Budget Debate Contribution by Hon. D. Shane Gibson

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June 21, 2016

Mr. Speaker,

I rise to thank the Almighty God for equipping me to serve the people of The Bahamas, particularly those in the Golden Gates Constituency, at this time and under the able leadership of Prime Minister the Right Honourable Perry Gladstone Christie. I pledge once again during this final budget debate before the next general election to uphold the ideals of the great Progressive Liberal Party which include to lift up the fallen, speak for those who have no voice, include the marginalized and to be a party of second chances – all to create a better and stronger Bahamas.

Mr. Speaker

I am proud today, to report on the prudent management of human and financial resources by both the Ministry of the Public Service and the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance; a portfolio which includes the Department of Labour, the National Insurance Board, the National Training Agency and the Bridge Authority. I take this opportunity to thank Permanent Secretaries Mrs. Hyacinth Winder Pratt and Mrs. Nicole Campbell and their teams for their vision, innovation, diligence and commitment to excellence over the past fiscal year.

The Ministry of the Public Service

I’ll start with, The Ministry of the Public Service, which is charged with multiple Human Resources, Establishment, Policy and other responsibilities.

Mr. Speaker

The volume of work is overwhelming for the number of staff members in most of the units. However, they often work long hours into the evenings and weekends to get the job done.

One of our goals this year, Mr. Speaker, is to increase the number of staff in the Ministry and the Public Service with the requisite skills to facilitate the work loads and demands being experienced.

Mr. Speaker

Under the able supervision of Under Secretary, Mrs. Janice Miller and the Public Service Commission, guided by Under Secretary Mrs. Prenell King-Rolle, who also serves as Secretary to the Public Service Commission, we have processed over 550 promotions during the 2015/2016 fiscal year. This includes 255 persons who were promoted in the clerical grade during the Service Wide Promotion Exercise. We also processed over 300 appointments inclusive of the appointment of 172 teachers and teachers’ aides.

The Ministry of the Public Service eagerly awaits the implementation of the IDB Public Sector Reform Project. This will cause the more efficient response by Human Resources Units to the increasing demands of managing and developing the skills of officers.

Mr. Speaker

In accordance with the 2013 Bahamas Public Service Union Industrial Agreement, during the fiscal year 2016/2017 Public Officers covered under the agreement will receive $1,200 added on to their annual salary in addition to their normal increment. Salary scales will also be extended by two (2) increments during this period. These salary benefits will be extended to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Department of Corrections, senior managers in the Public Service including the Secretary to the Cabinet, Financial Secretary, Auditor General, and Permanent Secretaries.

In accordance with the Industrial Agreements for the Bahamas Union of Teachers and the Bahamas Educators’ and Managerial Union, teachers and public school administrators will receive increases equivalent to two (2) increments in addition to their normal increment added to their salary during this fiscal period.

Mr. Speaker

During the fiscal period 2016/2017, my Ministry has been mandated, as mentioned in the Prime Minister’s Budget Communication, to integrate the services of workers in the Public Service to bring that number to an irreducible minimum. This will include regularizing the services of over 2,500 temporary officers who are paid weekly and monthly as well as contract officers earning minimum wage.

Mr. Speaker

The Public Service, like any other organization, has its bad apples. There is a perception that one cannot be fired in the Public Service. This is due, in part, to the lengthy process it often takes to do so. I note, however, Mr. Speaker, that with the transfer of a dedicated and efficient senior officer who seeks to ensure timely processing of the recommendations and a Legal Consultant has resulted in a reduction in the disciplinary matters, some of which have been before this Ministry for an inordinate amount of time.

Mr. Speaker

Thanks to our experienced Government negotiators, assisted by Acting First Assistant Secretary, Mr. Lavado Duncanson, we have now completed the industrial agreement with the Bahamas Air Traffic Controllers Union. It now joins the list of those Industrial Agreements that I mentioned in the Mid-year Budget. Negotiations with the Bahamas Customs Immigration and Allied Workers Union, and the Doctors Union are still ongoing - the latter being close to completion.

Mr. Speaker

The Short-term Policy Unit established in the Ministry of the Public Service in July 2015 and led by Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ms. Bridgette Hepburn has completed its review of the policies and wide consultation with Human Resources Managers in stakeholder ministries. The document is being finalized before being submitted for approval, after which it will be released on-line. This should go a long way in regularizing the way in which we address those matters affecting public officers in terms of fairness, equity and objectivity. Soon to be completed is the Post Qualifications Manual resulting in equity of qualifications for similar posts as best we can, and making Public Service career paths available to public officers and the private sector alike, particularly high school and college students. Concurrently, this Short-Term Policy Unit has begun its evolution to the Policy, Planning, Research and Development Unit responsible for ensuring the review and currency of policies and career paths, undertaking research, and the collection and analysis of data necessary to make informed decisions.

Mr. Speaker,

In May 2016, I brought a Bill, which was passed, to amend the Pensions Act to allow a serving Public Officer the opportunity to name the person or persons, through a notarized form, who should receive his or her pension, gratuity, payment for any outstanding salary or accumulated vacation leave, allowance, or any other monies due, upon his or her death. The officer would also have the option of changing the name(s) of the designated person(s) at any time.

Upon the enactment of this Bill, when an officer dies the designated beneficiary would need only to produce satisfactory evidence, so that payments in respect of gratuity, salary, vacation earnings or allowances could be effected in a timely fashion. This would alleviate the expense of the legal pursuit of the benefits as they would now be more readily available, thereby lessening the stress on families upon the death of a loved one.

The Government is ever grateful, Mr. Speaker, for the dedication and commitment of Public Officers in the execution of their duties and will seek to protect the widow or widower and dependents when they are removed through death in the line of duty. As a result, I will shortly present a Bill for an Act to Provide Benefits for Officers Killed in the Line of Duty which will make provisions for the widow or widower and dependents of Public Officers killed in the course of duty with the Bahamas Government to be granted benefits similar to those awarded to Police Officers who are killed in the line of duty. The Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs are drafting the Bill as we speak.

Mr. Speaker

We have a growing public service. Current government owned housing is inadequate for existing needs and new programmes that require new facilities continually come on stream.

Over the last fiscal year, the Accommodations Unit has assisted with new or additional accommodations for the Department of Statistics, the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Tourism, The Bahamas National Festival Commission, the National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit, the Bahamas Standards Bureau, the Auditor General’s Office in Exuma, the Department of Social Services in Grand Bahama, the Public Defenders Unit, my Ministry’s Training Department, the Beaches and Parks Commission, the Consular Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, the Central Purchasing Unit of the Ministry of Finance, the National Health Insurance Initiative and the Consumer Commission of the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance.

This Unit is now actively engaged in arranging suitable housing for the General Post Office, the Eugene Dupuch Law School, the Department of Lands and Surveys, the Family Courts, the Industrial Tribunal, the Road Traffic Department, Bahamas Information Services and most recently, for the Mortgage Relief Programme under the Ministry of Finance, among others.

You will note, Mr. Speaker, from the number of matters undertaken over the past twelve months that the work of the Unit is daunting. It is tasked with finding accommodations that meet the needs of the Agency with regard to space, health and safety, parking, bus routes, the remit of the Agency, security and the structure of the building. In addition, the duties of Accommodations and Accounts are about to increase. It is absolutely vital that in the coming months, this Unit be augmented with the requisite skills of Property and Project Management, IT Management and clerical support.

Mr. Speaker

I am pleased to announce, that the Ministry of the Public Service is a partner with the Ministry of Finance in the International Development Bank’s Sustainable Energy Efficient Buildings Project. It is anticipated, that upon completion of this study, measures will be taken to reduce the cost of electricity needed to satisfy the needs of government occupied buildings.

Mr. Speaker

Given the aggressive and progressive plans for the development of The Bahamas by this Government, the enhancement and development of the requisite skills for innovation and creativity, and to drive and sustain initiatives are an imperative.

Mr. Speaker,

In 2015, the Government commissioned a study, through the Commonwealth Secretariat (COMSEC) , for a review of the Public Service. This study showed that there is a need to concentrate on, among other things, governance, greater use of technology, succession planning for the public service, training at mid management and senior levels as well as greater inter-ministerial collaboration. In light of this, it is anticipated that one million dollars will be needed in 2016/2017 to foster these developments. The 2015 COMSEC Diagnostic Study of the Public Service rightly stated that “it is vital that [leaders] are selected for the future and not against the present requirements”.

The development of skills, however Mr. Speaker, must be coupled with a common understanding of Governance.

The Public Service can no longer be satisfied with the perception that it is a “disorganized entity, kidnapped by political favouritism”, hijacked by apathy and held hostage by the desire of ineffective Public Officers to protect their jobs and job processes. The demands of the people and the agenda of this Government will not allow it. Innovation, creativity, “merit, ability, service, efficiency in the performance of duty, responsibility, integrity and adherence to principles and values” must become the order of the day.

Accordingly, and as directed by the Prime Minister, the Ministry of the Public Service and the Public Service Commission are in discussion with the College of The Bahamas with a view to beginning an arm of the College with responsibility for the training and development of Public Officers. This training, scheduled to start in September 2016, will include the month long assessments for First Assistant Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries (formerly the AC Assessment), as well as Certificate courses for Accounts and Secretarial personnel, and for officers interested in Human Resources and Records Management. The assessments will include courses such as Governance and Financial Management. Participants will be assessed on skills such as innovative and creative thinking, communication, teamwork, analytical and strategic thinking and judgment.

The certificate courses will be designed to include a period of internship, similar to teaching practices and successful applicants may become eligible for remuneration.

The Spring Term will see the re-introduction of the Diploma in Public Administration for Senior Officers, who have not already completed this course, from the level of the First Assistant Secretary and up.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, the Public Service Centre for Human Resources Development (Training) is still in the process of re-organizing itself for reach and relevance. In this regard, a course schedule will be distributed with upcoming courses to be offered to include Customer Service, Communication in the Public Service, Defensive Driving, IT Applications, Lunch and Learn Sessions for those preparing for the Clerical and Executive Level Assessments, Supervision, and Upgrading courses, giving priority to those employees requiring additional academic qualifications for promotion. We are also in discussions with the Departments of Local Government and Education with a view to expanding the upgrading courses in BJC and / or BGCSE English Language to Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, Abaco and Exuma, where there may be a need. We anticipate that the Training Unit (PSCHRD) will play a pivotal role in the Government’s sustainable development for a ”Stronger Bahamas”.

Mr. Speaker, I invite the full participation of all of my Parliamentary colleagues in the activities celebrating retirees and honouring serving public officers, during Public Service Week, which will be observed from October 29th to November 6th of this year. We hope to have the addition of a Fun Day and the participation of parliamentarians on talk shows in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco and Exuma. There will be the usual float parade and volleyball tournament, a retirees appreciation event and we expect that the prizes for the winners of the Public Service Officers of the Year, this time, will more than double in keeping with the status of the honour.

THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOUR

Mr. Speaker, I now turn to the Department of Labour. I wish to again express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the dedicated staff of the Department of Labour for the remarkable job that they have done in the execution of their duties and ensuring that the policies of the Government are implemented efficiently.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Labour has a staff complement of seventy-six (76) persons, operating two (2) offices in New Providence and sub-offices in Grand Bahama, Abaco, Andros, Eleuthera and Exuma.

Over the past twelve months, these outstanding public officers have maintained industrial harmony in the country while at the same time, positively impacting the working people of the Bahamas.

The Labour Relations Unit, for the period July 2015 to June 2016, has been extremely productive in solving the trade disputes filed in accordance with the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act - achieving a 91% success rate for trade disputes.

This means that only 9% of disputes filed had to be referred to either the Bahamas Industrial Tribunal or the Supreme Court.

The Labour Relations Unit is led by Sr. Deputy Director of Labour Althea Albury who has also implemented an ongoing retraining program in conjunction with the Legal Unit and the Office of the Attorney General to ensure that Conciliation Officers are kept up to date with recent judicial decisions. Additionally, two members of the Legal Unit attended the International Labour Organization Training Center in Turin, Italy during May and June 2016 to enhance their knowledge in matters relating to ILO Standards and the International Labour Organization Maritime Convention 2006.

Mr. Speaker, for the 2016 - 2017 period, the LRU became more efficient with the addition of four Conciliation Officers and the continuation of the internal training workshops. The Government's involvement with the International Labour Organization, the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Development Bank will allow these officers to have access to new and innovative training opportunities.

Mr. Speaker, the Public Employment Services Unit has been at the forefront of the Government’s effort in reducing levels of unemployment in the Bahamas. The revitalized team of Officers, headed by Deputy Director of Labour Mrs. Patrenda Russell-Brice, has refocused these efforts by registering new job seekers and actively matching these persons with job vacancies.

The PES Unit has implemented a relatively progressive and robust program where officers are building relationships with employers and community based organizations in an effort to more efficiently identify job vacancies.

Over the next twelve months, the PES Unit will expand its reach in New Providence and the major Family Islands with the addition of at least seven officers and the opening of sub offices on Carmichael Road and Fox Hill. The Unit will also duplicate the two week training workshop conducted in Grand Bahama in January 2016 to New Providence with inclusion of Family Island offices. Additionally the anticipated training workshops in conjunction with the Citizen Security and Justice Program will improve the IT Network and improve the delivery of quality customer service to members of the public.

Mr. Speaker,

During the period under review, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration Unit faced a number of challenges; but attained great success in its investigations and inspections conducted.

For the period in review, the Unit conducted 1,284 inspections with a completion rate of 96%.

Additionally, Mr. Speaker, the Legal Unit of the Department was strengthened with the deployment of an Assistant Counsel from the Office of the Attorney General. During the past twelve months, 36 applications for registration of industrial agreements were received and the Legal Unit vetted and registered 23 industrial agreements with the remaining anticipated to be completed and registered in the next ninety days.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Labour has been instrumental in facilitating the Government’s Policy of Bahamianization. To ensure that Labour Certificates, which are a requirement for applications for Work Permits, are only issued after it is confirmed that Bahamians are unavailable to fill the vacancy, the Department of Labour has been working with industry partners and the Department of Immigration. This strong relationship has resulted in numerous Bahamian workers being considered and employed in specialized areas in the labour market.

Mr. Speaker, the staff of the Department of Labour on the Family Islands must also be commended for working extremely hard in meeting the challenges associated with their respective communities.

Mr. Speaker, in addition to the primary functions of the Department of Labour, Director Farquharson and his team have positioned the staff to respond to other demands placed on them at the national, regional and international levels.

105th Session of the International Labour Conference

As the Desk Officer for the International Labour Organization, Director Farquharson and members of the Social Partners participated in the 105th session of the International Labour Conference held from May 30th to June 12th at the Headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Under the theme "Building a Future With Decent Work", this year’s conference brought together officials from 187 countries to discuss and develop strategies to positively impact the world of work. I was extremely pleased and honored to address the General Assembly of the International Labour Conference and report on the activities of the Bahamas in relation to ILO matters. My remarks included a status report on the 2016-2017 plan of the National Tripartite Council, government’s efforts to address youth unemployment with the Citizen Security and Justice Loan Program, the National Empowerment Placement Program and the Public-Partnership Program developed with the Grand Bahama Shipyard.

Organization of American States

Mr. Speaker representatives from the Department of Labour are expected to attend the first meeting of the Technical Preparatory Meeting of Working Groups 1 and 2 of the Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labour (IACML) scheduled for June 27th and 28th in Washington, D.C. During this meeting, Director Farquharson and other technical officers from the Americas will develop plans and strategies for Ministers of Labour from the OAS to address the many issues affecting workers in developing countries in the Americas.

Inter-American Development Bank

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Labour has been identified as the Government Agency to facilitate the Youth Employment Component of the Citizen Security and Justice Loan Program. This program targets youth, ages sixteen to twenty nine (16 – 29) with employability skills and is expected to begin in October of this year. It will employ and train some 2600at-risk youth, focusing on the development of soft skills and training through community development projects.

This program will also strengthen the Public Employment Services Unit of the Department of Labour, by enhancing the Electronic Labour Exchange (employment portal), staff training, engagement of employers, upgrade of sub-offices and the establishment of new sub offices in Eastern and South Western New Providence.

Mr. Speaker, the role the Department of Labour plays is vital to the government’s strategy in promoting and maintaining peace and harmony in the workplace. The staff of the Department has multiple responsibilities but over the past twelve months have risen to the occasion and performed above expectation. It is anticipated that for the 2016 - 2017 period, the Department will be focused on the following objectives:

l Relocation of the Department of Labour Headquarters to the City Corporate Centre on or before July 31, 2016

l Establishment and Opening of the Department of Labour Carmichael Road Sub-Office on or before June 30, 2016

l Establishment of the new sub offices in Fox Hill, Eight Mile Rock and Bimini by the second quarter of 2017

l Implementation of Components I, II and III of the Citizen Security and Justice Program.

THE NATIONAL INSURANCE BOARD

MODERNIZATION OF NIB’S IT SYSTEMS

Mr. Speaker, I now turn to the National Insurance Board. During this budget cycle, NIB commenced Rollout 2 of its new Insurance Administration System which went live on April 1st, 2016. This new system, which is a tangible manifestation of E-government in action, will make many of the services provided to both employers and insured persons available online.

When the system is fully implemented, it will completely modernize the business of NIB so that it will be easier to access information, register, pay contributions, obtain letters of good standing, submit claims and track your contribution status. I am pleased to report that the National Insurance Board is now able to accept all major credit cards for the payment of contributions.

However, those who are familiar with the implementation of IT systems of this magnitude will appreciate that even with the best planning and management, projects of this size will encounter unexpected issues and challenges along the way.

Mr. Speaker, there were delays in the go live date for rollout 2 and challenges continue. However, those issues are reducing in number daily, as additional efforts are put in place to deal with the backlog of claims received during the downtime period in March of this year. Claimants have been patiently awaiting the payment of their benefits; and I wish to join the Board and executive team in thanking NIB’s customers for their patience during the downtime and this transition period.

Mr. Speaker, many of you would have seen the public apology that the Chairman and Director of National Insurance would have issued to customers over the protracted transition period. I have been assured that they are all working assiduously to address the setbacks, and more importantly the backlog of claims. I have been advised that this backlog will be dealt with this month and all insured persons would be in receipt of their payments within acceptable timeframes.

In this vein, Mr. Speaker, I take this opportunity to encourage persons who have concerns, to call NIB’s customer hotlines or visit their website and Facebook page to make inquiries and obtain information.

Mr. Speaker, as I outlined in my previous contributions, the new IT system now allows for claimants to receive the payment of all short term benefits by direct deposit to their bank accounts, thus eliminating the need to visit NIB offices to collect a cheque. As of June 1st, all short-term benefits (that is - maternity, sickness, injury and unemployment) will be paid via direct deposit. For all new claims, banking information is required at the time of submission to facilitate the direct deposit for the payment.

Mr. Speaker, once the IT system is fully implemented, there are a number of positive impacts ahead such as the ease of doing business for NIB customers, operational efficiencies and an improved customer experience. Customers can look forward to greater convenience, faster service and shorter wait times. Rollout 3, which is expected by July, is the final phase of the implementation, and will enable employers to handle the majority of their business activities with NIB online – that is request letters of good standing, submit their contributions online, and pay contributions by credit card or through online banking. This final phase will also present enhanced features for insured persons on the registration self-service portal such as tracking the status of claims and receiving information and email notifications.

Mr. Speaker, within the upcoming budget cycle the self-service portal will also allow for more services to become available for beneficiaries as the system rolls out, such as monitoring the progress of a claim – from submission through to knowing when the funds were dispatched to their bank accounts.

FINANCIAL PERFORMANCES

r. Speaker, based on preliminary results for 2015, NIB collected some $260.5 million dollars as at December 2015. This is $2.8 million below budget. Other results of operations for the 2015 fiscal year show that investment income decreased by approximately $7.16 million mainly due to NIB’s share of loss for the Bank of the Bahamas. Benefits increased by 5.7% to $258 million from $244 million in 2014; and there was a savings in Administrative expenses of $8.1 million.

As at 31 March 2016, total assets of the National Insurance Fund stood at just over one point eight billion dollars ($1.8Billion). Investments represent some $1.65Billion of total assets; with total reserves for the same period of just over 1.712 Billion dollars. Overall income for NIB was impacted by the failure of Baha Mar to open as projected.

INFRASTRUCTURAL PROJECTS

Mr. Speaker, continuing its investments in the growth of this economy, I am pleased to advise that over the past 11 months, NIB has made tremendous progress in several major infrastructural developments:

* The renovation of the Court of Appeal at Claughton House was completed;

* Work has begun on the construction of the Government Complex in Bimini as well as the C.A. Smith Storage Facility in Freeport;

* The Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre’s Robert Smith Child, Adolescent and Special Education Unit was commissioned this week.

* The Flamingo Gardens Clinic’s Cold Storage Facility was officially opened at the end of April.

* The formal handing over to the Ministry of Health of the mini hospitals in Abaco and Exuma respectively was completed in April. Both are scheduled for official opening this month.

In looking ahead, Mr. Speaker, the National Insurance Board is currently in the final stages of the completion of the Ministry of National Security Building on John F. Kennedy Drive, with the anticipated completion set for December 2016.

COMPLIANCE

Mr. Speaker, ensuring optimal levels of compliance has been challenging for NIB, however.

The Compliance Department, although having fell short of its broad target of 263 million in 2015 by 2.8 million, it launched a highly successful Installment Agreement initiative in February of this year to coincide with business license renewal, resulting in the Board collecting more than 400 thousand dollars in outstanding payments. NIB proposes to create additional partnerships with other government agencies in its compliance thrust.

REGISTRATION DRIVE

As you know, Mr. Speaker, NIB is the agency tasked with facilitating registration for the National Health Insurance program and the new NIB state-of-the-art smart card is considered to be the gateway to NHI. NIB began its registration of persons for the smart card in April 2014, and launched the enhanced drive in January 2016 with the opening of 5 additional satellite locations in New Providence. NIB also expanded its mobile units in New Providence and Grand Bahama. As of April 30, 2016, some 209,000 smart cards have been issued.

Mr. Speaker, the expanded registration drive wound down its operations at four of these satellite registration centres – JL Centre on Blake Road, VBM Building on Pitt Road, Cotton Tree Plaza on Bernard Road, and the South Beach Shopping Centre on East Street South, which closed on May 31, 2016. With approximately 80,000 school children and 60,000 insured persons remaining to be registered, registration will continue. The mobile units will be deployed to address the registration at schools and at the passport office to deal with the increased requests for passports during the summer months. Additionally, registration will continue at Enoch Backford Auditorium on Carmichael Road, and The Town Centre Mall in New Providence, and at Family Island local offices. Considering the old yellow cards expired on April 30, 2016, I encourage those persons who have not yet registered for the new smart card to do so as soon as possible. In addition to accessing NHI services in the future, persons who register for the smart card will also receive by email a personal identification number – or PIN – from NIB, enabling them to visit the Board’s website and activate their Registrant Self-Service Account. Second to obtaining the card, activating the online account is of utmost importance.

LOOKING AHEAD

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of important and exciting plans for the months ahead at NIB. Firstly, there is the wage ceiling rate increase and increases in pension and grant payments. Due to an amendment to the National Insurance Regulations in 2010, which came into effect in 2011, NIB is obligated to introduce automatic increases every two years to pensions, grants and the insurable wage ceiling.

· In the case of adjustments to pensions and grants, the increases are based on the annual percentage increase in The Bahamas Retail Price Index over the immediately preceding two calendar years, prior to the year that the adjustment takes effect.

· In the case of increases to the ceiling on insurable wage, this is determined based on the change in the Retail Price Index of The Bahamas plus 2%. The first automatic adjustment to the wage ceiling occurred in July 2014.

Figures released by the Department of Statistics indicate an increase of 1.18% in 2014 and 1.88% in 2015. Accordingly, all minimum pension rates and grants will increase by 3.1%. The insurable wage ceiling will increase from $620p.w or $2,687p.m. to $650p.w. or $2,817p.m.

The increase will take effect July 1st of this year, 2016.

IMPROVED CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Mr. Speaker, A customer advocacy department has been established to address customer inquiries and complaints in an effort to improve customer satisfaction at NIB. This dedicated team has been working behind the scenes to assist customers and address concerns throughout the IT system implementation, and during this current transition period. Plans are underway to take a critical analysis of the current customer experience and map a new customer journey – where a one-stop shop experience is offered to all of our customers. Customers would enjoy interacting with just one customer service representative who will address their matters - from an inquiry to the receipt of a payment.

Mr. Speaker, to stay in touch with its customers by leveraging the modern way of interacting and disseminating information, NIB has heightened its social media presence, making information available in an instant through its Facebook page, and will be launching in the coming months, a new and improved, more user friendly and interactive website.

Mr. Speaker, customers can also look forward to a new and more comfortable experience when the Occupational Health & Safety Unit, responsible for industrial injury cases, opens its new offices on Carmichael Road this summer. Also, for expanded convenient access to NIB services in the Family Islands, additional offices are to be opened in Bunches, Long Island and in the Berry Islands.

SOCIAL PROTECTION FLOORS

Mr. Speaker, the new global standard for social security has widened considerably since the 1970s, when the social safety net minimum standards were being promoted. Today the discussion has moved to providing SOCIAL PROTECTION FLOORS, which require a more comprehensive social contract between the Government and its citizens than simply making “safety nets” available. The social protection floors agenda, is at the very heart of the United Nations sustainable development goals agenda to eradicate poverty across the globe by the year 2030.

Mr. Speaker, This Government has taken demonstrable steps to meet the new global social agenda through its RISE program in the Ministry of Social Services, the commencement of the universal health care agenda and continued updating of our national insurance scheme so that it remains relevant. Within the coming weeks members will receive a compendium of proposed legislative amendments to the national insurance legislation designed to improve the efficiency of the programme.

Mr. Speaker, the months ahead are promising to be transformative ones for the National Insurance Board and I look forward to these successes.

THE NATIONAL TRAINING AGENCY

Mr. Speaker, I now turn to the National Training Agency. Over the past three years, the NTA’s work has concentrated on defining and laying out the foundation for a sustainable competency based training and job placement system.

The Agency, upon the request of my colleague, the Hon. Minister of Education, Science, and Technology, supplied the twenty (20) hours of job preparation training for tenth and eleventh graders as a necessary requirement for the current High School Diploma. The Agency developed and conducted the train-the-trainer program to ensure the standardized quality of the program throughout the school system.

The Agency also rendered service as a referral mechanism to the Department of Labor for “unemployed” persons seeking jobs; to BTVI for persons interested in career vocational opportunities and to institutions of higher learning such as the College of The Bahamas for those interested in pursuing tertiary academic education. Mr. Speaker, I am truly proud of the hard work and remarkable success experienced by the NTA in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Exuma, and Eleuthera. Individuals once discouraged by a sense of failure and the inability to find useful work to sustain themselves and their families are achieving robust success and can now have confidence in themselves and their self-worth.

As you know Mr. Speaker, the NTA is not a school, college or institution. It does not have classrooms, labs, instructors, or teachers. Instead, the Agency provides a social service, which is designed to operate as a safety net to catch those who might fall through the academic cracks, and provide them with the opportunity to develop competency based skills and achieve substantial certification. In this regard, the Agency works with a number of industry training providers and also functions as an awarding, certifying body delivering relevant competency skills-based qualifications.

To date, 11 cohorts of trainees have benefited from The National Training Agency. In New Providence, the sixth cohort of over 270 trainees is currently underway. The fourth cohort of 85 is currently underway in Grand Bahama, two cohorts have been completed in Exuma and one cohort in Eleuthera, totaling over 1,500 trainees who fully completed the prescribed 14 weeks of training in both soft and competency-based practical skills - with an additional 1,000-plus trainees completing the four-week soft skills Mandatory Workforce Preparatory Programme.

Mr. Speaker, this means that over 2,500 young Bahamians have personally benefited from the training, job placement services and opportunities offered by the NTA. These trainees all receive the NTA’s Mandatory Workforce Preparatory Program (MWPP) soft skills certification, which is rapidly increasing in value in the workplace. In addition, the trainees who completed their prescribed practical skills component received skills certification from the relevant international bodies and from local providers who are held by the NTA to comparable international standards.

 

Mr. Speaker, I can emphatically state that the National Training Agency has made and continues to make a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of unemployed and at risk youth.

Statistics garnered from NTA’s last five cohorts of trainees in New Providence show 31% of them residing in the Southwest and Southern districts. 29% of them reside in the North, Northwest, and Northeast districts, 20% reside in the East, Southeast and Northeast, 18% reside in Central New Providence, and 2% reside in the West. Mr. Speaker, the districts I have mentioned represent the fact that the NTA is reaching those who have the greatest need in our communities such as Bain & Grants Town, The Grove (over the hill), Fox Hill, Farm Road, Carmichael Road, Pinewood Gardens and Nassau Village.

To date, the NTA can boast of the following international certifications, in the various disciplines achieved by its trainees: Food & Beverage Services, 220 certifications; Housekeeping, 200 certifications; Food Preparation, 150 certifications; Butler Services, 60 certifications; Allied Health Care Patient Care Technician, 150 certifications; Retail Knowledge, 80 certifications and Office Procedures, 70 certifications. Additionally, the following local certifications were achieved: Auto Service & Care, 100 certifications; Auto Body & Collision, 10 certifications, Quick Books, 30 certifications and Boat & Safety Maintenance, 30 certifications.

Mr. Speaker, I am also happy to report that within the last 11 months, over 140 NTA trainees secured full-time employment. For instance, Resorts World Bimini has employed 16 NTA trainees in various areas. 15 of these trainees are young Bahamian males. The One & Only Ocean Club has employed five Butlers, again all males.

The average wage for these 140 trainees is $310.00 per week, which accounts for over $2.2 million dollars in economic stimulation for our economy.

Mr. Speaker, the Agency has also developed new partnerships with some 24 companies, with whom many of the trainees have found employment. Furthermore Mr. Speaker, from July 2015 to the present, the National Training Agency has successfully been able to place 300 of its trainees in a short-term internship program. Many of them were referred by the Agency upon request from employers, and many of these employers expressed surprise and satisfaction at the positive attitudes and quality performance that the interns displayed.

Mr. Speaker, I find it necessary to extend the Government’s gratitude to the many private organizations that have partnered with the NTA in, New Providence, Grand Bahama, Bimini, Eleuthera and Exuma to provide the necessary skills training and internship opportunities.

They include Diamonds International, Sandals Royal Bahamian, Atlantis, Sky Bahamas and the One & Only Ocean Club, Resorts World Bimini, Bahama Rock, Dolly Madison Home Center, Freeport Container Port, Freeport Harbor Company, Grand Bahama Shipyard, Grand Lucayan Hotel, Island Seas Hotel, Memories Resort, Grand Isles Resort, Pelican Bay Hotel, Exuma Palms Resort,The Cove, Cape Eleuthera Resort & Marina and the Cotton Bay Resort. I encourage other private entities to partner with us in this worthwhile initiative.

Mr. Speaker, I must also mention that several trainees have secured employment in the Public Sector at the following locations: Ministry of Tourism, The Bahamas Electricity Corporation and at the National Insurance Board doing preparatory work for the National Health Insurance program.

Mr. Speaker, in the coming months, the National Training Agency will be seeking to expand this vital training programme, to other islands where it is needed including Abaco, Andros, Bimini, Inagua and Long Island and will enter into discussions with the owners and managers of the developments on these islands to offer skills training and internships to our young people so that they can become employable.

Mr. Speaker, The Agency will also be partnering with the City & Guilds Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) to deliver competency based/ workplace assessed training at the supervisory management level. The ILM Centre will reside in the NTA’s Vocational Activities and Convention Center (VACC) which is adjacent to the NTA’s current space.

Mr. Speaker, the Vocational Activities and Convention Center is designed to be a first class facility that can compete with any such facility in the nation. It will house administrative offices, ILM tutorial rooms, a fully equipped computer lab, events/ meeting rooms and a convention hall. It is anticipated that the events/ meeting rooms and convention hall will be ready and operational by August of this year and will be available for rental to the public.

Mr. Speaker, the VACC will create a substantial source of revenue for the NTA and will aid the expansion of the work of the NTA.

Last but not least Mr. Speaker, the creativity and innovation that drives the success of the NTA is led by its Executive Director Agatha Marcelle, who with a small but dedicated and passionate team, is doing extraordinary work geared toward improving employability skills and increasing workforce productivity levels.

CONSUMER AFFAIRS

Mr. Speaker, I now wish to direct your attention to the Consumer Affairs Unit of my Ministry and the hard work and contributions the officers continue to make on a daily basis.

For the period May 2015 to April 2016 in New Providence, Mr. Speaker, some 5,400 inspections were conducted. On the Family Islands and Grand Bahama, a total of 1,775 inspections were carried out during that period.

This unit is being operated with a minimum number of employees. Therefore, my Ministry has been granted the approval to engage the services of a number of persons to be added to the current list of Price Inspectors in New Providence to strengthen this Unit and to sustain its policing efforts and enforcement of the Price Control Act.

Mr. Speaker, the engagement of additional staff as Price Inspectors will increase the competence of the Consumer Unit in policing the 28 zones in New Providence as currently this unit only has four(4) Price Inspectors performing this function.

SUPPORTING NEEDS AND EQUIPMENT

Mr. Speaker, it is pointless to expect and demand that this Unit perform at the highest level of productivity without being provided with the necessary tools.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, under the Budget in new spending, consideration should be given to providing this Unit with transportation for employees to effectively carry out daily inspections as vehicles/transportation is critically essential to successfully achieve these objectives.

THE PRICE COMMISSION

You are aware, Mr. Speaker, that the price of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) or Cooking Gas, upon the recommendation of The Price Commission was reduced last year.

The Commission has undertaken to closely monitor this particular commodity on a six-month basis to ensure that both consumers and industry participants are dealt with fairly as users and providers of this product. Mr. Speaker, the Commission is also giving consideration to a request by The Bahamas Retailers, Petroleum Dealers Association for a marginal increase on gasoline and diesel.

THE CONSUMER PROTECTION COMMISSION

Mr. Speaker, just recently the Consumer Protection Commission launched the opening of its office, which is located in the Teachers Annex Building next to the Teachers and Salaried Workers Cooperative Administration Building. This Commission is finally in full operation to receive and address consumer complaints.

EDUCATIONAL INITIATIVES

Additionally, the Consumer Affairs Unit, The Consumer Protection Commission and The Price Commission will execute their combined efforts in establishing a unified Education Initiative for the benefit of all persons across The Bahamas. Again, Mr. Speaker I commend them for their handwork and pledge my commitment to providing the resources needed to ensure their success.

THE BRIDGE AUTHORITY

Mr. Speaker, during the 2015/2016 period, The Bridge Authority has embarked on a number of projects which include: the Paradise Island (East) Bridge Repair and Strengthening Scheme:

a. The Bridge Authority completed the tendering process for the rehabilitative works on Paradise Island East Bridge and selected Island Site Development (ISD) to carry out the work, which began on February 29th 2016. The estimated time of completion for the rehabilitation is forty two (42) weeks.

b. In 2015, The Bridge Authority commenced the upgrading of lighting on both bridges to a more energy efficient induction lighting in an effort to cut costs. This project is expected to be completed by the end of August 2016.

Additionally, The Bridge Authority obtained Cabinet approval for the new toll fares on March 31st 2016. The official toll notice was gazetted on April 27th, 2016.

With the new toll fares in effect, The Bridge Authority will no longer absorb value added tax on cash collected in the lanes. VAT is now inclusive in the new rates. However, the collection of VAT on Smart Cards & Transponders commenced in January 2015.

E-Telling & System Technology Update

Mr. Speaker, with the implementation of Value Added Tax and the current technological and practical challenge involved in collecting VAT, The Bridge Authority’s Board of Directors has agreed that the best solution for the way forward is to transition into E-Tolling.

The changes to the system also accommodate taxi drivers, meaning that all taxis, regardless of size would pay a flat toll of $2 provided they open and fund a Transponder account. Otherwise, taxis over seven feet tall will pay a $4 toll and taxis shorter than seven feet will pay the $2 toll.

Mr. Speaker, at the moment, The Bridge Authority is in the process of preparing its Smart Card rollout campaign to encourage the public to move away from cash toll payment. Therefore, the number of tollbooths handling cash will be reduced from three booths to two. Businesses and individuals who maintain Smart Cards or Transponder accounts will then have two all E-tolling lanes rather than one e-tolling lane.

Website

Mr. Speaker, the Bridge Authority’s website will be a critical part of interacting with customers on a regular basis. Phase one is to build and launch the website by July 1st.

Once the site has been launched, The Bridge Authority will proceed to Phase Two, which involves the e-commerce features of the site. This will enable customers to manage their accounts online including replenishing their toll accounts, obtaining account statements, VAT invoices and VAT Receipts. Phase Two should be completed by the end of this year.

As for the development and implementation of a contributory Employee Pension Plan, Mr. Speaker, the Bridge Authority has identified a provider for the proposed pension plan. The proposal is being reviewed with a projected implementation date in late 2016. I look forward to the Bridge Authority’s continued success.

FINANCIALS & STATISTICS:

a) Income 2014 - $5,622,598                   Income 2015 - $5,708,415(unaudited)

b) Expenses 2014 - $4,931,300                Expenses 2015 $5,266,279(unaudited)

c) Net Income 2014-$731,547                  Net Income 2015- $453,470

Total Value of Bonds Issued:                       $34,000,000

Total Value of Bonds Outstanding:               $29,000,000

Maturity Dates:                                          $7,000,000 due on March 24, 2019

$8,000,000 due on March 24, 2024

$8,000,000 due on March 24, 2029

$6,000,000 due on March 24, 2034

Interest Rates:            Maturity 24/03/2019 - Prime Rate +                       1 ¼% p.a.

Maturity 24/03/2024 - Prime Rate +                                                        1 ½% p.a.

Maturity 24/03/2029 - Prime Rate +                                                        15/8%p.a.

Total Balances at Bank as at December 2015                                          $11,330,058.22*

*($6M is received from the Bonds issued in December 2015 for renovation of east bridge which commenced in February 2016)

Reserve Fund Total:                       $10,431,149.33

By Hon. D. Shane Gibson, M.P.,

Minister of Labour and National Insurance

and Minister of the Public Service

Source: Bahamas Information Services

News date : 06/21/2016    Category : Business

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