Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kennedy MP Kenyatta Gibson: Bahamians must understand that to save their country they must be prepared to work together and make sacrifices

Not the time to mislead the people
tribune242 editorial:

KENNEDY MP Kenyatta Gibson, who came from the bosom of the PLP almost two years ago, first as an Independent MP, then as a full fledged FNM, had sound advice for his former political colleagues during the recent Budget debate.

"These are times," he said, "in which all Bahamians must understand that to save their country they must be prepared to work together and make sacrifices."

"To mislead the people into thinking that this belt tightening Budget is a result of the FNM Government's inefficiency or incompetence is an insult to the people's intelligence," he told the Opposition who have accused the Prime Minister of not protecting the Bahamas from the present world crisis.

We are all in this together. When Bahamians sit in front of their TV sets at night and see the people of the world losing their jobs and closing their businesses, and countries heading for bankruptcy, they must understand that the Bahamas cannot stop the world and get off -- they are a part of the whole. The biblical seven lean years are here and now.

"The current economic crisis in which we, like other countries in this region are plunged, can best be resolved and remedied where there is a conciliatory atmosphere of understanding and cooperation of all concerned," Mr Gibson said.

"But if we create rancour and doubt and self pity and make people feel that someone did something to them and we know this not to be true, then we are guilty of the sin of omission and falsehood and are not worthy to be called Leaders of the people."

Mr Gibson told the MPs that "we can rise above partisan politics, especially in times of national crisis and danger" and together "lift our country and our people to greater heights."

Today's Bahamians cannot pass today's troubles onto unborn generations, he said. "It is now our watch and together as one Bahamian people we have to fix it."

Mr Gibson pointed out that the FNM government did not cause the recent problems on Wall Street, nor did it dismantle Lehman Brothers, or create the US's sub prime mortgage debate. It didn't even drive up oil prices or cook the books of leading US banking institutions, nor did it defraud the SEC - all of which started the economic ball rolling downhill at an ever increasing pace. No one could stop the roll and so country after country -- the Bahamas included - was caught in its wake as it picked up momentum and dragged each one of them to the bottom. Each nation now has to pick itself up and climb to the top. Politicians who would divide and pull the people down at this time are an unwelcome and useless appendage. It would be best to dismiss them and move on alone.

Mr Gibson said that "these are the easily verifiable facts but some persons true to their form, would prefer not to lead but to mislead and misguide and misinform."

Mr Gibson pointed out that James Smith, the current chairman of CFAL, was the main architect of Opposition Leader Perry Christie's economic policy when Mr Christie was prime minister (2002-2007). He is a man of "impeccable" credentials as an economist, Mr Gibson pointed out. No one would dispute that observation.

"PLP's from Inagua in the south," said Mr Gibson, "to Grand Bahama in the north have heralded his genius in budgetary exercise after budgetary exercise since 2002. After the Progressive Liberal Party's defeat in 2007, 'the word often came down' to the general public that the Progressive Liberal Party was supporting sentiments expressed by former Minister Smith."

Recognised as an expert on his subject, Mr Gibson, wondered why in this instance the PLP did not embrace Mr Smith's comments on the FNM's belt-tightening budget with "its usual eagerness and zeal."

According Mr Smith "both the public and private sectors need to appreciate that for the next few months, maybe even another year, it will be tough and everyone needs to tighten their belts. I think the budget reflected that tone."

Fidelity Bank's president Gregory Bethel, another respected member of the financial community, echoed Mr Smith's assessment. "These are the right moves," said Mr Bethel, "to get the country's economy back on tract."

Continued Mr Bethel: "The Prime Minister has set the tone. He said that this is a time for sacrifice, service and reform and the Bahamian people must understand that it is not business as usual. Everybody in our society must share in the sacrifice, share in the pain and share in the reform."

Said Mr Gibson: "This is our age, indeed our time, indeed our call to sacrifice for our country."

He pointed to David Cameron, Britain's new prime minister, as an example of how Mr Cameron used the UK's harsh economic environment to explain to the British people why his government had to introduce a similar austere budget as the rest of the world. Mr Cameron said that this was an opportunity to explain to the people the purpose behind the pain.

Mr Gibson told the Opposition that if they "call this a budget of pain, it must be characterised as pain for a noble cause. That cause being the continued viability of the nation."

For the Opposition to move in the opposite direction, especially at this moment of crisis, just means that they are headed towards the void of political oblivion.

June 29, 2010

tribune242 editorial

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

..."a significant concern" over the Government's plan to impose Stamp Duty on the sale of all court-ordered foreclosed properties

'Major concern' over planned 'foreclosure tax'
Tribune Business Editor:

BAHAMIAN home buyers could have to significantly increase their equity down payments if a proposed Stamp Tax amendment goes through, the Clearing Banks Association (CBA) chairman warning that the sector had "a significant concern" over the Government's plan to impose Stamp Duty on the sale of all court-ordered foreclosed properties.

Paul McWeeney, who is also Bank of the Bahamas International's managing director, told Tribune Business that the change - part of the Budget amendments to the Stamp Act - could negatively impact the entire home buying process, and was causing significant concern to the major international banks, particularly in regard to large syndicated loans.

"It's a big issue we are trying to address with the Ministry of Finance," Mr McWeeney confirmed to this newspaper. "Prior to the amendment, or the proposed amendment, any sale of real estate as a court-ordered foreclosure was tax exempt.

"It is a significant element for us to be concerned with and make representations to the Minister of Finance to reconsider that amendment. I understand they are taking a look at it. It is a significant concern, especially for international banks in syndicated loans. The cost of doing it may be prohibitive. The CBA made representations to the Ministry of Finance and they are reviewing it."

Court-ordered foreclosures are ones where a Bahamian court orders that a bank, or any mortgage lender, can take possession of a property and sell it in accordance with the lien/charge it has over it. This power, and procedure, are commonly invoked when a borrower has long defaulted on their repayments, and there is no prospect of the lender recovering its money.

The international banks - Royal Bank of Canada/FINCO, FirstCaribbean International Bank (Bahamas) and Scotiabank (Bahamas) - were those who commonly used the court-ordered foreclosure route, and led large syndicated loans secured on underlying real estate.

Take, for instance, a $20 million loan secured on Bahamian real estate. Previously, a lender or lending syndicate could go through a court-ordered foreclosure, take possession of the property and sell it to a new buyer, recovering their loan without having to pay any Stamp Duty on the purchase.

The Government's proposed amendment, though, would see the banks now having to pay 12 per cent Stamp Duty (6 per cent if split with the buyer) to the Government, which would cost them either $2.4 million or $1.2 million.

What is being viewed as a revenue grab by the Government would, if approved, percolate and have ramifications for the entire Bahamian real estate and home buying market.

If they have to pay Stamp Duty upon selling a foreclosed property, a bank or banks may not recover the full amount on what is already a defaulted loan, forcing them to continue pursuing the defaulted borrower for the balance.

With the banks running the risk of being 'out of pocket' on a defaulted loan as a result of the new tax burden, Mr McWeeney suggested some might seek to mitigate the changed risk profile and increased loss possibilities by demanding higher equity down payments from borrowers, raising requirements from 5 per cent to 10, 15 even 20 per cent.

This will make home ownership costs more prohibitive, and could exclude an even greater number of Bahamians from the mortgage market.

"It almost imposes a penalty or impediment to that [court-ordered foreclosure] process," Mr McWeeney told Tribune Business, warning that it could "negatively affect" the Bahamian banking sector.

He added that not just banks but all mortgage lenders, such as insurance companies and cooperative societies, as well as potential new market entrants, stood to be impacted if the proposal was passed into law.

"It adds to the losses, the cost to take possession, and if you see it, you have to pay 12 per cent of the purchase price. It's a significant cost," Mr McWeeney warned.

"The international banks, with those future syndicated loans, I imagine the banks that design those may have serious concerns about these changes if they go through."

Another banker said of the Government's proposals: "We've got some pain to endure, and the willingness of banks to forgive and do all those things is very slim. It's a risk in the long-run when you need banks to fuel recovery. It's shortsightedness."

June 28, 2010


Monday, June 28, 2010

How serious is the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP)?

How serious is the PLP?
tribune242 editorial:

COMMENTING on our June 17 editorial - posted on The Tribune's website and headed: "Is this a gimmick for press headlines?" - a reader asked:

"Is it so, as the PLP claim, that the PM ended the Budget debate midstream in the committee stage? If so (and it was on TV for all to see) then is that not an example of denying the Opposition the right to freedom of speech on behalf of the Bahamian people?

"You don't have to like the PLP and you surely have the right to be an FNM partisan. However, in order to have some level of credibility, don't defend obvious wrong."

We are not defending an obvious wrong, nor do we intend to defend an opposition's attitude of arrogant entitlement -- that rules were not made for them.

In all facets of life to achieve harmony precedents are established and rules and procedures are followed.

So too in parliamentary debates. The debate to which our web site commentator refers is governed by constitutional rules. The rule that Opposition Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell was trying to get around was one that does not allow amendment of a money bill that would change the state of the Treasury unless moved by a Cabinet Minister on the recommendation of the Cabinet. Mr Mitchell, not a cabinet minister, was obviously trying to exempt himself from acknowledging that this rule also governed the Opposition.

The Budget Communication was presented to the House on May 26 by Prime Minister Ingraham. The following week debate opened and all 41 House members -17 of them Opposition- spoke. At that time they could dissect and amend any part of the Budget they wanted. The Budget had to be completed before July 1- three days from now when it goes into effect. Well in advance of the debate government gave its timeline on how it proposed to proceed with the debate and projected when it should be completed. The Opposition had ample time to study the proposed Budget and if members had any policy issues they could have circulated draft amendments - including the one Mr Mitchell moved in the House -- for cabinet consideration. Obviously they did not do this.

After fully debating the Bill, the House resolved itself into a committee of the whole with the Speaker retiring from the chamber and the chairman taking the chair.

The Opposition, not having the numbers to defeat any part of the Bill, obviously decided to filibuster, and the filibuster started during examination of the estimates and expenditure of recurrent accounts. According to the Bahamas constitution, no amendment can be made to a money bill except by a cabinet minister with the full consent of the cabinet. As our readers know, Mr Mitchell is not a cabinet minister, and if he were serious he should have submitted his amendment for cabinet consideration well before the start of the debate-- he certainly had enough time to do so.

Because of the seriousness of the economy, the object of this Budget was to cut costs. Instead, Mr Mitchell proposed that funeral payments be increased from the present $650 to $1,300 per person for at least 1000 persons.

Mr Ingraham, obviously realising the Opposition's plan to delay passing of the Budget, warned Mr Mitchell that if he went down that road, he (Mr Ingraham) would move for closure. There is no debate on closure.

Not heeding the warning, the Opposition put the amendment. It was voted down. PLP MP Melanie Griffin by that time was on her feet with another motion -- the Opposition's plan to slow procedure became even more obvious as it appeared that one Opposition amendment was to follow another. The chairman ignored her. Closure was put. The Opposition packed their bags and left. The government continued to move the associated Budget Bills. It went through the Capital budget. So for the PLP to give the impression that the Budget process ended and nothing else was dealt with after they walked out, is just not true. The Budget was completed and passed after their disappearance.

However, what is of interest is that the item to cut parliamentary salaries was very high on the estimates of recurrent expenditure -- as a matter of fact it was Head 3. By the time closure came members were already on Head 44. This was an item about which the Opposition had expressed great concern. Government suggested cutting MPs' salaries by 5 per cent. Opposition Leader Perry Christie disagreed. He said the Opposition wanted salaries cut by 10 per cent. But Head 3 came and went and not a squeak from the Opposition about cutting anything. Why didn't they attempt to move a resolution on this one?

When FNM MP Carl Bethel pointed out this oversight, Dr Bernard Nottage, replied that a separate resolution on salaries was further down on the agenda and that is when they had intended to make their move to have parliamentary salaries reduced to 10 per cent rather than the FNM's five per cent recommendation. They missed the opportunity at Head 3 of the Estimates and skipped out of the House before their anticipated moment came for them to make a big splash by shaving a further five per cent off their parliamentary salaries for the sake of the people.

And so if they were really serious about increasing benefits for burying the indigent dead, and cutting their parliamentary salaries, all they had to do was follow the constitution and parliamentary rules. In other words there is no entitlement to bend the rules and no one is above the constitution -- not even the PLP.

Therefore we stand by our editorial of June 17 that in our opinion the PLP manoeuvres in the House were just gimmicks to attract headlines and impress the less informed.

June 27, 2010

tribune242 editorial

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dads in The Bahamas can now be taken to court to prove the parentage of children born out of wedlock

Dads to face court in new child laws
Tribune Staff Reporter

BAHAMIAN men can now be taken to court to prove the parentage of children born out of wedlock, based on new regulations that came on stream with the Child Protection Act in 2009.

The law could be of major use to children born out of wedlock if they knew their rights, according to Utah Taylor, founder of Find Your Parents Foundation, and host of Controversy TV.

Mr Taylor said a member of his non-profit foundation, who claims to have conclusive evidence of paternity, is currently battling for recognition from the person presumed to be his father.

"This is a high profile person. He went to the person and he said it is not possible. In another two days I am going to let him know about the law," said Mr Taylor.

The new regulations have not received the kind of attention they should have, according to Dr Sandra Dean Patterson, director of the Bahamas Crisis Centre, which is partly why the Crisis Centre launched its new monthly lecture series with a focus on fatherhood and the law.

"Before the new legislation a child born out of wedlock was what they called a 'nullius filius', which means a child of no man. It was just a child of the woman. But now with the legislation, a child born out of wedlock and a father of a child born out of wedlock can now be recognised in court as having status. If there is concern that the child is not being looked after the father can petition for custody," said Dr Patterson.

"It is a big problem. There are some fathers if they are not in a relationship with a woman they move on and they leave the children behind. It impacts boys more intensely, but girls too experience the effect of not having a father who is actively involved," she said.

If a child petitions the court for a declaration of paternity, the presumed father must prove he is not the father. The child could petition for the presumed person to submit to a paternity test, said Mr Taylor.

Although he was a presenter at the forum, he said he learned information that would have been useful in his own search for a father. It took him 34 years to find out who his biological father was.

"The law needs to be known. It should not be something just known to lawyers and politicians. The small man needs to know what is available to him. A single father needs to know he can petition the courts for parental control. All we know is we have to go to the courts to pay child support or maintenance," said Mr Taylor.

He said there are women who become "spiteful" because of the relationship problems and prevent fathers from having access to their children. He said some women demand child support or maintenance, but refuse to allow visitation rights.

"Fatherlessness and/or father hunger is recognized as a significant factor in the psyche and emotional functioning of boys and girls. We see this as creating a vacuum and a sense of incompleteness in many of our young people, contributing to boys' externalizing behaviour and their vulnerability to gangs and girls' vulnerability to older men and 'sugar daddies'," said a statement issued by the Crisis Centre.

Other presenters included Elsworth Johnson of the Eugene Dupuch Legal Aide Clinic and John Bostwick of Bostwick & Co.

The July lecture series is set to focus on the Domestic Violence Protection Orders Act, which is a "ground breaking legislation", said Dr Patterson.

It provides a more comprehensive definition of domestic violence, and enables a broader range of groups to go before the courts for a domestic violence dispute: not just married couples, but those in intimate relationships, children, or anyone who is a victim of some kind of domestic violence.

The new law also allows the court to mandate perpetrators or partners to get help and mandates the police to take victims to the hospital.

June 26, 2010


Friday, June 25, 2010

Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) have no restrictive effects on international financial institutions in the Bahamas to date

'Scarier' financial industry threats may be to come
Business Reporter

THERE has been "no effect" on the Bahamian financial services sector yet from the more than-20 Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEA) signed recently, Arner Bank and Trust's general manager said yesterday, although he warned that "scarier" challenges were to come.

David Thain, who is also chairman of the Association of International Banks and Trusts (AIBT), said he was convinced much more intrusive initiatives will be churned out by G-20/OECD countries in the future, making previous efforts pale by comparison.

However, on a brighter note, he said TIEAs signed by the Bahamas in its bid to escape the G-20/OECD 'blacklist' threat had as yet had no restrictive effects on international financial institutions in the Bahamas.

Mr Thain warned, though, that the OECD could tighten the noose in the future, saying: "What will come in the future is scarier."

Speaking at a Bahamas Organisation of Compliance Officers' (BACO) Money Laundering Reporting Officer Day, Mr Thain said Switzerland's banks were at present feeling US demands for tax information on their clients.

He added that such pressure on Swiss banks could bode well for the Bahamas as a jurisdiction, only if it does not concede to the kind of pressure being imposed on Switzerland by its G-20 neighbours.

Mr Thain said it was likely that TIEAs will not be aggressively used by the countries the Bahamas signs up with, but this nation should continue to adhere to G-20/OECD demand without putting its reputationat risk.

"The Bahamas' Swiss operations 9bank subsidiaries] could become more important if the Bahamas can be strong in how we handle this," he said. "We will see inflows from Switzerland, as they are giving up too much."

Mr Thain added that the Bahamas can use opportunities like these to help the banking sector replant its roots and grow after so much evolution in such a short time.

Rowena Bethel, legal counsel for the Ministry of Finance, told BACO members that the Bahamas was gearing up for the Phase One peer review process required by the OECD to ensure it has met the tax information standards required by the body.

The peer review is scheduled to begin on July 1 and will last for up to six months.

In terms of how the Bahamas has done on its regulatory regimes and compliance as a country, she said: "We are looked at as a model."

June 25, 2010


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Clifton Member of Parliament Kendal Wright (FNM) Will Not Retain His Party's Nomination to Run for the Area in the Next General Election

FNM's Clifton MP 'may not retain party's nomination'

TROUBLE may be brewing in the FNM's Clifton constituency as reports suggest that the incumbent Member of Parliament Kendal Wright may not be retaining the party's nomination to run for the area in the next general election.

According to reports reaching The Tribune, a young woman attorney from a prominent law firm was being put forward as the party's new "top pick" for the incumbent's seat.

As it is a well known secret that there is little love lost between Mr Wright and the party's leader Hubert Ingraham, some sources have suggested that this move could be designed to finally remove the MP from the party's backbench.

However, with the next general election less than 23 months away, other sources within the FNM have shot down such reports as mere PLP propaganda designed at "distracting" the party from its current work.

"The Prime Minister is busy at this time conducting the business of running the country. He is not even thinking about candidates at this point so such suggestions would be ludicrous at best. And one must remember, whatever the perception may be with regards to Mr Wright and the Prime Minister's relationship, a seat is a seat. Why would you run anyone in a constituency where you have an incumbent member?

"There are many other seats where young energetic candidates can be placed. Farm Road for instance is one that we would like to win. So that is where I believe you would see interest being placed," the source said.

Additionally, there have been reports from some political quarters that the government might replace the Clifton constituency totally by moving the boundary lines and recreating the former Adelaide constituency.

These new boundary lines, it was said, would consume the western part of New Providence in the constituencies of Adelaide in the south-west and Killarney to the west-north.

June 24, 2010


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Election court lawyers want $400,000 from Parliamentary Commissioner Errol Bethel and defeated Free National Movement candidate Dr. Duane Sands

Election court lawyers want $400,000
By JUAN MCCARTNEY ~ Guardian Senior Reporter ~

An already cash-strapped Public Treasury will be asked to cough up hundreds of thousands of dollars, as the attorneys who represented Progressive Liberal Party Member of Parliament Ryan Pinder in the Elizabeth Election Court challenge earlier this year will ask for more than $400,000 from Parliamentary Commissioner Errol Bethel and defeated Free National Movement candidate Dr. Duane Sands.

The court costs will be comprised of a $357,000 bill for the actual court proceedings, and a $28,700 bill for services rendered involving Sands' unsuccessful bid to have Pinder's Election Court petition thrown out before the actual proceedings began, according to Wayne Munroe, one of the attorneys who represented Pinder.

On March 23 Election Court Senior Justices Anita Allen and John Isaacs ruled Pinder the winner of the challenge and ordered Bethel to pay 75 percent of Pinder's costs, with Sands responsible for the remaining 25 percent.

Pinder's lead counsel was Philip Brave Davis. He was assisted by Munroe, Valentine Grimes and Keod Smith.

Munroe said the bill for the strike out petition has been filed for some time, but the bill for the court proceedings will be filed today - the last day Munroe has to do so without asking for an extension.

The Supreme Court Registrar will then go over the bills item by item and decide if any alterations should be made.

Sands and Bethel are now faced with a bill $100,000 higher than they could have settled for.

Munroe said that Pinder's legal team offered Bethel and Sands' respective counsels an offer to settle the strike out bill at $20,000.

He added that Bethel and Sands' were also offered to settle the court proceedings at $275,000 but refused both offers.

Elizabeth Returning Officer (and Director of Immigration) Jack Thompson was also named as a respondent in the by-election court challenge, but was not ordered to pay costs.

The February 16 by-election ended with Sands receiving 1,501 votes to Pinder's 1,499 votes. However on March 23 the Election Court ruled that 5 protest votes cast in favor of Pinder should be counted, pushing Pinder's total to 1,504 votes, making him the winner of the seat.

Bethel was blasted in the justices' ruling, where it was said that he failed to protect the integrity of the Elizabeth register.

And as the PLP MP's legal team prepares to collect on Election Court costs, an FNM MP's legal counsel was still awaiting payment of his hefty bill up to a few weeks ago.

The Guardian understands that Fred Smith, who represented Marco City MP Zhivargo Laing in his successful challenge against former MP Pleasant Bridgewater, had still not received payment on his $1 million bill.

June 23, 2010


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Holding people charged with murder for up to three years in Her Majesty's Prison without trial 'may be unconstitutional

Holding murder charged for up to three years 'may be unconstitutional'
Tribune Staff Reporter

THE Government's intent to amend the law to hold people charged with murder in Her Majesty's Prison for up to three years without trial may be "unconstitutional", with some in the legal community arguing it will violate human rights.

Currently, a person charged with murder or another serious offence can be granted bail if they have not been brought to trial in a reasonable amount of time. Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has indicated that his administration plans to specify in law that a reasonable amount of time would be three years.

It's a move by the Government to cut down on the number of offenders committing crimes while on bail, and assuage public outcry over those accused of murder being granted bail.

However, the decision has garnered criticism in the legal community.

Damian Gomez, partner in the law firm Chilcott Chambers, told The Tribune: "It's a violation of Article 20, it's a violation of Article 19 (of the constitution) and it's a violation of the common law which says that all citizens have the right not to be deprived of their liberty without some cause."

Mr Gomez, a former senator who has been practising law for more than 20 years, added that it is the fault of the police and prosecution for charging persons with serious offences without sufficient evidence in hand to try them quickly.

"If you charge someone with murder you ought to have enough evidence to proceed immediately. If you know the evidence that you have is insufficient to obtain a conviction, you have no basis then for charging them.

"The real issue is why haven't these people been tried within a reasonable amount of time?"

Attorney Paul Moss believes such a practice violates the human rights of innocent people who may be brought up on murder charges and are forced to languish behind bars for years while police and prosecution search for further evidence.

"Everyone wants a criminal to be locked up, but certainly people don't want the innocent to be locked up. Extending (holding) time to three years is not reasonable. I'm not sure that it's constitutional but certainly it is not the answer because all it means is that they are not on bail but after three years they will get bail and what do you do then, extend it to five years?

"If the government, because of its own failure, is unable to get people to court in a timely fashion, the constitution will not bend to them."

Last month, when speaking to Parliament about proposed amendments to the Bail Act and the issue of crime, Mr Ingraham said he is confident the changes will be lawful and stand up in court.

"The only time you cannot deny bail is when the person has not been tried within a reasonable period of time, but there is no such thing as an absolute right to bail, notwithstanding what anybody else says.

"And it is our intention in the Bahamas to propose that in the context of the Bahamas, a reasonable period of time is three years. We are satisfied that such a provision will withstand any challenge before all competent courts of jurisdiction for the Bahamas."

June 22, 2010


Monday, June 21, 2010

Sightings of suspected oil in the seas around the Bahamas from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to be investigated

Scientists to investigate suspected oil sightings in Bahamian waters
Tribune Staff Reporter

SCIENTISTS and volunteers are expected to set out today on a five-day expedition to Cay Sal and Bimini to investigate sightings of suspected oil in the seas around the Bahamas from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) scientists and volunteers will take sediment samples and test them on the Defence Force vessel HMS Bahamas to confirm or deny the presence of oil in Bahamian waters.

The scientists include leading marine ecologist Dr Ethan Freid and marine biologist Kathleen Sealy from the IMO.

Environment Minister Earl Deveaux said: "The group going to Cay Sal will continue any pre-impact assessment. This group will do a more detailed assessment than the first group.

"We are doing it to ensure that we have documented proof of the conditions that existed prior to the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

"The likelihood of fresh oil coming to the Bahamas is indeed remote. The oil is approaching 60 days old from the first spill. We are, according to all the best scientific information, likely to get oil that is weathered in the form of tar balls. What we do not know about is the expanse of the dispersense and what impact they would have and that's why we want to document the conditions in advance of any impact from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill so we can measure it going forward."

According to Mr Deveaux, all the initial expenses for the pre-impact assessment is being handled through NEMA.

"The companies in Grand Bahama have in stock more than 30 per cent of any necessary equipment that we would use if we were required to respond to say, Cay Sal, Bimini, Freeport Harbor or West End. These are the proximate areas where the likelihood of land fall would first occur," Mr Deveaux said.

More than 1,000 people have volunteered to assist in the oil spill clean-up effort, said Mr Deveaux.

"I think the issue we would have would not be the number of persons willing to assist but how we would coordinate the level of preparedness to assist to make it most effective," Mr Deveaux said.

The Attorney General's office is exploring all legal options in the event the government has to seek recompense from any impact the BP oil disaster has on the Bahamas.

"We have taken the information we have to date, and the Attorney General's office is exploring all of legal options with respects to British Petroleum and the United Kingdom in the event we seek recompose from any disaster that hits the Bahamas. We hope that none does," the Minister added.

June 21, 2010


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pray That The Baha Mar Deal Is Sealed

“We Better Pray Baha Mar Deal Is Sealed”

As the verbal tug of war rages over the multi-billion dollar Baha Mar project and whether to allow 5,000 Chinese workers to enter the country - one leading contractor says Bahamians better pray that The Bahamas gets the deal, if not the entire island’s tourism product will be resting "solely on the shoulders of Sol Kerzner and Atlantis."
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham sent tongues wagging when he announced earlier this week that he would not have approved the Baha Mar deal if his administration were in office in 2005.

Former Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Perry Christie approved the Cable Beach project.

Since Mr. Ingraham’s announcement, Mr. Christie has expressed serious concerns about the way Mr. Ingraham "politicises" the investment sector in the country and he warned him to desist his "irresponsible" approach to potential investors.

Two years ago gaming giant, Harrah’s Entertainment – Baha Mar’s former strategic partner – pulled out of the deal reportedly in response to comments Mr. Ingraham made in the House of Assembly.

At the time Mr. Ingraham expressed reservations about the financial viability of the Baha Mar developers, indicating that he had more confidence in Harrah’s ability to finance the project.

But, Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) President Stephen Wrinkle said it is crucial that the Baha Mar project comes on stream as it would help to significantly grow the economy.

The $2.6 billion project promises to create thousands of temporary and full-time jobs and transform the drab Cable Beach area into a glitzy tourist mecca.

"I think he has [Mr. Kerzner] carried the load magnificently for several years, but can you imagine 8,000 new jobs and 5,000 new rooms? The room tax alone from that is [huge]. Phenomenal income streams are going to be available for that mega project," Mr. Wrinkle said during a recent Bahama Journal interview.

"I would like to see as much support given by to the government to Mr. (Sarkis) Izmirlian [Baha Mar Chairman and CEO] and his team. I think they’ve done a fantastic job of holding on. They went through a terrible experience with their Nevada group and a huge failure. They’ve incurred serious carrying costs. I think at the end of the day it’s going to be a better project than it would’ve been because you always learn more from your losses than you do your gains. But, they’ve stood the test of time and quite frankly I think we can see a renewed Cable Beach."

Mr. Wrinkle said the project would also provide huge benefits for The Bahamas.

"We’re going to have double the marketing that we have now; double the amount of people arriving at the airport now and double all the numbers that Kerzner has," he said.

"Remember what an impact we had when they built phase three of Atlantis. What they’re doing with Baha Mar is equal to all of the phases they did at Atlantis and they’re doing it one phase. This is a big deal," he said.

Regarding the Chinese workers that the government plans to bring in, Mr. Wrinkle said they are needed.

"They are calling for 8,000 workers out there; 4,000 workers have got to be found; we can’t provide 4,000 workers. We’d be hard pressed to provide half of that. On these big international projects it’s just a fact of life. We’ve sat at the table; the BCA has tried to represent the interests of Bahamian contractors and workers and we’ve had some success with Baha Mar; they’ve been receptive," he said.

"They have a commitment with the government to hire Bahamians. It’s in their Head of Agreement. It is in the contract with China State Construction and China Finance Bank. There is language in there that mandates that they make the effort and employ Bahamians where possible."

He continued: "The problem in the past is it’s never been fully implemented. So, we’ve been very active in trying to make sure that we have a seat at the table and that wherever and whenever we can gain access to work that it’s offered. These projects are so enormous that when you think in terms of $2 billion in a build-up that they say is going to take five years, every day, whether they hit a lick or not, is going to cost them several million dollars. So, the productivity has to be there. Imagine trying to run 8,000 people on a construction site. This is a huge endeavour and after that we’re going to have 8,000 permanent jobs."

June 17th, 2010


Saturday, June 19, 2010

The National Oil Spill Committee is on alert as concerned citizens have reported sightings of what they believe to be oil sheens in Bahamian waters

Experts to probe oil spill reports
Tribune Staff Reporter

SIGHTINGS of suspected oil in the seas around the Bahamas from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico will be investigated by scientists setting out on a five-day expedition to Cay Sal and Bimini on Monday.

The team of IMO scientists and volunteers will take sediment samples and test them on the Defence Force vessel HMS Bahamas to confirm or deny the presence of oil in Bahamian waters.

The National Oil Spill Committee is on alert as concerned citizens have reported sightings of what they believe to be oil sheens in Bahamian waters.

Director of the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology Commission (BEST) Philip Weech said the dark patches spotted in the ocean are more likely to be large clumps of dark seaweed drifting in the ocean than the oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico, which they resemble.

"If there is oil in the Bahamas yet, we don't know," Mr Weech said.

"We have been getting a lot of calls and concerns of that nature and many are coming from the fact that people are seeing what they would normally see when they fly over, which is seaweed, which looks like what you see on the international news, but what we expect to see here would be weathered black tar balls.

"We are almost 800 miles away from the oil head so it's going to be a completely different scenario."

Oil sheens containing thousands of tar balls have hit the south coast of the United States in Mississippi, Louisianna, Alabama and Florida, and some reports claim these sheens have already left the Gulf.

The National Oil Spill Committee will spend five days in Cay Sal Banks, the westernmost point of the Bahamas 145km west of Andros Island, and Bimini, collecting oceanic and terrestrial samples to test on the RBDF vessel and determine whether or not oil has left the Gulf.

They will be assisted by trained volunteers from the College of the Bahamas, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Department of Marine Resources, other government departments and environmental protection agencies who will continue sampling work in the northern Abaco cays and Grand Bahama.

More samples will be taken on the slower, more detailed exercise than the previous two-day expedition to Cay Sal last month which showed no signs of oil from the spill and have been stored in a tamper-free US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified laboratory.

Committee spokesman and Bahamas National Trust (BNT) director Eric Carey said: "We are hearing so many conflicting reports, depending what website you look at, so we have spent a lot of time trying to get the best information available to us.

"One source said oil might be exiting the Gulf of Mexico in the form of tar balls already, so we are really anxious to see what the team finds when they get to Cay Sal, because some of the reports suggest tar might already be heading there."

The team of scientists include leading marine ecologist Dr Ethan Freid and marine biologist Kathleen Sealy from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

June 19, 2010


Friday, June 18, 2010

Clogged Courts... Clogged Justice

Confusion around the courts

NATIONAL Security Minister Tommy Turnquest told Parliament Wednesday that at least 252 persons charged with murder are still awaiting trial. Of that number about 130 are out on bail.

It would be interesting to know how many of those on bail have been charged with a second murder, or have themselves become the victim of another criminal's drive-by shooting. Up to April 30, 130 murder accused were still out on the streets waiting to be called in to face justice.

Lawyer Philip Davis told the House that a murder trial usually takes a month. He estimated that it would take more than 20 years to clear those now waiting for their cases to be heard. "A near impossible" task to deal with, he observed.

The courts are not only clogged with too many cases, but also cases cannot move smoothly and swiftly through the system because of constant delays, either for lack of witnesses, summonses that have not been served, or lawyers who need adjournments because of a conflict in their own calendars.

A businessman, who was to testify this week for a theft at his office, after waiting four hours outside court for the case to be called, vowed that in future unless death were involved, he would never again call in the police to get entangled in the judicial system. "It is ridiculous what happens at the court," he said.

He said his case was set down for Tuesday and Wednesday this week. He arrived at the court at 9.30am on Tuesday. There were so many prisoners already there that everyone was asked to leave the court to make room for them.

He waited with the crowd under the almond tree in front of Café Matisse to find some shelter from the blistering sun. Later he hurried under an awning to be protected from the rain. "I am a middle aged man in good health, but can you imagine what would happen to an older person, not in good health, under these conditions?" he asked. He battled with the sun and rain for four hours before his case was called. When he entered the court room at 1.30pm he was told: "Come back tomorrow."

The next day, he went even earlier to secure a seat at the back of the court. He said that a sympathetic policeman who knew what he had gone through the day before helped him find the seat. His case was the second to be called on Wednesday. He gave his evidence, but believes that there will be at least two more adjournments in the magistrate's court before the case can make it to the Supreme Court.

In the two days that he was there only two cases went ahead. About 40 had to be adjourned because either witnesses had not shown up, or summonses had not been served.

On Tuesday he said in one case alone 15 witnesses were called. Not one was present. Of the 30 cases that day, no one had shown up to give evidence. Each case had to be set down for a new date.

Even a prisoner complained about the non-functioning system. He told the court that that day was the fifth time that he had been brought before the court, but each time his case had been adjourned because no one was there. "This is ridiculous!" he exclaimed.

Also at no time did the businessman feel secure. He said there should be somewhere for witnesses to wait so that they do not have to be so near to the prisoners.

He said all the staff and the police at the court were friendly. However, it was obvious that the court was under staffed.

"It was a total eye opener for me to our criminal justice system," he said as he vowed never again to willingly expose himself to such an experience.

As for murder cases, Mr Turnquest told the House, government will specify an amendment to a bill now before parliament that three years is a reasonable time to hold murder accused in prison to await trial. In our own experience, we know of a case that involved the brutal murder in 2006 of one of our own staff members. The man accused of her murder was back on the streets after only 14 months. He is still a free man and no more has been heard of her case.

Under the constitution, said Mr Turnquest, a person accused of murder has a right to bail if they are not brought to trial in a reasonable time. With the slow pace at which many matters proceed before the courts this has allowed many charged with serious offences to be released on bail, sometimes coercing witnesses or committing other heinous crimes, he said.

"There's no question that the granting of bail to persons charged with murder is particularly controversial and emotive in our country. The public is concerned and rightly so that persons charged with murder are given bail and remain free to coerce, compel, and influence others and tragically to kill again," said Mr Turnquest.

"It is critical that more persons charged with murder have their cases decided by the courts and we believe that this Bill is a step in the right direction," he said.

We suggest that a court be designated just for murder cases with its own staff to bring in the witnesses and keep the cases moving through the system.

June 18, 2010


Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) to announce three more general election candidates

PLP to announce three more general election candidates
By BRENT DEAN ~ NG Senior Reporter ~

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) is moving closer to announcing its candidates for two Grand Bahama and one New Providence constituency for the next general election, The Nassau Guardian understands.

Sources have confirmed that attorney Greg Moss (former president of the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce) and Dr. Michael Darville (currently a senator) are the two front-runners for two Grand Bahama nominations, and attorney Arnold Forbes is leading the way for the Mt. Moriah nomination in New Providence.

The PLP's National General Council is scheduled to meet tonight. It is unclear if these potential candidates, or others, will be ratified at this meeting.

Jerome Fitzgerald (Marathon), Michael Halkitis (Golden Isles), Hope Strachan (Sea Breeze) and Dr. Kendal Major (Garden Hills) were the first candidates to be ratified by the party in March.

The PLP is active in its candidate selection process.

Last Thursday, during the budget debate a think tank within the party referred to as 'the caucus,' which supports PLP leader Perry Christie, held an informal rally at the party's Farrington Road headquarters that eventually was attended by party parliamentarians who walked out of the House of Assembly that night.

Main speakers at the rally were Fitzgerald, former senator Paulette Zonicle and Dr. Major.

MPs who walked out of the House also addressed the group of supporters.

Party sources have also confirmed that attorney Randol Dorsett is the front-runner for the Pinewood nomination, attorneys Keith Bell and Dion Smith for the Kennedy nomination and attorney Myles Laroda for the South Beach seat.

The party hierarchy is said to be interested in nominating candidates well ahead of the election, to give the PLP a better chance at winning seats that were close in the last general election.

Whether or not any candidates are ratified tonight, it is expected that the next wave of candidates would be announced within the next few weeks.

With the party's leadership and candidates committee having been interviewing candidates for some time, it is possible that a large number of candidates would be named within the next few months.

June 17, 2010


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No illegal Haitian apprehension exercises in six months

Hold on Haitian round-ups
BY JUAN MCCARTNEY ~ Guardian Senior Reporter ~

The Department of Immigration has not conducted any illegal Haitian apprehension exercises in six months, The Nassau Guardian has learned.

The department had suspended apprehension exercises following the massive earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which destroyed the capital city on January 12.

Following the disaster, the government also ceased Haitian repatriations and released 102 illegal Haitian migrants who were being held at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.

However, on April 5, the government stated that the apprehension and repatriation of any "new" illegal Haitian migrants had resumed.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Brent Symonette yesterday admitted that no apprehension exercises have been conducted since January.

"If you're wondering if we have gone out on apprehension exercises, no," Symonette said.

Apprehension exercises were commonplace before the earthquake.

Symonette, who has ministerial responsibility for immigration, did not say why the apprehension exercises had not resumed, but earlier this week, he explained that immigration officers are apprehending illegal Haitian migrants as they encounter them.

"In the event (or) in the course of an investigation, if we're out in a neighborhood either doing a review of someone's home or we come across a certain situation, persons have been apprehended (but) not in any great numbers," he said at a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday.

"If we're advised of or come across any persons that are here illegally, they will be apprehended ... that's been ongoing."

At that press conference, Symonette also revealed that the government does not know the whereabouts of 40 of the 102 migrants who were released from the Detention Centre in January.

The migrants were given six months' temporary status and were asked to return to the department in March.

After the March check-in, they were asked to report back in June.

Symonette said that has not yet happened, but there is no official position on what will happen to those 62 migrants when and if they do report.

"I'll have to consult with my Cabinet colleagues with regard to those," he said, stating that the matter was not a decision he could make unilaterally.

Symonette also admitted that those 40 migrants who did not report to the department in January disregarded the terms of their release.

"We have two different categories: one [comprised of those] who've totally ignored the position and one set that have come in," he said.

In total, 15 women, three children, and 84 men were released from the holding facility.

Speaking at a press conference in January on his government's decision to release the Haitian migrants, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham pointed to a New York Times editorial that said, "Burdening a collapsed country with destitute deportees would be a true crime."

The Bahamas repatriated more than 5,000 undocumented Haitians last year.

In the 2009/2010 fiscal year, the government allocated $1.5 million for repatriation exercises. In the upcoming fiscal year $1 million has been allocated.

Following an emergency meeting in the Dominican Republic several days after the earthquake, Ingraham announced that as part of the temporary immigration policy, undocumented Haitian nationals apprehended in The Bahamas after the disaster would be charged in court so they could be detained for longer periods of time.

That policy has since been abandoned.

June 16, 2010


Brent Symonette - Minister of Immigration: Bahamians "cannot continue to employ non-Bahamian labour and complain at the rate of unemployment."

Deputy PM: we cannot employ non-Bahamian labour and complain about unemployment
Tribune Staff Reporter

BAHAMIANS should take a hard look at the realities behind the immigration of foreigners into their country and accept that their own behaviour and choices sometimes play a part in the situation about which many complain, the Deputy Prime Minister suggested.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Immigration, Brent Symonette, said that Bahamians "cannot continue to employ non-Bahamian labour and complain at the rate of unemployment."

"We either have to accept that there are certain jobs Bahamians are unwilling, unable or are not being suitably paid to do or else we have to move on," he said.

"A Bahamian will work in a hotel, but yet we're importing maids to work in private homes. What's the difference between them? Why are we prepared to do one and not the other?" asked the Minister and MP for St Anne's.

Under Bahamian immigration law, a foreign person can get a work permit from the Department of Immigration to fill a job in the Bahamas if no suitably qualified Bahamian can be found to do the job. In some cases, this may mean those who apply for the job are not necessarily holding the skills or qualifications the position demands, and in others, foreigners are able to gain legal authorisation to work in The Bahamas when no Bahamians actually apply for certain jobs when they are advertised.

He suggested that not only does the level of foreigners employed to do these jobs in The Bahamas mean some Bahamians remain unemployed while jobs exist that they could do, but "you have to ask the question what other burdens do (immigrants) put on the system."

Meanwhile, Mr Symonette said there has been a "gradually growing" number of cases of suspected sham marriages between Bahamians and foreigners seeking "papers" in The Bahamas - primarily Haitians and Jamaicans.

"A number of persons of non-Bahamian citizenship come to the Bahamas, overstay their welcome, when caught get deported and coincidentally marry a Bahamian the next day in a country south of us then come back as the spouse of a Bahamian. The cases are far too common to be real. And that's an issue we all have to face. There are a number of marriages that we question," said Mr Symonette.

He said that where the Immigration Department suspects that a marriage is one of "convenience", lacking authenticity, it has denied the right to the usual work and residency related benefits that extend to the spouses of Bahamians and some fraudulent cases have been prosecuted. However, he added that the situation is a tricky one as the government must extend these benefits to the spouses of Bahamians or else face the likelihood that Bahamians who go abroad and marry will not return home. Referring to the employment of foreigners, mainly Haitians and Jamaicans, in relatively unskilled jobs such as housekeeping and gardening -- thousands of permits are approved each year for foreigners to work in posts like these when Bahamians cannot be found to do the work -- and the fact that there is "on a daily basis a demand for skilled labour at the Department of Labour." Mr Symonette said the Bahamas needs to "start looking at the whole immigration policy in this country."

"Do we have enough skilled labour in the Bahamas or don't we have enough? Are people applying for work permits with job descriptions that don't necessarily fit the job in hand? These are issues I think we need to get out for public discussion," said Mr Symonette.

June 16, 2010


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and Opposition Leader Perry Christie reciprocate over the Baha Mar project

Public tit for tat erupts over Baha Mar
By STAFF WRITER ~ Guardian News Editor:

A public tit for tat has erupted between Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and Opposition Leader Perry Christie over the Baha Mar project, and PLP MPs' recent decision to walk out of the House of Assembly without voting for the 2010/2011 budget.

Ingraham, who is leader of the Free National Movement, last night released a statement responding to a statement released yesterday by Christie on the issues.

Christie's statement yesterday was in response to Ingraham's statement on Sunday on these matters.

The prime minister's Sunday statement came after Christie held a news conference on Friday to respond to comments the prime minister made in the House of Assembly the night before on Baha Mar and to discuss the Opposition's walkout.

It appears that neither side is willing to allow the other side to have the last word.

"In addition to the PLP's abandonment of its role as the Official Opposition during the budget debate, the leader of the Opposition has also abandoned various responsibilities related to that role," the prime minister said.

"He is also shirking responsibility for past decisions as prime minister. This includes accepting no responsibility for not implementing any significant economic, social or infrastructural projects in five years."

The FNM has implemented many significant projects in three years which continue to drive the PLP to distraction and to an endless distortion of the facts, the prime minister said.

"Mr. Christie has resorted to making wild accusations about the current government's considerable efforts to bring to a conclusion a Baha Mar deal that he was unable to complete on his watch. This is typical. The FNM usually has to finish the work the PLP is incapable of completing."

Ingraham repeated that the government will bring to Parliament various resolutions related to Baha Mar, including immigration matters arising from a potential agreement on that project.

"Rather than rhetoric, the PLP will either have to put up or shut up on a deal they initially proposed when it comes before the House," the prime minister said.

"Mr. Christie is the poster child of failure and stunning incompetence in government. During his single disastrous term he borrowed $800 million but failed to rebuild [Lynden Pindling International Airport], failed to dredge the [Nassau Harbour], failed to build the [Bay Street] straw market, failed to move the downtown port, failed to build a single school, and failed to implement an unemployment benefit program. He even failed to bring his signature project of National Health Insurance to fruition. Compare that record to what the FNM did between 1992 and 2002, a period during which government borrowing totaled $700 million."

Ingraham said Christie and the PLP failed to negotiate a single Tax Information Exchange Agreement needed to protect the financial services industry.

And, he also failed to reign in his scandal-ridden colleagues, the prime minister said.

"In addition to attempting to wreak havoc on the Constitution and the budget process, Mr. Christie and his colleagues got the facts wrong on the matter on which they sought to offer what would have been an unconstitutional amendment," said Ingraham, referring to an attempt by Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell to have a Social Services line item amended to increase the amount of money the government gives poor people to help bury their dead.

Ingraham said in his statement last night: "Had they (PLP MPs) done their homework, they would have realized that the budget head about which they were concerned includes assistance for several categories of individuals and families in need, not only funeral expenses.

"From July 2009 to date, the government has provided funeral assistance in the amount of $67,650. Indeed, it has honored most of the requests for assistance it has received. It will continue to do so if there is a demonstrated need."

Ingraham charged that the PLP is so desperate to return to power, and so shameless, that it is prepared to use the grief of the loss of loved ones to further its self interests.

"They have no shame over using even death to stage their political stunts," Ingraham said.

"The same people who now claim to care for the poor never increased funeral assistance from 2002 to 2007. Bahamians were losing their loved ones then, as they are now. Where was the PLP then, in what were economically good times? In 2008, it was the FNM that increased funeral assistance.

"Because the current leadership of the PLP have no record to stand on and no vision for the country they are engaging in stunts, smoke and mirrors, unconstitutional behavior, obstructionism, temper tantrums and shifting blame."

June 15, 2010


Perry Christie - Opposition Leader accused Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham of attempting to sink the Baha Mar deal

Christie accuses PM of attempting to derail Baha Mar
By STAFF WRITER ~ Guardian News Desk:

Opposition Leader Perry Christie yesterday accused Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham of attempting to sink the Baha Mar deal.

Christie's statement came a day after Ingraham said his administration would not have approved the multibillion-dollar Cable Beach project under the terms agreed to by the former administration.

"The question that must be asked is whether or not the prime minister is seeking deliberately to scuttle the Baha Mar project," Christie said in a statement.

"We are astonished that the prime minister says that he would not have supported the Baha Mar project without answering the question of what he would have done to produce the 10,000 jobs for Bahamians, which this project promises to create.

"When we approved it, there was no question then of 5,000 or any other number of Chinese laborers. Indeed at that point in time there was no Chinese involvement at all. The PLP agreed to the project to enhance our tourism industry, diversify the tourism plant so as to create a strategic counterbalance to the dominance of Kerzner and Atlantis, and to create jobs. Mr. Ingraham, in talking down this project, has no answer to any of these points."

During a news conference on Sunday, Ingraham said the approval of the extraordinary number of Chinese workers required to help construct the Cable Beach resort development would not be given without opposition support.

It is estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 Chinese workers would be required as a result of an arrangement between Baha Mar and its new Chinese partners for the $2.6 billion deal, which is still subject to both Bahamian and Chinese government approval.

"In this case we are not going to born this PLP baby by ourselves," Ingraham said.

"We will ask Parliament by resolution to approve the labor ratio between Bahamian workers and foreign workers for that project. If the PLP votes no, it'll be no. After all this is a baby conceived by them. We are seeking to deliver this baby but we don't have sufficient gynecological ability or qualifications to do so on our own."

But yesterday Christie repeated that Ingraham would have to carry the burden of whether the Baha Mar deal gets the green light all on his own.

While pointing out that Ingraham is fond of saying that he does not pay attention to anything the PLP has to say, Christie charged that with the full power in law to make an immigration decision, he (Ingraham) now wants to share the decision of whether 5,000 Chinese workers should come to build the new Cable Beach hotels.

"As the prime minister is always so anxious to show how decisive he is, he should have no hesitation in exercising his authority and deciding the matter in the same way that he decides everything else: entirely on his own, without any help from his own colleagues, much less the Opposition," Christie said.

But Christie said that irrespective of whether the Baha Mar deal is approved, thousands of students are leaving school this month, joining thousands more who are unable to find decent jobs.

"He (Ingraham) must find an answer to the 30,000 jobs that are needed in this economy," the Opposition leader said. "That is his job, not the PLP's job."

He charged that Ingraham's statement on the Opposition's performance during the recent budget debate and the Baha Mar project are a "profound embarrassment", and a "sorry attempt" to deflect attention from the real issue.

"The real issue is the abject failure of the Ingraham government," Christie claimed.

"The issue is not Perry Christie and the PLP. Instead the issue is the government of the Free National Movement that has driven our country dangerously into debt and dramatically increased the burdens on the poor, the working class, and the middle class in our country. No amount of rhetoric or grandstanding on Mr. Ingraham's part can change those unchangeable facts."

June 15, 2010


New directions in Bahamian economic policy: Some thoughts about taxation

tribune242 insight:

THE government's latest Budget brought home the harsh realities of our present economic situation. The tax hikes and funding cuts it included were defended by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham as timely and necessary. He added, however, that the government will "one day have to be prepared to say to the public of the Bahamas that the current tax system is inequitable and unfair and do something about it." With this in mind, it is useful to revisit a speech on the future of taxation in the Bahamas delivered in 1997 by one of the world's foremost experts on the subject, Dr Alvin Rabushka of the Hoover Institute. Next week's Insight will feature more on Dr Rabushka and his views on the Bahamian economy 13 years on.

New Directions in Bahamian Economic Policy: Some Thoughts About Taxation

A Speech Delivered to the Rotary Club of Nassau

By Dr Alvin Rabushka:

It is said that "death and taxes are inevitable." The difference is that death occurs but once, while taxes are a daily affliction. Today, tomorrow, next week, and next month you will pay one or more of the following taxes: company fees and registration, motor vehicle tax, departure tax, import tax, stamp tax, export tax, property tax, payroll tax, and a raft of fees and charges. The import tax, which generates 63 per cent of tax revenue and 57 per cent of combined tax and non-tax revenue, is especially onerous. It shows up in the price of virtually everything you buy, whether directly in imported goods or indirectly in locally-produced goods that use imported materials (unless you live in Freeport). Make no mistake about it: The import tax is a massive sales tax that hits low-income Bahamians especially hard.

If "death and taxes are inevitable," then new and higher taxes are equally inevitable. The coming years will see a higher ceiling on payroll taxes for the National Insurance Board, a new tax for a contributory unemployment insurance scheme, and yet another new tax for catastrophic health insurance.

Despite what you may regard as heavy taxation in the Bahamas, by world standards your islands are both a "low tax" jurisdiction and a "tax haven." Bahamians pay about 20 per cent of their national income to the government in one form or another, compared with much higher shares of 35-60 per cent in the United States and Western Europe.

What makes the Bahamas a "tax haven" is the absence of direct taxation. There is no income tax, capital gains tax, gift tax, wealth tax, or estate tax. Bahamians can earn income without regard for personal income taxation. Instead, they pay taxes when that income is consumed.

No system of taxation is perfect, including that of The Bahamas. Indeed, there are several flaws with the current revenue system, which I want to talk about today.

First, the heavy reliance on import duties has reached the limits of its capacity. The tax is widely evaded. It results in a high cost of living. It is seriously regressive. It encourages Bahamians to fly to Miami to shop to buy stereos, clothing, furniture - you name it, they buy it there. In its recent tariff reform, the government has recognised the need to simplify the tariff and lower its rate structure. These pressures will continue.

Another problem is that reliance on import duties conflicts with the Central Bank's system of exchange control, as I explain momentarily.

Second, the payroll tax has been abused. Under the goal of establishing a public pension scheme, the payroll tax has facilitated a massive buildup in public debt, which has been spent largely on government consumption. The payroll tax amounts to Bahamians robbing themselves tomorrow to finance current consumption - eating one's cake and planning to have it, too. The National Insurance Board's promise to pay pensions depends on earnings from its portfolio of government debt. That stream of future earnings is not collateralized by "real" assets, but rather by "fictitious" assets of public debt, which, bluntly put, is an unfunded liability of taxpayers.

In economic terms, the present value of the NIB's assets is zero. At some future date, the Bahamian economy will be unable to afford the high level of taxes required to honour the unfunded liability of the NIB. This means that the real value of pension benefits will steadily decline in years to come until the public pension system is effectively bankrupt.

Let me acknowledge that I'm not the first person to explore the tax system of The Bahamas. In addition to inquiries conducted by the Inter-American Centre of Tax Administrators during the 1990s, in 1991 the Council of Economic Advisers, five distinguished Bahamians, including the current Minister of Finance and Planning, issued its "Report on Taxation in The Bahamas." It was a wide-ranging review of recent budgetary performance and options for additional taxation. It rejected the imposition of income or sales taxes and sought to sustain the heavy reliance on import duties, with slight modifications in the revenue base of the country. The report shied away from recommending any comprehensive reform of tax and non-tax sources of revenue.

The report focused on "recurrent" revenue and expenditure and paid virtually no attention to capital expenditure, which has been a major source in the rising public debt. Down playing capital expenditure presents a more optimistic view of the public finances than is justified by looking at the total picture. The underlying notion is that borrowing to finance capital expenditures can be repaid from the earnings of capital investment. Unfortunately, governments rarely set prices at levels that are sufficient to cover current operating costs, much less an allowance for the cost of capital, and The Bahamas is no exception in this regard. And much of what is labeled capital investment is, in fact, consumption.

The CEA also recognized that the government has systematically spent more than it has taken in since independence. Despite the steady growth in total revenue from about 14 per cent of GDP in 1980 to more than 20 per cent today, public spending has grown even faster. At the end of 1996, the direct national debt amounted to $1.24 billion, up sharply from $780 million in 1991, and total public debt stood at $1.54 billion. These trends are worrisome as the residents of Jamaica would be quick to advise. The government is thus under constant pressure to find new or additional sources of revenue and is forced to sell long-term government debt to finance its chronic deficits, which amounts to nationalizing domestic savings.

Debt repayment and interest payments on the outstanding debt constitute a substantial portion of annually recurrent expenditure. Total estimated outlays in the 1996/97 budget on interest and principal repayments amount to $178 million, which constitutes 23 per cent of a total of $767 million in planned recurrent expenditure. Money spent on debt service and repayment is not available for spending on roads, schools, or health care.

It is important to debunk the notion that "the debt is owed to ourselves." If that were true, it would be a license to incur unlimited debt. After all, we would just owe ourselves more money and our liabilities would be offset by our assets. The fact is that the debt must be serviced and repaid out of current taxation, and those taxes constitute a disincentive to private sector business activity. If there were no public debt in The Bahamas, there would be room for dramatic tax reform and reduction, the government could abolish exchange control virtually without risk, and money would be available for infrastructure and other critical public requirements.

Composition of revenues:

While the total tax burden is an important factor in any country's economic climate, the composition and rates of taxation are equally important. How dependent is the country on one or two revenue sources? How high are rates of taxation? The Bahamas relies too heavily on one source, import duties.

Import taxes and stamp taxes make up almost three-quarters of tax revenue. The International Monetary Fund assisted the government with a review of its tariff schedule, and an improved customs regime was implemented in 1996. Departure, property, selective services, and motor vehicle taxes contribute the remaining major shares. Fines, forfeits, and administrative fees supply the majority of non-tax revenue. Income from public corporations paid into the central treasury is negligible, suggesting that public enterprises are not being run on a commercial basis, i.e., not earning a real market rate of return.

A key problem with the revenue structure is that any decline in imports puts enormous pressure on the public finances. But there is another important reason why heavy dependence on imports is undesirable as the most important source of tax revenue. The country's revenue system is in conflict with its system of exchange control. Rising imports generate higher revenues. But rising imports also drain foreign currency reserves. The Central Bank regards a certain minimum level of foreign reserves - several months worth of imports - as necessary to insure the US$1 = B$1 exchange rate. Thus, the possibility of higher revenues from import duties conflicts with the Central Bank's exchange-rate policy. If reserves decline, then economic policy decisions must be taken to slow imports (eg, raise domestic interest rates). The Central Bank issued such a warning in autumn 1995 as foreign reserves declined to worrisome levels. Thus, maintaining parity between the Bahamian and US dollars may compel a reduction in imports, which consequently reduces the chief source of state revenue. There is no corresponding mechanism that simultaneously reduces expenditure. In fact, there may be pressure to increase expenditure (because falling import duties reflect a slowdown in economic activity).

Tax Reform:

The main options to the current tax system include direct taxation (income taxes on individuals and business firms, gross premium taxes), indirect taxation (sales taxes, value-added taxes, excises), greater reliance on payroll taxes, and much greater reliance on fees and charges.

The Bahamas is not alone as a low tax, tax haven jurisdiction. Its rivals include Bermuda, Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, and numerous other small nations and territories. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the revenue systems found in these other jurisdictions. I have had the opportunity to visit and speak with tax authorities in each of these jurisdictions. I'd like to share with you some observations from Bermuda and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey.


Let's begin with Bermuda, a fellow Caribbean nation, that lives off tourism and offshore insurance services.

Bermuda differs from The Bahamas in one important respect. It has avoided the buildup of a large public debt. By law (the Government Loans Act 1978), the total public debt, including loan guarantees, cannot exceed 10 per cent of revenue. The current legislative cap is $185 million, but the actual amount of debt is $78.3 million, along with $35.4 million of guarantees on borrowings of the Bermuda Housing Corporation, which makes low-cost housing loans. Debt and guarantees outstanding of $128.5 million are less than 7 per cent of GDP and debt service payments constitute about 2 per cent of public expenditure.

In terms of the overall tax burden, Bermuda resembles The Bahamas in that central government revenue has ranged from a low of 16.9 per cent of GDP in 1977/78 to a high of 20.9 per cent of GDP in 1991/92 during the past 20 years.

Bermuda, like The Bahamas, regards itself as a tax haven. It imposes no income, capital gains, wealth, gift, or inheritance taxes. No transfer taxes are imposed on non-resident entities.

The difference is found mainly in the composition of revenue. The primary sources of revenue and the share each contributes in fiscal 1995/96 were as follows:

* Customs - $134.5 million (31.6 per cent)

* Payroll Tax - $107.4 million (25.2 per cent)

* Companies Fees - $31.1 million (7.3 per cent)

* Land Tax - $22.5 million (5.3 per cent)

* Passenger Tax - $20.5 million (4.8 per cent)

* Vehicle Licenses - $15.5 million (3.6 per cent)

* Stamp Duties - $17.4 million (4.1 per cent)

* Hotel Occupancy - $11.9 million (2.8 per cent)

* Immigration - $11.5 million (2.7 per cent)

* Post Office - $8.4 million (2.0 per cent)

* All Other - $45.4 million (10.6 per cent)

The trend lines in the main revenue sources are worth noting.

Customs Duty:

Customs duty as a percentage of government revenue fell from 58.7 per cent in 1970/71 to 43.4 per cent in 1980/81 to 36.8 per cent in 1990/91 to an all-time estimated low of 31.6 per cent for 1995/96. Although customs duty will rise in dollar values, its share of total revenue is likely to decline in future years as tariff reform in Bermuda follows global trends toward harmonization. Bermuda implemented a major tariff reform that took effect on February 14, 1994. The rate schedule was simplified and rates of duty were imposed at 0 per cent, 8.5 per cent, 10 per cent, 15 per cent, 22.5 per cent, and 33 per cent depending on the item in question. For some items, a specific dollar rate of duty is imposed.

The customs duty is levied on cost plus packaging, but does not include insurance and freight. The geographical configuration of Bermuda, and the relative simplicity of the tariff code, make enforcement relatively easy, although there is growing concern in Bermuda that the remaining high duties on imports are encouraging shopping in the United States. (Does this refrain sound familiar?)

Payroll Tax:

On April 1, 1995, Bermuda combined its hospital levy and employment tax into a single payroll tax. It is levied at a standard rate of 11.5 per cent on cash and benefits paid to employees, and is collected on a quarterly basis. Employers can, at their discretion, collect up to a maximum of 4 per from employees' remuneration. Self-employed persons are required to assess themselves for the purpose of the payroll tax. International companies may choose to report actual salaries or an assumed remuneration figure assessed against each employee.

The scope of the payroll tax is now nearly universal and it will soon become the leading source of central government revenues. The payroll tax is not specifically earmarked for a government-run pension or social insurance scheme, and is thus not a tax vehicle to buy government debt, as in The Bahamas. Certain items remain exempt from the tax such as employers' contributions to social insurance, the hospital insurance plan, approved retirement plans, hospital schemes, life insurance schemes, workmen's compensation schemes, and compulsory tips in hotels. Over the years, its scope and size have steadily grown, and one might expect the remaining exemptions to gradually disappear.

A general strategy of revenue collection is to impose as many direct fees and charges as can be levied on specific services (eg, a 4 per cent gross fee on income on persons providing corporate services to exempted businesses without a physical presence in Bermuda; banking license fees; professional licenses; land taxes that collect a portion of the capital gains on resales by non-Bermudians to other non-Bermudians; stamp duties on residential properties, et cetera) There are no plans to impose a direct income, capital gains, wealth, or gift tax.

The Channel Islands:

Let me conclude this geographical tour with a brief mention of the tax systems found in the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. The Channel Islands derive more than half their income from offshore financial services, with the balance principally from tourism. The relative size of their public sectors approximates that found in The Bahamas. The main difference is that Jersey and Guernsey rely heavily on a 20 per cent flat tax on income, which includes a substantial personal allowance to exempt low-income households from the tax, instead of customs duties. Neither jurisdiction imposes a sales tax, VAT, an estate tax, a wealth tax, or capital gains tax.

Compliance with the Channel Islands' income tax is near universal and it is cheap to collect. The flat rate of 20 per cent has remained intact for more than 50 years. The tax forms are simple and short. Due to the substantial personal allowances, the system is mildly progressive. The Channel Islands suggests that personal income tax can, and I stress the word "can," be compatible with a low-tax regime. Offshore firms pay an annual registration fee, rather than any tax on overseas earnings.

Recommendations for Tax Reform in The Bahamas:

Although I am best known for my advocacy of a flat-rate income tax in the United States, I am not eager to recommend an income tax for The Bahamas. The Bahamas derives considerable benefit from its "tax haven" status and it is not clear how Bahamians and the offshore sector would regard an income tax. Therefore, any shift to a tax regime as found, for example, in Jersey and Guernsey requires serious thought.

Here goes: First, I would consider expanding the payroll tax, as has been the experience in Bermuda, which is the most ready source of higher revenue. The collection system is in place and works reasonably well. However, and this is a big caveat, the revenues obtained from any new or higher payroll taxes must take the form of general revenue, rather than serve as a vehicle to buy more government debt as is now the case with the National Insurance Board.

How can this use of additional payroll tax receipts be assured? Parliament would have to enact a law which stipulates that any new revenue from higher payroll taxes be offset by a corresponding reduction in import or other taxes. It would also be desirable for Parliament to enact a balanced-budget law, which stipulates that the proceeds of revenue from additional payroll tax receipts, over and above the current rate, could not be used to buy new government debt.

Second, to go a little further, I would explore the imposition of a uniform value added tax, or VAT, as a comprehensive substitute for import taxes. VAT has been the revenue workhorse in many transitional, developing, and middle-income countries. The IMF has broad expertise and experience in its installation and implementation. It is a tried-and-proven system of revenue collection. If imposed on the economy's full range of goods and services, the rate can be kept low and the retail price of many goods in The Bahamas will fall, thereby expanding retail trade, with its associated employment. Money that now flies off to Miami will remain in The Bahamas. The current import tax is levied only on goods, not services, which narrows its tax base, and therefore requires high rates. High rates in turn encourage smuggling and evasion.

VAT is preferable to a retail sales tax because it is self-enforcing and more difficult to evade. Each party in the production and distribution system leaves a paper trail that makes it virtually impossible, in a fully computerized system, for any seller to avoid collection and transfer to the Treasury. Many countries with incomes and literacy standards well below that in The Bahamas have successfully installed VAT systems.

It would take time, at least three years, to install a VAT. But sooner or later the creaky customs regime will require a complete overhaul. Adherence to a hemispheric free trade agreement in the future will also require that the customs regime be dismantled and replaced with some form of domestic taxation. The sooner any well-designed reform begins, the better.

Third, the government should price all services, where possible, on a commercial basis. The public corporations should be privatised as quickly as possible, with the proceeds of privatization directed solely to reduce public debt, and the government's fee structure should be annually reviewed and updated.

Fourth, and perhaps first on any list, the government must consult widely with the public as it considers tax revision and tax reform options. The support of all sectors of the Bahamian people is necessary for the success of any serious change in the current tax system.

Finally, to do nothing and allow the current tax system to linger indefinitely is to ask for fiscal trouble in the years ahead. Sound public finances are an essential ingredient in any economic environment. The Bahamas needs to get its fiscal house in order, and addressing the problems of the current tax system is part of that effort.

* Alvin Rabushka is an expert on taxation. He is the David and Joan Traitel Senior Fellow (emeritus) at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His writings on flat tax, with Hoover fellow Robert Hall, have provided the foundation for numerous tax reform bills, and his book Taxation in Colonial America released by Princeton University Press, 2008, won the Fraunces Tavern Museum Special Recognition Book Award in 2009. Dr Rabushka's work also focuses on economic development, and race and ethnic relations. For more information, visit

June 14, 2010

tribune242 insight

Monday, June 14, 2010

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham: I would not have approved the Baha Mar development

PM: I would not have approved Baha Mar
Tribune Staff Reporter

PRIME Minister Hubert Ingraham announced he would not have approved the Baha Mar development under his administration as he hit back at allegations made by Opposition leader Perry Christie.

Speaking at a press conference called at the FNM headquarters in Mackey Street yesterday, Mr Ingraham denied holding any negotiations with developers of the $2.6 billion project agreed to under the PLP administration as he called for the PLP's full support in following it through.

"Had we been involved we would never have agreed to a deal like that for the Bahamas," Mr Ingraham said.

"We didn't cancel it, we didn't stop it, we didn't review it, we told Baha Mar when we came into office we don't like it, but if you are willing to live with what you signed with the PLP government we will accept it. They came forward with changes they wanted and we negotiated changes we wanted. Had we been involved we would never have agreed to a deal like that for the Bahamas."

Once funding from the China Export-Import Bank and employment of the China State Construction Company as general contractor has been approved by the Chinese government Mr Ingraham said major decisions on the employment of nearly 5,000 Chinese workers for the project will be taken to Parliament for a cross-party decision.

He said the work permits for 4,920 Chinese workers to develop the West Bay Street corridor and Baha Mar's commercial village would have to find agreement from the Opposition.

"The government of the Bahamas is committed to ensuring that foreign direct investment in our economy benefits Bahamians," said Mr Ingraham.

"It would be unconscionable for large numbers of foreign workers to be engaged in the Bahamas if large numbers of similarly skilled Bahamians are available to take up those jobs.

"Mr Christie, while certain to seek credit as the 'father' of the Baha Mar Project is already seeking to find shelter from becoming a part of a tough decision on the labour component for the construction of that project.

"I make abundantly clear that my government will not approve any extraordinary foreign labour component for the Baha Mar Project without the support of the Official Opposition.

"We are not going to born this PLP baby by ourselves.

"After all this is a baby conceived by them."

The high number of Chinese workers could translate to as many as two foreign workers for every Bahamian, which Mr Ingraham compared to Kerzner International's Atlantis worksite on Paradise Island where seven out of every ten labourers were Bahamian.

Mr Ingraham also took the opportunity to refute claims Baha Mar's negotiations were stalled under the FNM as he said it was the PLP that delayed progress by not following through with their obligations under the 2005 Heads of Agreement as government-owned lands in West Bay Street were not transferred to Baha Mar under the PLP as they should have been, and the Supplementary Heads of Agreement sought by the PLP government in May 2007 were not concluded before the FNM came to power.

And he said his government "cannot wait forever" for negotiations to conclude as protracted negotiations have stalled plans to divert Gladstone Road as Baha Mar interferes with the New Providence Road Improvement Project.

"Mr Christie has suggested that my government is seeking to keep secret, its negotiations with Baha Mar," Mr Ingraham said.

"No negotiations are taking place between the Bahamas Government and Baha Mar.

"Obviously we cannot be in a state of uncertainty forever so at some stage some decisions have to be made."

Baha Mar spokesman Robert Sands issued a statement following Mr Ingraham's press conference yesterday.

He said: "The size and scope of the Baha Mar project is unprecedented in the Bahamas.

"We are pleased with the consensus in the Bahamas on the desirability of the enormous economic, employment and social benefits it represents.

"We are making excellent progress, and we expect final approval from the Government of the People's Republic of China very shortly.

"Additionally we have already begun the process of bidding out the contraction work with the commercial village and the re-routing of West Bay Street which in itself will create hundreds of jobs for Bahamians.

"It is the first step in the project's creation of approximately 10,000 jobs for Bahamians over the next five years.

"We will continue to work closely with the Bahamian government and look forward to receiving the necessary approvals so we can begin work as quickly as possible."

Mr Ingraham agreed the Bahamas needs a major project and clarified the country currently only has the manpower and infrastructure to carry out one major project at a time, be it Baha Mar or Atlantis phase four.

"At the same time we can't have both; not simultaneously," he said.

June 14, 2010


So, we could have another round of Ingraham versus Christie in the 2012 General Election

Politics in perilous times
By BRENT DEAN ~ Guardian Senior Reporter ~

Sitting in the House of Assembly during the budget communication, I drifted off in thought as the prime minister informed the country about how bad things are.

Likely thinking about bills or some other mundane annoyance, I was staring with a not too pleased look on my face out of one of the western windows when a Free National Movement MP tapped me.

The MP said: "Why do you look sad? It is us who should be sad."

And many members of the governing side did look less jubilant than the norm during budget debates.

Finance ministers usually get rounds and rounds of applause from colleagues as they announce the various 'gifts' to be provided in the upcoming fiscal year.

This time was different, however.

The only notable applause Ingraham received, if I recall correctly, was when he ended the communication. And that was muted.

The times we live in:

The beginning of the second decade of the 21st century has been tough.

The collapse of the housing market and consequent global financial crisis has changed the Bahamian political landscape.

Ingraham directed his 2007 campaign personally at his friend and former law partner Perry Christie. Christie was savaged and called weak and indecisive.

In one of the last sittings of the Parliament before the 2007 general election, Ingraham shouted across the floor of the House, while on his feet, that Christie was "impotent" as a leader.

The attacks worked. Christie was sent in shame to opposition.

In opposition his fate was not good for quite a while. He lost MP Kenyatta Gibson to the FNM.

Former PLP Senator Pleasant Bridgewater was arrested and charged in an attempted extortion case. MP Obie Wilchcombe and PLP Senate leader Allyson Maynard-Gibson starred as witnesses in an embarrassing soap opera.

Christie was also unsuccessfully challenged for the party's leadership by Dr. Bernard Nottage.

And let's not forget the Malcolm Adderley affair.

Christie's time in opposition was mirroring his time as prime minister, with political misfortune standing behind every door.

Tough times for the FNM too:

As the PLP tripped and stumbled through opposition, two problems kept mounting for the Ingraham government: A high level of violent crime and a poor economy.

The Bahamas is on pace to set its third homicide record in four years.

The 2009 Her Majesty's Prison report recently revealed that in 2008 and 2009, a period when there were more than 150 homicides, only one person was convicted and sentenced to prison for murder.

This is stunning failure.

The collapse in the prosecutorial arm of the state was evident across the board as similarly abysmal results were reported in all categories of violent crime.

People are being robbed, raped and killed and no one is being punished.

On the economic front, despite the best efforts by the FNM, the country would have been in recession for three years by the end of 2010.

With the unemployment rate likely around 15 percent, and few prospects of that number dropping significantly within the next 23 months, a Progressive Liberal Party once lost in misstep after misstep appears again to have a chance to be government.

This more so because the economy is bad and crime still appears to be getting worse rather than anything the PLP did or is doing.

Things may not get better:

So if an election were called today, who would you vote for?

This question is almost impossible to answer at this time because there is a missing part of the equation.

Will Hubert Ingraham run again as leader of the FNM?

Ingraham has pledged to answer that question before the year is out.

His political legacy is great.

Ingraham stands without question as the most significant politician in the post-Lynden Pindling era having, thus far, won three governments.

What stands in front of him now, however, is a bleak set of circumstances that are not going to get better before the next general election is called.

The extraordinary spending states took up in the wake of the global economic crisis has given way to sovereign debt crises across the globe.

Countries with high debt levels – developed and developing – are now reckoning with years of profligate spending.

The post-World War II welfare states are unraveling.

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned his people about a decade of austerity; people have died in Greece in clashes over spending cuts; Spain has slashed public service pay by five percent, among other measures.

The list of states choking on tough austere medicine goes on and on.

The United States too, with its two wars and large entitlements, will have to move more aggressively to reign in spending.

Further tax increases to plug its budget deficit of more than a trillion dollars are likely.

The great danger for The Bahamas is that as developed states fall prey to a double dip recession, our prolonged recession will continue without relief.

Two more crises loom.

The oil will gush in the Gulf of Mexico until at least August when a relief well is completed. This is a best-case scenario.

If the first well does not work, others will have to be attempted. Oil could flow for the rest of the year into 2011.

The Bahamas would be impacted.

Few tourists would come to a tropical paradise with oily beaches. Stopover arrivals dropped by 10 percent in 2009. A further decline would lead to a halt of tourism related investments, and layoffs.

Needless to say, a major hurricane in a populated part of the country would be calamitous.

The politics of it all:

The PLP has the luxury of sitting back and watching the Ingraham government struggle with one crisis after the other.

All it has to do is attack, saying that things are bad and they (the FNM) are the government.

This simple cynical strategy is effective.

In 2008, George Bush and his party were swept out of power in the U.S.; Gordon Brown and labor recently lost in the U.K.; and Patrick Manning in Trinidad and Tobago was too ousted from power a few weeks ago.

Anti-incumbency is in the air.

The problem the FNM faces is that it is hard to say "we did a lot for you" when things remain so bad.

Yes the FNM created the unemployment benefit; yes they boosted social service assistance; and yes they kept the economy afloat.

But, thousands of people remain out of work. Thousands are also the victims of crime.

Rational and employed people like me see that the governing party has tried.

Those who have been unemployed for two years, and who have been robbed several times in-between, do not care as much about these efforts.

They are hurting.

The weakness for the PLP is it has offered no new ideas thus far.

The PLP has run away from two of the recent national debates – one has concluded and the other is just beginning.

The party has refused to take a position on the legalization of gambling for Bahamians and it has not taken a position on the Chinese labor issue at Baha Mar.

Running away from the issues does not inspire confidence.

Christie is the master of letting opponents – both internal and external – hang themselves when the heat comes, while he steps to the side avoiding the arrows.

At a time when people are hurting, the PLP needs to look like the alternative government.

Not stepping up on the tough issues makes the PLP look like the small protest parties rather than the polished machine ready to govern.

The opposition may be finally heading in the right direction on this issue.

Christie told reporters at a news conference on Friday that his party would have a draft of its policy positions prepared by July.

How will it all end?

At this stage it would be hard to see Ingraham walking away sometime in December. A late departure from the FNM would lead to civil war in the governing party.

The young Turks like Branville McCartney who think they are ready to lead would be up against the fifty-somethings in the generation of Tommy Turnquest who think they are experienced enough to lead. (Who knows if Turnquest even has those dreams anymore).

So, we could have another round of Ingraham versus Christie.

The two leaders and parties have different things to work on in order to win.

Ingraham needs a success.

Crisis management is admirable, but some major investment creating lots of jobs must happen for him to distance self and party from the PLP.

The crime numbers too need to stabilize. In the first quarter of 2010, housebreaking was up 29 percent. This type of crime is most damaging politically because it affects so many people so personally.

Christie needs solutions. People won't buy into the help and hope he was selling in 2002.

He also needs to offload the PLPs who got into scandal since they won government the last time.

These cancerous presences will turn off middle-class voters – a group the PLP struggles with.

With no polling data in front of me, I can only speculate as to the mood of the country. The Elizabeth by-election gives some guidance.

When both parties went all out to win a swing seat in February it was a virtual draw.

Either can win the next general election. Strategy and discipline are key, however.

The losing leader will bear an eternal scar. He would be the one that was sent into retirement as a loser.

This represents a hellish punishment for great politicians.

Both Christie and Ingraham are proud men who care about their legacies; and both have much work to do in order to win.

June 14, 2010