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A 70,000 gallon fuel spill at a Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) storage facility in Rock Sound, Eleuthera this week, which could cost the government up to $350,000, exposed the long-running theft of fuel from the island, BEC Chairman Leslie Miller said.
Miller said officials suspect that an unknown thief was siphoning thousands of gallons of fuel from the storage facility for some time. Miller suspects that during this latest incident, the thief left the area abruptly, without the intended fuel, which later overflowed out of a holding tank and onto the ground.
"From all indications, there was theft," Miller said, as he toured the spill site with several government officials yesterday.
"Now our question is how long has this theft been going on?"
BEC officials discovered the spill at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
He said BEC has evidence that similar thefts have occurred at facilities in other parts of Eleuthera including Harbour Island and Hatchet Bay.
BEC will now increase manpower at the Rock Sound facility and look at other ways to mitigate future theft.
"That facility there is never used except when the ship comes in," Miller explained. "The ship was bringing in 110,000 gallons of fuel. As you see, the fuel line...goes to our plant. Obviously someone was smart enough to use one of the tanks as his personal tank. So when the ship comes in, he fills up with about 20,000 gallons of fuel. When the ship leaves, he turns it off, and we suspect that maybe some emergency came up, the fellow had to leave, came back and that's the end result because his tank overflowed and that's how the spill occurred. He was filling his tank and it overflowed."
A statement released by BEC on Thursday said a preliminary investigation found that a check valve was "tampered with and this contributed to the resulting fuel spill".
"We need to put in the proper mechanisms so when the ship comes in more than one person is here," Miller said. "I'm told that the norm is just to have one person here who goes to the ship and sees to it that it's hooked up properly and goes to our plant. Obviously we have some serious flaws we need to correct."
As Miller toured the site - with Environment Minister Ken Dorsett and area MP Damian Gomez - representatives from Baychem were busy cleaning up the spilled oil. About 90 percent of the oil had been contained as of yesterday, according to Miller. He said contaminated soil would be sent to New Providence to be treated and cleaned and later reused.
The spilled fuel is worth $190,000 and clean up efforts will cost another $100,000 to $150,000 - money the financially hemorrhaging BEC can ill afford to spend, Miller told The Nassau Guardian.
"It is a huge loss when you consider the fact that last year BEC spent $348 million on fuel, and every penny counts. That's why your cost of electricity is so high. Our number one cost is fuel; the number two cost is overtime. So those two combinations had a detrimental effect on the profit line of BEC."
Officials discovered the spill at 9 a.m. on Tuesday but did not make the information public until late Thursday.
The entire clean up is expected to be completed in two weeks. Miller said the spill would not impact electricity supply to the island and said BEC had enough fuel on hand.
A former presidential candidate in the Bahamas Electrical Workers?Union (BEWU)?elections is appealing the decision of the Registrar of Trade?Unions, Harcourt Brown to declare last month’s poll null and void.
Clyde Cartwright, who was one of three candidates vying for the top post, is appealing to Labour Minister Dion Foulkes to overturn the ruling.
The BEWU represents hundreds of line-staff workers at the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC).
Brown declared the poll null and void after it was discovered that Dexter Cartwright, a security supervisor, was nominated and ran for the post of secretary general contrary to a provision in the union’s constitution. That provision sta ...
The business director of a consulting and business services firm has claimed that its new consumer report has already attracted significant local and international attention after its first issue.
In an interview with Guardian Business, business BlaqList Director of Business Nicole Burrows revealed that the publication, which provides reviews of local companies, had received several international requests for information regarding Bahamian businesses and services.
"Although that was ultimately one of our ideas for expansion, it's coming up sooner than we had thought or anticipated to get this information out on an international level," stated Burrows.
"[If] there's a company that wants to invest in another company or bring some of their product lines into The Bahamas, they want to know on the ground how that business is operating and how customers are receiving them."
Business BlaqList released its first issue in early July and is currently scheduled to release issues every two weeks.
"We are thinking about making it weekly, but we want to get a bit more feedback first after the end of July and then we'll look at that," said Burrows.
Each review is comprised of a written supplement and numerical rating across a range of categories including cost, customer service and environmental/social responsibility, which are compiled by a team of three with backgrounds in business and economics.
"We're a team of three, two who routinely go out and have a consumer experience in various business places or agencies or corporations...We combine our experiences and write the reviews," said Burrows, adding that the publication tried not to review companies that they have not frequented at least twice.
While business BlaqList originally intended to compile user surveys for its reviews, Burrows felt that the public was "unaccustomed to conducting this kind of interchange and interaction between the consumer and the purveyor".
"It is something that we could put out to the public that would be reasonable and fair and still professional and also representative of true experiences in the marketplace, without having to make the consumers report to us."
While the first issue provided details on the highest and lowest scoring aspects of five establishments, Burrows said that business BlaqList was experimenting with how to best present their rankings.
"We're trying to figure out the best way to do it," said Burrows. "We want to find a way to include that information without giving too much detail, because I think sometimes when people read, they want to read in summary, and we don't want our readers to get too numb from the numbers."
Business BlaqList additionally hopes to expand through the development of an app, which would provide users with a searchable database of reviewed businesses.
The first issue reviewed the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), the Bridge Authority and Dune restaurant. The next issue will reportedly include in-depth reviews of Cable Bahamas and the Road Traffic Department, along with three other establishments.
There is "concern" about potential water contamination from the 70,000 gallon fuel spill at a Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) fuel storage facility in Rock Sound, Eleuthera, said Eric Carey, executive director of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT). Carey, who spoke to The Nassau Guardian from Grand Bahama yesterday, said the spill could seep into porous limestone underground and later lead to water contamination. "That is more of the concern because it could potentially contaminate water resources," he said."The risk is it sits there under the ground floating on top of fresh water but the good thing is because it floats on top of fresh water one could recover it. "I don't know how much has been spilled in this, but from what I have been told...a lot of it that got into the sea would evaporate and I just have no idea how much got into the ground."Carey said the spill would not cause any imminent threat to human health because the Water and Sewage Corporation (WSC) did not harness ground water from the area."So we should not have as a human health risk, the contamination of ground water supplies," he said. "It's so close to the sea that our issue would really be on it percolating from the land into the sea where again I believe that we could take care of the risk that is presented."Carey said some of the fuel spread to the nearby coastal area. "I understand it's diesel and some of it was land based and some of it actually got into the water," he said. "Diesel, from what I understand, it's a volatile enough fuel which would [evaporate] in the water, a lot of it would evaporate. So it wouldn't be a long-term concern for the marine environment."However, Casuarina Lockhart-McKinney, executive director at Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF), said whenever oil spills it is cause for worry. "Any oil spill is bad for the environment, whether on land or under the sea," she said. "Given the fact that land is so porous, it goes through land and into the waterbed. It's bad news for marine and terrestial life, but also people."Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett toured the Rock Sound facility along with BEC Chairman Leslie Miller and other government officials yesterday. Dorsett said while investigations are underway it is too early to say what, if any, repercussions the spill will have on the environment and water table. "We'll await the full report before we speculate to the factual basis as to what happened and [how] to address these issues in the medium term and the long term," he said. "I'm pleased with the response that we see here."Baychem, the New Providence-based company hired for the clean-up, will place a berm 10 feet away from the spill site to prevent it from spreading, Dorsett said. He added that rainy weather has helped the on-site technicians in their clean-up efforts and will likely raise some of the oil which seeped into the ground. "The established protocols are being followed," Dorsett assured. As of yesterday, about 90 percent of the oil was contained, according to Miller. Miller said full clean-up would be complete in two weeks. Officials said they noticed the spill on Tuesday morning, however the information was not made public until Thursday night. The incident occurred a day after a container ship leaked an estimated 3,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into the ocean just off Grand Bahama.
Staff of the Water and Sewerage Corporation worked for hours yesterday to repair a ruptured pipe that left some businesses and residents in the Palmdale and Kemp Road areas without water.
The 12-inch vein, located beneath the Collins Avenue and 7th Terrace junction, ruptured at approximately 2 a.m. yesterday, according to Water and Sewerage Senior Manager Preston Rahming.
He explained that there was a delay before repairs began on the pipe around 7:30 a.m. because the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and Cable Bahamas had to confirm that the location could be worked on without affecting their services.
"Our staff unfortunately had to wait on the other utility service providers before they could begin excavating," he said.
Water and Sewerage Supervisor Richard Brown said the source of the rupture was unclear, but he speculated that wear and tear or possibly the water pressure was the cause, as the pipe had been in operation since 1988.
Although he was unable to ascertain how much water had been lost, he confirmed that the water supply was restored around 1 p.m.
Kirsch Ferguson, proprietor of Ferguson's Funeral Directors on 7th Terrace, said the disruption in water supply had a tremendous impact on his business.
"We are involved in handling human remains [and because of that] we are dependant on water for the purpose of sanitation," he said.
Ferguson added that the funeral home was forced to postpone some of its services due to the passage of Hurricane Irene, which impacted its electricity supply.
By JAMMAL SMITH
Guardian Business Reporter
The Bahamas Electricity Corporation will have to increase its load capacity 7 to 11 percent to accommodate the projected power demand for the$2.6 billion Baha Mar resort.
BEC will have to create between 20 and 25 megawatts of additional power, in addition to various increases that will be required for various developments in the Family Islands, said Assistant General Manager of Energy Supply at BEC, Shevonn Cambridge.
He was speaking yesterday at the Wartsila Caribbean 2-Stroke Technical Days conference held at the Sheraton Resort, Cable Beach.
He said large projects have caused an increase in power demands, noting that the largest c ...
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged the government to "accelerate" efforts toward reforming the energy sector in order to help create the conditions to "strengthen and diversify" growth in The Bahamas.
The IMF also pressed for the government to finalize value-added tax (VAT) legislation, calling the tax "key" to fiscal consolidation efforts that should boost investor confidence.
The Washington, D.C.-based multilateral financial institution made these comments in a statement released following a staff visit to The Bahamas from July 14 to 18 as part of regular consultations with the government.
The IMF met with senior government officials and representatives of the private sector during its visit.
In a statement following the visit, in which it provided a brief assessment of the state of the economy and its prospects, the IMF noted that economic activity is recovering, but "momentum remains weak". The country recorded just 0.7 percent growth last year and expects 1.2 percent this year.
Noting the expectation that Baha Mar will help to improve the external trade balance, boosting tourism earnings and containing the need to
engage in foreign borrowing to shore up reserves as the government did last year, the officials nonetheless pointed to the need for the government to find other sources of growth going forward.
"The staff team welcomed the anticipated improvement to the external balance from the soon-to-be opened Baha Mar project, which would boost tourism earnings and contain official external borrowing to shore up reserves. The team counseled efforts to strengthen and diversify growth, in light of continuing high unemployment levels. In this context, the team urged accelerated implementation of planned reform of the energy sector," read the statement from the mission, led by IMF Mission Chief for The Bahamas Mbuyamu Matungulu.
The IMF's comments come as progress toward the planned overhaul of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), in efforts to reduce energy costs which are a widely-acknowledged deterrent to investment and growth, has been delayed by as much as seven months. In August 2013, the government said it would delay initiatives intended to encourage the introduction of renewable energy until after the efforts to overhaul BEC are completed. In the meantime, focus in public statements emanating from the Christie administration has been on issues such as VAT, gaming legislation intended to regularize the web shops and other matters.
On the topic of VAT, the IMF mission, noted that fiscal consolidation efforts "have begun", but said the pace of this "could be frustrated by delays" in the tax's introduction. The government announced in May that it would push back the introduction of VAT to January 2015, from July 2014.
The IMF said it expressed support for fiscal consolidation efforts in meetings with the government, calling it "essential to boosting investor confidence, further improving the growth outlook and strengthening employment prospects".
It added: "The mission emphasized the key role to be played by the VAT in that context. In this regard, the team encouraged the authorities to finalize the agreed VAT legislation to ensure the successful introduction of this key reform."
The mission noted that economic activity is recovering, but at a weak pace, with economic growth coming in preliminarily at 0.7 percent last year, and forecast at 1.2 percent this year.
It said: "Preliminary data suggest that the fiscal deficit declined to 4.5 percent of GDP, from 5.4 percent in the previous fiscal year. The deficit is projected to narrow further to just under 4 percent of GDP in the 2014/2015 fiscal year, provided that the VAT is introduced in the coming months."
The mission described the country's external position as improving due to the fact that the current account deficit declined to 16.6 percent of GDP in 2014, compared to 19.4 percent in 2013. This came amid a strengthening of the country's external reserves. The government borrowed $300 million in foreign currency last year to shore up foreign reserves.
The IMF described the financial sector as well capitalized and highly liquid, but lumped with a "sizable and aging stock of non-performing loans (NPLs)".
It added: "The mission welcomed the continued strength of the financial system, in the face of both high level of NPLs and a rapidly changing supervisory framework. In this respect, it urged continued close monitoring of credit risks and supported government efforts at implementing appropriate domestic and international supervisory policies, including those as recommended by the IMF's recent Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP)."
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
FRUSTRATED consumers, angered over high fuel charges set by the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, have been told by power chiefs that rising oil costs are to blame.
BEC customers have hit out at recent bill statements that indicate that fuel charges were significantly higher than energy consumption costs.
Woody Turnquest, an Exuma realtor, said: "I think it's ridiculous. How could a government corporation charge so much money on fuel? How can the government defer the cost to consumers?"
He added: "How is the average man supposed to be able to afford it? I don't consider myself poor, but I'm not a weal ...
The Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) has warned that it is "intensifying its disconnection exercises" on all overdue accounts beginning today.
"Effective immediately, the corporation intends to disconnect the electricity supply on all accounts with substantial arrears and where payments have not been made in accordance with BEC's billing policy," said a statement from the electricity corporation yesterday.
"This includes customers who have made payment arrangements but are not honoring those commitments."
BEC offered a payment plan to customers whose accounts were in arrears, however, BEC officials said many of those people are not sticking to the plan.
To date as many as 5,000 Bahamian households remain without electricity because of non-payment, BEC officials said.
BEC general manager Kevin Basden said the number of homes without power remains in the thousands, despite several programs to restore power to delinquent customers and work out convenient payment plans.
During an interview with Basden last month, he said that delinquent customers owe the state-run power provider as much as $14 million.
He added that disconnections are made on a daily basis.
"As the corporation increases its disconnection exercises, customers are advised to bring their accounts up to date to avoid service disruption. Additionally, BEC continues to offer affordable payment arrangements to customers experiencing difficulty paying their electricity bills. These customers should come in to BEC's Blue Hill and Tucker Roads location or Mall at Marathon location to speak to a customer service representative as soon as possible," the statement continued.
It added that only BEC representatives can disconnect service to consumers.
"For security purposes, customers are reminded that only authorized BEC personnel are allowed to access meter boxes. BEC disconnecters are dressed in BEC uniforms and/or wear a vest embossed with the corporation's logo."
All disconnecters drive a BEC vehicle or a vehicle with BEC's decal, the statement said.
Customers who are concerned about any individual who presents themselves as a BEC representative are asked to contact 302-1682-5 or 302-1624.
By NEIL HARTNELL
THE BAHAMAS ELECTRICITY CORPORATION (BEC) remains close to sealing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a private sector renewable energy supplier, its chairman confirming that "a document in its final form" was exchanged between the two parties on Friday.
While the arrangement had not been sealed, Michael Moss told Tribune Business: "We will be exchanging a document in its final form today [Friday]. Once both parties agree to the contents, we will be able to release further details. I'm hoping that will be imminently."
Meanwhile, Mr Moss confirmed that the extra costs BEC was likely to incur as a result of Hurricane ...
Three weeks after Hurricane Irene tore through The Bahamas, 20 percent of Cat Island still remains without electricity, according to a Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) official.
Power has been restored to more than 1,000 Cat Island residents.
Cat Island was identified as one of the islands that suffered the most damage as a result of the storm in late August.
Irene wiped out power on the entire island.
BEC's assistant general manager for the Family Island Division Mark Hudson said work continues in an effort to restore electricity to the remainder of the island.
However, the work will have to continue without the assistance of one of the Caribbean Electric Utility Service Corporation (CARILEC) teams, which was on island for over a week.
The six-member Jamaican team left yesterday afternoon.
Nigel Griffiths, the team leader, told reporters they were happy to help. He said they spent the week installing high voltage power lines. "We basically got in the schools so that the kids could go back to school, the town by New Bight and we got the government offices back up," said Griffiths who spoke to reporters at Lynden Pindling International Airport as he prepared to depart.
"That was our main focus, to actually get the island moving, kids back to school, people could start to go back to work, and people can sleep comfortable at night. It is very hot there so they missed their air conditioning. We were glad to be there and be a part of history there for people to get their lives back together."
Hudson said while one CARILEC team was working in Cat Island, another was working in Eleuthera.
The remainder of the work in Cat Island is confined in southwest Cat Island, Hudson said. He added that the work should be completed in about a week.
BEC officials have to plant poles, replace power lines and transformers.
Hudson noted that another Jamaican team is expected to arrive in New Providence on Sunday.
The team will be deployed to Cat Island or Eleuthera depending on which island needs the most assistance.
More than 90 percent of electricity has been restored on Eleuthera.
Power has been restored to the remainder of the Bahamian islands, a BEC spokesperson said.
During the storm, New Providence and Grand Bahama were spared from major damage, but scores of Family Island residents suffered damage to their homes and other property.
In addition to electrical supplies, water and telecommunication supplies were also disrupted.
Recent disclosures regarding the waste at the Bahamas Electricity Corporation should anger us all. Some staff members have taken home significantly more in overtime than they make in pay. This is wasteful. If there is that much overtime work to do, why not hire more staff?
To just give away the people's money to staff in this manner demonstrates contempt towards consumers who work hard to pay their BEC bills. Many struggle to keep the lights on. Many have not succeed in this regard and sit in darkness.
Now the BEC line staff employees through their union are threatening not to work any overtime for at least the next 30 days, no matter what occurs, in response to BEC Chairman Leslie Miller's allegation that some workers are abusing the corporation's overtime system. The overtime system is being abused. The only question worth debating is how to fix it and when will it be fixed. BEC is currently spending nearly $12 million per year on overtime.
Outside Cabinet yesterday, Prime Minister Perry Christie said it makes more sense to increase staff at BEC than to continue the payment of excessive overtime.
"We have received a number of proposals some of which are based on a private company meeting the cost of generating the electricity and BEC distributing the electricity," Christie told reporters.
"In that sense they are saying it can become much more beneficial to the Bahamian public and to the investor community in our country if in fact we are able to effect efficiencies at the level of the generation of electricity."
Christie and his government must move fast on fixing BEC. It is a drag on the economy. Its costs are reflected in the cost of goods and services across our economy. When BEC is inefficient and wastes money and it then needs to raise rates to pay its bills, such increases function as tax hikes on us all.
If there are realistic proposals for private energy suppliers to come in and provide power for less than BEC provides it for, then we should seek to implement such credible solutions. BEC is not working and a culture of waste and dysfunction appears quite healthy there. This problem is fueled by political interference from our parties while they are in office.
The Ingraham administration had to stand behind BEC's debt in its last term to prevent default. This is a failing operation just as the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas is, just like Bahamasair is. So much of our money is being wasted in these places to satisfy unions and political cronies. Yet, both political parties seem to think it fine to let the waste go on and on and on. Better leadership is so needed in The Bahamas.
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham last night promised to create thousands of new living spaces in southwest New Providence.
Ingraham, who did not give a specific date for the creation of the proposed "South Beach Township", explained his "long-term" vision as he opened the Free National Movement's (FNM) constituency office in that area last night.
"The South Beach Township will include 3,000 high-density residential units mixed with commercial, civic and recreational areas," said Ingraham.
"The housing has a smaller footprint than most Bahamian subdivisions and will be divided into three walkable neighborhoods, with live/work accommodation linked by bike and pedestrian paths as well as roads."
He said space for government offices will also be included.
To help control flooding, preserve tree cover and provide public amenities, Ingraham said the area will have a large neighborhood park with a large lagoon which will grow during severe storms as rainfall drains into it.
"A flushing channel will be excavated along the shoreline to improve tidal flow, provide boat access and create recreational opportunities. The spoil from this dredging will be used to restore the beach dune," he said.
As he touted the attributes of attorney Monique Gomez, who will run on the party's ticket for the area in the upcoming polls, Ingraham also revealed that over 1,100 Bahamians have had electricity restored to their homes under a Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) reconnection plan he announced last week.
Under the plan, customers are required to pay their current electricity bills and to pay something on the overdue amount owed to BEC, however reconnection fees will be waived.
Ingraham said last night, "Now some are saying that we are doing this for election. Well what were we doing it for when we put programs in place to have households reconnected to BEC twice before during this term in office?
"There was no election on the horizon then."
He also lashed out at criticisms Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Philip 'Brave' Davis recently levied against the FNM over the crime rate.
"There is no 'quick fix' for crime. Pay no mind to those who suddenly now proclaim that they have what they have never had before - a solution to crime," he said.
"I listened to Brave Davis give the PLP plank on crime on [television]. I kept trying to remember when it was that he came to be on the side of the victims of crime.
"Seems he spends a lot of time defending those on the offending side of crime. Perhaps he, like Saul, had a conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Ask him when?
"As I watched him [Wednesday] night I couldn't get my mind off '90'. I tried really hard to think 80 or 70 or some other number, but as I watched him, it was '90' that kept popping up in my head."
Davis, who is the member of Parliament for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador, was the lawyer of Bahamian drug lord Samuel "Ninety" Knowles, who was extradited to the United States in 2006 and convicted of drug trafficking in 2008.
The FNM will be in Marco City, Grand Bahama on the weekend, followed by Bamboo Town next week.
The construction company in charge of bringing the much-anticipated new straw market into being is back on schedule.
After Guardian Business reported long delays in which the government failed to inspect the power grid, a representative arrived soon thereafter, and the building will soon be ready to accommodate the vendors.
Bob Hall, the project manager at Cavalier Construction, said they are nearly all systems go.
"All of the paperwork is with the Bahamas Electricity Corporation," said Hall.
"They promised to be in today to check the meter, so that's positive. They need to come in and look where the meter goes and plug it in, and then we should more or less be in business."
Meanwhile, Hall's crew is busy taking care of a few "odds and sods" in preparation for the move in.
The sprinkler system is complete, the carpets will come in shortly and there have been last-minute checks for the air conditioner and external lighting.
"[The] end of the job is always a bit chaotic," he said.
"We're gearing up now and once the power gets going we'll be ready. Things are definitely coming together."
Two weeks ago, after Hurricane Irene blew through The Bahamas, the old straw market took a beating, including damage to the tent, market stalls and the products and merchandise of individual vendors. Many vendors kept their merchandise in plastic bags on tables to market it during the storm, but these fell to the ground and became saturated with water.
Brent Symonette, the Deputy Prime Minister, toured the site and said the storm will "hopefully speed up the completion of the new market. Hopefully we will be able to make some adjustments and get towards the new market."
Merchants were forced to set up shop along the wharf as they waited for their place of business to be cleaned and cleared. Although many of them have returned to the old straw market temporarily, both the vendors and the government are anxious to get the ball rolling at the new site.
And despite a few bumps along the road, the process seems to have improved.
Richard Wilson, the managing director at Cavalier, confirmed with Guardian Business that they are now "doing very well" and everything is "under control".
The ministry has been co-operative, Hall said, and the company has been paid on time.
"I know people want us to get finished," he said.
But there is another reason to look busy. Hall added that today the new straw market is expecting a very special guest - Sir John Warburton Paul.
"We have the Governor General coming in tomorrow for an unofficial visit, just to get a feel for the new straw market, so we're also bust cleaning up and making sure it's looking nice and finished."
Vendors are expected to move into the new market sometime this month, although the exact date has yet to be finalized.
The Bahamas is on track to see the government finance statistics (GFS) deficit exceed the $248 million budgeted amount by $200 million, based on how the first quarter of the 2011/2012 fiscal year is shaping up, according to Al Jarrett.
The retired senior banker and former Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) chairman says that's the conclusion that must be drawn following the completion of his macro-economic analysis of the government's budgetary and fiscal performance. His recent work is the second phase of his initial analysis for the period 2007 to 2010.
Jarrett spoke to Guardian Business yesterday as he embarked on a media tour to inform the Bahamian public on the findings of his research, with a number of radio and television talk-shows lined up.
"The key finding is that the government has had flawed budgets from day one all the way to now," Jarrett said.
Key projections Jarrett's research is allowing him to make include a 2 percent to 2.5 percent negative growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first quarter of this fiscal year, and debt-to-GDP levels reaching 79 percent - ahead of the IMF's 2015 timeline projection.
As Jarrett works his way through the media circuit more of the details behind his projections will be explored.
Jarrett's conclusion that the GFS deficit will come in at $200 million over that budgeted was based on what he says is the use of a flawed starting point for the government's calculations.
"This year they have an aberration in the 2011/2012 budget because they took-off from an extraordinary situation that happened last year," he said.
The extraordinary situation, Jarrett explained, was the $350 million in off-budget items that he said resulted in an "inorganic reduction" in the GFS deficit from the projected 3 percent to 1.7 percent.
"That created a false economy," said Jarrett. The 'norm' would have been to start at the 4.5 to 5 percent-plus GFS deficits recorded in the previous two years, according to the retired banker.
"We took-off from the 1.7 percent and added another point-and-a-half to create a 3 percent GFS deficit for 2011/2012, or $248 million. Now we're at 5.25 percent, similar to where we were the two years before that, which clearly shows we made a mistake in the way we assess that."
The banker said the review and updating of financial measures like the deficit, debt and GDP projections needs to be made and properly communicated to the Bahamian public on a quarterly, rather than annual basis. Two of the other basic components of budgets are that they must be adaptable and realistic, Jarrett said in the first phase of his review.
With his media tour underway, Guardian Business asked Jarrett what qualified him to conduct his analysis.
"I'm the best in the country at this time - simple as that. James Smith and I are the two best in the country," Jarrett said, referring to the former State Minister for Finance under the Christie administration.
"I'm not bragging about that. I've had 35-40 years of international and domestic banking experience. I was the government's banker for seven years at the Royal Bank of Canada, so I know the government in-and-out. The Central Bank, the Ministry of Finance - I was the government's banker for all of the government facilities, including its agencies.
Jarrett later added: "I don't know of anybody more qualified in the country [to do this] than me."
A$20 million upgrade to the power generating infrastructure of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation(BEC)is the primary option being considered to meet the projected energy demands for Baha Mar, said BEC Chairman Michael Moss.
The alternative to that upgrade would be the construction of a new$45 million 30-megawatt plant, Moss added.
Bahamas Electrical Utility Managerial Union President Irvin Dean said yesterday the BEUMU is preparing for a “shock and awe” strike campaign if the executive management team of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) does not come to a concensus with his union over pay increases and a new industrial agreement.
The union held a strike vote yesterday that ended 78 to 1 in favor of a strike, but Dean said before the managers engage in action, they will give BEC until the beginning of next week to respond.
Ninety-six managers were eligible to vote.
Dean said the corporation made an offer to the union Thursday night that was so “offensive”, he could not bring it to ...
Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) Executive Chairman Leslie Miller yesterday apologized for the recent outages and said BEC is working to prevent further service disruptions.
On Wednesday, thousands of customers were impacted after lightning struck a generator at the Clifton Pier power plant, Miller said.
This resulted in several units tripping offline, according to the corporation.
Miller noted that BEC technicians have since brought those units back online.
"We have all the engines now," he told The Guardian yesterday.
"Clifton is running at [optimal levels], so we're in good shape.
"We continue to get lightning strikes out at Clifton. They have the lightning arrestors on there, but the strikes are so massive they cause intermittent problems.
"So we're trying now to get some new arrestors to try and solve the problems. [These are] the summer months, so you'll have those things."
Asked if customers should expect more outages, Miller said no.
However, he added, "We don't predict nature".
"If the lightning comes and the rain follows, these things happen. I don't know if you want me to talk to God. You want me to give him a call?" he asked chuckling.
"When you have lightning strikes, the machines automatically cut off to save the machine from any serious problems. Then you go and repair whatever damage is done. It's very minor damage most of the time."
BEC spent about $5 million in the past six months upgrading the Clifton Pier power plant in a bid to cut down on energy costs.
Miller told The Nassau Guardian last month that the upgrades will also help to prevent blackouts as a result of load shedding once the summer months roll in.
"We don't expect any blackouts," Miller said.
"We spent significant money refurbishing the engines at Clifton and we did so with very little outside help."
Miller said the upgrades resulted in the increased use of the Clifton Pier power plant, which also resulted in a decreased fuel surcharge.
He added that BEC is seeking to cut down on its reliance on the Blue Hills power plant, as it is more expensive to run.
Head of The Bahamas Renewable Energy Association has called on the government to "stop delaying" advances in renewable energy generation in this nation, in response to a new report indicating that The Bahamas ranks 26th out of 27 countries in the region for its "progress and prospects" in relation to renewable energy investment.
The 2013 CREF-Castalia Renewable Energy Island index was revealed in October to hundreds of energy sector stakeholders from throughout the Caribbean and beyond at the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum, which was hosted this year in Aruba.
The results show that The Bahamas has not only failed to gain ground with respect to its competitiveness as a jurisdiction for actual or planned RE generation, but it has in fact lost competitiveness simply by being overtaken by other Caribbean nations by dint of its inaction.
In the 2012 CREF-Castalia Renewable Energy Island index, The Bahamas was ranked second to last out of 22 countries assessed. In the 2013 index, 27 countries are ranked, and The Bahamas again places second from the bottom.
Guilden Gilbert, head of The Bahamas Renewable Energy Association, said that he is not surprised by the ranking, as "effectively the government has really done nothing with respect to renewable energy" and there continues to be "no forward movement" in this regard.
Referring to the government's indications that it plans to shelve action on renewable energy implementation until after the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) reform process is intended to be completed in mid-2014, Gilbert, also vice president of Alternative Power Sources Bahamas, a renewable energy solutions provider, said he sees no need to wait any longer.
"It doesn't make any sense," he said. "If you are going to implement, then implement; it doesn't make sense delaying.
"I understand that they are trying to sell BEC, to sell the generation arm of BEC, but if you look at the way BEC operates, Nassau subsidizes the Family Islands (electricity costs), so any private investment that comes in would probably be extremely reluctant to take the Family Islands - they are loss leaders."
Castalia Strategic Advisors describes the CREF-Castalia Renewable Energy Island index as one which aims to "track real progress and real prospects in renewable energy investment in the Caribbean."
"It is intended to help project developers and financiers see where the action is. Governments that want to attract renewable energy investment can use the index to see how their country is doing relative to others, and adjust their policies and plans if needed to get a higher ranking and attract more investment in renewable energy."
As such, it is likely that the ranking at the bottom of the index will be of some embarrassment to The Bahamas as it has expressed hope of moving towards what government officials have suggested will be significant reform in the area of energy in 2013 and heading into 2014.
Announcing plans to advance private sector involvement in BEC's generation, transmission and distribution arms in August, the government also indicated intentions to move ahead with plans to advance renewable energy generation after mid-2014, following the targeted completion date for the BEC reform process.
The index ranks countries taking into consideration three components: the enabling environment for renewable energy investments, the renewable energy projects already implemented, and the popeline of potential renewable energy projects.
In the overall index, The Bahamas ranks second from last (British Virgin Islands being the lowest rated of all), having the least "enabling" environment for RE, among the smallest planned RE generation and no recognized existing RE generation.
The enabling environment component consists of the extent to which an investor can experience "ease and security" in successfully implementing a viable RE project in the jurisdiction in question.
"For large-scale investments, this refers to the ability of a utility to recover costs and make a return on investment, or the ability of an Independent Power Producer (IPP) to get a bankable off-take agreement for RE investments. For small-scale investments, this refers to a customer's ability to recover costs of a viable grid-tied distributed RE system," states Castalia in its 2012 document.
Gilbert said that having The Bahamas at the bottom of the ranking would "definitely make investors gun shy" to enter this nation to provide renewable energy solutions, but added that the company he had partnered with to offer a Family Islands solution was still prepared to step up and move ahead with the project.
Highlighting the inaction on renewable energy, Gilbert noted that his company along with an international partner had proposed a photovoltaic plant energy solution for the Family Islands to the government, initially responding to a tender put out in 2012 that was later revoked.
"They put out a tender document for provision of 15 MW PV plants on FI that was rescinded by government two days before the due date for submission. We'd already done all of our work so we submitted it anyway. We would have financed it at 100 percent, so there was no capital cost to the country. There's a 20-year warranty across the board, and after 20 years we would've handed it back to the country at no charge. The delivered cost of energy for us was around 23 cents so even if BEC added a margin for distribution of 10 cents per kilowatt hour it still would've brought the cost of electricity down 25 percent. But nothing came of that.
"I think The Bahamas just needs to make a decision, all of the countries are showing it can be done and moving ahead with renewable energy."
Ranked in the top 10 in the CREF-Castalia Index are Dominica, Montserrat, Guyana, Guadeloupe, Belize, Grenada, Martinique, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica and Curacao. In the bottom five, are Turks and Caicos, St. Kitts, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands.
Castalia, the Washington, D.C.-based consultancy which compiled the index for the second year running, is well known to the government, having been hired by the Inter-American Development Bank on behalf of the Bahamas government on previous occasions to conduct studies into BEC and the water sector.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis does not have a good record of winning favor when he speaks.
It seems the DPM is stumbling from one verbal blunder to the next.
This is important to watch, as it is no secret that Davis wants to be prime minister.
A national leader ought to speak in a considered and effective way.
In the case of Davis, there have been far too many instances that have left us holding or shaking our heads.
For instance, the deputy prime minister seemed recently to have done a 360 on the matter involving Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Works Renward Wells, over Wells' controversial signing of a letter of intent with a company that wants to develop a $600 million-plus waste-to-energy plant at the New Providence landfill.
In so doing, Davis also seemed to be questioning the authority of Prime Minister Perry Christie, who already asked Wells to resign for allegedly exceeding his authority in signing that document with Stellar Waste to Energy (Bahamas) Ltd.
As the minister responsible for the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, Davis was contacted by The Nassau Guardian on this matter two weeks ago.
Davis previously said Wells had no authority to sign the document.
Following that initial statement, we confirmed that Christie asked for Wells' resignation.
But Davis said he needed an explanation from Wells and he needed to "test" this explanation before determining whether Wells had done anything wrong.
This confused that issue further. It left many people wondering who really is in charge of the government.
The one statement that continues to haunt Davis in this term is a declaration he made on the 2012 campaign trail about jobs.
At a rally in Hatchet Bay, North Eleuthera, on April 19, 2012, Davis said, "Vote for a PLP government that is ready to create 10,000 immediate new jobs for young Bahamians."
Since coming to office, Davis has been continually criticized by the Free National Movement (FNM) for his pledge.
Last October, Davis told The Guardian that he doesn't regret the promise.
"It's been taken out of context," he said.
"I don't want to trample over it, because instead of criticizing me on the promise to create 10,000 jobs, look at what we did.
"Criticize me on what is happening. We are creating jobs, and at the end of the day, at the end of this term we would have created more than 10,000 jobs."
Two weeks ago, he declared that his ministry alone has already created more than 10,000 jobs.
"I have created more than 10,000 jobs, just in the contracts and works I've given out from my ministry," said Davis, who is minister of works and urban development.
But there has been no empirical evidence of this.
Just over a week ago, the Department of Statistics released the results of its Labour Force Survey.
According to the latest survey, 8,390 net jobs have been added to the economy since May 2012.
This was positive news for the Christie administration, but it did not square with Davis' claim.
The growth of the labor force also means that while more than 8,000 jobs were created, more people were unemployed in May 2014 than in May 2012, when the Christie administration took office.
Instead of accepting the results of the survey, the deputy prime minister threw the integrity of the hard working professionals at the Department of Statistics into question.
This is not good for a possible future prime minister to do.
Davis suggested that the recent figures do not accurately reflect the number of jobs created by the Christie administration.
"It was pointed out by Minister of National Insurance [Shane Gibson] that the huge number of people who were registered as workers, for which employers were paying their contributions," Davis said.
"That's what I based my numbers on.
"There is obviously a need to synchronize the work of the Department of Statistics with what is revealed by the National Insurance numbers. Somehow they have to be synchronized."
Director of Statistics Kelsie Dorsett said previously that both the PLP and the FNM too often use the statistics to gain political points.
"Both the Free National Movement and the Progressive Liberal Party have short-term memories when it comes to how the process works," Dorsett said.
This is most unfortunate.
Several months ago, Davis put his foot in his mouth on the matter of salary increases for members of Parliament.
It was bad enough that a select committee of Parliament looking into such matters was insensitive enough to recommend the review at this time.
What Davis said following that was another head-shaking moment that put another strike against him.
Davis said MPs should receive an increase to discourage them from wrongdoing.
"[It would] remove the temptation for politicians to do things that are not right, because if they (MPs) are earning a living by doing this, then there would be no need for them to do anything else. I think that's what the Bahamian public has to understand.
"The feelings of our public is probably more rooted in their scepticism about us as politicians and their mistrust of all of us as politicians. But hopefully the time has come for us to win back the trust of the people. When I say win back the trust of the people, I mean politicians on all sides of the spectrum."
There has been no salary increase for MPs since that report was released.
Given the DPM's statement, we are extremely worried that some MPs are unable to resist the temptation to do wrong.
The DPM's verbal blunders are numerous. We recall the declarations he has made as they relate to crime.
One month after he was robbed at gunpoint in his home in December, Davis said The Bahamas is not "as dangerous as it is made out to be".
"I feel safe," he said. "I think The Bahamas is not as dangerous as it is made out to be.
"We do have pockets of young men who have lost their way and are wreaking havoc, but I think it is all confined within what I call groupings."
His claim that The Bahamas is not as dangerous as it is made out to be came months after he declared that "no one is safe from crime" in The Bahamas.
Davis made that statement after one of his police aides was shot in eastern New Providence.
Back on the topic of crime, Davis said in May 2014 that crime has the country "under siege".
However, he lashed out at the media for "flaming this fire of discontent".
While in opposition, he was adamant that reports about high levels of crime should not be silenced.
We were not sure what his true feelings were on crime after these contradictory statements.
Apart from his 10,000 jobs pledge, Davis made other pronouncements on the campaign trail that were dead on arrival with the election of the Progressive Liberal Party on May 7, 2012.
He promised to move for a commission of inquiry within the first 100 days to investigate the road work project, BTC sale, Arawak Cay port deal, et cetera.
This was indeed a noteworthy declaration from Davis at a PLP mass rally at Clifford Park in April. So much so that it grabbed headlines and made our front page.
"I shall agitate for the commission to be appointed so it can call for people and papers to examine and explore the facts surrounding specific matters of great national importance," Davis said.
"With this fact-finding body, we shall seek to examine and reveal the role of special interests involved in the grant of a 40-year monopoly at the Arawak Cay Port."
Davis said at the time that Bahamians still don't know the names of the people "hiding behind the corporate veils".
He questioned where the "people's money" went. "Inquiring minds want to know," Davis said. "Let the chips fall where they may."
The PLP deputy said the commission would also be mandated to examine matters pertaining to the sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company.
The government sold 51 percent of the shares in BTC to Cable and Wireless Communications last year.
Davis has long abandoned his pledge to call for this inquiry.
It sounded good on the campaign trail. Whether he was serious at the time he said it is anyone's guess.
It is likely that Davis' comments will continue to be followed closely.
He is grooming himself to be prime minister.
Along with this should come consistency and well-reasoned statements.
On that score, Davis has been lacking.
By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
MEMBERS of the Bahamas Electrical Utility Managerial Union voted "overwhelming" yesterday to strike.
Union president Ervin Dean said 70 members voted in favour and one member voted against the strike. The votes represented more than 80 per cent of the union's membership.
"We have the right to withdraw our labour," said Mr Dean, speaking of the vote's significance. However, he said, the membership would not engage in any "sabotage."
Yesterday's strike vote is the latest in the continuing standoff between BEUMU and Bahamas Electricity Corporation's executive management over ne ...
The Bahamas Electricity Corporation underwent another spate of power outages this past weekend due to underground lines being severed, BEC Chairman Michael Moss told The Nassau Guardian yesterday.
Moss said BEC had several issues in both eastern and western New Providence with high voltage cables being cut by construction workers.
"There were at least three or four in the vicinity of Baha Mar and a couple in the west and any number involving the New Providence road works," Moss said.
He said the power outage involved construction workers cutting in to 33,000 volt cables buried in the ground.
"I'm surprised there have been no serious injuries," Moss said.
The corporation's press officer Arnette Ingraham added that two generators tripped and were out for a period of less than 30 minutes. "It lasted less than half an hour," she said.
According to Ingraham, mother nature also played a role in some power outages over the weekend as well, with lightning strikes causing several outages.
She explained, however, that BEC typically shuts its systems down during a lightening storm in order to prevent any irreparable damage to equipment or damage not easy to be quickly fixed.
Ingraham said in all of the cases, repair crews were sent out right away to correct any issues.
BEC has been criticized this summer for not being able to keep the power on.
Its executives have continuously cited generator failure for the inordinate amount of power outages in the past several months. And those frequent outages have been blamed on the years of maintenance the corporation's large generators at Clifton Pier have missed because of financial issues.
BEC spent $3 million recently to rent additional generators that were to produce 20 megawatts of supplementary power.
Moss said the generators were brought online two weeks ago and have allowed BEC to take generators offline at the Clifton Pier power plant for service.
"It is helping because we had to put overhauls on hold because of the tight generation demand," he said. "Now we have been able to resume taking units out of service for maintenance."
Moss said BEC will have the supplementary generators for 13 weeks.
He added that BEC will begin taking generators at the Blue Hills power plant out of service for overhauls this week.
Moss explained that the extra 20 megawatts coupled with a temperature reduction as the season changes in the next few weeks, will allow BEC to complete generator overhauls.
"The weather should soon be cooling off and demand will be reducing," he said.
The government will not raise taxes or introduce austerity measures as a result of a credit rating downgrade by the international agency Moody's, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis said yesterday.
"We think we are not quite out of the woods in terms of the recession and the low growth, and we don't want to run the risk of pushing the country back into a recession by increasing the level of taxes," said Halkitis at the Ministry of Finance.
On Thursday, Moody's downgraded the country's credit rating from A3 to Baa1.
In addition, Moody's said the country's economic outlook remains negative.
"We see limited prospects for the fiscal consolidation necessary to strengthen the government's balance sheet and stabilize debt levels," said the Moody's rating action.
Halkitis said the government has to do a better job of debt management and revenue growth.
He said the government will focus on gradually reducing expenditure, raising revenue and growing the economy.
"You would have made a mistake if you think you can go in and start to slash the budget because, inevitably due to the nature of our budget, that means you are sending people home and you're stopping work," Halkitis said.
"It's counter productive. It means your economy stays in recession longer. We think the approach that we have adopted to take this multi-approach is the right approach and we promise we are going to be disciplined in implementing it and we are going to achieve results in the next few years."
He said the government will meet next week to discuss ways to lower energy costs and complete the white paper on tax reform.
One of the factors that will influence future ratings are government corporations that operate at a loss, such as the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, Moody's said.
Halkitis said the government has to put the corporations on a better financial footing.
"We've been saying that for years [but] it's not an easy process," he said.
"But as I said earlier, it is not something that can be kicked down the road because not only are you talking about your annual transfers to these companies, you are talking about the debt of these corporations [and]...making sure that in their day-to-day operations they are maximizing their resources."
Moody's said the downgrade incorporates a marked deterioration of the government's financial balance sheet over the past five years.
Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday the Ingraham administration did what had to be done.
"We were faced with a recession, not only in The Bahamas, but the rest of the world," he said.
"We did what we thought was necessary.
"We thought, just like the rest of the world, that the recession would have lasted for a shorter term, two to three years.
"The benefits you see from our projects today are minimized because the recession continued. If it had broken, you would have had a greater benefit and we would have been by far, better off today."
But Halkitis said the Christie administration inherited the 2012/2013 budget with little "wiggle room" to implement cuts.
He said he did not want to make the issue a political one though.
"If you read the report, Moody's said from 2007 the debt to GDP was 31 percent, now it's 53," he said.
"To be quite blunt that's not on our watch. I don't want to dwell on that; we have to move forward.
"The fact of the matter is we are in the chair; the Bahamians are going to look to us for results."
Halkitis said the government may see an increase in borrowing costs as Standard & Poor's downgraded the country late last year.
Nassau, Bahamas - The
Bahamas Electricity Corporation advises that it has completed the
restoration of electricity supply to the more than 99% of customers in
New Providence following the adverse weather conditions experienced on
Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
is a small area of Yamacraw Beach Estates where supply remains
disconnected due to standing water levels. BEC crews are working in
conjunction with the Ministry of Works to complete an assessment of the
area and will restore electricity supply as soon as it safe.
Former Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Housing Brensil Rolle said yesterday the Christie administration's new policy on shantytowns is a recycled version of the one that the Ingraham administration started before it was voted out of office.
Rolle, who headed the former government's initiative to clean up shantytowns in 2010, said the previous government caused thousands of squatters to be moved from government owned land.
Housing Minister Kenred Dorsett announced on Thursday that the government intends to crack down on shantytowns in The Bahamas. He said there will be consequences for people who live in such areas if they are not operating within the law.
Going forward, he said, shantytown occupiers will be required to provide an occupancy certificate, approved building plan permit from the Ministry of Works, approved Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) connection and approved Water and Sewerage connection.
He said if these cannot be produced, the Ministry of Works will take the necessary action.
But Rolle said this is nothing new.
"This is what we did," he said.
"In approaching the areas that were owned by the government we sent in a team of officials from the various agencies and assessed the physical environments.
"Once we did that, they came back with an indication of what was on the ground. We then set in motion a process to have persons removed from the shantytowns. We posted notices, and we had informational meetings with public dwellers.
"We then identified how much time they had to vacate the government's property."
He said the team included officials from the Department of Social Services, the Department of Immigration, the police force, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Housing.
Rolle said once the land was vacated, the government turned it over to the Ministry of Housing to be used for the development of low cost housing subdivisions.
"We did that in five specific areas where there were shantytowns," he said. "So what Minister Dorsett offered [on Thursday] was simply a plan that was already in place. But he's now announcing it as if it's their government's plan."
He said clean up efforts were carried out at Su Rock, Margaret Yard, Government Yard, Mackey Yard and another unnamed shantytown on Fire Trail Road.
While he could not recall the total number of squatters affected, Rolle said in the case of Mackey Yard, over 1,500 people were forced to move. He added that between 900 and 1,200 squatters on Fire Trail also vacated that land.
"So instead of the minister making these broad statements, he just needs to continue the plan and clean up the shantytowns," Rolle said.
Former Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney said he doubts the Christie administration has the fortitude required to clean up the shantytowns.
"No one has the political will to deal with it," said McCartney, leader of the Democratic National Alliance.
"It's sounds good, but I'm curious about whether they will act on it.
He said he is skeptical about Rolle's "claims" about the clean up efforts that the former government carried out.
Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Bradley Roberts said in a statement yesterday that remarks made by Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Carl Bethel that "voter dissatisfaction will fade as the election nears" was insulting and proof that the FNM is out of touch with the pulse of the Bahamian people.
"It is interesting to note that Mr. Bethel's basis for his remarks is the disastrous New Providence Road Improvement Project (NPRIP) that has been unacceptably delayed and significantly over budget. Further, this poorly executed project caused the closure of many businesses, numerous job losses and immeasurable frustration and inconvenience to the motoring public," said Roberts, who was minister of works in the Christie administration.
On Wednesday, Bethel told The Nassau Guardian, "I'm getting a sense of hope from voters. Whatever the frustrations of the past year have been, people are now seeing the benefits of the government investing in the future."
He acknowledged that many voters are upset with the government, particularly over the delays and traffic congestion caused by the New Providence Road Improvement Project.
"Yes, okay we are frustrated about the road works, but now with the roads in the condition where they have been open, people are getting a real sense of the possible benefit of the disruption," Bethel said.
But Roberts said in his statement: "This botched road works project however is just one of the many issues that have negatively impacted the lives of Bahamians. Topping the list is the unprecedented level of crime, the fear of crime and the misery index that is off the charts due to the shamefully high unemployment rate."
Roberts said, "With regard to unemployment, more than 40,000 Bahamians are now without work and without any prospects in the foreseeable future due to the FNM's mismanagement and failed policies -- especially their refusal to put Bahamians first.
"While governments around the world lowered taxes to save businesses and jobs, this FNM government imposed huge tax increases on the backs of working Bahamians that made life unbearable for many Bahamian families.
"This FNM government has abandoned Grand Bahama, their so-called 'FNM country' which continues to die daily and is a ghost of its former self. Their elected representatives are reportedly refusing to face their constituents and are literally fleeing."
Roberts added that thousands of Bahamians are without electricity supply, and he pointed to high electricity costs.
"This is the situation after tens of millions of taxpayers' dollars were spent on new generation plants, plant maintenance and after repeated assurances were given by government ministers and the chairman of BEC (the Bahamas Electricity Corporation) that this problem would be resolved.
"These blackouts have needlessly disrupted businesses, adversely impacted the lives of many and still the government is not forthcoming with a sensible explanation for why this national vexation continues.
"So everything [Prime Minister] Hubert Ingraham has touched has turned to powder and Bahamians are significantly worse off today than they were five years ago."
Roberts said Bethel should "take his head out of the sand" and realize that these are but some of the salient and burning issues facing Bahamians today - not only the road works - that are the causes of voter dissatisfaction with the FNM and the reason the Bahamian people will vote the FNM government out of office at the earliest opportunity."
In order to generate a stimulus to economic growth, the government will undertake "major" capital works in 2014 via public-private partnerships that will see the private sector put up the financing for the construction and rehabilitation efforts, Prime Minister Perry Christie has announced.
While stating that the government has committed to gradually reducing total spending relative to the size of the economy over the next few years, Christie said that the country cannot afford to "divert our attention from infrastructure needs which are still acute".
Christie made the announcement as part of an extended speech on the outlook for 2014 at the 23rd Annual Bahamas Business Outlook, which took place at the Melia Nassau Beach Resort yesterday.
Christie also pointed to ways in which the government intends to cut back on its spending levels.
Beyond cutbacks to most government agencies' budgets in the current fiscal year, the Ministry of Finance has begun conducting audits of large ministries and departments to "ferret out wasteful practices" and is undertaking reforms to government procurement procedures that will see more purchases subject to the public tender process.
An added benefit of this effort will be to make the process of acquiring government contracts more "transparent and accessible to small businesses," Christie said.
He pointed to such initiatives as part of the way in which the government will be able to deliver on priorities in the areas of education, health, national security and poverty alleviation, while "becoming more disciplined" fiscally, as it has been called upon to do by the local private sector and internationally agencies.
In an interview with Guardian Business about the proposed capital works, Christie said that the government is looking for "innovative ways" to meet infrastructural needs without adding to government debt.
"We are looking at doing these things in conjunction with the private sector in a joint venture with the government, so the capital is put up for the private sector."
Christie gave the example of plans for at least two major buildings to be constructed on John F. Kennedy Drive on property near to the existing attorney general's office and the Ministry of Works, as well as significant repairs to buildings such as the Rodney Bain building and the Ministry of Tourism as some of the projects set to get underway.
In addition, an affordable housing initiative will be part of the stimulus program, he added.
In his address to the Business Outlook, Christie said that public-private partnerships to rehabilitate "old and dilapidated" government buildings would 'reverse the trend of increasing expenses on rent and restore government buildings to use".
He added that the model is also being adopted in the area of Family Island tourism development and "underlines the outcome that the government expects from the reform of the energy sector in The Bahamas" via the restructuring of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) primarily.
Christie's emphasis on public-private partnerships chimes well with recommendations made recently by entities such as KPMG about how The Bahamas can best go about meeting its infrastructural needs. In September, Simon Townend, partner at KPMG (Bahamas) suggested there may be as much as $2 billion in outstanding infrastructural development needs, telling Guardian Business that this country is "well-positioned" to attract private investors in to help it take care of critical infrastructural demands, such as schools, airports and hospitals.
Doing so could also improve the chances of the government being able to respond to these demands on a more efficient and cost-effective basis, he suggested.
By ALISON LOWE
Tribune Staff Reporter
LOUD explosions rocked mainland Abaco on Friday night when a bush fire spread to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation's Marsh Harbour power plant compound, setting alight drums filled with used oil and posing a threat to the islands' power supply.
The power station blaze came after days of wild fires raging in pine forests on the mainland tested the island's six volunteer fire services' resolve, bringing together the efforts of an estimated 20 to 30 volunteer firefighters and eight fire trucks from throughout the island.
"A lot of the firefighters worked around the clock. Some of them got only about two hours sleep ...
A key advisor to the Christie administration says the government will likely have to borrow an additional $150 million to service commitments not fully accounted for in the original budget.
James Smith, who is also a former state minister of finance, noted that the new government had "very little input" and insufficient time to craft a rock-hard assessment of spending. When the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won the May election, much of the budget had already been crafted and a number of debt obligations were on the books.
"There was no time," he said yesterday.
"After sitting in for a while, you begin to see things you wouldn't have known from the outside. One of those things was a number of projects in different stages in the pipeline that were not funded."
As an example, Smith referenced the expansion of the critical care block at Princess Margaret Hospital as a major liability to be reckoned with.
The project, initiated under the Ingraham administration, should eventually cost around $60 million to complete and another $50 million to outfit with medical equipment.
The PLP has also had to engage in special borrowing through the Inter-American Development Bank to fund the disastrous road works project. In addition, the government has introduced new programs such as the Mortgage Relief Plan and the Road Works Relief Plan, although these initiatives are expected to have a relatively modest impact on the public purse.
What it adds up to, in his estimation, is more borrowing to the tune of $100 million to $150 million.
That's in addition to the government's original $550 million deficit for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which ends in July. The government also has a rising debt-to-GDP ratio of approximately 60 percent after including liabilities from public corporations, such as Bahamas Electricity Corporation, Water and Sewerage Corporation and Bahamasair.
"I think what has happened is when you have a change in government at that time, a full accounting didn't take place of the work in progress or commitments," Smith added.
The government is expected to make an announcement on the borrowing sometime in February when presenting the interim budget.
Earlier this month, State Minister of Finance Michael Halkitis said spending commitments and unforeseen circumstances will mean more borrowing, although he did not go into specifics at this time.
He did not respond to Smith's comments before press time.
"If we have to do anything additional, it will be because we have to pay for what they call prior commitments, things that have been purchased that there was no money for and anything unforeseen, like contingencies, things that come up," he told reporters. "But we'll get a full picture during the budget."
Late last year, Moody's downgraded the country's economic from A3 to Baa1. It was the second downgrade by the international rating's agency in as many years.
Analysis told Guardian Business from Wall Street that the most recent downgrade was not entirely the fault of the current government. While the PLP has inherited some difficult circumstances, Moody's also urged the government to move faster in achieving cost-cutting measures and bringing on new streams of revenue.
Just days after the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) reported an uptick in copper theft activity, a leading businessman is again urging the government to implement a ban on copper exports as theft continues to plague many businesses around the country.
While Rupert Roberts, the owner of the Super Value food store chain, admitted in an interview with Guardian Business yesterday that it has been months since his business was lasted affected by copper theft, he believes that given time, "it will start up again".
"For now, the problem has subsided, but drastic measures still have to be taken so let's stop the pretense. Put a ban on it so it won't come back," he said.
"It's hitting the business market so hard, especially food stores, BTC and the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) because they are all operations that have a lot of copper on their properties."
Back in March, businesses and government agencies reported major losses as a result of rampant copper theft.
Super Value alone had lost approximately $1 million over the last five years. BTC, BEC and ZNS have also had equipment stolen made of or containing copper. At the time, Roberts said copper theft over time has become a significant cost to both merchants and consumers, similar to payroll or rent.
In a release sent out on Tuesday, BTC confirmed that a number of its facilities across the country have experienced an uptick in copper theft activity that has resulted in immediate disruption of phone and data services and huge financial losses.
Kenyon Basden, BTC's technical manager for New Providence, said that in just the last two weeks, three substantial thefts occurred.
"Thieves attacked at South Ocean Boulevard on November 16, JFK on November 27th and Roberts Boulevard, Coral Harbour on November 29. In all cases valuable and expensive 300-pair copper aerial cable was stolen, immediately disrupting service to hundreds of customers in the surrounding areas," he said.
This comes as Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage said the government has drafted a bill that would govern all metal-based businesses including copper as well as cash-for-gold businesses.
Outside of the House of Assembly, he told reporters that he hoped to bring some resolution to the issue soon.
In June, Nottage had said that of the 506 armed robberies committed between January 1 and June 11, 2013, 299 or 55 percent of them involved copper or jewelry theft.