Thursday, September 30, 2010

The governing Free National Movement (FNM) is prepared to pay the political price over the Baha Mar labour resolution says Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham

PM: FNM will pay political price over Baha Mar labour resolution
Tribune Staff Reporter

PRIME Minister Hubert Ingraham said yesterday that he and his party are prepared to take whatever political ramifications will come if they are forced to go it alone on the controversial labour resolution for the Baha Mar project.

When asked yesterday during a nationally-televised press conference at the House of Assembly, Mr Ingraham said he will make the best decision available to him at the time.

"I will not take account of what the political consequences of it is. I will do what I think is the best for the Bahamas and if that means that there is a political price to pay then I will pay it, and my party will pay it," Mr Ingraham affirmed.

For some time now, the Progressive Liberal Party and the government have been at odds on this controversial labour component of the Baha Mar project. With some 8,100 Chinese labourers needed to complete the development, both political parties have voiced their "serious concerns" on the matter. Coupled with the fact that unemployment remains high throughout the country, and an election year is slated for 2012, many politicians are fearful of having to publicly vote either in favour of or against this colossal $2.6 billion project.

In one vein, Baha Mar promises to provide thousands of permanent jobs for Bahamians once the project is completed. However, at the same time, it will require the largest foreign labour input on any one development to complete the core project - again while thousands of Bahamian labourers remain unemployed.

And, even if the project is completed as planned, there still remains concerns over whether or not the newly-added 3,500 rooms could actually be filled.

September 30, 2010


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Foreign Workers on Bahamian Construction Sites

Foreigners on Bahamian construction sites
tribune242 editorial

THE DEBATE on the number of Chinese to be employed on the construction of the Baha Mar Cable Beach project -- six hotels, about a 100,000-square foot casino, a 200,000 square-foot convention centre, 20-acre beach and pool, 18-hole golf course and a 60,000-square foot retail village with additional residential products -- is going to be interesting, if and when it takes place on the floor of the House.

The number of foreign workers required by the Chinese as part of the deal is unusually large. But it is well known that the Chinese do not approve foreign loans unless their workforce is employed as a major part of the loan project. In the case of Baha Mar -- valued at about $2.5 billion - $1.918,965,693 billion has been negotiated with the China Construction Company as primary contractors. With that financial outlay it is amazing that government was able to negotiate any Bahamian presence. As Mr Ingraham said in presenting his resolution for this project to the House "the foreign labour component intended during the construction for the resort exceeds levels ever experienced in the Bahamas and is beyond anything ever contemplated by my government."

Under the UBP, construction up to a certain value was reserved for Bahamian contractors. Over that value it was agreed that Bahamians did not yet have the expertise or equipment to handle very large jobs and so those were left to foreign contractors, such as McAlpine, Balfour Beatty and others. In the 1950s, said Mr Ingraham, the government permitted 25 per cent of the labour force in construction and/or the operation of tourism development to be foreign.

During the Pindling era, however, the foreign labour component increased and newspaper articles recorded protests, either by foreign workers complaining of working conditions, or Bahamians questioning their presence in the Bahamas. For example, in 1988, 600 angry Indians went on hunger strike on the construction site of the Crystal Palace Hotel, Cable Beach. They accused the foreign contractor, Balfour Beatty, of treating them as slaves. Earlier - in 1981 - the Construction and Civil Engineering Union picketed the construction site of government's $66.5 million Cable Beach Hotel. "They import Filipinos to shovel sand. You tell me no Bahamans can do that?" complained a Bahamian worker. There were 40 Filipinos on that job site.

But the 1990 demonstration to protest the employment of common labourers -- truck drivers for example -- from Brazil on government's $55 million Nassau International Airport expansion was particularly interesting. The ratio of foreigners to Bahamians was 70 per cent on that construction site with government having to pay a large penalty if the number of Bahamians went over the agreed 139 or 30 per cent of the total work force. This prompted the carrying of placards that read: "It's Better in the Bahamas for Brazilians!"

At one point during the contract there were more than 340 Brazilians at the construction site, bringing the Brazilian count to 71 per cent compared to the 139 Bahamians that the company had agreed to use during this period.

The Pindling government had agreed that for every five Bahamians hired by the Brazilian company over the agreed 139 Bahamian workers, the government would have to pay $88,000 or $17,000 for each worker.

In the House on April 30, 1990, then Opposition Leader Hubert Ingraham revealed that the Pindling government had also agreed to pay all of the Brazilian company's Customs and stamp duties, work permit fees for their workers, and building fees on mechanical and electrical permits. In addition government was to pay all public utility fees -- connections and the like -- except for the actual electrical consumption.

The FNM found it preposterous that government would be penalised if more than 139 Bahamians were hired at the airport. "It is incredible that the Government has agreed to pay extra monies for Bahamians to work in their own country," said the FNM.

When the Ingraham government came to power its policy on foreign labour was established on the resort properties of Kerzner International -- the ratio of Bahamians to non-Bahamians on that site was not to exceed 30 per cent foreign to 70 per cent Bahamian.

And now here were the Chinese financially backing the transformation of Cable Beach into a mega tourist resort and asking for 8,150 of their countrymen to be engaged on the "core project". The projection is that some 1,200 Bahamians will be engaged in construction of the non-core projects.

Because of the unusual request for foreign labour -- 71 per cent foreign to 29 per cent Bahamian -- Prime Minister Ingraham has brought the matter to the House to give the Opposition an opportunity to express the opinions of their constituents on the matter. Both sides have to determine - in the words of Mr Ingraham - "whether this invaluable benefit of skills transfer and improved exposure to new technologies can or will occur in a project where contact between Bahamians and foreign experts is likely to be limited." Bahamians also have to decide whether in these lean years this project, with its foreign labour, is what they believe will jump start their economy.

September 28, 2010

tribune242 editorial

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A 'genuine' shift to rehabilitation, reintegration at Her Majesty's Fox Hill prison

A 'genuine' shift to rehabilitation, reintegration at Fox Hill prison
tribune242 Insight
Tribune Staff Reporter

Much has been made about the reform agenda at Her Majesty's Prison and claims by Superintendent Dr Elliston Rahming that his team has successfully taken "a genuine philosophical shift from revenge and punishment to rehabilitation and reintegration."

So it was baffling to me when weeks after Dr Rahming's grand publication of his five-year prison reform report card, the Prison Staffers Association (PSA) went public with their opposition to his reappointment. His contract expires in about five months.

In the process, they aired a long list of complaints about the management of the prison, with Dr Rahming's "leadership" being their chief complaint, according to PSA president Gregory Archer.

What exactly is the "leadership" problem is unclear to me. However, various executives of the PSA are adamant that such a problem exists. They claim Dr Rahming's leadership "has demoralised senior officers, and the rank and file". The PSA treasurer claims Dr Rahming is straight up "ineffective" in prison reform, despite his boasted success.

With such a categorical claim, the PSA has a tall order to prove its accusations, but irrespective of their validity, the fact of such a discrepancy is enough to make you wonder.

I gather there is a perception amongst some in the prison that Dr Rahming is "self-centred," and perhaps consumed with "what he has accomplished." This has to be weighed against the real possibility that there are potential leadership candidates setting the stage to vie for Dr Rahming's post. And the claim by others that public statements by the PSA only represent the views of a small percentage of its members.

"The prison is bigger than one person. No one man can accomplish anything in an organisation without the help of the staff," said an officer.

The public launch of the prison reform progress report, covering the five-year period of Dr Rahming's leadership, would have certainly fuelled the perception held by those officers.

From my first interaction with Dr Rahming, I was struck by his ability to command attention. Many government officials do not have such a talent. As a former journalist himself, strategic communication is a skill he has mastered. With a doctorate title in front of his name, and the backing of two successive and opposing governments, a lack of confidence or self-esteem is probably not something he suffers from. Not to mention his ability to fill a 26-page book with a list of prison accomplishments achieved under his watch.

When the issue of his appointment in 2005 arose, there was a lot of bickering about the salary he would be paid. A union boss at the time said the "special contract" appointment of Dr Rahming could create certain pay anomalies "that (would) have a detrimental affect on the morale of civil servants."

Dr Rahming's response reveals something about how he feels about himself. "No one would question my pay if I were a foreign criminologist earning $100,000 a year with a BA degree from a second rate university, with a government paid condo out west and my kids' school fees paid for in St Andrew's. Not a soul would question it.

"Here I am with 20 years experience in research, education, and administration and a PhD degree from a university that US News and World Report ranks in the top 10 among 700 colleges and universities in the United States, and I am being subjected to public utterings about my salary. Has anyone stopped to think what I'd be earning had I chosen to remain in the United States?"

It doesn't seem farfetched that some people perceive him to be "self-absorbed." But does that make him a poor leader, or manager? Should that undermine his achievements as the leader of the pack? Some may draw that conclusion, but I don't think it necessarily follows.

The PSA itself agrees that Dr Rahming "has brought a lot to the table and implemented beneficial changes"; and they would support him being an adviser to the government. But on the matter of "leadership" they part ways.

If the prison progress report is anything to judge by then prison reform has been immensely successful. The report lists the creation of the following as some of the prison's achievements: Central Intake Facility with standardized inmate classification system; security processing centre complete with baggage and hand-held scanners; state of the art Health Diagnostic Unit, Faith-Based and Character Development Programme; annual jobs fair; proper laundry facilities; Inmate Enterprises, Inmate Activities and Pre-Release Services Unit; Officer Dependents Fund; renovated Female Correctional Centre; renovated Canine Unit, and the list goes on.

The 26-page document lists achievements in infrastructure development, staff enrichment and advancement, inmate services and activities, community outreach services, budget performance and regional leadership.

It is reasonable to assume, even if only by virtue of the progress report that much has happened in five years. If Dr Rahming opts to request a renewal of contract, the government should investigate the value of these accomplishments.

They should test the claim asserted by attorney Paul Moss, founding member of Relief for Inmates and Prison Officers of our Prison (RIPOP) that Dr Rahming's appointment was "the single greatest appointment done by Prime Minister Perry Christie." This view must have been shared to some degree by the Free National Movement, when they reappointed him in 2007.

The PSA is arguing that Dr Rahming had five years to prove his worth, and having seen what he has to offer they want change.

There are family members of inmates who might agree. Minutes after leaving the prison compound, where I covered the ceremonial release of the report card, I ran into family members who had no shortage of "choice words" to describe the prison authorities.

The problem is, I don't think the angst was specific to Dr Rahming. When I inquired about him specifically they claimed to have little knowledge of who he was, or his so-called reform agenda.

They knew only that their children were being "starved of water," forced to live in inhumane conditions, and that the authorities -- in their minds -- had no respect or regard for their cries.

I participated in an extensive tour of the prison with other media personnel after the report launch, and after the tour I did not really feel more qualified to confirm or discredit much of the accusations hurled at the prison.

According to Dr Rahming, the tour originally planned was a virtual tour. However, the projector malfunctioned and the virtual tour was cancelled. The physical tour was facilitated on the insistence of the media, which had always assumed there would have been a real tour.

Dr Rahming was certain to remind us that the physical tour was not originally planned, so there was no time to "fix up" the prison for the media. The cynics out there, of which there are many, would say that was a ruse. I took him at his word, but then I'm not a cynic.

At the time of the tour, the remand facility, known to be filled to capacity, was closed down to visitors because prisoners were being prepared for court. Having only walked past the facility, I can hardly verify any of the claims that are frequently asserted by inmates and family members.

While walking through the cell blocks of Central Intake, on the other hand, certain things were immediately noticeable, fore example inmates were sleeping on beds made of wooden planks in the place of mattresses.

The explanation given by the officers was that the inmates at Central Intake "tear them up." Replacement mattresses were said to be "on order." I could only take the Superintendent at his word.

The cells were very dark inside; they were cooled by large rusted fans inside the hallway, and ventilation from windows lining the exterior walls. This was the standard setup in all of the prisons we visited, including Maximum Security.

I have heard family members complain that there is no ventilation inside the prison and it is "too hot in there." I sympathise with them, even though I did not feel any hotter inside the prison than I do on an average day in my home. Because the fans are stationed on the walls and in the hallways outside the cells, some oscillating, others not, I can say the air probably is not equally distributed to all of the cells, but that is about it.

Was it unreasonably hot inside the cells, where there were two, sometimes three inmates, in a space not much larger than two office cubicles? I cannot say.

There were no repulsive smells or striking odours inside the prison, except maybe the rawness of a locker room that lingers even after it is cleaned.

We walked through several blocks, including death row, and saw a few cells fitted with the controversial composting toilets.

According to the PSA, the real story of the toilets is this: "The ventilation system for them was installed wrong, it gives off a horrible odour throughout the prison. So now we are faced with not only the odour, but the inmates have to deal with bugs and flies being bred in these toilets, and we all know flies breed diseases."

That I did not observe any flies or bugs emanating from the toilets does not negate the claims of the PSA. It makes me speculate that they may have embellished their claims, but it could very well be that the most problematic toilets were not the ones we happened to walk past.

Aside from the feeling of an aged facility, by virtue of the flaking paint on some walls and the rusted fans, the facility was clean.

We viewed the infamous Block F, sort of. Block-F has a reputation inside and outside the prison for housing homosexuals, mentally unstable inmates and violent convicts. Despite the accusations, Dr Rahming has denied such a block exists.

"They call F-Block, the block for fools. It has homosexuals, people who have AIDs and tuberculosis, mentally unstable people, people who can't live around other people, because they always cursing and carrying on," said a recently released inmate.

"All they want is cigarettes. They take their stool buckets and throw it through the doors at the officers or at inmates. The officers have to carry cigarettes with them or else they can't travel through F-Block," he said.

During the prison tour I asked to be taken to Block F. The immediate response from Assistant Superintendent Wilfred Ferguson, chief of Maximum Security, was to suggest I might not want to go there, because I might have something thrown at me.

I would like to believe that ASP Ferguson felt I was a responsible journalist, so he would be inclined to tell the truth, but maybe this was a slip of the tongue, because he was reprimanded by Dr Rahming no sooner than the words came out of his mouth.

Dr Rahming insisted he should not say things like that. There was a debate about what was appropriate to say, and an insistence that I could walk though there, to which ASP Ferguson also agreed.

So did I walk through the infamous Block-F? No. Due to "time constraints," we were only allowed to stand behind the grilled door at the end of the hallway. The hallway looked like any other, there were no shouts and groans of mad people, but my vantage point was limited.

There was nothing alarming to me about the condition of the prison. Unfortunately, this view is only based on cursory glances and sneak peaks.

It certainly looked like a place I would not want to live. It had a still and lifeless feel, even though there were people everywhere. I was sometimes reluctant to stare inside the cells, it invoked dark images, reminiscent of slave blocks at an auction house, where I imagine black men made impotent would be held.

The reality is, unless I was to spend 23 hours a day like the inmates do in their caged boxes, I might never know what prison life is really like. And even then, when I might dare to speak, I would be discredited as a spiteful criminal.

When I spoke to an insider, he said the real story behind prison reform is that "infrastructure development has taken place, but nothing systematic and consistent as it relates to rehabilitation (has occurred)."

He said there is a fight in the prison between those wanting resources to be channeled into custodial care, or security related matters, and those wanting resources for programmes and services, such as rehabilitation. He claims the PSA supports the move towards a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration, but they believe Dr Rahming is not equipping them with the skills to actually manifest real change.

If the country wants true reform, he agrees, officers need to be "rehabilitated" themselves before they can implement programmes and best practices that truly reflect a transition from punishment to corrections. He said the officers currently staffed at the prison "are really under trained as it relates to rehabilitation and corrections." Furthermore, the government would have to hire "at least 50 to 100 more officers," as the prison is "understaffed."

"There will always be a fight between security and programmes," said the insider. That fight is bigger than Dr Rahming and the prison staffers, he said. And resources are finite. "His budget is not sufficient, but he is trying," said the source of Dr Rahming.

This got me thinking about the prison progress report. It states, there has been "a genuine philosophical shift from revenge and punishment to rehabilitation and reintegration."

I hate to nit-pick, but I think Dr Rahming is someone who uses words purposefully. The report said there has been a "philosophical shift."

My source claims that prominent members of the PSA are staffed in areas that deal with rehabilitation, like pre release, case management, and education.

He said of the 98 officers who were sent on training over the past five years, very few were trained in areas related to rehabilitation. In my analysis of the progress report, only 12 per cent of the training opportunities were related to rehabilitation. That represented less than 10 per cent of the 98 officers that were trained. An example of this category is the Cuban tour of prison industries and trade schools.

Most of the training (36 per cent) was geared towards general exposure and networking courses, such as a Women in Corrections Conference, a Study Tour or an Officer Exchange Programme.

Next to that was administrative courses, such as a computer upgrade conference, or a prison health services conference, which constituted 32 per cent. Custodial care courses, such as prison riot control course accounted for 20 per cent of the courses.

So perhaps the report is right, there has only been a "philosophical shift", and the real deal is yet to be seen. But one might say, at least the prison is on the right road, if that's where it genuinely wants to go.

From the standpoint of rhetoric, it would seem that inmate services and activities, ultimately aimed at reducing the rate of recidivism, has been the priority area of the reform agenda. But it is still unclear if this mirrors the way that resources have been managed at the prison.

Aside from rhetoric, the proof is in the pudding. Where did the money go and what were the results? The progress report states that the recidivism rate among admissions has been lowered to 19 per cent, but it fails to mention what figure it was lowered from.

If the vast majority of the prison's budget was spent over the past five years on infrastructure, and the vast majority of the changes were administrative and not programmatic, then one might question whether sufficient resources were allocated to rehabilitation and reintegration efforts.

Clearly the prison is a hard nut to crack, and for any management team it must be a tall order to keep staffers happy, prisoners comfortable, inmates' family members appeased and government officials satisfied.

In my best judgment, I think time will show that Dr Rahming played an instrumental role in prison reform, and that there are accomplishments to brag about over the past five years. At the same time, I highly doubt there has been full disclosure with the public about the realities of prison life.

Prison officials are quick to discount the cries of prisoners, but I give former inmates more credit than they would be prepared to. And even though the looming prison leadership race makes me suspect of the PSA, it would be foolhardy to discount their claims without a critical analysis.

It is evident that prison politics is heating up, and in my opinion the impending release of the draft Department of Corrections Bill will only spice things up further.

September 27, 2010

tribune242 Insight

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) rejected a resolution to borrow nearly $58 million from a Chinese bank to construct a new highway - because of its requirement to hire twice as many foreigners as Bahamians

PLP rejects loan resolution
Guardian Staff Reporter

The opposition last night rejected a resolution to borrow nearly $58 million from a Chinese bank to construct a new highway, saying the loan requirement to bring in 200 Chinese workers to build a road is something the Progressive Liberal Party cannot accept.

Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing moved the resolution yesterday in the House of Assembly to borrow $57,999,966 from the Export-Import Bank of China for the development of the airport road project.

He said the nature of the China capital export policy provides for the inclusion of Chinese labor and material. Approximately 120 Bahamians will be engaged for the project.

PLP Leader Perry Christie said given the extraordinarily hard times, it is unacceptable for the government to approve a public project that would require it to hire twice as many foreigners as Bahamians.

"Is there something in this four-lane highway that the Bahamians cannot do?Is there some component?"Christie asked.

Pointing to the Tonique Williams-Darling Highway, the opposition leader said Bahamians have demonstrated in the past their ability to build roads.

The plans include the realignment of the existing John F. Kennedy Drive to create a four-lane highway from Windsor Field Road to the new six-legged roundabout.

"We gave them the work, they did a splendid job on Tonique Williams-Darling Highway,"Christie said of the Bahamian contractors.

"They did the work and they were Bahamian. So the question for me is whether or not the government considered the option of giving the Bahamians the work even though the[overall cost]of the work would have been higher."

He said at the end of the day more Bahamians would have jobs and as a result it would have a greater impact on the economy.

"This is not a private sector project like Baha Mar where the development would not take place[unless the foreign labor component is extended],"Christie said."This is a public sector project where the Government of The Bahamas has control."

Laing pointed to the low interest rate on the loan, which he said will save the government substantial sums of money.

He said the interest rate attached to the Chinese loan is two percent compared to the seven percent minimum that the government would have gotten on the open market.

Laing said if the government were to accept a loan with a seven percent interest rate, the government would have to pay $43 million in interest alone. By comparison the Chinese loan would attract $10.7 in interest.

But Christie said the government made the"wrong decision".

"We have given close consideration to this resolution. We understand the dynamics. We feel that the best decision would have been to have Bahamian contractors to build and we also believe that the economy would be impacted greater than the impact it would have with the Chinese,"Christie said.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham pointed out that under the Christie administration 60 work permits were granted to Chinese to assist with the construction of T.G. Glover Primary School.

However, Christie said the circumstances were vastly different.

For example, he said the economy at that time was growing and the unemployment level was nowhere near where it is now.

"At the same time, we had a sector where construction jobs, where a contractor, had the right to make a case to the immigration department for work permits, and at a time when jobs were not the question,"he said.

"At the time the immigration department gave work permits to a Bahamian contractor to help with construction but today the government has total control over the work that is being done. The Bahamas government is issuing the work itself."



Sunday, September 26, 2010

The National Development Party (NDP) says the controversial $2.6 billion Baha Mar project is "not in the best interest" of the Bahamian people

Gov’t Told To Scrap Baha Mar

The National Development Party (NDP) wants the government to scrap the controversial $2.6 billion Baha Mar project because in its current state it is "not in the best interest" of the Bahamian people.

"The deal is not good for Bahamians and that is the bottom line," said NDP member Renward Wells.

"The NDP calls on the Free National Movement (FNM) Government, which touts itself as being a party of accountability and transparency, to immediately table the entire Baha Mar deal. The Bahamian public should be able to see and have an open and honest discussion on this agreement."

Mr. Wells and prominent attorney Paul Moss were guests on the Love 97 talk show, On Point Monday night with host Rogan Smith, where they made it quite clear that the government is about to make a huge mistake.

"Looking at it in totality I am not sure that the financial benefits that the government is projecting is going to happen," said Mr. Wells.

Mr. Wells also objected to 265 acres of prime land being transferred before any construction begins on the project.

"We don’t believe in the sale of Bahamian land. The prime Minister stated that the land will be transferred in Fee simple and Baha Mar says they are paying for the land. I want to know who is right," he said.

Mr. Wells said that there are still a lot of questions that are left unanswered.

"Who will the government have review Baha Mar’s construction drawings for building code violations and design flaws? Who will the government have on-site to inspect and ensure that the design on the blueprint is adhered to?" he asked

Furthermore, Mr. Wells said there are a number of Bahamian mechanical and electrical engineers who are capable of designing such a project.

Mr. Moss said due to the poor state of the economy it seems as if the government would do almost anything to provide jobs.

"They will sell their souls to the devil to try to create jobs. They are not going to get it done that way. What is going to happen is an invasion of this country, strangers will take over your land and future generations will not know The Bahamas as we know it today," said Mr. Moss.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has already gone on record saying that if he was prime minister at the time, he would not have approved the Baha Mar deal.

"It is incredible that even after he said it was a bad deal; he is still going to go ahead with it," said Mr. Moss, who said the country cannot afford to go ahead with this project as it is.

"This deal, given what we know, must be renegotiated. We call on the FNM Government to re-negotiate this deal to ensure that the maximum benefits of this project accrue to Bahamians," he said.

As previously reported, House members will not debate the Baha Mar resolution today that deals with the foreign labour component of the agreement.

Baha Mar wants the government to approve more than 8,000 work permits for Chinese workers to work on the Cable Beach project.

Baha Mar officials have to first deal with their financial issues with Scotiabank.

Baha Mar has an outstanding $200 million loan with the bank.

September 22nd, 2010


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Conservationists call for Bahamians to lobby against dredging, excavation and development of Bell Island in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

Appeal for lobby against dredging, excavation and development at Bell Island
Tribune Staff Reporter

CONSERVATIONISTS are calling for Bahamians to lobby against dredging, excavation and development of Bell Island in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park as plans submitted by owner the Aga Khan are considered by government.

But former Exuma councillor Henry Rolle argues the development should go ahead as it could benefit employment-starved residents of nearby Black Point.

The controversial plans to dredge 8.8 acres of sea bed for two channels into an existing barge landing and a 20-slip yacht basin to be carved out of an existing salt pond came to light after Environment Minister Earl Deveaux admitted he accepted a free ride in landowner Prince Karim Aga Khan IV's luxury helicopter to attend a film screening in Abaco the day before he went on to Bell Island to do a land assessment.

Conservationists outraged by the plans have cried shame on the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) as wardens of the world's oldest national park and 176 square mile no-take marine reserve for not standing in the way of development on the 349-acre private island.

ReEarth founder Sam Duncombe said: "The Trust really needs to be called out on this one because this is such a flagrant disregard of what their mandate is.

"Everyone in the Bahamas is a member of the National Trust and has a right to call the BNT and basically tell them no developing in the park.

"If we can't protect the oldest marine park in the world what hope do we have for the rest of the country?

"It's a sad day in the Bahamas when we have to protect the environment from it's so-called protectors. That's a really sad day."

But the BNT maintains it has no power over the development of private islands in the park by private landowners who are known to make generous donations to the charity, meaning the alleged $1 million donation to the BNT from the Aga Khan would not stray from the norm.

And development and dredging has previously been done at privately-owned islands in the park such as Soldier Cay, Cistern Cay, Halls Pond Cay and Bell Island, which is private property under the law and not that of the Land and Sea Park.

The multi-millionaire and billionaire owners of the islands also provide an important source of public revenue and provide spin-off benefits for nearby communities in Black Point, Staniel Cay and Farmers Cay, the BNT maintains.

Former Exuma chief councillor Henry Rolle, of Black Point on Great Guana Cay 17 miles southeast of Bell Island, said in the case of the latest development at the 349-acre island where building, excavation and dredging had previously been done, the benefits of development will outweigh the environmental concerns.

"People in Exuma need jobs," Mr Rolle said.

"Black Point has one of the largest populations and they look forward to these opportunities. Investors benefit the whole community, and the spin-off in reference to Bell island could be good for them.

"My interest is to give the people an opportunity, to give the investors an opportunity, so my people can have an employment opportunity during these tough times. If Bell Island was the only area in the park that was dredging and excavating a marina I would say 'lets get them' - but it's not."

September 24, 2010


Friday, September 24, 2010

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham dismissive on questions in relation to Environment Minister Earl Deveaux's resignation offer

Tribune Staff Reporter

THE prime minister yesterday laughed off calls for him to explain his decision to reject Environment Minister Earl Deveaux's resignation offer last week.

Asked by this newspaper to account for the rejection of the offer or provide any comment on the acknowledged fact that Dr Deveaux accepted a free ride in the luxury helicopter of a billionaire Exuma resident who has an application to dredge in the Exuma Land and Sea Park before his ministry, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham was dismissive.

Mr Ingraham was in the process of leaving parliament following the morning session in the lower chamber yesterday at the time the questions on the issue of Dr Deveaux's relationship with the Aga Khan, which the Opposition has termed "a conflict of interest", were put to him.

However, Mr Ingraham refused to provide the justification for his decision or any other comment on the matter, instead continuing on his way out of parliament.

Last Thursday Dr Deveaux told Island FM radio host Patty Roker on "The Morning Boil" that he tendered his resignation to the prime minister the previous Monday - the same morning he saw an article on the front page of this newspaper outlining how he had accepted a free ride in the luxury helicopter of the Prince Karim Aga Khan, the billionaire leader of an islamic sect, while having the Aga Khan's application to develop the island before the Environment Ministry that he heads for consideration.

The prime minister, he said, rejected the offer, and no other official statement was made on the matter.

Dr Deveaux had admitted flying on the 12-seater helicopter to attend a film screening in Abaco before going on to Bell Island -- the island in the Exuma Land and Sea Park owned by Prince Karim -- with BNT executives the next day.

The Environment Minister has also stated he was "minded" to approve plans submitted by Island of Discovery Limited, understood to be headed by the Aga Khan, to dredge and excavate at least 8.8 acres of marine sand flats, rock and vegetation for two channels, 12ft and 14ft deep, to construct a barge landing and 20 slip yacht basin, and roads across the 349-acre island. He passed the plans on to the BNT for their input.

September 23, 2010


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Baha Mar Development... Debate

Debate on the Baha Mar development

DEBATE on the government's resolution to approve the Baha Mar development was scheduled to begin today in Parliament - five years after the initial deal was concluded in 2005. But the debate was postponed until the project's principals can come to terms with the Bank of Nova Scotia on outstanding debt.

It's been a long road - although not quite as long as the 13-year BTC sell-off - and conditions in 2005 were vastly different from what they are today. Back then, the credit boom underway in the US had a marked spillover effect on the Bahamas, with major developments planned around the country.

But most of these projects collapsed in the wake of the Great Recession that swept the world in 2008. The Baha Mar project was kept ticking over, even when the original joint venture partners withdrew. It was the brainchild of a Lyford Cay resident named Sarkis Izmirlian, whose grandfather left Armenia in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

Sarkis' father, Dikran, made his fortune by cornering the world peanut trade. And the family became property developers in Britain, where one of their companies owns the 13-acre site on which London's City Hall is located. While Dikran lives in Switzerland, Sarkis manages the family's assets from the Bahamas.

He is said to be an astute developer who conceived the grandiose Baha Mar project partly to make a name for himself. But the project has been able to survive only because the Chinese are investing their huge currency reserves in support of their strategic interests. According to China's Commerce Ministry, some 800,000 Chinese are now working on energy, infrastructure and housing projects around the world.

Without clear evidence, we should discount the allegations that have been made about the use of Chinese convicts as workers on these projects. But we do think it makes sense for our government to seek a broad political consensus for the project in view of the large foreign labour component.

The 1,000-acre Baha Mar project is owned by the Izmirlian family, with the Chinese Export-Import Bank providing $2.5 billion in financing over 20 years and the China State Construction & Engineering Co as principal contractor.


It was unclear at this writing whether the Bank of Nova Scotia, which financed the Izmirlian's earlier acquisition of Cable Beach hotels, would become an equity investor. But it is fair to ask how Baha Mar expects to repay a $2.5 billion loan from China when it has already encountered challenges servicing the current $200 million loan to Scotiabank.

Still, it is the view of most observers that Cable Beach needs to be redeveloped for the country's tourism industry to remain competitive, and whether the land used for collateral is conveyed on a long-term lease or as freehold is beside the point.

The optimum use for that land is resort development and nobody else in the current environment can finance such a project.

And even though a large portion of the $2.5 billion will return to China in the form of interest, wages and materials purchases, this is still a major foreign investment for the Bahamas that will help to stimulate the economy in the short term and drive tourism growth in the longer term.

Conflict of Interest

According to the Institute of Auditors, conflict of interest is when someone in a position of trust has a competing professional or personal interest that makes it difficult to fulfil his or her duties impartially, or that creates an appearance of impropriety.

But exactly what does that mean in the Bahamas? Well, the short answer is...very little.

The Bahamas is a small place, which makes it difficult for any of us to avoid apparent conflicts. And they happen all the time, at every level, in both the public and private sectors. There are very few explicit rules, and even where rules exist, there are no real sanctions.

In the political realm, the old United Bahamian Party oligarchs have been described as "the poster boys for conflict of interest and corruption." Back before the days when cabinet ministers earned official salaries, UBP politicos routinely represented companies doing business with the government and awarded themselves contracts as a matter of right.

Things were so bad that prior to the 1967 general election the UBP itself had issued a code of ethics requiring ministers to withdraw from any case in which they had a private interest.

But that didn't stop politicians like Sir Stafford Sands from acting as paid agents for Freeport gambling interests, as documented by the 1967 Commission of Inquiry.

Sands (who was finance and tourism minister at the time) received over $1.8 million in consultancy fees from the Grand Bahama Port Authority between 1962 and 1966. The Port also gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions to the UBP.

When the Progressive Liberal Party came to power in 1967 it promised to change all that.

The Pindling administration issued a new code of ethics that prohibited ministers from accepting substantial gifts from persons doing business with the government.

Fast forward 15 years and the Bahamas was in the throes of a criminal takeover by South American drug cartels.

The Colombian flag was raised over Norman's Cay in George Smith's Exuma constituency by the notorious gangster Carlos Lehder, who drove ordinary visitors away at gunpoint and orchestrated hourly cocaine flights to the US.

The 1984 Commission of Inquiry found that Smith had accepted gifts and hospitality from Lehder, who is now serving a long sentence in an American jail. In fact, one parliamentarian said at the time that "Pindling and his crew make the Bay Street Boys look like schoolchildren."

The 1993 inquiries into Bahamasair and the Hotel Corporation were initiated by the first Free National Movement government. They documented decades of gross mismanagement, conflict of interest, and official corruption under the PLP. In response, the FNM promised a government in the sunshine that would be fully accountable to the people.

In the years since there have been many accusations of conflict of interest featuring politicians of both major parties, but none of them have matched the scale and sheer brazenness of those earlier controversies.

For example, during the second FNM administration Brent Symonette resigned as chairman of the Airport Authority after it became known that a company in which he had a minor interest had been contracted to do paving work at the airport. Charges were made against Tommy Turnquest for allowing an air conditioning contractor to pay for his leader-elect victory party. And Dion Foulkes was accused of awarding contracts for school repairs without a public tender.

When the PLP was re-elected in 2002, Perry Christie made a lot of noise about integrity in public life, and issued another code of ethics for ministers that basically re-stated existing guidelines. But his promised law codifying rules on conflict of interest never came before parliament.


And so the controversies continued. Leslie Miller and other PLP officials were accused of renting buildings to the government they served, a common practice.

Minister of Local Government V. Alfred Gray was accused of remaining active in his law firm, which was representing one party in a local government dispute. Neville Wisdom faced charges of impropriety in awarding contracts for Junkanoo bleachers.

PLP Minister Bradley Roberts and then chairman of the Water & Sewerage Corporation Don Demeritte were accused of leading a conspiracy that would have bilked Bahamians of millions of dollars. According to testimony in an industrial tribunal, the chairman instructed the corporation's general manager to call off the bidding process for a reverse osmosis plant at Arawak Cay, and start negotiations with a firm whose principal was Jerome Fitzgerald, a PLP senator. This matter is still before the court.

The most sensational case of conflict of interest during the PLP's last term involved Shane Gibson's relationship with expired American sex symbol Anna Nicole Smith.

Gibson resigned from the cabinet in February 2007 after The Tribune published embarrassing photos of him on a bed with Smith at her Eastern Road home, although both were fully clothed.

Gibson insisted he did not have a sexual relationship with Smith and denied doing her any favours.

At the time, the "attack" on Shane was characterised by a fellow PLP minister as "the successful manipulation of misinformation by people whose stock in trade is nastiness and sleaze."

Well, now we have something that trumps all of that potted history.

A minister who takes advantage of a private helicopter flight in order to attend two official meetings on two different islands over two consecutive days - the evening premiere of a conservation film on Abaco, and a meeting with visiting American experts in the Exuma Cays the next morning.

"I would not have been able to do either with regular flights, or even make the previously agreed times by boat," Environment Minister Earl Deveaux told me. "It is difficult, if not impossible, to discharge this job, with the required oversight, if we are not able to use the facilities of the principals."

For George Smith's information, the Aga Khan is not a criminal - unlike Carlos Lehder. He is as desirable an investor as Sarkis Izmirlian. His Swiss-registered Development Network runs a variety of multi-billion-dollar humanitarian programmes in 25 countries around the world. And the Aga Khan Health Services is one of the most comprehensive, private, not-for-profit healthcare systems in the developing world.

Before we jump to conclusions, perhaps we should ask what are the actual regulations that apply to official conflict of interest in the Bahamas these days.

The answer to that question is contained in the manual of cabinet procedure, which states that a minister "must not, except as may be permitted under the rules applicable to his office, accept any gift, hospitality or concessional travel offered in connection with the discharge of his duties."

On my reading, accepting a trip for a personal benefit rather than for a public duty would likely be considered a breach of this rule.

Yet incumbents of both major parties have accepted personal hospitality from big investors or foreign governments fairly routinely over the years, and usually without any controversy.

The real elephant in the room in this context is the financing of political parties by big investors and corporate interests.

There are no rules at all in this regard, and everything is done behind closed doors.

I have it on good authority that each of the 82 main party candidates in the 2007 general election received an average of $30,000 in campaign funds. Added to that are general party expenses for advertising, printing, logistics, travel, and give-aways.

Clearly, Bahamian elections cost millions of dollars. Where do you think that money comes from?

So should we be concerned about a free helicopter ride to a business meeting? You be the judge.

What do you think?

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September 22, 2010


Environment Minister Earl Deveaux did not admit guilt by resignation

Deveaux did not admit guilt by resignation
tribune242 editorial

THE LATEST scuttlebut making the rounds of the political rumour mill is that by offering his resignation to Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, Environment Minister Earl Deveaux admitted he was wrong to accept the invitation of Prince Karim Aga Khan to fly in his helicopter to the prince's private island in the Exumas. According to rumour mongers it is an admission by the Minister that the helicopter ride compromised his ability to make an objective decision on the Prince's application for permission to develop his island in the Exuma Land and Sea Park.

Those persons spreading the rumour are either completely ignorant of the Westminster system of parliamentary government, or they are maliciously exploiting the ignorance of the Bahamian people.

There are many reasons why ministers resign from Cabinet. We had an incident as recently as March when Branville McCartney resigned as Minister of State for Immigration. Mr McCartney said at the time that in the forefront of all his issues and emotions was his "feelings of stagnation and the inability to fully utilise" his "political potential at this time."

"We are facing tough times," he said, "but I confidently believe that the nation has been mobilized by Mr Ingraham and the FNM and rallied for a great national effort. I have learned why this Prime Minister and Leader of the FNM is the most successful leader of our party. And it is because of this that I say, I have no sympathy with and will give no credence or comfort to those who would want to use this resignation to undermine his leadership of the FNM and/or The Commonwealth of The Bahamas."

That was one reason for a resignation.

One must remember that when a member is elected to parliament, he is elected by the people. However, when he is made a Cabinet minister it is a position given by the prime minister -- a position that can be taken away at will for a number of reasons. Should anything arise in that ministry that could embarrass the prime minister or his government, then it is the action of a gentleman to go back to the prime minister and offer to resign. It is then up to the prime minister to accept or reject the offer.

In offering his resignation, Mr Deveaux did not admit that he had sold his integrity for a helicopter ride, he just did what was expected of him in the ancient tradition of the Westminster system. Unfortunately there are not many gentlemen left among us today.

This was the same tradition followed by the late Sir Kendal Isaacs when he relinquished the leadership of the FNM after he had led the party to defeat in the 1987 election. However, Opposition leader Perry Christie did not step down as party leader when he lost the government in 2007 to the FNM. He was not duty bound to do so and he chose not to follow tradition.

In the case of Mr Deveaux, Prime Minister Ingraham could hardly punish him for a practice that has been widely used over the years in all administrations when an investor wanted a minister to inspect a project for which he needed permission. It was customary for the investor to provide the transport, which is what the Aga Khan did in the case of Mr Deveaux.

And the Prime Minister certainly could not frown on Mr Deveaux after this practice had been turned into widespread abuse under the PLP government with investors -- with issues before cabinet and various government departments -- even making their aircraft available to fly PLP candidates around the islands during the 2007 election.

We know that the PLP are hungry for political bones to chew on, but it's time to drop this one -- it's going nowhere.

September 23, 2010

tribune242 editorial

Earl Deveaux's poor judgment

Poor judgement by Minister Deveaux
thenassauguardian editorial

In the end, it is a leader's judgment that matters more than just about any other quality. This is as true for a business executive as it is for a Cabinet minister. This week, the Minister of the Environment's poor judgment was on full display in a number of areas.

This included Minister Earl Deveaux's acceptance of hospitality from various developers. It also included his disclosure of a private conversation with the prime minister.

Cabinet ministers of both parties have accepted hospitality from private sector interests, including air transportation. Accepting hospitality is not in itself unethical, though at times appearances do make an enormous difference. It depends on the nature and degree of the hospitality, and if there are accompanying quid pro quos.

As the opposition continues to discuss recent matters related to the minister, it may want to review its own record. The opposition generally needs to keep the government accountable. But, those with their own questionable practices in dealing with private sector interests should spare us their hypocrisy and grandstanding.

The matter of allowing for development in the Exuma Land and Sea Park is a separate policy matter of which Bahamians should be rightly concerned. On this front the environment minister should be asked some pressing questions.

Still, there is no evidence that Minister Deveaux did anything unethical in terms of any quid pro quos with developers in exchange for favorable review of various outstanding applications on this or other matters.

But, the cavalier manner in which the minister shrugged off the hospitality of various developers in terms of helicopter and airplane rides is stunning. This is not just bad public relations. It suggests a mindset. It is a demonstration of very poor judgment.

This is especially so for someone who is supposed to be a seasoned Cabinet minister. In his sensitive portfolio as environment minister he must be beyond reproach, and must be seen to be beyond reproach.

His statement that he was inclined to approve a developer's application before it was sent to the Bahamas National Trust for review is another example of spectacularly poor judgement. He should not have commented prior to such a review.

The minister has also embarrassed a number of developers who must question his unrestrained public comments. Compounding that lack of restraint, the minister then went on radio later in the week to discuss a private conversation he had with the prime minister in terms of his future as a minister.

Private conversations between a Cabinet member and a president or prime minister must remain private for all sorts of reasons. This includes the trust between that individual and their leader, as well as public trust regarding the conduct of confidential matters.

Minister Deveaux's lack of judgement should be a lesson to both those in opposition and in the government who have or will serve as Cabinet ministers. Considered judgment, common sense and restraint are at the heart of what it means to be a good leader.



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bell Island in the Exuma Land and Sea Park... being unearthed?

Bell Island in the Exuma Land and Sea Park being dredged?
by bahamascitizen

An application to dredge into the sea bed at Bell Island in the Exuma Land and Sea Park has not even been granted as yet, and the developer is already cutting deep into a limestone hill to create a marina.

The island’s developer, The Aga Khan IV of the Aga Khan Development Network, has two grandiose luxury homes that sit on top of two picturesque hills surrounded by plush natural vegetation on Bell Island in the park. Both homes have similar designs and feature areas of glass walls and a box shape that let’s in light at key areas of the homes. Manicured landscapes hug the homes, which are spaced far apart on one of the most beautiful and more elevated islands in the park.

One home sits just below the helicopter pad, which is a clean, grassy area on another hill. It’s the landing pad of the 13-seat helicopter that has been the center of headline stories, as the press and the public seek answers and call for more transparency as it pertains to developments on Crown Land in The Bahamas.

Ever since The Tribune ran a red-letter story disclosing how Environment Minister Earl Deveaux received rides in the Aga Khan’s helicopter, he has been placed in a compromising position in the eyes of the public. The subject has been hot on local talk shows, and members of the media and the public have called for his resignation.

He has handed his resignation into Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham. Media officials and the public are anxious for the Prime Minister to respond to this embarrassing situation for his government that claims to operate on a ‘trust factor’.

The Aga Khan IV has an application before the Ministry of Environment which Minister Earl Deveaux said he was ‘minded to’ approve. It will allow the Aga Khan to create a number of marina slips, dredging up to fifteen feet deep. The public has yet to be told how long and how wide the slips will be, leading out to the sea.

Although the application has not been approved, massive demolition of a portion of the hill has already begun. The portion of excavated hill is about 20 feet deep and has been flattened to sea level, making it easier for excavation of the sea bed once the official approval is granted.

But concerns have been raised as the excavation of the hill and the buildings believed to be housing materials indicates that the developer expects to get the approval. Meantime, the hill has already been cut down, unbeknownst to most of the Bahamian public.

There are two main buildings near the area where demolition is being presently carried out, which are believed to house materials to complete the construction of the marina. The island also features a gazebo near a private beach. The gazebo is draped with sheer, white cloth and exudes romanticism. There is also a development on the other side of the island, where it is believed that workmen reside, as tools and equipment can be seen on the lot, and simple, wooden homes are present.

The hill that has been cut down is close to what appears to be the main home, where two satellite dishes are nestled in the bushes and are used for communication on the island. Bell Island features four amazing, heavenly white sandy beaches.

Once a Crown Land lease is up in 47 years, Bahamian children who today aspire to achieve a lease must be afforded the opportunity. If leasing developers like Aga Khan make major detrimental changes to the landscape, it could destroy the sacred land that belongs to the people of the Bahamas that the Minister of the Environment and the Bahamas National Trust has failed to protect.

The Minister has publicly admitted to accepting rides in the luxury helicopter and said he would “do it again”, while it has been revealed that the managing director at BNT accepted a million-dollar grant from the Bell island developer last year.

September 22, 2010


Why are two Nassau Members of Parliament: Fred Mitchell and Alfred Sears playing politics in Grand Bahama

Why are two Nassau MPs playing politics in GB?
thenassauguardian editorial

Apparently there is not enough political wiggle room in Nassau(perhaps because of over-crowding), so two Nassau-based politicians have come to play their political games in Freeport's backyard.

Member of Parliament Fred Mitchell and Member of Parliament Alfred Sears, along with Senator Michael Darville have been on a campaign of sorts in Grand Bahama, addressing all of the major issues taking place on this island.

It all started with the issue at Walter Parker and since that time they have been jumping on every major issue in Grand Bahama, so much so that it seems they may have bought homes here in the second city and have settled in.

While the issue at Walter Parker remains unsettled, Mitchell, Sears and Darville jumped on the MSC trucking issue and have shifted into full gear. On Monday night Sears and Mitchell were on the news giving their take on the trucking situation.

If one didn't know better, they may have thought that they were watching the national news on ZNS, but in truth, they were watching the Northern Bahamas newscast.

Yes, MP Mitchell and MP Sears were at it again.

It's like they have become the new activists for Grand Bahama. Have they both began their political campaigns early? If so, why have they chosen Grand Bahama to be their stage? Over the past few weeks both politicians have used Grand Bahama as the background to get up on their "soap box" and make their voices heard.

That leaves some Grand Bahamians wondering, if these opposition members(who don't even live in or represent Grand Bahama)have so much to say about issues taking place in Grand Bahama, what are Grand Bahama representatives doing?

Even if the reasons behind opposition members' involvement in Grand Bahama affairs may be questionable, the fact is, they are making their voices heard about the issues and at least have something to say. Where are the Grand Bahama representatives, and why are they so silent? Why are they letting" someone else dig up in their backyard" without saying a word?

Grand Bahama is represented by six members of Parliament, of which three are Cabinet ministers. Why haven't any of these representatives spoken out against Mitchell and Sears'"invasion"of their constituencies?

Is there some political rule both Sears and Mitchell have broken, or is it a free-for-all landscape in which all politicians operate?

MP Fred Mitchell represents Fox Hill and MP Alfred Sears represents Fort Charlotte so why are they in Grand Bahama so frequently these days gaining political mileage? No doubt both men are certainly racking up some serious frequent flyer mileage.

Interestingly enough many Grand Bahamians have been silent on the opposition's move on Grand Bahama. Normally, Grand Bahamians may have made some comments about the frequent presence of these two men and would have demanded answers.

Is the political landscape in Grand Bahama changing, or is it due to the fact that economic hard times are so affecting Grand Bahamians that for this moment in time, they don't care who fights for them or which political party they belong too?

If local representatives choose to remain silent, then it is obvious that at least for now, Fred Mitchell and Alfred Sears have a lot to say in Grand Bahama.


thenassauguardian editorial

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Environment Minister Earl Deveaux Free Ride in the Aga Khan's Helicopter Sparks Public Outcry

Free helicopter ride sparks public outcry
Tribune Staff Reporter
tribune242 Insight:

Environment Minister Earl Deveaux emerged from the Aga Khan's helicopter in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, to attend a Friends of the Environment event with the exhilarated grin of an excited schoolboy.

Having taken up Karim Aga Khan IV's offer to travel in the 12-seater AB-139 instead of chartering a flight, Dr Deveaux, his wife, and two friends, were able to ride in the lap of luxury at their convenience, and the Minister would not be late for a land assessment of Bell Island in Exuma the next day.

But as the Aga Khan is the owner of Bell Island who put the development plans in Dr Deveaux's lap, the childlike excitement on the Minister's face, and the front page of The Tribune last week, masked a darker reality.

The extension of such generosity by this enigmatic Persian prince exposed both himself and the Minister to ridicule and speculation over the process of planning applications and approvals.

And when the development is in an area as sensitive area as the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, it is bound to stir the kind of public debate that hit the airwaves last week.

The 176 square mile park is a jewel of the Bahamas and the world as the oldest protected area of its kind, established in 1958, and a flourishing no-take marine reserve guarded by the Bahamas National Trust (BNT).

The Aga Khan bought the island north of Conch Cut and 17 miles north of Black Point last year and has plans to dredge 8.8 acres of sand from the seabed so he can pull into a newly carved marina on his 150ft yacht.

He also wants the supply barge to be accommodated at a 100ft dock, and have slips for 20 vessels in a 67-acre yacht basin excavated in the existing salt pond, as well as roads across the island.

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the project was completed by Turrell, Hall and Associates Inc in March, and passed on to the BNT for further input.

But until The Tribune published details of the plans last week, not a word had been mentioned in the public domain.

The developer had paid for the EIA, the Ministry selected the marine and environmental consultants to do it, and the Trust to contribute to the discussion.

All of the correct protocols were in place and the procedures were duly followed, so processes could tick along smoothly, and the developers could quietly move in.

The public were not asked for their opinion because frankly what they think is irrelevant when Bell Island belongs to the Aga Khan, and it is his right to "renovate" it, just as other owners of private islands also have the right to enhance their personal pieces of the country -- including those in the area of the park.

Even the BNT has little say in the matter, according to a statement released by the board last week.

However, it is precisely this top-down approach that raises questions about the possibility for corruption in our planning and development process.

Especially when a billionaire such as the Aga Khan is in a position to woo a Minister in his AB139, and donate $1 million to the BNT. No one is suggesting that this is what happened in this case, but still the perception is there.

Dr Deveaux said: "I do not think a helicopter ride could buy me and I don't think it could alter my opinion."

But his defence asserts one of two things: either it would take more than one helicopter ride to buy him, or he cannot be corrupted.

I am inclined to believe the latter, which is why I think he was dignified in tendering his resignation, which the Prime Minister refused.

But a less noble man in his position surely would not have done the same.

As the Minister himself asserted, he is quite accustomed to travelling in the planes, boats and automobiles of wealthy developers, and being wined and dined at their expense, but he does not let this affect his judgment of planning applications.

He asserted he had travelled to Ginn Sur Mer's Old Bahama Bay development on the Ginn's boat, and saw Baker's Bay from the developer's jet, as I noted how all of the developments he listed in his argument have been approved.

Whether or not he is corruptible, he is vulnerable to speculation of corruption, and that is reason enough for a major change to be introduced and introduced now.

PLP MP Fred Mitchell suggested Cabinet ministers and government departments are provided with their own fleet of air and watercraft to transport them to far-flung sites across the islands on time, avoiding safety issues, or perceived cosiness with developers.

However, Freeport attorney Fred Smith, QC, advocates a change of the law.

He has been pushing for an Environmental Protection Act, and a Freedom of Information Act, to establish an independent Environmental Protection Agency that would facilitate EIAs, provide access to planning applications, and ensure there is full and proper public consultation over all plans submitted to the Ministry.

Such a system would protect everyone's best interests as residents, businesses, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and all other interested parties would be involved in the debate long before the diggers break ground.

As the lawyer representing Responsible Development for Abaco (RDA) in the request for a Judicial Review seeking to stop work at the $105 million Wilson City power plant, Mr Smith showed how BEC had gone ahead with clearing land, paving roads and building the power plant before they even had all the necessary building permits in place.

Although Supreme Court Justice Hartman Longley dismissed the Abaconian's request on Thursday, he at least acknowledged they had genuine reason for complaint.

The public was not aware of the power plant plans until work started, and when BEC finally agreed to hold a public meeting on the matter it served little purpose other than a place for hundreds of angry Abaconians to vent their anger over being so left out of the critical development of their island.

In that case, as with almost every other, communities were disregarded in the planning process from the beginning, as plans received or conceived of by government departments are assessed and approved from the top down, leaving the people demoralised and devoid of power.

A modified Local Government Act and Environmental Protection Act would allow communities to plan developments five, 10 or 20 years in the future, and create a sustainable model that benefits everyone.

Town councils would have more power to draw up bye-laws for their unique communities, impose local taxes to fund local projects and represent the community in national discussions about the development of their island.

"That's what's called decentralisation and democracy," Mr Smith said.

"And in our geographically fractured nation devolution of power is so necessary.

"It will help the Bahamas develop its marine and land resources in a sustainable manner.

"Because it may be that the people in Exuma have some idea about whether the Aga Khan should be able to proceed."

But when it comes to development in the Bahamas, "the rule of the people" defined by democracy is far from the process of granting planning approval.

We leave such matters in the hands of Ministers and wealthy developers, and when projects are approved, we are only left to speculate over what really happened.

"The current construct lends itself to conflicts, not necessarily intentional or intended, but it just does," said Mr Smith.

"And that's why I have been promoting a more transparent and accountable process, an objective process, which protects the Trust, protects the Minister, and protects the government agencies from the kind of criticism that can be made against them in this case."

Sharing the power of choice in a transparent planning process, which welcomes public consultation, would eradicate that speculation not only in principle, but also in practice.

Planning meetings were the bread and butter of the local newspaper I worked at in East London, England, as development plans ricocheted through the communities causing a stir for all who live and work nearby.

Residents and business owners were invited to view plans for around six weeks before they came to the local government council planning committee where they were debated in a lively public meeting that often continued until the early hours of the morning as everyone was invited to have their say.

Each interested person was invited to speak for three minutes about why a Victorian family home should not be converted into flats, why there should not be another generic block of flats built on what little green land they had left, or why the next door neighbour should not be allowed to extend their home into their own back garden or onto a third floor.

And as the plans were considered from all angles, when they were finally rejected or approved, those in protest at least felt they had been heard.

Development affects everybody, and it is a contentious issue in any community, but even more so in land-starved areas such as London, or ecologically precious areas in the sought after islands of the Bahamas.

Some areas need to be preserved for their environmental benefits, as in the national parks, and some need to be developed to create jobs and keep the economy afloat.

But there is only so much land to share; and in a democratic society, the people should really at least appear to have a say in what gets done.

"If we had an Environmental Protection Act and a Freedom of Information Act, we would at least have a measure of comfort that people can't sneak in the back door and start depleting our resources," Mr Smith said.

"I remain sceptical of private developers approaching the government quietly and the government and Cabinet quietly approving in principle or signing Heads of Agreement or making other non-disclosed arrangements with private developers before the public becomes aware of it.

"This is a continued recipe for disaster.

"This is what caused all of the controversy in Baker's Bay, Bimini and all other places in the Bahamas, including the Ginn project in Grand Bahama.

"I am also told there are several projects planned for East End that lies deep within the bosoms of the Cabinet and none of the citizens of Grand Bahama have any idea of what is being planned for our island communities

"If the Environmental Protection Agency could be isolated from political influence by the Cabinet or ruling party, you would have some kind of check and balance from the kind of incestuous inflection which exists when private developers make their clandestine approaches to government for approval in principle, because once approved in principle, then every government agency simply has to rubber stamp whatever is made.

"You don't just do an EIA to rubber stamp a project.

"Because the developers, like a cancer, are going to eat up every pleasant and unique environment that we have unless we manage it.

"And the only way to manage it is for all vested interests to be a part of considering what's happening."

The change would mean it is not just the Minister and his staff deciding whether the Aga Khan can put a development in the national park, and the issue of him flying around in his helicopter would not arise, because he would not be in that position.

There would instead be independent environmental and planning agencies, not beholden to the executive, making the decisions.

And if such agencies are not established in a new legislative framework soon, the Bahama islands and the resources we all share will gradually disappear in a method that is beyond our control, as those who can afford it break off pieces of our finite islands for themselves and leave the Bahamian people with fractured fragments of their country and no explanation about what happened, and where it all went.

September 20, 2010

tribune242 Insight

Chinese Criminals to Work on The Baha Mar Project: Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Nassau Responds to Allegations

Speculation that Chinese criminals may work on Baha Mar 'baseless'
Tribune Staff Reporter

SPECULATION that thousands of Chinese criminals will be brought in to build Baha Mar have been called baseless allegations by the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Nassau.

Concerns raised in the local press suggested the Chinese government has chosen convicts from its overcrowded prisons to work on foreign projects and may do the same when they bring in 8,150 workers to construct Baha Mar.

Editorial writers called on government to exercise due diligence in vetting their work permits if the foreign labour is approved as concerns stemmed from an article published in a Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, which reported that China "has devised a novel strategy to relieve pressure on its overcrowded prisons: Use convicts as labourers on overseas projects in the developing world." It gave as example projects in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Africa where Chinese labour was used.

But the suggestion that The People's Republic of China may use the $2.6 billion Baha Mar project to export criminals to the Bahamas provoked a clear clarification of the facts from the Chinese embassy.

Liu Liqun, second secretary and press officer at the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, said that the allegations are unfounded.

"The Chinese Embassy fully respects each and every view expressed surrounding the Baha Mar project," he stated.

"However, such groundless accusations, which insult not only China, but also those countries having cooperation with us, go beyond tolerance."

Mr Liqun said that the Chinese contractors who have been working tirelessly on the Bahamas National Stadium project, "are disciplined and diligent, winning full respect and high praises from the Bahamian society."

PLP MP Fred Mitchell suggested the reason for speculation over the integrity of Chinese workers could stem from the FNM government's failure to be clear with the public on the issue.

He said: "The government is not exercising any leadership with this project and I think it's deliberate because they want to scuttle the project and that lets in speculation about this or that.

"I think some of the criticism has been exaggerated, but each view should be seriously considered by the authorities to see whether or not it is possible to deal with the concerns.

"However they seem to have the country flailing around wildly without any sense of direction."

A labour resolution tabled by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham in the House of Assembly has paved the way for the approval of work permits for the 8,150 Chinese workers and parliamentarians are expected to debate and vote on the resolution this Wednesday or Thursday.

The ratio of foreign workers to Bahamian employees at Baha Mar is expected to be 71 per cent foreign to 29 per cent Bahamian during the construction phase as agreed in the partnership deal between Baha Mar, the China Export-Import Bank and China State Construction.

Mr Mitchell said the anticipated parliamentary vote is ludicrous as it is the government's responsibility to decide whether the Chinese employees should be permitted to work at Baha Mar or not.

"What business is it of ours to ask Parliament whether or not the government should grant work permits?" he asked.

"I think the whole notion is ludicrous.

"The Prime Minister is looking for political cover because he's afraid to make the decision."

Baha Mar estimates it will take around five years to build six hotels with around 3,500 rooms and condominiums, a 100,000 sq ft casino, 200,000 sq ft of convention facilities, a 20-acre beach and pool experience, an 18-hole golf course and a 60,000 sq ft retail village in Cable Beach.

The project is expected to inject an estimated $1 billion into the Bahamas Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and create almost 11,000 permanent jobs for Bahamians.

September 20, 2010


Monday, September 20, 2010

The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) statement on the proposed development at Bell Island in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

If the 176‐square‐mile Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park could have been acquired as an untouched or pristine wilderness, the issue of land use conflicts within the park could have been easily avoided by forever excluding all private interests.

There is, however, a legacy of private land holdings in this park, which existed well before the government leased the territory to the BNT in 1962. The Bahamas National Trust Act does not override the inalienable rights of property owners, as enshrined within the constitution of The Bahamas.

In fact, about a third of the Exuma park’s land area is privately owned, including Cistern Cay, Pirate’s Cay, Little Pigeon Cay, South Halls Pond Cay, Soldier Cay, Dinna Cay, White Bay Cay, Osprey Cay, Bell Island and Little Bell Island.

There is no commercial development anywhere in the park, but some private islands have been developed for the personal use of the owners and their guests. Examples include Soldier Cay, Cistern Cay, Halls Pond Cay, and Bell Island. Developments over the years have included land clearing, home and infrastructure construction, and dredging of the seabed.

The most egregious development on private land in the park occurred in the early 2000s, when the owner (Victor Kozeny) engaged in an orgy of pointless land clearing, marina and road construction. The BNT had not been consulted prior to the proposed development, but was able to persuade the government to put a stop to the activities.

The comprehensive Planning and Subdivision Act, which will come into force on October 1 2010, will form the basis for land use decisions throughout The Bahamas. This provides an opportunity for the BNT to develop an authoritative land use plan for the park with strict rules on the scale and scope of development. Currently, the BNT can set rules and regulations for public use of the park but has no control over private land use.

These private islands were grandfathered in when the park was created, and successive governments have treated them as an important part of the country’s tax base. They also provide spin‐off benefits for nearby communities like Black Point, Staniel Cay and Farmers Cay.

The objectives of the Exuma park ‐ as expressed in the 2006 general management plan ‐ are to protect biodiversity, conserve natural and cultural resources, support the local and national economy, and provide environmentally sensitive visitor experiences.

Development on private land in the Bahamas is controlled through permits issued by the central government and/or local government authorities. The BNT works cooperatively with private landowners within the Exuma park and surrounding communities to encourage compatible planning and land use.

Every landowner in the park has contributed generously to the funding of the BNT.

In the present case, the owner of Bell Island applied to the government for permission to expand an existing service/utility area, excavate an inland yacht basin, and dredge less than 9 acres of sandy seabed to accommodate 150‐foot vessels. The total development footprint on the 349‐acre island is less than five acres, and mitigation would include removal of all casuarina trees, restoration of natural vegetation and development of a native plant nursery.

The government consulted the BNT on environmental safeguards for the development, although in the past consultation on such matters has been an exception rather than the rule. The BNT executive committee reviewed all available documents and considered the matter very carefully. The documents included an Environmental Impact Assessment completed by Turrell, Hall & Associates of Naples, Florida in March 2010.

The BNT called for:

1. An independent survey of all dredging areas and the relocation of any marine resources that may be practically salvageable.

2. A comprehensive environmental management plan for the development.

3. Completion of all dredging activities within 60 days.

4. Appointment of a full‐time, on‐site environmental/compliance officer approved by the BNT with full authority to suspend works and enforce conditions.

5. A requirement for the developer’s full and frank cooperation and consultation with the BNT on all matters.

6. Indemnity for any costs that may be incurred by the BNT as a result of the development.

The BNT also endorsed other environmental recommendations made by the BEST Commission.

The despoilation of Halls Pond Cay is a prime example of why the BNT needs to be actively involved in any land use planning within the Exuma park. We are pleased that the government has invited our input in the case of Bell Island, and we have conditionally accepted the relatively low impact of this proposed development. Our view was to permit reasonable access for the owner under strict environmental protocols.



Baha Mar Resolution Iced

Guardian News Editor

The government has shelved plans to debate a resolution on the controversial $2.6 billion Baha Mar project on Wednesday, The Nassau Guardian understands.

Instead, it will bring a resolution to approve the borrowing of $68 million to construct a four-lane highway between Lynden Pindling International Airport and the new six-legged roundabout on John. F. Kennedy Drive.

Leader of Government Business in the House Tommy Turnquest said yesterday that there was a change in plans given that the government had not yet received any confirmation that Baha Mar executives have settled a critical loan issue with the Bank of Nova Scotia(Scotiabank).

Baha Mar Chairman and CEO Sarkis Izmirlian was in Toronto last week meeting with top bank officials on the matter. Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham previously said the expectation was for this matter to be resolved by this week.

However, last night it appeared that a resolution had not yet been reached.

The Scotiabank loan issue is considered a final hurdle before the government decides on whether to give final approval for the project. Baha Mar is requesting 8,150 work permits for the mega development. The foreign labor component has shaped up to be the most controversial aspect of the deal.

The government had planned to debate the Baha Mar resolution on Wednesday and Thursday, but plans to do so after the banking issue is cleared up.

Instead, the focus will be on the airport highway resolution.

Last year, the government signed an agreement with China to finance that road project.

The 20-year concessionary loan will be made through the Chinese Export-Import Bank.

The agreement was signed during an official visit of Wu Bangguo, the chairman of the standing committee of China's National People's Congress, to The Bahamas.

During the visit, China and The Bahamas signed several other agreements, including a US $7.32m grant to help fund the construction of the national stadium.



Sunday, September 19, 2010

Is Your MP Performing: Garden Hills Residents Split on the Performance of Free National Movement (FNM) Member of Parliament - Brensil Rolle

Is Your MP Performing: Garden Hills Residents Split

Supporters and critics of Free National Movement (FNM) Member of Parliament for Garden Hills Brensil Rolle seem to be split on the issue as to whether or not the representative is performing in the area.

The Bahama Journal interviewed 10 Garden Hills residents Wednesday morning to find out how they feel about their MP.

Six out of those 10 constituents said they are not happy with Mr. Rolle’s performance while the remaining four said they were satisfied with what they have been seeing.

"Well he can come around more often and be more visible," one female resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said. "He needs to come around and try to help as much as he can. Right now in my house only my daughter is working, I’m not working, my son doesn’t have a job and things are tough."

Another male resident agrees.

He said over the years Mr. Rolle has quickly lost the momentum he initially exhibited in the constituency.

"When he first came in power, he seemed to be doing the job," he said. "But now, as you can see, there’s all kind of bush around here that no one would come to cut it down and because there’s all that bush there a lot of robberies that happen around here."

"And the thing is, Mr. Rolle lives right around the corner, it’s not like he’s a stranger. We would go around to him and let him know what’s going on, but still nothing is happening."

But there were several supporters who begged to differ with the negative feedback.

"Everybody has their own feelings," Buster Bethel said. "He doesn’t come around here to see me and he doesn’t come to see my wife, but I don’t care to see him, as long as he’s doing his job."

"He calls constituency meetings every month and those who are interested go to the meetings. Some people are looking for him to go directly to their house. I don’t care to see him, I don’t even care to see him during election time as long as he does his job and I think he is doing what he is supposed to do."

"To me, he’s done more than anyone else who represented this constituency. I feel good about him and I would definitely vote for him again," another woman added.

"So would I," her female family member chimed in.

The Garden Hills constituency is split into three sections; Garden Hills #1, #2, #3.

While some of the constituents did not want to go on record with their comments, many of them said they like the fact that their MP hosts numerous community events like ‘back to school’ and Christmas giveaways.

But for other residents, annual community fun days are simply not enough as they said issues with crime, the economy and unemployment continuously knock at their door.

"We haven’t had a park in this area for so long, actually as long as I have been living here, and that’s about 30 years now," said a male resident who did not want his name printed. "There’s nothing for the kids to do and there’s no spirit in Garden Hills."

"People in the area are hurting; there are no jobs, crime is high in this area and the residents here have a lot of concerns."

"I want to see the area cleaned up, the garbage removed and I want there to be something for the kids to do," a female resident said. "There’s so much to do in this area, so many people need help. While I understand he can’t make everyone’s wishes come true, he can listen to the cries, hear what people have to say."

"If he doesn’t want to come around what can I do," Elaine Scavella asked. "I can’t do anything, but I know one thing, I won’t vote for him or anyone else again."

"He’s doing the best he can and even if that means just putting on an event for us, then that’s good enough," another female resident added. "It isn’t all about finding jobs for people or even giving them things."

Derek Rolle, another Garden Hills resident admitted that he has never voted and does not plan to.

Mr. Rolle said as far as he sees things there are not many politicians who are true leaders in the country.

Although he admits that the MP for his area has his faults, he said he believes he is doing an average job.

September 16th, 2010


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Environment Minister Earl Deveaux and Prince Karim Aga Khan lV's helicopter

The Cabinet Minister and the Prince's helicopter
tribune242 editorial

THE PLP never cease to amuse us.

Knowing the party's own free-ride history, we were surprised members would have the temerity to venture into the debate on whether Environment Minister Earl Deveaux should have accepted Prince Karim Aga Khan lV's helicopter to fly him to a meeting with the Bahamas National Trust at the prince's Bell Island development.

The prince's proposal to develop his private island, located within the environmentally sensitive Exuma Land and Sea Park, is now before the cabinet. In the public eye the reason for the flight made Mr Deveaux's helicopter ride precarious.

There were those who believed that Mr Deveaux's acceptance of the prince's hospitality was a conflict of interest.

Of course, the PLP quoted Prime Minister Ingraham's "standards of conduct for ministers of government", which was prompted by Mr Ingraham's alarm on becoming prime minister to find the extent to which the free-wheeling practices of some ministers and civil servants during former prime minister Perry Christie's administration had been honed to a fine art.

"Ministers must avoid accepting any gift or hospitality, which might appear to compromise their judgment or place them under an improper obligation," said a PLP press release quoting from the Ingraham code of conduct.

On the face of it, it would appear that Mr Deveaux had committed an unfortunate indiscretion.

However, Mr Christie also had codes of conduct for his ministers, which were more honoured in their breach.

One only has to speak with Bobby Ginn, the Grand Bahama developer, who at that time had applications before cabinet and/or various government departments, to find out how many times his private aircraft was made available to members of the PLP administration.

It was Mr Ginn's plane that flew Mr Christie to the Cleveland Clinic when he had his medical emergency. Mr Manuel Dias is another one who should be able to recall how many times he accommodated a PLP minister in his private aircraft, as for Mr Gerado Capo of the Bimini Bay development, he should also have many stories to tell of how he routinely had ministers, civil servants and even board members flown back and forth in his private aircraft when his controversial Bimini development was being discussed.

"As a matter of fact," commented someone from the Christie era, "investors flying around PLP ministers and civil servants had reached an alarming level." So alarming, in fact, that when Mr Ingraham became prime minister and saw what was happening, he had to apply the brakes.

However, as another person recalled, the use of private planes by Ministers and other MPs has a long history in the Bahamas -- not all of it with ulterior motives. It was just the accepted practice that if the developer wanted a minister to see what he was doing, he often sent his plane for him, offered him lunch and flew him home.

And now to Minister Deveaux. The Friends of the Environment had invited Mr Deveaux to Hope Town for an early morning premier of a documentary on the "Lionfish Invasion." However, Mr Deveaux had to be back in Nassau that morning to catch an Executive Flight support aircraft to get him to his Bell Island appointment in the Exumas. There was no way that he could fly to Abaco, see the documentary, and get back to Nassau in time to meet the Bahamas National Trust members and Ministry staff to make the scheduled flight to Bell Island. This is where Prince Karim stepped in. The Prince offered his helicopter to fly Mr Deveaux to Marsh Harbour, then back to Nassau to pick up the waiting team, and on to Bell Island. It seemed a practical solution, and Mr Deveaux accepted the hospitality.

Someone who perceived conflict of interest in this arrangement called The Tribune. The next morning a photograph appeared on The Tribune's front page showing Mr Deveaux leaving the Prince's helicopter. Mr Deveaux knew exactly what this meant. Being the man of honour that he is, he did what we expected. He went straight to the Prime Minister's office and offered his resignation.

And the Prime Minister also did what we expected under the circumstances. Recognising that there was no way that a helicopter ride could influence his hard working Minister's decision, or buy his integrity, he refused to accept the resignation.

But, of course, there is that public perception. The cabinet now has to sit down and rethink the rules, so that the public will not have an opportunity in the future to have a set of circumstances occur from which it can draw the wrong conclusions.

September 17, 2010

tribune242 editorial