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Domingo, Dominican Republic - Bahamian Cabinet Ministers, Government
technical officers and private sector stakeholders met with several
Government counterparts, on October 29,
2012, in the Dominican Republic on the first of two days of Bilateral
Talks on various issues.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration the Hon. Frederick A.
Mitchell is leading the delegation and is joined by Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local
Government the Hon. V. Alfred Gray,
Minister of National Security Dr. the Hon. Bernard J. Nottage, Minister
of Financial Services the Hon. Ryan Pinder The
Talks will involve the discussion of issues such as illegal fishing by
Dominican fishermen, illegal migration and trade relations, particularly
in the area of agricultural imports and medical products...
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) will move to hold
a "mass" rally next Tuesday ahead of plans for major industrial action, TUC President Obie Ferguson announced yesterday.
Ferguson foreshadowed the rally last month amid a standoff between the government and the Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) over the government's refusal to increase workers' benefits. The rally will be held at St Gregory's
Anglican Church at 7 p.m. on May 6.
"What this country needs is a complete shutdown in my humble opinion," Ferguson said during a press conference yesterday at the House of Labour on Wulff Road.
"...So After May 6 you may very well hear a cry from this body inviting all workers to stand still for a couple days."
Ferguson was surrounded by officials from the BCIAWU, Bahamas Hotel, Maintenance and Allied Workers Union, the Bahamas Educators Mangerial Union, Bahamas Nurses Union and, Bahamas Musicians and Entertainers Union, among others.
Ferguson cited several issues the umbrella union has, including the failure of some unions to get recognition, failure of the government to deal with industrial agreements in a timely fashion and the failure to make amendments to legislation that affects workers.
"This is a serious situation. It's affecting a lot of workers," he said, adding that the government has consistently failed to live up to its responsibilities.
"We have to stand up, man," he said. "Don't be afraid. You vote [them] in office and you can vote [them] out.
"...This is our time now and we're gearing up to something that is going to be fantastic and those who believe we're scared and that we won't do anything, let them stay right there. We're not scared."
Ferguson said the only way the government will understand how serious the union is, is for it to take action.
"If all principals decided not to work on Monday morning, if all of immigration decide not to work on Monday morning, if all of customs decide not to work on Monday morning, all of the nurses in this land decide not to do anything, and all hotel workers, and all national insurance, all water and sewage, let me tell you something - we would have a negotiation in less than 10 seconds," he said.
"We [would] possibly have an agreement in less than eight hours. That's what they are asking us to do and they think we're not going to do it. But let them sit right there and one morning bright and early, they are going to find out it [doesn't] go like that."
Ferguson claimed that there several other unions on board with the TUC's plans. He also called on non-union and non-government workers to join in what he expects to be a massive labour movement.
Ferguson said more information regarding future industrial action will be announced at the meeting.
While applauding the government's decision not to charge value-added tax (VAT) on domestic travel, some carriers are still expressing concerns about other fees that have caused operational costs to go up significantly.
Pointing to the fact that domestic carriers contribute significantly to the economy, SkyBahamas' CEO Captain Randy Butler believes "it's a start in the right direction", but he still fears that if the government doesn't put a stop to other increases, then the domestic carriers could be "taxed out of business.
"Family Island resorts depend on domestic tourism. Allowing that tax increase would have driven costs up by 20 percent, which would make it prohibitive to travel to the Family Islands. So I am glad that the government is looking at these kinds of things, but they really need to figure out how to build this business," he told Guardian Business yesterday.
"Let's look at the customs and immigration fees that took effect last year, along with the departure tax. NAD (Nassau Airport Development Company ) fees continue to go up and you are going to get to a point where you tax domestic carriers out of business. So the government needs to pay attention to what is happening in the sector."
Western Air's Director of Operations Captain Wolfe Seyfert also welcomed the news, but is still seeking clarification from the government on whether other airport-related services will also be VAT exempted.
We just need to get a better picture of what we are going to be exposed to in terms of planning our strategy of how to get the airfares down, but not being exposed to any more cost increases. Obviously we are very pleased with the decision that has been made, but we would like to get clarification on the services that are provided at the airport, such as NAD airport fees, will that be exempted as well. As I understand the exemption on domestic travel would only apply to airfares and such," he explained.
Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis recently revealed that VAT will not be charged on any form of domestic travel, while speaking at the Progressive Liberal Party's (PLP) Killarney branch association meeting at the Casuarinas Hotel. At the time, he confirmed that travel by air, land and sea between islands will be totally exempt when the new tax regime comes into effect.
"The government has considered the domestic tourism market and understands how Bahamians love travelling to family islands," he said. The government plans to implement VAT on July 1, 2014 at a rate of 15 percent, with the hotel industry at a lower 10 percent rate.
Officials at the Ministry of Finance estimate that VAT can generate approximately $200 million in revenue in the first year alone, which the government has suggested is key to reducing national debt levels.
Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell said yesterday that he violently objected to what he called the vile, disgusting, and almost obscene comments Bahamas Faith Ministries International President Dr. Myles Munroe made about him.
Munroe criticized Mitchell over comments he made recently about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.
Mitchell said yesterday if pastors need help finding God, he could help them.
"When I was nine-years-old, David Allen was my Sunday School teacher at Central Gospel Chapel and I took Christ as my personal savior," he said.
"If the preachers don't know Christ, I could show them where Christ is.
"And I could show them the path to Christ. Christ taught tolerance; that you must take care of the poor; that you must not judge other people, and that you must do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
"Now if they are lost, and don't know the way, I can show them the way.
"That's my view on this; just don't mess with me."
Speaking at a press conference at the House of Assembly, Mitchell also said, "Bishop [Simeon] Hall suggests that at some point there ought to be a talk."
He was asked if he had any plans to speak with Munroe.
"Fine," Mitchell said. "After I had my piece in the public, I don't mind talking to anybody after that. But you know, you go and attack me in public and go hide, no, no. I'm not doing that.
"I'm [going to] tell you right in your face, I don't go for that or, as the kids say, 'Homie don't play that'."
Mitchell also said that there was no bad blood between him and Bahamas High Commissioner to CARICOM Picewell Forbes who said he disagreed with Mitchell's views on LGBT issues.
On Sunday, Munroe said Prime Minister Perry Christie should replace Mitchell because he does not represent the convictions of a majority of Bahamians.
Munroe was referring to a recent speech Mitchell made in Trinidad where he spoke of tolerance of the LGBT community.
Munroe was also referring to Mitchell's contribution to the mid-year budget debate when he also touched on the LGBT issue.
"Let me state for the record publically, Mr. Foreign Minister, I have no interest in your private life," said Munroe in a sermon he made on February 23.
"Personally, I really don't care about your private life. But when you step in our house that we are paying you to represent us in, you keep your private life in your closet and you deal with our public business in our interest."
But Mitchell said, "It doesn't matter to me who you are or where you say it; you do not have the right to make these kind of vile innuendos, slanderous statements and then hide behind the theology and say that gives you the right to do so.
"If you are going to have a civil discourse, then let's have a civil discourse and say I disagree with that, I don't stand for that, that's against my moral beliefs."
A top hotel executive yesterday threw his support behind the government's move to ease the ability for Chinese travelers to visit The Bahamas.
Robert Sands, senior vice president of administration and external affairs for Baha Mar, said the signing of a mutual visa exemption agreement with China would be good for tourism.
"We certainly applaud this move, this is an important step forward in stimulating the country's global tourism base," Sands told Guardian Business.
The government announced yesterday that the signing of the mutual visa exemption agreement will take place on Thursday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.
Baha Mar, which has expressed its intention to attract a broader range of tourists to the resort in order to help fill the 2,200 new rooms it will bring to market in December 2014, has been lobbying the government to reduce the restrictions on travel to The Bahamas for Chinese tourists in particular.
The governments of The Bahamas and China have long talked of intending to find ways to make it easier for each others' people to visit.
While lengthy and onerous visa conditions have been part of the reason why Chinese people have made up only a very small portion of the visitors coming to The Bahamas on an annual basis, it is not the only impediment, with the lack of direct or convenient airlift also a major contributing factor.
However, Guardian Business understands that a great part of the significance of the mutual visa exemption move would be the ability for The Bahamas to attract Chinese passport holders who currently reside in the U.S. or Canada, for example, who while having the ability to travel to or reside in those countries would otherwise have to attend a Bahamian embassy or consulate in order to obtain a visa to travel to The Bahamas.
Chinese people are increasingly prone to traveling abroad, given rising personal incomes. According to official statistics, in 2012 the number of outbound Chinese tourists totaled 83 million, up 18.41 million in comparison with 2011.
Popular outbound destinations include the U.S., Russia, France, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and The Maldives.
Police discovered human skeletal remains deep in the bushes of Central Andros on Saturday afternoon, nearly a month after a man and woman were reported missing on that island.
However, police were careful not to speculate on whether the remains are those of immigration officer Sean Gardiner and his friend Tishka Braynen who were reported missing on November 25.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson said a team of officers from New Providence was on Andros investigating.
Ferguson said the skeletal remains were found in two separate locations within close proximity.
He said due to the state of decomposition police were unable to determine whether the remains were that of one or two people.
"We should be able to make that determination pretty soon, but we are not able to say, other than that they are skeletal remains of a human," Ferguson told The Nassau Guardian.
"Skeletal remains were found in two locations in close proximity and the remains are badly decomposed, so we have to wait on DNA testing to determine the cause of death and identity."
The remains were flown to New Providence around 3 p.m. yesterday.
Officer in Charge of the Andros District Superintendent Bruce Arnette said police were trying to determine what happened.
Noting that Andros residents are tight-knit, Arnette appealed for residents to come forward with any information that may shed some light on the matter.
Ferguson revealed earlier this month that police were questioning several men in connection with the disappearance of Gardiner and Braynen.
At the time, Ferguson said there was evidence that the immigration officer's home may have been searched and that a gun was shot inside the home.
He said police believed Gardiner and Braynen were taken from the house, pointing to damage caused to a washing machine in the home.
Sources close to the investigation previously said that Braynen's car was found at Gardiner's home.
Up to yesterday evening, officers were canvassing the area where the remains were found, Superintendent Stephen Dean said.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell recently expressed concern in the House of Assembly on behalf of the Ministry and Department of Immigration over Gardiner's disappearance.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell said yesterday a delegation he led to Haiti had a "successful bilateral discussion" which the Bahamas government hopes will lead to a slowdown in illegal immigration to The Bahamas and increased trade.
Plans for the expansion of The Bahamas' diplomatic presence in Haiti were also discussed.
Mitchell said the two countries agreed to have a public education and communications program in the north of Haiti to warn people against traveling to The Bahamas illegally.
Michell said the program will stress that Haitians caught in human smuggling operations will be prosecuted and sent home.
He said the government must look at the range of penalties for the captains of ships used for human smuggling.
Mitchell said the two countries also agreed to cooperation between their respective military forces to beef up intelligence, which can aid the fight against illegal migration.
He said The Bahamas is also looking at increasing its diplomatic presence in northern Haiti.
"The issue of migration is perhaps the most vexing issue which is outstanding between The Bahamas and Haiti," said Mitchell at a press conference at the diplomatic lounge at Lynden Pindling International Airport.
"While we can't fix this problem we can better manage the problem and that is what the discussions in Haiti were about.
"All of these are aggressive measures taken by the government and proposed by the government to try and get on top of this problem.
"One of the messages we wanted to reinforce down there was the fact that we're about to spend close to $250 million buying these nine new ships, and these nine new ships are the muscle behind the promise that the government is making in regard to stopping illegal migration."
The government recently brought a resolution to Parliament to borrow money to purchase new vessels for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
Mitchell said representatives also discussed how both sides can help to improve the economy of northern Haiti.
He said the Bahamas government is looking to quickly conclude negotiations on an agreement that would allow Haiti to export fresh fruit to The Bahamas.
Mitchell said he thinks the Haitian government wants to solve the illegal immigration problem.
"Now we think we've got a period of stability and we're just hoping against hope that we have a stable government and a government that's committed," he said.
"They say that Haiti is open for business, so that's what we're going to do, test the metal so to speak.
"I think there is a resolve on their part to try and put a stop to it."
Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell accompanied Mitchell on the trip.
Bell said that during the meetings, The Bahamas' delegation expressed concern about illegal weapons and drugs that are often brought to this country from Haiti.
RBDF Commodore Roderick Bowe and Assistant Director of Immigration Hubert Ferguson were also a part of the delegation.
Last year, the Department of Immigration spent just over $1 million to repatriate more than 3,500 illegal immigrants.
The group was made up mostly of Haitians, according to Immigration Director William Pratt.
Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday dismissed statements made by Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs Hubert Chipman over a diplomatic note sent to three countries last week.
"The day that I begin to take political and diplomatic advice from the member of Parliament for St. Anne's will be the day that pigs grow wings and fly," he said. Mitchell issued a diplomatic note to the governments of Malaysia, China and the United States last week, distancing the government from comments made by Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis over the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370.
"The issue today is not whether we issued another note, which simply indicated our continuing concern about the loss of life in light of the leader of the opposition's irresponsible remarks; the issue is whether or not the remarks of the leader of the opposition were appropriate," said Mitchell at a press conference at his constituency office.
"That's the issue here, not what me or the government did after that."
On Thursday, Chipman said it was "irresponsible and inappropriate" for Mitchell to send the note which may seem "frivolous".
He said Prime Minister Perry Christie should not have allowed Mitchell to send the note and called on Christie to
"rein in his out of control foreign minister".
But Mitchell said it is impossible for his ministry to do anything without Cabinet's approval.
He said Christie made a statement expressing his displeasure with Minnis' comments and his ministry simply "backed up what its leader said".
"The statements given on the lost aircraft were statements from and on behalf of the government of The Bahamas, not the personal statements of the minister of foreign affairs," he said.
"Are they nuts?"
He added, "It is impossible for this minister, as a minister of foreign affairs, to go running off doing something without reference to his principal. [It] can't be done, otherwise I would be out of a job."
Minnis compared the Christie administration to the airline as he criticized the government for its handling of the proposed constitutional referendum.
At an event in Mayaguana last week, Christie said Minnis should be condemned for his
Mitchell said Chipman's statement was "another attempt by the FNM to deflect attention away from the ineptness of the statements of the leader of the opposition".
"Both he and the opposition's spokesman on foreign affairs appear therefore to be lost in space when it comes to matters of public policy," he said.
Malaysia Airlines flight 370 went missing on March 8, during a flight from Malaysia to Beijing, China. There were 227 passengers and 12 crewmembers onboard.
A massive multi-nation search is continuing for the aircraft.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Goodman Bay's Corporate Centre
Monday 24th March 2014
Press Statement by Fred Mitchell
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration
Re: Establishment of The Bahamas National Reparations Committee.
At the Thirty-First Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Regular Meeting held 23 July 2013, the Heads agreed on an action plan on the matter of reparations for native genocide and slavery, it was also agreed that National Reparation Committees be instituted in each member state to establish the moral, ethical and legal case for the payment of reparations by the former colonial European Countries, to the Nations and people of the Caribbean Community, for native genocide, the transatlantic slave trade and a racialised system of chattel slavery. The Chair of each committee would sit on the CARICOM Reparations Commission.
"Reparations is the process of repairing the consequences of crimes committed, and the attempt to reasonably remove debilitating effects of such crimes upon victims and their descendants" (Hilary Beckles, Chairman CARICOM Reparations Commission and Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of the West Indies) .
Today I wish to inform you that Messrs. Alfred Sears and Philip Smith represented The Bahamas at the Second Meeting of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) held 27-28th January, 2014 in Barbados in their role as Co-Chairs of the Bahamas Reparations Commission.
In preparation of a legal claim, each National Reparation Commission is to gather information pertaining to each claimant state; illustrate the link between historic discrimination and present day racial discrimination; outline modern racial discrimination resulting from slavery in areas of health, socio-economic deprivation and social disadvantage, education, living conditions/housing, property and land ownership, employment participation in public life and migration; and identity policies of the United Kingdom, which have perpetuated the discriminatory effects of slavery in the country (The Bahamas). This will serve as the Terms of Reference for The Bahamas Commission.
I wish to begin my commentary by apologizing profusely because too many people are bored out of their minds by the facts because facts have a bad habit and a notorious reputation for getting in the way of a good, juicy, salacious story.
It is important to note that the philosophy of The Bahamas government regarding the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the facilitation of seamless travel experiences by Bahamians anywhere in the world. Since the foreign affairs ministry is the first line of formal contact between governments, overseas travel allows the minister to maximize personal contacts and forge relationships with numerous counterparts from foreign countries at a single meeting. That's my cursory understanding of the role of that ministry.
As for the philosophy of foreign affairs, the government's successful policy thrust in securing the Schengen visa waiver, the more recent reciprocal visa waiver for travel between the People's Republic of China and The Bahamas, and last but not least the electronic passport initiative together support this overarching philosophy. The current minister of foreign affairs and chief messenger, Fred Mitchell, aggressively and successfully pursued all of these policies on behalf of the government and by extension the Bahamian people.
Even now The Bahamas government is seeking to improve access to the United States for Bahamians; just another policy objective heaped on the plate of messenger Mitchell.
In its attempt to bring government services closer to Bahamians living abroad in addition to strengthening international trade relations, the government established embassies in China, Cuba and Geneva and consulate offices in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. These diplomatic presences were the deliberate and determined policies of the government led again by messenger Fred Mitchell.
Whether it is work permit reform, random immigration checks at bus stops and traffic lines or a speedier repatriation process of illegal immigrants, at all material times the minister is advancing the government's policies, so why shoot the messenger? Redirect the fiery darts at the policy already.
This brings me to the tribute Mitchell delivered at St. Gregory the Great Anglican Church on Sunday, December 22, 2013 in honor of the life and work of the late South African icon and President Nelson Mandela. Mitchell closed with these words: "With today's service, I think the anti-apartheid movement in The Bahamas comes formally to an end. This fight is over. That war is won. But the struggle continues on other fronts, to defeat injustice and prejudice of every kind wherever it is and even in the face of unpopularity like today's unpopular LGBT cause."
As inconvenient a fact as that statement was to some people, it encapsulated the spirit, tone, tenor and letter of Bahamian law and the government's social policy; and so with that closing remark the minister was reinforcing government social policy, not a personal view or advancing a personal agenda as some have accused him of doing.
With all of the vitriol, attacks and criticisms directed at this minister, not one critic was able to say that "to defeat injustice and prejudice of every kind wherever it is and even in the face of unpopularity like today's unpopular LGBT cause" was not the government's social policy. Editor, the critics could not because the statement is representative of the spirit of the government's social policy. If it is not, then these smart critics must educate us fools on just what the social policy is.
Certainly the policy cannot be to deny this grouping access to housing, health care, employment, promotions and salary increases and imprisonment based on their sexual orientation or who they choose to love. Not in a 21st century free, modern, democratic Bahamas. We are not the Russian Federation or the Republic of Uganda. The critics might want to consider taking aim at the policy - not shoot down the messenger.
At running the risk of confusing people whose minds are made up, I must reiterate that ministers of the government don't have the luxury of advancing their personal opinions in their official capacities of state representatives, as that is a constitutional impossibility. That said, pray tell, why shoot the messenger?
- Elcott Coleby
This commentary is taken from a lecture given by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell on February 6 at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. Mitchell's address was on "Saving CARICOM". This is the final part of the lecture.
This brings me to my pet peeve, the nature and culture of our decision making around the region. It is manifested in the suggestions which The Bahamas advances each year on the length, for example, of opening ceremonies of CARICOM gatherings. Try as we might, those ceremonies continue to take far too long and interfere in my respectful view in the timely dispatch of the work of the body. That is just symptomatic of what I call the deliberative nature of our culture.
In other words, we like to talk.
Mr. Anthony in the chamber address again says: "The simple truth is that decision making, especially in the all critical area of trade when time is of essence, has become cumbersome, layered, and bureaucratic. For instance, it takes months to get a decision from COTED and by the time the decision arrives the reason for the request ceases to be relevant, or the situation which necessitated the request has so deteriorated that the initial solution is no longer the answer to the problem."
Those who are familiar with the negotiations on the Carib/Can agreement will know of which the prime minister speaks.
In our meetings and visits, we are fond of invoking the Singapore model for development. However, we must realize as Sam Huntington, the Harvard professor, makes clear in his seminal work "Political Order in Changing Societies" that there is a trade-off between rapid development and growth on the one hand and democracy on the other. That trade-off seems to be that if you want rapid growth and development at the same time, then you have to move toward a more authoritarian model of governance. That may work in Asia but I dare say is inimical to the way we do business in the region. However, something must be done to reduce the amount of words expended and to increase the level of action and dispatch.
So now can I pull all of this together in some coherent way.
It is clear that The Bahamas, and I think that the CARICOM project, has much to recommend itself.
I have said in another context that if CARICOM did not exist, it would have to be invented. There is no more efficient way to conduct ourselves as small countries but in some sort of multinational supra-body that will deal with the old traditional world powers.
CARICOM for good or ill is that body. There has been too much concentration on the issues of market and economy and not enough on how we actually function and how our people actually succeed and work together.
Clearly in terms of institutional arrangements The Bahamas has some way to go in convincing its public that this is a good religion to adopt but I think we are mainly there. We have put our money where our mouth is.
As we say in our country: "Talk is cheap; money buy land."
I want to borrow from the convergence model and suggest a couple of items that ought to be carried out with dispatch.
In this summary, I mention first of all the strengthening of the powers and human resources of the secretariat and more reliable and dedicated funding mechanisms.
Secondly, the closer coordination of the foreign policy of CARICOM to leverage the number of votes we have in international bodies for the benefit of the region.
I recall the recent visit to the region of a Canadian minister of state in the Ministry of External Affairs who came to remind The Bahamas and other CARICOM countries that they should not support a mooted push by Qatar to move the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) from Montreal to Doha because of our traditional friendship. It was a very interesting statement given the difficulty our nations often have when seeking to get results in Ottawa, even a simple meeting with public officials or resolving the tortuous issues of visas for our students.
Leveraging in this context should become a fine art for CARICOM.
I also believe that we ought to have a more structured approach in our relations with the United States. One idea is for greater access of our young people into the tertiary level institutions of that country with a right to live and work there in pursuit of training opportunities.
Thirdly, I call for a specific focus on the development of young people including a commitment to double the investment in education over the next five years.
Fourthly, that our ministers of culture, trade and finance continue to build on ways to improve the ability of youngsters to use their raw talents to build wealth for this region.
I recall a 17 year old from Britain who was hailed as a genius because he made millions from an app, which he invented. I pointed out that we have that same genius in the Caribbean but perhaps we do not recognize it.
Did not Usain Bolt, a young man from Jamaica, come from poor and humble circumstances and using his talent, this genius, transform his life into one that is worth a fortune? And, in the process, he lifted the collective spirit of Jamaica out of despair. I worry about him and others who emulate him; that they are not taken advantage of by the commercial hucksters of this life. Encouraging the Bolts of this world, nurturing them, supporting them, educating them, protecting them; that is a role that governments can do by their policies.
Not only is this true in sports but in all cultural spheres including music, drama and the arts.
This is a mission which former Prime Minister Patterson speaks to with some urgency.
Fifthly, I believe that we ought to declare a state of emergency in relation to the development of boys and men. We cannot continue along the path of the dysfunctions which now obtain across our societies where so many men and boys are not participating in the society but instead embrace a life of violence and crime or a lack of "stickability". I say this with the greatest of respect and honor to the millions of men and boys who do get it and who do succeed but we must reach back and help to lift our fallen brothers. Our women too should recognize the urgency of this problem even as they take their rightful place in society. They have an interest in resolving this issue as well.
I am asking that CARICOM embrace this as a priority in fixing our problems. We will not regret it.
Finally, we must all commit to telling the CARICOM story. This means people-to-people engagement, improved and increased travel and transportation links. The leaders themselves should travel and interact in the jurisdictions of the other. It is to build that chemistry about which Kenny Anthony spoke.
When I was opposition spokesman on foreign affairs during the period 2007 to 2012, I continued to travel to the region and pay official calls on governments and opposition leaders. There was a look of consternation often on the faces of many when I visited. There was apoplexy back in the capital by my political opponents at home. However, I wanted to lead by example. CARICOM must be a continuing project and enterprise in or out of government. The project is both formal and informal. What may be posited about that project is that its success is ensured by turning specialized functions into localized actions the region over.
Lastly, I mention again the need to revisit the charter and to reflect the broader embrace of the issues and begin the conversation on public policy and sexual orientation as one of the characteristics for which there can be no discrimination.
There are a number of other important public policy issues which require focus. Clearly these would include climate change and our continued dependence on fossil fuels, transportation and migration, which must be solved. The commonalities of dependence and vulnerability within the context of energy and climate change make these policy developments imperative.
However, I believe if we fix the problems of structure and decision making and human rights issues, our ability to resolve the others will follow. In any event, I have spoken too long and it is time to stop. In our country we say: "You must talk some and keep some." The process of saving CARICOM is ongoing. Each generation is called to take the project further. I would not urge despair.
Kamau Brathwaite, the Barbadian writer, reminds us in Negus:
It is not enough to be free
of the whips, principalities and powers.
where is your kingdom of the word...
It is not enough to be free
of malaria fevers of the hurricane,
fear of invasions, crops' drought, fire's
blister upon the cane...
It is not enough to be able to fly to Miami,
structure skyscrapers, excavate the moon-
scaped seashore sands
to build hotels, casinos, sepulchres...
It is not enough
to be pause, to be hole
to be void, to be silent
to be semicolon, to be semicolony...
To which I add a loud hallelujah and amen!
Once again, I am deeply grateful for this invitation to speak here this evening.
Thank you and good evening.
o Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell said yesterday the Department of Immigration has been "swamped with people" seeking documents.
"This past Monday morning the Department of Immigration was swamped with people; people just all over the steps, outside the doors, through the gates and so on and so forth," said Mitchell outside the Churchill Building.
Asked whether the rush has been prompted by the recent immigration exercises, Mitchell said, "I am sure that's what the reason is. It was just like a mad house. There were just so many people."
The department was placed in the spotlight last Tuesday after Executive Director of UBS (Bahamas) Limited Emmanuel Fiaux was temporarily detained at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
He reportedly failed to produce documentation on the spot to prove his ability to reside and work in The Bahamas.
At the time, motorists were stopped in Bain Town and Grants Town, Fort Fincastle and near Arawak Cay.
They were questioned about their identity and some were asked to produce evidence of their immigration status.
The incident involving Fiaux has been contentious.
In a statement on Monday, UBS said it was "perturbed by what transpired".
The company noted that while its employee did not have his original work permit on him, the employee provided within 20 minutes an electronic, certified and notarized copy of his work permit.
In response, Mitchell said yesterday no formal complaint has been filed.
He said immigration officers use their discretion about accepting electronic copies of identification during a roadblock.
"I am not an immigration officer. I deal with policy issues and that is for immigration officers to make a judgment about what they accept as evidence or not [sufficient] evidence," Mitchell said.
In the last week, round-up exercises have continued across New Providence in an effort to clamp down on un-documented migrants in The Bahamas.
Mitchell said the exercises will continue throughout the year.
"And that is the only point," he said.
"The people who are supposed to be in The Bahamas should be documented to be in The Bahamas and not undocumented.
"There is a way to get documents, and if you don't have the documents then that means you don't have the right to be here, and the law follows its course."
More than 40 non-Bahamians who were in the country illegally were detained in the exercise last week because they did not have their paperwork on them, according to immigration officials.
Prime Minister Perry Christie will lead a ministerial delegation to the 25th Inter-Sessional meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Buccament, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on March 10 and 11, 2014.
Accompanying the prime minister will be Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell; Minister of Labour and National Insurance Shane Gibson (who departs for Panama after the meetings) and various government aides.
Traveling in advance of the prime minister yesterday to participate in the 16th Meeting of COFAP Ministerial Session on regional trade issues were Minister for Financial Services Ryan Pinder; High Commissioner to CARICOM Picewell Forbes and Acting Director of Trade Keva Bain.
High on the agenda will be advancing the regional agenda for sustainable development using information and communication technologies.
Other agenda items include the economic situation facing member states and the region.
Christie and his delegation depart for St. Vincent and the Grenadines tomorrow and are scheduled to return to Nassau on Wednesday.
Antoine Johnson spent most of his summers growing up in Pinewood Gardens.
He would play marbles and stickball in the streets with his neighbors and would ride his bike to his heart's content.
In the other months Johnson attended Jordan Prince William High School. He was always curious about how things in the world worked.
These days Johnson is an oral surgeon practicing in Washington D.C., as well as a clinical associate at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
He's also a Howard graduate and former high school teacher, though he admits it was never his intention to live and work in the U.S.
Johnson, a permanent resident, is among the thousands of Bahamians who reside in the U.S.
"I had plans on coming back home to practice and even to this point I still have aspirations and plans on doing that to some extent," he said in a recent telephone interview.
"That was always my plan."
Along his journey though, Johnson got married and had a son.
When asked if money would play a role in his return to the country Johnson said: "My eyes would be focused on fulfilling a need versus fulfilling my personal financial or economic gain.
"I know there is a shortage of oral surgeons practicing in The Bahamas. A goal would be to help lighten that load versus having some kind of economic gain."
There are two oral surgeons in the country today, noted a local surgeon.
There were 6,664 Bahamians granted permanent residency in the United States from 2003 to 2012, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2012.
A littler over 5,000 Bahamians were naturalized in that same period.
Fred Perpall, the CEO of a $1 billion U.S. company, has urged the government to establish a database of Bahamians abroad and their specific skills through its consulate offices and foreign agencies.
Perpall, CEO of Dallas-based The Beck Group, said that such a database could be the first point of reference when the government is in need of consultants.
"I have a lot of close friends who have decided to return to The Bahamas but I have some good friends working abroad," Perpall said recently.
"Even if it's not your intention to move back home, people are always thinking, how do I take all the things I am learning and apply them at home? I think we are putting the onus on those abroad to bring their skills home."
Raidesha Francis, a CEO of her own business, has already planned to do just that.
Francis, who was born in The Bahamas, has spent the better portion of her life in the U.S.
"I spent a lot of time going back and forth," she said, noting that she went to Carlton E. Francis Primary School, Dandy Lions Pre and Primary School and St. John's College.
"For me, when it comes to business at home, sometimes people are a bit too relaxed and that bothers me," she said.
"There is no sense of urgency when it comes to important matters and so that's frustrating to me as a business owner. So I always said if I ever were to come home or consider a business opportunity, I would have to own my own business and have my own place. I couldn't work for anyone."
Francis is the CEO of Florida-based The Culinary Management Company, which provides professional resources for culinary businesses.
She's also offering her services to interested Bahamians, something she said she felt compelled to do.
Nearly 4,000 illegal immigrants were repatriated in 2013 at a cost of over $1 million, according to Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell.
Mitchell said a total of 3,868 migrants were deported, 835 listed as other nationals and 3,033 Haitians.
Mitchell said on Wednesday, that during the period January 1 to February 18, 2014, 410 illegal immigrants were repatriated, 53 listed as other nationals and 357 Haitians.
In 2012, 3,134 illegal migrants were deported, the majority (2,496) being Haitians, Mitchell said.
Mitchell said there were 1,899 illegal boat landings in 2013 compared to 1,477 in 2012.
Speaking on the migrants listed as 'other' he said: "I would guess that the other nationals are mainly made up of Cubans and we have had discussions with both the Cuban government and the American government because we see a significant bump up in the number of Cuban migrants that are coming through The Bahamas and we are trying to figure out why that is.
"The Americans have told us that their intelligence suggests that this is a phenomenon around the Caribbean and not just related to us because they notice increases in Puerto Rico as well.
"We continue to work on this problem of migration."
Mitchell also revealed that 676 migrants were arrested following a special operation of the Department of Immigration.
Of the 676 migrants arrested, 575 were listed as Haitians and 101 listed as other nationals, he said.
Mitchell said the operation was set up last November "to target construction sites, set up roadblocks in east and west, food stores, gas stations, shanty towns and inland areas in New Providence and the family islands to apprehend illegal immigrants who have contravened the immigration laws".
"The operation was successful in arresting migrants who were granted work permits approvals but work permit fees were delinquent," he said.
"This has resulted in the department collecting in excess of $200,000 dollars in delinquent fees."
The road checks drew the ire of many Bahamians who took to social media to express their displeasure.
During one the spot checks, UBS Bahamas Executive Director Emmanuel Fiaux was held at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre as he did not have his original work permit on his person.
Opposition Shadow Minister of Immigration and Foreign Affairs Hubert Chipman had criticized the Department of Immigration over the spot checks and accused officers of profiling.
The president of the Bahamas Bar Association (BBA) has said he supports the push to develop The Bahamas as a center for global arbitration "only to the extent" that Bahamians with suitable expertise are given priority for opportunities that may arise from it.
Elsworth Johnson said that bringing in outside professionals when the expertise they offer is available in this country could "create a serious difficulty" for the BBA.
"I think it's a brilliant idea, but I am tired of people saying, 'Bahamians first' when you're always last," said Johnson.
At the Pre-ICCA (International Council on Commercial Arbitration) conference, held last week in Nassau, a number of local and international panellists said that issues with work permits and immigration policy could stand as a potential obstacle to the development of this country as an arbitration center which would attract international persons to bring their cases to The Bahamas for resolution.
Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson was among them, pledging the government's support towards having The Bahamas established as a center for arbitration, but noting that such an effort will only be successful with the "buy in" of the Bahamas Bar Association and the judiciary. "If they don't buy in, we'll have a terrible problem," she said.
Maynard-Gibson said that it will be important to have"flexibility" in work permit policy to help facilitate the development of the sector and enjoy the spin-off benefits it can bring, a point backed by other panelists based on their experience elsewhere.
In an interview with Guardian Business, Johnson said that he views the push to create an arbitration center in this country as "wonderful", but feels it is important that The Bahamas gets "the full benefit from it".
"I understand the concept of arbitration and what it will do for The Bahamas. It's excellent. If we have to make certain concessions that's a decision the Bar has to make; that's an internal discussion, but most certainly, where we have resources, we have to use it. I support arbitration, but use local expertise where they exist," he said.
"If the arbitration they're going to do doesn't require legal expertise, doesn't require for that person to be a lawyer, then the Bar doesn't have a concern. If they need specific knowledge about accounting, then you know BICA (the Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants) will be in on that; if they need architects, then they'll be in on that; if it requires medical expertise then you bet your bottom dollar the Medical Council will say 'are you crazy?' (if doctors are brought in). You're dealing with the Immigration Act. You've got to look at your pool of resources to say you have a house and children, why would you feed someone else first?"
During last week's pre-ICCA conference, The Bahamas won the support of a number of international bodies,including the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, and P.R.I.M.E. Finance, a group of expert financial arbitrators, for its interest in establishing itself as a center for arbitration.
The message was that there is demand for arbitration arising out of the region and beyond which could more conveniently be conducted in The Bahamas if the right conditions were to be established.
However, local attendees were repeatedly advised that developing a reputation as an arbitration hub takes time, and - at least in the initial stages - attracting international arbitrations to come to The Bahamas relies on the ability to bring in expert arbitrators from elsewhere to conduct their deliberations.
jump headline: Bar: Arbitration must involve locals where possible
A top Queen's Counsel has urged that there should be a "high-level public discussion" on the role of immigration as a tool of development, in the wake of recent comments suggesting that the legal profession is too closed and the government should consider allowing investors to trade investment for citizenship.
Speaking to the question of whether the Bahamas Bar Association should be "cracked open" to allow the easier entrance of foreign attorneys to practice in this country, Brian Moree Q.C., said a balancing act must occur.
"I think that the immigration policy of the country is an important tool of development, which can be used in order to try to balance the interests of two important constituencies," he said."On the one hand, it must take into account the legitimate and reasonable expectations of qualified Bahamians, who have a right to expect that they will have access to opportunities in this industry in their own country, and on the other hand we must balance the interests of the compelling need for sufficient numbers of highly-qualified and specialized experts within specific areas of the financial industry, in order to be able to service the needs of a sophisticated and demanding marketplace."
Addressing the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) Caribbean Conference 2014 last week, attorney and key advisor to prime minister Perry Christie, Sean McWeeney, of Graham Thompson and Co., said that the Bahamas Bar Association is too closed to foreign lawyers, with a lack of financial law specialists "crippling" the financial services industry.
President of the Bahamas Bar Association, Elsworth Johnson, said he is "diametrically" opposed to McWeeney's comments, and said that there are many lawyers with the specialist skills McWeeney spoke of, and where there are not enough, training should be a priority.
Moree told Guardian Business that he believes "we have to accept" that no country in the world, let alone a small one such as The Bahamas, can reasonably expect to meet all of its human resources needs from within its own country.
"There has to be a recognition that from time to time in specific target areas you'll need to supplement your
local labour force with expatriates," he said.
"I think anyone involved in business generally, and in the financial services industry, will confirm this global business moves on the back of relationships and if you are seeking to attract the multinational service providers and institutions, you are going to have to accept that they will require some of their own staff and employees and if you don't want to accommodate that then you shouldn't expect that multinational business to come to The Bahamas."
The attorney said that there must be a public discussion that considers those "two separate interests".
"In my mind the solution lies in trying to properly accommodate both of those interests in an immigration policy that is well articulated, has the overall support of the Bahamian public, and supports the operation of international business."
Referring specifically to the issue of investor citizenship, which McWeeney also promoted as a means of growing the economy, Moree said that The Bahamas "has to make some decisions".
"The financial services industry today is very different from what it was even ten years ago, and one way of attracting money to The Bahamas is to attract high net worth individuals and ultra high net worth individuals and multinational business and money will follow them.
"It is a strategy which I know many jurisdictions are looking at and it's a legitimate strategy which we as a country have to decide if we want to employ as we try to find ways to expand the financial services industry, within the context of what's going on in these international agencies which are insisting on more and more levels of transparency.
"Some would say that's a better quality of business anyway, when it results in real tangible business moving here," he added.
The government has recently been signalling that it wishes to be more accommodating in its immigration policy, in order to assist in growing the financial services sector, although it has not come forward with a specific position on an investor citizenship program.
Undeniably, the current immigration system and its policies are broken and Bahamians rightly should be concerned about the proliferation of foreign workers conducting business with or without a permit in The Bahamas. However, the government cannot be so naive as to ignore the floundering state our public education system and its impact on employers and employment opportunities.
We fail to understand why education has not been brought into the conversation about immigration reform. The Bahamas must reverse the dismal performance of its public schools and strengthen its tertiary institution, The College of The Bahamas. Otherwise, The Bahamas will only continue to have a deficit of educated and able workers.
To uphold its agenda, the government should work to ensure that every Bahamian high school graduate holds a diploma or certificate and can read and write at the high school level. However, by its own disclosure the Ministry of Education acknowledges that nearly 50 percent of students do not graduate with a diploma.
It is the Bahamian student who suffers the ill effects of a poor education system compounded by a regressive immigration policy. Every student deserves the opportunity for a good education - one that instills the basic principles of mathematics, history, literature and science. Good teachers are also critical.
We cannot hope to progress if the private sector alone is expected to implement training programs to rectify all the failures of the public school system. Company training programs focus on the expansion of specific knowledge within a business. It is unreasonable to expect companies to teach basic literacy, numeracy and common sense. Investing in schools with stringent graduating requirements will ensure that young Bahamians have at least the basic skills for entry level jobs.
Vocational training must also be emphasized and apprenticeships and mentors should be readily available. Such programs require community support, private partnerships and administrative oversight.
The future economic potential of The Bahamas rests on members of the upcoming generation who must be able to compete on a global scale. Are the future leaders of The Bahamas being adequately prepared at present?
Preparation includes the basic scholastic fundamentals as mentioned above, but it also includes an appreciation of culture that develops through travel and exposure to diversity. Working abroad or even in The Bahamas with people of varying backgrounds requires acceptance of differences to be effective in the business setting.
Most importantly, small island developing states such as The Bahamas incur difficulty in keeping pace with technology. Technology transfer to small nations lags considerably compared to larger developed nations and can significantly impair our global competitiveness.
The government's perceived agenda to associate foreign workers as negative to the Bahamian people will undoubtedly impact the transfer of knowledge we so desperately need. It projects a discriminatory principle retracting the flow of ideas and placing identity, instead of skill, as the sole justification for employment.
It does not matter whether or not the Department of Immigration actually curtails or eliminates work permits for housekeepers and laborers; it is the perception of an uncertain future that may move foreign direct investment elsewhere.