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News Article
Central Bank: Energy costs surge 18.9

Surging oil prices have triggered a rise in inflation of 3.2 percent in April, according to the latest Central Bank report, with energy costs spiking 18.9 percent year-on-year.
The figures were revealed in the Central Bank's Monthly Economic Financial Developments (MEFD) report, which outlined specific areas where inflation increases have been felt.
"Buoyed by the pass-through effects of elevated international oil prices, domestic inflation firmed by 1.4 percentage points to 3.2 percent over the twelve months to April," the report from the Central Bank said. "This outturn, mainly reflected an 8 percent surge in transportation costs -- which are directly affected by fuel prices -- alongside gains for furnishings, household equipment and maintenance (3.9 percent), housing and other related items (3.2 percent) and restaurant and hotels (3.1 percent) costs. All of the other categories recorded growth rates of less than 3.0 percent."
Domestic energy costs experienced the highest rate of inflation compared to the same period last year, with fuel charges from the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) increasing by 1.9 percent on a monthly basis - ultimately leading to the 18.9 percent rise year-on-year. The price per kilowatt hour grew to $26.50 in April.
The average cost for diesel and gasoline were also up during April, which was 14.4 percent and 8.9 percent higher than the same period last year respectively. The median price for both diesel and gas were up by 7.8 percent and 2.8 percent over the review month, according to the report.
With international oil prices creating a domino effect on inflation and energy costs in April, the possibility of lower prices going forward is possible, given that the price per barrel has dropped to $84.10 per barrel, compared to when it was $104.23 in April.
The reduced cost on the global level is a signal that Bahamians will start to see better prices at the gas pump, according to the head of the Bahamas Petroleum Retailers Association (BPRA) Phillip Kemp. He said that the lower fuel costs will allow the country to avoid a record breaking summer in terms of prices, and the positive effects from it will be felt in the transportation sectors, specifically aviation.
Going forward, despite the potential that reduced oil prices has to lowering inflation, the Central Bank report said that "firming in inflation is projected in the near-term, as international oil prices remain elevated".
The MEFD report can be seen in its entirety on the Central Bank's website.

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News Article
Rolling blackouts continue

A summer of record heat has led to extreme challenges for the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) which once again shut down power to thousands of residences and businesses yesterday, as the demand for electricity simply could not be met.BEC blamed yesterday's rolling blackouts - the latest in a series of load shedding exercises - on another failed generator.  This was the third generator to go offline this week.The generator has not been properly maintained due to the corporation's strained financial situation, said BEC in a statement. The corporation staggered yesterday's blackouts in two-hour intervals, impacting different areas of New Providence.BEC said between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. it would shut down power to customers in Lyford Cay, Old Fort Bay, Lyford Hills, Charlottesville, Jacaranda, Blake Road, Sea Beach, Caves Village, Sandyport and Soldier Road between Abundant Life Road and Balliou Hill Road.BEC expected to cut electricity supply to customers in Tyler Street, Nassau Street, West Bay Street (between Xavier's Primary School and Vista Marina), Augusta Street, Deans Lane, Meeting Street, Balliou Hill Road South, College Drive, Boyd Road and all side streets between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.BEC expected that between 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. it would shut down supply to customers in Westward Villas, the Cable Beach strip, Lake Cunningham subdivision, Skyline Drive, Sanford Drive, Stapledon Gardens, Sea View Drive, West Bay Street, and John F. Kennedy Drive.Between 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. customers in Bamboo Boulevard, Pinewood Gardens, and South Beach were expected to have no electricity."Once again, the corporation apologizes to its customers and will continue to provide updates on the status of its generation challenges," BEC said in its statement.There have been rolling blackouts in New Providence since Monday when two of BEC's generators at its Clifton Pier plant failed.
One of those generators has since been brought back online.  BEC said it has identified the problem with the second generator.
"The need for parts and extensive repairs means that the generator may be out of service for several days," said BEC.The corporation said the third failed generator is expected back online today.  That generator is also located at the Clifton Pier plant.
"During this time, the corporation will continue to utilize the Generation Assistance Plan (GAP), relying on customers with large capacity standby units [capable of producing more than 1,000 kilowatts] freeing up capacity for other customers," BEC said.  "Additionally, BEC is preparing to install the 20 megawatts of rental units.  These units are expected to be operable by mid-month."BEC said with the GAP and the installation of the rental units, it would be able to limit the impact of any future generation problem on its customers.

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News Article
Who should run BEC

The Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) cannot keep the lights on in the capital island of our country. Residents of New Providence have become accustomed to annual summer load shedding because BEC cannot meet peak demand caused by the increased use of air-conditioners by residential and commercial customers.
Every summer it gets hot and every summer BEC fails to meet demand. And, by the way, BEC's failure occurs under Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and Free National Movement (FNM) administrations.
Before private management was hired at the airport, the government poorly maintained our gateway. Smelly restrooms and broken down luggage retrieval sections were just a few of the disorderly functions of that structure.
After private management was hired and a stable revenue stream established to fund needed expansion, the airport became a thing of pride for Bahamians.
The problem is that the main interests of most politicians are staying in power and getting reelected. They do not want to fire anyone (potential voters) and they do not want to anger anyone (potential voters).
It is now time to make a move with BEC. Our politicians cannot run it properly. That has been proven over the decades.
Commercial and residential consumers have suffered as a result of the government running the power supplier. Constant power outages damage equipment and cause some businesses that do not have generators to close until the power supply is restored. Revenue is lost as a result.
And if equipment is damaged, businesses have to go through a long entanglement with BEC in order to receive compensation.
Residential consumers have their appliances and electronics damaged by the on and off cycle of power cuts and restoration. For those who do not have generators, power outages make difficult carrying out the simplest things.
The government must relinquish full control of BEC. It could be fully privatized with the government assuming all or most of its debt in order to make the corporation attractive; or it could be partially privatized with the partner assuming managerial control of the supplier with the government being a minority partner.
If BEC is sold to a group with experience running a successful power company, there could be a similar result as witnessed at the airport.
Another option would be to allow private companies to open up and also supply power in New Providence. If the government thinks it must own BEC forever, then this model would allow those companies to produce the supply needed to keep the lights on all the time.
The idea has been floated of a BEC partnership. What is needed is a formal national consultation on BEC, followed by a position paper, followed by revisions, then a decision on a new model and the executed change.
What our politicians do not seem to understand is that Bahamians are fed up with their incompetence. After 38 years of independence we are still struggling to do simple things such as keeping traffic lights on, fixing roads and maintaining adequate power supply and water pressure. Since the government cannot do these things, then we must find new models to ensure that they are done efficiently.
Our suggestions are in no way exhaustive. There are many creative ways to ensure that services are provided. The one model we all know has failed is full state ownership and control.

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News Article
Moss: BCB expenses reduced by 6M

The former chairman of the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB) is defending his performance over the last five years, claiming annual operating expenses fell from $18 million to $12 million.
Michael Moss, who also served as chairman of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), said this reduction in operating expenses at BCB (commonly referred to as ZNS) caused the government's subsidy to be "significantly reduced".
In all, Moss submitted a 12-point document outlining his achievements as chairman from 2007 to 2012. He noted a number of cost-saving measures, including the renegotiation of an agreement for satellite uplink services that brought a $1 million bill down to $330,000. Vehicle, property and all-risks insurance was also brought down by more than $250,000 through "competitive bidding", according to Moss.
BCB also went through a restructuring whereby the workforce was brought down to less than 180, from 280, "yielding a concomitant $4 million reduction in annual operating expenses".
The chairman said staff in New Providence was merged into a single building for television. The vacant building, he explained, was subsequently leased out, which produced revenue and reduced expenses.
Moss also listed negotiation with the Performing Rights Society (PRS) to have a "previously ignored" injunction withdrawn as one of his key accomplishments. Past failures to pay royalties to artists were forgiven by BCB paying $500,000 over four years.
"A single, further payment of $500,000 is to be paid to fully satisfy details of the agreement otherwise a severe, financial penalty will result," Moss explained.
From an over-arching perspective, Moss claims he "commenced and significantly advanced" the network's move from advancing the priorities of the state to becoming a public service broadcaster. A technical transformation from analog to high-definition digital broadcast has also occurred, he said.
Accounts for 2011 are awaiting audit, Moss admitted, although under his tenure he insists the company has cleared a backlog of neglected financial reports, including the years 2003 up to 2010.
"The accounts were subjected to audit in quick succession. Hence, a normal benefit of having accounts audited annually and being responsive to audit concerns expressed in a proper year's audit, could to be taken advantage of. Many of the accounts have therefore attracted similar audit commentary," Moss told Guardian Business.
Fiscal discipline and a review of monthly management accounts were tasks enforced during his tenure, according to the former chairman.
Back in April, The Nassau Guardian reported that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) paid $170,000 of the years-long $248,000 debt.
Moss confirmed that the PLP settled the debt with the corporation leading up to the 2012 general election.
A further debt was contested with the party. Moss stated at the time that, in the spirit of compromise, "the corporation has allowed the PLP to settle that portion of the debt".

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News Article
Public safety and the road work

There are several roadwork projects currently going on in New Providence. The Chinese are leading the Airport Gateway project, creating a highway from the airport to Thompson Boulevard. Jose Cartellone Construcciones Civiles is leading the New Providence Road Improvement Project. Its scope of work is across the island.
Other emergency road work is always being conducted by government agencies such as the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) and the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC). So at any given time, it is unclear who is digging up our roads and for what reason.
In driving around New Providence, there are numerous examples of inadequate safety measures being taken by construction crews. One example is at Gladstone Road just between Lakeview Cemetery and the Bristol Wines & Spirits office. There is an open trench there that must be at least 20 feet deep. It has been left exposed with a few small cones around it. If a car has a flat tire and its driver loses control, the poor victim who would fall in the hole would die instantly and a crane would be required to remove the car.
Along John F. Kennedy Drive there are some smaller trenches cut near the Ministry of Works. With the heavy rains, some of the trenches have gotten deeper. It would be easy to lose a tire if you were too hasty and drove quickly through the water-filled trench thinking it was of average depth. These are just a few examples of the hazards on our streets due to the road work.
The contractors and government must ensure that reasonable effort is given to maintaining public safety as we proceed through this massive road development initiative. Trenches over 20 feet in depth should not be left as deathtraps for drivers. Barriers should be erected around such holes and the necessary lighting and signage for day and night placed so that people nearing the area know what is there.
Parts of New Providence look like war zones due to the road work. There has always been inadequate traffic management associated with these changes and often people have no idea where to turn or what lane to drive in on roads such as Prince Charles Drive, creating much frustration.
We all know that there will be delays and inconvenience associated with the upgrades. However, public safety should not be jeopardized due to lack of consideration by the builders and work crews.

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News Article
Gov't urged to protect poor in VAT roll-out

As the target date for the implementation of value-added tax (VAT) approaches, a retired politician is calling on the government to develop a plan that would cushion the impact for poor people.
"We have to find the avenue to make sure that the increase in the living cost that will inevitably come is not too much for the disadvantaged among us," former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Cabinet Minister George Smith told The Nassau Guardian.
"We have to make sure that the people least among us, the people who can least afford to pay more, we have to find avenues of easing the burden on them."
Financial Secretary John Rolle said on Monday the cost of living in the first year of VAT is likely to increase by around five or six percent based on an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study.
Smith said there are several things the government can do to soften the blow for the poor, including subsidizing their electricity bills.
The government has not yet outlined specific measures intended to protect the poor.
In a speech to the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce earlier this year, former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur underscored the importance of implementing policies to shield the poor.
Noting the tendency for VAT to hit the pockets of the poor disproportionately, Arthur said it is important to build "special discriminatory features" to help the poor or to redistribute a percentage of VAT proceeds to support programs targeted at the poor and the disadvantaged.
Arthur, whose administration implemented VAT in 1997, said one of the measures introduced in Barbados was a new Poverty Eradication Fund, which was annually capitalized from the proceeds of VAT to deal with poverty at the individual level.
The government of The Bahamas intends to introduce VAT in July 2014 at a rate of 15 percent.
The introduction of the new tax regime is one of the measures intended to enhance public finances.
Smith said the government must also move to cut wastage. Specifically, he said it is the time for the government to stop pumping money into Bahamasair.
"We need to find a way to operate Bahamasair so that it is profitable," he said.
He said the government must also address subsidies to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) and Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC), which have been a consistent drag on the public purse.
The government allocates tens of millions of dollars annually to BEC, WSC, and Bahamasair in subventions funding.
Based on the legislation and regulations that were drafted to guide the VAT regime, the government would tax over 80 different professions, cable bills and phone bills for all consumers, and electricity and water bills for businesses.
The Value Added Tax Bill 2013, and the Value Added Tax Regulations 2013, obtained by The Nassau Guardian, proposes that many financial transactions and insurance transactions and premiums, except for health and life insurance, will be subject to VAT.
However, a variety of breadbasket items, educational institutions, daycare, after school, retirement, medical, and disabled facilities, religious institutions, charitable organizations and the sale or rental of a dwelling not part of a hotel complex would be exempt.
VAT is expected to improve revenue by $200 million, officials estimate.

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News Article
'Stash Houses' demolished less than 24 hours after marijuana discovery

NASSAU, The Bahamas

--- Officials of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, working in conjunction
with personnel from the Bain and Grant's Town Urban Renewal Project and
the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, demolished two abandoned buildings
located just off Baillou Hill Road Tuesday, putting an end to what were
once two "stash houses" for drug peddlers in the area.

The
destruction of the buildings came less than 24hours after police found
and confiscated a little over four pounds of marijuana in one of the two
abandoned buildings...

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News Article
BEC:Recent power outages cause by fuel supply disruptions

New Providence suffered several intermittent power outages this past weekend related to a disruption in fuel supplies, according to a Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) press release.
The corporation said the largest outage occurred just after midnight early Sunday morning and was the result of a temporary disruption in fuel supplies at its power stations located on Blue Hill and Tucker Road, and Clifton Pier.
"The disruption occurred during a routine changeover of fuel tanks," said the BEC release.
"The weekend outages affected a number of areas on New Providence and on Paradise Island."
The release added that Saturday and Sunday's disruption in power supplies were re ...

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News Article
Miller: BEC targets 10 dip in power bill

Newly appointed Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) Chairman Leslie Miller is anticipating a tangible decrease on consumer's electricity bills by the end of the year.

Miller confirmed to Guardian Business that BEC's consumers no longer pay a fuel surcharge and some decreases in electricity prices are expected between now and the end of the year.

"Our goal is a minimum of a five percent decrease for commercial users and 10 percent decrease for residential, depending on the cost of fuel. If things are able to stabilize themselves in places like Iran, if that happens and the prices continue to go down, hopefully you see a decrease because everyone is desirous of it," Miller said.

He noted that the newly appointed board, which he heads, is expected to meet within the next week to discuss the way forward for the state-run utility company, as it seeks provide its consumers with safe, reliable electricity at the cheapest possible price.

The BEC chairman said cheaper, alternative energy sources would be one of the items topping the board's agenda in an effort to stabilize the cost of fuel.

"The prevailing circumstances on the world stage dictate what BEC pays for oil. We are looking to get agreements either with one of the major oil-producing countries in our region like Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and Columbia," Miller explained. "Either we can get a government-to-government situation or let BEC have a contractual arrangement with the national corporations in those countries. That's the sort of thing that BEC looks forward to where it is dealing with the producer to try and stabilize the price."

Miller further revealed to Guardian Business that BEC would also be looking at retrofitting its apparatus to LNG and exploring the possibilities of solar and waste-based energy.

"Most powerful countries have now switched towards LNG. Solar energy is another area that we want to look at in a tangible way. We are looking to meet with the newly appointed Chinese Ambassador to encourage the use of solar panels among Bahamians at a much more affordable price," he added. "The cheapest source of energy outside of oil is the use of solar panels. We believe that if BEC was to enter a contractual agreement with companies in China, they would be able to assist us here in The Bahamas with a very competitive or discounted price making them available in large quantities for BEC to be able to resell to consumers."

In May, top business leaders renewed the called for BEC's privatization. Dionisio D'Aguilar said the continued interruption in power is coming at a major cost to local businesses, and for BEC to function properly, privatization is imperative. D'Aguilar said his businesses lose untold dollars each year from blackouts. As an example, he said the BEC situation requires him to purchase and maintain nine generators at a cost of $500,000.

Jeffrey Knowles, the operations director at Aquapure, estimates that the company spent "in excess of $30,000" on blown equipment from sudden outages. While BEC occasionally calls the manufacturers to let them know an outage is coming, this level of proactiveness is not the norm.

In the meantime, Miller said BEC's new board is looking to make BEC a self-sustaining entity that the Bahamian people can benefit from.

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News Article
WSC begins 'huge' institutional strengthening

The Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) has signed a contract to undergo "institutional strengthening", and commenced an organizational review that should ultimately place it under formal regulation.
The move is part of a fundamental revamp of the organization. Executives are fixing New Providence's infrastructure while also cleaning house at a bureaucratic level.
General Manager of WSC Glen Laville called the institution strengthening "huge" to its long-term success.
"Without a reform of the sector itself, really you're not going to see the true benefits of investment," he explained. "It will help us turn around. However, one of the things we've emphasized is there is no silver bullet approach."
Similar to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), WSC has continued to grapple with a number of financial issues. The corporation owes millions to Consolidated Water, the Cayman Islands-based provider, although government contributions have helped reduce these liabilities.
It is further understood that WSC loses up to 50 percent of its water through rampant leakages in an old and efficient network. Miya, an Israeli firm, has been hired to reduce these leakages by half within the next five years.
Excavation begins in January, and fortunately, the new institutional strengthening regime should also be online at this time. WSC executives are now developing the necessary strategies, Laville said, which goes through approval by the board and the government.
All of these initiatives are part of a $83 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to revamp WSC.
"Institutional strengthening has to be with organizational restructuring. It is restructuring to improve efficiency and productivity, and also with a focus on becoming a regulated utility under the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA)", the general manager told Guardian Business.
Being subject to regulation under URCA, he added, means there are higher performance standards and accountability. Tariff adjustments would have to go through the regulator.
And in the event of complaints, Bahamians would have a more formal means to have their voices heard.
"The good thing is it would be a transparent activity," Laville noted. "With the government having to pump so much subsidy, there are no performance agreements to ensure diligence."
In regards to the work by Miya, he reported that the Israeli firm is on the ground and has already submitted its inception reports, which describes its communications with stakeholders and early findings. A baseline survey report will follow that is far more specific on future excavation works, beginning in January 2013.
WSC is still receiving and mulling over proposals for four new water treatment plants in New Providence and 60 "lift stations" as part of the $83 million loan. This additional infrastructure upgrade will take up approximately $16 million of the loan.

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News Article
BEC monitors systems in New Providence, Family Islands

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) received information from the Bahamas Electricity Corporation and the Lynden Pindling International Airport, on August 25, 2011, concerning issues arising from Hurricane Irene's effect on the various Bahamian Islands.

The Bahamas Electricity Corporation reported that it is presently monitoring its systems in New Providence and the Family Islands as Hurricane Irene continues to impact the country.

In New Providence, a third of customers remain connected. At present, a number of customers are experiencing supply disruption. Such outages may be caused by downed power lines, due to heavy winds or trees falling on lines, BEC said. Also, feeders that tripped due to fault conditions remain out of service until assessments can be carried out. This minimizes the risk of equipment damage, as well as potential harm due to the possibility of downed, energized power lines.

BEC said that it conducted a controlled shutdown in several areas to protect local distribution systems from major damage and BEC teams worked until 3 a.m. Thursday morning restoring supply to several communities in New Providence.  However, as weather conditions deteriorated the restoration effort in New Providence was postponed until conditions improve and the "all clear" has been given. Once that happens the damage will be assessed and then crews will reconvene local restoration

In the Family Islands, residents in most islands, with the exception of Inagua, -- where power has been restored to the majority of customers - continue to experience outages, due to controlled power station shut downs or downed power lines.

BEC officials advised NEMA that they will continue to monitor all systems and provide timely updates on the effects of this weather system on its networks and its plans to commence the restoration effort.

Customers are encouraged to use the BEC emergency numbers 302-1800 or 323-5561, if they need to report supply issues.

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News Article
BEC workers protest over chairman's alleged comments

Dozens of workers at the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) quietly protested outside the corporation's Baillou Hill Road headquarters yesterday, claiming BEC Executive Chairman Leslie Miller has belittled them over the airwaves over the past few months, subsequently created a negative working environment.
Stephano Greene, president of the Bahamas Electrical Workers Union (BEWU), said the demonstration was not about proposed cuts to employees' overtime, insisting that when it comes to wastage and assigning overtime work the members have no control of the issue.
"The constant verbal assaults by Mr. Miller toward the Bahamian people, and in particular the staff of BEC, leaves nothing to the imagination," said Green during the demonstration.
While Miller did not respond directly to his reportedly belittling comments, the executive chairman said he has an open door policy to all staff.
However, he insisted that overtime is the real issue, and cannot continue as it has in the past.
"All of the persons you saw there this afternoon - about 30 or 40 of them - every single one of them has overtime in excess of $30,000," he said.
"One of them [has] as much as $83,000 in overtime with a big salary of $46,000. The management and the board intend to deal with this overtime.
"It creates an enormous burden on the backs on the Bahamian people and that is why your light bill is so high because this year alone the overtime is almost $12 million."
Greene also alleged that in a meeting two weeks ago, Miller said employees' health benefits and the corporation's pension scheme would be "drastically" changed to cut cost.
"The BEWU is disheartened to work with an executive chairman who is attempting to take away hard earned benefits such as pension, medical, vacation and sick entitlements," he said.
"We need to let the public know that like every other employee in this country we are entitled to these benefits especially pension and medical, as the work performed at BEC is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country."
But Miller responded that the corporation simply cannot afford to cover all non-contributory medical benefits.
As it relates to the pension fund, Miller said it is standard for employees to contribute five to seven percent, which the company then matches.
Greene said BEC workers, like all other Bahamians, have to bear the high cost of electricity and claimed the BEWU has proposed many measures that could help reduce the corporation's cost.
He also said he has no problem sitting down and speaking with Miller about the union's and the corporation's concerns, but "social dialogue must start with mutual respect for all".

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News Article
House approves 7.5M loan to fund social safety net program

The House of Assembly yesterday approved a resolution to borrow $7.5 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for a social safety net program, which Prime Minister Perry Christie said will represent a "major shift" in the way social services are provided and administered in the country.
The project seeks to reduce poverty through the introduction of a conditional cash transfer (CCT) targeted at the poor. Through the program, cash grants will be provided on the condition that households comply with health and education conditions focused on children.
"By placing those conditions, you're getting this money and it's going to be used in a way that we'll be able to measure the impact on the health of a family, the health of the children, and on their educational attainments," Christie said during debate on the resolution yesterday. "In other words, it is trying to maximize the use of the money and to measure how its beneficial."
Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin said that the program will emancipate the thousands of people who have been in a cycle of poverty over the past decades. While there is no recent data on the level of poverty in the country, the number of Bahamians living below the poverty line far exceeds the 28,000 that was recorded 11 years ago, Griffin said. That figure is recorded in the 2001 Bahamas Living Conditions Survey.
"We can never tell what the poverty level is now in this country. Based on what we see happening, the level of funding that we are putting in social services and into funding, far too many of our people are in need of assistance and on the poverty line."
According to Griffin, millions of dollars have been spent on social relief in the past two years alone.
Between July 2010 to June 2011, the Department of Social Services spent $687,644.21 on electricity bills; $98,0972.99 on Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) bills; $1,026,195 on rental assistance; $89,573 on burial assistance; $6.5 million on food coupon payments; $1.3 million on permanent food coupons, and another $4.6 million on temporary food coupons.
Between July 2011 and June 2012, the Department of Social Services spent $758,676 on electricity bills; $88,798 on WSC bills; $1.2 million on rental assistance; $6.6 million on food coupon payments; $1.4 million on permanent food coupons, and another $4.8 million on temporary food coupons.
Additionally, Griffin said outside of rental assistance, the department spent $90,883 to assist persons who were evicted from their homes.
"And so Mr. Speaker looking at the situation and looking at the cycle of poverty, in an effort to break that cycle we believe that the social safety net will do that, and bring up a lot of the families who have been living in poverty. And in addition to that it will revolutionize the way we deliver social services in the ministry and the Department of Social Services," she said.
Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis said the program represents a comprehensive re-engineering of the way social services are provided and administered in The Bahamas, with the view of improving efficiency and delivery, and ultimately leading to change in social outcomes and behavior.
He noted the budget of the Department of Social Services for 2012-2013 is approximately $39.9 million. Of that figure, he said approximately 29 percent is spent on the government's food stamp program.
"Unfortunately this amount has been constant over the past three fiscal periods and while it is a reflection of the general economic environment, it also reflects a certain level of inefficiency," Halkitis added.
He said key activities to be funded by the social safety net program include a nationwide survey to ascertain the characteristics of poverty in The Bahamas; the modernization of the delivery method for food stamps in New Providence and Grand Bahama; and an alteration in the method of determining recipients of assistance.
Halkitis explained that the program's focus will be less about how much assistance each person needs, and more about how to help people climb out and stay out of poverty.

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News Article
Mass failure of BTC system

The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) has launched an internal investigation into the cause of a nationwide system outage that disrupted services to more than 300,000 mobile, landline and broadband customers yesterday, company officials said.

For most of yesterday, BTC customers were unable to make mobile or landline calls, send text messages or access broadband Internet services provided by BTC.
A statement released by BTC said the system failure came after a power outage knocked out its network management center on Poinciana Drive at 8:10 a.m. yesterday.
BTC said the plant's back-up batteries started immediately but soon failed. BTC added that its generator did not function as designed after the blackout.
BTC CEO Geoff Houston apologized for the system failure, but said it had nothing to do with the company's ongoing network upgrades.
He added that the company was working to identify the source of yesterday's problem, invest in its network and ensure that an outage of this size never occurs again.
"This is not a good day for BTC," said Houston at a press conference at BTC's Network Management Center on Poinciana Drive yesterday.
"We are extremely apologetic for the impact that this has had on all of our customers. We are going to do whatever we can to make sure it never happens again."
He added that the system failure has hampered BTC's efforts to maintain customer confidence.
"I can say from my 25 plus years in this industry, an outage of this magnitude is the most significant I've ever experienced," Houston said.
"It is questioning a lot in terms of our network and what we need to do to fix a lot of our underlying issues. We do recognize that we're going to have a challenge to recover that faith to our customers, their confidence in us, but we are absolutely committed to continuing on this journey to modernize and fix up BTC."
BTC officials said they are considering ways to compensate customers for yesterday's outage.
"We're looking at all forms of compensation right now," Houston said. "We [had talked] of doing something special in consideration of what happened last week as part of our upgrade. This one has taken us by surprise. We're going to need a little bit of time to see what we do next."
Houston said it was too early to say what caused the system failure but added that the company is exploring whether it was sabotage, system malfunction or something else.
"Given that it is such a rare occurrence, we have to look at all options. . .We don't know whether it was a people issue, process issue or platform issue," Houston said.
BTC's system failure also hampered the ability of residents to get in contact with emergency services.
"We did have complaints from persons who said they could not get through to the emergency system of 919," Herbert Brown, managing director of the Public Hospitals Authority, told The Nassau Guardian yesterday.
"However, the PMH [Princess Margaret Hospital] line was working and they were able to call PMH who communicated with us," he said.
The Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) restored power to the island by 9:20 a.m. However, most of BTC's services remained down until yesterday afternoon.
BTC said it restored its landline services by 4 p.m. yesterday and mobile services were being restored incrementally. The company's broadband services were restored yesterday morning, BTC said.
Many of the company's Enterprise subscribers were still out of service up to yesterday afternoon, but BTC officials said they expected to have the entire network operational by last night.

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News Article
BEC Statement on Wednesday's Island-wide Power Outage in New Providence

Nassau, Bahamas -  (Wednesday, July 25,
2012) The Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) advises its customers in
New Providence that it has restored supply to all areas following an
island-wide outage on Wednesday, July 25, 2012. Just before 3:00 pm on
Wednesday, supply was restored to all areas in New Providence. BEC
advises that it experienced a fault at its Albany Substation at
approximately 12:27pm on Wednesday. The fault, which was caused by an
equipment malfunction, was responsible for a total system shutdown of
BEC's generation, transmission and distribution networks.

BEC officials were immediately able to locate the problem area and began
working to restore power within minutes. By 12:55 pm, the Corporation
began restoring...

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News Article
'Stash Houses' demolished less than 24 hours after marijuana discovery

NASSAU, Bahamas -- Officials of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, working in conjunction with personnel from the Bain and Grant's Town Urban Renewal Project and the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, demolished two abandoned buildings located just off Baillou Hill Road Tuesday, putting an end to what were once two "stash houses" for drug peddlers in the area.
The destruction of the buildings came less than 24hours after police found and confiscated a little over four pounds of marijuana in one of the two abandoned buildings. Superintendent of Police, Mr. Stephen Dean, Officer-in-Charge of the Urban Renewal Programme, said the discovery and swift demolition of the stash houses, will "put a dent" in the criminal operations in the area.
"We believe that the drugs were going to be used by drug peddlers in the area to sell to our little children and to our residents and so the discovery and confiscation of the four pounds of marijuana, and the destruction of these two 'stash houses' have allowed us to remove a big opportunity for drug dealers while putting a big dent in their operations in this particular area," Mr. Dean said.
"The Royal Bahamas Police Force will not allow our communities to be overrun by drug peddlers and anywhere our intelligence leads us to additional stash houses, the same will occur.

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News Article
Emera Inc. and the GB Power Company are eroding Grand Bahama's economy

While Emera Inc. and the Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC) continues
to grow by leaps and bounds from an economic standpoint, many businesses
and residents on Grand Bahama, especially in Freeport, continue to
catch eternal hell.

GBPC recently started operating its $80 million West Sunrise plant with a 92 percent Bahamian workforce.

That is good news. With the 52 Mega Watt plant now in operation,
business and residential customers will obviously see a reduction in
power outages during the hot Summer months, unlike the suffering folks
in New Providence who have to put up with the hopelessly inept Bahamas
Electricity Corporation (BEC)...

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News Article
Bahamas 'could get rid of BEC in 10 years'
Bahamas 'could get rid of BEC" in 10 years'

The Bahamas "could actually get rid of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation" in 10 years if it fully committed to financing and installing renewable energy throughout this nation, executives

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News Article
Hubert Ingraham was right to endorse NB12 news

Dear Editor,

On the July 20 edition of his radio talk show Issues of the Day, Jones Communication Network (JCN) CEO Wendall Jones took grave exception to former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham endorsing Cable News 12.
Ingraham told reporters at a press conference in the House of Assembly that he now watches channel 12 news. He also advised the Bahamian public to do the same. The former prime minister accused the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration of abusing the state-run media (the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, or BCB).
This was the complaint that was levelled against the Pindling administration during its 25-year tenure in high office. Few can look at you with a straight face and deny that ZNS was the unofficial propaganda mouthpiece of the then PLP government. I remember watching those old boring Shakespearian plays on Sunday afternoons back in the eighties. We had no cable TV back then so we had to put up with the foolishness ZNS rammed down our throats. It was ZNS or nothing.
There were talk shows back then on ZNS TV 13, but they were ferociously partisan and boring. On more than one occasion, a ZNS news reader would leave the world of journalism and enter into frontline politics.
I can think of at least two who ran for the PLP. To be fair, though, I know of one former ZNS newscaster who ran for the FNM (Mike Smith in South Beach). Still, as a young man growing up in the turbulent eighties, I thought that the PLP literally owned ZNS. It never dawned on me that the state-run media was fully subsidized by the taxpayers of this country.
Nobody had the temerity to call a spade a spade while on the air. And if anyone did so, he would have been fired either that day or the next. And when that happened, you had nowhere to go. Open dissent was simply not tolerated at ZNS. Today, however, if ZNS fires a newscaster for openly disagreeing with the incumbent government, he can go to one of the many privately-owned media houses that are in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco and even Exuma, I think. For example, the BCB fired Chrissy Love from Immediate Response. But she was soon afterwards hired by Guardian Radio. In the eighties, a fired ZNS newscaster would either move to another country in order to find work in his field or change profession.
Bahamians should thank God that Hubert Ingraham opened up the airwaves. Now, the Bahamian people don't have to put up with ZNS TV's subpar programs like they used to before August 1992. We can now watch Cable News 12.
For some reason or another, Ingraham said that ZNS has been turned into a propaganda station by the PLP government. I am not in the position to say if the former FNM leader is accurate or not with his latest accusation against the Christie administration, because I don't watch ZNS TV News. Its news production, in my opinion, is not up to 21st century standards. Cable News 12 just started broadcasting TV news either two or three years ago, yet it has left the dinosaurian ZNS TV News in the dust.
ZNS TV News has been around since the late seventies. It continues to frustrate me that the government of The Bahamas pumps millions of dollars annually into a corporation that no longer has any justifiable reason for continued existence. ZNS TV is anachronistic and hopelessly irrelevant. Seeing that it has been in existence for so many decades, how is it even remotely possible that ZNS cannot stand on its own two legs? Like the Bahamas Electricity Corporation and the Water and Sewerage Corporation, the BCB is a financial albatross around the collective necks of the Bahamian people. The taxpayers are not getting their money's worth. Like BTC, ZNS needs to be privatized.
I can understand why Jones was peeved at what Ingraham said in the press conference. His JCN also produces its own TV news. But I believe that Ingraham was only saying what the majority of Bahamians who watch TV news are raving about: Cable News 12 is by far the number one rated TV newscast in The Bahamas. Its quality is second to none. Oftentimes I wonder if its newscasts are produced in the U.S. because of its superb quality and outstanding production. What's more, Cable News 12 gives you more news stories than either ZNS or JCN.
I have heard over and repeatedly from Grand Bahamians that they prefer Cable News 12 to ZNS. Therefore, I am not at all surprised that Ingraham would endorse Cable News 12. Like most Bahamians, he knows good TV programming when he sees it. Rather than chiding Ingraham for his endorsement of Cable News 12, Jones should do what they are doing in order to compete with them in terms of getting high ratings. Maybe then I would start watching JCN TV News.

- Kevin Evans

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News Article
Fair is fair

For several hours last Monday, we were forcefully reminded exactly what is meant by an essential service and what it feels like to go about our daily lives without not just one essential service, but minus a pair of them. Today, we would like to Consider This ... what do we have a right to demand from those who provide us with these important services and what should we do if those providers don't live up to their end of the bargain?
Each of us enters into contracts during our lives - contracts with our bank, our employer, even our spouse. Those contracts have very definite parameters, giving us things in exchange for our promise to give something in return. After receiving what we have contracted for, whether it is money, employment or a faithful, loving spouse, if we fail to live up to our end of the bargain, loans get called, jobs are lost and sometimes, marriages wind up on the rocks.
Then, there are the other kinds of contracts where those with whom you have the contract must continue to provide that for which you have contracted as you agree to fulfill your part of the agreement, also on an ongoing basis. These contracts are the kind we have with our essential service providers: The companies from whom we get electricity, water and telephone and, to some degree, cable television and Internet providers, although some would argue the latter are not essential services. However, after being prevented from using ATMs all over the island last Monday because of Internet related problems, many would unquestionably classify them as essential services.
So we innocently sign up for these services, being duly informed about what will happen to us as customers should we breach our part of the agreement but never asking what compensation we could expect should the service provider fail to deliver the contracted services. It rarely occurs to many of us to ask "what happens if the lights go off?" or "what do we get back if the phones fail to work?" or "what can we expect if we have to do without water?" It is almost unthinkable that things like that would happen on a protracted basis. At least it used to be.
We are now a different kind of people. We have shown that we have little patience for politicians who do not live up to their promises. We are becoming a people whose patience is wearing very thin.

We are beginning to awaken to the fact that we do have rights and that an agreement should be taken seriously - by both parties. We are embracing the idea that we do not have to settle for whatever service we happen to get, whether it is good, mediocre or downright absent, as it was on Monday past. We are starting to ask about the fairness of having to pay the same charges whether we get what we pay for or merely a pale shadow of the promised service.
Why, for example, do we have to pay the same price for rusty water coming through the taps into our sinks and washing machines that we agreed to pay for what we were assured was a clear, clean, potable product that would not ruin our clothes and force us to buy bottled water to use for what tap water is supposed to provide? Moreover, when we signed up for water, we did not expect to have good pressure sometimes and dribbles or nothing at other times.
Yes, things happen. Emergencies occur. But emergencies are becoming so commonplace that having a good steady stream of water from your tap for some areas of the nation is now the exception, not the rule. Most just suck it up, so to speak, and pay the full water bill for the less than full service they have received.
And then we have the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC). While we are growing, we were used to power failures because of "generation problems", this past week's massive outage was caused by a "surge on its system", as BEC said in its press release on the event that crippled the capital for hours on Monday past.
But, month after month, consumers who are being asked to pay astronomical bills in return for what is anticipated to be a steady supply of current are being shut off because of non-payment. Business growth is severely handicapped by the cost of electricity as well as its unreliability, caught between going broke paying for it and going broke because you can't open your business because of a power failure - a real example of being damned if you do and damned if you don't.
And what are you offered when their part of the bargain is not fulfilled and the lights kept on? True, we only pay for the power we use, but the problem is much more complex than that. We have contracted for a 24/7 supply. We construct our lives around that understanding. Our business hours rely on that. We buy our food and plan our day around the belief that we will have power. If the contract told us we would have 12 hours of electricity every day, we would plan differently. But it doesn't. And we should have a reasonable expectation when entering into a contract that it will be carried out, just as the other party expects payment. Fair is fair and it's time for BEC to level with its customers, tell us what that contract really means in terms of supply and, instead of charging us for a reliable supply of electricity, bring down the rate for the UN-reliable supply of electricity accordingly.
And then there is BTC. Today it seems as though we are held together and linked to the world beyond with our landlines, cell phones and smart phones. We conduct business, parent our children, sustain our relationships and expand our social life within and outside our communities, all via the miracle of telephony. Without it, the nurtured networks of our lives crumble. We experienced that on Monday as everything ground to a halt when, for reasons that have yet to be discovered, our telephone system failed.
Before Monday, we have been experiencing less than stellar service with our phones. Cell phone systems are being upgraded, we are told, so we are becoming used to large gaps in our connectivity. Our landline system, when it has problems, is now subjected to a new and much more rigid repair protocol that results in a longer wait-time to be resolved. Once again, we did not sign up for this when we entered into an agreement for telephone service. And we certainly did not agree to pay for mediocrity and a constantly evolving system, subject as it seems to be to a trial-and-error kind of level of service.
BTC has provided financial consideration for those who suffered through Monday's debacle but very little reassurance that things will get better as they continue to charge for connections that often do not connect. Fair is fair. As long as BTC is in the upgrade mode, tinkering with systems and fixing platforms, the rate charged the consumer - who really is becoming more of a BETA testing participant - should be adjusted accordingly - and not just for 24 or 48 hours. As with Water and Sewerage and BEC, we are paying BTC for something we are not getting, so that payment structure needs to be addressed in the name of fairness.
Until we can get what we are paying for where our utilities are concerned, being a First World nation will continue to be an elusive dream. But once we are treated fairly by those we contract to provide these services, the sky is the limit and our admission to the First World and the 21st century will be assured.

o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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News Article
Did trade union loaders sell out their members for board appointments and more

Dear Editor,

Please allow me a few lines to address the recent Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government board appointees and how the majority of trade union leaders were somehow rewarded for their part in giving the Free National Movement (FNM) government hell during its years in office.
I hope the rights and privileges of the workers of this country are not compromised due to these positions on boards and the stipend pay that comes along.
Let's look at the following as published in the local paper. I draw attention to this Mr. Editor because when the time comes for these union presidents to show their muscle for the best intent of their members, I certainly hope they can flex their stuff the same way they did to the FNM leadership. But, of course, we all know there were promises made to these leaders and some of the pay is already being handed out.
Keep watching Bahamas, more to come. My question is will the workers be shortchanged as their leaders gets richer and richer? I wait to see who will be the first to stand up for their members against this promised happy government.
o John Pinder, president, Bahamas Public Services Union - Bahamas Mortgage Corporation board
o Bernard Evans, president, Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union - National Insurance board deputy chairman
o Belinda Wilson, president, Bahamas Teachers Union - Educational Loan Authority board
o Obie Ferguson, president, Trade Union Congress - Bahamas Electricity Corporation board
o Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson, president, Union of Tertiary Educators of The Bahamas - Bahamas Development Bank board
o Sloane Smith, executive, Bahamas Customs, Immigration and Allied Workers Union - Bahamas Trade Commission board
o Nicole Martin, president, Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union - Prices Commission

- Eyes wide open in Pinewood

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News Article
The strong survive

Nassau Christian Academy graduating senior Shawn Rolle has no problem paying for a college degree if he intends to matriculate at The College of The Bahamas (COB). The graduating senior received a four-year scholarship tenable at the institution from BTC, by virtue of being named the 2012 Top Cadet of the Year during the recent Technical Cadet Corps Programme graduation.
Rolle also earned the most outstanding student award in the pre-engineering category. He had the top grade point average in the class for the three-year program.
The Technical Cadet Corps Programme exposes students to various disciplines: Engineering, science, mechanical technology, electronics, engineering drawing, broadcast engineering and water management.
Students who are accepted into the three-year program must have a grade point average of 2.5 and pass a proficiency test that determines their suitability for a career in the respective technical fields.
Rolle's grade point average surpassed the 3.00 grade point mark, as did all of the other students honored.
Bahamas Academy graduating senior Earl Roberts, who was named the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity's 2012 Most Outstanding Male Student in The Bahamas, also received a four-year scholarship to attend COB by BTC.
St. Augustines College senior Calvin Pratt received the Water and Sewerage four-year scholarship to COB.
C.V. Bethel's Avardo Brown and Faith Temple Christian Academy's Daramfon Morgan received four-year BEC scholarships.
Eugenique Williams and Angel Knowles, also from C.V. Bethel, were awarded with Ministry of Education scholarships to attend BTVI for the duration of their respective program.
Minister of Education, Science and Technology Jerome Fitzgerald told the students that made it through to the end of the program that their success would make it easier for him to expand the role of technical and vocational education in the curriculum over the next five years, and to also showcase its success because they are tangible evidence.
"We therefore have to take swift steps to include a larger pool of students in the national picture for technical and vocational training, or applied academics which encapsulates such areas as photography, basic construction, computer repair and networking, cabinetry, architecture, air conditioning installation, tile and carpet laying, heavy equipment operation, automotive repair and diesel engine repair and similar fields," said Fitzgerald. "We must develop the mindset that the more students we empower to make their career choice while they are in school, the greater the service we are doing for our country."
The education minister also said he would like to see more collaboration among the various career and technical vocational programs within the educational system.
He also said that all of the skills training programs within the educational system must be uniformed in their mission to develop students, and that students should leave high school with certification and qualifications.
"We have to become realistic and firm about making changes that will take into consideration not only our students' learning abilities and their learning styles, but also their interests and strengths which may not be purely academic, but nevertheless are careers which are essential and vital to the sustained development of our beautiful nation," he said.
When the next group of students enroll in the program, he said he would like to aim for 150 as opposed to just 100 and that in a few years, graduating 100 would become a regular occurrence.
He told the graduates to be proud of themselves and that getting there showed the sacrifice they made to fulfill the requirements asked of them. He said that their graduation showed they were focused and committed individuals who can set a goal, pursue it and achieve it. Fitzgerald also told them to look forward to the next corps of young men that will graduate in 2015 who are prepared for a career choice best suited to their interests and strengths which will allow them to be self-sufficient, contributing nation builders.
The education minister also commended the various corporations who had strengthened the program through direct and indirect financial contributions and by making their facilities available for the students to do their internships and receive hands-on training, along with a stipend.
The program is a Ministry partnership with the BTC, the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, Water and Sewerage Corporation and Bahamas Electricity Corporation. The agencies provide students with internships, hands-on training and stipends during their time in the program.
He also said a debt of gratitude is also owed to the instructors, some who have been with this program for many years. He acknowledged that it was a commitment on their part to teach a full week then devote several afternoons to facilitate this program.
The Technical Cadet Corps Programme was initiated by Dr. Bernard Nottage 22 years ago. The program caters to students with a grade point average of 2.5 or above Students engaging in this programme must pass a proficiency test to determine their suitability.

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News Article
Irene wreaks havoc

Hurricane Irene started its exit from The Bahamas last night, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
While New Providence and Grand Bahama were spared the full force of the storm, many Family Islands, particularly the southeastern and central islands, were pummelled, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported.
The center of the storm passed over Eleuthera and Abaco for much of yesterday.
Power lines and telecommunications lines went down in some islands as the category three storm roared across the archipelago.
But no loss of life or injuries were reported.
Damage on Cat Island, Rum Cay, Crooked Island, Acklins and Mayaguana is expected to be in the millions of dollars, as hundreds of homes, churches, other buildings and infrastructure were either damaged or destroyed.
According to NEMA reports, all the islands were impacted in some way.
In New Providence, fallen trees and damaged roofs constituted most of the damage.
In Lovely Bay, Acklins, 90 percent of the settlement is reportedly gone, according to NEMA.
"House roofs and several homes [were] blown away.  Power lines and trees went down in the roads, and the shelter's population increased," said a NEMA statement.
Communication on that island was limited yesterday.
Meteorologist Godfrey Burnside said the Automatic Weather Station in Arthur's Town, Cat Island, recorded gusts of 140 miles per hour around 2 a.m. yesterday, and Moss Town, Exuma, recorded gusts up to 127 miles per hour.
"That is significant and that is why you hear all the damage taking place," Burnside said.
Just over two inches of rain had fallen at Lynden Pindling International Airport at 9 a.m. yesterday, and more was expected.
NEMA said it received reports that 40 houses received major damage in the communities of Betsy Bay, Pirate Wells and Abraham's Bay on Mayaguana.
Concerns were also expressed by the Assistant Commissioner of Police John Ferguson in reference to three people detained at a police station there, NEMA said.
On Cat Island, hurricane force winds brought down scores of power lines and left the island without any form of telecommunication, NEMA reported.
NEMA also received reports that the administrator's home in north Cat Island lost its roof.
Areas in Arthur's Town and Dumfries flooded.  The roof of the police station in Arthur's Town was blown off and police vehicles were flooded.  St. Andrew's Church also lost its roof, NEMA reported.
In Rum Cay, which is home to about 100 people, NEMA received a report that homes have major damage, roads are impassable due to fallen trees and the bridge in Port Nelson is lost.
According to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), residents in most islands with the exception of Inagua -- where power was restored to the majority of customers -- continued to experience outages up to last night due to controlled power station shut downs or downed power lines.
NEMA said at least one school was damaged on Crooked Island.
The school in Colonel Hill lost its roof and two classroom blocks.  Additionally, St. John's Baptist Church and several other buildings also lost their roofs.
That island experienced winds around 120 miles per hour, according to NEMA.
Long Island Administrator Jordan Ritchie said the main concern was flooding in Clarence Town.
However, a number of homes and St. Paul's Anglican Church received roof damage.
Meantime, Central Eleuthera Administrator Chrisfield Johnson said based on initial reports, Eleuthera fared relatively well.
"So far we haven't had loss of life.  There is some structural damage to buildings but we haven't done an assessment so we don't know the extent," he told The Nassau Guardian yesterday evening.
It was still too dangerous to go out, he said.
"The only thing that remains is to do an assessment of the environment," Johnson said.
"There is a tremendous amount of debris on the roads.  Our first priority is to clear the streets, so we're putting together a team of workers to clear the streets to give us access."
He said he would determine the severity of the impact of Irene sometime today, when he expects to be able to conduct a door-to-door assessment.
NEMA Director Captain Stephen Russell said NEMA is still determining how it will access the affected islands, as transportation may be limited over the next few days.
NEMA is expected to release a more detailed statement on the damage caused by Irene sometime today.

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News Article
St. Valentine's Day Massacre is up next

Two new races were added to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, making it one of the biggest sailing events to be held in New Providence.
The E-class and sculling races are expected to be very entertaining, as hundreds of Bahamians are expected to come out to the regatta over the two-day sailing weekend.
The 'Catch Me If You Can' race is once again the headliner. That race will occur on the Sunday of the regatta, February 17. Skippers in the other classes will set sail on Saturday, February 16. The 26th annual event is set for that weekend at Montagu Bay.
Some of the sloops in the A-class chasing behind the Lady Nathalie this year will be the Southern Cross, the Courageous, the Red Stripe and the Palm Cay Princess.
Owner of the Lady Nathalie Eleazor 'Barber J' Johnson dared the other boat owners to "step up to the plate" and accept the challenge. He is confident that his prized possession, named after his mother, will sail on to victory and keep the winning streak alive. The Lady Nathalie will be sailed by Clyde Rolle.
"Thank God for saving my life, it was a hard road and I traveled the distance to reach the top," Johnson said. "I must thank all the sponsors, the committee members and persons who assisted me and who are always around me. The regatta time is a special event. It's like Christmas. I must say that we went way back from when it first started. We went from 1987 to 2013. That's how long this race has been going on, non-stop, and I must thank all the sponsors who helped. Mr. Sands helped me with the Lady Nathalie. He was there when the Lady Nathalie was built and he is still by my side. He has a true love for The Bahamas."
Young skippers will have an opportunity to show off their skills that weekend too, while veteran skippers will captain the E-class sloops sponsored by the Bahamian Brewery Ltd. The fleet of boats under the Sands umbrella sailing in the E-class are Sands Lite, Strong Back and High Rock.
Sir Durward Knowles will sponsor the 'Champion of Champions' award which will be presented to the winner of the C-class. Other sponsors this year are Coca-Cola, Aquapure, the Atlantis Resort, the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and Bristol Cellars.
"We are very pleased to be involved again with Eleazor Johnson known as the 'Sailing Barber'," said Berkley Williamson, general manager at the Bahamian Brewery Company.
"After 26 years, it is proof that he is very stable and that he wants the best for sailing. Our company, Sands Beer, is a young company but nevertheless we are privileged to be involved in an event that has been around for such a long time. We are happy to sponsor the E-class, the world's famous sculling boats like Sands Lite, High Rock and Strong Back. That race and the others are going to be very exciting. As a truly Bahamian company owned by Bahamians, we are so happy to be involved in this sport, because it is so indigenous."
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre will allow skippers to test their sloops, preparing for the 60th National Family Island Regatta in George Town, Exuma, from April 23-27, 2013.

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News Article
BEC staff protest against chairman Leslie Miller

MORE than 50 Bahamas Electricity Corporation workers staged a demonstration Friday afternoon protesting against what they claimed was "intimidating treatment" by company Chairman Leslie Miller.

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News Article
BEC signs 'historical' renewable energy deal

The Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) made history yesterday when it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a renewable energy company to produce ocean-powered electricity for the general public - a venture which will come at no cost to The Bahamas.
The landmark power/purchasing agreement, signed with Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation (OTEC), will result in a commercial-grade plant built entirely by the U.S. based company.
BEC, in turn, will purchase the energy and provide it to the Bahamian people, becoming the first utility in the world to provide ocean-powered, base-load energy for market use.
In the end, according to BEC, it will provide reliable, affordable, cleaner and more efficient power.
Jeremy Feakins, the Chairman and CEO of OTEC, believes this project will be a "shining example" on the possibilities of renewable energy.
"The Bahamas will be an example to the world on how an island community can successfully follow the road to sustainable energy production," he told Guardian Business, adding that construction of the facility will take between two and three years.
"One of the great things with this model, is we not only bring the expertise, but also the financing.  We design, build and operate the plants, and then sell the energy we produce.
"We do not look to BEC or the government for any money."
For the last several months, Feakins has been in close talks with Michael Moss, the Chairman of BEC, and Earl Deveaux, the Minister of the Environment.
Deveaux was unavailable for comment. Phenton Neymour, the Minister of State for the Environment, did not return calls before press time.
Meanwhile, Kevin Basden, the General Manager of BEC, called the deal a "historical time" for the company and The Bahamas.
Moss echoed his sentiments. He said there were a number of other renewable ideas being considered, but ultimately, ocean thermal energy was an original and practical solution.
Unlike solar and wind, ocean thermal energy can be produced 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, and doesn't require any fossil fuels to function.
Moss added that The Bahamas is uniquely situated to exploit this technology.
"The uniqueness of several islands being closely located near the tongue of the ocean and having access to rather cold water, but also warm water, is what makes this technology flourish," he said.
"The bigger the difference in temperature, the better."
Constructed adjacent to an existing BEC facility, the plant will, in essence,  pump the frigid water from the depths of the ocean.  Whilst warm water is simultaneously brought into the plant, and they are combined to produce great amounts of stream, which subsequently drives turbine generators.
The concept, seemingly science fiction, has other practical applications that will be invaluable to The Bahamas, including desalination for agriculture and seawater district cooling for air conditioners.
Located in Hawaii, OTEC's current plant has served as a test project for the company and is not commercial grade.
OTEC, in collaboration with the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii (NELHA), has explored the merits of ocean thermal energy conversion for decades.
The NELHA was first established in 1974 in part by the Hawaii State Legislature.
Today, in Nassau, the exact site for the commercial-grade plant has yet to be determined.
The next step, Feakins said, is for a team of engineers to arrive in Nassau and draw up the plans and designs.
"We are working out the schedule now, but I anticipate that will happen over the next couple of weeks," he added.  "I don't think it will take us long to come up with the designs.  In the end, what it will really come down to is what we charge for the electricity."
Feakins said OTEC is still determining how big the plant will be and how much it will cost, but he felt the price tag would easily surpass $100 million.  He pointed out that it will be a commercial-grade plant, capable of powering homes and businesses.
However, because the technology is so cutting edge, Feakins said both sides want to minimize the risks and ensure no mistakes will be made.
In an earlier interview, Moss speculated that The Bahamas will derive approximately 10 percent of its energy from a renewable source, and 30 percent by 2030.  It will take time, but he contends this is a giant leap forward in the manner through which Bahamians, and indeed the world, receive their energy.
"This is a very exciting time for us," he said.
"For OTEC, it's an excellent test for the technology, and eventually it might help them use this process [in] other marginal, less ideal conditions.  For now, we are the ideal, but this could be a new beginning."

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News Article
PM: Minimal storm damage in the Abacos

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and Minister of Public Works and Transport Neko Grant mulled over whether Abaco and Eleuthera residents would get duty free exemptions on supplies to fix their homes and businesses post-Hurricane Irene, as they toured Marsh Harbour Monday night.
The prime minister explained that by the look of things neither would need the assistance.
Ingraham is scheduled to tour several of the hardest hit islands in the southern Bahamas today to assess the damage.
The Nassau Guardian hopped aboard the Aga Khan's helicopter along with Ingraham on Monday to view the damage in his                 constituency of North Abaco.  The helicopter was made famous after Minister of the Environment Earl Deveaux took a controversial ride to Bell Island (owned by the Aga Khan) to view a dredging site.  This time the chopper was donated by the Prince for relief efforts.
The helicopter took Ingraham, Grant, journalists and representatives from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other Ministry of Public Works representatives first to Sandy Point and then on to Moore's Island before landing in Treasure Cay, where Ingraham took a ferry to Green Turtle Cay to assess the damage.
He said while he had been told that Green Turtle Cay was the hardest hit settlement in the Abacos, there was minimal damage to homes and infrastructure.
"No great damage was done in Abaco.  Green Turtle Cay, where we're going, was amongst the hardest hit of the communities."
However, spirits were high on Green Turtle Cay when Ingraham stepped onto the dock.  He explained that there were no complaints from the residents during his short visit, even though the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) was still working on restoring the tiny island's power.
"Notwithstanding the winds which they had, the community is very clean and the people are in good spirits," Ingraham said.  "The power is still off but they expect power to come back on tonight (Monday night)."
Assistant manager of BEC in Abaco George Martin said that within a week all of the island and its cays should be restored to normalcy.
Martin said as of Monday night, at least 80 percent of Abaco had its power restored.
The prime minister drove through parts of Murphy Town, Abaco where the power had not been restored and saw that, apart from the outages, there seemed to be minimal damage. He said he would return to the island on Thursday.
The Progressive Liberal Party criticized the government's preparedness for Hurricane Irene the day before Ingraham visited Abaco.
Member of Parliament for Fox Hill Fred Mitchell said in a press release that a public investigation should be done into the state of preparedness and readiness of The Bahamas to respond to emergencies and weather disasters.
Ingraham told The Guardian on the drive to the Treasure Cay dock that he didn't pay much attention to Mitchell because "I didn't hear very much from him when they had hurricanes in 2004 and 1005."
He said he would stack up the Free National Movement's response to Irene far above the response of the PLP following the hurricanes during their time in office.
"We're not contracting out the response," Ingraham said.
"The prime minister is the minister for disaster and it has not been contracted out to any other ministry or department, and there will be full accountability and accounts that are auditable."

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News Article
Your voices

The nearing general election is increasingly dominating public discourse and public spaces.  The political parties are on full attack mode and posters and party flags are increasingly visible as supporters display their allegiances.  Bahamians are a passionate people around election time.  High voter turn out rates have been the norm in our elections since majority rule.
While the parties will have much to say in the weeks to come, we want to hear from you as to what your concerns are for the country at this time in our history.  Over the next few weeks we will feature in the paper your voices and ask the question, "What Matters to You?"
Many Bahamians have been harmed as a result of the high level of crime in our country in recent years.  The record 127 people murdered last year were not just statistics - they were people.  Families still grieve and some still live in fear.  The 2011 murder record was the fourth in five years.
While crime is the number one concern to many, for others it's the economy.  The unemployment rate was last measured in 2011 at 13.7 percent.  When the 11,900 discouraged workers from that labor survey are added to the overall jobless rate, it is obvious that many people are hurting and struggling to make ends meet.
Many of these unemployed people are among the thousands living without electricity.  They simply do not have the money to play bills owed to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC).  The growing uncertainty in the Middle East could make this problem worse.
Syria is nearly in a state of civil war and Israel may be close to bombing Iran in an attempt to prevent that country from developing a nuclear weapon.  A sudden spike in the price of oil would send more Bahamians into darkness due to the higher electricity rates.
The debt issues now facing Kerzner International have added to the general economic uncertainty in the country in the post-2008 financial crisis period.  A creditor attempted to take the Atlantis and One&Only Ocean Club properties several months ago before pulling back from the move after other creditors objected.  It is unclear what will happen in 2012 to the country's largest private sector employer.
As crime and the state the economy worry many, for others illegal immigration and education are the major issues of concern.
The production of the news is a reciprocal process.  The media asks questions and pursues stories on the behalf of the community and its mandate to be a watchdog.  Hence, it is important for readers, in various ways, to indicate what are the major issues of concern at this time.
Tell us what you think we should be writing about.  And let us know where you stand. Send your thoughts to matters@nasguard.com and we'll print the most engaging opinions on our Op-Ed page over the next few weeks.

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News Article
BEC apologizes for periods of supply disruption over the past few weeks

Nassau, Bahamas - The
Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) apologizes to its customers,
particularly those in western and south-western New Providence, who may
have experienced periods of supply disruption over the past few weeks.

The
Corporation acknowledges that it experienced a number of equipment
challenges/ failures that contributed to supply interruptions in the
areas of Carmichael Road west, Fire Trail Road,and adjacent communities.
Corporation officials were able to rectify the problems on Friday,
August 31, 2012 and believe that this should alleviate the frequency and...

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News Article
Another BEC blackout

Despite assurances by Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) officials earlier this year, that frequent island-wide black outs would not occur this summer due to improved system capabilities, many areas in New Providence were once again left without power for several hours yesterday.
The blackout, which affected almost every community in New Providence, began shortly after 8 a.m., and was the result of a surge on BEC's system, according to Arnette Ingraham, the corporation's public relations officer.
"Crews were immediately dispatched to restore supplies and to investigate the cause of the surge," said Ingraham."BEC began restoring supplies to its customers less than half-an-hour after the initial fault."
Ingraham said supply was restored to all affected areas around noon.
She said BEC isolated the cause of the fault to a problem on its transmission network but the exact problem had not been identified up to press time.
This is the latest in a string of island-wide outages since May, although BEC has distanced itself from fault in at least one of those incidents.
On May 6, a tractor working on the Airport Gateway Project triggered a blackout after it hit an overhead transmission line on John F. Kennedy Drive, according to the corporation.
On May 30, almost the entire island was again plunged into darkness for hours when two men, employed with a private company, caused damage to major overhead power lines and themselves in the Prince Charles Drive area, BEC said.
During their work, an aluminium ladder reportedly came into contact with one of BEC's 33kV overhead lines, causing the entire system, including generator units to trip offline.
However, BEC admitted that a protective relay that should have activated to isolate the fault malfunctioned.
In March, the corporation announced a $6 million investment in additional generator capacity.
At the time, then BEC Executive Chairman Michael Moss insisted the nation was "not going to have blackouts this summer", with twice as much capacity stocked.
Last year, the capital experienced frequent power outages as the system struggled to handle summer demand, leaving thousands frustrated.
BEC said yesterday it was taking the necessary steps to ensure that these occurrences were, if not eradicated, minimized with little inconvenience to consumers.
The corporation also apologized for the inconvenience caused by yesterday's blackout.

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