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Caribbean stocks ended the first six months of 2011 higher on the back of large gains on the Junior Market, as well as solid gains among Financial, Retail and Distribution, Manufacturing and Conglomerate stocks.
Although the new administration is committed to implementing the long promised National Health Insurance (NHI) within its first year in office, Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez admitted yesterday that the government does not yet know how much such a scheme would cost.
Gomez told The Nassau Guardian that the price tag is "undoubtedly" higher than initially projected.
"We have money in the first 100 days allotment to begin to look at certain aspects of the program that we worked out, which is now about eight years ago," said Gomez before touring Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) as minister of health.
"But we have to review the costing and so on before we launch further."
Under the previous Christie administration, the Blue Ribbon Commission on National Heath Insurance -- which Gomez headed -- projected that the plan would cost around $235 million annually.
But healthcare costs have skyrocketed since then and insurance and healthcare experts predict such a plan would cost significantly more than that previous projection.
In its Economic Review column published on March 7 in The Nassau Guardian, Colina Financial Advisors Limited (CFAL) projected that based on historical data and future projections, the cost of a national healthcare plan going forward would be in the region of $500 million to $750 million -- equivalent to nearly half of the country's recurrent expenditure.
Former Chief of Surgery at Princess Margaret Hospital Dr. Duane Sands also estimated recently that the scheme could cost up to $750 million to implement, placing a further burden on Bahamian taxpayers.
Experts have said repeatedly that any drive toward NHI must be accompanied by an investment in healthcare facilities.
Critical Care Block
Gomez toured the Critical Care Block of the hospital yesterday. The block is still under construction.
Public Hospitals Authority Managing Director Herbert Brown said the hospital's bed shortage issue would be addressed when the Critical Care Block is completed next year.
Brown said the unit is more than 20 percent completed, on schedule and on budget and to date just over $23.5 million has been spent on its construction.
He said the total construction cost is projected at more than $64 million and more than $31 million will be spent on state-of-the-art equipment.
Turks and Caicos Islands - The Government is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr Colin Heartwell as the new Chief Executive Officer for the Turks and Caicos Islands National Insurance Board. Mr Heartwell will begin his three year contract at the end of August.
Mr. Heartwell is a senior executive with two decades of business management experience in various areas of economic development. He has been a Director General of Western Economic Diversification Canada, overseeing an investment portfolio of more than $350 million, the inaugural CEO for TCInvest, attracting significant foreign ...
TURKS & CAICOS - Last night we learned that the Governor intends to appoint a non Turks and Caicos Islander to the position of Director of the National Insurance Board.
We do not accept this as appropriate or within the Governor's remit to appoint a director who is a non Turks and Caicos Islander for some 3 years particularly when a General Election is due soon.
In the history of the board this would be a first. National Insurance Board is a Turks and Caicos Islands institution imagined, created and enshrined in law by both PDM and PNP Governments. However, it was under the watchful eye of the Wetherell Interim Government that brought us the collapse of TCIBank...
The former chairman of the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB) is defending his performance over the last five years, claiming annual operating expenses fell from $18 million to $12 million.
Michael Moss, who also served as chairman of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), said this reduction in operating expenses at BCB (commonly referred to as ZNS) caused the government's subsidy to be "significantly reduced".
In all, Moss submitted a 12-point document outlining his achievements as chairman from 2007 to 2012. He noted a number of cost-saving measures, including the renegotiation of an agreement for satellite uplink services that brought a $1 million bill down to $330,000. Vehicle, property and all-risks insurance was also brought down by more than $250,000 through "competitive bidding", according to Moss.
BCB also went through a restructuring whereby the workforce was brought down to less than 180, from 280, "yielding a concomitant $4 million reduction in annual operating expenses".
The chairman said staff in New Providence was merged into a single building for television. The vacant building, he explained, was subsequently leased out, which produced revenue and reduced expenses.
Moss also listed negotiation with the Performing Rights Society (PRS) to have a "previously ignored" injunction withdrawn as one of his key accomplishments. Past failures to pay royalties to artists were forgiven by BCB paying $500,000 over four years.
"A single, further payment of $500,000 is to be paid to fully satisfy details of the agreement otherwise a severe, financial penalty will result," Moss explained.
From an over-arching perspective, Moss claims he "commenced and significantly advanced" the network's move from advancing the priorities of the state to becoming a public service broadcaster. A technical transformation from analog to high-definition digital broadcast has also occurred, he said.
Accounts for 2011 are awaiting audit, Moss admitted, although under his tenure he insists the company has cleared a backlog of neglected financial reports, including the years 2003 up to 2010.
"The accounts were subjected to audit in quick succession. Hence, a normal benefit of having accounts audited annually and being responsive to audit concerns expressed in a proper year's audit, could to be taken advantage of. Many of the accounts have therefore attracted similar audit commentary," Moss told Guardian Business.
Fiscal discipline and a review of monthly management accounts were tasks enforced during his tenure, according to the former chairman.
Back in April, The Nassau Guardian reported that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) paid $170,000 of the years-long $248,000 debt.
Moss confirmed that the PLP settled the debt with the corporation leading up to the 2012 general election.
A further debt was contested with the party. Moss stated at the time that, in the spirit of compromise, "the corporation has allowed the PLP to settle that portion of the debt".
The Insurance Company of The Bahamas (ICB) suffered a 70.5 percent drop in its net and total comprehensive income in the year ending December 31, 2011, with unexpected disasters attributing to the dent in profits.
Net and total comprehensive income was recorded at $1.1 million for 2011, a sharp decline from the $3.9 million figure in 2010. Chairman of the company Dionisio D'Aguilar said that unfortunate events such as Hurricane Irene and the downtown fires last year hurt the financial performance, but ICB was fortunate enough to still record a profit.
"The Bahamas was not so fortunate in 2011 as Hurricane Irene made an unwelcome visit to our islands," D'Aguilar said.
"Irene caused considerable damage to properties in the Family Islands, but we were relieved that the storm tracked just to the east of New Providence on its northbound path to the U.S. mainland. Thus what could have been a major insured loss for ICB and The Bahamas' general insurance industry ended up being a substantial but very manageable loss."
During the 2011 fiscal year, ICB saw its net claims incurred rise by 111 percent from $1.6 million to $3.5 million. Net commissions incurred doubled from $269,647 in 2010 to $542,417 in 2011, and excess of loss reinsurance dropped 6.6 percent from $3.2 million to $3 million. Total expenses for the period stood at $6 million, a 29.5 percent increase year-on-year.
Gross written premiums were slightly up year-on-year, experiencing a 1.9 percent increase from $41.9 million in 2010 to $42.7 million in 2011. Net retained premiums essentially remained unchanged from 2010 with a 0.1 percent decline recorded, but net premiums earned dropped by 9.9 percent from $8 million to $7.2 million year-on-year.
Total assets from the company rose by 6.9 percent from $63.7 million in 2010 to $68.1 million in 2011, while total liabilities grew by 10.6 percent from $41.8 million to $46.3 million. Net assets remained almost the same year-on-year at $21.8 million, which was the exact figure for total equity.
D'Aguilar said that the 2012 fiscal year will have its fair share of challenges, which will be felt by ICB and general insurance companies in the country. He mentioned that general insurers will have to adjust to the amendments made in the Road Traffic Act as well, which he expects to come into effect in short order.
"Looking ahead to 2012, the trading environment for general insurers is likely to remain extremely challenging," he said. "Consumer spending power is likely to remain weak as high unemployment levels and expensive fuel combine to depress disposable incomes. To make matters worse, government's major capital projects will shortly be coming to an end.
"Against this rather depressing short term outlook, there is hope, however, that The Bahamas' economy will begin to show signs of significant recovery in the next two to three years as we see the completion of the Baha Mar project and anticipate the possibility of an upturn in the United States' economy."
The Bahamas has been designated a "medium risk" country in terms of money laundering and terrorist financing, according to a global research report conducted by the Basel Institute on Governance, ranking it fourth among countries in the region.
The 2012 Basel AML Index, obtained by Guardian Business, reveals The Bahamas was given a 6.37 rating, which falls in the medium range. While the score ranks in the top-third of all the countries assessed, no alarms should be rung, according to the former head of the Bahamas Institute of Charted Accountants (BICA).
"I don't see The Bahamas having that rating for very long because the steps that have been taken by regulatory bodies have better positioned us and they have put in a lot of work to ensure that Anti-Money Laundering (AML) programs have been up to standard," Reece Chipman said.
"We shouldn't panic because of the rating, because we have taken efforts to improve our global standing. But it does give us something to look at as to where we need to go from here."
Chipman added that some modifications made to certain policies and guidelines by certain regulatory bodies, such as the Securities Commission, Insurance Commission and the Compliance Commission, are instrumental towards lowering the risk rating going forward. He mentioned that training conducted by these entities will also help to ensure that the country is moving in the right direction and steering clear of a higher rating in the future.
The Bahamas is ranked 43 on the Basel AML Index, with only three other Caribbean countries ahead of them on the list. Trinidad and Tobago is ranked 31 on the list with a 6.67 score (medium), the Dominican Republic is listed at 17 with a 7.17 rating (high) and Haiti is four with a 8.16 score (high). Jamaica is the lowest ranked Caribbean nation on the index, listed at 118 with a 4.77 score (medium).
Chipman, also the director on the Board of Directors of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of the Caribbean (ICAC), said that other Caribbean countries will also follow suit to improve their standing when it comes to its anti-money laundering reputation.
"I think all the countries in the region are trying to do their part in terms of coming up to speed of what is required worldwide," he said. "They realize the disadvantage of not complying and they have to set these standards in order to attract certain levels of business."
The 2012 Caribbean Conference of Accountants held in Antigua comes at the perfect time, according to Chipman, as the focus of the event will be in how the role of accountants will change in anti-money laundering and terrorist financing. Other areas, such as risk management and fraud, will be covered during the conference scheduled for June 21.
The former BICA chief said the information disseminated throughout the conference will be beneficial to both accountants and other members of the financial sector.
Months after Bahamas Supermarkets Limited (BSL) closed its final City Market location, millions owed in severance and pension are still outstanding.
"As of March 30, the company has been suspended and we are now into June and there has still been no financial compensation for former BSL employees. Despite having five meetings on this matter, the company has issued no money," according to Wanslaw Turnquest, former inventory control auditor at City Market.
Turnquest confirmed to Guardian Business that hundreds of former City Market employees are owed in excess of $3 million in severance pay.
"We are going after that money. We plan to get every single dime that is owed to us, as the matter has yet to be resolved. This is outrageous, as BSL is a publicly traded company and certain procedures should have been followed," he explained.
The former employees are also looking to be paid monies from the company's pension fund.
Turnquest said it is now a matter before the courts, as legal action has been filed against the supermarket chain's original owner, Winn Dixie.
"There should have been a lot of money in the pension fund. The last transaction on the pension fund was reportedly made in 2006. There has been no additional money added to the fund. The only thing that has been accrued over the years is interest," he said. "If there has been no financial transaction on the pension fund, that makes it null and void. If an international company has sold shares to a local company, there has been no regard for the disbursements of that fund to employees. Dissolve it and pay out all benefactors immediately."
Earlier this month, National Insurance Board (NIB) Director Algernon Cargill told Guardian Business that he coordinated with the Ministry of Labour and Social Development to create a "one stop shop" to make the application process more efficient for Bahamians seeking benefits. City Market locations have been boarded up for weeks, and now those unemployed workers should have a way to make ends meet.
Applications could be made at the NIB headquarters on Baillou Hill Road.
"From what I understand, they are effectively terminated and unemployed. Once [they] are unemployed, they are eligible for benefits. Apparently there was some reluctance to formally terminate. We don't know why that would happen. Our role is to provide some income replacement," Cargill told Guardian Business.
Former City Market workers have access to 50 percent of their weekly wage.
The benefit, he explained, lasts for 13 weeks. However, that benefit period must be immediately terminated if the workers are subsequently hired by Super Value or any other employers.
Turnquest said the workers are grateful for the unemployment benefit provided by NIB, as it helped to cushion some of their liabilities like mortgages, loan payments and other bills.
Alberta Rahming, a 13-year employee of the supermarket chain, has a different perspective.
"It's been tough. You have some people that could survive and there are others who can't. National Insurance is only paying us based on the last year of our employment. We are not asking for something that doesn't belong to us, some employees have worked more than half of their lives at City Market. If it is a penny, give it to us. The company has already been sold, so where is our money?" Rahming noted.
Scores of frustrated former employees lined the exterior of the Clarence A. Building yesterday. A meeting was scheduled for union representatives, labour officials and BSL to resolve the outstanding financial matters for the struggling supermarket chain.
Guardian Business has learned that the sale was finalized on May 31, but this has yet to be confirmed by BSL officials.
Several calls were made to BSL's president Mark Finlayson, but none were returned up to press time.
Stephen Turnquest of Callenders & Co is representing the workers on the severance issue, and James Thompson will be representing those in Freeport.
Little has excited stronger opinions and emotions in recent times than the debate as to whether or not to decriminalize the numbers business. The arguments have grown stronger with the appearance of the "web shops", which have sprung up in New Providence.
Prohibition of numbers gaming in The Bahamas
In The Bahamas prohibition of the numbers business has been full of contradictions and irony. Bahamians have been playing numbers and running numbers businesses illegally for years. There have been police raids on such activities and prosecutions to no avail.
At the same time, it should be noted that Bahamians play games of chance at the annual carnival in Oakes Field without hindrance for 45 days each year.
The worst of it is that the money they spend goes out of the country to benefit another country.
Furthermore, unreasoning emotionalism has sometimes gone as far as calling for a ban on raffles, which are also games of chance, but happen to be one of the most productive means of funding the work of non-governmental, charitable institutions from which Bahamians have derived great benefit.
This country would be sorely bereft if such organizations ceased to exist.
The government purse cannot satisfy all the cultural and social needs that the benefaction of private sector individuals and corporate groups, such as the new web shops, supply generously.
Commentary and calls for action, as regards decriminalization of the numbers business, have run the gamut from letters to the editors of the local dailies strongly supporting or condemning the regularization of this form of gaming to even stronger evangelical fervor for complete prohibition of such enterprises. In its election platform, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which won the government in the May 7 general election, promised to put the issue to rest through a popular referendum. This commitment has since been reaffirmed. It is obviously time for a more logical look at pros and cons of the debate.
The case for decriminalization of the numbers business
Support for decriminalizing local gaming, particularly as relates to the operations of duly licensed web shops rests on the following main points. Such legislation would:
1. Assist in bringing about full legitimacy to businesses that are already duly licensed, tax compliant and in full compliance with all labor laws;
2. Create new revenue streams for the Public Treasury in tough economic times through the taxation of the profits of web shops.
The added income, which would run in the millions, would allow the government to build more hospitals and schools and operate more social programs benefiting all Bahamians;
3. Bring order and stability to the entire web café concept ensuring that only duly licensed and authorized vendors are able to operate a "legitimate" café or satellite locations abiding by all the rules and regulations, which this entails (sales, payouts, etc.).
Web shops are creating jobs, adding to the bottom line of various suppliers of goods and services, making large charitable donations and paying such taxes as current legislation demands
The supporters of legitimizing the numbers business as represented by the web shops argue that:
o Web shops are not the old numbers operations with runners and their customers making shady deals on the corners of rundown neighborhoods, with both sides at risk to cheating, robbery and police arrest. Rather, they are technologically sophisticated businesses providing safe surroundings, entertainment and accountability to the extent that the provisions of current legislation permit them to.
o Web shops supply various forms of entertainment that Bahamians choose for themselves.
o Web shops contribute to this country's economic health as businesses.
Providing easily verifiable information, proponents of the move for a referendum
o The various web shop groups together employ 3,000-plus Bahamians. They have also absorbed a good many persons who were made redundant when Atlantis downsized in recent times.
o They stimulate small business growth and further employment in purchasing courier, construction, repair and maintenance services and many others.
o They pay National Insurance contributions to the tune of $4 million-plus annually.
o Other payouts include over $10 million for electricity and cable services and paper.
The most serious aspect of the failure to decriminalize the numbers business
The law in action does not distinguish between the operators of numbers establishments and their customers and employees; when the police have made their periodic raids all have suffered the embarrassment of being hauled away like criminals. The implications are very serious:
1. In the trying conditions brought on by the lingering recession, Bahamians are glad to have the jobs that the growth of web shops has created. Is it right to shame these hardworking and honest Bahamians, deprive them of the dignity of work and perhaps drive them to less salubrious situations where they might indeed engage in dangerous and real criminal activity?
2. Consider the case of the web shop customers. The Bahamas government obviously does not hold games of chance to be intrinsically wrong, as it has legitimized casino gaming and raffles. Where then is the justification for excluding Bahamians from playing numbers, if they so choose? Can it be an attempt to deprive them of an aspect of their civil rights? Probably not in intent, but certainly in action.
How sound are the arguments against the decriminalization?
The lobby against gaming tends to claim that formal gaming businesses attract crime, take trade from small businesses and victimize the poor who are likely to make up the greatest percentage of gamers.
Gaming is also blamed for addiction and the breakup of families. Religious conservatives agree with these points and add that gaming violates the biblical standard of stewardship and brings about a decline in the work ethic.
The trouble with the anti-gaming argument lies in assigning blame for complex social issues such as crime, addiction and family dysfunction to a single source - playing numbers. This fallacy is compounded when prohibition of the numbers business is promoted as a solution and, sometimes, the only solution to this range of social ills.
Does banning/prohibition work? An example from history.
The biggest question is: Does prohibition work? History gives many peerless examples to the contrary.
The anti-liquor lobby had long held banning alcohol as the solution to the social and economic consequences of the consumption of strong drink.
Their cause in the United States succeeded when in 1919 the U.S. Government passed the Volstead Act, which prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. It is said that alcohol consumption did decline to some extent, but the period between the passage of the act and 1933 when the act was repealed, known as "Prohibition", gave rise to gangs of vicious bootleggers and other criminals, who often enjoyed the complicity of ordinary citizens. Chicago's notorious Al Capone and his ilk fed a reign of terror such as the United States had not known before.
It is obvious that prohibition can drive issues underground and create problems even greater than those it sought to get rid of.
The trouble with trying to legislate moral choices is that it obscures the deeper issues contributing to social and economic problems, thereby delaying or preventing the identification of causes and the search for more solid and lasting solutions.
Establishing a more workable and sustainable approach
Would it not be better to look into the matter logically, set up rules and regulations and establish a solid framework for compliance and monitoring as regards the operation of web shops?
Democracy in action
Prime Minister Perry Christie and his government appear to be taking the democratic route by allowing the web shop operators a hearing and by proposing to put the matter to the Bahamian people through a referendum.
It is a strategy that has already been criticized by opponents of legitimizing local gaming, but it is certainly to be congratulated as democracy in action.
Bahamians have long signalled their choice in the matter of playing numbers for whatever reason.
If they can be entrusted to vote for governments, would it be right to deprive them of the right to choose their entertainment when it does not impinge on the rights of others?
Senior league play in the Bahamas Football Association (BFA) wrapped up on Sunday at the Roscow A.L. Davies Soccer Field, with the Insurance Management Bears football club taking home top honors in the Knock Out Cup Final.
The Bears, playing with 10 players, were able to defeat the Baha Juniors team, 7-2. After Renardo McCallum received a red card in the 21st minute, the Bears had to play the remainder of game down a player. Baha Juniors actually led 2-1 after 26 minutes, but the five-time defending champions Bears displayed superior form the rest of the way. The 10-man Bears, who led 1-0 after eight minutes but were down 2-1 after 26 minutes, assumed a 3-2 lead going into the half on two goals by Nesley Jean, the season's most valuable player (MVP).
The second half belonged to the Bears as Demont Mitchell scored a hat trick (three goals) and the league's 'Best Youth Player' John Mareus, solidified the lead with a great individual breakaway goal. In immense heat, the Bears showed why they were the best team all season by manhandling Baha Juniors in the second half.
The goal scorers for Baha Juniors were Alkin Delancy (23rd minute) and Nick Constantine (26th minute).
The Bears scorers were Domingo Hurston (8th minute), Nesley Jean (31st and 49th minutes), Mareus who had one goal in the second half, and Demont Mitchell who scored all three of his goals in the second half.
During the election campaign both major parties committed to long-term national planning. Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham promoted Jubilee Bahamas, a 10-year national planning process leading to the 2023 independence jubilee. Given his record, such a planning exercise would have been conducted extending the plans and accomplishments of his former administrations.
As it did with a number of other policy matters, the PLP followed suit, adding a twist: It promised a 30-year plan. Notwithstanding this copycat, and that 30-year plans tend to make little sense in terms of realistic planning, it remains dubious that the incumbent government will, given its past, fulfil its pledge.
But long-term planning going forward is critical, and not just because such planning is perennially essential. We are, today, in the midst of some of the more dramatic structural changes facing the country post-independence.
These changes are varied and complex. They include globalization, urbanization, economic and political modernization, and the interrelated demands of energy security and a complex of environmental issues.
These meta-challenges are occurring amidst, and are part and parcel of a combination of a deep cyclical "financial crisis-based recession" and a variety of structural changes sweeping the globe.
The better news, if we can call it that, is that we may experience a series of rolling recessions lasting the remainder of this decade, and related structural challenges stretching into the future, all resulting in widespread economic and social dislocation. The bad news is that much of the world economy can falter into a depression.
This is the global context of which any national planning must take full measure. While many more Bahamians suspect that we are entering a new normal, constituting a daily struggle to make ends meet and persistent anxiety about the future, many may not realize the nature, scope and depth of the challenges we face.
We are not solely experiencing the typical cyclical recession of which Bahamians of a certain age remember, and which usually lasted for a relatively short period. The turnaround in some tourism indicators should not obscure our deep-seated challenges.
The structural changes with which we are faced are wide-scale. Some of them have been partially discussed and hinted at by political and financial leaders. But the broader scope of these challenges is not fully appreciated by many politicians, business people, academics or journalists.
In turn, these opinion leaders have failed to articulate anything approaching the breadth of our challenges, much less the fundamental changes to our way of life they will bring about.
So, even while an increasing number of Bahamians sense that we are entering a new world, they may not yet appreciate what responding to that new world will entail on numerous fronts. The unprecedented level of change will be staggering.
Communicating the reasons why and responding to such change will not be easy for the political class, especially those still pandering to the mindsets of yesteryear even as events outstrip the make-believe they seek to pass off as reality.
Take something like a value-added tax (VAT) which the Christie administration has discussed introducing. Such a tax seems imperative in light of our accession to the World Trade Organization and desperately-needed state revenues.
But how does a government introduce such a tax to a populace used to taxes hidden in plain sight but unaccustomed to a tax measure like VAT? How does one sell the need for such a tax change to a high consumption society, inclusive of an often brand-name and status-obsessed middle class that has an entitlement mentality when it comes to what is demanded of government?
Tax reform is only the beginning. There are other potentially wrenching reforms on the horizon if The Bahamas is not to fall behind - way behind, on various fronts.
Globalization, not the fact of, but the nature and imperatives of change across the continents will have far-reaching implications. Think of the fundamental changes in our financial services sector wrought by advanced economies, and the fight over the privatization of BTC. Now multiply these many fold, and one gets a sense of what is on the horizon.
Changes like global aging, the shift in China's growth model to greater domestic consumption, and fundamental socio-economic and political changes from the U.S., Europe and Latin America to Asia and the Pacific will pose opportunities and challenges to the way the nation and government conduct its business, and the business of business.
In subsequent columns the challenges of urbanization and the attendant issues of crime and socialization will again be explored. Political modernization concerns the reform and modernization of the role and functions of government, including the level of public sector employment, and the privatization and monetizing of public services.
Economic modernization concerns far-reaching technological changes and the development of human capital in areas such as education, training and innovation, as well as the sustainable provision of social goods such as healthcare.
One burning question is how much the state can afford in terms of social welfare, and who pays for it. The Christie administration will soon face this question as it has promised comprehensive National Health Insurance. The pressures on the government will be immense from insurance companies to healthcare providers to those who may foot the bill for NHI.
The administration also faces its gargantuan promise of doubling investment in national education. Finding the resources alone will be a monumental task. But as importantly, what is the PLP's vision of education reform?
Thus far, we have heard mostly platitudes and generalities. To truly reform public education will require considerable improvement in the quality of teaching. There is no route to improving student performance without overhauling the manner in which we hire and evaluate teachers inclusive of issues of tenure and testing.
If we fail to get the human capital equation right, especially in areas like education training and innovation, our other public investments will account only for so much in terms of productivity and competition. In the area of training, our efforts should be targeted, consistent and practical, not wild-eyed about what may be possible given various cultural and sociological realities.
Also in terms of sociology, our great challenge in the area of human capital is building the capacity of scores of unemployed young people now facing formidable difficulties in terms of employment and the world of work. As critical, is the basic human development, education and training of young males, the source of both great economic potential and major crime.
And then there is the challenge of energy security amidst ever escalating energy costs which is vexing homeowners, businesses and the competitiveness of tourism and other industries.
The upcoming Rio+20 Summit, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, will again highlight the complexity of global environmental challenges including that of climate change.
At home, from ocean acidification to rising sea levels to biodiversity, we are faced with environmental challenges that are more than structural. They are elemental to our survival. In the question of drilling for oil in The Bahamas, the issues of environment and profit collide.
While we are all faced with these challenges, the ability of our political and business leaders to understand, navigate and communicate the new world and the new Bahamas we are facing will be pivotal.
When China shifted towards capitalism and Singapore transformed itself into an economic powerhouse, it was the collective insight and dynamism of its political, business and academic elites who made these countries cutting-edge economies. Though a smaller country we are faced with the same imperative. Are we, and our elites, up to the challenge?
The Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF) organization is proud to announce its 2nd Annual Golf Invitational to be held at Albany's 18-hole championship golf course, designed by golf icon Ernie Els, on Friday June 8, at 1:30 p.m.
"The BIFF Golf Tournament at Albany is designed to help raise funds for the film festival. We'd like to thank our host, Albany, and all of the tournament's sponsors and players, whose support is essential for the continued success of BIFF and its efforts to promote Bahamian and international filmmaking and to advance The Bahamas as an international film-making destination," said Andrew O'Brien, BIFF chairman.
For the second consecutive year, BIFF has partnered with CIBC FirstCaribbean, "We welcome CIBC FirstCaribbean's participation at this significant level, for the second consecutive year. With the bank's backing, BIFF is better able to support and promote the arts, independent film and culture within The Bahamas and the world," said Leslie Vanderpool, founder and executive director.
Retail Director Richard Phillips said, "CIBC FirstCaribbean is delighted to continue to assist BIFF with hosting the 2nd Annual Golf Invitational. We are pleased to assist and support BIFF's work, especially when the youth are involved. Promoting noteworthy activities within the communities in which we operate is key to our success, and this is a great opportunity to show our support."
This year's tournament promises to be even more exciting than 2011. CIBC FirstCaribbean will be well represented at the event with a team of four enthusiastic golfers and will also provide the players with gift bags filled with golfing gear.
All participants in the tournament will be poised to win the hole-in-one prize of a Mercedes Benz provided by Tyreflex Bahamas.
BIFF is also honored to provide an opportunity to promote our other partners in the spectacular setting of Albany. We wish to thank CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank, Coca Cola, SkyBahamas, Tillerman Securities, Western Hardware & Lumber Co. Ltd., RBC Royal Bank, Summit Insurance, Bahama Island Realty, Scotia Private Client Group, Majestic Tours, Credit Suisse, J.S. Johnson, Glinton Sweeting O'Brien, Everykey Global Partners, Bahama Islands Realty, Tyreflex, Mercedes, Nat Moore & Associates, Bahamasair, Bahama Divers, Bahama Hand Prints, Dermalogica, Schooner Bay, Bahama Ferries, A Stones Throw Away, JetBlue, Blu Restaurant, Olives, Winter Haven Hotel, Bimini Market Restaurant, Seafront Sushi, Old Fort Bay Club, Wyndham Resort, Poop Deck, Esso Bahamas, SandyToes Rose Island and Sign Post.
A wonderful addition to the fun-filled day on the links course will be the Bahamas National Junior Golf Team. Nat Moore will be sponsoring four players from this team to play at the BIFF Golf Invitational at Albany.
The players selected from the National Junior Golf team are Bijan Lockhart, Anecia Rolle, Brian Coakley and Chad Clarke. "I knew Nat would jump at the opportunity to sponsor the Bahamas National Junior Golf Team, youth initiatives have always been a very important part of Nat's philanthropy. While living in Miami many years ago, I worked for Nat, planning Celebrity Golf Tournaments and NFL Superbowl kick off events for the Youth, Nat continues to be a role model and a close friend," said Vanderpool.
"The Bahamas has always been a friend to me and the Miami Dolphins. My philanthropy efforts have made it possible to support many kids in the South Florida Community and beyond. My foundation mission is 'Helping Kids Help Themselves' and it is with great pleasure that I am able to support these young scholars, and hope they continue to strive for success and encourage them to pay it forward later in life," said Nat Moore.
Moore is a former American college and professional football player who was a wide receiver in the National Football League (NFL) for 13 seasons during the 1970s and 1980s. He played college football for the University of Florida, and thereafter, he played professionally for the Miami Dolphins in the NFL.
Moore is immortalized in the famous 'helicopter catch' while making a reception against the New York Jets, in Giants Stadium in 1984. He was hit simultaneously from opposite directions by two Jets tacklers, sending his body spinning into the air. The catch was a crucial third-down conversion, leading to a score and a come-from-behind win in a closely contested divisional game. By the time Moore retired, at the end of 1986, in his 13th season with the Dolphins, he had broken almost every receiving record for the Dolphins; his team records, however, were
quently broken by Dolphins wide receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper in the 1980s and 1990s. His final career receiving statistics were 510 catches for 7,547 yards and 74 touchdowns. He also rushed for 249 yards and a touchdown, returned 27 punts for 297 yards, and gained 856 yards on 33 kickoff returns.
He is known for his humanitarian work and philanthropy. In 1984, the NFL voted Moore as "Man of the Year", an honor given to a player who gives outstanding service to his community. Moore has also received the Byron White Humanitarian Award in 1986. He created the Nat Moore Foundation, an organization which works with disadvantaged youths in the Miami-Dade county area, in 1998.
On December 5, 1999 he was added to the Miami Dolphins honor roll.
Moore was a football broadcaster for Florida Gators football games on Sun Sports until 2011. As an announcer, he was notorious for adding an "s" to the last names of various players (Chris Leak became "Chris Leaks", Percy Harvin became "Harvins", etc.). In addition, he teams with Bob Griese to provide television analysis of preseason Dolphins games. He also owns a sports promotions firm, Nat Moore & Associates, Inc. He is a vice president in the Miami Dolphins organization and oversees the Miami Dolphins Alumni Association, and also serves as the executive director of the NFL Super Bowl Football Clinic.
About The Bahamas International Film Festival
The Bahamas International Film Festival is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the local community and international visitors with a diverse presentation of films from around the world. In addition to offering films that might not otherwise be released theatrically in The Bahamas, BIFF will provide a unique cultural experience, educational programs and forums for exploring the future of cinema.
Although former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham secured his long-held seat in the recent general election, Renardo Curry, the Progressive Liberal Party's (PLP) potential candidate for the North Abaco by-election, said yesterday he thinks Abaconians are ready to return the seat to the PLP, something they have not done in 25 years.
Curry said he thinks the Free National Movement's (FNM) candidate Greg Gomez is at a disadvantage in gathering support given his time spent abroad.
Gomez returned to The Bahamas last August, but previously lived in the United States for around 10 years, according to FNM Chairman Charles Maynard.
"The people are willing to give the opportunity now to the PLP and I feel in the end it will play out in my favor," Curry said. "I live among the people. I know their concerns after campaigning for over a year, and you would think I would be a better [representative]."
Ingraham secured his seat in the May 7 general election with 2,235 votes, beating
Curry, who had 1,856 votes.
In 2007, Ingraham won the North Abaco seat with 1,855 votes compared to the PLP's Fritz Bootle, who got 1,387 votes.
While the FNM ratified Gomez on Monday night, the PLP has not yet ratified a candidate for the by-election. But it is widely expected that Curry will run again on the PLP's ticket.
Asked whether Gomez would pose a serious challenge for the seat, Curry replied, "I can't say [whether] the people would consider. [They may choose] to stick with the FNM.
"I don't know. I understand Mr. Ingraham...is actively involved behind the scenes. We know that it's not just going to be Gomez we have to deal with, but also Mr. Ingraham."
With fewer than 400 votes between Ingraham and Curry, PLPs believe he has a strong chance of winning the seat.
Curry said the difference in votes is a reflection of his support, which he said has increased since then.
He said after putting in the groundwork and his recent performance against Ingraham, he hopes the PLP will push him forward.
Prime Minister Perry Christie, who spoke to reporters outside Cabinet yesterday, said that while he thinks Curry is the party's choice, the PLP's candidates committee will meet later this week to deliberate, and an official announcement will follow shortly after.
"I would have thought Mr. Curry was going to be our candidate so we could cut to the quick on that, but it's a process we have to go through and I'm not sure whether anyone else has applied," he said.
"It would seem to me that he would have a distinct advantage over any other candidate."
Curry said he plans to place emphasis on job creation programs through central and local government projects, which would include the establishment of a job placement program for college graduates; a technical learning institution such as BTVI on Abaco, and he also plans to support National Health Insurance.
Curry said he will return to Abaco on Friday to continue campaigning, and expects PLP officials to join him on the ground in the coming weeks.
"Obviously we are going to contest the by-election and we're going to try to say to the people of Abaco who are in the North Abaco constituency, that it is best for them to have our man elected," Christie added.
A by-election must be held within 60 days of Ingraham's resignation, which takes effect on August 31.
Ingraham is expected to make a farewell speech in Parliament today.
He was elected MP for the constituency eight consecutive times -- once as an independent, twice as a PLP and five times as an FNM.
Ingraham observed his 35th anniversary as an MP last Thursday, the day he handed in his resignation letter to Speaker of the House of Assembly Dr. Kendal Major.
Authoritative, and easy to read, the newly released The Bahamas Investor magazine contains something for everyone - from Bahamian professionals to foreign investors and wealth managers.
With the needs and wants of foreign investors and wealth management practitioners at the top of its editorial agenda, the biannual magazine focuses on offshore wealth management strategies, opportunities for direct investment and the lifestyle advantages available in The Bahamas.
Produced by Etienne Dupuch Jr Publications, The Bahamas Investor has the perfect mix of industry analysis and human interest.
A great promotional tool for the government and the private sector, The Bahamas Investor is solely focused on The Bahamas, its advantages and opportunities in the fields of investment and financial services.
This issue's cover story shines the spotlight on one of the upcoming stars of financial services in The Bahamas, Aliya Allen, the newly appointed managing director and chief executive officer of the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB). Assuming the position at the beginning of the year, the 34-year-old is charged with promoting the nation's second largest industry as the offshore financial jurisdiction of choice. Given the competitive environment, it's a formidable task, but Allen says she is prepared to put in the "legwork" needed to raise the jurisdiction's visibility on the international stage.
Other key interviews in this issue include question and answer sessions with UBS' Wealth Management Division Chief Executive Officer Ju?rg Zeltner and Michele Fields, the newly appointed superintendent of the Insurance Commission of The Bahamas, as well as a profile of Cheryl Bazard, founding president of the Bahamas Association of Compliance Officers (BACO).
Heading the Investment section of this issue is the Bimini Bay Resort and Marina, which is poised to expand further with the groundbreaking of the neighboring luxury residential community Rockwell Island Beach Resorts.
The developer behind Bimini's north island renaissance is RAV Bahamas, which has joined forces with international property management company RockResorts.
RockResorts, a subsidiary of Vail Resorts Inc (NYSE: MTN), was originally created in 1956 by Laurance Rockefeller. The brand now includes 27 properties and hotels spanning six countries. With such resort management expertise backing the project, Rockwell Island Beach Resorts could well help put Bimini on the map as a premier destination for high-end luxury island living.
This issue also carries a special real estate supplement, Island Living, which has a wealth of information for investors looking to buy property in the island paradise and a 32-page Legal Directory-a vital resource for anyone doing business in the jurisdiction. There is also a special section on Grand Bahama in this issue.
More than two dozen former City Market employees waited outside the House of Assembly on Wednesday in an effort to address the issue of their severance packages to Prime Minister Perry Christie and Minister of Labour and National Insurance Shane Gibson.
As Gibson exited the House, he saw the crowd of around 30 workers and subsequently decided to address them.
Gibson said Bahamas Supermarkets Limited's (BSL) President Mark Finlayson has assured the Ministry of his commitment to pay the employees.
"It is not the case that they are denying that they owe the money, it is the fact that after we were awarded $2.8 million in court they are not paying the money - not one penny so far," former inventory control auditor at City Market, Wanslaw Turnquest told the labour minister.
The purchase of City Market was finalized last month with owner of Super Value, Rupert Roberts.
Turnquest said employees are also looking to be paid monies from the company's pension fund.
Asked whether the government plans to intervene, Gibson said it has been dealing with the situation since day one.
"We met with them; they agreed money was owed and they keep saying it's going to be paid, and that is why I'm suggesting to Mr. Turnquest to file an injunction to at least take control of the pension plan."
However, Prime Minister Perry Christie, who exited the House shortly after Gibson, told Turnquest he would do whatever is necessary to resolve the matter.
"I do understand that your people are suffering; I understand that, and I am prepared to address it," Christie said.
The prime minister said he will meet with Turnquest, Gibson and if necessary Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson.
"You are now going to meet with the prime minister," Christie said. "I am going to use my office to assist you in the best way I can. It'll be [in] a very transparent and accountable way, and it will be intended to get results for you."
The National Insurance Board (NIB) has assisted the 300 workers in gaining 50 percent of their weekly salary for 13 weeks, but months after BSL closed its final City Market locations many of them told The Nassau Guardian that even with the help they are "struggling to survive".
Kim Bodie, former dairy frozen food manger, said he is tired of the rectoric.
"I have a son to put back in school, mortage payments, the bills are piling up and I have to live."
Roscoe Rolle, who is still unemployed, said he is facing dire financial challenges, and expects the government to settle the millions of dollars owed to them.
In May 2005, the previous Christie administration paid out an unprecedented $5 million of the $6.12 million that Driftwood Freeport Ltd., the former owner of Royal Oasis, owed in redundancy pay to 900 displaced workers.
"I have no income coming in with children ages 15, 11, nine and two and their father is not working," said Letitia Johnson, a mother of four and former employee of five years, who was evicted last month after failing to meet rent payments.
"I don't have anything. What should I do as a mother? What should I tell my kids at the end of the day when they cry and say the are hungry?"
Gibson reaffirmed his commitment to introduce legislation to protect employee pensions.
The statistics are alarming. Businesses, banks, insurance companies, telecoms, utilities, government departments and enterprises that handle funds or sell services are as vulnerable as retailers to fraud and theft, but suffer even more in accidental overpayments, together causing losses of up to six percent annually.
But until recently, uncovering that type of fraud among service providers was much harder to detect and even harder to control.
Now, thanks to a consulting firm that has recovered millions of dollars for Bahamian and Caribbean firms, detection and control are becoming reality, including here where the National Insurance Board was able to use the system to capture and stamp out double entries.
On Thursday, Marlon Cooper, managing director of Symptai Consulting Limited, will be in Nassau to conduct a two-hour workshop expected to be packed with invited guests from financial services, utilities, accounting firms, law offices, hotels and other entities. The event will be held at the British Colonial Hilton at 10 a.m. and is free.
"It's been estimated by a major accounting firm that it takes an average of 342 days to discover fraud in a workplace and by that time 89 percent of the proceeds are unrecoverable," said Cooper, who has trained more than 1,000 audit and control professionals across the Caribbean. "In companies dealing with products, it's easier to detect and trace, but in service companies it is much harder to detect. With this software designed by CaseWare, we are able to ensure that good governance structures are in place so that once there is an exception, it's captured," said Cooper. "People find creative ways to avoid paying for services."
Cooper works locally with forensic accountant John S. Bain, whose expertise has assisted in complex court cases, tracing partnerships, settling conflicts, managing civil and criminal matters.
"We take care of the things that keep people up at night," said Cooper.
A controversial Baptist pastor is asking his colleagues opposed to the legalization of gambling to support the establishment of a special fund, and make regular financial donations for national development programs.
Mount Calvary Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Philip McPhee said he is willing to donate 10 percent of his church's collection every month to the public purse as the government struggles to increase sources of revenue.
He said for those who do not see the approaching referendum as a unifying option, "then together we [must] find a collective pattern that is acceptable to all".
"I would be prepared to lead the way in setting aside 10 percent of our ministry's contribution per month towards specific national developments," McPhee said in a statement.
Noting that the government has a substantial revenue challenge, he said, "The churches already have the means to collect significant funds.
"We can bring together these pockets of economic systems and develop a singular corporate entity with specific, agreeable goals. So both the church and the state have the means to pool resources for specific national development."
He said some people give offerings to churches only to be told that these churches can't help them.
McPhee came under fire recently -- in and out of religious circles -- for saying he accepts donations from a numbers house.
The Christie administration plans to bring a gambling referendum by the end of the year.
If Bahamians vote in support of legalizing gambling then the government would tax the industry.
McPhee said clergymen opposed to the idea should come forward with solid plans for the country's progress, including
committing some of their churches' revenue to the government, instead of only talking about what they do not want.
He added that churches have a significant revenue stream that is untaxed like the illegal number houses.
"We all agree that the gambling houses, like the church, are significant sources of income, none of which are presently taxed or contribute up front to our many national challenges," he said.
McPhee also proposes that the government "look at the National Insurance Board as an existing structure that collects resources and develop a national pool to assist with the various national challenges and needs".
"This is a broad idea, and the experts can refine and develop it, but just as that entity is used in limited ways, the government can extend the usage of this vehicle to further develop our people. That to me is the role of the state."
Two weeks ago, McPhee told The Nassau Guardian that he organized a meeting between 'We Care' -- a coalition of web shop owners -- and a group of about 20 local pastors, including three members of the Bahamas Christian Council.
After the meeting, McPhee said the pastors had become 'sensitized' to the contributions numbers houses make to national development.
The comments placed McPhee on the receiving end of criticism from members of the Christian Council.
Several church leaders have also denounced the upcoming referendum and have urged people not to vote in favor of legalized gambling for Bahamians.
However, McPhee defended his actions and said he meant to start a public discourse on the issue not a war with the Christian Council.
"It was not my intent then or now to pick a fight with the Christian Council or other pastors that have since called me out on this issue," McPhee said. "But I would like to take this opportunity to call on all and sundry to have a real conversation on what is now before us."
McPhee told The Nassau Guardian in an earlier interview that he has sent needy people to the operators of numbers houses for help and that a numbers house sponsored his boat in regattas.
McPhee maintains that he does not support gambling.
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Nearly 30,000 pensioners have received a 4.6 percent increase in benefits implemented by the National Insurance Board this month, Guardian Business can confirm.
During his contribution in the House of Assembly yesterday, Minister of Labour and National Insurance Shane Gibson revealed to parliamentarians that the increases were made to make the National Insurance Board (NIB) more relevant and viable.
The increases, which include a boost in the wage ceiling from $500 to $600, as well as increases in the retirement and funeral benefits and maternity grants, all took effect July 1.
"For retirement benefits, the minimum pension will be increased from $287 to $301 and for the old age non-contributory pension, the minimum will be increased from $245 to $256," Gibson noted.
"Regular adjustments to the NIB pension ensure that the pensioners are able to maintain the same standard as the prices of goods and services increases. Funeral benefits will be increased from $1,600 to $1,680 and the maternity grant will be increased from $430 to $450."
Gibson pointed out that every two years, NIB pensioners will receive an increase based on the cumulative rate of inflation experienced over the previous years. However, he noted there will be no further increases until 2014.
"Inflation in 2009 and 2010 were 1.4 percent and 3.2 percent respectively. And so the increases granted this year are a combined 4.6 percent. This is the rate by which the benefits of almost 30,000 pensioners were increased just last week," he said.
Gibson said several changes were brought into effect at NIB this month. "The age at which persons will be able to receive their retirement benefits and earn any amount in wages was reduced from 70-65. Previously, persons over 60 but less than 70 who earned an income of more than half of the contribution ceiling were ineligible to receive retirement benefits," according to the Labour and National Insurance minister.
"In the case of retirees who choose to delay applying for their pension award until after age 65, their award is now increased by seven percent for each year delayed. This counter balances the current regulation whereby we reduce the pension by seven percent for every year that the person claims prior to attaining age 65. If someone currently claims at age 60, for example, they lose 35 percent of their pension."
He further noted that orphans can continue to receive a survivors benefit even if they are in school part-time. "The previous requirement was after age 16 and up to age 21, they had to be in school full-time."
He also revealed that widows and widowers can now receive a survivors benefit if they were married for less than one year. "The requirement before was that they had to be married for at least one year. We removed the restriction that the sickness benefit could not be paid if sickness was the result of drug or alcohol abuse. The Invalidity benefit is also payable if invalidity was due to either of these causes."
The Labour and National Insurance minister also confirmed that the period for claiming most of NIB's benefits have been reduced from six to three months. This was done to ensure the timeliness of claims information.
"The sole exception is the funeral benefit which has changed from 12 months to six months. Paid vacation was not previously articulated in the unemployment benefits regulations, but now such payments will delay the start of the benefit. Basic wages now include productivity pay for certain classes of workers. This means better coverage of their regular earnings which will be included in the benefits now as well."
With funding being secured for the upcoming Acklins Regatta, chairman Curtis Hanna is ready for the sloops to hit the water.
The two-day race event, being held in honor of 'King' Eric Gibson, got financial assistance from Palm Cay Marina Living. The home-coming festival will get underway August 3-6.
'King' Eric said: "In my whole life of traveling and dealing with people, I have never heard anyone who is so enlightened and excited about what is going on. I know that he is not doing this just for speech. I am positive that this is from his heart. The things that he comes up with, only 'King' Eric or Sir Durward Knowles can come up with it in this country. I've been listening and have been around for a long time and this guy (Palm Cay Marina CEO Richard Browning), if it is possible, I will recruit him as a member of my committee. I will definitely find out if it is possible and do so, and officially get him on because the ideas that you have for regattas, the advancement for the people and the country, are incredible. I can't get over it."
Mr Browning has launched his full support behind local regattas. The financial assistance offered is just the beginning for Browning, who got involved earlier in the year with the introduction of the Sir Durward Knowles Cup. Browning promised that he will continue to back regattas and will continue his involvement in the sport. He said that he will do all he can to ensure that regattas are successful.
"It is something as developers creating a new lifestyle we lose track of, what we think as modern lifestyles, and so often we forget about the traditions that keep the country going," said Browning. "If we lose sight of that we lose a whole lot. As a visitor to the country it is always important to understand what made the country strong and the people strong. In that way we need to show our respect of that. We started at the beginning of the year with the Sir Durward Knowles trophy. It is a floating trophy for the Montagu Regatta. Sir Durward will decide year by year where he wishes to present that, around The Bahamas at the various regatta events.
"'King' Eric and I are working on a number of different things together. This will not only look at the tradition of the regatta season but also to bring it up to date. One of those things is obviously the Acklins regatta. We feel like we actively need to give some support to that and see if we can make it a big success, like it normally is. It is a smaller island and it needs all the external support it can get, and we feel that through Palm Cay in the capital we can get to do something to assist all of the islands around here. We want to be integrated into the whole Bahamas. We thank 'King' Eric for his assistance and we thank the government and hopefully we can work together closely."
The regatta will feature top boats from around The Bahamas competing in the three major classes. 'King' Eric also challenged Browning and Minister of Labour and National Insurance to a race in the upcoming regattas. Minister Shane Gibson, who sat in for V. Alfred Gray, the minister with responsibility for regattas, thanked Browning for his contribution. The Gibsons are descendants of Acklins. Minister Gibson said: "It is always good to see these type of things happening for Acklins where persons from the corporate Bahamas can step forward. Even though these are really trying and difficult times economically, despite that they are still able to come forward and make generous and sizeable donations to the events such as regattas. Being a son of a sailor, it always gives me great pleasure to see that the sport is still alive. I know personally how expensive it is to put on regattas."
A top rating agency has downgraded the Family Guardian Insurance Company.
A.M. Best Company made the determination yesterday, revising the BISX-listed firm's financial strength rating from "A-" to "B++", or from excellent to good. Its issuer credit rating also took a hit, falling from "a-" to "bbb+".
However, the rating agency has now classified the overall outlook from negative to stable.
The move, according to the rating agency, reflects Family Guardian's "high concentration in mortgage loans relative to its total equity and the continued delinquencies in its mortgage loan portfolio, which are attributable to the current weak economic
environment in The Bahamas".
A.M Best also noted some improvements at the firm, such as a decline in mortgage loans as a percentage of total investment assets as well as a percentage of total capital.
Indeed, according to Famguard Corporation Limited's first quarter results, the parent company recorded a 54.4 percent net income increase. Famguard was aided by a 7.9 percent dip in total policyholder benefits paid out, the report noted. Gross policyholder benefits dropped by 18.6 percent to $15.508 million, from $19.057 million the previous year.
Total benefits and expenses declined $26.751 million to $25.661 million year-on-year.
The rating agency also acknowledged a trend of improving results in Family Guardian's group health division. The firm has recorded growth in premium income, and over the past five years achieved an annual rate of premium growth of 13 percent.
"A.M. Best also notes that the company trends favorably when it comes to profitability and capital with consistent growth in stockholders' equity, despite dividend payments. Family Guardian's three core business segments - home service, financial services and group division led by BahamaHealth - provide business diversification and competitive advantages in a generally limited and mature marketplace," according to the rating agency.
Nevertheless, it is felt the overall performance poses a challenge to the longer-term financial results and growth opportunities.
Increased delinquency rates in the mortgage loan portfolio, adverse operating profitability and an overall deterioration of the Bahamian economic environment were cited as key factors that could result in negative rating actions for Family Guardian.
Famguard is now focused on its alliance with Aetna, a third party healthcare provider, for 2012 and 2013. The alliance is intended to boost the services for policyholders both domestically and abroad.
A.M. Best assigned an issuer credit rating of "bb+" to Famguard, with a stable outlook.
Construction on the $14 million mini-hospital in Exuma is nearly 25 percent complete, Guardian Business can confirm.
In April, The National Insurance Board and Reef Construction Company Ltd. signed a contract for the construction of the community hospital. At that time, construction was estimated to take approximately 60 weeks.
Vernon Wells, owner of Reef Construction, shared with Guardian Business that the project is on time and on budget.
He is hoping that the mini-hospital will be completed by next June, as outlined in the contract.
"As it stands now, we are still on time and on budget. We are shooting for next June. That's our contract date. If we can get it done before, we would love for that to happen but we are confident that it can be done in time," he explained. "We have been on-site since late April and we have just been put on the first section of roofing and sheeting on the western side. So we are moving along pretty good, despite the challenges we are having with the labor force. It's been difficult but we have been able to make reasonable progress."
However, Wells noted that the most challenging part of the construction process has been finding skilled labor in Exuma to assist with the project, as building a hospital requires intense detail work.
"At this point, the labor force has been a bit weak. Building a hospital is a little bit more intense as far as detail work is concerned on the inside. The shell of the building is not difficult, that's always the easiest part to put up. It's finishing the inside work that takes the time. Hopefully, we will get to that part in another couple of months," he said.
Reef Construction's chief confirmed to Guardian Business that anywhere from 60 to 75 people have been working on the project so far on any given day. To date, Wells pointed out that approximately 20 percent of the funds have been spent on the hospital's construction.
The 30,000 square foot mini hospital will be outfitted with 10 beds, an operating table, a dental facility, physiotherapy, a morgue and an emergency and trauma area.
"I think the Exumians should be quite proud of it when it's finished. I am really anxious to get it done but Exuma right now only has a clinic which is very limited in its offerings," Wells added.
The island's chief councilor Godfrey Gray recently told Guardian Business that Exuma is in desperate need of better facilities that reflect the modern development that is being experienced on that island, as the current healthcare facilities are extremely inadequate.
"The upgrades are urgently needed because we have been without proper facilities for a very long time. The medical facilities are extremely inadequate, especially when you consider the type of resorts that we have on the island like Sandals," Gray said.
A recent downgrade of Family Guardian Insurance Company is the result of a "one-size-fits-all" approach, says the president of the firm's parent company Famguard Corporation Limited, as the standards of the U.S. economy are not necessary "in sync" with the situation in The Bahamas.
"The focus on mortgage loans, we felt, was out of sync with this market. Our loan concentration has actually improved when we had a rating of 'A-'," said Patricia Hermanns.
A.M Best, the top rating agency, downgraded Family Guardian by revising its financial strength from "A-" to "B++", or from excellent to good. Its issuer rating also fell down a notch. However, the rating agency has now classified the overall outlook from negative to stable.
The top executive at Famguard told Guardian Business that the BISX-listed firm's delinquency rate within the mortgage portfolio is in good standing at 7 percent, which is well below the national average of 13 percent.
Hermanns said it is unclear on what basis A.M Best focused so heavily on mortgage loans. In The Bahamas, she said, mortgage loans are often administered on a more intimate, individual basis.
This country does not have the same kind of experience as North America, she explained.
Hermanns noted that A.M Best claimed that Family Guardian's growth opportunities are limited, and yet at the same time, the rating agency acknowledged that it had achieved meaningful growth despite the harsh economic conditions.
In fact, Family Guardian recorded growth in premium income, and over the past five years achieved an annual rate of premium growth of 13 percent.
Eva Sverdlova, a senior financial analyst at A.M. Best, explained to Guardian Business from New Jersey that the limited investment market, combined with a relatively sluggish economy, could not be ignored.
Pointing out that Family Guardian's financials "are not poor", macro economic factors nevertheless placed the firm at risk, and conditions are not getting any better.
"The prolonged exposure to these risks contributed to the downgrade. It is part of a perfect storm that forced us to make that step," according to Sverdlova.
When asked if other companies in The Bahamas should be wary of a downgrade, the senior analyst said: "Probably not this year".
"I can't say for sure. There could be rating changes next year, when the annual rating comes about. It will depend mostly on the economic conditions, and the fact that in June of last year you had the downgrade to the economy. That also didn't help Family Guardian."
The A.M Best senior analyst highlighted that, for now, the insurance industry as a whole enjoys a stable outlook. The ratings are considered global, she noted, and a person looking at a Bahamian rating in the U.S. should expect it to be at the same level and standards.
While exposure in the mortgage portfolio was a strong reason for the downgrade, Sverdlova further explained that A.M. Best "does not look positively" on any concentration of assets. It noted overall performance poses a challenge to the longer-term financial results and growth opportunities.
Famguard, the parent company, was issued a rating of stable by A.M Best.
Advertising could make the difference between a business failing or succeeding. And it's with this premise in mind that one local company has hit the streets and invested tens of thousands just to ensure its clientele receives the right exposure.
Opening its doors in 2008, Bahamas Outdoor Media Ltd. is a company that specializes in outdoor advertising.
In this week's edition of 'Da Plunge', Demalus Curry, the company's president, revealed that Bahamas Outdoor Media Ltd. was created with the intent of providing customers with another form of direct advertising.
"We were looking at non-traditional ways to help businesses expose themselves, looking for new advertising locations and assisting customers with strategically placing their ads. We also look at directly targeting their
clientele, versus advertising to the masses in other media forms. Our company provides a better direct advertising approach," according to Curry.
The president noted that he has pumped close to $80,000 into the business, but admits it's been a worthwhile investment because business has been promising so far.
"Over the years, customers have told us that their businesses have been impacted tremendously as a result of our services. Some companies have even cut back advertising because of our direct approach," he shared. "We have customers who have actually placed advertisements in the hospitals, especially the pharmaceutical and insurance companies. Our clients can place ads in hospitals, the airport and bus shelters."
The company's chief shared with Guardian Business that he has four employees including himself, his wife, an account executive and a graphic designer.
He also revealed that Bahamas Outdoor Media Ltd. recently launched its 'walking billboard' service. It's a service that he believes will be most beneficial in the downtown area.
"Our approach at reaching consumers is different in that we are targeting impulse buys and awareness with the use of our unique advertising medium, the walking billboard. If you use our advertising billboards with your promotion, you have the best chance at gaining customers right now as we target by impulse," Curry explained. "We want to be able to give our clients another means of targeting their customers. The main strategy behind it is for it to be used in the downtown area and at promotional events where companies may have a hard time targeting persons.
"For example, if you are talking about some place like the Fish Fry, there is no form of advertising other than Kalik ads or companies that do the wraps on the buildings. With our initiative, companies will be able to penetrate certain areas in the country to actually target customers."
While Curry hopes to be the first choice in advertising for companies one day, in the meantime he said there are a number of projects that he and his team are currently working on.
"If a company decides its wants to try a new or old form of advertising, we want to be a part of that decision making process. We have a few more projects that we are working on, where we are awaiting the necessary government approvals in order for us to launch those specific projects," he added.
Around 119,000 Bahamians have registered to vote in the next general election, Parliamentary Commissioner Errol Bethel told The Nassau Guardianyesterday.
Of that total, 50,000 are from Grand Bahama and the Family Islands, Bethel confirmed.
He suggested registration has slowed in recent weeks because people think the recent closing of the old voter register meant the closing of voter registration altogether. Registration will continue until an election is called and Bethel encouraged Bahamians to continue to register.
Bethel said his department probably did not even register 1,000 voters this past week.
The department issued a public notice yesterday asking Bahamians to take advantage of the registration locations that are open today at the Parliamentary Registration Department, the Mall at Marathon and the Town Centre Mall. Those locations will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
The notice also reminded the public that registration centers at the Parliamentary Registration Department, the Mall at Marathon, the Town Centre Mall, the National Insurance Board, Baillou Hill Road, Lowes Pharmacy, Soldier Road, the South Beach Post Office, the Carmichael Post Office, the Elizabeth Estates Post Office, the General Post Office and Super Value Food Store, Mackey Street, will be open August 8 to 12 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Evening registration centers will be open at the Parliamentary Registration Department, the Mall at Marathon, and the Town Centre Mall from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
"The public is reminded that only Bahamian citizens 18 years and older are eligible to register to vote and applicants are required to produce proof of citizenship," the notice read.
Bethel said there is still a lot of work for his department to do considering that the boundaries commission has not yet met.
"After the boundaries commission is done, then voters cards will be issued," he said. "There is lots of work for the Parliamentary Registration Department."
Total revenue fell in the first quarter of this year by $85.3 million, or 19 percent, led by a marked decline in tax receipts and non-trade stamp tax.
The disclosure, included in the Central Bank's Quarterly Economic Review, reveals that government budgetary operations recorded a deficit of $74.7 million. Tax receipts, accounting for the lion's share of total revenue collections, dropped by more than 22 percent, or $94.7 million. The report further stated that non-trade stamp taxes were slashed by half to $39 million. It explained that the sale of an oil company accounted for an usual high boost in revenue last year for this category.
The fall in revenue was also felt in selective taxes on services, declining 36.9 percent, or $8.1 million. Departure tax receipts dropped 7.2 percent, or $2.2 million.
Meanwhile, as revenue dropped, expenditures were on the rise.
"Current spending, which accounted for 85.4 percent of total outlays, grew by 2.9 percent to $375 million, and capital expenditures rose by 14.6 percent to $53.5 million," the report noted. "However, net lending to public corporations declined by 28.4 percent to $10.5 million."
The spike in current outlays was fueled primarily by higher tourism and transportation-led expenditures, the report noted. Capital expenditure gains came from the government's ongoing infrastructure development program, such as the road works.
The silver lining came in the form of consumption related to spending, which showed growth of 6.5 percent, or $14.3 million.
In its overall assessment, the Central Bank said the Bahamian economy continued to grow at a modest pace. It highlighted poor employment conditions as a key ongoing challenge, and rising prices and inflation are also putting on strain on the economy.
That said, the report revealed considerable progress in the tourism sector.
Expanded airlift, ongoing travel incentives and a recovery in group business made for a relatively successful first quarter in the sector.
"Overall tourism arrivals were up 10.8 percent to approximately 1.7 million," it stated.
While air arrivals took a big seven percent hit last year, the first quarter saw a promising recovery of 11.2%. The Family Islands specifically saw a similar gain of 3.3 percent in air arrivals.
In terms of construction, the first quarter showed robust large-scale foreign investments in the hotel sector, spurred by the ongoing Baha Mar project. Domestic private sector construction activity was "comparatively lackluster".
"Mortgage disbursements for new construction and repairs, as reported by domestic banks, insurance companies and the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation, were lower by 32.4 percent at $27.5 million, extending the prior year's 15.4 percent fall-off. In particular, residential activity contracted by 33.4 percent to $26.7 million, relative to last year's 2.8 percent decrease."
New mortgage commitments for buildings and repairs revealed that the sector is very much in recovery mode. Total commitments fell more than 44 percent, to 26 projects.
Commercial loan commitments also experienced a decline.
After suffering a difficult 2011, J.S. Johnson's consolidated net income declined once again, this time by 42.49 percent in the first quarter compared to the same period last year.
Falling from $2.61 million to $1.506 million, consolidated net income fell partly due to a declining revenues stemming from a rough economy.
"The business is not making as much commission as last year, as a result of tough economic times. Insurance is often a business that suffers," said Jamaal Stubbs, senior analyst at CFAL.
"Insurance is called a valued expense, but it is often undervalued. When you trying to make ends meet, sometimes it gets cut."
Although premium income remained steady, net commissions and fees fell 28 percent in the first quarter, according to the BISX-listed company's report.
"Net claims incurred is trending back to normalcy and is down by 59 percent. This was partly offset by an increase in net unrealized losses on investments in securities; however, total expenses were down by 7 percent, a step in the right direction," the report added.
The "normalcy" in claims was returned, management said, chiefly due to last year's unusual high claims from Hurricane Irene and major fires.
The company said "good news" could be found in that all major classes of business recorded underwriting profits in the first quarter.
J.S. Johnson expressed hope the second quarter would yield better results, and that the BISX-listed firm can still achieve budge projections for the year.
Total assets as of March fell by nearly $9 million, spurred by declines in reinsurance recoveries and reinsurance premiums. Liabilities shrunk by 17.45 percent to $42.97 million.
Despite recent difficulties, J.S. Johnson is known for high dividend yields.
The BISX-listed firm is paying 313 basis points above the current market average. J.S. Johnson managed to maintain 2011 dividend levels despite recording a 25 percent net income drop that year. Its experience last year was not abnormal. Hurricane Irene caused widespread losses across the sector.
An almost $1.7 million increase in net claims accounted for J.S. Johnson's $2.4 million net income drop.
Also of note for the company is the retirement of Marvin V. Bethell, the long-standing managing director. He will remain on the board of directors.