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News Article

November 05, 2012
mitchell reassures public on yellow fever vaccination rules

AMID concerns that yellow fever vaccination requirements for incoming passengers to the country are not being enforced, Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell says that's not the case.

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News Article

May 01, 2014
TUC calls for mass protest rally

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.

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News Article

March 07, 2014
Saving CARICOM, pt. 3

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".
There were times when the project appeared to be imperiled. It seems to me that most people will say that this was the case during the seven years when the heads of government did not meet. It is interesting reading the 1982 speeches, the first of the conference meetings after a break of seven years. By that time, Eric Williams had passed away and while some of the founders of the project were there, there was a new world order.
By the time the conference took place in 1982 in Ocho Rios, Edward Seaga had become prime minister of Jamaica, with Ronald Reagan in the White House in Washington. Mr. Seaga was embraced by the new U.S. administration as a sign that a more conservative era had returned to the Caribbean after the work in democratic socialism under Michael Manley.
It is not clear why the conference had not met during those seven years. I sought to find the reasons.

The best I could discover was that a row broke out amongst the leaders over some issue and they simply refused to attend.
It was left to the ministers in council to carry on the work and in 1982 the leaders met in Ocho Rios in Jamaica and conferences have met ever since then.
The Bahamas joined CARICOM on July 4, 1983. We had become independent on July 10, 1973. I am not certain why it took us 10 years to join, since we had been participating in the work of many of the institutions of the project from the 1950s. The main one being the University of the West Indies and then the Council of Legal Education and the Medical Council.
Several generations of Bahamians have been trained at the university, in the law school and in the medical school. Our first student was Dr. Cecil Bethel who enrolled in the medical school in 1952.
In 1983, I was then working as a special assistant out of the Bahamas Information Services in the prime minister's office. I recall two things about CARICOM at that time. The death of Maurice Bishop, the prime minister of Grenada took place on October 20, 1983. The question was whether or not The Bahamas and other CARICOM leaders would support the decision of the United States to invade Grenada to restore constitutional order. According to a recollection by former Guyana Foreign Minister Rashleigh Jackson on guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com "... The Bahamas, Guyana, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago were against any military action, whereas Barbados and Jamaica were clearly in favor of the OECS countries issuing an invitation to the United States of America to join with them in an invasion of Grenada... "
I am happy to have included that story because I have travelling with me two researchers and aides from the ministry in Nassau: Joy Newbold and Jamahl Strachan. Ms. Newbold was born in the year the coup took place in Grenada in 1979. Mr. Strachan was born in 1988 well after both the coup and the invasion had taken place. The idea that there had been a coup in a CARICOM country had been news to them and with this inclusion they were enlightened about the story. It led to a full discussion with the secretary general again on the need for a definitive narrative on how we have come to where we are.
That disagreement over Grenada did not break up CARICOM. In fact at the heads of government meeting in The Bahamas from July 4 to July 7, 1984, Nicholas Brathwaite, chairman of the Interim Advisory Council, Grenada was accepted into the conference as the legitimate representative of the Grenadian people and the representative of Jamaica Edward Seaga was also there at the CARICOM table.
The conference continues to meet, often in a most passionate form.
The second thing that I remember from that time with Sir Lynden was that a decision was made on the question of putting the Tourism School for the University of the West Indies in Nassau. He said that he had made it plain to his colleagues that since The Bahamas was then the leader of tourism in the region that was the best place to put the school and they agreed.
That was my introduction to CARICOM.
In 1979, as the director of news and public affairs for our Broadcasting Corporation, I got to meet for the first time one Percival James Patterson, otherwise known as P.J. He was then foreign minister for Jamaica in and around the time of the coup against Maurice Bishop in 1979. As fate would have it, I became minister of foreign affairs of The Bahamas in 2002 and ended up working closely with Mr. Patterson on perhaps the most contentious issue of our era: that of Haiti and the overthrow of Jean Bertrand Aristide as president of Haiti about which I shall have more to say later.
I turn now to a document that was adopted by the heads of government in 1997 which loomed very large when I became minister in 2002 but seems now to have lapsed into obscurity; but you will see why I am arguing now that it should become more central to what CARICOM is and should be revisited and updated. It is called the Charter Of Civil Society. It was adopted in 1997 and while it is not justiciable, or so it appears, in that it is not community law in so far as I am aware, the document says the following at XXVI: "The states declare their resolve to pay due regard to the provisions of this charter."
As lawyers often say, at the very least then this charter is binding in honor. It forms the basis of a descriptive and normative set of values to which we all adhere and aspire and if any country does not agree with those values, then ipso facto they cannot be a member of CARICOM. Thus those who argue in favor of Cuba becoming a CARICOM member without changes in the conduct of the internal arrangements at governance in Cuba may have an uphill battle.
Certainly for The Bahamas, it was the pretext for us to implement consultations in our country through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with civil society. That practice fell into disuse when the PLP lost office in 2007 and we have been seeking to revive it. Article XXV calls for reports to be sent to the secretary general periodically. There are supposed to be national committees reviewing the implementation of the charter.
I believe that it is time to put the words of this charter into action. I believe that while the CARICOM Single Market And Economy (CSME) is a valuable and valued project and aspiration, you will find that the emphasis on that aspect of our relations and the difficulties of harmonizing economies and market space have caused some of the negativity which we now see toward CARICOM. When you look at the successes of this region and the functional cooperation that has been engendered, the work of the specialized agencies, you will see that CARICOM has been a roaring success. It is time, therefore, to look to human rights issues.
Nothing is more contentious than this issue in our politics that I now raise, given the religious aversion and visceral reactions to discussion of LGBT issues in our region. Some people see it as striking at the very heart and fabric of our cultural identity. The Bahamas is not an exception to that aversion with many people seeing the discussion as a moral and religious one and not a human rights one. My own political career suffers because of my insistence that in this regard like all other aspects of human life, there must be tolerance at a minimum and we must uphold the principle that the general rights for which we fought as being rights for all people, particularly as a formerly enslaved and indentured people, cannot be derogated from because of someone's sexual orientation. In other words, when the charter in article III says: "States shall, in the discharge of their legislative, executive administrative and judicial functions ensure respect for and protection of the human dignity of every person." That in my view means literally every person and not just confined to what article V says: "No person shall be favored or discriminated against by reason of age, color, creed, disability, ethnicity, gender, language, place of birth or origin, political opinion, race, religion or social class."
The charter is a 1997 document so orientation was not included and perhaps even in today's atmosphere cannot be included, but the conversation has begun and the pressure from other societies with whom we deal is upon us to consider what our stand is on the rights of all people. Do we as a society for example condone violence against people simply because of their sexual orientation? The answer to that must be no. And if the answer is not no to that then the charter is not worth the paper it is written on.
The prime minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, and Dr. Denzil Douglas, [prime minister] of St. Christopher and Nevis, have begun public discussions of these issues in their societies. The prime minister of Barbados even challenged the Anglican Church on the subject at their provincial synod. That was right and just. The Bahamas has decriminalized behavior associated with sexual orientation.
We have available in aid and comfort to any change to amplify the discrimination provision in the charter the constitution of South Africa which admits to orientation as one of the named classes for which there can be no discrimination. There are profound changes throughout the United States and Europe, our main trading and cultural partners on this issue. It would be unwise to ignore it.
I often find that in drafting solutions to contentious problems that one solution is a generic one. One solution is that the charter can become justiciable with enforceable rights across the community. Less coercively, it can be open to the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final arbiter of community law to adjudicate upon the charter and declare the rights of individuals for any aggrieved individual seeking an opinion from the court declaring his rights and the wording of the provision at article V can be reworded to read: "No person shall be favored or discriminated against by reason of including but not limited to the following: age, color, creed, disability, ethnicity, gender, language, place of birth, origin, political opinion, race, religion, social class or some other characteristic which in the opinion of the court deserves special protection."
Of course the short way to deal with this is simply to add orientation as one of the listed characteristics. I have no remit to pronounce on that, however, and I do not do so.
What is important is that our leaders have already begun the conversation and that conversation should continue. That conversation should be underpinned with the principles of tolerance and the protection of the law for another disadvantaged group.
Less contentiously I suspect will be the question of the extent to which the principle of non-interference in the affairs of another CARICOM state still applies given what happened in Grenada in 1979 and again in 1983. When a state disintegrates and is under threat because of natural disasters that is an easy question to answer, but not so easy when one faces the question of civil disorder over political and civic issues.
The experience of Grenada and the restoration of democracy there has perhaps set the precedent that a governor general or president, acting in his own deliberate judgment, can call for outside assistance, even military or policing assistance.
Perhaps the charter ought to be amended to make clear what the position of member states will be when the human rights of individuals in a member state are so violated that it begs the question of outside interference. This is dangerous ground I admit, one on which we tread carefully.
o Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.

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News Article

March 06, 2014
Domestic airlines concerned about impact of fees

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.

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News Article

August 31, 2013
The Commonwealth: The black and white of it

Boris Johnson, the mayor of the British capital city, London, has joined in a chorus of voices in the Conservative Party that has been calling for Britain to abandon its membership of the European Union (EU) and to look instead to the Commonwealth of Nations as "countries that offer immense opportunities for British goods, people, services and capital."
This is a huge reversal from 1971 when the then leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister of Britain, Edward Heath, told the House of Commons that the idea that the Commonwealth might become "an effective economic and political let alone military bloc had never been realized."On the contrary, he argued, it was generally accepted that trade with the Commonwealth overseas, unlike that with the European Common Market, held no prospect of dynamic growth. Britain's subsequent entry to what is now the European Union (EU) in 1973 put an end to any further development of the Commonwealth as a preferential trading group.
After 40 years of fundamentally changed global trade arrangements, the Commonwealth no longer offers opportunities as a preferential trading bloc. Those in Britain who continue to pit the Commonwealth as an alternative to the EU are really raising a straw man to bolster their wish to get out of the EU and the conditions of its membership that they find unacceptable. For the majority of Commonwealth countries, there is little benefit today in trying to assemble a Commonwealth trading group even if it would not be severely hamstrung by World Trade Organization rules that disallow preferential trading arrangements for all but the poorest of poor countries. This is not to say that individual Commonwealth countries could not intensify trade bilaterally.
What is of more current interest about Boris Johnson's remarks made in Australia and New Zealand is that, in saying that Britain should "raise our eyes beyond Europe"and not think of "ourselves as little Europeans run by Brussels", he said Britain should open its doors to skilled workers from Commonwealth countries "such as Australia and New Zealand." He went as far as to say that Britain and Australia should set up a "bilateral Free Labour Mobility Zone." All of this is an alternative to persons from the EU entering Britain to live and work, and more importantly, benefitting from its social welfare system.
In promoting the idea of skilled workers from the Commonwealth being allowed to enter Britain, Mr. Johnson mentioned only Australia and New Zealand, whose populations are predominantly white people. But, since he is the mayor of London - a city with a huge multi-ethnic population drawn from all over the Commonwealth and elsewhere - it has to be assumed that Mr. Johnson mentioned only these two countries because he happened to be visiting them when he made his remarks.
Of course, it is every country's prerogative to enter bilateral migration arrangements with any other country that it considers appropriate. In this connection, it is perfectly feasible that Britain could set up "bilateral Free Labour Mobility Zones" with Australia and New Zealand. But, if it were to do so while applying stricter immigration and visa requirements on other Commonwealth countries, such as those in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean whose populations are not predominantly white, the arrangements would be seen as inequitable with overtones of racism. Such a move could be seen as a "black" and "white" division and it would diminish regard for the merits of the Commonwealth association. Further, it would not advance Britain's desire to intensify trade with, and investment from, Commonwealth countries such as India, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa that are among the top Commonwealth growing economies.
Britain faces a predicament over the free movement of people in the EU. Because of its more generous social welfare system and its greater economic development than all of the newer member states of the EU, it has become a magnet for Eastern Europeans - many of whom do not speak English and have little, if any, appreciation for British culture and traditions. The migration to Britain of Eastern Europeans has caused resentment among Britons, but not only to white ones. People from Commonwealth countries who migrated to Britain in the 1950s and 60s, and who have worked all their lives in Britain contributing to the economy and also adhering to its culture and traditions, also resent the influx of European migrants. This is a problem the British government is trying to resolve, but it will not be solved by Mr Johnson's suggestion that the EU should "stuff it."With regard to the Commonwealth, the Eminent Persons Group (of which I was a member and Rapporteur) that made recommendations in 2011 on reform of the Commonwealth to make it relevant to the people and times of the association, recognized that if the Commonwealth is to have value for its peoples, one of the things that could be done is to give recognition to Commonwealth citizenship by providing means of privileged entry in all Commonwealth states. We had recommended the creation of an expert group to report to the 2013 Heads of Government meeting on ways in which entry by Commonwealth citizens to Commonwealth countries on business or holiday might be gradually improved. A group of three renowned persons from the Ramphal Institute in London has visited 15 Commonwealth countries over the last few months to produce a report and recommendations on easing entry for Commonwealth citizens in various categories including businesspeople and students. The extent to which all governments agree on easing entry requirements for agreed categories of Commonwealth citizens will indicate the value they place on membership of the Commonwealth.
The point is that Commonwealth countries looking to each other for a deepening of investment, commercial and migration arrangements - based on their common laws, shared language, and declared common values - would help to lift all their economies as well as the quality and benefits of their Commonwealth connection. But they should all pursue such deepening on a pan-Commonwealth basis and in a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect that would enhance the Commonwealth Club.
o Sir Ronald Sanders is a consultant and senior research fellow at London University. Responses to: www.sirronaldsanders.com. Reprinted with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.

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News Article

December 23, 2013
Human remains found on Andros

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.

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News Article

March 29, 2014
Mitchell says Haiti talks successful

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.

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News Article

April 28, 2014
Mitchell dismisses criticisms from shadow minister

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
"ill-spoken" remarks.
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.

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News Article

March 19, 2014
Customs, immigration officers remain defiant over shift system

Members of the Customs, Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU) said the government's "scare tactics" will not intimidate them and they pledged to continue to fight against a shift system, which was implemented in 2010.
Several customs employees who refused to work assigned shifts yesterday were asked to leave the premises at Arawak Cay when they showed up to work at 9 a.m., according to union executives.
On Monday, Minister of Labour Shane Gibson said those who ignore the shift system would be subject to pay cuts.
Other government officials have also urged the employees to adhere to the shift system.
However, union executives continue to advise members to report to work at 9 a.m.
Union spokesman Cordero Edgecombe said members are not afraid to fight for their rights.
"They can cut us all they want," he said outside the customs offices at Arawak Cay.
"In the end they will still have to give it back to us because that's what the law provides for."
Edgecombe said he received several calls from customs officers who reported that they were asked to leave work after failing to show up for their "correct" work times.
Union Shop Stewart Renaldo Collie said, "We live in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and commonwealth means that all of us should share in that wealth. We are not afraid. We will stand because it's our God-given right to stand."
The union remains defiant even though a judge recently ruled that the government had no legal obligation to consult executives prior to implementing the shift system.
Edgecombe and Collie also responded to Gibson's move to block the union from taking industrial action.
The Department of Labour approved a strike certificate for the union on Friday after sufficient votes were cast in favor of a strike.
However, Gibson said he referred the matter to the Industrial Tribunal, which prevents the union from striking.
He said the union had little support from its members.
The union says it has three major issues other than its problem with the shift system: lack of medical coverage for roughly 300 clerical workers; moving allowances for officers who are transferred to other jurisdictions and transportation allowances for officers who have to move around to various offices.
The union received its strike certificate yesterday. It is unclear what the union's next move will be.

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News Article

March 18, 2014
EARTHCARE speaks on impacts of the Resorts World Bimini cruise ship terminal

Full text of presentation by Gail Woon, Founder of EARTHCARE to Information Session at Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina, Alicetown, Bimini on March 15th, 2014.
Good evening,
The cruise ship terminal for Resorts World Bimini has been described as "necessary" to the business plan. I will outline here several reasons why that is a ludicrous statement.
First, let me outline what the cruise ship terminal plan entails:
The plan is to build a 1,000 foot pier terminal that will be wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other comfortably. At the end of this 1000 foot long structure will be the manmade "island". The island will be made from 220,000 cubic yards of your Crown Land prime ocean bottom that just happens to be right next to 14 of your "prime dive sites". The reason for the idea is to let their too large for the island, cruise ship to be able to come right up to the so-called island, which will house the Customs and Immigration and a "beach club" house.
The MAIN reason this delicate site was chosen, and the only reason that this incredibly valuable biologically diverse site was chosen for destruction is simply because it is closest to the casino and to the main road of Resorts World Bimini.

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News Article

April 17, 2014
Immigration officer 'drove getaway car'

AUTHORITIES say they have two persons in custody, including a woman immigration officer, who they believe drove a getaway vehicle during the armed robbery of an off duty police officer.

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News Article

January 22, 2014
Markantonis: Little impact from detention of UBS executive

Following the detention of a UBS executive last week in an immigration spot check, Atlantis President and Managing Director George Markantonis said he believes such incidents would not scare off international businesses from operating in the country.
Markantonis was asked to comment on the issue.
"When I read that I opened my wallet and made sure I had my work permit card in it. When I saw it was there I got on with my life," he said.
Executive Director of UBS (Bahamas) Emmanuel Fiaux was detained last Tuesday during an immigration enforcement exercise.
Markantonis continued: "Perhaps a lot of misunderstanding was going on, who knows, I wasn't there.
"I don't believe that any major enterprise bases an investment decision in a nation on the occasional one off act.
"I mean there is no nation in the world where everything is perfect. But hopefully, as I said, it was an aberration and not something that is going to continue to happen."
Drivers were stopped and questioned about their status during the roadblocks. They were asked to produce evidence to confirm they are in The Bahamas legally.
Fiaux was taken to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre temporarily after he was unable to produce the necessary documentation on the spot. After the incident, Director of Immigration William Pratt said the department would not alter its practices in future roadblocks and spot checks.
He said his officers were simply following the Immigration Act.
While not commenting directly on the matter involving the bank executive, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell defended immigration officers in the execution of their duties.
In a statement on Monday, UBS said it was " perturbed at what transpired" but had moved on.
"We are very grateful to The Bahamas' minister of financial services (Ryan Pinder), who, being fully aware of the needs of the industry and also to the sensitive and highly competitive international financial dynamics, took the time to meet and convey a courteous apology," the statement read.
"This listening ear, of which we apprised our head office, which has been closely monitoring and assessing events, has gone a tremendous way in helping to put this 'one off' matter behind us. We have moved on from last week's events."

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March 10, 2014
Saving CARICOM, pt. 5

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.

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News Article

February 03, 2014
Moree: Bahamas has 'perception problem'

The Bahamas is suffering from a "perception problem" with respect to policies that affect international investors and expatriate workers, pointing to the need for the government to better communicate and market itself as a "vital part of governing".
According to leading Q.C., Brian Moree, the international investor community's view of the effectiveness and efficiency of Bahamian immigration and other policies is in many respects more negative than the reality, but a key problem is that the government is failing to communicate its position successfully.
Moree, partner with McKinney, Bancroft and Hughes, said that notwithstanding "significant improvements in the way the immigration department relates to the financial services industry" in recent years, as well as in the area of the registration of companies, the sector's perception has "remained a fairly negative one".
With this in mind, Moree said that even where the view of the policies and how they are administered may be out of step with what happens in reality, the government cannot afford to "arrogantly dismiss" complaints or simply point to statistics.
"One has got to accept that there is a perception problem that we have to address if we are going to overcome this problem. That needs to be addressed in an amicable and comprehensive way through communication, not through public speeches, and of course once we represent to the international community and the multinational institutions that our policy is reasonable and responsible and business friendly, then we then have to walk that talk and be sure that we deliver on the message," said Moree.
Speaking after Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis pledged a "comprehensive review" of policies in the area of labor and immigration that impact the financial services sector, Moree said he supported such a review, adding that "any attempts by the government to simplify the way in which business is conducted and to improve efficiencies would be welcomed by the industry and would make us more competitive in the international community".
Moree said the "public discourse" on policies relating to the investor and expatriate community "often misses the point" with the two sides "speaking past one another". This leads to situations where "isolated cases where something goes wrong take on a bigger importance than they should", he said.
Speaking at the opening of the Bahamas Financial Services Board's International Business and Finance Summit in Exuma, Davis said the government intends to both encourage the development of Bahamian skills that are suitable for the sector, and to ensure that "suitable arrangements are put in place in keeping with internationally accepted practices to facilitate international investors doing business in The Bahamas, and to facilitate the non-Bahamian expertise needed to grow our financial services sector."
"The minister of financial services, the ministers responsible for labor, training and immigration and key industry stakeholders will undertake a comprehensive review of the current policies and practices which impact financial services. Our objective overall 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," said Davis.

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February 12, 2014
Fishers Alliance wants tougher poaching penalties

Days after suspected Dominican poachers shot at and led Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers on a "hostile" high seas chase, the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance (BCFA) reignited calls for the government to place stiffer penalties on poachers. Keith Carroll, the group's vice president, said Bahamian fishermen do not feel safe and have encountered aggressive Dominican poachers in remote fishing grounds. He stressed that if the captains of these illegal fishing vessels do not face stiffer jail time if caught, the poaching will continue. Carroll also suggested that the government refurbish seized poaching vessels and add them to the RBDF's fleet. "The problem is we are catching these boats but I don't think the fines are that stiff that can deter them from coming back here," Carroll said."I know we cannot put all in prison. But I think if we give the captain 25 years he'll think twice about leaving Santo Domingo to come here.". . .Money is no problem for them [poachers] in paying those fines."The maximum fine for anyone caught fishing illegally in Bahamian waters is $5,000. Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries V. Alfred Gray has said he wants the fine to be increased to $250,000 for a captain of an illegal vessel and $50,000 for a crew member. Gray and several other government ministers met with Dominican officials in 2012 to discuss the issue. At the time, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell said the Dominican government pledged to help stop the illegal practice. However, Carroll believes that meeting was fruitless. He urged The Bahamas' government to get tougher on the practice, which he believes Dominican officials are turning a blind eye to. "I don't think their government is doing anything about it because it's no way these big boats can go into Santo Domingo and offload all this fish and the [Dominican] government doesn't know anything about it," he said. "And they know these fish are not coming out of their waters."Forty-two suspected Dominican poachers were arrested on Saturday.

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February 27, 2014
Mitchell emphasises importance of collaboration with US against crime

MINISTER of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell said the collaborative efforts between the Government of the Bahamas and the United States of America remains critical to the continued success against the "constant assault" of trans-national criminal activity.

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News Article

February 22, 2014
Haitian repatriations on the increase

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."
Spot checks
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.

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May 20, 2014
New defense force vessel arrives

The first of nine vessels that are expected to significantly enhance the Royal Bahamas Defence Force's (RBDF) detection capabilities arrived in New Providence yesterday.
The $15 million vessel, HMBS Arthur Dion Hanna, was docked at Prince George Dock after a six-day journey from Amsterdam, where it was built.
The government will sign the acceptance letter for that vessel today, according to National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage.
"We have to be able to defend our borders and protect the integrity of our country," said Nottage during a press conference onboard the vessel yesterday morning.
"As you know, illegal immigration is probably the biggest problem we have in terms of border invasion. But there are drugs always going through.
"We are satisfied that there are guns that go through. We are satisfied that there is human smuggling and there is trafficking in persons.
"The fight against those will be significantly enhanced by the acquisition of this fleet."
RBDF officer Chapell Whyms said the vessel can accommodate a crew of 24 and is equipped with state-of-the-art communications.
He said the vessel can travel for 2,500 miles before refueling is required.
RBDF Commander Nedley Martinborough said the acquisition of all nine vessels will "fill a void that has been missing for several years".
"It provides a complete range of vessels from 100 feet to 140 feet and we will still have in our fleet the 200 feet HMBS Bahamas and Nassau, which are also set to receive [refurbishing] during this Sandy Bottom Project," he said.
"So given the existing fleet and the completion of the Sandy Bottom Project, that would complete maritime security from the surface level for some years to come; I would daresay the next 15 or 20 years."
The government expects another two boats within the next four months. All of the vessels are expected to be complete by August 2016. Officials said construction of the vessels is running ahead of schedule.
Nottage previously said the cost for the shipbuilding is approximately $149 million and the civil works are expected to cost $75 million.
The government will borrow $232 million from Deutsche Bank to purchase the vessels and carry out ancillary civil work.
The government signed a contract with Dutch shipbuilders Damen Shipyard earlier this year to build the vessels.
Van Oord will dredge the Coral Harbour Port to accommodate the larger vessels. It will also construct ports in Gun Point, Ragged Island, and Matthew Town, Great Inagua.
Several officers are undergoing training so that they can properly man the new vessels.

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May 23, 2014
Moree: 'High level' discussion on role of immigration needed

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.

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February 28, 2014
Mitchell emphasises importance of collaboration with US against crime

MINISTER of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell said the collaborative efforts between the Government of the Bahamas and the United States of America remains critical to the continued success against the "constant assault" of trans-national criminal activity.

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