January 30, 2017
There are some things you see in life that you can always count on to lift your heart up: the loving faces of family gathered round you; the excited faces of youngsters playing outside; and the joyful, hopeful faces of a room full of PLPs!
Good evening, fellow Delegates!
My heart is full as I stand before you tonight. I feel your love. And I hope you feel mine too. I feel so humbled by the overwhelming vote of confidence that you have given me today. Thank you for returning me as your Leader! Thank you, fellow delegates for believing in me and trusting in my vision for a better future for our country.
I promise that I will not let you down. I promise that each and every day that lies before me as your Leader, I shall do all in my power to prove myself worthy of the support you have so generously given me.
Fellow Delegates, My fellow Bahamians:
Remember from whence we came!
Sixty-four years ago, three men met in a little house at the top of East Street to map out a journey. It was not a journey across oceans or into space. It was instead a journey deep into the heart of a people; an oppressed people; a poor and struggling people; a people upon whom the weight of the centuries had settled, leaving them without hope; without faith in a future for themselves or for their children.
Remember from whence we came!
This journey of which I speak saw many a stumble in the years that followed. It wasn’t easy. It was hard. But they were Pioneers, and pressed forward through unchartered territory. And in 1967 – 50 years ago this month – an important milestone on that journey was achieved. The trumpets of democracy sounded in the land for the first time, announcing the arrival of a long denied destiny: the attainment of Majority Rule.
And let no one forget that it was your Progressive Liberal Party that led the way - all the way! - to that glorious moment in Bahamian history, a moment that Sir Arthur Foulkes has rightly hailed as the single most important event in all of Bahamian history, greater even than the Emancipation from Slavery.
Remember, remember I say, remember from whence we came!
And then came 1973, the year in which we came fully into our own. Standing tall, we claimed our place at the table of nations. Standing before the whole world, we proclaimed ourselves “The Commonwealth of The Bahamas”, a sovereign, independent nation, the equal of every other, and the master of our own destiny.
Yes, fellow delegates, it was our Progressive Liberal Party, that led the way into that glorious new chapter in our life as a people.
Remember, I say, remember from whence we came!
And in the years that followed, who was it that built the modern Bahamas? Who was it that created:
• National Insurance!
• The Royal Bahamas Defence Force!
• The Central Bank of The Bahamas!
• The Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas!
• The Bahamas Development Bank!
• The College of The Bahamas, now the University of The Bahamas!
It was the PLP!
For it is the PLP who has built the great institutions of this country. And the list goes on and on.
Yes, Remember, Remember from whence we came.
We have, through God’s good grace, and by the might of our own best efforts, come a mighty long way.
Make no mistake about it, fellow delegates: the historic changes of which I speak are shining jewels in the crown of great accomplishment that history shall forever credit to the PLP. Don’t let anybody tell you different! And if they do, tell them they lie!
But at a deeper level, the historic changes I have just cited speak to the fundamental identity of the Progressive Liberal Party as the most important agent of change our country has ever known.
It is the PLP that builds and fosters Progress. That’s a fact!
It is the PLP that creates opportunities that change the lives of Bahamians for the better. That’s a fact!
And it is the PLP that stands before the Bahamian people today as the one Party, the only Party, that has the vision, that has the proven track record, and that has the internal cohesion and unity to form and sustain the next government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. No other party can make that claim. Not one!
But let’s zoom in our track record. Let’s zoom in on our history over the past five years.
Back in 2012, in the run up to the General Election, we had a great debate in the country about the serious problems we were facing: about our crumbling economy, our dispirited communities, the awful, sickening feeling that our nation was dangerously adrift. We knew about road works that had disrupted homes and businesses that had staggering cost overruns of more than $100 million. And on top of that, precious national assets like Batelco were being sold off to foreigners for a song.
We knew that the nation’s finances were in a shambles. We knew that in far too many cases, our children, our elderly, those struggling to make ends meet, we knew that they were being left out, forgotten, falling behind, dropping by the wayside.
We also knew that too often decisions in the FNM government were being made on behalf of a small number of the privileged and powerful, not on behalf of the people.
We came into office in 2012 ready to turn all that around but knowing well in advance that it wasn’t going to be easy.
What we didn’t know though was that it was worse - much, much worse, - than we could possibly have imagined.
Within days of taking office, we discovered some things from the inside that had not been evident to us from the outside. Minister after Minister came to me to report what they were finding: mountains of unpaid bills, huge pension obligations left unfunded, labour contracts and wage disputes unresolved, years of back pay due, and so on.
Basic things that should have been done had been neglected. And on a staggering scale too. And in virtually every Ministry and Government Department as well.
In short, it was a mess. A great, big mess!
The FNM, for all that big talk about how smart they were in managing the economy, had left the cupboard bare, had left the country busted and broke.
But did we, the new government, take to the hills? Did we throw our hands up in despair? No! We rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
And in time, we cleaned up the mess and put the country back on a solid foundation. But it took a long time to do it because of the mess we met!
Yes, remember from whence we came!
And remember I’m speaking now of five, short years ago. That’s important because the Opposition think you’ve forgotten already. They think you don’t remember how they ran this country into the ground. That’s one of the main reasons this country can’t turn the clock back to FNM time. It’s not just a matter of choice. The truth is we simply can’t afford it! As a country, we simply can’t afford to let the FNM back in power. That’s how bad their record of mismanagement was the last time they were in office.
But looking back over the past five years, looking at where we started and where we are now, I’m really proud of my government’s achievements. And I believe you are too. There is still so much to be done, for sure, but there’s also a lot that we have accomplished that we can take pride in.
Indeed over these past three nights, you have heard how we have made major improvements in virtually every area of national life since 2012. In many instances, we have introduced fundamental changes that will help our country grow and prosper for decades to come. Big, powerful, visionary changes! These are changes that are helping to build a new Bahamas not just for today but for decades, for generations, to come.
Big changes like:
• The NEW Fiscal structure spearheaded by VAT that has vastly expanded the financial resources of the government;
• The NEW University of The Bahamas!
• the NEW National Health Insurance Scheme which will be truly transformative for the healthcare system of our country, and which contrary to all of the opposition talk will actually end up creating a net positive gain for our economy!
• the NEW mini hospitals opening in Abaco and Exuma and on which construction is to begin soon in Eleuthera!
• the NEW Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) which is being incorporated into the University of The Bahamas and will not only become a center of excellence, but part of the new city which will emerge in the foreseeable future!
• the NEW developments throughout our Family Islands and New Providence some of which I will highlight in just a moment!
• the NEW extension of our sovereignty so that we now own and control and will make big money from our own airspace!
• the initiative taken in reviewing the Hawksbill Creek Agreement and its expiring provisions which led to a new Investment Incentives Act, the conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding with stakeholders, which are expected to result in the strengthening and expansion of the Grand Bahama economy as well as a new regulatory framework, governing Freeport, creating improved transparency and regulatory oversight. These negotiations also resulted in the conclusion of a Waiver of the Exclusivity Agreement entered into by the FNM Government in 1994 which gave Hutchison the exclusive right to own and operate ports throughout the Island of Grand Bahama.
• the NEW protections for ourselves and for our families should we fall sick, or become disabled; protections for the poor, the elderly, the financially distressed in danger of losing their homes; a new Mortgage Relief Programme; and protections for those on the margins of society!
These are just some of the big areas of change that your PLP government has introduced during the past five years.
But let’s look a little more closely at what we’ve done. Look at Baha Mar! The FNM don’t like us to talk about Baha Mar because we saved it, like a Phoenix from the ashes, we saved it. And now it’s poised to become one of the greatest economic success stories in Bahamian history. You just wait and see.
We negotiated skillfully and wisely, persuading the Lenders to Baha Mar, who were under no legal obligation to do so, to inject 100 million dollars directly into the Bahamian economy; 100 million dollars of hard currency to pay the Bahamian employees, contractors and suppliers who had been left holding the bag, unpaid by the former owners.
100 million dollars of private capital is a lot of money to inject all at once into a small economy such as ours. It goes a long way. It helps a lot of people. It makes a big and positive difference. That has certainly been the case with the 100 million dollars paid to Bahamian employees, contractors and suppliers.
That’s the deal your PLP Government negotiated for the Bahamian people.
But that was just for starters because as I speak, the new owners of Baha Mar are in the process of hiring 1500 new Bahamian workers. That’s a big number! These are good-paying, permanent jobs that are going to pump new life into the Bahamian economy. In so doing, it is going to transform the lives of so many Bahamian families for the better. It’s not just the 1500 directly-employed workers that will benefit. Their families will do so as well, together with the wider community. There is a big multiplier-effect that will be evident very shortly. This, too, is going to be a major energy-boost for our economy.
But it doesn't stop there. I confidently expect that by year’s end, the initial number of 1500 new workers will have increased to several thousand, as more and more of the Baha Mar resort complex comes on stream.
But don’t be fooled. It’s not just Baha Mar that is making our economic future look so bright now.
Over on Paradise Island, the Atlantis Resort, with 7,763 employees already, is carrying out tens of millions of dollars in upgrades and renovations. This further investment is going to reap handsome dividends for the Bahamian economy and will complement the wonderful things that are happening at Baha Mar.
But it’s not just Nassau and Paradise Island that account for all the good economic news.
Over in East Grand Bahama, which has been suffering for far too long, Carnival Cruise Lines will soon be constructing a brand new cruise port. This is going to have a major positive impact, boosting employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for Grand Bahamians considerably.
Meanwhile, more than $350 million has been committed by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCA), Disney and Mediterranean Cruise Lines (MSC) for refurbishment and creation of cruise ports in The Bahamas.
The construction of a large pier at Coco Cay in the Berry Islands will enable RCCA to transport over two million passengers to The Bahamas every year.
Meanwhile, Mediterranean Cruise Lines (MSC) will be constructing on Ocean Cay a $200 million, exclusive private cruise destination. This will enable MSC’s new “mega ships” to bring an additional 390,000 passengers to The Bahamas every year. MSC is committed to hiring more than eleven hundred and twenty (1120) Bahamians for the construction and operation of the Cay. Moreover, in partnership with the National Training Agency, MSC will train and employ an additional 240 Bahamian crew to work on its cruise ships.
But wait, there’s a lot more too! New resorts are springing up throughout our Family Islands, Grand Bahama and in New Providence bringing with them the prospect of plentiful employment for Bahamians. Resorts such as:
• The Resorts World Bimini Hilton;
• Island House;
• The Pointe;
• Ocean West;
• Warwick; and Memories.
In addition, significant expansion is planned for resorts such as:
• One & Only Ocean Club;
• Bimini Bay;
• Baker’s Bay;
• and February Point
Meanwhile, new projects will be coming on stream in the near future in: • Lyford Cay;
• at the JMMC Exuma Great Adventure Resort, and Stocking Island Club; as well as • touristic developments at Children’s Bay & Williams Cay, Exuma.
To ensure that each Island in The Bahamas shares in the future orderly development, we are not only putting in place the National Development Plan, but individual plans are being prepared for each island by expert planners in collaboration with the various communities. The Plan for Bimini is complete; Andros is underway; Exuma and the Berry Islands and Acklins are ready to be commenced. Others will follow and the downtown re-development plan for Nassau is well underway.
Looking at all of these developments, the conclusion to be drawn is unmistakable: my administration’s sustained focus on job creation from foreign direct investment is producing consistently positive results for the Bahamian people.
Another conclusion is undeniable as well: investor confidence in The Bahamas is riding high, very high. Indeed approvals have been given for over eight billion dollars in touristic projects alone. This will create, in the aggregate, an additional 15,000 permanent jobs in the near to medium term.
And while on that subject of employment numbers, it was not my “delusional” imagination that produced the figure of 31,735 jobs created during our current term in office. That figure came straight from the published data of the Department of Statistics - scientifically compiled, I should add, in accordance with the highest international standards.
It’s amazing, isn't it, how some people in the Opposition love to rely on the Department of Statistics when the news is bad for the Government but when the news is good for the Government, suddenly the Department of Statistics is using bogus data? But never mind. We press on!
I believe that we are at a critical crossroads in our development as a nation, one of those key moments when the decisions we make will either take us along old, familiar paths that do not lead to real change, or to brave, new frontiers, much as our pioneering founding fathers chose 64 years ago.
Which will it be for us? What will we choose?
It is too easy nowadays to be defined by our problems. But that’s wrong. We should define ourselves instead by what we can be, and make that the thing that we work towards.
Our country has changed dramatically over the years as indeed much of the wider world has as well.
We need to accept the fact that we are now a more technologically-driven, digital information-driven society, where people are rightly demanding and expecting more from their government and perhaps even from each other.
Having put the country back on the right economic track, we are now able to move forward to satisfy these newly emergent demands and expectations of our people, especially our younger generation.
In 2012, our Charter For Governance offered a wide range of solutions to the problems facing our country at that time. Many of these solutions informed and guided the achievements and successful policy changes I spoke of earlier and which my ministers have been addressing during this Convention.
But although we have made great progress in some areas, we need to be honest with the Bahamian people that some of the big issues of 2012 still plague us in 2017.
When we came to office in 2012, crime had already spun out of control under the previous regime. Our court system was hopelessly behind in prosecuting criminals, and Urban Renewal had been gutted, essentially abandoned.
However, unlike those who came before us and were clueless as to what to do about Crime, we have been busy over these past five years making important structural and policy changes to our criminal justice system and to our larger systems of law and order. We vigorously re-introduced Urban Renewal as a means of addressing the underlying causes of crime. We re-introduced and strengthened Swift Justice. We have built new courts, adding more capacity to address the backlog of cases, improving the ways cases are managed, adding new protections for witnesses. In the process, we have DOUBLED the rate of criminal convictions.
We’ve also established a tracking system for at-risk youth, created an anti-gang unit, and added more than 300 police officers to the Force.
I know for many it may not feel like it’s happening but the statistical truth of the matter is that Crime is down, significantly down. In fact, we have just seen the biggest reduction in crime in over a decade. We are winning the war on crime.
But however that may be, I will be the first to admit that crime is still much too high, especially among our young men. There is simply too much gang-related violence and tit-for-tat killing. It has to stop! A few young men are laying siege to the safety and security of our neighborhoods, our homes, our streets and, yes, even our schools. It must stop! And it will!
We must continue to use bold, innovative methods to tackle this problem, methods you have heard about already from other speakers during this Convention.
Our ultimate aim is the same as yours: to rid our communities of crime, especially criminal violence, so that we can all live in safety and security, without fear for ourselves or for our children. We are confident that the track we are on will continue to bring us ever nearer to that objective, and at a much faster pace than we have been achieved thus far.
A key innovation led by this government has been the advent of the National Development Plan. This was my idea and it was born from my recognition of the need for a strategic guide to our country’s development. But I claim no pride of exclusive authorship here because Bahamians from every island, from every sector and from all walks of life have contributed to the Plan, including my own ministers and parliamentary team.
It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: the benches of talent in the PLP run deep. I look around the Cabinet room and I see so much brainpower, so much imagination and tenacity and so much commitment to the common good. And when I think of the new candidates and new Party officers we were able to recruit this year to join us, I know we are only adding to our already-deep talent pool. What other party in our country can make such a claim?
When you are thinking about the future, keep that in mind. The amount of work facing any government is staggering, and you are hiring a team, not a single person. I depend every day on the intellectual resources, and energy and competence and commitment of the people who sit at the Cabinet table. They have not let me down, but more importantly, they have not let you down.
They are good, progressive-minded men and women committed, as I am, to the building of a better Bahamas.
And for all this unfounded talk about corruption, I hope you’ve all seen that Transparency International has just released its annual rankings on corruption around the world. The Bahamas was ranked the 24th LEAST corrupt country among almost 180 countries. We were voted the least corrupt country in the Caribbean. This high ranking has never been attained before. And it’s happened under your PLP Government! This is something to be proud of.
So, fellow delegates, as we wind down this Convention, we must ask: What kind of people do we want to be?
What should be our priorities?
This is where I offer you a Vision of what is possible, what the next Christie Administration will seek to do.
Firstly, let us renew the Social Contract between each other as citizens, and between citizens and your government.
Some of these things we have begun to do already, but we can go further.
As you heard yesterday, we have already made significant investments in Education. But let us go further. Instead of limiting our understanding of education as something that just happens in schools, especially with young people, let us plan to be the best-educated people in the world. Our small population gives us an advantage. With under four hundred thousand people, we can invest to fulfill every person’s potential, be it academic, technical or otherwise. And it can be a lifelong exercise!
Our National Training Agency, our Urban Renewal Programmes, our Cultural Development initiatives, our Sports Development Programmes, our Crime Prevention Programmes: they all point to how much we can develop ourselves when we make a conscious, concerted effort to do so.
We have already started the process of transforming the way we view Health. By taking an inter-connected approach to National Health Insurance, Food Security, issues around our marine resources and the threat to our way of life from climate change, if we take all these together and focus on a programme of ‘Wellness’ as the main focus of health, it will help put the entire nation on a path of sustainable progress for the better. A healthy nation is indeed a wealthy nation!
For many years, we have discussed how best to diversify our economy, to move from the narrow base of Tourism and Financial Services to a broader structure, where we can take better advantage of our location, our natural resources and our own ingenuity. We need to become a nation of international entrepreneurs, becoming wealthy from everything from the creative industries to agricultural business.
Our next Administration will not abandon our traditional commitment to support those who are the poorest among us, but we will at the same time strive not just to keep as many as possible in meaningful, gainful employment, but also to offer opportunities to generate wealth, real wealth that we can pass on to our children and their children, some of the fruits of our labour.
The basics for these transformational programmes are now in place, but we have much more to do to ensure their success.
In the coming weeks, our Charter of Governance for the next PLP Administration will detail the ideas and plans which I have outlined to you tonight and which my ministers have been alluding to during this Convention.
We have already achieved much, but there is still much more to be done.
We have heard your call for change, and so our next Administration will seek to implement bigger, bolder, changes, and at a faster rate, changes that don’t risk all our futures because of incompetent, divisive leadership, instead rather thoughtful, positive changes that will be to the benefit of us all.
We can all feel the ground shifting under our feet.
This future is only possible if every single one of you plays your part. This new Age of Development must be a new Age of Pioneers. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you will need to play your part. Your country needs you, and in return you should expect your country to deliver on the promise of those who came before us.
And yes, I would respectfully submit to you, fellow delegates and the people of our nation wherever they may be, that we need leadership; leadership that is clear-sighted, experienced, tried and tested, leadership that will unite rather than divide us.
And yes, you are right to demand from those who seek to lead you that they always have your interests at heart, that they are forever looking forward for the good of the country, and not over their shoulder to save their own skin; and that they have the ability to lead and the vision to know where they are leading us to.
Demand of your leaders a Vision that you can believe in, a Plan that you can Trust, and the Experience to know that they will deliver on their promises.
And so, my fellow Bahamians, I invite you to join with me and our team as we prepare to march to a new frontier of change for our country. Let us be united and unafraid. Let us march together, hand in hand, united in our vision, in our common purpose, in our collective resolve to make our beloved Commonwealth of The Bahamas a safe and happy home for ourselves and for our children; a land of plenty in which each of us can achieve his or her full potential; a land we are all proud of.
I’m ready for that and I know you are too.
So, let’s build together! Let’s empower together. Let’s move forward together to victory!
All the Way!
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