Budget Debate Contribution - Minister Tommy Turnquest

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June 10, 2010

I rise    to speak on the 2010/2011 Budget package of Bills

 I do so, ever grateful to the wonderful people of the Mount Moriah Constituency, who have been an integral part of my life and work since 1987, (23 years ago) when I first contested the Oakes Field Constituency.  As I contribute to the Budget debate for the 18th consecutive time, I thank the people of Mount Moriah, and publicly acknowledge my love and commitment to them.

 A year has passed since the Free National Movement Government set out in this House the stark realities facing our country, in the wake of the global financial crisis. At that time, we made it clear that the crisis would fundamentally impact all our major industries, including our vital tourism industry, and it has.

 We stressed that it could not be realistically projected just how long the global financial crisis would last, and the end of the crisis is still an uncertainty.

 We stated that it could not be predicted how rapid the pace of recovery would be, and despite signs of recovery in some countries, and tentative signs in others, recovery is still not discernable in many.

 We emphasised that we had full confidence that The Bahamas economy could weather the storm of the global financial crisis, but that it required us to be frugal and steadfast guardians of the public purse, and we have indeed made some progress, despite the global downturn. 

 budget 2010/2011 – general observations

 Given the protracted nature of the global financial crisis and resultant challenges for The Bahamas in areas such as the debt to GDP ratio, the tourism sector, and unemployment, the Government is once again taking the hard decisions. We do so in the interest of the short and long-term stability of our economy and our country.

 We have now laid before this House a Budget that is realistic and pragmatic, the kind of Budget that fits these times in which we live. It is a Budget presented after detailed, measured, and careful consideration of how the financial crisis has impacted, and continues to impact our country’s economy, and the need to narrow the gap between the country’s revenue and its expenditure, and to keep borrowing to a minimum.

 The reductions set out in this Budget, and its concurrent revenue measures, were not arrived at arbitrarily or lightly. They represent action that must be taken to ensure that our country emerges from the financial crisis with its economy on track, poised for further growth and development.  

 Let me emphasise that this Budget has also been prepared with the expectation that Bahamian citizens and residents alike, both individuals and companies, will meet their obligations when and as due. The timely payment of taxes and fees is essential for effective fiscal management, and the delivery of the services that Bahamians and residents expect.

 Let me also emphasise that this budget takes fully into account that there are critical areas concerning citizen security and safety on which the Government would not compromise, no matter what the crisis. By this I mean security in the broadest sense, including economic and social security and public safety. Consequently, in areas such as health, education and national security, budgetary allocations have been set at levels sufficient to carry out essential responsibilities, and to provide critical services to our citizens, residents and visitors alike.

 In short, this 2010/2011 Budget is one prepared and presented by a Government determined, to the fullest extent possible, to hold the line on spending, to ensure strict, accountable and transparent financial management, and to deliver on its commitments to the Bahamian people. Rest assured that the Government will hold Senior Public Officers and all those entrusted with the management of the public purse to the same standard.  

 confiscated assets fund

 There is scope for law enforcement agencies and other agencies and entities concerned with drug abuse and illicit trafficking, and matters related thereto, to obtain additional financial allocations for funding of critical programmes. As we have successfully done over the past two (2) years, we will allocate these additional resources from the Confiscated Assets Fund (CAF).

 The CAF is the repository for the proceeds of crime which have been seized and confiscated as a result of determined law enforcement initiatives by Bahamian law enforcement officers, on their own, and/or in cooperation with the Government of the United States.

  The CAF, which now stands at $15,809,977.14, is used for continuing initiatives to counter drug abuse and illicit trafficking. For the financial year 2009/2010, payments of some $7,170,673.61 have been made from the CAF.

 I want to assure this House that CAF resources are allocated only after a strict assessment of the stated objectives for which the funds will be used and an analysis of the impact that the expenditure will have on the work of the requesting agency, and on national security generally.

 ministry of national security budget undertaking 

 When last year’s Budget was presented to this House, I gave my undertaking that, barring unforeseen circumstances, my Ministry and the agencies for which it has portfolio responsibility: the Royal Bahamas Police Force, The Royal Bahamas Defence Force, Her Majesty’s Prisons, the Parliamentary Registration Department, and the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB), would work within the resources allocated to them to give the best possible service to citizens and residents of our county. Even in the midst of the global financial crisis, my Ministry and its Agencies have done just that.

 In respect of this 2010/2011 Budget, I again give my undertaking that the Ministries and agencies for which I have portfolio responsibility will carry out their responsibilities, to the fullest extent possible, within their budgetary allocations. I can give this assurance with confidence, because of the many hours I have spent with the Heads of the Agencies and Senior Management of my Ministry, personally conducting multiple, realistic and considered reviews of the budget estimates, to arrive at the figures on which their budgets are now based.

 I take this opportunity to thank my staff for their commitment and contribution to the work of the Ministry. I particularly thank my Permanent Secretary, the Commissioner of Police, Commodore of the Defence Force, Superintendent of Prisons, and Parliamentary Commissioner for the leadership they provide to my Ministry and its Agencies.  

 caribbean-united states high-level dialogue

 In reflecting on the range of action and activities carried out by my Ministry and its agencies over the past year, and those projected for the coming financial year, particularly action taken to counter crime, brings to mind the deliberations of the Caribbean-United States High-Level Security Cooperation Dialogue held recently in Washington D.C., in which I participated.

 The Dialogue followed up on a pronouncement on Caribbean-United States cooperation made by United States President Barak Obama, during the Fifth Summit of the Americas, held in Trinidad and Tobago in April 2009. The President stated that through practical initiatives based on a mutually beneficial partnership, the United States would seek to develop a more balanced relationship with the Caribbean region. The Dialogue created a framework for advancing the Caribbean-United States relationship in the area of security cooperation.

 Together with the Attorney General of Barbados, I was the lead speaker for the Caribbean (CARICOM states and the Dominican Republic) on Improved Law Enforcement Performance and Capacity.

 I underscored the principal features that make the region and hemisphere, and particularly The Bahamas, vulnerable to transnational crime, much of which also precipitate serious crime at the national level.

 I also emphasised that the region’s security challenges are the best indicators of those areas in which cooperation would be in the mutual interest of the region and the United States, and can be supported by other partners. Training, forensic capacity building, enhancing communication systems, acquiring assets, enhancing ballistics testing and tracing, and the upgrading of technology and equipment are among these areas.

What the Dialogue confirmed beyond doubt was that the issues and challenges The Bahamas face, including transnational crime such as drug and arms trafficking, violent crime, including murder and armed robbery, and crimes against property, were also serious challenges across the Caribbean, for the United States and for the countries of the Western Hemisphere generally.

    Let me hasten to say that the fact that other states have similar crime and security challenges as The Bahamas does not bring us comfort, challenged as we are by a still unacceptable level of crime and criminality, including violent crime. What it does show, however, is that the framework in which the Caribbean and United States have agreed to set their security cooperation, accords with the framework in which the Royal Bahamas Police Force, together with our other security forces, carry out their national security mandates, with marked results during the financial year 2009/2010.

 royal bahamas police force

 As this House is aware, there was a change of command in the Royal Bahamas Police Force in January 2010. That change was virtually seamless. The new Commissioner of Police and his Executive Management Team, as the adage goes, “hit the ground running”, moving quickly to consolidate gains that had been made and to provide effective leadership to the Force.

 Ours is a Police Force that over the past fiscal year, continued on a more proactive path, working diligently to keep step with the changing nature of crime as it is today, which, as we know, is decisively different from what it used to be.

 The Force purposefully reviewed its structure, its personnel contingent, its assets, and its approach to policing, balancing more fully crime prevention and detection strategies with enforcement of the law.  The record will show that the FNM Government fully supports the Police Force’s initiatives. This is consistent with the $118.7 million allocated in recurrent expenditure and the $1.2 million in the capital budget, not taking into account potential funding from the CAF.

 police force act

 It is important to note that the action the Police Force has taken, particularly in the latter half of the fiscal year, coincided with the coming into force and implementation of the new Police Force Act on 4 January 2009.

 Two key provisions of the Police Force Act have now been implemented. The Deputy Commissioner of Police has taken up his responsibilities as the Police Force Internal Inspector, and the Police Complaints Inspectorate has been established, its members appointed, and it has begun its work. 

 The mandate of the Inspectorate is based upon the premise that Police Officers ought not to abuse their power, that the public have the right to have their complaints heard expeditiously, and that Officers against whom complaints have been lodged should expect early resolution of their matters, particularly in cases in which the complaints against them are deemed to be unwarranted.

 From January 2010 to 29 March 2010, ninety- seven (97) complaints were brought against Police Officers. As of 29 March, only 16 of these cases had been completed. Eighteen (18) cases were before the courts, leaving some sixty-three (63) cases still under active investigation.

  It is in the interest of Officers, the Police Force and the public, that complaints be routinely and quickly resolved. We expect cases to be dealt with more expeditiously in the new Fiscal Year, as a result of the Police Complaints Inspectorate’s oversight of the Complaints and Corruption Branch of the Police Force.

 commissioner’s  policing plan/notable developments

 Current Police action is also being taken in the context of the 2010 Policing Plan. I now wish to table a copy of the 2010 Policing Plan.

 [table copy of policing plan]

 With the Policing Plan providing impetus, the Police Force has established or updated mechanism to enhance its work in the 2009/2010 fiscal year. There is now, for example, a duly established and functioning National Crime Prevention Office (NCPO), to inform and educate the public about crime and the action they can take to detect and report crime, to establish crime watch groups and to make their homes and communities safer. An important focus of the NCPO is to assist in the coordination of crime prevention programmes, as a crime reduction strategy.

 The Commissioner and Executive Management Team of the Police Force indicated that to meet the objective of significantly reducing crime, they wanted a minimum of 24 cars and 20 motorcycles always on patrol in quadrants across the island of New Providence. The Government responded, acquiring a new fleet of cars, motorcycles, and bicycles, for the Police Force, at a cost of some $2.3 million to extend the reach of the Force.

 Even as I speak, the Force is taking delivery of 30 Crown Victorias, 8 Ford Explorers, 2 SUVs, and 17 motorcycles. Police cars have a new look.  The white patrol cars permit the insignia of the Police Force and other details to be seen clearly. The cars are also properly equipped to ensure the safety of Police Officers and the safe custody and transport of persons that have been apprehended. Costs for these necessary upgrades to the patrol cars have been met from the CAF.

 The Police Force now also has the means to quickly transport investigative teams, prisoners, equipment and supplies throughout The Bahamas, as part of its law enforcement mandate. With its new Cessna aircraft delivered earlier in the 2009/2010 fiscal year, the Force continues to develop its Air Support Services Branch for these purposes.

 It is a truism that any organization is as good and as effective as their people, and that adequate staffing tables are required to get the job done. The Police Force is giving priority to the selection of recruits, targeting bright and committed young women and men for recruitment to its ranks. There is currently a new Squad of 35 Recruits, 27 males and 8 females, which started training on 24 May 2010. Provision has also been made for another Squad to commence training early in 2011.

 Now, training is not only something the Police Force does at the level of recruits, but is increasingly being directed towards Officers of all ranks. This is targeted training, intended to build in the Force the skills and experience required to counter crime and criminality over a broad range of traditional and non-traditional areas, such as terrorism.

 As part of its training strategies, the Police Force is taking advantage of important training opportunities offered by the United States Government, through the Office of Defence Cooperation of the United States Embassy. Police Officers have so far been trained in areas including anti-gang forensics and command and control of forces during natural disasters.

 The Government continues to meet the Force’s request for equipment and materials to support its broader approach to training, and to equipping those that have been trained. We have already, for example, provided upgraded weaponry for the Police’s training and use. The criminals have these weapons, and so should the Police. The Force is also proceeding with the initiative to develop its own DNA testing Laboratory.

 In short, the training of Police Officers is being made relevant to today’s national, regional and international crime and security challenges, and is aimed at reducing risk to Officers in the potentially dangerous profession of policing.

 crime and criminality

 The daily headlines in the print media, on television and the radio confirm what we already know – that crime and criminality remain formidable challenges for our country, and is ever present in our communities, on our streets, in our schools and in our homes. As a country and as a people, we are especially concerned about crimes against the person, including the heinous crime of murder, and also about property crimes, including burglary and break-ins.

 With the Police Force leading the law enforcement response, that small minority of miscreants who contribute to our disturbing crime statistics, have increasingly come under a microscope. The Commissioner and Police Force are firmly resolved to ensure that the cost of their crimes outweigh the benefit, and to reduce the level of crime and fear of crime in our country. The Police are demonstrating their resolve.

 If it seems to you that Police Officers are now more visible on the streets, in mobile patrols, on motorcycles, on bicycles and on foot, particularly in the downtown core, you are right. If you observe that the Officers on the streets are of all ranks, you are also right. Divisional Commanders and Department Heads are being held responsible for delivering the anti-crime strategies set out by the Police leadership.

 Now, the Police Force has identified the priority crimes that are the subject of their focussed attention, including murder, rape, armed robbery, possession of firearms and ammunition, drug possession and trafficking and burglary and house and shop breakings. They have mapped out crime hotspots, and special mechanism, most notably the Selective Enforcement Team (SET), have been established and are targeting criminals in these and other areas.

[examples of events at arawak cay on labour day]

 The Police are aggressively targeting known offenders, are focusing on serving outstanding warrants, and are giving wide circulation to information on wanted persons. This latter area was one that was taken up with the Secretary General of the International Criminal Police Organization/INTERPOL during his visit to The Bahamas in May of this year.  INTERPOL is also giving priority to warrants for persons wanted by the Police internationally, including The Bahamas.

 Long-standing problems are again becoming the focus of Police attention.  In light of the violent retaliatory crime being perpetrated in The Bahamas by persons suspected of being engaged in the drug trade, stepped up action is being taken to counter the illicit transshipment of narcotic drugs into and through The Bahamas.

 There is no room for indifference or neglect of duty in this more aggressive policing approach the Force is taking, as the escape incidents at Central Police Station clearly demonstrated. 

 The Central Police Station matters have made clear the standard to which Officers of the Force will be held, and the action that would be taken in the event of proven neglect, corruption or other wrongdoing. It has also made clear that additional security measures are needed, and is in keeping with the proposal to install CCTV in Divisional Police Stations in New Providence and Grand Bahama, to increase station safety and custody suite management.

 The Government has therefore approved expenditure in the amount of $20,818.38 for a CCTV system for Central Police Station, to keep the cell block and other parts of the Station under constant electronic watch. 

 While it is reasonable to aim for what is possible in halting and reversing crime, it is impracticable to demand the impossible. I say this to emphasise that there is no magic wand that can be waved to make crime go away. Talking about what was done in the past will not resolve our crime problem in the present. Rather, we should take every opportunity to bring concrete ideas and proposals on national security to the table.

 This Budget debate provides us the opportunity for us all to commend our Police Force for the good job they are doing. Our Police continue to have a high crime detection rate. In respect of the crime of murder, for example, the Force’s detection rate is some 70%.

 Up to January 2010, the Police had confiscated in excess of 100 illegal firearms, most in New Providence and Grand Bahama. For the dedicated and committed service they give, we must assure our Police Officers that they have our support, moving forward.

 closed circuit television (cctv)

 The Police Force will shortly have another tool in its arsenal with which to counter crime and criminality in our country. We will shortly circulate a Request for Proposals (RFP) to prospective vendors for a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) network, a matter I earlier brought

 to the attention of the House. It will be recalled that the Police Force is implementing the CCTV project in cooperation with the private sector, and that a Public/Private Sector Steering Committee is taking the matter forward.

 CCTV has proved its value, as the instrument that assisted law enforcement in the United Kingdom and the United States to uncover terrorist plots and prevent terrorist bombings. Here in The Bahamas, CCTV will be installed in high crime areas, the business districts and vulnerable spaces. The network will allow the Police Force to keep a watchful eye on such places 24/7, and provide excellent evidential information for the apprehension and prosecution of criminals.

 CCTV surveillance will also provide intelligence of the kind that would permit the Police Force to identify and move resources quickly to crime hot spots. We expect, therefore, that the CCTV network to be more than a crime prevention tool. It should also act as a deterrent to criminals, and would be criminals. 

 The Public/Private Sector Steering Committee for this project has determined that the most effective way to proceed would be to engage a Consultant to oversee all phases of the project, from the review and circulation of the RFP until the CCTV network is fully operational.

 A number of highly recommended prospective consultants have been interviewed by the Steering Committee, and a partnership of two experts has been selected. This team has worked on significant CCTV projects in the past. It is expected that the Consultants will commence their work on 30 June 2010. Funding in the amount of $43,500.00 for this project is to come from the Confiscated Assets Fund.

 her majesty’s prison

 For the past three (3)  years, now, I have brought to this House information and updates on the Prison Reform agenda of Her Majesty’s Prisons. The Prison has kept this reform agenda on track, within its 2009/2010 budgetary allocations. In fact, the Prison realized savings in significant areas, through careful planning and good management.

 The Prison, for example, realized savings in its food item allocation. It did so not by compromising the quality and nutritional value of meals, but by expanding the pool of vendors invited to submit quotes for food items from 4 to 14. Consequently, it was able to make purchases well below that available on the open market. In 2009/2010, $1,945,581 was allocated for food (with $1,960,231 in 2008/2009). As at 31 May 2010, only $1,311,924 had been spent on food, with about $125,000 expected for June 2010.  That is why we have reduced the food line item to $1.6 million in 2010/2011.

 The Prison also realized savings through the strict and effective management of gasoline distribution. It set and kept strict limits on the amount of gasoline allocated to Prison vehicles that staff are entitled to use, and ensured that these vehicles were used for Prison purposes, only.

 With Prison reform at the forefront of its work, the Prison continues to make notable progress, in the workplace, in the Extra-Mural Work Scheme, and in the academic, technical, vocational and job release opportunities offered to staff and inmates alike. For staff, these opportunities are geared towards enhancing information and knowledge and improving professionalism and performance. For inmates, it is geared towards preparing them for reintegration into their communities upon their release, and at reducing recidivism.

 prison public service announcements

 Recently, Her Majesty’s Prison, in collaboration with my Ministry and the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas aired two Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on ZNS. These PSAs focussed on making bad choices, and were recorded by inmates, who warned of the consequences of crime and realities of being imprisoned. I commend the Prison on this approach, which we certainly hope will encourage our young men, in particular, to re-think the choices they make in their lives.

 I have directed that arrangements be made with the various radio stations to have these PSAs aired, so that they may have the widest possible reach.

 amendment of the prison act 1943

 There is, however, one significant impediment to Prison reform and to further modernization of our correctional services.  It is the sixty-seven year old Prison Act. You cannot develop a twenty-first century prison on an antiquated law adopted in the first half of the twentieth century. We will present a new Corrections Act to Parliament that reflects the wide range of issues of concern to the Prison Department, both in the short and long-term. We are now well advanced in this process, in which we will continue to invite the input of the Prison Staff Association.

 Budgetary allocations to the Prison Department in this Budget take into account the costs associated with implementing the amended Prison Act and the various legal and institutional reforms necessary for Prison Reform to take roots on the Prison’s Policy agenda. This would include the Prison’s participation in the Electronic Monitoring system, and in particular the use of the system in respect of the Prison Extra Mural Work Scheme.

 prison population/overcrowding issue

 We always hear persons proclaiming that Her Majesty’s Prisons, Fox Hill, is over crowded. That is not entirely true. Today, the Prison population is 1,340. Inmates are housed in six (6) Housing Units, Maximum Security, Medium Security, Central Intake, the Remand Centre, Minimum Security and Annex, and the Female Prison.

 The intended capacity of the Prison’s Housing Units and the actual number of inmates housed in each is as follows:

 housing unit                                    intended capacity              actual population

Maximum                                            450                                          650

Medium                                               300                                          221

Minimum & Annex                             130                                          97

Female                                                 120                                          40

Central Intake                                                 50                                            46

 It is in Maximum Security alone that the number of inmates exceeds the intended capacity, and in three (3) of the remaining four Housing Units, the number of inmates is significantly lower than capacity. It is important that these facts are known, to dispel negative notions of conditions at Her Majesty’s Prison that may call into question the important contribution that the Prison’s reform agenda is making.

 That is why I have asked the Superintendent to invite members of the Pres to visit the Prison so that they can see the improvements that Prison reform is making for themselves.

 composting toilets

 Let me now comment on remarks made by the Member from Fox Hill on the composting toilets in the Maximum Security Unit at Her Majesty’s Prisons. I consider it important to provide this House and the Member with the facts of this matter.

 The facts are that Her Majesty’s Prisons has variously experimented with toilet solutions for the Maximum Security Unit. It has tried, on a small scale, conventional toilets and vacuum toilets. Because of the thickness of the walls of the Prison and critical structural and physical plant issues, the toilets became a maintenance nightmare.

 We were determined to eliminate the 50 year old practice of “slopping”. We decided on the composting toilets based on research done by the Prisons, which indicated that they would require less in terms of installation and maintenance. When it was brought to our attention that the toilets were not functioning as we expected, we invited the manufacturer’s representative to come to The Bahamas to

 review and advise us on their product. He visited on 22 April 2010, and prepared a report, with recommendations, which was submitted to the Superintendent.

 According to the Manufacturer’s representative, the venting of the Excel toilets in their current configuration has several critical issues that will result in unacceptable conditions within the cells. Also, composting accessories and additives were not being used correctly, the initial composting process had not been started correctly, and incorrect bunking was being used for toilet maintenance.  

 The Manufacturer’s Representative has provided advice and recommendations on the major one of these issues, the venting of the toilets. This would entail the reconfiguration of the venting of the toilets to exit the building in the most direct manner possible, that is, through the roof of the facility.

 The Superintendent of Prisons has assured me that steps are currently being taken to vent the toilets and to remedy other problems. The Prison will have the support of the Manufacturers in this process, as they have agreed to continue to advise us in this matter. Let me assure this House that we want to resolve the problems associated with the composting toilets, and not to revert to the practices of the past.

 electronic monitoring

 The initiative to acquire an Electronic Monitoring system is progressing well. It will be recalled that the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2009 makes provision for the court to order that persons, including those on bail, be monitored electronically. The Electronic Monitoring system is also to be used in respect of persons on Her Majesty’s Prison’s Extra-Mural Work Scheme. The Police Force, in cooperation with Her Majesty’s Prisons, will have responsibility for the electronic monitoring of persons.

 The Inter-Agency Committee on Electronic Monitoring, chaired by the Ministry of National Security, is to shortly present its recommendation for a vendor to be engaged by the Government. To activate the system, $1 million has been allocated in the Ministry of National Security’s Capital Budget for the Fiscal Year 2010/2011. This amount would allow for the mobilization of the preferred vendor and to pay various ancillary costs associated with the initial phase of the project.

 An allocation of $100,000.00 has also been made in the Police Budget, as that agency’s communications system will be used for the monitoring of persons on the scheme. This House will be updated on this matter during the Mid-Term Budget Review.

 royal bahamas defence force

 There was a change of command in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in January 2010, the 30th Anniversary of the delinking of the Marine Division of the Royal Bahamas Police Force from the Police Force, and its establishment as the Defence Force under the provisions of the Defence Act 1980. I know members of this House will join me in commending the Commander, Defence Force and the Officers and Marines of the Force on this their 30th Anniversary, and their three (3) decades of distinguished service to the Government and people of The Bahamas .

 Like the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Defence Force’s change of command was also seamless. Additionally, it provided the opportunity to implement an important recommendation of the 2005 Review of the Defence Force. In line with this recommendation, there is now a Deputy Commander, Defence Force.

 

royal bahamas defence force reserves

 This past fiscal year was a period of review and consolidation for the Defence Force, with significant action being taken, and decisions being made, that will carry over to the new budget year. The most significant of these is the activation of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Reserves.

 The decision to establish the Reserves was made simultaneously with the establishment of the regular Force, and its rules came into effect in 1984. Some twenty-six (26) years later, on 30 June 2010, we will launch the first phase of the Defence Force Reserves, and have allotted $310,510.00 for the fiscal year 2010/2010 for this purpose.

 The Defence Force has prepared judiciously and pragmatically for the launch of the Reserves. Consultations on this matter took place in March 2010 between the Commander, Defence Force and the Adjutant General and the Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard. Thereafter, a Reserve Forces Workshop was held in New Providence 27-29 April 2010 by the Defence Force in conjunction with the Office of Defence Cooperation of the United States Embassy, the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), and the Rhode Island National Guard.

  Members of the Rhode Island National Reserve participated in the workshop, and provided invaluable insights into the operations of their organization, sharing with the Defence Force information, ideas and experience on organizational, administrative and legal issues. The outcome of the Workshop has informed the Defence Force’s strategy on the Reserves. Now, the Defence Force is looking forward to the benefits the Reserves would bring, not only to the Force, but also to the Government and people of The Bahamas.

 It is expected that Officers and Marines that have been honourably discharged from the Defence Force, and Bahamians with a wide range of specialist and professional expertise not readily available in the regular Force, would volunteer for the Reserves. Already, a list is being prepared of persons with the necessary attributes, who are willing to cooperate with the regular Force in implementing the mandate to defend The Bahamas, protect its territorial integrity, patrol its waters, and assist in disaster relief and the maintenance of law and order, and in the maintenance of navigational aides.

 Let me emphasise that the training for the Reserves will be compulsory, will be rigorous, and will give Reserve Officers and Marines the skills required for service in our sea-going Force. Let me also emphasise that the Reserves is not intended to curtail normal recruitment of our young people into the Defence Force. Rather, it is to augment the Force’s capacity, by adding personnel and expertise that will help to further develop the Force.

 

recruitment

 We continue to build the Defence Force’s personnel through recruitment.  Fifty (50) new Recruits joined the ranks of the Defence Force in April 2010, and are expected to conclude their formal training in July 2010. We have allocated an amount of $689,000 to meet the costs associated with this latest addition to the ranks of the Force, and of the new Recruit Squad that will begin training early in 2011.

 defence force airwing

 Air support, including timely surveillance and intelligence gathering, is critical to the effectiveness of the surface assets of our primarily sea-going Defence Force. With three (3) aircraft in its Air Wing (a King Air B 350 for rapid-response missions such as troop deployment and medical evacuation, a Cessna Caravan 208B for surveillance/reconnaissance and for troop and cargo transport, and a Vulcanair P68 for reconnaissance and surveillance), the Defence Force is now better placed to provide support for its surface assets. Together, these aircraft have flown some 100 flights in 2009/2010 budget period.

  In the past fiscal year, $415,131.67 was expended to support the Airwing Operations, including for flight and maintenance training, maintenance, spare parts and aviation fuel. Supplementary funding in the amount of $600,000.00 was allocated for fuel in the Mid-Term Budget review, a significant part of which was for the Airwing. In this Budget, the allocation to the Airwing is $189,172.00 for training, $97,668.72 for maintenance, $107,395.47 for spare parts and some $121,300.00 for fuel, for a total of $578,536.19.

 bahamas-united states security cooperation

 The fiscal year 2009/2010 has been a notable one in respect of security cooperation with the United States, following the seamless transfer of The Bahamas from the United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) to the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).

 Training opportunities offered under the United States Government’s International Military Training Programme and by USNORTHCOM span a wide range of areas of importance to the Defence Force, including intelligence, detention facility management, maritime violence, and hurricane preparation. These training opportunities have been factored into the Senior Command’s strategies for developing special expertise in the Force, in areas such as control of drug trafficking, and emerging areas including terrorism.

 The Bahamas continues to be included in activities and programmes of USSOUTHCOM for the Caribbean region. This year, the Defence Force received the fifth and sixth Interceptor vessel donated by the United States Government under the Enduring Friendship Programme, a USSOUTHCOM spearheaded programme. These interceptor vessels have enhanced the Defence Force’s interdiction capacity, and are making their mark by disrupting drug trafficking and illegal migration operations in The Bahamas.

 defence force base development

 Positioning the Defence Force to better patrol our country’s territorial waters and to deal quickly and effectively with violations of our sovereignty and territorial integrity, be it by drug traffickers, migrant smugglers, and poachers of our maritime resources or other transnational criminals, remain high priority for the Defence Force.

  The Defence Force continues to greatly benefit in this area from the Bahamas-wide network of Bases, including HMBS Matthew Town in Inagua and Bases in Grand Bahama, the Abacos, and Gunpoint in Ragged Island, which it is developing.

 Resources for capital works allocated to the Defence Force for essential projects are, for the most part, directed towards the development of the Defence Force Bases. Funds for improvements in the facilities at HMBS Coral Harbour, including the dredging of the Harbour to accommodate the large patrol vessels now moored at Prince George Wharf, the construction of warehousing facilities for the storage of technical spare parts and equipment, and the upgrading of power generation capacity at HMBS Matthew Town, are among projects for which funds for capital expenditure is allocated.

 The Government is firmly of the view that its investment in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force is well placed, and expects to receive excellent returns on its investment.

 parliamentary  registration department

 The Bahamas prides itself in a democracy and democratic traditions of long-standing. Free and fair elections are central to the effectiveness of our democracy, and a well prepared Register is central to the effectiveness of our elections.

 Determined to ensure that there is a well prepared Register for the next General Elections, the Parliamentary Commissioner commenced action to prepare a new Register in April 2010.

 The quality of the Register is dependent upon the personnel involved in the registration process. The Parliamentary Registration Department is therefore moving to recruit and train competent persons to perform this function. We expect most of these persons will be recruited from the public sector, and from among retired former senior Public Officers. Already, training seminars are being organized for voter registration personnel in New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands.

 Voter registration materials for the new drive are currently being produced. The preparation of the Register will proceed manually, as in the past. In the coming months, however, the Parliamentary Commissioner will review and test options for electronic voter registration, with a view to considering an electronic voter registration system moving forward.

 Supplementary funding of $200,000.00 allocated to the Parliament Registration Department in the Mid-Year Budget Review is being used for the start-up phase of the voter registration process and the preparation of the Voters’ Register. Since the process began in April 2010, some $126,000.00 has been expended for items including

 paper, printing, stamps, seals, cameras and film. To allow the Voter Registration Drive to be effectively implemented in the 2010/2011 budget year, we have allocated $750,000.00 to this project.

 We expect that preparations for the Voter Registration Drive to be completed by 31 August, 2010. The actual process of registration is expected to begin by 30 September, 2010.

 national anti-drug secretariat and private sector security

 Let me turn now to two (2) sections in the Ministry of National Security in which important progress is being made, the National Anti-Drug Secretariat and the Private Security Sector Unit.

 national anti-drug secretariat

 The National Anti-Drug Secretariat (NADS) of the Ministry of National Security, after some two (2) years of operation, is realizing notable successes in helping to bring coherence to The Bahamas drug control efforts. We must do so, because the trafficking of drugs into and through our country continues.  Police statistics indicate that the drug trade remains a matter of concern. From 1 January 2010 to 29 April 2010, 1,292.71 lbs of marijuana and 460 lbs of cocaine were seized.

 The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in a 2007 report, draws a line between the illegal drug trade and other crime, including crimes such as illegal gun smuggling, illegal immigration and crimes of a very violent nature such as murder. The information gathering, research and coordination work of the NADS in areas such as this is putting us in a better position to make the connections between drugs and crime, so that we can do something about them. It also reduces the scope for duplication of efforts of various national bodies.

 The Inter-Agency, multi-dimensional approach that the NADS has taken to its work brings together concerned Ministries/Departments of Government, non-governmental organizations and civil society, so that their combined expertise and experience can be pooled in crafting responses to the drug problem.  This approach allows the NADS to speak authoritatively in reporting to international organizations on The Bahamas drug control efforts.

 The effectiveness of this approach is particularly evident in the work of the inter-agency, interdisciplinary Committee that is planning and organizing the series of national events to commemorate the 2010 annual United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June.  The NADS has widely publicized the activities that will commemorate the 2010 International Day. We hope that Bahamians from all walks of life will support the activities, to raise awareness of the destructive impact of drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking.

 This fiscal year, the NADS completed the reports of the 2008 Secondary School Drug Prevalence Survey. This was the country’s second since 2002, using the Inter-American Drug Control Commission’s (CICAD) approach to these matters. The 2008 findings were compared with the 2002 findings. 

 The Survey indicates that we are holding the line in respect of the use of marijuana and cocaine among our school children surveyed. It also shows, however, that our children are abusing other substances, and that alcohol, in particular, constitutes a grave problem. We expect to have this Survey available to the public shortly. It should particularly alert the parents and teachers of school children of what they ought to be looking for, even as it informs Government’s drug prevention policies and programmes.

 The NADS continues to progress steadily with the new National Anti-Drug Plan, which we hope to lay before Parliament before the end of this fiscal year. Every effort is being made to ensure that the courses of action proposed in the Plan sets a broad anti-drug agenda that among all concerned is mutually reinforcing, and works in the interest of our country and its people.  

 inquiry agents and security guards

 I have so far spoken about expenditure. Now, let me speak on revenue, in the area in which the Ministry of National Security has responsibility for collecting Government Funds. As part of its responsibility, my Ministry registers individuals and firms in the security business, under the 1977 Inquiry Agents and Security Guards Act, and collects the relevant licencing fees.

 The fact is, however, that for years, persons and companies in this industry were not complying with the law and regulation, failing to both register, and/or to pay. In our initiative to correct this situation, we took into account that the effective delivery of services by the private sector security industry could have a two-fold benefit.  It provides security for persons and property, and where these services are effectively delivered, can ease the pressure on law enforcement. Consequently, my Ministry has a vested interest in the well managed and compliant private sector security industry.

 Individuals and firms in our records were reminded in writing that they were to register and to pay their fees. Meetings were held with those that were particularly delinquent, and where the amounts owed were significant, payment plans were agreed.

 We sought to reach those that had never registered through advertisement in the local press. Individuals and Firms in the industry were reminded that penalties would be imposed for non-compliance. 

As a result of this initiative, there has been a significant improvement in registration of individuals and firms, and a marked improvement in revenue collection. This financial year, revenue collected exceeded the projected revenue.

 We are in the process of updating the thirty- three (33) year old Inquiry Agents and Security Guards Act, with a view to setting standards for entering the business and for services rendered by the industry, including standards for training of persons on use of firearms or non-lethal weapons.

 

broadcasting corporation of the bahamas

 Change has to come to the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB), as the decision to move to Public Service Broadcasting, heralded for many years, becomes a reality. In anticipation of these developments, public funding for the Corporation has been reduced from $8.5 million in the last fiscal year, to $4.25 million in the Fiscal Year 2010/2011.

 The reduction of public funding necessitates a fundamental review of the way that BCB does business. Currently, the BCB’s projected annual revenue for the fiscal year 2009/2010 is some $7 million dollars, but it has realized revenue of just over $4.3 million for the first ten (10) months to 30 April 2010.  Personnel emoluments and benefits will, however, amount to some $10 million this current fiscal year, with other expenses of some $5 million. This position is unsustainable.

 BCB must, as a matter of priority, be restructured.  In this process, a review of critical matters such as staffing tables, cost-cutting measures and ways and means of increasing productivity and effectiveness is warranted. Systemic problems, including a management to staff ratio of 1 to 2, would undoubtedly have to be addressed. Realistic, long-term planning would be required, particularly in respect of funding the Corporation’s activities.

 There are 78 management employees, 149 line staff, and 14 contractual employees for a total of 241 persons. Annual salaries are:

 8 Executive Management                   $539,897.82

70 BCPMU Members                         $3,217,237.65

149 BCPOU Members                        $3,700,845.10

14 Contractual Workers                      $380, 513.61

Total                                                    $7,838,494.18

 

On Monday past (7 June 2010) I met with the two (2) Unions representing the staff of the BCB. I told them that the current situation was unsustainable, that a critical look had to be taken at ZNS, and that they could offer any suggestions.

 While there is uncertainty and anxiety over potential job losses at ZNS, I reiterated that the only decision made so far was that its structure and operation had to be changed. The Corporation had grown like “Topsy”. Persons had been promoted and given titles without regard to functionality or chain of command, and this had a negative effect on ZNS’ efficiency and effectiveness as a radio and television enterprise.

 On this score, I got the impression that both Unions agreed with me. Their position, quite rightly, however, was that persons did not promote themselves, and that the real problem was that ZNS had been used for political purposes over the years.

 It is now my lot to oversee the restructuring of the Corporation, and I will not shirk from that responsibility. I will ensure that representative of both Unions are fully engaged, and that their participation and input will be sought throughout the process. It is the Government’s expectation that the ZNS restructuring exercise takes place before the end of this calendar year.

 Notwithstanding, there are some positive developments at the Corporation, and I commend the Chairman and Board of Directors for leading the way. These include the updating of the Corporation’s financial statements, and payments to the Performing Rights Society ($500,000 each for the past two years), current payments of NIB, Staff Pensions and utility bills (even though liability for previous non-payments remains).

 It is my hope that by next year, Budget-time, financial statements from 2002-2010 would have been tabled here in Parliament.  Much work has been done in this area, and the Corporation now has the accounts for 2007 and 2008 ready for the external auditors, and is currently working on fiscal year-end 2009. The state of the accounts from 2002 to May 2007 left much to be desired. I am pleased to report that much progress has been made in this regard over the past three (3) years.  I will have more to say on this in due course, when these accounts are finally brought up to date and tabled in this place.   

 concluding comments

 Exercising fiscal discipline in the face of a prolonged global financial crisis simply makes good sense for The Bahamas, if we are to get through this crisis, and continue on our progressive development path. 

 It takes an insightful and committed Government to decide what has to be done in circumstances such as this, and to do it, and the FNM Government has done just that.

 The fiscal discipline required of us all in our efforts to improve the long-term economic outlook for our country is not easy. The Government has therefore taken the hard decisions in the interest of bringing the country through the crisis with as little fallout as possible. From this perspective, this is not a tough Budget, just a practical and necessary one.

 Importantly, the decisions have also been taken bearing in mind the need to keep in place, and maintain the standards of the essential services rendered to the people of The Bahamas, in critical areas such as national security. 

 We must all do our part in these difficult and demanding times; we must curtail our spending now, so that what we spend does not dramatically outstrip what we earn. We must manage what we have, so that it can do what needs to be done.

 In detailing examples of the achievements of my Ministry and its agencies over the past fiscal year, and what the approach will be to budgetary allocations in this financial year, I have sought to make one essential point, which I reiterate now. It is that in the 2009/2010 Budget

 Year, we confronted the hard truths of a reduced budgetary allocation. We managed the resources allocated to us in a responsible way, and accomplished critical objectives, in the interest of the people of The Bahamas. In the 2010/2011 Budget Year, we will do likewise.

 I thank you.

News date : 06/10/2010    Category : Press Releases

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