Annual Fiscal Budget Presentation

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June 24, 2016

The new manner of budget presentation that is user friendly, clear and understandable clearly illustrates the PM’s commitment to democracy, accountability and transparency.

I shall speak primarily about the administration of justice, and especially swift justice, the second limb of Project Safe Bahamas – the country’s only holistic crime fighting strategy.

What is Swift Justice?

Swift Arrest

Swift Bill of Indictment

Swift to Trial

Swift Prosecution

Swift Sentencing and if Guilty

Swiftly to Jail

That is what we mean by Swift Justice!

It is accomplished by strategic planning arising from weekly meetings of the stakeholders in the administration of justice leading to enhanced communication, cooperation and collaboration.

Madame President, I want to let the Bahamian people know today that when it comes to delivering swift justice this Government has delivered a straight ‘A’ Report!

Madame President, this progress report which I am presenting to the Bahamian people in this Honourable Chamber, in their chamber, represents four years of diligence, hard work and determination to, for the people:

•          increase the number of criminal courts to 10

•          modernize the court facilities in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas through technology.

•          decrease the backlog in the courts

•          increase the speed of criminal prosecutions

•          increase the efficiency of prosecution

•          reduce adjournments and fast tracking cases

•          providing witness protection services to individuals who want to cooperate with the justice system

•          increasing the rate of convictions in matters going to trial by better collaboration with investigators and witnesses enabling thorough preparation for trial

•    increasing the frequency of collaboration between the law enforcement agencies (by having meetings every Wednesday.)

·         Concurrent focus on closing “escape routes”

o   IJ – calendaring – update

o   Court reporting

o   Jury administration

o   Public defender

·         Institutional data capture and analysis to enable informed strategic planning

Madame President Swift Justice is working and it is working because of an incredible amount of coordination, strategic planning, institutional adjustments, a desire on the part of this government towards value delivery and a deep concern for the people of this beautiful Commonwealth.

EXPLAIN CONSEQUENCE OF SWIFT JUSTICE BEING CANCELLED IN 2007.

Swift justice is working.

BEFORE 2012 THERE WAS NO INSTITUTIONALIZE COLLECTION OF DATA.

In 2012 we commenced institutionalized record keeping so that decisions could be made and planning done based on accurate information.  I have regularly given an account of the performance of the Office of the Attorney General.

In 2015, 114 more cases were tried than in 2012.

Discussions with Consultants indicate the need to step up change in the area of case management.  Prosecutors and Defence Counsel, as managed by the Court, need to be more aware of the cost of court time. For example, in a murder trial it is not unusual for several witnesses to be called to prove that the person is dead. In a murder trial!

The defence usually is “I did not do it”, not that the person is not dead. So, why are witnesses being called to prove that the person is dead? It is vitally important for the judiciary to be aggressive about case management. Prosecution and defence need to be encouraged to agreed uncontested matters, such as the person is dead, so that only contested matters occupy the court’s time.

This is very important to maximize improvements and efficiencies in the system so that victims and accused persons can see and feel that their system works for them.

I am emphasizing this because we have eliminated and are eliminating delays by closing “escape routes” and others are being created. Unnecessary delays must not be tolerated. Zero tolerance for unnecessary delays.

The changes implemented in 2012 in preparation of cases have not only led to disposing of more matters but it has led to higher conviction rates. YTD 2016 the conviction rate is 71% guilty to 29% not guilty.

In 2015 the conviction rate had more than doubled from 31% in 2012 to 63% in 2015. This trend is continuing in 2016 where YTD the conviction rate has further increased to 71%. Swift Justice is working.

The time to serve a VBI saw a marked decrease from 344 days in 2012 to 70 days YTD 2016. This is important because it’s the fast tracking to trial that enables victims to bring swift closure that the tragedy and trauma resulting from crime.

Madame President, I am pleased to report that, just recently, the men accused of murdering police Detective Wayne Rolle, were tried and convicted within a year of the commission of the offence! That is Swift Justice! Further, thirty three (33) matters were tried within one year in 2015! In 2015, seven (7) murders tried in 1 year That is Swift Justice! Madame President as we continue to tell the Bahamian people, accused persons know that they will be caught, tried and punished within a reasonable period.

Recently one of the prosecutors told me of an appearance before a judge where the accused was asked when were you charged? The response was January. And when is your matter set down for trial? The answer was September. The Judge asked the accused how could bail reasonably be expected? It’s a new day.

Our analysis of what’s happening with bail applications shows us that they have steadily been decreasing. From 1109 in 2014 (when we decided to track this statistic) to 963 in 2015 and a further decrease is expected in 2016 – down to 902 if current trends continue. At the moment we think that offenders are realizing that matters are being heard within a reasonable period of time. So as well as a decrease in the number of repeated applications for bail, there is a decrease in the initial application for bail. Bails for murder are down. Those given in 2015 were primarily in matters that had been in the system for over 3 years.

Disposing of the backlog has also seen steady success. Down from 1059 in 2012 to 737 in YTD 2016. We expect to see a very dramatic reduction by the end of this year. We have asked the Chief Justice to bring on a Judge specifically to deal with backlog. Also, we in collaboration with stakeholders we are drafting plea bargaining and sentencing guidelines.

Starting this week we are increasing the allocation of time and resources to citizen involvement in the system. The criminal justice system starts with a citizen who reports a matter. The system needs that person to become a witness. And it ends with citizens who are prepared to serve as jurors.

Imagine a murder case that has been investigated, the accused charged, the VBI presented in record time and the matter is ready for trial - let’s say in nine months. This matter cannot be tried if witnesses are not prepared to come to give evidence. And it cannot be tried if persons are not prepared to serve as jurors. All the work is done but we can’t proceed. And why? Lack of involvement by citizens. We want citizens to have a full appreciation for their vital role in the administration of justice.

So even though the system has the capacity to sustain and complete trials within a reasonable period of time, unless citizens are prepared to do their part, the system will not work as intended.

On Saturday Office of the Attorney-General is hosting a Witness Care Seminar. Recognize that we can’t ask people to participate as witness unless they feel safe.

We pledge to do our part, including to:

·         Hold the witness’ hand throughout the process

·         To fully advise the witness of his rights, including witness anonymity and witness protection

·         To keep witnesses fully informed by maintaining regular contact with witnesses

·         To be available at times set for interviews

·         To be available to answer questions

We would also like witnesses to agree to do their part by staying engaged up to and including trial – including reporting any attempt to intimidate – an offence punishable by imprisonment and that trial will be fast tracked.

We shall also hold similar public seminars and event in relation to jury service.

Citizen involvement is ESSENTIAL for the system to work.

The Prime Minister is a strong proponent of PPP. We have commenced outreach on citizen involvement in support areas also, such as counseling and care of vulnerable witnesses, attending police interviews and so forth.

Laws and Technology
Madame President, the laws and technology we have put into our justice system have transformed the justice system. This government has passed several amendments towards improving the criminal justice system. One of these amendments that we proposed enables evidence to be taken by video link from witnesses who are not in the jurisdiction and not on the island.

Facilities now exist, Madame President, in several family islands to facilitate taking evidence by videoconference from witnesses. This will result in the significant saving of time, and monies from the public purse. Defendants are now routinely arraigned by way of video link. Facilities are also now available for Defence Counsel to hold private communications by telephone, from the Supreme Court, with defendants at the videoconferencing facility at the remand court at The Bahamas Department of Correctional Services in Fox Hill. The defendant's constitutional right to privately communicate with their counsel is thereby maintained.

We look forward to the day when only persons actually involved in a trial will be brought down to Bank Lane from Fox Hill. The convoys from Fox Hill have already decreased. We look forward to the new day that’s not too far away.

Prosecution and Defence Bar Meetings
Madam President, prosecutors and members of the defense bar have begun standing meetings, with the goal to improve the administration of the criminal justice system through increased cooperation. This is certainly a welcomed and commendable endeavor. The results are likely to be greater collaboration and therefore shorter trials. We expect significant savings of time and money; impacting even beyond the criminal justice system.

Strong focus will be brought to bear on the Magistrates Court. This is where the vast majority of citizens have their first encounter with the justice system.

Ministry of National Security Ministers Nottage and Bell – commendation for hard work that is showing good results.

They say guns and drugs are the common link in crime.

The RBPF is concerned about delays in the Magistrates Court. Given the crime rate and the link of guns and drugs to crime, gun and drug trials should be expedited, not delayed.

Expedite trials in Magistrates Court – the delays there must be investigated. I have already spoken with the Commissioner of Police – full time lawyer prosecutors will be assigned and processed streamlined - these cases to be fast tracked.

Madame President, we amended the Bail Act, so that it’s an offence to breach the terms of bail. This will particularly address the need for accused persons to respect the conditions of bail. We expect that this amendment will also result in a reduction of the number of offences committed by defendants while on bail. We also propose to introduce bail 'signing in' or reporting in, by electronic means, with a fingerprint identification of the defendant feature. The police have actually experienced other persons seeking to fraudulently sign in as the defendant. Defendants seeking to sign in, but not possessing identification, such as a driver's license or passport, have not been allowed to sign in because of the aforementioned experience of the police.

Madame President what we are seeking to do is tighten the system. These accused persons can be very creative in seeking to avoid the controls built into the justice system but I want to assure the Bahamian people that the more they attempt to evade us we will add further controls until the control matrix is so airtight that crime offenders won’t be able to sneeze without the government there to say bless you!

Bail monitoring – and prosecution of those who violate bail conditions will receive increased and enhanced focus.

Thank DPP – Garvin Gaskin and Team

Acknowledge Aaron Johnson deceased

Thank DLA – Antionette Bonamy

Thank former PS – Cynthia Gibbs

Announce new PS Marco Rolle

Civil Chambers

Freedom of Information
Madam President, as members would recall a Freedom of Information Act (Act No. 10 of 2012) was passed but, as a result of concerns raised by members of civil society, the same was never brought into force. Consequently, the government established a multi-disciplinary team, comprising persons from the Office of the Attorney- General, the Minister of Education Science and Technology, the Data Protection Commissioner Office, the College of The Bahamas and the Department of Archives.

This team was assembled, Madame President, in June 2015, and has worked assiduously to produce a revised draft bill. The consultation process was officially launched in April 2016 and, to date, there have been consultative town meetings on various islands. Meetings were held in New Providence on April 18 with subsequent meetings planned later this month. Meetings were also held in Freeport on April 25 and in Marsh Harbour, Abaco on the 12th of May 2016. The committee is presently finalizing arrangements for meetings on other family islands, including Exuma and Eleuthera, in the upcoming weeks.

Thank you to Team – an excellent example of PPP.

Citizens must be involved in making Freedom of Information work – the legislation is just the beginning.

Cellular Liberalisation
Additionally, Madam President, members would recall that the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in his budget communication highlighted several significant matters which necessitate legal assistance of our Office, one of which is the cellular liberalisation process. Our Office is ably represented on the Cellular Liberalisation Task Force by Mrs. Danya Wallace and her team.

As mentioned by the Rt. Hon Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in his budget communication of may 25 2016, in October 2015, Cable Bahamas Limited (CBL) emerged as the successful bidder in the two-phased selection process to liberalise the cellular mobile market in The Bahamas. This process was initiated back in November 2014, with a request for proposals (RFP) to operate a second cellular mobile network.

Madam President, in line with CBL’s phase I commitments, HOLDINGCO will hold 51.75% of the shares in NEWCO and CBL will hold the remaining 48.75%. Madam President, the licensing of NEWCO within the next few weeks will mark yet another significant milestone of this government’s commitment to introduce competition in the cellular mobile market. It also foreshadows and augers well for The Bahamas’ initiatives and commitment to being the first smart archipelago, an initiative which was announced in January of this year.

Hawksbill Creek Agreement
Members will recall, Madame President, that in the Rt. Hon Prime Minister and Minister of Finance’s communication to the house on may 9, 2016, it was indicated that the review of the expiring concessions under the hawksbill creek agreement has afforded the government the opportunity to conclude arrangements after extensive negotiations with the Grand Bahama Port Authority and key investor/stakeholders aimed at strengthening and expanding the economy of Grand Bahama.

Consequently, the government had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the GBPA and other major stakeholders in the Freeport community. Madam President, there are, broadly, two objectives. Firstly, we wish to ensure that the Government of The Bahamas and the licensees of the Port Authority are at the table and have a voice in the running of Freeport. This will be achieved through the government holding 2 seats and the licenses holding 1 seat on the Board of Directors of the GBPA. Further, it is anticipated that the government will also hold one seat on each of the board of the Grand Bahama Development Company Limited and Freeport Commercial and Industrial Limited.

The second objective, Madam President, is to ensure that Freeport becomes, once again, economically vibrant and prosperous by the increase of significant new investment projects while retaining and expanding key industries in Grand Bahama.

Registrar General’s Department

·         Companies

·         IP

·         Deeds and documents

·         Births and death – family island certified copies

·         Maritime marriages and domestic marriages –

o   marriage officers listed on web site – destination marriages – they’re the first choice

Registrar General’s Department
Madam President, as we are all aware, registration of public records is an essential administrative function of any country. In The Bahamas, the system of registration is undergoing substantive changes in an effort to be more competitive in the region and as well as to remove the stigma of red tape that makes the ease of doing business a burdensome task. Too often, we hear the complaint of delays at the registry due to the registration process.

This government has been focused on effecting changes which will improve the ease of doing business in The Bahamas and, as a result, we have begun the process of transforming the Registrar General’s Department into a One Stop Shop that further positions The Bahamas as a regional trend setter for online registration services.

This online registration initiative will not only improve services offered to persons in The Bahamas and our international clients, but it will also increase revenue generated by the Registrar General’s Department.

With the assistance and input of a cross section of private sector experience and knowledgeable persons who were invited to sit at the table, the Registrar General’s Department has unveiled and will continue to unveil new services that will aid in improving efficiency and the quality of service provided by the department. The focus of this initiative is on providing online, all the services the RGD offers which does not require the RGD to exercise her discretion allowing the public to be in control of their own destination. The improved services will be realized in the following areas:

Company Incorporations

Deeds and documents

Maritime marriages

Intellectual Property

Births and Deaths

Company Incorporation

Madam President, on January 5th 2016, RGD introduced its new online process for the Incorporation of International Business Companies and regular (local) companies, company name reservations, ordering of certified documents, filing of documents, company search and payment of annual fees. This initiative has greatly reduced the turnaround time for incorporation of companies and the issuance of certificates.

Agents are able to reserve company names on line with the option to extend the reservation period for two additional periods of 14 days if the need arises. Agents are able to incorporate their companies by filling out required fields online and uploading all required documents such as memorandum and articles. Agents would also have the choice to adopt the schedule as per the companies act, incorporate and receive certificates of good standings within a 48hr period with the appropriate electronic seals.

Further, Madame President, or if the agent requires their documents immediately, they are able to order express services and get the documents in less than an hour at a premium fee. If additional copies are required the agent would be able to order from the online menu and pay for this service through the government e-payment portal.

Madam President, as you are aware, competition among rival jurisdictions is fierce. Several jurisdictions are struggling and are losing market share to The Bahamas and other regions. The Bahamas, through the RGD has positioned itself to take on what could possibly be and influx of companies continuing into our jurisdiction. In addition, RGD is presently reviewing its procedures for continuations and providing a new automated online system geared at receiving those companies. This procedure is presently in developmental stages and expected to be launched very shortly.

We are very aware, Madame President, that in the financial services industry that “time is money” and we know that companies need their certificates of good standing for companies to be dissolved urgently. With this in mind, the registry has instituted a 48 hour processing system to ensure that these requests are executed expeditiously.

Intellectual Property

Madam President, The Bahamas has made significant progress towards being a World Intellectual Property Office approved IP Registry in compliance with the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (trips) agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Cariforum States and the European Community and its member states.

The Bahamas with the help of its private sector partners and its WIPO approved Consultant, has made great strides in the process of bringing the Industrial Property Section of the Registrar General’s Department compliant with WIPO standards through the digitizing of trademarks and patents and the creation of digital registers which list all trademarks and patents approved by RGD. This process provides for the ease of registering, accessing and the use of documents and allow for the electronic generation of all correspondence, notices, publications and certificates.

We are pleased, Madame President, to report that we are now current with the processing of all new requests coming into the department.

Births and Deaths

The RGD in an attempt to register new births immediately after delivery and in an effort to curtail fraudulent activity, Madame President, intends to open a births and deaths registry at PMH where mothers can register their child at the hospital before they are discharged. The mother and/or father on completion of the birth form and the provision of required documents will be able to register and receive their child’s birth certificate right at the hospital.

The registrar general’s department is keenly aware that there is a sector in our community whose birth is not registered. As this is a vexing issue that continues to get out of hand, the RGD is partnering with the Hospital Authority to share data collected electronically so as to minimize human intervention and reduce errors in the birth records. RGD in an effort to promote efficiencies in death registrations will allow for funeral homes to leave the morgue and register a death without having to leave the hospital. Death certificates can be issued at RGD sub office and lessen the time for release of bodies for burial.

Further, Madame President, there is an initiative in process, between the RGD and the Department of Public Health, to capture those persons in our communities, here in new providence and the family islands, who have not yet attained the age of three (3) years and whose births have not been registered. It is hoped this initiative will reduce over time the number of persons walking around without birth certificates.

Madam President, as an archipelagic nation, we must make the nation’s registry accessible to all. In this regard, my government will reinstate the capacity for Family Island Administrators to issue certified copies of births, deaths and marriage certificates on various islands. It is hoped to have similar services on all of the family islands soon. As a result of this initiative, residents of Grand Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera, Cat Island and San Salvador will no longer have to travel to Nassau to get a certified copy of their births, deaths or marriage certificates, but simply go to the Administrator’s Office and request same.

Deeds and Documents
Madam President, as the registering of documents is of vital importance to the history of The Bahamas, the RGD is in the process of reviewing all procedures relevant to the filing, capturing and recording of documents so that the entire process can be digitally completed within 5 working days. A review committee has been established made up of private sector and RGD staff to review the process for automation and to shorten the turn- around time for documents getting back to the agents or individual that filed them.

Through the efforts of RGD staff in the Deeds and Documents Department, the time period for registering documents has been reduced from three months to roughly two weeks. This is a tremendous feat, Madame President.

Maritime Marriages
The Maritime Marriages Program, which was launched over a year ago, has seen significant growth in its short existence. This project which is a collaboration between RGD and The Bahamas Maritime Authority has partnered with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Lines in offering Bahamian marriage experiences on Bahamian registered vessels sailing under The Bahamas flag outside of our territorial waters.

Madame President, the master of the vessel and first officer are licensed marriage officers under Bahamian law and can perform marriages onboard their vessels while cruising outside of the territorial waters of The Bahamas. The applications are processed online through RGD office in Nassau digitally and once processed transmitted back to the corresponding vessel for access by the vessel’s marriage officers at the time of the ceremony.

Madame President, I hasten to add that there is still a growing interest by other cruise lines and private cruise lines to join this innovative program. We are optimistic that this online process can also be utilized for domestic marriages.

Report from the Eugene Dupuch Law School

Madame President, in September 2015 the Eugene Dupuch Law School matriculated 36 graduates. The Caribbean Council for Legal Education (of which The Bahamas is a member) has over the years provided many Bahamians with a quality legal education. The vision of The Council of Legal Education is captured in its mission statement:

"to facilitate the development of competent legal practitioners for the region who, appreciating their responsibility as members of an honourable profession and recognising the needs of their socio-economic environment, are inspired in the pursuit of excellence, the maintenance of high ethical standards, the promotion of social justice and the strengthening of the rule of law."

Most certainly the Eugene Dupuch Law School has continued to advance the vision of the Council and we have seen on an annual basis a steady stream of competent legal practitioners, many of whom work not only within the commonwealth of The Bahamas but, also in countries around the world. Madame President, the Eugene Dupuch Law school is producing world class legal minds and that is a testament to the quality of legal education being provided in this Commonwealth.

Madame President, the 2015/2016 enrollment exercise (including 2 year and 6 month programmes) has brought the present number of students to 45. EDLS anticipates moving to new premises by October of this year at the Citi-Corp Centre, Rosetta Street. All arms of law school (administration department, library, legal aid clinic and classrooms) will finally be under one roof.

EDLS continues to engage in thought leadership and provide fora to address issues and promote discourse of current affairs through the hosting of panel discussions and lectures for the public. For example:

•          a public lecture – commissioners of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) – October 2015 – the operation of the Inter American Human Rights System

•          the Imoja Lecture - statelessness and its impact on the children  of migrants in The Bahamas – February. 2016

•          a panel discussion -   gender equality and constitutional change - may 2016

•          the 2016 Eugene Dupuch distinguished lecture – presented by Dame Anita Allen, President Court of Appeal of The Bahamas. The law in a changing society – reconstructing marriage – June 2016. Lectures such as this are to be encouraged and we deepen our democracy, scholarship and jurisprudence.

Madame President, students have represented the law school at various regional and international moots and competitions held in Jamaica, the USA, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom and in Frankfurt Germany.

The Eugene Dupuch Law School Legal Aid Clinic continues to provide service to the community as it is the only institution that provides sustained legal aid services in The Bahamas.

Presently EDLS’ budget maintains fulltime staff of 27 to administer the operations of the school. In addition, there are approximately 22 associate tutors comprising judges and attorneys that support the academic programme of the law school.

Other big budgetary items re 2016/ 2017 academic year

•          expenses associated with relocation to new premises including purchase of new furniture.

•          acquisition of new vehicle (current vehicle is almost 9 years old and is fully depreciated.

Madame President, I have spent this time highlighting the work and accomplishments that have been undertaken by the ministry of legal affairs and Office of the Attorney-General. However, I would also like to commend my colleagues for their hard work on other initiatives. All of us have worked hard to repair the country that the leader of the FNM said the FNM left in a wheelchair in 2012. It was foundational work to enable extraordinary growth for the benefit of Bahamians.

•          tax modernization and fiscal reform

•          national health insurance

•          assistance to home owners in distress through mortgage relief

o   first home owner relief

o   stamp duty exemptions

•          rescuing Grand Bahama from economic hardship

•          improving the criminal justice system through swift justice

•          modernization and reform of the gaming sector

•          improving access to healthcare in the commonwealth

•          improving our competitiveness in the financial services sector

•          increasing the amount of jobs and rooms available by expanding the tourism product offerings throughout the islands of The Bahamas

•          addressing food sustainability through Agricultural programmes (BAMSI)

•          freedom of information

•          re-evaluating the constitutional text towards progressive constitutional reform

·         gender equality

·         RISE

·         no child left behind

·         apprenticeship training programme – meaningful results in jobs e.g. Grand Bahama Shipyard.

The Government of The Bahamas is delivering on these and other important initiatives, which will provide real benefits for Bahamians. These accomplishments must not be overlooked as we continue to move forward in building a stronger and more prosperous Bahamians.

Madam President, finally, I would like to address the results of the gender equality referendum which took place earlier this month. I reiterate the prime minister’s words that the referendum was fair, transparent and open. Bahamians have spoken and democracy is strong in our country. Their voices have been heard and the constitution respected.

Thousands of Bahamians came to the more than 200 meetings held by the CC across The Bahamas.

Hundreds of Bahamians met Lady Wilson and Mrs. Holowesko and their team.

Many Bahamians shared their stories of how the inequities in our constitution have adversely impacted their lives and families. I thank them for their courage and leadership. Their stories have started important conversations about the invisible injustice that they and others experience.

Madame President, I am thus pleased to commend this 2016/2017 budget for consideration by this honorable chamber. Thank you.

By Senator the Hon. Allyson Maynard Gibson, QC Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs

Source: Bahamas Information Services

News date : 06/24/2016    Category : Business

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