This week in The Bahamas (26 - 30 December 2016)
Authored by: Elcott Coleby
Source: Bahamas Information Services
Date: December 30, 2016

 

Prime Minister Christie confident of continued economic activity in 2017

Entertaining several interviews with the press including a formal press conference over the Christmas holidays, Prime Minister Christie addressed a number of national policy issues affecting the country in addition to politics, specifically the upcoming PLP national convention and the imminent general elections.

 

The Prime Minister confidently foreshadowed more positive economic activity and the creation of more jobs early in 2017 and well before the general elections.

 

Commenting on Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade the country’s sovereign rating to ‘junk’ status, Mr. Christie said that his Government is charting a course of correction and fiscal responsibility, cautioning those who may be alarmed over the recent decision by Standard & Poor’s (S&P) to downgrade the country’s credit rating  to “junk” status. He said his administration “sits comfortable” with the move as it sees it as a “simple misunderstanding with timing”, contending that S&P sees positive economic growth on the horizon for The Bahamas, but not until 2018 while his government sees positive economic growth in 2017. Mr. Christie also pointed out that the country’s foreign reserves are at an all time high, reportedly at more than $928 million according to the Central Bank.

 

With voter registration numbers comparatively low at around 73,000, Prime Minister Christie told the media that a potential election date could hinge on voter registration in the coming weeks, implying that he could make a determination as early as February “if we get the numbers right”. Ideally the government wants around 170,000 voters registered and told the media to watch those numbers as a cue for when a decision will be make regarding the general elections. He however admitted that the process has been a struggle for his government, pushing officials “back to the drawing board” as they look for ways to encourage voters to “support the process.” The next election must be called by May 2017.

 

Speaking of the PLP, Mr. Christie said that he fully expects to emerge victorious at the party’s planned national convention in January 2017, the first since 2009. As for the preparation for the general elections, the Prime Minister said that the PLP “has always been a formidable political organization” and is “more than capable” of hosting a national convention while preparing for a general election. He promised to have all of his candidates named by convention, scheduled for the third week in January.

 

Bahamas Nurses Union trade dispute referred to the Industrial Tribunal

The Ministry of Labour released the following statement on Thursday, 28th December in light of an impasse between the Ministry of Health and the Bahamas Nurses Union on a dispute filing:

 

“The Minister of Labour and National Insurance the Hon. D. Shane Gibson on Thursday 22nd December 2016, acting in accordance with section 72(1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1970, referred a trade a dispute filed by the Bahamas Nurses Union filed against the Ministry of Health, to the Bahamas Industrial Tribunal.

 

“The dispute was referred after Labour Director Robert Farquharson personally intervened and concluded that all outstanding issues with the BNU were either resolved or a procedure for resolution was agreed by both parties, however, executives of the BNU refused to withdraw the matter.

 

“This referral, made in the public’s interest, prohibits members of the BNU from taking any industrial action in pursuance of the aforementioned trade dispute according to section 72(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, Chapter 321 of the Statue Laws of Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”

 

Dollar devaluation post is “fake new’ says Foreign Ministry

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs set the record straight on Wednesday regarding a post circulated in social media designed to mislead the public that the Bahamian dollar was devalued.

 

“Such a conclusion” said the Ministry’s statement “would be false and should be discouraged”. “This is what is now being described as "fake news" and Bahamians travelling overseas should be warned.

 

“The public is advised that in Bahamian law, the Bahamian dollar is one-for-one to the US dollar when traded across the counter in Nassau and throughout The Bahamas, whether in a bank or in a store. This has been the position since the change from the Bahamian pound to the Bahamian dollar in 1966. That position remains unchanged today.”

 

The statement also pointed out that the Bahamian dollar “is not and has never been a convertible currency like the US dollar.” Other convertible currencies are the British Pound, the Euro and more recently, the Chinese RMB. The statement said that under Bahamian law the Central Bank of The Bahamas does not have to honour the exchange of any Bahamian dollar or dollars spent or exchanged outside The Bahamas.  

 

“Whatever price the trader in the US charges is entirely a matter for that trader and his or her customer but does not impact or reflect the trading value or official one-for-one exchange rate of the Bahamian currency in The Bahamas” continued the statement.

 

“The value of the Bahamian currency in The Bahamas remains one Bahamian dollar for one US dollar.”

 

School opening dates for 2017 for selected islands revealed 

The Ministry of Education advised the public on 28th December, 2016 of some important dates in the school calendar due to the observance of Majority Rule Day holiday on the actual date on the 10th January.

 

These dates apply to schools in New Providence, Grand Bahama and North Andros only.

  • Tuesday, 3rd January 2017 - All teachers are to report to school
  • Tuesday 3rd to Friday 6th January 2017 – Teacher work days
  • Monday, 9th January 2017 - National Report Card Day
  • Tuesday, 10th January 2017 – Majority Rule Day Holiday
  • Wednesday, 11th January, 2017 – Students return to school

Schools in the remaining islands/districts will open as previously stated on 3rd January, 2017.

 

In Passing…

Magic was certainly on the side of the One Family Junkanoo Group during the 2016 Boxing Day Parade, with the group capturing its first parade victory since the 2014 under the theme, “Disney – Let the magic begin”. Second was the Saxons, third was Roots, followed by Genesis with the Valley Boys placing fifth. Colours won the ‘B’ Category.  

 

FNM Leader Dr. Minnis said this week that his party will “privatize carnival” and invest the country’s money into Junkanoo and other cultural events if elected in the next general election. In response, PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts accused Dr. Minnis of “echoing” Prime Minister Christie’s policies and adopting them as his own.

 

At least 19 Brazilian immigrants are feared drowned off The Bahamas as they tried to cross illegally to the United States, officials in Brasilia, the capital, said on Monday according to a report by Agence France-Presse.

 

The RBDF apprehended 99 Haitian migrants in the southern Exuma chains on Christmas Eve. Marines discovered the migrants – 77 males and 22 females – onboard the sloop.

 

Ednol Rolle, the Water and Sewerage Management Union’s President is threatening legal action over the Water & Sewerage Corporation’s $8.9 million water plant deal with a BISX-listed company, amid an outcry that Bahamian groups were not given a proper chance to bid.

 

Sir Franklyn Wilson says “no positive spin” can be placed on The Bahamas’ junk downgrade, adding that it showed this country is failing to tackle the long-standing structural weaknesses in its economy. He further criticized the Opposition parties for failing to offer solutions to the problems highlighted by S&P, and also warned against placing too much reliance on Baha Mar’s promised April 2017 opening.

 

FNM Chairman Sidney Collie said yesterday the reported decline in unemployment nationally has been “skewed” by the temporary construction jobs created in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Collie called on the Department of Statistics to consider making the distinctions between temporary and permanent jobs.

 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said The Bahamas’ vote at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly last week was consistent with Christian values after several pastors urged Minister Fred Mitchell to direct the country’s UN representative to vote against the resolution to appoint an independent expert (IE) on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in the person of Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn.  

 

The Utilities Regulations and Competition Authority (URCA) has effectively admitted that its “earlier than expected” takeover of energy regulation left it struggling to cope, amid a lack of technical expertise and human resources.

 

URCA revealed in its 2017 annual draft plan that it intends to commence an efficiency assessment on BPL’s systems in order to determine what may be behind the cause of the power company’s “inefficiencies”. The assessment is expected to start sometime in May to August and be completed in late 2017 or early 2018.

 

Governor of the Central Bank of The Bahamas John Rolle said that the bank is actively monitoring and assessing an “evolving” situation concerning the possible deterioration of relationships between correspondent banks abroad and banks in this jurisdiction, after the IMF made reference to some concerns over any major disruptions to the relationships.

 

CTFE spent $2 billion to purchase the Baha Mar mega resort, a government source revealed recently. CTFE is injecting another $1 billion directly into getting the project restarted and completed - something the source said is a huge boost to The Bahamas’ economy that S&P did not pay enough credence to before downgrading this country’s sovereign credit rating.

 

Despite being denied the use of Rawson and Parliament Squares for a protest on Majority Rule Day in January, We March Bahamas organizer John Bostwick II said that the march proceed as planned.

 

With no reported case of the Zika viral infection since 5th December bringing the number of 23, Health officials on Wednesday urged residents to remain vigilant against environmental factors that breed mosquitoes.  

 

Former foreign employees of Baha Mar will receive some payment next month said committee chair James Smith this week. He added that the ex-gratia payments provided by the CEXIM Bank were intended primarily for Bahamians.

 

BTC officially unveiled its mobile television app, “FLOW to Go” with 29 channels on Wednesday of this week. As a special introductory offer, FLOW to Go will be offered free for 30 days to all BTC customers with a mobile data subscription, BTC said in a press release.  

 

The Ministry of Tourism reports that the “nature tourism product” is in good condition and continues to draw visitors to Grand Bahama, despite closures of major resort properties.

 

Nearly 50 children from various residential homes in Nassau spent Christmas Day in Freeport, Grand Bahama during a “Bahamasair fly-out”, thanks to a partnership between Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works and Urban Development Philip Davis, Bahamasair and the Ministry of Tourism.

 

Realtors predicted The Bahamas’ downgrade to ‘junk’ status will not impact the foreign second home market, amid “one of the busiest starts to the winter season for a long time”.

 

James Smith, former state minister for finance, slammed S&P ‘junk’ downgrade as unwarranted and premature because The Bahamas has “not reached the point of no return” and was “nowhere near” ‘junk’ status because the Government was still able to service its direct $6.046 billion debt.

 

Aliv’s top executive recently said that the imminent introduction of number portability would enable them to compete with that product offering accounts for up to 20 percent of the Bahamian market. Additionally, Aliv wants URCA to force mobile portability as some customers are unwilling to give up their mobile numbers.

 

URCA has moved to strengthen consumer protection, finding that the existing regulations are not sufficient to protect Bahamians in a communications market dominated by two large providers. URCA also promised disaster relief for the sector.

 

Fewer than 500 of the over 19,000 customers of the Grand Bahamas Power Company (GBPC) have had their power disconnected due to outstanding arrears the company said while expressing concern that nationally, 12,000 households are off the grid due to delinquency.

 

Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall on Wednesday defended the right of his staff not refuse registration services to potential voters who were “improperly” attired.

 

Former PLP MP Philip Galanis warned organizers of We March Bahamas on Thursday not to “kid themselves” in attempting to align or equate their campaign narrative to the country’s achievement of Majority Rule.

 

Some 200 “supply” teachers across the country have not been paid for months, according to Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) officials. The supply teachers are retirees who have mostly been re-engaged by the Government because of shortages across the country.

 

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, repatriations by the Department of Immigration are up 17 per cent over the last year’s figures. The Government has repatriated a total of 6,335 migrants up to December 26, with Haitians and Cubans accounting for 73 per cent and 18 per cent of that figure respectively.

 

Jones Communications Network announced on Thursday that it will honor Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald and University of The Bahamas President Dr. Rodney Smith as its persons of the year for 2016. In a press release, officials from JCN said: “The establishment of the University of The Bahamas on November 10, 2016 was the most significant achievement for the year and a milestone in national development.”

 

Dr. Michael Darville, a physician by training and the Minister for Grand Bahama affairs said this week that providing primary health care is paramount for all Bahamians as he highlighted the importance of equity within the delivery of health care throughout the country.  

 

Freeport businesswoman Ginger Moxey is seeking the nomination as the PLP’s candidate for Central Grand Bahama. Ms. Moxey is the President and CEO of Immerse Bahamas Company Ltd. prior to going into business, she was the Vice President of the Grand Bahama Port Authority.

 

In response to FNM chairman Sidney Collie that a decline in unemployment has been “skewed” by the temporary construction jobs created in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, Labor Minister Shane Gibson said yesterday he was not surprised by the decline and asserted that by May 2017 unemployment is expected to decrease even more.

 

Senator Keith Bell told the media this week that Opposition Leader the Hon. Loretta Butler-Turner can appoint who she wishes to the senate but vowed that the governing members in the Senate will not allow opposition members such as controversial activist and talk show host Rodney Moncur to turn Parliament into a “fish market”.

 

Mario Carey, a prominent realtor, yesterday urged the Government to better regulate the growing Airbnb online tourist rental market to prevent the loss of tax revenues, while also ensuring Bahamians better access entrepreneurial opportunities.

 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is threatening to fine Resorts World Bimini and an affiliate company $219,000 for operating over nine “for hire” flights that brought casino players and other guests to its property in summer 2015. Resorts Worlds Bimini expressed disappointment at this threat.

 

Robert Pantry, a senior commercial bank executive yesterday said the Central Bank’s decision to slash the discount rate by 50 basis points will ultimately put more money into Bahamian pockets, adding: “The importance of it cannot be overstated”.

 

CEO of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce Edison Sumner believes that online shopping “had a bit of a negative impact on the retailers in the country” this holiday season. He confirmed that a spike in sales by courier businesses was due to last-minute deals offered through online shopping sites.

 

The Bahamas Mortgage Corporation customers are complaining that they are not receiving the entire insurance payout from their hurricane damage insurance claims. Chairman of the corporation, Senator Alex Storr, explained that firstly the corporation receives the checks from the home insurer because the insurance is tied to the mortgage. BMC then works with the mortgagee to facilitate repairs to the home and the balance of the insurance payout, if any, is applied the mortgage arrears.
 

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