100 construction workers ought to be welcomed and respected by everyone.
I believe Exumians need to examine the situation very carefully and not be fooled. They should never forget the trauma and loss of hope that came with the announcement of the closure of Four Seasons Hotel. Indeed, Exumians should be very wary of persons, who for selfish political reasons, are trying to destroy their future and the growth and stability that Sandals has brought to this Island.
I can testify that the chairman of Sandals and his entire staff have always extended a hand of friendship to the Member of Parliament for Exuma, Anthony Moss.
It is an indictment on Moss that he has failed to accept invitations he has received from a major investor in his constituency whose operations have impacted the lives, livelihood and future of so many of his constituents.
Former island administrator
FREEPORT, Grand Bahama - Top executives from Beijing Construction America and influential investors from China have arrived in Freeport to hammer home a project that could change the Grand Bahama economy.
The foreign delegation is engaged in a series of meetings with government officials. The 1.1 million-square-foot facility, representing a total investment of $200 million, is designed to provide merchants from China and around the world with an international platform to promote, sell and distribute mass quantities of goods to corporations throughout North America, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Beijing Construction America is slated to be the general contractor, while The Export-Import Bank of China will help provide financing for the $200 million project. World Mart has received preliminary approval from the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), and Ian Fair, the chairman, is reporting "considerable progress".
Zac Henson, the president of Beijing Construction America, told Guardian Business during an exclusive interview that his company is "aggressively investing in the U.S." through his counterparts in the Chinese banks. That eye for opportunity has now led them just a few dozen miles off the coast of Florida, to Grand Bahama.
Henson said the construction of World Mart, over the course of two years, will generate up to 1,200 jobs for Bahamians. While construction would be overseen by Beijing Construction, a series of sub-contractors will be enlisted.
And when the complex is complete, World Mart is estimated to create up to 3,000 jobs.
"We are here to design, build and possibly finance this project," he added.
Henson and his team are joined by top-level investors from China to scout the site. Kenneth Hutton and Joe Thompson, the Bahamian executives behind the distribution center, were also in attendance and introduced the foreign delegation to local government officials.
The World Mart team is expected to meet today with Ryan Pinder, the minister of financial services, and Michael Darville, the minister for Grand Bahama.
Comprising 1,600 display stalls, World Mart will be divided into five districts geared towards specific areas of trade and distribution: Fashion Boulevard, Technology Way, Home Goods Avenue, Manufacturing Place and Season Street.
Each district is in the shape of a circle, and perhaps most interestingly, a clear glass cube lies in the middle for displays and private meetings.
The Bahamian business model has been fashioned from Yiwu International Trade City, one of the largest wholesale centers in the world.
"Manufacturing is aging in China. They aren't cranking it out like they were a few years ago. That's why you see Export-Import Bank being so aggressive, and their state-owned partners," Henson said.
The notion of a free trade zone between the U.S. and China, and China and the U.S., is very attractive within the free trade bubble, he explained.
The concept of World Mart, however, is not to just bring big business to The Bahamas, but create a destination in itself.
Plans are in the works for a hotel and several restaurants. The spill off effect, Henson added, would be tremendous for an island in dire need for employment.
In size and scale, World Mart, as a Chinese project, would only be rivaled by Baha Mar, the ongoing $2.6 billion resort development on Cable Beach.
According to the latest numbers from the Department of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Grand Bahama is around 21 percent.
Henson and his team will be in Freeport until Friday.
"I think there is an incredibly unused asset here. It has tremendous potential," he said. "But because of the economy, and because of world circumstances, it has a stomach ache, and it needs medical attention."
Abaco's first wine and food festival won "overwhelming support" from locals and visitors alike, according to organizers.
A spin-off of a popular Nova Scotia-based festival, the Devour! The Beach food and wine festival took place at the Green Turtle Club and Marina from March 26-29, attracting a solid attendance.
"Devour! The Beach was an extraordinary cultural event that showcased local cuisine along with the talents of North America's best chefs," said Adam Showell, owner of the Green Turtle Club and Marina. "We are proud to be the host of such a successful event in its first year."
The Bahamian communities warmly embraced the event with the majority of the attendees from Green Turtle Cay, Treasure Cay, Marsh Harbour and Nassau.
International attendees travelled from the far corners of North America to join in on the celebrations. Guests came from Nova Scotia, Manitoba, British Columbia, Ohio, New York, Tennessee, Connecticut, Florida, and Wyoming.
"Devour! The Beach offered a new product for Abaco and was well-received by visitors and locals alike," said Wynsome Ferguson, manager of Abaco's Bahamas Tourist Office, who was representing the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.
"It gave an economic boost to our economy and commenced our tourist season, attracting newcomers to the destination. Devour! The Beach has great potential for future growth."
The festival's events were near capacity with 70 percent attendance - a great accomplishment for the inaugural event. Despite minor weather interruptions, the beach party, appropriately titled 'Chefs on a Beach', was nearly sold out at the Green Turtle Club.
By the week's end, with four days of wine seminars and culinary indulgences incorporating local ingredients and the varied global backgrounds of all of the chefs, visiting chef, Jean Joho, who owns restaurants in Chicago and Las Vegas, said it was apparent that the event was a success. "The charm of the island, the warmth of the islanders, the appreciation of the attendees and the hospitality of the Green Turtle Resort staff made this a unique experience that I truly enjoyed and one that I would highly recommend," said Chef Joho.
Michael Palij, the festival's master of wine, thoroughly enjoyed his experience, adding: "Devour! That's exactly what I did. I devoured the amazing food prepared by a cadre of North America's leading chefs; I savored extremely fine wine; I absorbed the understated elegance of the unique Green Turtle Club and I reveled in mingling with dozens of like-minded foodies. 2015 - bring it on!"
Devour! The Beach is a spin-off of Devour! The Food Film Festival, based in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The fourth annual Food Film Festival will take place this coming November, and will showcase more than 50 film screenings from across the globe. It will also feature the very best of local and international food and wine and industry sessions with culinary experts on a variety of topics.
"Devour! The Beach is just the beginning when it comes to the full Devour! brand extension," said Executive Director Michael Howell. "We could not have picked a better spot to host the first Devour! satellite event."
Organizers of Devour! The Beach would like thank all of its sponsors: Island Property Management, Sound Harbour House, Spectacle Group, T4G, Infuse Public Relations, Abaco Estate Services, Burns House, John Watling's Run, Big Green Egg and Bahamas Food Services.
"A very special thank you goes to the Green Turtle Club Resort & Marina, Devour! The Beach's official event sponsor and host, along with the staff and management team of the resort, who worked tirelessly to ensure the event's success," said Chef Howell.
Howell also tipped his hat to Abaco's welcoming communities, along with chefs Jean Joho, Michael Howell, Michael Blackie, Tom Fleming, Craig Flinn, Eric Williams and Master of Wine Michael Palij.
A 15-minute video on the impact Value Added Tax (VAT) has had on the twin-island state of St. Kitts & Nevis has been making the social media rounds in recent weeks, posted and re-posted by many Bahamians linked in the online community.
The video, moderated by Rev. Conrad Howell of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), was created ahead of what had been the planned April 1, 2013 implementation of VAT in TCI.
The video features a number of prominent citizens of St. Kitts & Nevis, including business leaders, former Minister of Finance Richard Caines, and also everyday citizens outlining the "negative" impacts VAT has had on their economy since its implementation three years ago.
Business leaders speak of having to close their businesses, of the sharp and sudden rise in the cost of living. Other citizens speak of the stunning decline in their quality of life.
Such reports have increased fears among an already worried Bahamian population preparing for the introduction of VAT at a rate of 15 percent on July 1, 2014.
In the absence of information on the likely impact of VAT on their way of life, and on their economy, many Bahamians view this video as a model of things to come, notwithstanding recent reports from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that St. Kitts & Nevis is seeing signs of an economic recovery.
Calvin Cable, executive director of the St. Kitts & Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, told National Review that VAT had a "multiplier effect in terms of hardships on the populace".
Cable said a consumption tax was removed and the VAT of 17 percent was introduced.
Two other taxes, the customs duty and the customs service charge, were retained in addition to the 17 percent VAT, he explained.
"It was tremendous on the cost of living," Cable said. "You could have felt it in the number of packages being taken out by householders out of the supermarkets because the prices of goods went up pretty high, maybe about 25 percent overnight."
As a result of VAT, many people in St. Kitts & Nevis cut back significantly, he said; many of them eliminated all luxuries.
"People stopped going out to restaurants to eat and that sort of thing because it was proving to be too much to carry," he said.
VAT is viewed by governments as an attractive option as it taxes both goods and services.
The current narrow based tax system in The Bahamas has long been in need of an overhaul, according to government officials and various international agencies examining The Bahamas' tax structure.
Cable also noted that prior to the implementation of VAT, there were very few charges or taxes on services in St. Kitts & Nevis.
"And so, what the population had to deal with now was that services were being charged VAT, which was not the custom before," he said.
"For instance, doctors fees, lawyers fees, services in the tourism sector -- and I know The Bahamas is big on tourism. For instance, rented cars had to pay the 17 percent."
Cable said VAT provided a "windfall" for the government in taking from the services sector, "but most of that was coming out of the local population".
"So the amount of disposable income that they had on their side was drastically reduced and the buying power was drastically diminished," he said.
In St. Kitts & Nevis, VAT is credited with bolstering the government's fiscal position, but Cable said it happened "on the backs of the local people".
Prior to the implementation of VAT, the country experienced debt levels above 200 percent, which made it one of the world's most indebted countries.
The debt to GDP ratio is now inching closer to the 100 percent mark.
St. Kitts and Nevis' Minister of Information Nigel Carty previously pointed to the "herculean effort that has been exerted to bring great relief to the country's fiscal position at such an economically challenging time".
While The Bahamas' debt situation has not been as dire as that of St. Kitts & Nevis, it has reached a position where it is now unsustainable.
The Bahamas government has outlined its own efforts to bring relief to this country's fiscal position.
As we noted in this space last week, government debt as at June 30, 2014 is projected to be $4.9 billion, compared to $2.4 billion as at July 2007.
Over the last two fiscal years, the government has seen a total deficit in excess of $500 million.
Almost one out of every four dollars in revenue collected by the government must be allocated to pay the interest charges on the public debt and cover the debt repayment.
With a significant change in the country's tax system on the horizon, The Bahamas government has not yet produced any studies to show the likely impact VAT will have on the cost of living.
In every sector, there are understandably questions about how this new regime will affect business.
The man and woman on the street are equally concerned, as they already exist in a climate of high unemployment, where many are finding it hard to meet their obligations and disposable spending has been stretched to the limit.
The government is now asking citizens to shoulder the burden of reversing a burdensome debt situation.
Again, there is no doubting that it is time for action. The chosen route is of course value added tax, which the government says is a central element of its tax reform strategy.
A new IMF report "Tax Reforms for Increased Buoyancy", which was prepared for the government, notes that The Bahamas has low taxes compared to the rest of the world, excluding Central American countries.
It points out that many countries in the region have already introduced VAT, thus providing "a stable source of tax revenues".
The report notes further that almost all the countries in the region have taxes on income and profits. Furthermore, they have high excises on petroleum products.
While The Bahamas is only now moving in the direction of VAT, several of its Caribbean neighbors -- among them, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago -- implemented VAT more than a decade ago.
Speaking of the Barbados experience, Lalu Vaswani, president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, described VAT as a "very efficient means of collecting tax as it increases the base on which the taxes can be collected".
"I think it has been a positive impact, although it was not without its challenges," Vaswani said in an interview with National Review.
Vaswani said that prior to the implementation of VAT in Barbados in 1997, the country had as many as 11 different types of duties or imposts that could be charged on imports.
"The increased effectiveness of collecting revenue gave the government more scope to do their development projects," Vaswani said.
"From a business perspective, there are always anxieties associated with changes, and it is always desirable that there is a maximum amount of consultations even when the final positions are not known.
"So there is an understanding from ground level what are the goals, specific objectives and how you propose to do it because very often what you theoretically are trying to do may have a unique challenge, which may be identified before it is implemented and resolved and prevented."
Former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur noted in a 2010 interview with Erasmus Williams, press secretary to the prime minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, that high debt levels are inevitable in the absence of a tax base to generate the revenue needed to run a country.
"I supported the VAT when I was in opposition in Barbados because I thought it stood the test of reasonableness, but it was absolutely necessary," said Arthur, whose administration introduced VAT.
"You're living in a set of countries where year by year, period by period, governments will have to remove import duties. What are you going to replace them with? And that is the basic question."
Arthur said VAT created the basis for sustained growth "without fiscal difficulties".
"It allowed us to be able to introduce programs to aggressively mount and sustain policies to eradicate poverty and we did that by creating the base for sustainable growth in the country," he said.
The most recent Caribbean country to implement VAT was St. Lucia, which did so just over a year ago at a rate of 15 percent.
Gerard Bergasse, president of the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture, noted that VAT pulls more people into the tax net.
"When you are relying on other forms of taxation, they are not as broad based, so you have a much narrower tax base, which means that the tax on those people has to be higher to achieve your revenue targets," Bergasse told National Review.
"But when you have a broad based tax like VAT, it means that everybody is contributing, so it makes it fairer. And it does not take the fiscal tool out of government's hands because they can still zero rate items, or zero rate a basket of goods that they feel would help less advantaged people."
The Bahamas government's White Paper on Tax Reform notes that zero-rating a supply implies applying a zero VAT rate and allowing credits for VAT paid on inputs.
It says that zero-rating should definitely be applied to exports as a VAT is designed to tax only domestic consumption. Other than that, zero-rating should be strictly limited, if utilized at all, the document says.
Bergasse said that based on anecdotal evidence, many people would say that VAT was a necessary evil in St. Lucia.
"I still believe that VAT was the right thing for the government to have done and it's moving in the right direction," Bergasse said.
He said while the government is not now experiencing a huge windfall, as far as he is aware its revenue targets have been met.
Bergasse said the Chamber of Commerce supported the implementation of VAT from the beginning and was a part of the government's pre-implementation VAT team.
Bergasse pointed to the need for proper consultations ahead of the implementation of VAT.
But he recognized that making VAT understandable to a cross-section of people is "very difficult".
"I will warrant that there are still business people in St. Lucia who still do not understand VAT," Bergasse said.
"...It is a bit of a complicated tax, so it does take people a while to wrap their heads around it and it does make a difference the way your legislation is structured. We didn't get the legislation until very late in the day and even after we got the legislation there are the regulations that go along with it that are very important, because the legislation is the 'what'; the regulations are the 'how'."
He noted that the fundamental change created by VAT is that the business community is changed from being solely taxpayers to being tax collectors.
When properly structured, VAT is a tax on consumption, not business.
In The Bahamas, the proposed VAT legislation and regulations have not yet been released to the public, so the specifics are still unknown.
The government, meanwhile, is planning on increasing public education and awareness in a series of meetings set to begin this week.
Prime Minister Perry Christie has said the July 1 implementation date is not set in stone and he, as minister of finance, needs to be satisfied that businesses and the country at large are ready for the implementation of VAT.
As the government prepares to intensify public education on VAT, it is hoping to quiet what appears to be growing public sentiment against VAT.
Simone Johnson's Spanish-speaking clients will never be lost in translation, once they hit the shores of The Bahamas.
In May 2010, Johnson started her Spanish tour operating business, Bahamas A Sus Ordenes, after scores of tourists complained to her about how not enough people are able to communicate with them.
Despite being bilingual for more than 20 years, she told Guardian Business in this week's edition of 'Da Plunge' that she only recently discovered that she needed to get creative in order to make the two languages work for her.
"I have noticed that in the last 10 years, we have had a large influx of Latin American visitors, but there was really no company per say concentrating on servicing these visitors," according to Johnson.
"I am also one of the Spanish ambassadors at the airport and of the main complaints is that there are not many people who speak Spanish, whether it is at the hotel or when they go to the restaurants.
"I created this tour business so that we can encourage more people to be creative with their language capabilities, so that the guests will have less to complain about. We have so many products and things to show our guests and language barriers shouldn't be used as an excuse."
She continued, "I have also noticed that the Ministry of Tourism was not really putting an emphasis on persons learning a foreign language, in order to help more foreigners in their own language."
Within the last two weeks alone, Johnson said her firm serviced 12 Argentinians, who were elated to learn about her company.
"I have found that they love to ask questions but they weren't able to ask any at their hotel because no one spoke Spanish. When they came across our service, they were elated. It's been very well-received," she noted.
Johnson pointed out that she acquired training and certification via the Bahamahost program, and expanded her business by hiring 12 part-time employees.
"They assist in doing translations for Spanish guests and act as tour guides for them as well. Altogether there are 15 of us, nine of which are Bahamians. If we want these visitors to come, we can't give them anything to complain about," she said.