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News Article
This land is our land - not the Crown's

The economic success of all countries is determined by the availability and judicious use of the four essential national assets: Food, energy resources, land and human capital. The Bahamas has an abundance of all of these assets, but we have not availed ourselves or made the best use of them. Here I wish to focus on our land assets: Crown land, generation property and land registration.
1. The term "Crown land" needs to be changed to "state land", as this land belongs to the Bahamian people and not the Crown in England.
2. All state land should be recognized as residential, commercial, industrial, touristic, farmland, wetlands and forestry.
3. All state land should then be placed in a national land bureau that would be mandated by government, but managed by the private sector in a fair and transparent way.
4. The Bahamas Mortgage Corporation (BMC) and the Bahamas Development Bank (BDB) would then be recapitalized with funds from the government, the National Insurance Board, pension funds and the private sector. It would also be necessary to repopulate the management and board of directors of each of these financial institutions with a team of qualified and accountable persons. These two entities would then become the primary lending facilities for persons desirous of purchasing a piece of state land.
The BMC would be responsible for funding residential purchases at a rate of three to five percent interest and the BDB for all other non-residential purchases (commercial, industrial and touristic), but at a higher rate of interest (five to seven percent) because of the greater risk involved. No land zoned forestry or wetlands would be sold and any farmland would only be leased. Foreign entities would be prohibited from buying any land earmarked for tourism but, where appropriate, would be able to lease the land on a long term basis.
I am of the opinion that if this approach was to be adopted, then the best use could be made of what Crown/state land is still available and the procurement process would be fair and transparent.
At present, all of the Crown/state land is controlled by the Office of the Prime Minister. This office single handedly determines the distribution of all Crown/state land. There is never any public disclosure of these transactions, the criteria used in the allocation process, the current status of how much land is available, who the current lease holders are, whether or not the land is being used for its intended purpose and if the current lease holders are up to date on their payments.
Such an opaque system lends itself to abuse, corruption and nepotism.
This new approach would provide the opportunity for many Bahamians to purchase land relatively inexpensively. They would then have a chance to own a piece of the rock and build a home. This creates economic activity in the form of mortgage payments, construction, jobs, sale of household goods, real property taxes and utility bill payments.
Another positive economic impact of this approach would be increased competition in the banking system for mortgages, which would result in lower mortgage payments and thus more disposable income for other mortgagees, which would result in more economic activity in the country.
There are acres and acres of generation property all over The Bahamas, especially in The Family Islands. There is no reason why this land cannot be regularized and the rightful owners be granted clear title to their properties. There are commonage laws that could be used to rectify this situation and if additional laws are needed then they could be enacted. Granted, this would be an arduous task. And yes there would be many disputes. But it needs to be sorted out. Once this problem is resolved there would be hundreds of new Family Island millionaires, who would then have access to land, which they would be able to sell, build on or use as collateral for whatever purpose.
The transaction costs (stamp duty, realty fees and legal fees) associated with the sale/purchase of land are too high and are a deterrent to any potential land sales.
The present arrangement adds to the overall structural inflation that all Bahamians must endure. The legal profession justifies its fee structure based on the time and effort it takes to do the relevant title search and the potential for litigation if there are any problems. The simple solution to this is to adopt a system of land registration which would reduce the time required for the search, the chance of litigation and the cost of legal fees. Stamp duty, legal fees and realty fees would be based on a flat rate that would range between $250 to $1,000 per transaction, depending on the value. This scenario would result in a win-win situation for all parties, as there would be an increase in the number of real estate transactions. Any income lost on the swing would be gained on the roundabout.
Such land reform would benefit all Bahamians, the government and the Bahamian economy. After all, economics is about making the best use of available resources and land is certainly one of these resources.

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News Article
TCI Marks World Wetlands Day 2011
TCI Marks World Wetlands Day 2011

Turks & Caicos - On February 2nd of each year the world celebrates its wetlands. This day marks the signing of the Convention on Wetlands that took place in the Iranian City of Ramsar in 1971.

However, Wetlands Day was not celebrated until 1997. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness and appreciation of the significance of the wetlands and of their contributions to the world ecosystem.

The international theme for World Wetlands Day 2011 is "wetlands and forests - forests for water and wetlands" in celebration of the United Nations International

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News Article
Christie opens phase two of Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve

GOVERNOR'S HARBOUR, Eleuthera - Phase two of the Leon Levy Plant Preserve is officially open. A ceremony marking the event was held on Friday, April 11 at the sanctuary in Governor's Harbour, Eleuthera.
Prime Minister Perry Christie officially opened the event. A delegation, which included Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe; Minister of State for Legal Affairs and Member of Parliament for Central and South Eleuthera Damian Gomez; Minister of the Environment and Housing Kenred Dorsett, and Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle, accompanied him. Also in attendance were the former Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette and his wife.
Lauding the contributions of non-Bahamians to the country, Christie said he was extremely pleased by this gesture of goodwill.
"There are people who come to The Bahamas and make meaningful contributions to this country, " he said. "This project exemplifies such a case."
Christie said that the preserve could serve as a 'model' for other parks in the country, in addition to being an attraction for visitors and Bahamians. Further, he said that parks such as the preserve could be used to facilitate research in order for people to learn about various plants and their medicinal benefits.
The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve is a 25-acre, ecologically-sustainable sanctuary created jointly by the Bahamas National Trust and the Leon Levy Foundation. The Foundation was founded in 2004 and is a non-profit organization created from the estate of Leon Levy, an investor whose family has a home on the island of Eleuthera.
Shelby White, Levy's wife, approached the Bahamas National Trust in 2006 about setting up a memorial for her husband in Eleuthera. Consequently, the Leon Levy Plant Preserve was created. White said that she felt tremendously 'honored' to be able to realize this dream in her husband's memory, and hopes that it would make a major contribution to the island of Eleuthera.
"The preserve has already welcomed more than 10,000 visitors and has helped make Eleuthera a must-visit tourist destination," said White. "We hope more visitors will join us to experience the real Bahamas, the mangrove boardwalk, the fresh water wetlands, our orchid strewn trails, the tower which affords a 360-degree view of the island, glimpses of native birds, including the rare Kirtland's Warbler, and even our collection of poisonous plants."
Serving as the master of ceremonies was Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) Eric Carey. The Central Eleuthera High School Band and Brendalee Petty provided entertainment.
Following the opening, the Christie and his delegation were led on a tour of the compound and were also treated to a tasting of teas and infusions made from local plants grown at the preserve.

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News Article
The Bahamas National Trust participates in second annual Caribbean Waterbird Census

FREEPORT, Grand Bahama -- The Caribbean Waterbird Census is a region-wide waterbird and wetland monitoring program sponsored by The Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds. The goal of this program is to learn more about the distribution, status, and abundance of waterbirds in the Caribbean to improve our conservation planning and management of these beautiful birds and their habitats.
One region-wide count is organized in the winter where everyone counts at the same time during the middle of winter (when birds are most stationary) to get a "snapshot" of waterbird population numbers and habitat use throughout the Caribbean.
An inland pond and a beach were selected as the sites to be monitored as this allows for a wider range of waterbirds to be included in the census.  Each site will be visited a total of three times throughout the year.  
The second census is planned for March 3rd as this is near to the end of the Migratory period for birds.  Persons interested in participating in this very important initiative can call the Rand Nature Centre at 352-5438.

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News Article
CREEK RESTORATION

F
RIENDS of the Environment has partnered with Dr Craig Layman and his research team from Florida International University to restore a vital tidal creek and wetland area in Abaco.

Broad Creek, located just south of Marsh Harbour near Camp Abaco has been blocked for more than 30 years after a road was constructed to build the camp.

The restoration project entailed removing a small area of the road, installing culverts to allow water flow under the traffic, and then reforming the road. The team then had to selectively remove mangroves that had encroached into the channel after road construction had taken place.

Kristin Williams, executive director Friends of the Environment, said: "Tidal cr ...

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News Article
AFFGA calls on govt to declare 'no-build zone' in S Abaco

By MEGAN REYNOLDS

Tribune Staff Reporter

mreynolds@tribunemedia.net

A GROUP of bonefishing guides seeking to protect a vital fishing ground in South Abaco is calling on the government to take action before developers move in.

The Abaco Fly-Fishing Guide Association (AFFGA) has proposed the government declare around 1,800 acres of Crown Land coastline and wetlands stretching from Cross Harbour to Blackwood Point a no-build zone as it supports a 1,000 hectare wetland area, local fishing industries and the lucrative catch-and-release sport led by local fly-fishing guides.

AFFGA president Paul Pinder sent a letter to the Prime Minister's Office in October 2009, won support from the Minis ...

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News Article
The Mayaguana project

I was very disappointed to have read the comments attributed to Michael Scott in The Nassau Guardian National Review article "The great land giveaway". Putting aside the misleading title for the story, the quotes attributed to Scott seek to suggest that the land, the subject of the Progressive Liberal Party's (PLP) negotiated heads of agreement, was a "gift" to foreigners. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the terms of the deal cannot be objectively characterized as "the greatest land giveaway".
I was mostly disgusted and shocked at Scott's rather shallow characterization of the deal as capable of treating the 350 natives of Mayaguana much like Native Americans being relegated to a reservation. This was utterly silly language which was also unfortunate because it completely misrepresented the intention of the original deal and it perhaps demonstrates the lack of vision and the prospect Mayaguana can have in an economically viable Bahamas by the present leadership of the Hotel Corporation.

The facts of the original agreement
It is untrue and smacks of rather crude political mischief making that the Free National Movement (FNM) will continue to utter a clear falsity that the PLP government conveyed 9,999 acres of Crown land to a foreign entity known as the I-Group in March 2006 in connection with a development at Mayaguana. It is being purported that the present administration has now signed a revised heads of agreement with the I-Group, which has recovered 5,825 acres of the land.
It is so unfortunate that this deliberate untruth is calculated to prey upon the emotive subject of the disposition of Crown land to foreigners for partisan political advantage during this 'election season'.
The truth is that the PLP government led by Perry Christie was unalterably opposed to the sale of this large acreage of Crown land in Mayaguana to the I-Group or any other group of foreigners for large scale development. As a result and after two years of meticulous negotiations, the government entered into a heads of agreement with Mayaguana Island Developers Limited (MID), a joint venture entity owned 50/50 by the government through the Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas (HCB) and the I-Group of Boston headed by Stephen Roy, a wealthy and prominent businessman. The land was to be conveyed to the joint venture company only in stages after certain clear milestones of development were reached. There was no agreement for the wholesale purchase or acquisition of 9,999 acres by the I-Group as is being stated.
The specific purpose of both the heads of agreement and the joint venture agreement, as stated therein, was to encourage and facilitate economic growth and development on Mayaguana so as to attract both Bahamians and non-Bahamians as both investors and residents, leaving no doubt that the land in the development area was to be occupied and used by both Bahamians and non-Bahamians, in that order.
The scale of the anchor project which was envisaged at full build out to total more than an estimated $1.7 billion, obligated the joint venture company to prepare and implement, subject to government's approval, a comprehensive plan for the orderly development on the Island of Mayaguana of a viable community, residential, mixed-use resort, commercial, industrial, social and educational developments, associated utilities, airport, marinas, harbor and related infrastructure and nature parks, which would provide a range of new economic opportunities. It was envisaged that in addition to Mayaguana, the development would also positively and significantly impact the economy of the southeastern Bahamas including Inagua, Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay and Ragged Island, indeed all of The Bahamas in general.
Under the terms of the original heads of agreement and joint venture agreement, the following key financial considerations applied:
? The Hotel Corporation and I-Group each owned 50 percent of the shares in the capital of Mayaguana Island Developers Limited.
? In consideration of the transfer of the Crown land to MID and the grant of the concessions to MID as contained in the heads of agreement, the I-Group agreed to contribute the entire capital for the initial project in an amount of not less than $14 million, inclusive of $2 million paid by the I-Group to the government at the signing of the heads of agreement and joint venture agreement.
? In addition, MID was to establish the Mayaguana Community Fund, consisting of not less than $1,250,000 by the end of the fifth year, to be augmented annually by 2.5 percent of the revenues of MID thereafter.
? HCB would receive from MID a fee equal to 10 percent of the gross sales price from the sale of residential lots, and five percent of the gross sales price received for the sale of commercial lots. Similarly, under the management agreement between MID and Mayaguana Management Co. Ltd. (MMC) the same amounts were to be paid to MMC.
? HCB and the I-Group would share 50/50 in the profits of MID.
? I-Group and HCB would work cooperatively to attract other investors and additional capital to implement the overall development plans for Mayaguana.
? MID working in cooperation with the government would arrange financial assistance to encourage Bahamians to acquire homes and settle in Mayaguana.

Land use plan
The I-Group met the cost of preparation of a comprehensive regional land use plan for the island of Mayaguana, which was approved by government and became the property of MID. The regional land use plan made provisions for and shows the following:
a. Permanent wetlands that should be excluded from any activity.
b. Seasonal marshlands that should also not be disturbed
c. Conservation areas that should also not be disturbed, but may be considered for some limited common/public use under stringent conditions.
d. Nature preserves that should be properly managed
e. Agricultural lands
f. Ranch lands
g. Undeveloped lands, including land for expansion of existing settlements
h. Public beaches
i. Areas for development by MID, including golf courses
j. Areas that could be developed by other interested parties
k. Commercial activity areas
l. Light industrial activity area around the airport, and
m. Medical/academic campus

What the project was to be
The initial project which was to be completed within two years from the initial project commencement date was well underway when the PLP left office in May 2007. In fact at that point, the I-Group's expenditure had almost doubled the $14 million estimated for its cost. The initial project included inter alia the following:
? Rehabilitation of 7,000 feet of the existing 11,000-foot runway capable of accommodating international service of Boeing 737 aircraft
? Construction of an adequate new terminal building, security and ancillary facilities to international standards as approved by the Department of Civil Aviation and other authorities
? Construction of a 19-unit boutique resort at North Beach, and layout of a 100-lot single family residential subdivision
? Construction of the Mayaguana Harbour Development at Pirate's Well Creek comprising a basin large enough to accommodate up to 10 recreational sized boat slips, a dredged channel, layout of a 50-lot residential subdivision, and a three-unit villa
? Layout of North Beach East Subdivision consisting of 100 lots and construction of a three-unit villa
? Provision of the necessary public utilities to support the foregoing development
? Community projects consisting of improvements to the Mayaguana Health Clinic, construction of science laboratory at Abraham's Bay School, and a lunch, recreation room and outdoor recreational facilities at Pirate's Well School, layout and commissioning of other community recreational facilities, construction of 15 miles of roads within the development area and provision of potable water to local communities at rates to be agreed with Water and Sewerage Corporation
? Layout of an industrial zone in the vicinity of the airport
? Establishment of repair, technical training and materials processing and recovery facilities in the industrial zone
? Preparation of plans and layout for one golf course and commissioning of a putting green and driving range
? Preparation and layout of an equestrian-themed housing subdivision
? Rehabilitation of Nature Centre & Picnic Area at North Beach close to Curtis Creek
? Reserving an area of not less than 20 acres for a public beach in Curtis Creek area - this beach is to be in addition to traditional access enjoyed by Bahamians on all beaches in Mayaguana
? Obtaining a letter of intent from a third party operator for development of 225-room resort in Mayaguana
? Progress on developing Mayaguana as a port of call for cruise lines
? Establishment of nature preserves at Curtis Creek, Blackwood Point, Booby Cay, Long Cay and Pirate's Well Creek - the preserves shall come under the management of a foundation

What the FNM did
After the FNM came to power in May 2007, it set out to frustrate and put road blocks in the way of the Mayaguana project by stopping certain vital duty-free concessions, which stalled the project in which the I-Group had already invested over $25 million. By early 2008 the recession was setting in. As a consequence the frustrated chairman of the I-Group, Stephen Roy, wrote to the prime minister invoking the provisions of the force majeure/unforseen events and delays clause to slow down the project and revise the business plan because of "the adverse change in economic conditions in financial markets in the United States".
Instead of simply agreeing to revise the business plan and extending the concessions, the Ingraham administration, because it did not wish to honor the terms of the heads of agreement which they found in place, seized the opportunity over three long years to exact a revised agreement out of the I-Group under the guise of getting back some 5,825 acres of Crown land. This revised agreement is less in the public interest in terms of the reduced scope of the project and the outright grant of some 4,000 acres of crown land to a foreign owned company.
An important safeguard in ensuring that the provisions of the heads of agreement, joint venture agreement and management agreement as approved by the PLP administration are fully implemented, is the provision for the government through the Hotel Corporation to appoint directors to the boards of both the joint venture company (MID) and the Mayaguana Management Company (MMC).
Under the terms of the revised heads of agreement, the FNM is allowing this safeguard to fall away. Also as a result of the cancellation of the joint venture and management agreements by the FNM a foreign owned company will now be entitled to the grant of some 4,000 acres of Crown land on Mayaguana, something the PLP would not have done. Regrettably, the scale of the project and its economic impact have been considerably reduced under the terms of the revised heads of agreement.
For the record it should be pointed out that at all material times during the negotiations with the I-Group as well as in the heads of agreement and joint venture agreement, the PLP administration ensured that sufficient Crown land remained available for the expansion of existing communities together with the creation of new communities on the island of Mayaguana. The project itself, the terms of the heads of agreement and joint venture agreement were fully discussed with and agreed upon in town meetings with the people of Mayaguana and with descendants.
The suggestion that the deal would have "people herding together in the interior" is untrue and a rather unfortunate description of the intentions of the joint venture. It is hoped that these facts dispel the misrepresentations printed in the article and that the Bahamian people now have the full benefit of the salient facts surrounding the joint venture development in Mayaguana. It is further hoped that the Bahamian people and all the residents of Mayaguana know that it is the PLP that has always championed their cause and put them first.

o George Smith is a former PLP MP for Exuma, Cabinet minister and chairman of the Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas.

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News Article
New fine dining restaurant hires 60

With nearly 60 employees, Sapodilla Estate, a fine dining restaurant located in western New Providence, recently opened up to rave reviews.
Since opening its doors officially on December 27, the restaurant's General Manager Giorgio Bombino said it has received a number of positive comments via social media from customers.
"At Sapodilla Estate, we seek to give our customers an experience that's never been had in The Bahamas before. From the entrance to the moment that you sit at the table, we have truly created a unique experience," he said.
Set back off West Bay Street, just east of Caves Heights, the restaurant offers a menu that includes Italian dishes with a touch of French and Bahamian flavor, and offers a variety of wines.
Sapodilla Estate also features indoor and outdoor elements, including individual cabanas located in the garden area in which diners can choose to eat with just two to a private table. The setting is designed to allow customers to appreciate the natural surroundings.
The property features wetlands, including sights of wildlife. In addition to the dining, Sapodilla Estate plans to host weddings and other events.
"Our goal is to put Sapodilla on the map because we are going to give you the best service. We have a bridal cottage and we host weddings. And in the restaurant, many of the items that we cook are in fact finished on the table," according to Bombino.
Back in July, the restaurant's owner, Elaine Pinder, founder of Bamboo Shack, told Guardian Business that it is the culmination of a four-year project.
At the time, over 1,000 applications were reportedly submitted for positions at the restaurant after an advertisement was placed in local newspapers.
The upscale restaurant, formerly residential property, had undergone major renovations to ensure that the transformation was able to take place. Pinder called it a "labor of love".
"It's based in my old home which I moved out of. I put a whole roof and a whole new structure over everything, I extended the perimeter and enclosed that," she revealed.
"I said to myself, 'Let me make my contribution to tourism'. The building is sort of hidden away from the street, so I think when it opens people are going to be quite surprised."
Bombino said that between security staff and restaurant employees, the establishment now has around 60 employees.
Sapodilla Estate is opened Tuesday to Saturday from 6:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.

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News Article
Sam Duncombe: Oil drilling not a job creator

NASSAU, Bahamas -- Oil drilling in The Bahamas will likely generate work for no more than a handful of locals while putting thousands of tourism and commercial fishing jobs at risk, reEarth president Sam Duncombe warned.
Addressing a College of The Bahamas (COB) Inaugural Environmental Law and Policy Conference, Duncombe said most oil industry jobs tend to be temporary and mostly reserved for foreigners - making the domestic benefits minimal, while the potential threat to established and profitable industries remains very high.
"The majority of jobs created by the offshore oil and gas industry during the construction phase are short-term, and most of these jobs go to people from outside the region, whereas the thousands of jobs dependent on the commercial fishing industry and tourism are long term and based on a sustainable resource," she said.
"Pollutants from the offshore oil industry have significant adverse effects on fish stocks' ability to produce healthy eggs and larvae, and, therefore, on the sustainability of the fishing industry. The Bahamas' multi-million dollar tourism industry is dependent on healthy and unspoiled coastal waters. Toxic pollutants emitted by the offshore oil industry can destroy wetlands, wildlife, and contaminate the water."
Duncombe added that any oil that may be discovered in Bahamian waters will be destined for the US market, and therefore will not result in lower gas or electricity prices for Bahamians either. According to the veteran environmental advocate, drilling for oil and gas creates pollution in a variety of forms, all of which affect marine biological diversity.

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News Article
Bird census of Bahamas held

LOCAL Bird watchers, including members of the Grand Bahama Junior Birding Club, took part in the second annual Caribbean Waterbird Census.

The census is a region-wide waterbird and wetland monitoring effort sponsored by the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds.

The goal is to learn more about the distribution, status, and abundance of waterbirds in the Caribbean, so as to improve conservation planning and management of these birds and their delicate habitats.

Each year, a region-wide count is organised. Every participant counts at the same time during the middle of winter (when birds are most stationary) to get a "snapshot" of waterbird population numbers and habita ...

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