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Leaders of the Bahamas Customs, Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) said yesterday its 1,140 members would continue to work-to-rule until the government meets with the union to negotiate and agree to an alternative shift system that "would be proper for customs and immigration officers".
However, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette reiterated yesterday that since 1996 immigration officers were hired specifically to do shift work and more recent employees have "definitely been hired under that term".
"I would suggest if they want to negotiate with the government, possibly they may consider coming back to work (on their rostered shifts) rather than disrupting the work at the airport and making demands of the government," Symonette told The Nassau Guardian.
He said immigration officers, including those scheduled to work in the evening, turned up for work at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) at 9 a.m. on Monday and again yesterday, disregarding the shift system in effect.
Officers rostered to work in the evening who turned up for work yesterday morning were sent home, said Symonette.
After the Free National Movement's (FNM) rally in Buckley's, Long Island on Monday night Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said the union's actions appeared to be politically motivated and once again called upon workers to return to the implemented shift system.
"It is unthinkable that in these times that people do such nonsense," Ingraham said. "There will be a number of industrial actions that are politically motivated. It is orchestrated and planned."
Ingraham was referring to some of the middle managers at Bahamasair and some workers at the National Insurance Board who called in sick on Monday.
But Obie Ferguson, president of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), told The Guardian the whole issue has been "a misunderstanding" and he was shocked at just how political it has become.
Ferguson also said the agreement executed between the government and Bahamas Public Service Union President John Pinder (who previously represented the officers) was being honored, but claimed it was not registered and cannot be considered the formal contract that governs the relationship between customs and immigration officers.
He claimed that general orders is the overriding contract under which all customs and immigration officers are employed.
"Our fight for these workers has nothing to do with their political preference or their association -- that is their business," said Ferguson.
"These officers are functioning in their capacity... and we call on the prime minister who is the major employer... to cause a meeting between the parties with a view of resolving whatever the differences are."
BCIAWU Vice President Sloane Smith claimed workers, at no point, went on strike or took any other sort of industrial action.
He insisted that they are working their regular eight hours in accordance with the legitimate general orders.
However, he acknowledged that their stance on the shift system has negatively impacted operations at LPIA, but said the problem could be easily rectified.
"The workers are not concerned with politics at this point," Smith said.
"They are concerned about how they are going to be impacted when they go to work; whether or not they are going to get days off; whether or not they can take care of their families; whether or not they can have them in the private schools to have the best education [and] whether or not they can keep their lights on.
"It has nothing to do with politics. That is not our concern and we categorically reject that whole notion because our issues have been around long before the political season."
Labour Minister Dion Foulkes told The Guardian he was baffled because he thought the union's recent meeting with the prime minister went well.
He said he would be happy to attempt to set up another meeting.
As CARICOM begins preliminary discussions over the use of marijuana for medical purposes, two local doctors have cast doubt on the need for legalizing medical marijuana in this country.
Last month, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell said the government will study the matter after a CARICOM meeting which is now taking place.
Dr. Duane Sands, a cardiothoracic surgeon, said he doubts there is a local demand for medical marijuana.
However, Sands said the government should use this time to move toward decriminalizing possession of small quantities of marijuana.
"The wave of the end of marijuana prohibition has started and certainly the words coming out of the mouth of the president of the United States gives an idea that at least as far as marijuana is concerned we are going to watch the radical change in policy," Sands told The Nassau Guardian.
"So the fact that you now have CARICOM countries talking about medical marijuana is only the first step.
"Quite frankly, I don't think that medical marijuana, in terms of my personal opinion, that there is a huge demand for it, but it opens the door for the debate and it becomes a very important debate.
"Perhaps the more pressing debate is the decriminalization of small quantities of marijuana and the impact [that has] particularly on young people.
Sands added: "I personally don't believe that marijuana use as a medical tool is a big deal in The Bahamas. There may be a small number of people [who] have an interest in it, but certainly I can't speak to any number of my patients [who] have requested marijuana for medical use."
Sands said the government should listen to the opinions of local physicians on the issue before making any decision.
"I don't think we can afford to not engage in the conversation," he said.
Dr. John Lunn, an oncologist, told The Nassau Guardian that legalizing marijuana for medicinal use would likely lead to a rise in the drug being used recreationally.
"I am just a little careful [about the issue] because most people when they talk about medical marijuana, they want it for recreational use," Lunn said.
"We don't grow Indian hemp, we don't [make] heroin, which is used for pain relief in cancer. Drugs like morphine, these drugs are used for pain relief in cancer but they are highly restricted.
"Once it's decriminalized you clearly get access to it easily and that's what the main objective is."
Last year, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez said The Bahamas is more conservative than many other countries in the region on the issue.
He acknowledged that reducing the penalty for small amounts of marijuana possession would help unclog the criminal justice system.
Mitchell has said The Bahamas is open to discussing the issue of legalizing medical marijuana.
His comments came after Jamaica's leaders announced their intent to decriminalize possession for medical purposes by the end of the year.
"We have heard the views on a market approach to fighting anti-drug efforts advanced by many countries," Mitchell said recently.
"We note the developments in the United States and have canvassed the potential policy changes with United States officials."
Washington state and Colorado have legalized recreational marijuana use.
Prime Minister Perry Christie, Mitchell, Minister of Labour Shane Gibson and others are in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for a CARICOM meeting which concludes today.
A mixture of optimism and an expectation of challenging and uncertain circumstances to come characterize the views of a number of leading figures in Guardian Business' round up of opinions on what 2014 has to hold for The Bahamas in terms of growth, unemployment levels, government policy initiatives and the outlook for a variety of key sectors.
Here James Smith, former central bank governor and chairman of Colina Financial Advisors Limited (CFAL); George Markantonis, president and managing director of Atlantis Resort; Anthony Ferguson, president of CFAL; Aliya Allen, chief executive officer and executive director of the Bahamas Financial Services Board; Franon Wilson, president of the Bahamas Real Estate Association; and a top banker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, offer their views on what The Bahamas can expect in 2014.
James Smith said he expects The Bahamas to experience "some modest economic growth in 2014, but at an insufficiently high level to produce any dramatic change in the unemployment rate".
"The Bahamas is still emerging slowly from the deep recession which began in 2008 and was marked by negative GDP growth rates for most of the period, accompanied by high unemployment rates; more than doubling from 7.5 percent at the end of 2007 to a little over 16 percent currently," he said.
"Given the unflattering macroeconomic statistics of 2013, any positive trends for 2014 are likely to be at best 'modest' since we would be projecting from an already low base."
"Our major economic sector, tourism, is likely to continue to face headwinds in 2014 because our major market, the USA, projected GDP growth and lower unemployment levels are unlikely to be sufficient to dramatically alter the fall-off in tourist expenditure, total room revenue and average occupancy rates experienced in The Bahamas over the last three quarters of 2013," Smith said. "There is likely to be an improvement in employment levels in the tourist sector as a result of accelerated job additions to meet the December 2014 deadline of the Baha Mar project."
On the financial sector
"The second largest economic sector, financial services, continues to operate under the stressful conditions induced by international regulators' demands for increased capitalization, which in turn has led to some downsizing in the local market in order to preserve profit levels or to avoid stringent regulatory oversight," he said.
"The continued losses of high-end jobs in the financial services sector would compress overall demand for goods and services locally and present a challenge to economic growth throughout 2014."
"Our third largest sector, construction, which accounts for about 10 percent of GDP but also has the highest proportion of value-added contribution to GDP, is expected to continue to perform poorly as a result of the fall-off in demand for new construction and the restraint on new mortgage loans in the banking sector, which continues to be plagued with abnormally high loan arrears portfolios of over $1.2 billion at the end of the third quarter in 2013," he said.
"The moderation in consumer prices as a result of declining oil prices is likely to be tempered somewhat with the planned introduction of a new consumer-based tax during the second quarter of 2014.
On foreign direct investment
"Plans in the pipeline for some major and minor FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) projects in the tourism sector could have a positive impact on economic growth and employment levels if they materialize over the next several months," Smith said.
"However, there is likely to be a continued drag on the economy; one that cannot be adequately addressed by increased government spending at a time when a growing public sector debt issue is being closely monitored by both local and international lenders."
George Markantonis, president and managing director of the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, the country's largest private sector employer, said he is very optimistic about 2014 based on the pace of bookings the resort is seeing for the new year.
"Only February seems somewhat weak in the first four months and we are taking steps to try and correct that," he said. "We believe that the improving American economy, the stable U.S. housing market and the climbing Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) are all creating more consumer confidence in the U.S. which realistically provides us with 85 percent of our annual business.
"A bright spot on the horizon is our group booking pace continuing to grow, while a dark spot is the declining airlift coming into the country. December numbers released (last week) show year-on-year decline in seats of eight percent, mostly due to reduced December service of American from Dallas and Jet blue from Ft. Lauderdale."
New trends in tourism that The Bahamian tourism sector will need to consider in 2014:
"New gaming licenses are being approved across the United States which will continue to add competition for our casinos," he said. "In addition cruise lines are continuing to add non-traditional attractions to their new mega-ships thereby directly competing with land-based mega-resorts, that is water slides, celebrity chef restaurants etc, etc."
Major policy steps the government could take to impact the tourism sector in 2014:
"We are very pleased that government is reviewing the gaming regulations of course but hope that there will be some significant steps taken to reduce utility costs across the sector, and to minimize the addition of more fees to business which will have to be passed on to the consumer and may impact the value perception of the destination," he said.
Anthony Ferguson said he expects a "challenging" 2014.
"I think 2014 will be a challenging one for The Bahamas as the U.S. slows in the first half coupled with the implementation of value-added tax (VAT) which would cause businesses to delay any hiring and expansion decisions," he said. "This will be countered by Baha Mar as they look to hire and train for the December opening. However 5,000 kids graduating from school in 2014 will negate Baha Mar hiring."
On unemployment levels
"I don't think we can really reduce unemployment in 2014 as the Baha Mar hiring will be offset by the 5,000 school graduates," Ferguson said. "To rescue employment the government needs to balance new taxes against incentives for businesses to consider expanding their business."
On policy initiatives which could stimulate the private sector:
"The government should reduce the red tape, allow economic passports, revisit immigration policy," he said.
"It's mind blowing that the Department of Labour are directing businesses who to interview and hire. It's also socialist. And if they sent qualified people you be grateful!
"The government needs to reshuffle the Cabinet and implement an economic planning ministry to develop a 20 year strategy for Bahamas Inc. Unless we do this we are headed in the direction of the rest of the Caribbean."
Aliya Allen, CEO and executive director of the BFSB, said she is upbeat about the potential for 2014 to generate more opportunity and greater returns for the financial services sector.
"Generally, we see a number of bright spots for financial services, as a result of the initiatives we have undertaken in recent and past years," she said.
"These include ongoing developments in the captive insurance and funds sectors, as well as continuing to solidify our position as a leader in wealth management."
Major trends or changes that The Bahamas will have to adapt to in 2014:
"The cost of compliance will continue to be a challenge, with initiatives like FATCA, for example. Indeed, I would add to that the cost of compliance with VAT, even for firms that benefit from zero rating but wish to reclaim inputs," she said.
Significant policy steps the government could take to positively impact the financial sector:
"The government has demonstrated a historic commitment to the financial community," Allen said.
"If this commitment could be expanded to include additional resources we could truly be first in class in business, both local and international. That extends to setting and monitoring turn around times in all effective business processes and departments such as the Department of Immigration, the Registrar Generals Department, and the Bahamas Investment Authority."
Franon Wilson, president of Arawak Homes and the Bahamas Real Estate Association, said he too is optimistic about what the new year holds for the economy.
"I am optimistic in large part because of Baha Mar, and in that regard even though the hotel will not open during the course of this year they'll probably be hiring a lot of people and that will be a big jolt in our economy," he said.
"I do think the levels will come down. I don't think it's going to happen overnight and go back to 2005 or 2006 levels, but I do think now it is moving slowly in that direction and that will give a boost. We won't be in the clear but we'll be moving in the right direction."
On policy initiatives that could stimulate the private sector:
"At the end of the day certainty is key and I accept the country's financial position is in a state where we need some type of reform to help the government to move forward and maintain the standard we have right now, whether it's VAT or a blend of VAT and something else; whatever it is, I'm looking forward to getting that process done so we can move forward. We need to deal with it and move forward."
A leading banker, who offered his views on condition of anonymity, told Guardian Business he fears The Bahamas will "let a good crisis go to waste" in 2014.
"Rahm Emanuel, the former Chief of Staff for [U.S. President Barack] Obama said something along the lines of 'You never let a serious crisis go to waste,'" he said.
"I find that quote a very appropriate place to start as I reflect on where The Bahamas finds itself financially today.
"The Bahamas economy has suffered a body blow since the financial crisis erupted in the developed world in 2007. While the U.S. seems to be emerging from this crisis, albeit painfully slowly, we have yet to see the Bahamian economy back to pre-crisis levels. Unemployment in The Bahamas remains stubbornly high and loan delinquencies have soared. With the economy in the doldrums, government revenue has plummeted but the expense base has not changed materially. The net effect of this development has been that the budget deficit has widened and the debt to GDP ratio is in the danger zone. The government is taking steps to address the problem of the lack of revenue, through the proposed introduction of VAT. Based on public pronouncements of the business community, the government's proposal has gone down like a lead balloon with loud voices suggesting dire events if VAT is introduced."
The economic outlook in the short and medium term:
"The short-term (one to two years) does not look particularly good," he said.
"The introduction of VAT in 2014 will likely tip the struggling Bahamian consumer over the edge and exacerbate their already difficult existence. Delinquencies are likely to worsen as living standards erode. Discretionary spending funds will reduce and related consumption will decline hurting the already struggling Bahamian private sector. The Bahamian consumer accounts for a considerable percentage of the Bahamian GDP and lower consumption will hurt Bahamian economic recovery and tax revenues. The devil is in the details and the public cannot see the execution of VAT meeting the GOB revenue expectations simply because Bahamians do not have a culture for paying taxes as is evident with the $500MM in delinquent property taxes. The informal sector and cash basis society will blossom and leach the tax revenue GOB is relying on.
"The medium term (three to five years) perspective is more positive as global economies in general, and the U.S. in particular, are showing greater robustness in their economic recovery, which should hopefully translate to more tourism traffic for The Bahamas. The U.S. is particularly important to The Bahamas as more than 90 percent of our tourist traffic and related revenues come from there and signs that U.S. consumers are more willing to spend and charge up their credit cards auger well for the Bahamian economy. Coupled with the opening of Baha Mar in late 2014, I see a resurgence in the domestic economy and employment levels in 2016."
Fiscal reform in 2014 - stuck between 'a rock and a hard place'
"It appears that the government knows all the VAT related pitfalls but it finds itself between a rock and a hard place," he said.
"It needs to plug the fiscal deficit and control the growing debt to GDP ratio. The introduction of measures to reduce the deficit cannot fail as the alternatives are much worse. Barbados has already announced a reduction in civil servant levels by 3,000 to avoid going to the IMF for a bail out and Jamaica has defaulted twice. Both face many years of painful adjustments that cannot be good for their people.
"The mandarins from the IMF have persuaded it that the same medicine of VAT that has been applied with modest success elsewhere would work here, notwithstanding the tax avoidance and downright tax evasion culture that is pervasive in The Bahamas. VAT is simply a revenue generating tool that government is presently promoting - there may be other options that may be more targeted and have a greater chance of success with lower leakages and collection costs. The government is hopefully exploring all options including a phased introduction of VAT with lower starting rates. But any form of taxation will have the same impact on lowering consumer spending.
"But reducing the deficit requires not only an increase in revenue but also a reduction in expenses - from the bloated civil service to the inefficient government corporations. No administration historically has wanted to touch these sacred cows and regrettably, the time has now come where the country cannot simply ignore the vast government bureaucracy and the amounts that are used to subsidize the corporations.
"Instead of taking the opportunity to reset the public's expectations, the government is maintaining that everything will be fine soon and unemployment is dropping and economic recovery is in sight. No serious effort is being made to sit costs or wastage. We are, yet again, letting a serious crisis go to waste."
One of the suspects in the kidnapping and murders of immigration officer Shane Gardiner and his girlfriend Tiska Braynen claimed at his arraignment yesterday that he had an alibi.
Cordero Saunders, 24, of Central Andros, told Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt that he was in New Providence and this could be verified by officers of the Grove Police Station, where he must sign a register on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays as a condition of his bail.
Ferguson-Pratt asked the prosecutor to investigate the claim, although she noted that the offense allegedly occurred over a month-long period.
Saunders is charged along with Daniel Coakley, 26, of Fresh Creek, Andros; Zintworn Duncombe, 26, of Fresh Creek, Andros; James Johnson, 21, of Calabash Bay, and Terrel Mackey, 26, of Central Andros.
Prosecutors allege that they kidnapped and murdered the couple between November 24 and December 21, when their bodies were discovered in bushes by boar hunters.
They are also accused of conspiring to rob Gardiner and attempting to rob him.
The men were not required to enter pleas to the charges. They have been remanded to Her Majesty's Prisons until March 5 when it is expected that the case will be transferred to the Supreme Court by a voluntary bill of indictment.
Mackey and Johnson claimed that they had been beaten and suffocated by police officers.
While the remaining defendants made no complaints of physical harm, their lawyers Michael Kemp and Ian Cargill said the men were concerned about their safety at the prison because two of Braynen's relatives worked in the Maximum Security block.
Ferguson-Pratt said she had no control over housing at the prison but she promised to bring the matter to the attention of the prison superintendent.
Top financial services sector stakeholders from throughout the region and the world focused on the need for innovation and regional coordination as among the cornerstones of the future success of the Caribbean's international financial centers (IFCs) , at a high level conference which began in Nassau yesterday.
Organized by the Caribbean Export Development Agency in conjunction with the Ministry of Financial Services in The Bahamas, the Third Caribbean Conference on the International Financial Services Sector has drawn over 200 participants from 24 countries and overseas territories, including The Bahamas, to the British Colonial Hilton to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the sector.
Policymakers, regulators and financial practitioners of Caribbean international financial centers are expected to interact with representatives of the architects of major global financial policy
Besides generating over 400 room nights of business for the hotel over the three-day course of the event, Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder told Guardian Business he hopes the event will result in the delineation of a "comprehensive, strategic plan for financial services in the region" that will see countries throughout the region, including overseas territories, collaborating to promote their interests in financial services globally at a time when they are under increased international regulatory scrutiny.
Both Pinder and Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency, who spoke at the opening of the conference, were among those who suggested that it is only by taking this approach that the Caribbean can expect to successfully confront the major challenges that threaten the ongoing survival of the region's international financial services sectors.
Pinder, in an interview with Guardian Business, said that he sees this type of coordination as likely to be particularly important when it comes to matters such as FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) and to confronting the growing global push for automatic exchange of information, which threatens to erode much of the basis of offshore financial centers' competitiveness.
"It's very important for us as a region to make sure we understand it (automatic exchange of information) for one and then ensure we have a concerted strategy to address it and we have both of these as key elements of this conference: both international persons to help us understand it and then regional meetings to help develop a strategy to address it."
With respect to innovation, the minister focused in a later luncheon speech on how The Bahamas is diversifying its product and service offerings in the area of financial services as a means of "insulating" against certain multilateral tax initiatives.
Due to "product innovations and flexibility", Pinder said this country saw an increase of over 15 percent in funds registered in the Bahamas in 2013 as compared to 2012 while focused efforts also contributed to a more than 60 percent increase in captive insurance entities.
Coke-Hamilton said that the Caribbean Export Development Agency (CEDA) is doing its part to defend the financial services sector as a major source of export earnings for the region.
She said that CEDA is now chairing a taskforce for the promotion and protection of the financial sector which will aim to provide recommendations to the offshore financial sector and the political directorate on how to further develop the industry and in particular on the development of "a strategic and comprehensive regional position for coordinated lobbying and advocacy for the region's IFCs within the international forum".
The international trade specialist called for IFCs and governments to move further towards "finding practical mechanisms for keeping this sector vibrant and innovative" rather than "stating grievances" if the region is to remain competitive.
"This may mean the creation of new products, targeting new markets and moving towards further specialization. We must approach this sector as we would any other business and ask the hard questions: where's our niche, what must we do to ensure our clients are satisfied, what must we change now to ensure we remain in business," said Coke-Hamilton.
Ambassador of the EU to Jamaica, Belize, The Bahamas and the Overseas Territories of Turks and Caicos and the Cayman Islands, Paola Amadei, said that it is not the case, as some "maliciously insinuate", that European countries are seeking to "paralyse the financial sector of the region with the burden of regulation and control".
"There is, rather, the genuine concern of true partners to help prevent the infiltration of criminal activities in legitimate business on one side, and to capture resources for country's development by allowing equitable taxation on the other," she said.
Suggesting that Europe has itself done a great deal of reform since the financial crisis, she said a "global holistic approach" is necessary to tackle challenges such as money laundering and terrorism financing.
Prime minister Perry Christie, who also addressed the opening session, reiterated his emphasis in a 2013 speech to the UN that The Bahamas and other offshore financial centers have a right to continue to rely on this sector for their economic growth, telling the conference that if the sector is wiped out it will destabilize countries in the region who see many in their middle class reliant on it for their income. He said that The Bahamas has done much to ensure, and is committed to the belief that, it can be both competitive in offshore finance and responsibly regulated.
He pointed to his government's intention to help the financial services sector remain competitive by focusing on perceived "skills gaps" in the economy and labour market, education initiatives, immigration policies, called for even greater effort on the part of the industry itself to "champion" its cause both locally and internationally.
Hubert Ingraham and the Free National Movement (FNM) have tried desperately to make this political campaign a referendum on his leadership. They have attempted to compare his leadership record and style to that of Perry Christie's. All things being equal it may have worked; apparently it did work in 2007. We now have a track record of both leaders taking political office after a recession.
Firstly, any credible leader would leave his country better off than he met it. Can Bahamians honestly declare that they are better off in 2012 than they were in 2007? I think that most reasonable people will concede that Christie left The Bahamas in better condition in 2007 than he met in 2002. Better condition refers to the quality of life of Bahamians. Let us examine some of the indices that underpin quality of life and form the basis for Ingraham's hubris.
Here is what the prime minister promised in an earlier Speech from the Throne: "My government will restore fiscal discipline to the public finances of the country, and will ensure that value is obtained for public expenditure and public business."
Time has proven that Hubert Ingraham cannot credibly lecture anyone on his leadership merits when it comes to fiscal discipline. When he returned to office in 2007, Hubert Ingraham met the national debt at $2.9 billion. It has now ballooned to $4.6 billion and by the end of this fiscal year the national debt is expected to be in the area of $5 billion. That is a net increase of some $2.1 billion in just five years. What kind of leader would make such a promise and then explode the national debt by over $2 billion in just five years?
One of the most important indicators of a nation's quality of life is the safety of its citizens. Can Bahamians truthfully claim that crime and the fear of crime are less now than they were in 2007? How can you boast of your leadership prowess after having presided over the most murderous and violent era in the history of The Bahamas?
Over 457 murders over a period of less than five years! Additionally, every other category of violent crime increased during this glorious leadership reign. A true leader would have taken measures necessary to reduce the incidents of violent crime and the fear of crime. Hubert Ingraham and the FNM have not demonstrated the kind of leadership needed in mobilizing and uniting communities in the fight against violence and criminal behavior.
Other areas where Hubert Ingraham's leadership has failed miserably are education and immigration control. These are issues vital to the quality of life of Bahamians. The FNM under Hubert Ingraham's leadership has failed to improve the education system institutionally, structurally or systemically and his leadership has failed to adequately prepare Bahamian students for the world after school. This is a terrible indictment on leadership.
Moreover, Bahamians feel that because of the immigration policies implemented by the FNM they have very little stake in the ownership of the county's economy, nor are they permitted to compete fairly in their own country. The immigration policies seem to curry favor foreign labor and foreign investors. This state of affairs does not bode well for the stability of the society.
Most failed leaders look to something or someone to blame for their failure. The global recession has been a convenient whipping dog for Hubert Ingraham and the FNM. However, Hubert Ingraham once pronounced that any leader worth his salt would anticipate a future recession and take corrective measures to mitigate the impact of that recession. Here is what he had to say in one of his earlier budget communications: "Furthermore, these budgetary problems were allowed to develop at a time when a prudent government would have recognized that cautionary measures should have been in place to meet any likelihood of a major recession in the U.S. economy, and to cushion the resultant impact on our tourism-driven economy."
How prudent was Ingraham's government? He went on to indict the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government by pronouncing: "It cannot be said that those who were responsible for managing the economy did not know hard times were coming, they just chose to ignore all the indicators."
Surely in 2007/2008, Ingraham knew a recession and resulting hard times were approaching? All fiscal and economic indicators pointed to it. Judging by his reckless response to, and the irresponsible choices made during, the recession Ingraham appeared to have been caught off guard by the recession. So much for leadership!
Leadership in government is about building and strengthening institutions that enhance democracy and improve the quality of life for citizens. Leadership in government is about inspiring people to achieve their dreams and ambitions. It is about building national consensus and compromise. Leadership is about mobilizing and consolidating the resources and talents of citizens toward national development. Leadership is not about demagoguery; it is not about power, intimidation and bullying.
So if I were the PLP or Democratic National Alliance, I would welcome a campaign based on leadership. I would put Ingraham's record, all of it, against the acid test of true leadership. I would seek to determine whether his five years of leadership improved the quality of life of Bahamians. I would simply ask if Bahamians were better off in 2012 than they were in 2007 - a simple and measurable reality - and let the people decide.
- Eric Gardner
Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes said yesterday a meeting with leaders of the Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) "went very well" yesterday morning, however, union members continue to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., negatively impacting operations at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA).
Foulkes told The Nassau Guardian there were two outstanding issues to be discussed before the matter could be put to rest, however, both sides have agreed not to divulge specifics. "We have a gag order with respect to speaking to the press," he noted. "Neither side wants to say anything to complicate the talks and future talks, but the discussions were very good.
"I thought we made a lot of progress. I am very hopeful that we can bring this matter to a resolution very shortly."
The government has demanded that the union's members work during their rostered shifts. However, union leaders have said that immigration and customs officers will continue to work-to-rule until a "proper shift system is in place".
Last week Wednesday, Sloane Smith, vice president of the BCIAWU, advised union members to show up to work at 9 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. During a weekend press conference in Exuma, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham warned immigration officers absent from their posts at LPIA to return to work or face the consequences. "The shift system is in effect. In fact, if many of them would check their terms and conditions of employment they will find that since 1996 nearly all of them had been hired by the public service with a condition in their contract, which said you shall work on [a] shift."
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette also said recently that when customs and immigration workers were hired in 1996, they were supposed to be on a shift system.
Edgecombe insisted the union does not oppose having its members work on a shift system, and agreed that employees hired in 1996 were contracted under those terms, however, he claimed there is no legal shift system set up "with the proper structure with all the other legal parameters around it".
"We are waiting on the government to put one in place so that we can follow the contracts and become shift workers, but until then [we will work from] 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday."
Vernice Walkine, vice president of marketing and communications for the Nassau Airport Development Company, said yesterday that operations are proceeding as normal, although she did not provide specifics.
Foulkes said the matter is "a very important issue for the government" as the country is heavily dependent on the tourism sector and is keen for LPIA to return to normal as soon as possible.
"That is my mandate as minister of labour, to bring industrial peace, and I will devote as much time to this matter as possible," he said.
I listened to a JCN talk show when I heard a well-known caller, Sparkey, comment on crime. One of the things he said was what I have been saying for years.
We don't make guns here so they were brought in by crooks. Sparkey told the host of one of his experiences. He said he left Coral Harbour and traveled to the U.S. on a yacht and returned on the same yacht to Coral Harbour. The yacht was not searched by any law enforcement agency, i.e., immigration, defense force or customs.
By this, Sparkey confirmed what I said previously, special interest people with a different hue are smuggling the guns and their children are not being gunned down.
Twenty years ago, Mina Outten held a one-day conclave at Workers House. As a presenter, I spoke about immigration reform, suggesting that everyone should have a national I.D. card, similar to the U.S. green card. Well, 20 years later we now start the process.
Minister of Immigration Fred Mitchell said it would not be mandatory for Bahamians, but foreigners and those with work permits would have to carry an I.D. card.
Immigration carried out a road block last week. A foreign executive of an offshore bank was stopped and detained because he was not carrying I.D. This created a great media uproar. What was most disturbing to me was that Cabinet ministers are not on the same page.
Minister Mitchell, who is responsible for immigration, was in total support of his officers. As a no-nonsense man you can take his word all the way to the bank and if he said his officers acted according to the laws of The Bahamas, I would take it to the bank.
The other minister, Ryan Pinder, needs to tell Minister Mitchell and the Bahamian people what he found out that Mr. Mitchell does not know.
Everyday black people, especially the ones from the Caribbean, are locked up and it is rarely reported in the local media. When Cubans are locked up it is all over the media. Why is that?
In 2009 I went to Atlanta on a business trip. I was stopped at least five times at check points. I did not have a problem with it because I was in their country and they were doing their job. If Minister Pinder is in an apologetic mood, then he should go to Atlanta and get them to apologize to me.
-- Audley D. Hanna Sr. JP.
By DANA SMITH
TOURISTS and business travellers were left waiting in line for hours - some even fainting due to the heat and humidity - after Customs and Immigration officers failed to show up to work at Lynden Pindling International Airport on Saturday afternoon, according to an e-mail sent to Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.
Director of Immigration Jack Thompson was even forced to work the booths to process passengers because of the shortage of employees, it is claimed.
At a press conference in Exuma on Saturday, Mr Ingraham said he believes the reported protest is "politically motivated" and read from an e-mail received from the Nassau Airport Development Company ...
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis has pledged that the government is set to undertake a "comprehensive review" of policies and practices that impact the financial services industry, to facilitate international investors and the "non-Bahamian expertise needed to grow our financial services sector".
At the same time, Davis said that the government is committed to the need for a "smart human development policy", which will attend to skills gaps in the Bahamian economy, with the ultimate goal of making The Bahamas a center of excellence for the region in financial services training and research.
Davis made these commitments at the opening dinner of the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) International Business and Finance Summit at Georgetown, Exuma on January 23.
His comments relating to immigration and other policies come close to two weeks after Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder apologized in person to UBS (Bahamas) Ltd. Executive Director Emmanuel Fiaux, after he was sent to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre when he could not produce his work authorization documentation during a special operation conducted by the Department of Immigration.
Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell defended the immigration officers involved, arguing that they had done nothing wrong during the incident, however, the BFSB and the Association of International Banks and Trust Companies in The Bahamas (AIBT), along with other industry and business commentators, called for the government to take a "more sensitive approach" to immigration matters in order to avoid potential "harm" to the industry.
Addressing the BFSB summit, Davis said that the government's overall objective is to "facilitate the ease of doing business in The Bahamas, and to support our international trade commitments in a manner which would be of maximum benefit to the Bahamian economy".
He said that the government will ensure that arrangements are made to ensure that policies are "in keeping with internationally accepted practices".
At the same time, Davis assured those present that the government is also committed to ensure that Bahamians take up economic opportunities in The Bahamas, and would seek to strike the "the right balance with respect to the maximum use of Bahamian expertise with the best possible career path for upward mobility".
Davis noted that the government sees the need for a "smart human development policy" in order to address the 'skills gaps" that is prevalent in the Caribbean and Latin America.
"My government is not prepared to sit idly by with respect to addressing any real or perceived skills-gaps in The Bahamas," he said.
"Therefore, we will work with all relevant institutions within the Bahamian government and outside of the government to ensure that Bahamians are ready for the changing realities in the financial services sector.
"I take this opportunity today to also implore Bahamian practitioners to take it upon themselves to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
"The Ministry of Financial Services, in concert with various public and private sector institutions, I am pleased to say, is fully focussed in this area. The Bahamas is closer than ever to establishing itself as the centre of excellence for the region in financial services training and research.
"Minister Pinder has been directed to make achieving this distinction a priority for his ministry. Towards this end timely initiatives have been taken in advancing financial services internships, industry training and development, and new courses in taxation and corporate finance."
Davis noted that The Bahamas is also committed to a "smart policy" via public diplomacy and increased dialogue to "counter misperceptions" about the Bahamian financial services industry and champion its strengths.
"We are seeking to ensure that international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), continue to acknowledge that The Bahamas is a well-regulated jurisdiction and one which is known for its compliance with international best practices," he said.
"In fact, arguably, the anti-money laundering, anti-terrorism funding, and regulatory regimes of The Bahamas are more robust and far more effective than the corresponding regimes of those countries who are leading the fight against our jurisdiction.
"The Bahamas will tell the entire world that its financial services industry is a legitimate, development model and one which had made a substantial contribution to the gross domestic product, the economic prospects and long-term development of The Bahamas."
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell suggested yesterday that he was not intimidated by the presence of Bahamas Faith Ministries International President Dr. Myles Munroe in the House of Assembly during the morning sitting.
Shortly before House Speaker Dr. Kendal Major acknowledged Munroe, Mitchell left the House to attend the funeral of immigration officer Shane Gardiner.
"I was bemused by the whole thing this morning," he said outside the House, after he returned from the funeral.
"All this demonstration of these men of God and men of power. Good luck to them.
"As I said to them I don't waste time on foolishness.
"An immigration officer died, the funeral was 11 a.m., [and] the House started at 10:30 a.m.
"I stayed for the prayers. I left and went to the funeral. I don't waste time on foolishness.
"And the man can bring him and 10,000 people; it doesn't matter to me because I would take them all on.
"Me, I'm the army of one. I don't give two tinkers damns who shows up. That's me."
Major invited Munroe to the House to present parliamentarians with copies of his latest book.
It was unclear if Mitchell got a copy of the book, "The Power of Character for Leadership".
A war of words erupted between the two men after Munroe called on Prime Minister Perry Christie to replace Mitchell, saying he does not represent "the convictions of the majority of Bahamians".
Munroe was referring to Mitchell's stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.
Michell recently said his career suffers because of his stance on these issues.
He also spoke again about the need to protect the rights of LGBT people.
Outside the House, Munroe said he loves and respects Mitchell.
"I consider Mr. Mitchell [to be] one of the most intelligent, one of the smartest politicians in this country," Munroe said.
"His record shows that people who have re-elected him consecutively for many different terms prove that he is a good servant to the people in his community."
Munroe said he would be happy to sit down and speak with Mitchell, if given the chance.
"The minister and I are from the same schools," he said. "We are friends."
Mitchell has accused Munroe of launching a personal attack against him, something Munroe has denied.
Munroe said he has never attacked anyone and has only "expressed my opinion and concerns".
Mitchell addressed the matter again when the House resumed after the lunch break.
"Anyone is entitled to an opinion, and they have a right to criticize," he said.
"The only point I made is that criticism must not be personally directed at me.
"If you personally attack me I will attack you back in kind, as a promise.
"I do not care who it is [or] where they do it. I will come after you."
Irregular migration, including human smuggling and trafficking in persons, is a complex challenge which the United States and The Bahamas continue to address as neighbors and partners.
Migrants from various nations see opportunities for economic stability and improved quality of life in The Bahamas and The United States. While many of these migrants are economic migrants seeking a better life, there are also those trying to escape persecution. One of the key challenges authorities face when dealing with issues of illicit migration is to separate those who need protection from those who seek to enter our nations to commit crimes or even acts of terror. This is not an easy task.
The United States and The Bahamas face the challenge of irregular migration together. Our countries have successfully worked hand in hand to combat illicit smuggling and trafficking. The United States Government deeply values its partnership with the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and will continue to seek to advance collaborative initiatives with our Bahamian partners on the issue of irregular migration and illicit trafficking. Our long-standing partnership is one based on shared responsibility and mutual respect. It is a partnership based on shared approaches to shared challenges.
Under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), the United States, The Bahamas, and our regional partners are achieving results in efforts to reduce illicit trafficking, advance public safety and security, and promote social justice. Programs through the embassy's International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Section (INL) have enabled the provision of training and acquisition of equipment for the Ministry of National Security, the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, which help to enhance effectiveness and interoperability with United States law enforcement agencies, so that we can jointly investigate and address transnational crime, including human smuggling and trafficking in persons. In addition, the United States continues to support the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) and the RBPF in the execution of search and rescue cases in an effort to promote security and maritime domain awareness and develop a more effective maritime end-game capability.
As its long-standing partnership with The Bahamas continues, the embassy recognizes that the task is not complete and that there is much more work to be done. The RBPF, RBDF, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, and Office of the Attorney General will remain important partners in the joint fight against transnational crime. The United States will continue to seek ways to deepen and broaden our security partnership, which has become a valued cornerstone of our bilateral relationship with The Bahamas.
- John Dinkelman, U.S. charge d'Affairs
The country's leading fixed-based operator (FBO) has been receiving some backlash due to increased fees in the aviation sector.
Anthony Hinsey, public relations manager for Odyssey Aviation Bahamas, told Guardian Business he fears that customers are being "doubly charged" at times and that if the government is not careful, it could lead to The Bahamas being priced off the market in the future.
He maintains that the biggest issue is not the fact that there are aviation fee increases but the message of inconsistency that is being sent out to customers.
"What we're hearing is that there are ports where people would go to clear customs and they are not being charged the fees. However, when they come to Nassau or wherever there is an Odyssey operation, we charge and collect fees because we're asked by Customs and Immigration to do so on their behalf," he noted.
"The concern is the fact that it is not happening everywhere that it should be happening. The amount doesn't seem to consistent."
Therefore, Hinsey is urging the government to properly notify all key stakeholders in the sector as to avoid any further backlash, so that the fee can be charged consistently and giving adequate warning.
"If you intend to introduce a fee increase, it's only fair that you give people adequate notice rather saying to them effective Monday morning, these will be the new fee increases," he revealed.
"These charter operators put their prices to their customers well in advance before trips actually take place, and for them to add in fees either last minute or with no notice at all from our government is not fair on their part.
"It [the fee increases] was not done properly, with hardly any notification and was just thrown at the people. It's been months since the fees have been introduced. People have accepted it but have been complaining about the fact that they can go elsewhere and pay much less."
Odyssey Aviation Bahamas is an independent FBO brand in The Bahamas, with four locations: two FBOs and two handling locations.
Just this week, Jim Parker, president of Caribbean Flying Adventures.com, pointed out how The Bahamas' private aviation industry has seen a steady decline over the past five years and believes the main reason for this is the "significant" increase in fees that continue to be experienced in the sector.
Currently, The Bahamas averages 49,000 arrivals annually from the sector, which accounts for millions of dollars injected into the economy. Tourism officials have confirmed that the private aviation sector contributes more than 456,000 room nights on an annual basis.
The hearings into the alleged abuse of Cuban detainees by Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) marines at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre may be completed by the end of the week, the marines' attorney Wayne Munroe said yesterday.
The hearings resumed last week and are scheduled to continue tomorrow, Thursday and Friday he said.
"We might actually be finished this week," he said.
"The only thing that may delay it that I can think of is the two (former) detainees who are in Cuba. If we can get them up here for this week, or if we cannot get them here, I don't know if we are going to arrange to go down there."
Munroe previously said he wanted the alleged victims to testify.
So far, 12 people, including Carlos Pupo, who alleges to have been beaten, have testified.
Several RBDF officers and marines, immigration officers and a doctor have also testified, Munroe said.
"We had Carlos Pupo on the stand on Thursday and he said he was beaten from 3 a.m. to sunrise," Munroe said.
"He gave some description of some beating that isn't consistent with what anybody says."
Pupo is being held at Her Majesty's Prisons, according to Munroe.
Munroe represents five marines accused of abusing the detainees after some of them attempted to escape from the facility.
Munroe said his clients deny the allegation.
He said the marines could face stoppages of pay, a reduction in rank or other disciplinary actions that would be placed on their record.
The allegations touched off a firestorm of controversy and protests from a group of Miami-based Cuban advocates who labeled the incident an abuse of power.
An RBDF officer, who is also a lawyer, is prosecuting the matter.
Munroe said his clients would take the stand to give their account of what happened.
"Curiously, their account is in line with what the immigration officers say and in line with what the injuries on these people say," he said.
The Whistleblower hopes that noted televangelist Dr. Myles Munroe wasn't caught off-guard when Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell gave him a tongue-lashing for publically calling him out on his latest pro-homosexuality pronouncement.
Mitchell has a habit of using pejoratives to describe anyone who doesn't agree with him. Last month he called Free National Movement MP Hubert Chipman homophobic, even though Chipman went out of his way to say that he has nothing against homosexuality.
As for Munroe, his only fault in all this is that he called for the removal of Mitchell from his ministerial post after he gave his Trinidadian audience at the University of the West Indies the impression that most Bahamians are pro-gay. And for this Munroe is labeled ignorant and anti-PLP. Mitchell has come dangerously close to giving the impression to the Bahamian public that to disagree with the LGBT view is to be anti-PLP and ignorant. The Whistleblower applauds Munroe for throwing his immense weight behind the anti-gay lobby, despite his alleged support for the party.
The Whistleblower understands that a sitting PLP MP attends his church. My only fault with the noted clergyman is that he should have never mentioned travelling to 138 countries, as this would only whet Mitchell's insatiable appetite to travel more at the expense of the hardworking taxpayers who are already bracing themselves for the impending introduction of the valued added-tax system in July.
It was reported in a national newspaper that Mitchell has already used more than half of his budget after he was advanced a whopping $45,000 for travel. At the rate he is on, he will easily exceed the $1 million he spent on travel in the first Christie government. The Whistleblower will not hold his breath for other men and women of the cloth who are PLPs to come to Munroe's defense.
In their wholehearted devotion to the PLP, Christian personalities such as Prophet Lawrence Rolle, the Rev. Dr. William Thompson, Dwight Armbrister and Mother Pratt will not jump into the anti-gay fray. To do so would only hurt their party. If The Whistleblower is correctly interpreting Mitchell, then the above personalities are in a bit of a quandary. If they were to follow Munroe's example in disagreeing with Mitchell on this matter, then they will be castigated as anti-PLP, homophobic and ignorant. If, on the other hand, they embrace Mitchell's position, then they will be considered heretics by the church.
- The Whistleblower
By CELESTE NIXON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Democratic National Alliance yesterday denied it has been soliciting "the Haitian vote".
In response to a Tribune article, the DNA said it only seeks the votes of the Bahamians, as only Bahamian citizens can vote in the Bahamas.
The party acknowledged in a statement that some of its members met with "some Bahamian leaders of Haitian descent" to discuss the party's immigration policies - which have not been altered since being put forward at a DNA town meeting last year.
According to the statement the article was "very misleading to the Bahamian public, as it suggests an erroneous statement that ...
o 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 said against the backdrop of the much-publicized speech of the American Secretary of State John Kerry to the Organization of American States (OAS) on November 18, 2013: "... In the early days of our republic, the United States made a choice about its relationship with Latin America. President James Munroe, who was also a former secretary of state, declared that the United States would unilaterally, and as a matter of fact, act as the protector of the region. The doctrine that bears his name asserted our authority to step in and oppose the influence of European powers in Latin America. And throughout our nation's history, successive presidents have reinforced that doctrine and made a similar choice.
"Today, however, we have made a different choice. The era of the Munroe Doctrine is over. The relationship - that's worth applauding. That's not a bad thing. The relationship we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It's about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests we share."
The proof of this declaration by Mr. Kerry will of course be in the pudding. The recent developments with CELAC where the sub-hemisphere has determined to meet without the United States and Canada is a most interesting development. It parallels the Organization of American States but is much more Latin focused. The United States remains in a state of antipathy with Cuba. Cuba, although now welcomed back to the OAS has said it will not take the seat at the OAS table. CELAC includes Cuba.
Mr. Kerry's statements come against the bitter experience of CARICOM in its work with the democratic forces in Haiti during the presidency of Jean Bertrand Aristide. CARICOM was asked to help and then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of Jamaica was in the chair. CARICOM was with U.S. and other developed country assistance helping with the dispute between Mr. Aristide and his opponents which was turning increasingly violent. Mr. Aristide had conceded all that the forces arrayed against him, including the developed countries, had asked. We went to the United Nations to ask for the protection of U.N. troops to save the elected government of Haiti. The U.N. equivocated and said no troops were available. Yet on February 29, 2006, Colin Powell called me at my home to say that Mr. Aristide had taken refuge behind a U.S. Security mission and had resigned and was on his way to a destination unknown. Following his departure from Haiti, troops were suddenly available to restore order. It has left a bitter pill in the mouths of many of our CARICOM leaders and the experience is less than 10 years old.
In The Bahamas we say: "You only know me when you need me."
The other and more interesting public policy issue to watch in our relations with the United States is our policy both in the CELAC context and in the CARICOM context to marijuana. In the Mexican/CARICOM dialogue in Barbados last year, the then President of Mexico Filipe Calderon spoke to a new approach to anti-drug policy, one which takes a market approach rather than a law enforcement approach. It seeks the decriminalization or legalization of the use of marijuana with the appropriate regulation and taxes as opposed to the resources used to lock up young males and criminalizing them in the process without any hindrance to the use of drugs. The U.S. domestic market is also changing on this. CARICOM has the issue of medical marijuana on its next agenda for heads of government in St. Vincent. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. federal policy will change and what that will mean for the CARICOM region. I say this because the U.S. relationship and interest in this region seems almost entirely based on national security and in particular anti-drug interdiction.
The Latins are very much interested in the support of the Caribbean countries for their position on the islands they call the Malvinas, also known as the Falklands, against the backdrop of our being former British colonies in the main and the supposed automatic support for the British position. This new CELAC relationship will be very important going forward.
I would suggest also that it will be helpful to this region and hemisphere if Mr. Kerry is able to translate his declaration into a more normal relationship with Cuba, particularly given the moves toward market reforms which are now evidenced in that latter country.
It would seem to make sense given that the United States has no such diplomatic issues with China. At a recent meeting in Trinidad 2013, the American vice president made it clear that the United States had no objection to our relationships with China, and I believe the U.S. view is very important. China has been clear about its objectives in the region. For the Caribbean, a region which is starved for capital, and with the traditional friends the U.S., Canada and Europe either unable or unwilling to provide the capital locked into a cycle of low growth and high debt, China has been a savior.
The Chinese position was given in a paper policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean. They are interested in acquisition of raw materials and in political cooperation to support the one China policy. In exchange, they will support Latin America and the Caribbean in their national development goals and have set aside significant capital for access by the hemisphere to support that development.
Paragraph IV (5) of the paper reads as follows: "The Chinese government will continue to strengthen coordination and cooperation on international issues with Latin American and Caribbean countries, and maintain regular consultation with them on major international and regional issues. The two sides will continue to support each other on such important issues as sovereignty and territorial integrity. China stands ready to work with Latin American and Caribbean countries to strengthen the role of the United Nations, make the international political and economic order more fair and equitable, promote democracy in international relations and uphold the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries, China supports a greater role of Latin American Countries in international affairs."
Throughout the conduct of international relations there is this constant refrain which looks to this region with what is often called a bloc of votes. One after the next country comes calling. They crowd our Council for Community and Foreign Relations Agenda (COFCOR) with requests for support for that candidacy or the next. The question is always as far as The Bahamas is concerned whether or not we use the numbers that we have to our sufficient advantage. It is not a rhetorical question.
I think the answer is obvious that we do not.
It makes the case for reform more urgent lest the parade passes us by.
The distinguished foreign minister of Trinidad and Tobago has made an urgent case for the expansion of CARICOM to include all the countries and territories in a paper in which he describes a Caribbean Sea Convergence. This convergence would encompass some 40 million people and ultimately will include in the short term the Dominican Republic, the French Territories including French Guyana and the Dutch ones, and in the longer term the American possessions and ultimately Cuba.
The idea is that unity is strength or as the Haitians would say: L'Union Fait La Force.
These matters are not simple or cheap. P.J. Patterson led the way in bringing Haiti into CARICOM. Suriname is also a member. These nations do not speak English as a first language and CARICOM has not been able thus far to ensure that documentation and conversations are available in the native languages of those countries. Imagine then including a Spanish-speaking country.
Further, there continue to be tensions in relationships because Haiti is a source country for illegal migration. The Bahamas does not confer citizenship on people born in The Bahamas whose parents are not Bahamian. One consequence is that there are thousands of Haitians in The Bahamas who are undocumented and who have to be regularized in some way or fashion. Immigration enforcement in The Bahamas is becoming stricter. Our country is committed to working on a solution to this.
All of this makes the enterprise of fixing our internal arrangements at CARICOM a priority.
Here is what Winston Dookeran, the foreign minister of Trinidad and Tobago, said in his paper "A New Frontier For Caribbean Convergence": "As noted earlier, CARICOM integration was narrowly defined in terms of trade and markets, which is not a very accurate measure. The new perception of convergence needs to be understood as 'a new economic space' where there is partnership not just across the Caribbean Sea space, but also between the public and private sectors. It is forging of 'a right partnership toward productive efficiency. Convergence therefore implies a partnership (inclusiveness and cooperation) among public and private actors in the economies of the Caribbean sea emphasizing equality and equity as integral components."
Minister Dookeran went on to list a number of arrangements and decisions which have to be taken, ought to be taken. I have mentioned already the inclusion of the new members. However, I want to parse some of his ideas and lead us into what I think is the inevitable conclusion.
He says in the chapter Policy Execution and Outcomes Institutional Drivers Caribbean Sea Convergence: "CARICOM Secretariat - is the principle administrative organ of CARICOM... recommend a fast-track decision to facilitate the entry..."
Anyone who knows CARICOM and its decision making will know that the expression "fast track " and CARICOM in no way comport. Yet mandates are piled upon the secretariat which is the closest thing we have to an executive arm but which is resource starved and under-manned.
Prime Minister Kenny Anthony speaking at the Chamber of Commerce in Barbados in October 2012 said this: "We know that we have too often asked our secretariat to perform miracles without even the requisite loaves and fishes. Unable to deliver miracles, decisive action has been replaced by documentation - mountains of it - which most of us have neither the time nor the appetite to digest."
So whatever reforms are contemplated for CARICOM and I agree the need for reform, amongst the issues: human resources and money.
Given the economic issues that face us, all treasuries and ministers of finance will be reluctant to agree to increases in subventions to CARICOM. Indeed many nations struggle to pay the existing duties. However, one suggestion is that there ought to be in each country a specific set aside, a revenue stream which goes straight to CARICOM and its agencies as a means of ensuring the funding at the appropriate levels. Further that the human resources issues can be helped by the foreign ministries and foreign trade ministries indeed the public service generally seconding officers to CARICOM as part of the public service careers for officers, which service would be part of the permanent and pensionable establishment in their countries as a means to ensure that the best talent ends up working there. Indeed, The Bahamas has led the way by already offering that possibility to at least two public servants per year on secondment to the secretariat.
In terms of the decision making, clearly nations will have to bite the bullet to give stronger powers to the secretariat to ensure that decisions are executed. Those who argue on sovereignty will do well to remember the saying of Dame Biller Miller of Barbados, that you cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time.
With regard to the convergence paper by Mr. Dookeran, I am also proud to say that we in The Bahamas recognize this need for convergence. Within our own country, the prime minister has embraced the three PPPs. In Bimini, the island in The Bahamas closest to the U.S. mainland there is an investment which will require a significant upgrade to the international airport. The private investor is doing the upgrade to the government's specifications but the cost will be recaptured by credits given for taxes collected on the investment. It is this kind of creative financing that will invigorate economies around the region and is to be recommended for its efficiency and simplicity and speed, with minimum impact on the public purse but exponential benefits to the public good.
o Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.