2015/2016 Budget Debate- Contribution by the Hon. Melanie S. Griffin, M.P., Minister of Social Services and Community Development

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June 15, 2016

Mr. Speaker, as always I am grateful to Almighty God, in whom I live, move and have my being and the fine people of Yamacraw for the privilege to serve and to represent them in this place.

A Stronger Bahamas

Mr. Speaker, in his introductory remarks to the 2015/16 Budget Communication, the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, Member for Centreville and Minister of Finance noted and I quote, “this Budget is faithful to the reform plan for a stronger Bahamas that my Government has been pursuing since our present mandate began. Our plan is working. This Budget builds further on that plan.”

Mr. Speaker, the Rt. Hon. Member went on to support this statement by pointing to “a dramatic turnaround in the state of our public finances”. He noted and I quote, “The GFS Deficit this fiscal year is now estimated at $198M, as compared to the $539M Deficit that resulted from the fiscal structure that we inherited in 2012/13. That is a reduction in the Deficit of $342M.”

Ever since the Budget Communication was presented, Mr. Speaker, pundits, particularly members opposite have been trying to discredit the statement made about the reduction in the GFS Deficit and to make it seem that there has been some manipulation of the figures to achieve a desired goal. So, Mr. Speaker, I decided to take a closer look at the process myself and to do so I went back to basics. Too many times, Mr. Speaker, we use certain terms and take it for granted that everyone knows what we are talking about and then, persons like the member for East Grand Bahama, Mr. Speaker, come into this place and try to play with the numbers and the established process to confuse the issue and seek their own political end.

Simply put, the abbreviations GFS stand for “Government Finance Statistics”. These statistics show the economic activity of the government over a given period and include how much revenue is taken in by the government against how much money the government spends. At the end of the period when you look at the balance, if the monies taken in are more than what is spent, then there is a GFS Surplus and if the amount of monies taken in is less than was spent, then you have a GFS Deficit. This means you are spending more than you are making. In our own households we know that when you spend more than you make, you have a problem and if the amount you are spending more than you make is very large, then you have a crisis.

The next question I asked about this GFS thing is who decides the formula or the way in which it is determined? Is it the government? No, Mr. Speaker, it is not the Government. Governments are guided by internationally established and accepted standards set by internationally recognized organizations or institutions like, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an organization of 188 countries around the world, including The Bahamas. Any Government would be foolish to try to manipulate the figures in any way as it would certainly be something that is picked up right away. These standards are set to ensure transparency and accountability, Mr. Speaker. So to go outside the framework set, would certainly place a country’s reputation in jeopardy. So Mr. Speaker it really behooves persons who know better to stop trying to destroy the good name of this country for political gain.

Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development is fully on board with and eager to do its part in ensuring a stronger Bahamas for a safe, prosperous and modern future for our people and we are well on our way with the implementation of several very impactful programmes to do just that.

As the Government’s lead agency in poverty reduction and alleviation, we welcome the Prime Minister’s creation of a poverty czar in the Ministry of Finance to drive and ensure the co-ordination and focus on the various programmes, like the new Breakfast for school children’s programme, the $20M youth employment programme and the incentive for depressed areas. All designed to build a stronger Bahamas, Mr. Speaker.

Brief Overview of Heads 43 and 44

Mr. Speaker,

It should be noted that a conscious decision has been taken to abolish Heads 41 and 42 from the 2015/2016 budget. These two small heads, which were assigned to the Simpson Penn Centre for Boys and the Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls respectively, were managed by the Accounts Section at the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development with the Permanent Secretary as the Accounting Officer. Effective July 2015, the allocations for the two Centres will be placed under Head 43, that of the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development. The personal emoluments and allowances for the staff of the two Centres will be integrated with those for the Ministry and each centre will have a line item under the 90 Block in Head 43, for other charges for the operation of the Centres. This change will not result in the reduction of the allocations for the Centres rather, it is designed to bring about greater efficiency as the Accounts section of the Ministry would only have to manage one head instead of three. With this change, the proposed allocation for Head 43 for the 2015/2016 fiscal year will increase to $5,237,086.00, a difference of $1,750,599.00 over the 2014/15 allocation of $3,486,487.00.

Mr. Speaker, with respect to Head 44, that of the Department of Social Services, recognizing the critical role that this Department plays in responding to the needs of vulnerable groups and the continued social and economic challenges that many of our people face on an almost daily basis, the proposed allocation of $37,320,648.00 will provide for the continued delivery of welfare services at the current levels. I am very pleased that the provisions include an additional $500,000 to increase the annual grant to a number of residential care facilities primarily those caring for children and older persons.

Highlights/Achievements

The highlights and achievements of the Ministry of Social services and Community Development during the 2014/2015 fiscal year include the following:

• Ground breaking for the Multi-Service Centre for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

• Introduction of the Prepaid Card for Food Assistance

• Completion of the National Strategic Plan to address Gender-based Violence.

• Upcoming launch of the Public Relations Campaign for the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme and shortly thereafter, the launch of the pilot for the Conditional Cash Transfer programme.

• Leadership for Women in Politics - a six week training programme in conjunction with the Centre for Continuing Education & Extension Services of the College of The Bahamas.

• Establishment of a partnership between the Simpson Penn Centre for Boys and the Fox Hill Urban Renewal Programme.

• Renovations to the Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls.

• Appointment of the National Commission for Disability under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act, 2014.

Multi-Service Centre for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

The groundbreaking for the Multi-Service Centre for adults with developmental disabilities was held on Thursday, May 28, 2015, at the Gladstone Road Site. The Rt. Hon. Prime Minister was the keynote speaker and it was truly a wonderful and moving event. The welcome remarks were eloquently and confidently given by a student from the Stapleton School, there were performances by a group from The Bahamas Down Syndrome Centre and Friends, the Pre-vocational unit of the Anatol Rodgers High School and a solo by a male student of Blairwood Academy, who was obviously thrilled to be accompanied by the pop band of The Royal Bahamas Police Force.

The tremendous delight of the persons who attended to witness that the Centre is closer to becoming a reality and the talents displayed by the children and young adults who participated in the ceremony truly reenergized everyone and reinforced the need for this facility.

The architectural firm of Bruce LaFleur and Associates was engaged in December 2014 , to complete the design for this state-of-the art purpose built Centre and I wish to share with Honourable Members, the artistic renditions of the facility which include: parking, reception area, administration building, a pre-function & multi-purpose auditorium, cafeteria, manufacturing area, workshops for horticulture & agriculture, woodworking, car detailing, an education building with classrooms for skills, sensory and academic training, a medical center and pavilion.

Mr. Speaker, this facility when completed will be a major step towards the building of a safer, inclusive and modern Bahamas, which benefits everyone.

Introduction of the Prepaid Card For Food Assistance Recipients

Speaking about a stronger and more modern Bahamas, Mr. Speaker, in November 2014, the Department of Social Services of the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development made history when it launched the reloadable, prepaid card for beneficiaries of the food assistance programme and in so doing, The Bahamas joined many other countries around the world in the use of electronics for the delivery of assistance.

There are four community based outreach Centres in New Providence, from which members of the public who need assistance caring for themselves and their families are provided services. The card was introduced first in November, 2014, for 624 beneficiaries at the Wulff Road Centre, which has the smallest clientele. This allowed us to test our processes and develop the necessary data base for the gathering of information especially as we had to adhere to the know your customer (KYC) requirements for banking purposes.

The Fox Hill Centre was the second for the introduction of the Card and this was done on January 26, 2015, when 535 beneficiaries received their cards and an additional 357 beneficiaries were added by the end of March, 2015. The card was introduced thereafter for 1,079 beneficiaries at the Robinson Road Centre in March, 2015 followed by 590 by the end of May 2015. Also in May, 2015, the first 1,051 beneficiaries of the fourth and largest Centre in New Providence, located on Horseshoe Drive received their cards in May.

As of the end of May 2015, therefore, 4,463 beneficiaries of the food assistance programme in New Providence are receiving their benefit by way of the prepaid card. We anticipate an additional 400 persons from the Horseshoe Drive Centre will be added at the end of June and thereafter any new applicants approved for assistance.

Mr. Speaker, the process for the verification and assessment of beneficiaries to be transferred from paper coupons to the prepaid card required that every person whose name was on the food assistance list had to be located by means of a home visit and an assessment conducted to verify the need for continued assistance. This was an onerous task as many households had not been assessed for years. Social workers were pulled from other areas to assist and agreed to work after hours and on weekends and even on some public holidays to complete the exercise. They found some very depressing and distressing circumstances yet in other instances, they came across persons who were receiving assistance but whose circumstances did not warrant it.

In some instances, the address given was found to be a vacant lot and there were times when they discovered that persons were not living at the address that was on file. In addition to the staff who conducted the home visits, there were others working behind the scene, doing various tasks like pulling and sorting files and inputting data in the computer all of which contributed to the successful introduction of the prepaid cards.

I wish to make it known that based on the assessments, a number of persons were not approved for continued assistance however, the majority were given a short grace period to prepare themselves for the termination of assistance. These persons continued to receive the assistance by way of the paper coupons.

Mr. Speaker, in 2004 in a report done by Dr. Lorraine Blank through the Inter-American Development, it was discovered that there was a need for better targeting of beneficiaries. This was borne out in the reassessments done for the prepaid card. It was discovered, Mr. Speaker, that there were many employed persons in both the private and public sector who were receiving food assistance outside of the established policy. While some persons had other prevailing circumstances that warranted re-consideration, for the most part persons would have “maxed out” their salaries with consumer or mortgage loans. Unfortunately, such clients had to be terminated from the programme.

An appeals process has been implemented and all persons who are not approved are informed that they could appeal the decision and have their case reviewed. This is a very important part of the process which is definitely being utilized. A small team of senior officers are now responsible for hearing appeals.

Mr. Speaker, we have begun the process for the introduction of the card in Grand Bahama and we will begin with beneficiaries in the Eight Mile Rock/West End areas. The verification and assessment process for beneficiaries who reside in these areas is almost complete and I have already received word from a resident of Eight Mile Rock who wants to be the first on the island of Grand Bahama to receive the prepaid card.

The preliminary ground work for the introduction of the card has commenced in North Andros and Abaco. A team from New Providence travelled to North Andros last week to assist the staff there in getting started and a similar team will visit Abaco shortly for the same purpose. We will continue introducing the card on a gradual basis in the Family Islands as we are committed to modernizing the delivery of assistance throughout The Bahamas.

Mr. Speaker, the response of the staff of the Department of Social Services to this initiative has been awesome. Although it was hard and demanding work, the staff remained enthused and committed to getting it done and I commend them all for this.

Completion of the National Strategic Plan to address Gender-based Violence.

Mr. Speaker, for a stronger and safer Bahamas, in 2013, the Government appointed a National Task Force for Gender Based Violence, which was given the mandate to develop a national strategic plan to address gender-based violence. Retired Justice Rubie Nottage was appointed the Chairman of the Task Force with Drs. Robin Roberts and Sandra Dean Patterson as Co-Deputy Chairpersons. An Oversight Committee comprised of Cabinet Ministers with responsibility for social services, health, education, national security, youth and sports and legal services was appointed to oversee the implementation and coordination of the a national strategic plan to address gender-based violence.

The Task Force has met regularly since its appointment and very early in its work, identified seven sub-committees to assess and report on the situation with respect to gender-based violence. The sub-committees considered various dimensions of concern including the criminal justice system, medical and psycho-social services, surveillance data information management, family island advocacy, communication and education and training.

The Task Force has now completed its work and presented its report to the Government. While the final report is being prepared for printing Mr. Speaker, I wish to lay on the Table today a copy of an Executive Summary also prepared by the Task Force. The Executive Summary speaks to the Mission, Core Values & Guiding Principles, Vision, Mandate, Process, Rationale & Approach of the Task Force, as well as the Current Status of GBV in The Bahamas, Recommendations and a National Strategic Plan: Implementation Strategy. The major recommendations for addressing gender-based violence include the following:

➢ Multi-Sectoral Coordination

➢ Institutional Strengthening

➢ Advocacy and Awareness

➢ Education and Training

➢ Research and Surveillance

➢ Coordination of activities of civil society and other stake-holders – Cross-cutting issues

The Strategic Plan includes Immediate, Short and Long Term implementation strategies. We want to be able to give speedy attention to the Immediate Implementation Action which is referred to as, “The Ten, Low Hanging Fruits”.

“These programs are identified as practical, doable, low budget, measurable and all public health prevention-based initiatives, to be undertaken by a mix of Government agencies and credible community organizations.”

1. Focus on the Family: The Creation of a Unified Family Court System

2. GBV Prevention: a National Community Awareness Programme

3. Focus on Male/Female Programs: The Creation of a Department of Gender Affairs

4. Focus on Male Mentoring: A CariMAN Project

5. Reclaiming our Boys Project

6. Establishing Family Island Co-ordination Councils for GBV

7. Sexual Assault Response Team Project

8. Network and GBV Intervention Enhancement: A Crisis Center Project:

9. Advancing The Batterer’s program for the GBV Perpetrators

10. Domestic Violence Fatality Team Project

The Short Term implementation: Establishes a Statutory Anti-GBV Authority, a three-tiered organization with a bottom’s up approach - The Anti-GBV Community Council, the Anti-GBV Secretariat and the Board of the GBV Authority.

The Long Term implementation focuses on Community-Driven Anti-GBV Programmes.

Mr. Speaker, I must commend the task force for its comprehensive review of the issue of gender-based violence and the completion of a report that will serve as the basis for action to addressing the issue. I must acknowledge the excellent leadership given to the Task Force by Retired Justice Nottage and the able support of her co-Deputy Chairs. I must say that both Retired Justice Nottage and Dr. Robin Roberts in particular, are involved in many other equally important demanding tasks but their commitment to the work of the Task Force and the production of the report was outstanding.

Mr. Speaker, be assured that this will not be just another report that will sit on a shelf gathering dust. An accompanying implementation plan has been prepared which sets out timelines and costing for the implementation of the recommendations. Further, I know that Retired Justice Nottage and Drs. Roberts and Patterson will not sit quietly by and allow this comprehensive piece of work, which so much time and effort went into, to collect dust. Further, and more importantly though, gender-based violence is taking a heavy toll on our country, which cannot be denied or ignored, hence urgent and deliberate action will be taken to implement the recommendations of the Task Force as this Government is serious about building a safer and better Bahamas.

Mr. Speaker, the Task Force Report, along with the Strategic & Implementation Plan also satisfies the “Strengthening State Accountability and Community Action for Ending Gender Based Violence in the Caribbean,” project commissioned and funded by UNWomen.

Launch of the Public Relations Campaign for the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme and shortly thereafter, the launch of the pilot for the Conditional Cash Transfer programme.

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken several times in this place of the Social Safety Net Reform Project, which is being implemented with the assistance of the Inter-American Development Bank. The goal of this programme is to promote human capital accumulation and poverty alleviation through the consolidation of a number of existing programmes in the Department of Social Services into a Conditional Cash Transfer Programme (CCT). This programme is aimed at changing behaviour to improve the educational achievement and a healthier lifestyle among children from disadvantaged households.

The project is being conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance (Department of Statistics and Department of Information Technology) and Ministry of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government.

During the current fiscal year, six (6) persons joined the SSN Unit and they include the Operations Manager, Assistant Accountant, Health Liaison Officer, Education Liaison Officer, Communications Officer, and clerk. The Project Execution Unit is now comprised of ten (10) persons.

Two (2) contracts have been signed so far with local firms; one with The Counsellors Ltd., for the Public Information Campaign and the other with KPMG for conducting audits.

In addition, contracts were signed with individuals to assist in the development of the programme in the following areas:

1. Development of the Proxy Means Test (PMT), which will be used to determine the eligibility for the Conditional Cash Transfer.

2. Design and implementation for the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme.

3. Technical support for the operational strategy of the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme.

4. Assessment on the remediation programmes for underperforming students in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. A preliminary report has been submitted and is being reviewed.

5. A contract has also been signed with an international firm for an impact evaluation of the programme.

One of the components of the SSNR Programme is Institutional Strengthening and staff members in the Project Unit as well as stakeholder members have been benefiting from training locally and abroad. Training was received locally in procurement and project management during the current fiscal year and local networking with persons assigned to other IDB projects is encouraged by the Bank. The Monitoring and Evaluation Officer in the SSN Unit and two staff members from the Department of Information Technology (DIT) visited PATH (the CCT programme) in Jamaica to observe its processes.

In keeping with Institutional Strengthening, the four (4) Outreach Centres Department of Social Services in New Providence, received new computers and printers in preparation for the CCT.

Mr. Speaker, on Monday June 8, 2015, the public relations campaign was launched, Renewing, Inspiring Sustaining, Empowering Programme, RISE, which is the official name for the Conditional Cash Transfer programme, that is being introduced as a part of the Social Safety Net Reform Project. The Ministers of Education, Science and Technology and Health who’s Ministries are the major partners joined in the launch.

We have a logo, (Show this) Our slogan is "Together we RISE" and yes, we also have a theme song or jingle, entitled "RISE". The Executive producer of the jingle is The Cousellors Ltd, the writer and producer is Fred Ferguson and the vocalists are Donrica Burrows and Dentria Jackson. We expect the jingle will very shortly be heard over the airways. Other components of the PR campaign include public service announcements and two (2) informational brochures, one for clients and the other for the general public.

The pilot for the CCT will commence later this month at the Wulff Road Centre. This will allow for processes to be tested and adjustments made where necessary before moving to the other two islands that have been identified to the pilot over the next few months. We anticipate that the rollout of the programme will take place in early 2016.

Bureau of Women’s Affairs

Leadership for Women in Politics

Mr. Speaker, members would recall that very soon following my appointment as Minister with responsibility for Women’s Affairs, I led a delegation in July, 2012, to a dialogue with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which considered The Bahamas' initial to fourth and fifth periodic reports to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The Bahamas was required to submit an interim report by July 2014 on the implementation of Temporary Special Measures in areas covered by the Convention where women were underrepresented or disadvantaged and address violence against women. One of the areas in which women in The Bahamas were found to be underrepresented is in politics and it was felt that more information needed to be provided for women who have an interest in politics to give them a fuller understanding of political processes should they wish to become active participants other than as voters. In this regard, a six week training programme, which is a joint initiative of The College of The Bahamas and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs is due to commence on Friday, June 12, 2015. Should this first offering prove successful or oversubscribed a second offering of the training would be considered.

We are grateful to the Centre for Continuing Education and Extension Services Division of the College of The Bahamas for collaborating with the Ministry in putting on this special training programme.

Family Island Initiatives

The Bureau is stepping up its interaction in the Family Islands. During April, 2015, an officer from the Bureau and I had the opportunity to travel to Inagua and meet with high school students and women. Our interaction involved the showing of the Marion Bethel Documentary of the Suffrage Movement, which was well received. A representative from the Bureau along with the Chairman of the National Women's Advisory Council, will travel to San Salvador and Rum Cay for similar meetings.

We also visited Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and Abaco as a part of National Women’s Week 2014.

Establishment of a partnership between the Simpson Penn Centre for Boys and the Fox Hill Urban Renewal Programme.

Mr. Speaker, the Fox Hill Urban Renewal Programme formed a partnership with the Simpson Penn Centre for Boys in April 2015. Thus far, this has resulted in the implementation of a six week Auto Body Repair Programme for the 16 and 17 year old residents. Also I am extremely delighted that the Fox Hill Urban Renewal Team has consented to developing a parade and marching band at the Centre. We have all witnessed the positive influence that the Urban Renewal Bands have had on our young people; hence I expect this to be the case with the residents of the Centre. I wish to publicly thank Ag. Superintendent of Police Antonio Munroe, for taking on this initiative, which in addition to the musical element, will also help to build self esteem and self worth and teach the residents life skills and conflict resolution strategies.

Some other positive initiatives are underway at the Simpson Penn Centre. In January, a partnership was established with the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources for the implementation of an agricultural programme on the compound. I expect that this programme will pick up momentum in the coming months and its progress will be closely monitored

Other activities during the year included an eight (8) week workshop conducted by Valley Boys Junkanoo Group and facilitated by the Visiting Committee. This successful and enjoyable programme taught the residents of the centre the art of junkanoo pasting. I believe that the teaching of cultural expression such as Junkanoo and the rehabilitation of our youth go hand in hand and I thank the Valley Boys for their efforts.

The former Superintendent’s residence has been converted into a Rehabilitation Unit and space allocated for the Centre’s social worker, chaplain and day manager. The Unit has provisions for case conferences, counselling sessions and family visits. The unit also includes an office for the physician who is assigned to the Centre by the Ministry of Health and visits on a regular basis. This allows for residents to be seen in more comfortable surroundings. All of the renovations were completed by an in-house team and I wish to thank Mr. Seymour for leading this effort.

Additionally, we have received approval to engage in dialogue with the Ministry of Works and Urban Development for the construction of separate accommodations on site so as to separate the older residents, those between 16 and 18 years of age who for the most part are no longer in school and who have generally engaged in more serious activities and have a negative influence on the younger residents.

I wish to thank the following organizations for their support and aid to the Simpson Penn Centre for Boys:

❖ The Pathfinders

❖ The Lodge of St. Anne’s

❖ The Salvation Army

❖ The Birthday Club

❖ Bahamas Faith Ministries Real Men

Clearly, Mr. Speaker, there continues to be a need for direction and positive influence in the lives of these young people and our citizens who volunteer to work with the boys and girls of these centres are to be commended for all of their hard work and dedication.

Renovations to the Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls

Mr. Speaker, in my contribution to the mid-year budget statement, I indicated that Five Hundred and Seventy-three Thousand, Seven Hundred and Eighty-four dollars ($573,784) dollars had been allocated for repairs and new construction at the Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls. Work is continuing and to date, the status is as follows:

The new security booth is completed and occupied.

The roof of the covered walk way is finished, the door to the laundry has been relocated away from the road and repairs to the following areas have been completed:

Cosmetology Room

Isolation Room

Doctor’s Office

Library

Sewing Room

The work to the kitchen is completed with the exception of some tile work due to the extension of the kitchen, but it is back in use.

Mr. Speaker, new stainless steel institutional fixtures are expected to be fitted in the restrooms in the cottages as a part of the renovations to be carried out in the cottages and new institutional bunk beds have been ordered and are expected to be in place by the end of next month.

When I last visited the Centre on May 5 I had the opportunity to walk about the compound with the contractor and the Acting Superintendent to assess the work. I can inform Honourable Members that the work there is progressing well and once completed, will better serve the residents and provide for the added comfort and safety of staff and residents.

Mr. Speaker, residents are housed at the Centre for varying periods ranging from a few months to as much as three years. During 2014, there were fifty-six new admissions and in most instances, the girls were deemed to be Beyond Parental Control. This continues to be by far, the major reason why most of the residents are at the Centre. This is clearly an indication of problems in the home and in the family, which need to be urgently addressed. I am delighted that we were able to engage a Psychologist on staff to deal with the myriad of issues faced by the young girls, in conjunction with the Social Worker.

We continue to encourage parents of residents at the Centre to participate in the National Parenting Programme that is offered by my Ministry and some do. Given the high numbers, we have to continue to look closer at the cause and further develop more community based preventative programmes to address issues in the family and the community that are contributing to so many young girls being rendered beyond parental control.

Despite this, four of the residents sat the Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) and three did the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE’s) with one resident receiving a ‘B’ in English Language. Several of the girls were also able to participate in the National Training Agency programme.

Appointment of the National Commission for Disability.

Mr. Speaker, a stronger Bahamas, must mean a safe, prosperous and modern future for all Bahamians. Disability matters continue to be a priority for this administration. Members are aware that several parts and sections of the Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunity) Act, which was passed in July 2014, came into force in November and on December 12, 2014, the National Commission for Persons with Disability mandated under the legislation was appointed. This Council plays a significant role in the implementation and enforcement of the legislation.

Mr. Speaker, the Commission has identified several key areas for immediate focus, including the registration of persons with disabilities – Part Eight; Section 43 of the Act states that, “Every person with a disability may register with the Commission with respect to their disability. All organizations of or for persons with disabilities shall register with the Commission.” It is of paramount importance for the Commission to have accurate data on the population the legislation was intended to benefit, so as to efficiently carry out its obligations.

The Commission recognizes the need for a close partnership with non-governmental organizations that support and assist persons with disabilities. Therefore, it is committed to regular consultations with those organizations, the first of which was held late last month.

The legislation mandates the establishment of a Secretariat to provide services for carrying out the functions of the Commission, headed by an Executive Secretary to be assisted by a Deputy Executive Secretary and additional staffing including technical, administrative and other personnel. The position of Executive Secretary is extremely critical as this individual will be responsible for ensuring the execution of the functions of the Commission in accordance with the legislation and also manage and administer the affairs of the Commission.

I am pleased to announce that an eminently qualified individual has been engaged as Executive Secretary and the formal announcement of this individual will be made shortly. This individual has a wealth of experience and gave valuable input at various stages of the development of the legislation and I am confident that he will provide the support and guidance the Commission needs as it seeks to establish itself and carry out its functions.

Other Matters

Community Affairs

Mr. Speaker, a stronger Bahamas means increased focus on the family and communities. The Community Affairs Division in furtherance of its mandate to provide and develop programmes and services to empower individuals, strengthen families and further develop communities, continues to operate a variety of programmes at three Family Life Centres, which are located in Elizabeth Estates, Flamingo Gardens and Ardastra Estates. Effective Family Life Centres encourage residents to gather to discuss matters of public concerns and develop life skills.

The programmes offered by The Division include but are not limited to:

▪ After School and Homework Centre

▪ Boys and Girls Clubs

▪ Mentorship Programmes

▪ Senior Citizens Associations

▪ Summer Programme

▪ Adult Computer Classes

In addition, other programmes derived from partnerships with charitable, civic organizations and churches are also offered.

Last month, the Division in collaboration with the National Commission for Families and Children and the Crisis Centre held an event in recognition of the United Nations International Day for Families and the focus was on men as fathers. Some 120 persons attended, primarily men from every walk of life. The presentations and discussions were quite interactive. We are awaiting the report and giving consideration to airing some of the presentations.

The programmes offered by the centres are free and open to residents in the communities which are facilitated by staff in conjunction with other governmental organizations, interested persons and others volunteers.

During 2014/2015 Division was able to expand the Computer Training Programme at The Elizabeth Estates and Ardastra Estates Centres. Ten (10) CPUs were donated by BahaMar and 10 monitors by the Member of Parliament for the Yamacraw Constituency. Over fifty participants have been trained in the classes that were held at the centres. Hundreds of people now have the opportunity to use the computers on a daily basis. The Male Empowerment and Ladies Upliftment Programmes have guided many men and women in various ways in the form of mentoring, referrals and training.

Mr. Speaker, a safe, prosperous and modern Bahamas requires us to prepare more of our youth for the future, they will need to be trained in a variety of occupations hence the Division in conjunction with The Department of Social Services Fox Hill Urban Renewal Unit and Mr. Michael Fox, was able to train 25 young men and women in a Character Renewed-Ready To Go Auto Body Work and Design Programme at The Elizabeth Estates Family Life Support Centre. Additional opportunities for collaboration are being explored.

Assistance to Individuals

New Providence

Mr. Speaker, a significant portion of the allocation to the Department of Social Services is for assistance to persons in need, with of course, the chief need being that of food.

The Department was allocated $12.8M for food assistance for the 2014/15 fiscal year and received contingency funds of $2.5M in April 2015 and $3.4M last week for a total of $18.7M for Food Assistance throughout The Bahamas. New Providence naturally accounts for the largest number of persons receiving assistance, followed by Grand Bahama. While the 2015/16 allocation remains the same, Mr. Speaker, we anticipate that we will be able to recover savings from the impact of the implementation of the reloadable visa prepaid card and the inherent reassessments. Already we have experienced what appears to be a one-third reduction across the board at all centers.

Mr. Speaker, while the prepaid card has reduced the food list for permanent and temporary food assistance, the monster on our backs is what is known as the EFA – emergency food assistance – where hundreds flood the centers at the end of each month. Every effort is being made to assess these persons to determine their eligibility for food assistance; they will then be placed on either the permanent food list or the temporary list or terminated from the list, with of course the right of appeal.

Other Forms of assistance given in New Providence for the period July 2014 - May 2015:

• Rent Assistance - 907 recipients - $999,060 spent

• Electricity - 1,164 recipients - $644,349 spent

• Water & Sewerage - 231 recipients - $101,171 spent

• Temporary Shelter - 128 recipients - $92,954 spent

• Allowance to Children with Special needs - 223 recipients - $329,290 spent

• Foster Care allowance - 182 recipients - $453,600 spent

Grand Bahama

There continues to be a high demand for social assistance in Grand Bahama, which is still experiencing economic challenges.

For the ten month period from July 2014 to April, 2015, $2.66M was spent for temporary food assistance. Funds in the amount of $1,638,637 (Freeport) and $1,022,061 (Eight Mile Rock) for an average of 2,255 persons a month on temporary food assistance. With respect to Permanent Food Assistance (pensioners and persons with disabilities) for the same period, funds in the amount of $601,129 were spent for an average of 677 persons a month. Additionally, 9,558 emergency food assistance coupons were issued at a cash value of $601,477 – 5,623 (Freeport), 1,705 (Eight Mile Rock) and 2,230 (Urban Renewal).

With respect to the National Lunch Programme in Grand Bahama, there are currently 1,015 children at 21 schools on the programme. Funds in the amount of $534,781 have been spent on the programme between September 2014 and April, 2015.

Family Islands

The Department has offices in Abaco, Acklins, Andros, Bimini, Cat Island, Crooked Island, Eleuthera, Exuma, Inagua, Long Island, Mayguana and San Salvador to provide the same level of services that Bahamians in New Providence and Grand Bahama receive. Islands having the highest expenditure are Andros, Eleuthera and Exuma.

Abaco

Abaco, Mr. Speaker, more than any other Family Island has to meet the needs of a culturally diverse community. Services offered often include interaction with the immigrant population. Because they live in crowded conditions the outbreak of fires has kept the Division actively involved in assisting displaced persons.

Eleuthera

In May 2015 the homes of nine families in Harbour Island and Upper Bogue Eleuthera were affected by flooding. There were mainly furniture and appliance damages. NEMA has committed to replacing beds and the Department will replace essential appliances.

Safe House for Detainees

Late 2014, the Government made the decision to identify suitable accommodation for the housing of women and their minor children and unaccompanied minors detained by the Department of Immigration. Previously, it was the practice for minor children to be separated from their mothers and housed elsewhere. This facility which received the first set of occupants on December 16, 2014, is a joint initiative of The Department of Social Services and Department of Immigration with assistance from the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. A protocol is in place for the management and operation of the Safe House, which includes ensuring adequate food and personal care items, and also recreational activities. From December 16, 2014 to May 9, 2015, there have been a total of 186 women and children (70 women and 116 children) accommodated at the Safe House.

Both the Department of Immigration and Social Services share in the expenses of the Safe House, with the Department of Immigration providing the bulk, with the Department supplementing any deficits. I must commend the 28 staff members of the Department of Social Services who to date, have provided service at the Safe House on a 24 hour basis when operational, in addition to their regular duties.

Trafficking In Persons

The Department of Social Services has been a member of the Task Force on Trafficking in Persons since its inception in March 2012. Regrettably, we have had several cases of trafficking in persons. The Department of Social Services is responsible for victim care assistance and the assistance provided to date has primarily been for food assistance and personal care items. It is important that all social workers within the various Divisions of the Department are sensitized to the basic concepts of human trafficking, hence it is the intent to conduct a series of sensitization training sessions with the first commencing later this month to expose as many social workers and paraprofessional staff to the realities of human trafficking in The Bahamas.

Urban Renewal

Mr. Speaker, Urban Renewal is at the heart of a Stronger Bahamas. As the Department of Social Services pursues its mandate, people must be at the centre of any initiative not just as beneficiaries but as respected participants. The social services component of the Urban Renewal programme is driven by this concept, hence all Units are charged with the responsibility of developing community programming that would be ongoing throughout the year.

In New Providence, these programmes focused on areas such as behavior modification, character building, job preparedness, computer and life skills training. It should be noted that several of these programmes were implemented without funding and at no cost to the Department of Social Services through partnerships identified by the staff of the Urban Renewal Component.

Some specific programmes included:

Parenting Training – conducted by the staff of the National Parenting Programme in August, 2014, for the Kemp Road Community.

Healthy Lifestyle Seminars - conducted in partnership with various health agencies

Character Renewed Programme for Males - basic hands-on training to high risk males in various skills areas including auto body painting and designs and auto mechanics.

Additionally, several events were hosted to sensitize the community on timely topics including Bullying, Road Safety, Breast Cancer, Male and Females Issues, Adolescence, Drugs and Alcohol, Hurricane Preparedness, Anger Management and Healthy Relationships.

The Urban Renewal Programme has assumed responsibility for the Department of Social Services’ House Repair Programme for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. A total of fifty-four (54) houses of clients who were determined to be in need, were repaired by the Urban Renewal Commission during the budget period 2014 – 2015 and the Department provided funds in the amount of one hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars ($135,000) towards the repair of these homes.

Urban Renewal Grand Bahama

The Social Services Component of the Urban Renewal Programme in Grand Bahama continues to be highly visible in the community and serves as a link between the community and the Department of Social Services particularly in identifying persons in need of assistance and ensuring that the assistance is provided. In conjunction with a community based organization, a very successful Cultural Heritage Festival was held in April in the Hunter's community. The component is also implementing a project in the Coral Gardens area of Freeport with the view of enhancing the environment and the implementation of programmes for the upliftment of the community.

Princess margaret hospital

This Division continues to play an integral role in the delivery of services to members of the public and daily strives to bring greater awareness to the phrase “the health of the nation is the wealth of the nation” by providing literature, direct services, guests speakers, and referrals to those who needed intervention.

Between January - May 2015, two thousand one hundred and seven (2,107) persons received assistance with the issuance of a med card which allowed them to access medical intervention totaling up to one hundred dollars ($100.00) daily. In most instances the card was issued for a three (3) month period or in the case of a disabled client the card was issued for approximately six (6) months.

Additionally, five hundred and fifty-five people (555) were approved for assistance for various specialized tests or treatments. Approvals were granted via the Department of Social Services and/or The Public Hospital Authority/ Princess Margaret Hospital. The largest number of requests were persons who needed MRI’s or Cat Scans to identify the needed treatment. Mammograms and treatment for heart ailments were also frequently requested.

Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre

The staff of Health Social Services at the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre continues to promote the enhancement of physical and psychological functioning with particular emphasis on the social and emotional impact of mental illness. Advocating for the rights and concerns of clients remains the focus of the staff as they are the link between the community and the Sandilands Rehabilitation Center, educating both clients and their relatives about their illness and helping them to access existing services available in the community. The staff of Health Social Service in an effort to strengthen family relationships, hosted another successful Annual Fun Day. Families were encouraged to visit throughout the year rather than just on special occasions.

Through the course of the year, the Group Homes were faced with many challenges, particularly the Foxdale Complex, which houses eighteen (18) males. Due to the many break-ins, we were forced to identify a more secure area which has already been identified and we are preparing to relocate in a few weeks. The aging population at the home is presenting another challenge which will soon necessitate the need for twenty-four hour care for Group Home residents.

CHILD WELFARE SERVICES

The care, protection and well being of children continues to be given priority by the Department of Social Services. A successful Child Protection Month was held in April, under the theme "Working Together to stop Child Abuse" in conjunction with our partners, the National Child Protection Council and the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Unit (SCAN) of the Ministry of Health. Several workshops, church services, youth rallies and seminars were held for stakeholders and students. I was delighted to attend a youth rally in Inagua and interact with the children and the community for three (3) wonderful days.

REHABILITATIVE WELFARE SERVICES

This Division continues to provide strong support to the judicial system through the provision of probation reports and the supervision of offenders or probation. The staff was exposed to a range of training programmes to enhance their knowledge of the challenges facing clients, to broaden their view of the community and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth. Rehabilitation Week was held in November, 2014 and a number of activities were held with particular focus on juveniles to expand their awareness of the ramifications of illegal appropriate behaviour, drug use and imprudent internet usage.

Constituency Matters

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the residents of Yamacraw for their continued support and confidence in me. Like the Member for Englerston, as I reflect on my 3years in that other place and 13 years in this place, I really say that God has brought us from a mighty long way. We have had some good times and some rough times, but together we have weathered the storm and I know that better days are here.

I want to blend my voice with colleagues and indicate my appreciation to the Minister of Finance and his team for the increase in constituency funding. It will go a long way in easing the burden of costs involved in operating a constituency office. Mr. Speaker, I have had the privilege of operating out of the same constituency in Elizabeth Estates from 1996 when we scrapped and paid the rent even before I ever entered these chambers and received a constituency funding.

I am also grateful for the increase in our capital and community funding. Over the years I have developed many parks throughout the length and breadth of Yamacraw and continue to refurbish them. We just completed the refurbishment of the playground equipment on Festival Park on Holly Road, Winton, we also refurbished playground equipment on the park in Australia Avenue and we are about to do the same at the park in Star Estates.

Constituency funding was also utilized to purchase band instruments through the Ministry of Education programme for Doris Johnson Secondary School last year and computers for Thelma Gibson Primary School this year. I have also committed to making a contribution towards the purchase of a bus for the school this month.

Funding has also been granted to the Eastern Community Association for the Festival and the Band and I cannot forget the Annual Yamacraw Basketball Tournament which is held in August . First up on the agenda in the new year is the Blue Hole Project in Colony Village.

I wish to thank the entire team in Yamacraw for untiring work they continue to do as we touch lives daily.

Conclusion

As I conclude, Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the Permanent Secretary and staff of the Ministry and the Director and Staff of the Department of Social Services and all the areas that fall under my portfolio, all that agencies and NGOs that partner with us to provide service to the Bahamian people.

Mr. Speaker, members opposite and many of the detractors of this Government are stunned by what a good friend of mine called this “miracle” Budget. Many of them don’t know what to say, they can’t believe what this Government has done with this economy in three years. So they coming up with all kind of spin, the member for East Grand Bahama seemingly went so far as to manipulate the numbers and then said we manipulating , others just seemed to have gone under the mattress, pulled out their old scripts, moved a comma or two then just went with the same ole, same ole.

Mr. Speaker, I commend the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and the Minister of State for Finance and their entire team. They have done a wonderful job in implementing strong fiscal measures and guiding us through the tough decisions to put this country back on the right track to becoming stronger. Quite frankly, very often the pill was hard to swallow, but we made it.

Mr. Speaker, the naysayers that have tried to deter us at every turn and surprised to see the turnaround made in three short years. They scoffed at last year’s Budget, they called the Rt. Hon. Member a dreamer and a peddler of false hope, and they said how often you want to “turn the corner”.

The fact of the matter, Mr. Speaker is we have turned the corner, in fact we are on the road to full recovery and we are going to get there – yes there are still many challenges to overcome and overcome them we will – because are on the road to a Stronger Bahamas and we will get there, Mr. Speaker. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, and the bearers of doom and gloom in this place and outside, that we will get there because, as the Psalmist said in 118th Division of the Psalms, verse 23:

“ This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the great people of Yamacraw, I support this 2015/16 Budget for a Stronger Bahamas – a safe, prosperous and modern Bahamas for all our people.

News date : 06/15/2016    Category : Business

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