Monday, January 31, 2011

Lots of gun crime in The Bahamas

Driving down crime
The Nassau Guardian Editorial

There are many parts to the overall strategy of driving down crime.

Aggressive policing is a must. It helps as well if police officers work within neighborhoods to build relationships so residents are more comfortable talking with police officers before and after a crime is committed.

It’s also important that special task forces go after particular crimes or zero in on high-crime areas.

There’s another part of the strategy that’s important, and that has to do with reducing the number of guns on our streets.

According to the 2010 crime statistics released last week, firearms were used in 69 of the 94 murders recorded. Firearms were also used in other serious crimes, such as armed robberies, housebreakings and burglaries, and in many cases, threats of death.

In 2010, 351 illegal firearms and 6,224 rounds of ammunition were seized. Those figures are up over the year before. In 2009, 312 illegal firearms and 4,388 rounds of ammunition were seized.

Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade has even agreed that it is time for the existing Firearms Unit to become an autonomous body given the high number of gun-related crimes.

In this space last week, The Nassau Guardian called for the government and judiciary to consider the establishment of a Gun Court to expedite the trials of suspects of gun-related crime.

Attorney General John Delaney announced on Friday that a Gun Court would be created in an attempt to ensure that those found with illegal firearms are quickly prosecuted. Gun charges will be isolated from other charges an individual may face.

The goal is to ensure that those found in possession of illegal firearms are incarcerated rather than being allowed to reoffend.

“The government is determined to make a full-frontal assault on firearm offenses,” said Delaney at Friday’s press conference, which was also attended by Minister of National Security Tommy Turnquest and senior officers from the Royal Bahamas Police Force, and took place following a meeting with Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham on gun crime.

A special inter-agency task force has also been set up to address the issue of illegal firearm possession.

The government should be commended for establishing the special court and task force, but it should not stop there.

Our gun laws are reasonably strict when it comes to gun ownership and are among the toughest in the region. The maximum penalty for illicit possession of firearms is five years imprisonment and a fine of $10,000.

The Gun Court will help ensure that suspects are quickly prosecuted, but laws must also be beefed up to ensure that individuals found guilty of such crimes do not get off easy. Special legislation is also needed to punish those found in possession of illegal assault rifles and machine guns.

We have a lot of gun crime in this country.

But a Gun Court, if operated properly, should not only help get some of those guns off the streets, but also save lives and family trauma.

That’s an important part of any crime-fighting strategy.


The Nassau Guardian Editorial

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Bahamas Government is determined to make a full frontal assault on firearm offences

New court to fight gun crime
Tribune Staff Reporter

THE Government last night announced a "full frontal assault" on gun crime, promising to bring those charged with firearm offences to trial in a matter of weeks after they are arraigned.

As of Monday, one magistrate's court will be dedicated to hear firearms cases in an effort to expedite the trial process.

The policy is expected to reduce the number of persons accused of gun crimes out on bail as they await trial.

Officials expect this will lower the chance of these suspects becoming repeat offenders and creating havoc in the community.

"Government is determined to make a full frontal assault on firearm offences. We will do that by, in every case of firearm possession, isolating the gun possession offence and seeking to have the individual tried before court as quickly as possible," said Attorney General John Delaney at a press conference to announce the new policy.

"We believe that by isolating the possession offence we can have a very speedy trial, and that we can get the individual, if he's found guilty, convicted and put away so that he is not available to become a repeat offender, or is not on bail for a very long time and thereby has the potential to create other difficulties," added Mr Delaney, flanked by National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest, top officers of the RBPF and Director of Public Prosecutions Vinette Graham-Allen.

Of the 94 murders in the Bahamas last year, 66 of them were committed with the use of firearms, according to police. As it stands, a person accused of a gun crime is arraigned, then later granted bail and could roam free as they await trial for months, even years.

In many cases, those on bail have been accused of committing other violent crimes. Mr Delaney said the new initiative aims to reduce the gap between arraignment and trial, and curb repeat offences.

"The idea here is developing speed, getting to the point of trial and removing a convicted person off the street and reducing the opportunity for persons who would have been found guilty of an offence, removing the opportunity for them to be on bail and therefore the risk of further offences."

Mr Turnquest said: "When that firearm is recovered we'd like to see that case disposed of swiftly and that criminal death with."

Police prosecutors will handle these cases, said Mr Delaney as he expressed confidence in their expertise.

He said: "The summary trials for the firearm offences will be prosecuted by police prosecutors with the full resources, assistance they might require from the Department of Public Prosecutions within my office. There are good police prosecutors and they have expertise and there's no reason at this time to change that. But at any point of time if, as Attorney General, I thought it appropriate for somebody from the DPP to prosecute a particular offence, that can happen."

Four persons accused of gun crimes are expected to be arraigned in court on Monday. They were arrested under the police force's new operation, Rapid Strike.

January 29, 2011


Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Bahamian people want change

Courage, Care and Capacity
The Bahama Journal Editorial

This Tuesday past, we did precisely what so very many other people around the world thought they had to do – this is to say, we tuned in as Barack Obama, president of the United States of America delivered his State of the Union address.

This address while nominally delivered to and on behalf of the American people is one that piques the interests of the entire world because the United States – despite the challenges it currently faces – remains number one in the world.

And for sure, it remains the one country upon which the Bahamas and its neighbors in the Americas and the Caribbean also rely.

As reported in the Washington Post, “…Mr. Obama said that one of the most important things he could do in his presidency was to “open up more markets to American goods around the world.” He struck an optimistic tone, even as he described the challenges the nation still faces in a difficult economy with unemployment above 9 percent.

“We’re living in a new and challenging time, in which technology has made competition easier and fiercer than ever before,” Mr. Obama said. “Countries around the world are upping their game and giving their workers and companies every advantage possible.”

“But that shouldn’t discourage us,” he continued. “Because I know we can win that competition. I know we can out-compete any other nation on earth. We just have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to unlock the productivity of American workers, unleash the ingenuity of American businesses and harness the dynamism of America’s economy.”

We wish Mr. Obama and his great nation all the best.

We also know that, this beloved land of ours is currently being challenged and tested by any number of forces arrayed against it is clearly evident.

As in the case of the United States where forces conducing to the good are currently contending with certain reactionary tendencies, so too in a Bahamas where so very many Bahamians are apparently sick and tired of things as they are.

These people want change; and for sure, the kind of change they yearn for has to do with the grounding of a new kind of Bahamian – namely that kind of person who can comprehend that true nation-building must have love at its foundation.

In addition, there must also be in place leadership that has vision sufficient to take the Bahamas to that sweet place where each Bahamian sees himself as custodian of this nation’s patrimony.

But surely, there are some matters prerequisite to change that must be put in place – and here sooner rather than later – if this dream of real change - is to be translated into purposeful action.

Three such now come to mind; with these being: courage, care and capacity.

Courage plays its part when those who lead do what they must; care comes when they realize that, they can and should human beings with the greatest of respect – and for, the best of intentions are always for naught where and when capacity is either missing or some how or the other lacking.

And evidently, engaged and enthusiastic leadership has a crucially important part to play in this process.

Indeed, when we make any sustained reference for better and more committed leadership; in truth we are putting the case for leadership that has requisite depth and power to get the job done.

And so, whether the job in question has to do with health, education, security – or ongoing investment in the nation’s sustained growth and development, there will always be a need for the generation of that cadre of leaders who have the moxie to get on with the job at hand.

In such a renewed Bahamas, leadership would truly lead.

Put simply, while we have a pressing need to get out from under our current set of problems; there is commensurately, a crying need for the Bahamian people to become more engaged in this process of change.

There is also a need for the forging of a truly national consensus on a number of issues that now beg for both resolve resolution.

Here crime comes to mind; so does the matter involving undocumented migrants living and working in the Bahamas – and their relatives who routinely brave the high seas in order to join up with earlier migrant-pioneers.

Evidently, therefore, the time is surely now for both the governing party and its parliamentary opposition, and other interested parties in civil society to – once and for all – hammer out a consensus on this matter involving Haitians and other such people that best serves the national interests of the Bahamas.

Evidently, "things as they are" is just not the way to go.

In the ultimate analysis, the best leadership that a people can ever have is comprised of men and women seized with will, vision and demonstrated capacity to be up and doing with their assigned jobs.

January 28th, 2011

The Bahama Journal Editorial

Friday, January 28, 2011

...this is the right time for Bahamians to do better

Resolving to Do Better
The Bahama Journal Editorial

As this opens on a truly bloody note, some of our people yet stand, pray and hope for the coming of a better day; and for sure, some of these people have made it their sworn resolve to do their part in making this a reality.

We so swear.

Sadly, some others can be expected to do as they always have; which is that they will carry on as if there was no tomorrow. And so, barring some miracle, there will remain that primordial struggle between good and evil.

For our part, we would like to have a situation where more Bahamians could come to see the wisdom in so comporting themselves - that they – quite literally - love their neighbors as they love themselves.

Were they to move in this direction – that is of forging a greater sense of community- they would see to it that this great little nation that is ours would love and care for all its children; take care of their elders and otherwise work to make this place safer and healthier.

Evidently, things are today tending in the direction of disaster.

This trend can and should be reversed.

Yet again, this requires purposeful action.

And so we would dare suggest that Bahamians should – as Booker T. Washington once suggested – put their buckets down wherever they happen to be.

As a consequence, then, when it comes to schooling, we would like to see a situation where schools are put on a path where they can act in place of the parent; thus gearing themselves to really being and becoming places of respite and civility – incubators of a new and better Bahamas; this instead of the brutal spaces that some have become in these hard times.

Indeed, when we reference how Bahamians might wish to become more introspective, attentive should also be put on the way we worship, how we serve and the witness we bring – as believers- to the challenge of living in a time and in a place where sin and crime abound.

And for sure, here we must reference the stark contrast between the adornment of certain places of worship and the social degradation that is to be found on some of our nation’s main thoroughfares –some of them places where the hungry, the demented and the homeless wander about as so much human riff-raff.

This is an abomination.

Indeed, we would also mention – in the same vein- that there are circumstances and situations where wealth and poverty obscenely cavort; with the rich and the powerful very often oblivious to the sad situation facing some of their countrymen.

Yet again, there can and should be some resolve for those who have eyes to see, to do just that: open their eyes to the poverty and distress around them.

As true too is the fact that some of our fellow-Bahamians are today ill as a result of choices they have made. But chosen or not, these people still need assistance. And for sure, there can and should be some resolve in the coming year for them to get the help they need so that they could keep body and soul together.

Here take note that even as we note that people should take some major part in their own struggles, we note also that – as social animals - human beings must rely on others – whether these others happen to be family, neighbors or friends.

And just as true happens to be the fact that once an administration is sworn in, it is obliged – under the law – to govern in a true and good manner on behalf of all the people.

With this as guiding principle, then, there should be in the year that is ahead some resolve on the part of those who would lead to go beyond what seems to be a built in tendency towards tribalism and a winner-take all mentality in how we run things.

Such a resolve should imply that matters that are social in nature –like crime - should not be so treated that they become political footballs; with name-calling and finger pointing thrown in for good measure.

And yet again – as far as resolutions go- some major effort must be undertaken to so overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system that when people are charged for them to be brought to justice sooner rather than later.

Evidently, here resolve must be matched by requisite action. And for sure, if there are costs that must be made, Bahamians must resolve – as a people- to pay for whatever they get.

In the absence of such a commitment, they would be doing little more than wishing and hoping on a dream.

In truth, this is the right time for Bahamians to do better.

They should and they can.

January 27, 2011

The Bahama Journal Editorial

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Poaching by commercial fishermen from the Dominican Republic is the greatest single threat to Bahamian seafood resources

'Greatest single threat' to Bahamas seafood resources

A RECENT report by a leading University of Miami marine scientist has confirmed that poaching by commercial fishermen from the Dominican Republic is the greatest single threat to Bahamian seafood resources.

The report on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing was produced for the Bahamas Lobster Fisheries Improvement Project. This initiative is sponsored by local seafood processors in a bid to win endorsement for Bahamian crawfish exports under the European Union's new Catch Certification programme.

Without this endorsement, which is aimed at reducing the over-exploitation of global fishery resources, Bahamian lobsters will be banned from the EU. And this lucrative market takes about 40 per cent of the 12.5 million lobsters we legally export every year (based on a four-year average), a catch valued at more than $87 million.

EU certification requires that lobsters are received only from licensed vessels using legal methods - meaning that only crawfish of legal size and condition are harvested. All fishery products must be properly documented upon landing, with guarantees that exports are not derived from IUU fishing.

Ironically, this is one of the main difficulties in dealing with illegal fishing in Bahamian waters. The Dominican Republic has a population of 9.6 million (compared to only 353,000 Bahamians), and it receives more than four million air/hotel visitors annually. So that country does not need to export seafood products and is immune to pressures from EU regulations.

Along the northern Dominican Republic coast are three major ports and several huge resort centres, one of which - Punta Cana - has more hotel rooms than the entire Bahamas. The size of the Dominican tourism industry presents an almost unlimited demand for luxury seafood. And Punta Cana hotels have lobster on the menu for US$16, about half the price of a typical lobster tail dinner in Nassau.

As well, American statistics show that 89,000 pounds of lobster tails were legally imported from the Dominican Republic in the past year, but according to international conservation organizations, there are no commercially viable stocks of spiny lobsters in Dominican Republic waters. In these circumstances, it is obvious where the lobsters for Dominican resorts and exporters are coming from.

From the Dominican Republic's northern coast, it takes less than three days to reach the Great Bahama Bank in a fishing vessel making 10-12 knots. These vessels are typically 65 feet long, and each is attended by a number of smaller skiffs. Fishermen operate from the skiffs using hookahs and spears, at depths well below 60 feet. And divers fish to depths of over 200 feet, reaching deep reef resources not legally fished by Bahamians, according to the IUU report.

"The potential for large illegal lobster landings in the Dominican Republic is huge. The implications in terms of lost jobs, lost revenue to the government, and lost fisheries resources is in the tens of millions of dollars," the IUU report warned. "This is a serious threat to national security and economic growth."

The report was produced by Dr Kathleen Sullivan Sealey, of the University of Miami's highly respected Rosenstiel School of Marine Science. She has decades of experience working in marine conservation in the Bahamas and was formerly Dean of the College of the Bahamas science division.

Crawfish are the most important marine resource we have, so we need to take care of it. In addition to export earnings, this fishery provides jobs, economic diversity and is an important tourist attraction. Aside from recreational fishing by visitors, lobster meals are one of the highlights of visiting The Bahamas, and interviews confirm that diners would like to enjoy a guilt-free meal. Bahamians also eat lobster, and expect this seafood to remain affordable for the general population.

But in order to protect this resource, we need accurate information, and little or none has been available on the scale or intensity of illegal fishing or for legal, non-commercial fishing in the Bahamas. This undermines fishery management efforts and places the resource at greater risk of over-exploitation. The IUU report is an attempt to address this deficiency by looking at consumption by restaurants, recreational fishers and commercial fishers, including poachers.

Illegal fishing is the harvesting of lobster by any means in violation of the existing laws and regulations, including poaching, taking undersized lobsters, taking lobsters out of season or using destructive methods such as bleach. Unreported fishing includes lobsters that are caught, sold and consumed locally by Bahamians and visitors, or legally exported under the sportfishing regulations.

Sullivan Sealey surveyed restaurants and resorts; interviewed yachters, tourists, Defence Force officers and local fishermen; examined data from seafood processors, and looked at the lobster market in the Dominican Republic. The main conclusions from this research are that restaurants may account for 570,000 illegal lobsters a year - about 5 per cent of the current export quantity; while the unreported catch could be some 1.5 million lobsters -- about 12 per cent of known export landings.

By far the biggest drain on the resource is illegal fishing by foreign vessels, mostly from the Dominican Republic. US law prohibits the import of fishery products that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold. This includes the shipment of lobster from The Bahamas without export permits, or taken by foreign nationals in excess of the sportfishing limits (currently six lobsters per person). The Cuban fishing industry is state controlled, and since the 1980 sinking of HMBS Flamingo by the Cuban Air Force, there have been few reports of poaching by Cuban vessels.

Nevertheless, "Foreign fishing vessels operate across the southern Bahamas, venturing further north and across the Great Bahamas Banks during the summer when the lobster fishery is closed to Bahamians," Sullivan Sealey said. "There are no accessible records of sightings of foreign fishing vessels, but anecdotal information puts the number at about six per month. Reports of illegal immigrants from Honduras and the Dominican Republic working on Bahamian fishing vessels have also been verified."

Her report says it could be concluded from the interviews with Defence Force officers that the interdiction of poachers is not a priority for the patrol vessels. "The RBDF is itself a significant fishing entity, with both shipboard and island-based personnel engaging in recreational fishing as a way to supplement incomes."

Sullivan Sealey estimated the number of lobsters taken out of Bahamian waters by poachers based on 30 vessels making six trips a year, with a catch of 10,000 pounds per trip. "This conservative estimate of illegal landings is a staggering 35 per cent (or 4.3 million) of the known export of 12.5 million lobsters from the Bahamas."

However, she pointed out that as many as 65 fishing vessels could be operating from northern Dominican Republic ports, and lobsters are not their only target. Conch, grouper and other finfish are also taken, as all are highly marketable in the Dominican Republic. And each vessel could land over 70,000 pounds of catch per trip.

"The key to reducing the illegal fishing loss is to prevent illegal fishers from entering Bahamian waters," the report said. "The process of seizures and prosecutions, along with the cost associated with holding the vessels, crew and catch is largely ineffective. There are charges of corruption, and clearly a strong motivation with the amount of money involved in the sale of lobsters."

Diplomatic efforts to address the problem are likely to be more effective, the report said. along with identifying the vessels involved and pursuing their financiers. National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest told me that the government was already pursuing this option and a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a Bahamian ambassador to the Dominican Republic would soon be appointed to take matters further.

"The government is also providing increased resources to the RBDF to better equip them to deal with this problem," Turnquest said. "This includes the decentralization of the Defence Force with boats stationed to respond quickly. A base is being developed at Gun Point, Ragged Island, which is close to the Great Bahama Bank, our main fishing grounds."

According to Dr Patricia Rodgers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of the problems is that poachers have been receiving fairly light penalties and are then released. "It is my understanding that the relevant Ministries are now seeking to ensure that persons or entities who poach in our waters are charged to the full extent of the law and the resultant sentences are also to be published."

Director of Marine Resources Michael Braynen told me his department was "extremely concerned about IUU fishing in terms of its impact on fishermen, on government revenues, and even more significantly on our fishery resources themselves." He said British fisheries consultant Paul Medley has been working on a stock assessment for the seafood processors, which won't be released until after a series of peer reviews by other scientists later this year.

Meanwhile, Sullivan Sealey reports that anecdotal evidence of migrating lobsters, the abundance of lobsters in nearshore habitats, and the success rate of lobster condos in fisheries landings, all suggest that crawfish numbers are declining. Although Medley's preliminary appraisal indicates that the fishery is still in fairly good shape, a staggering number of lobsters are being removed from Bahamian waters each year -- more than 18 million, according to Sullivan Sealey's estimates.

She also pointed to the historical damage to lobster habitat throughout the Bahamas. Even on islands with relatively small human populations, she has documented damage at more than 60 per cent of coastal survey sites she has worked on due to the use of bleach and explosives, and through destruction of coastal wetlands and mangrove creeks that provide juvenile lobster habitat.

Braynen also acknowledged that poaching appears to be increasing year on year, although it is difficult to say by how much.

The only indicator he could offer was that the standard of the Dominican boats being apprehended in Bahamian waters is much improved lately, a sign that greater investments are being justified by the illicit returns.

"The greatest number of lobsters caught and removed from the ecosystem is likely through illegal foreign fishing in Bahamian waters," Sullivan Sealey concluded. And she confirmed the existence of a large domestic market for lobster in the Dominican Republic, with a fishing fleet capable of accessing Bahamian waters.

"Clearly, the most effort should be put into the documentation and monitoring of illegal fisheries landings in the Dominican Republic," she told me. "It is important for the Bahamas to make formal complaints to the Dominican Republic, and ultimately, you have to deal with who is funding this - better boats, more fuel, travelling further - there has to be a lot of money involved."

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January 26, 2011


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The culture of the Attorney General’s office needs to change

Standing with the commissioner
thenassauguardian editorial

The Bahamas has a crime problem. No reasonable person would question this statement.

There have been three homicide records in four years. This month the killings have continued at the same record pace as in 2010. The Bahamas has one of the highest murder rates in the region.

Whenever there is a crime problem, Bahamians look to the commissioner of police. He is expected to bring things under control and stop the bad guys. This view is overly simplistic.

On the response side, there are four divisions of the state that are critical regarding the crime fight. Police, the Office of the Attorney General, the court and prison must all function well if a society is to have a functional response to crime. No one of these divisions can fix a crime problem alone.

Others must step forward as public faces in this fight along with the commissioner. Here we will address one of the other three agencies: the AG’s office.

Prosecutors are as important as police in ensuring that criminals are dealt with. Police arrest those responsible for committing violent crimes. Police then marshal evidence and prosecutors lead cases in the Supreme Court.

If the prosecutors are incompetent, then there is little consequence to committing violent crime. As we have said before, the AG’s office is too detached.

The police commissioner speaks regularly. He is also criticized regularly. Police release crime statistics regularly. The police commissioner is mandated to release a policing plan annually. The director of public prosecutions and the AG’s office, however, are not held to the same standard.

Where is the DPP’s prosecution plan for 2011? Has the office prepared one? Shouldn’t Vinette Graham-Allen have to present such a plan to the public and defend it in front of the media just as Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade has to?

Why do the AG’s office and its Department of Public Prosecutions not regularly release data about its work? They must keep records. Does the office think it is above scrutiny? Or is it that the performance of the office is so poor that it does not want the public to know the depths of the failure?

Recently, the AG’s office released its annual report for 2010. This is a good thing. Annual reporting is a part of the accountability process. The AG’s office now has a website. This is also a good development. However, the annual report had no data included in it regarding the work of the Department of Public Prosecutions.

If the level of violent crime is to be reduced in The Bahamas, citizens and the political ruling class must demand more from our prosecutors. The office must be subjected to greater public scrutiny. It should be mandated by law that the AG’s office and police release quarterly statistics. It should be mandated by law that an annual plan is released by the chief prosecutor just as such a standard is mandated of the police commissioner. And the politicians should mandate that the chief prosecutors hold regular news conference to inform the public of the work of the department.

If the prime minister can subject himself to questions from the media, then surely the DPP can do the same.

This commentary is not a criticism of Graham-Allen. The culture of the AG’s office needs to change. Greenslade subjects himself to scrutiny and take the blows that result. In the process the democracy is strengthened. The DPP must be made to do the same.


thenassauguardian editorial

Monday, January 24, 2011

Great frustration expressed at the Bahamian Government's delay in implementing reforms to The Bahamas' gaming regulations

Atlantis: Get a move on with gaming reforms
Business Reporter

Branding announcements that Jamaica is set to grant three casino licenses this year as "a big problem" for Bahamian tourism, Kerzner International (Bahamas) top executive has expressed great frustration at the Government's delay in implementing reforms to this nation's gaming regulations.

Speaking to Tribune Business about the wait for the Government to move ahead with reforms proposed by the Bahamas Hotel Association and the Casino Association, George Markantonis, the company's managing director and president, told Tribune Business he finds the entire situation "very frustrating" and warned of the implications for Bahamian tourism.

"It's been over a year. It's very frustrating. This isn't, to me, that difficult. You're only talking about two major casinos and, frankly, every day we are losing ground in the gaming world. We just have some regulations that are annoying to the consumer. It's way easier to go and gamble elsewhere," said Mr Markantonis.

He noted that many of the recommendations "were procedural (and) not sensitive", providing all the more reason why their consideration and implementation could have moved ahead more swiftly.

Meanwhile, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business he was now in possession of the final recommendations for reform of the Bahamas' gaming laws and regulations, and hoped to present them to the industry next month.

In an e-mailed response to this newspaper, he said: "I had the final review of the recommendations from the Gaming group with me, and hope to present it for consideration next month. I am not sure how long it will take to change regulations to effect whatever is agreed, but we will advance it as quickly as possible."

Mr Markantonis and other industry chiefs say the changes are necessary to keep the Bahamas competitive as a destination for gamblers.

Mr Markantonis' comments come after Jamaica's minister of tourism, Edmund Bartlett, spoke to the world's media at the recent Caribbean Marketplace tourism trade show, which took place in Montego Bay last week, about his government's "casino dream".

He revealed that Jamaica intends to grant three casino licenses this year and is taking applications for others, with the expectation that each casino could bring in $40 million in revenue to the Government annually.

Mr Markantonis said he sees this development as a "big problem" for the Bahamas, and a "bigger issue" than the fact that the Jamaican government has also just opened a state-of-the-art convention centre - the Caribbean's largest - in Montego Bay in the hopes of gaining a greater share of this lucrative tourism market that the Bahamas, and Atlantis especially, has traditionally benefited from.

"I do think that will be a problem for us - I am not going to hide it. If they do approve all these mega-resort casino licenses there, it's just more casinos coming right on our doorstep.

"We have to keep working on the gaming regulations we have here, make sure they are friendly to the casinos we have here and, at the same time, we have to work on our marketing programs like anything else. You can't just roll over; you learn how to compete in a tougher market," said Mr Markantonis.

Casinos in the Bahamas have suffered significant year-over-year declines in revenue in recent times. Atlantis reported an 8 per cent decline in 2010, while Crystal Palace saw an 18.5 per cent drop. While this is in part because of sluggish tourism levels overall, industry stakeholders have consistently pointed to out-dated gaming regulations as a contributing factor in a narrowing of this nation's competitive advantage.

In March 2009, Robert Sands, then Bahamas Hotel Association president, told this newspaper he believed "radical change" would be needed to gaming regulations if the Bahamas is to maintain a competitive edge against other popular destinations.

When Mr Vanderpool-Wallace last spoke to Tribune Business in October 2010 on the subject of the reforms proposed by the hotel and gaming industry to the sector's regulatory framework, he suggested the proposals were "in front of (him) right now" and under active consideration.

The Minister suggested the Government is looking to marry its own recommendations that it believes will be "even more beneficial" to Bahamian casino gaming with those proposed by the private sector, as it moves to "enhance and hold on to the significant competitive advantages" this nation has.

January 24, 2011


Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Bahamas' economy ranked 46th in a listing of the world's freest economies

Bahamas: 46th in list of world's freest economies

A "poor trade regime" and "intrusive" bureaucracy prevented the Bahamas from ranking higher on this year's Index of Economic Freedom.

The Bahamas' economy ranked 46th in a listing of the world's freest economies according to the Heritage Foundation's 2011 Index of Economic Freedom.

The Bahamas also ranked eighth out of 29 countries in the South and Central America/Caribbean region with its overall score, coming in higher than the regional and world averages, said the website.

The country's overall score - or economic freedom - came in at 68 "due primarily to higher scores in fiscal freedom, government spending, and monetary freedom", according to data collected by the research and educational institution.

However a "poor trade regime remains one of the most cumbersome challenges," said the think tank.

The report added that "an abundance of tariff and non-tariff barriers continues to create a costly trade burden."

"Intrusively bureaucratic approval processes hinder investment freedom and undermine development of a more vibrant private sector," the organisation said.

The Bahamas scored 55 in freedom from corruption due to ongoing software, music and movie piracy, and reports that drug trafficking and money laundering involve police, coast guard, and other government employees.

"Violent crime has escalated sharply. Even though internet gambling is illegal, many online gambling sites are reportedly based in the Bahamas, sometimes using internet caf├ęs as fronts. The Bahamas has neither signed nor ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption," noted the survey.

Business freedom was ranked at 72.5 out of 100, and while the report said that the Bahamas' regulatory environment is advantageous to private-sector development, "the process for obtaining a business licence is not always transparent and straightforward, and officials have considerable discretionary power". Government recently passed a new Business Licence Act - which came into force on January 1 - aimed at streamlining the process for applying for a business licence and removing the red tape involved.

Trade freedom and investment freedom scored the lowest coming in at 42.2 and 30 respectively.

"High tariffs and a stamp tax on most imports, high duties that protect a few agricultural items and consumer goods, occasional import bans, and some import licencing and permits add to the cost of trade," noted the report. "Ten points were deducted from the Bahamas' trade freedom score to account for non-tariff barriers."

Investment freedom got the lowest scoring due to the many areas of business reserved solely for Bahamians and the barriers for international investors.

The Heritage Foundation is a think-tank based in Washington, DC which defines economic freedom as "the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property".

The Foundation measures ten components of economic freedom - business freedom, trade freedom, fiscal freedom, government spending, monetary freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, property rights, freedom from corruption, and labour freedom - using a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 represents the maximum freedom.

These scores are then averaged to give an overall economic freedom score for each country.

Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia were the top three countries respectively, while the United States placed ninth with an overall score of 77.8.

January 22, 2011


Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) seeks to resolve candidates dispute in the Kennedy and South Beach constituencies

PLP seeks to resolve candidates dispute
Deputy News Editor

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has decided to appoint two 10-member committees to assist in bringing resolution to candidate disputes in the Kennedy and South Beach constituencies, The Nassau Guardian has learned.

The party made the move at its National General Council (NGC) meeting Thursday night at PLP headquarters, party sources said. Upset PLPs raised the issue that the proper process had not been followed, the sources said, leading to the ratification of candidates for those constituencies.

In December, the PLP announced Bahamas Nurses Union president Cleola Hamilton as its South Beach candidate and attorney Dion Smith as its Kennedy candidate.

However, the Kennedy branch recommended attorney Derek Ryan to the party and South Beach’s branch recommended attorney Myles Laroda. The PLP’s constitution calls for the appointment of committees when there are discrepancies between who the party selects as a candidate and who the branch recommends.

The PLP’s constitution says that when there is a conflict between the recommendation of the branch and the decision of the party’s candidates committee, a joint meeting should be held including the branch and 10 members of the NGC appointed by the party chairman in consultation with the leader.

That meeting would be charged with “amicably” resolving the matter and reporting to the PLP leader.

This had not been done when Hamilton and Smith were announced as candidates.



Friday, January 21, 2011

The Bahamian public is growing weary of the public relations exercises of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF)...

Operation PR?
thenassauguardian editorial

Not long after ending a record-breaking year for murders, The Bahamas has started 2011 on the same sorrowful note.

Criminals have continued their merciless assault. And while murders continue to grab headlines, there have already for the year also been numerous reports of shootings, stabbings, armed robberies and other serious crimes.

Added to this has been an obvious rise in the fear of crime among citizens, many of whom will probably never be victims.

This state of crisis has placed untold pressure on Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade, whose first year at the helm of the Royal Bahamas Police Force has perhaps been the most challenging of his career.

Greenslade and his team are pressured to act.

So it came as no surprise when this week armed squads of officers hit the streets of New Providence in their first major crackdown for 2011.

While the force should be supported and commended for its efforts to keep our communities safe, we wonder if “Operation Rapid Strike” — as the commissioner dubbed it — is little more than a public relations initiative designed to help ease the anxiety that has gripped so many residents.

It seemed foolhardy for the commissioner to announce the operation before it happened, and may have amounted to a message to criminals to go into hiding along with their deadly weapons until the commissioner announces the end of Rapid Strike.

On Wednesday, reporters were called to a news conference at police headquarters to watch the weapon-toting squads hop into their vehicles and fan out across New Providence.

It was obviously intended to send the message of a strong police force with a police chief totally in control of the situation.

But did it?

Greenslade said he was pleased to announce to the public that the operation was in response to the numerous reports of murders, shootings, stabbings and other serious crimes.

“This operation has as its main objective the mission to seek out persons involved in murders, armed robberies, possession of illegal firearms, stealing of vehicles, stabbings, break-ins and all other criminal activity,” he said, adding that suspects in recent murders were being specially targeted.

Greenslade pledged to restore peace and civility to our communities, and added that citizens should be “elated that we have heard from them in a very real way and that we have pulled out, as we said, all the stops.”

But it seemed that police may have risked giving away the element of surprise, unless of course the commissioner assumed that the criminals are not prone to watching the evening news.

The force must be at war with the criminal element in a way more forceful than at any other time in our post-Independence history.

In war, the enemy needs no notice.

We certainly hope that Rapid Strike was more than just a show for the cameras, and a headline-grabbing initiative.

We await the final outcome of this special operation. On its first night, 14 people were taken into custody for various alleged offenses. The commissioner must now ensure that proper cases are put together against those detained. Our force is good at arresting but not as good at case preparation.

We think in future it might be best for the commissioner to send his armed squads out without the glare of the cameras and report on the results once the operation has ended.

The public is growing weary of the public relations exercises of the police force. A result-oriented approach might be more welcomed.


thenassauguardian editorial

Allow Bahamians To Buy 100% of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company Limited (BTC) and Let Competition Reign!

By Dennis Dames

About eleven years ago, my wife, along with hundreds of BaTelCo employees, accepted the company’s severance package; the deal was, according to my understanding, to prepare the entity for privatization.

That was sometime in 1999. This is now 2011, and the people’s government of the day has selected a candidate to purchase a 51% stake in the ailing BTC. The masses should be delighted about the good news; but ruckus has clouded the issue at hand and the nation has become bitterly divided over this simple matter.

Okay, let Bahamians buy the entire BTC (100%) and liberalize the market forthwith. Let competition reign!

No one in this 21st century Bahamas should have a problem with that. After selling BTC to Bahamians and giving other Bahamians a chance to compete with it, I wonder what the noise in the market would be then.

Let’s go that route, and give the consumers an immediate choice as to which telecommunication company that they would prefer doing business with; just like the local radio stations that we choose to patronize.

We have had a fax-line problem at our office lately, and it took five different technicians from BTC, on five separate visits to remedy the problem. What a national disgrace!

This is what the unions are fighting to keep; pure incompetence alive at the public’s expense.

It’s time for The Bahamas government to divorce itself of this ineptitude 100% as far as BTC is concerned. So, sell it to Bahamians with money to burn and liberalize the market simultaneously for other Bahamians to capitalize on BTC’s uselessness.

I can’t wait to see the unions demonstrate against Bahamians and competition. Then we shall see their real motives clearly; and that is to protect their lot of backward comrades.

Bahamas Blog International

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) has a credibility problem

Concerning Police Credibility
The Bahama Journal Editorial

There is ample evidence coming in to support a tentative conclusion that, a crime onslaught that has become endemic now threatens to undermine all efforts aimed at building today’s Bahamas on a sounder, more decent and truly honest set of foundations.

The elementary fact of the matter, then, is that our nation’s location and configuration lend support to the thesis that the Bahamas is in truth and in fact a smugglers’ paradise.

And so, in a dreadful kind of way, our country might well be that kind of place where when all else fails, the drugs trade and other smuggling type operations kick in by default, so to speak.

In addition, there is also –as most business owners and operators know so very well – a culture of thievery that is today pervasive; a space where apparently hard-working men and women routinely rip-off their employers.

This culture –so we are told- also pervades some rotten elements in the Police Force, the Customs Service, Immigration, the Prison Service – and other areas of the public service.

And then, there remains all that bounty that accrues to the vast majority of both public and private sector workers who steal time; and who therefore get paid for work they have not done.

This also applies to some of our police officers.

Some of this quite neatly explains how it arises that some of our fellow-Bahamians seem to be doing so very well in what are said to be ‘hard times’.

Indeed, there is a smattering of evidence to suggest that some of these people are benefitting from pain and suffering being endured by their hard-working, decent and also law-abiding brothers and sisters.

Clearly, then, our country is today reeling under hammer blows inflicted by criminals who are currently engaged in an orgy of mayhem – some of which comes packaged in with all that information concerning the rate at which homicide now makes the news.

Notwithstanding some of the bad news coming in, this country of ours owes some of its hard-working police officers – particularly some who now work on the front-lines; those nasty spaces where violence is rampant and where death sometimes approaches in a blazing instance of gun-fire unleashed.

Clearly, some of these fine officers are doing all they can to live up to the challenge inherent in the pledge they made to uphold the law.

We have absolutely no problem with these fine men; and indeed, we wish them well.
Our problem with the Force is today otherwise.

Here we would respectfully suggest that, whether officials in the Ministry of National Security or some in the top brass of the Royal Bahamas Police Force realize it or not, they have on their hands a problem of credibility.

Simply put, there are very many Bahamians who are convinced that, some police officers are corrupt; that some others are grossly inefficient – and that some of the reports they bring in to their senior officers are artful fabrications.

In addition, there are some Bahamians [perhaps a hardy minority of them] who are prepared to suggest that these bad apples [as they are sometimes deemed] are salted throughout the ranks of the force.

We have no reason to believe otherwise.

And for sure, while we have no way of proving any of the allegations made by people who speak to us, we do believe that, there is cause for concern.

That concern is grounded in the fact that, corrupted officers do a mass of damage not only to those of their fellow-officers who are honest, decent and law-abiding – but also to all other right-thinking and behaving residents and citizens living and work in this country.

Here the Police Commissioner might be minded to suggest to each and every police officer under his command should come clean even if as the saying goes, they have to come ‘rough-dry’.

Put simply, zero tolerance for any and all police misbehavior –whether or not that behavior reaches the level of ‘criminal’ wrong-doing - must become the mantra of the police high command, moving forward.

Anything else would be tantamount to failure.

Curiously, we now live in a place and in a time when such slogans and other palaver routinely slides off the lips of this or that highly-placed official; with absolutely no real effect on behavior on the ground.

Here we can recite so very many stories –most of them coming from usually impeccable sources – that speak of instances where police on routine patrol just as routinely shake down Haitian nationals and some equally unlucky others.

Indeed, we are hearing say that some Haitians in our midst are being bilked of some of their money by police officers on the take.

Today that beat continues; and as it does, the credibility of the Force is being further undermined.

January 20, 2011

The Bahama Journal Editorial

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Policy makers are urged to produce a coherent national development strategy with opportunities for public input and debate... Urgently

A Clash of Economic Models for the Bahamas
by Larry Smith


"As I watch these students and their families, all so proud of their accomplishments, I cannot help but feel sorry for them...How will they feel about themselves in this tourist industry, playing the role of servant so clearly constructed as being part of the nature of Bahamian culture." -- Dellareese Higgs, 2008 doctoral dissertation

“It is clearly the case that, as a result of tourism, the Bahamas is chronically dependent.” -- Felix Bethel, College of the Bahamas lecturer

“Tourism is a form of ‘leisure imperialism’ and represents ‘the hedonistic’ face of neocolonialism." - Malcolm Crick, British anthropologist

"While direct travel services generated $1.8 billion in export earnings, the economy spent $1.9 billion on the purchase of merchandise imports. it could be suggested that in the (Stafford Sands) model, the state of foreign reserves is in fact the economy’s ultimate monetary target." -- Gabriella Fraser, researcher at the Central Bank of the Bahamas, 2001

"Because of our addictive reliance on foreign investment our appreciation for Bahamian genius is negligible and in so doing we are oppressing Bahamians....Our economic model perpetuates an economic apartheid." -- Olivia Saunders, College of the Bahamas lecturer

"One can argue that Bahamian national pride is to a degree a product of brochure discourse, of touristic marketing; that much of what Bahamians love about their country is what travellers and the tourist industry claim is worth loving." -- Ian Strachan, College of the Bahamas lecturer

"The world seems to be divided between people who predict rain and people who build arks. We know which one is easier. Let them continue to predict rain in the face of these opportunities. We will work with those who are in the business of building arks." -- Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, Minister of Tourism

The preceding series of quotes (except for the last one) is fairly representative of the intellectual discourse over tourism, economics and identity that rages from time to time in the academic and cultural world, both here and abroad.

Interestingly, this normally esoteric debate was thrown into sharp relief last week when Tourism Minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace and College of the Bahamas lecturer Olivia Saunders delivered diametrically opposing views at the Bahamas Business Outlook conference on Cable Beach. The theme of the conference was economic diversification.

This discussion began with a description of our current economic model. What is often described as the "Stafford Sands model" for ease of reference, is really just an updated version of the oppressive 19th century colonial system, critics say. It is a typical dependency model, which was fashioned long before Sands was born. And it needs to be overthrown.

Olivia Saunders said the creation of the Development Board in 1914 formalised earlier promotional efforts by paying foreigners to bring tourists into the colony and to develop hotels. In the 1930s, promoters like Harold Christie started selling Bahamian land to wealthy foreigners for second homes and other investments. The influx of foreign capital was driven by the absence of taxes on earnings. And all this set the country largely on the course it travels today.

Although Sands was not the originator of this model, he did take advantage of the global economic recovery after the Second World War to dramatically expand tourism and financial services. Rapid economic growth in the 1950s and 60s was partly due to unprecedented promotional spending to position The Bahamas as a year-round tourist destination.

Saunders summed it up like this: "The Bahamian economic model is designed for the country to relinquish responsibility for its resources and the commanding heights of its economy. It is one where the role of the residents is to provide labour and to be consumers while the owners of the economy, foreign nationals and a small minority of locals, amass great wealth.

This was a model that ensured underdevelopment of our human resources, she said. "We maintain a tax and incentive regime that not only favours the foreign investor but oppresses Bahamians...An economy so designed does not have much need for a local intelligentsia...It is disastrous for us to continue using the present economic model of dependence and economic apartheid."

Saunders offered a vague three-point plan to address these issues. First, leverage the abilities of Bahamians who have the aptitude and expertise to own and operate anything that is vital to nation-building. Second, ensure that Bahamian capital and resources benefit Bahamians rather than foreigners. And third, accept that our current economic model is dysfunctional and incapable of producing the results we need.

"Human beings are more than workers and consumers, and policy makers should not measure how well the nation is doing by how many jobs arise from this or that project or how many cars are purchased," she said to standing ovations from some in the audience. "My advocacy is for a new economy so fashioned that it portrays and liberates Bahamian brilliance; an economy that is congruent with healthy and sustainable communities, and an economy that extends wealth to Bahamian citizens."

Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace offered a different approach. While acknowledging that tourism was facing "stiff headwinds" due to a longer than expected recession, "what is often forgotten is that the most diversified economies on earth are not only going through the same troubles we are, these highly diversified economies are in fact the source of our troubles. And several American states and European countries are now in deeper trouble than The Bahamas has ever seen in recent times."

According to the minister, "any initiatives to grow our economy in the short and long term must be grounded in activities that arise from making existing and accepted strengths stronger, because we know that any effort that requires massive training and retraining of our population, while noble, is for the medium and longer term and is less certain. So yes, I believe in diversification, but not necessarily diversification in the way that consumes so much debate."

He went on to cite statistics that may surprise some readers. For example, if Nassau and Paradise Island were a separate country, it would rank fifth in the number of stopover visitors, second in the number of total visitors and first in the number of cruise passengers in the entire Caribbean. Yet these two connected islands are less than 2 per cent of the total Bahamian land mass.

"Today, this 2 per cent 'country' would be the third wealthiest independent nation in the hemisphere," he said. "If fully developing only 2 per cent of our islands yields these results, imagine what could happen if we began to utilize more of our natural assets. If we want to diversify, why not diversify like Toyota did in extending their brands of cars? Why not diversify within one’s areas of strength and comparative advantage?"

As we all know, the Bahamas is right next door to the United States, which constitutes 25 per cent of the global economy - a proportion that is likely to remain relatively stable for the foreseeable future despite the growth of emerging economies like Brazil, Russia, India and China. Collectively, these nations account for less than 12 per cent of global GDP today.

Vanderpool-Wallace pointed out that despite our proximity to the world's largest economy, "it is much less expensive and takes less time to travel from most places in the US to most competing destinations in the Caribbean than it does to travel to any of our Family Islands. Reducing the cost and time for travel to our islands will most assuredly lead to explosive growth and can turn our economy from the wind in our face to the wind at our backs."

This will also make domestic travel for Bahamians much more appealing compared to the current cost advantages of a trip to south Florida, he said. "The power of low-cost, high-quality air and sea transportation is no longer a debate in our industry. Our Companion Fly Free programme has been the most successful promotion in history, selling nearly 300,000 room nights, and the growth of our cruise business by more than 18 per cent last year is adequate testimony to the value of low-cost access to a Bahamas vacation."

While Nassau and Paradise Island teeter on overdevelopment, Vanderpool-Wallace noted that we have failed to provide adequate inter-island transportation, and argued that "Infrastructure development in an archipelago depends as much on connections between islands as it does on infrastructure on islands."

He advanced a "mission to the moon" vision in which Bahamians living on nearby islands like Eleuthera or Andros would commute to work in Nassau as we begin to develop the other 98 per cent of the Bahamas more completely. "Such commutes are done every day around the world. Why not The Bahamas? Our overall mission must be to go back to the islands through the expansion of inter-island transportation and communications services."

He envisioned a future where containers arriving at the new port on Arawak Cay can roll off vessels and roll onto trucks for transportation to other islands to deliver goods to the resident population, returning to Nassau with farm produce. And passengers would be able to take their personal vehicles with them to travel through the archipelago. This will accelerate the use of first and second homes in the islands and "make that globally desired idea of living and loving the island life immensely more accessible and attractive."

Efforts are already underway, he said, to establish an electronic booking system for all of the air and sea transportation within The Bahamas so that residents and visitors can book and pay for their transportation from anywhere on the planet to anywhere in The Bahamas. Currently, visitors have to go to airports and seaports to make those arrangements in most cases.

"Imagine all of the land, sea and air transportation throughout The Bahamas owned and operated by Bahamians. Imagine the size of aircraft and volume of seats coming into Lynden Pindling International Airport if substantial numbers of those passengers are also connecting to other islands of The Bahamas."

He said the government's online initiatives and a robust telecommunications sector were essential ingredients of this “Back to the Islands” vision. And all that is required for Bahamians to be successful in tourism are “bed & breakfast” facilities that can be viewed and booked online from anywhere in the world along with the necessary air and sea transportation.

"When those difficulties are overcome, we can enable hundreds to enter the tourism business immediately all over the country. And incentives could be offered to Bahamians now living overseas or on New Providence to move to the Family Islands. The largest incentive thus far is the government’s declaration that it will tackle the problem of generation and commonage land," he said. "That will be the greatest distribution of wealth in our history."

While broader diversification of the economy is a wonderful mantra, Vanderpool-Wallace said the exploitation of our existing tourism assets will be more beneficial over the short term. "Tourism cannot grow without other sectors contributing to that growth and growing themselves. It needs agricultural, legal, accounting, medical, engineering and software services. The more useful mantra is that one must compete in one's area of comparative and competitive advantage. We have not come close to making maximum use of tourism."

Quoting motivational trainer Steven Covey's comment that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing", Vanderpool-Wallace said our main thing was "100,000 square miles of the most salubrious waters in the world. If we continue to guard and protect that resource, it does not diminish in size or value over the course of time, unlike the natural resources of many other nations. We have more islands and more beaches than the rest of the Caribbean combined.

"We are now at the beginning of the biggest educational, transportation and electronic infrastructure development in our history," he said. "This is the beginning of the wave to move us all forward, upward and onward together. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, now is the time to give focused attention to the development of our islands."

The contrast between Vanderpool-Wallace's common sense vision of empowerment and the bitter, near Marxist, approach of academics like Saunders could not be more marked. We would urge policy makers to extrapolate this vision, and incorporate other sectors, to urgently produce a coherent national development strategy with opportunities for public input and debate.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A heavy focus is placed on stemming the flow of illegal drugs into The Bahamas... the same must be given to stopping the influx of illegal guns

Gun trafficking and murder in The Bahamas
thenassauguardian editorial

On Monday, The Nassau Guardian in its National Review section published some revealing figures on the homicide rate in the Caribbean.

Out of 15 countries in the region, The Bahamas had the fifth highest homicide rate last year, with 29 homicides per 100,000 people.

The international homicide standard that countries seek to be at or under is 5 per 100,000.

The Bahamas recorded a total of 96 homicides last year, and along with the vast majority of other countries in the region is far off that mark set by the United Nations.

While the latest statistics on gun killings in The Bahamas are not available, it is reasonable to state that the vast majority of killings and armed robberies in the country are done using handguns. A special license is needed to possess a handgun.

So how are these guns getting into the country and what is being done about it?

The Bahamas has reasonably strict laws when it comes to gun ownership. They are among the toughest in the region. A genuine reason must be given to obtain a firearm licence, an applicant must pass background checks, there is a limit on the number of guns any one person is permitted to possess, there is a limit on the quantity of ammunition, and gun owners must re-apply and re-qualify for a firearm license every 12 months, among other regulations.

The maximum penalty for illicit possession of firearms is five years imprisonment and a fine of $10,000.

Local law enforcement agencies must ensure that constant surveillance initiatives are conducted to break up gun smuggling operations to and through The Bahamas.

The government must be commended for putting in place additional tools and key personnel in the battle against violent crime; however, the gun laws on the books must be enforced, and amended where needed.

The government and judiciary should also consider re-establishing a ‘gun court’ in order to expedite the trials of suspects of such offenses.

If we can help stay the flow of guns into the country surely we can impact the troubling homicide rate.

A heavy focus is placed on stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the country, the same focus must be given to stopping the flow of illegal guns.

Special legislation is also needed to punish those found in possession of illegal assault rifles and machine guns. These are weapons of war. Those who use these weapons are usually involved in the drug trade. It would seem reasonable to incarcerate these individuals for a period of up to ten years if they are found on our streets with such weapons.


thenassauguardian editorial

Monday, January 17, 2011

...wishes and desires for The Bahamas moving forward - 2011 and beyond

My wish list for the Bahamas in 2011

WHILE 2010 was a roller coaster year, featuring a myriad of sleaze, an upsurge in violent crimes, mediocre national exam results and, in other instances, nationally recognized accomplishments and highlights, 2011 provides the nation with yet another blank slate in determining its future and proposes to also be an eventful year of high drama in the political arena as a general election draweth nigh.

Last year, the country was beleaguered by crime and an influx of illegal immigrants and saw an upsurge in the unemployment rate. This new year, I've decided to state a few of my wishes and desires for the Bahamas moving forward.

Firstly, the Bahamas' educational system desperately needs to be revamped. The government, parents and educators must all begin to think outside of the box, particularly since our current educational set-up is producing hordes of arithmetically-challenged, illiterate graduates who are soon expected to manage our country's affairs.

This New Year, we must make a conscious, courteous, curt effort to assist and encourage our student population in a united thrust to strive to increase the national GPA from a D to a C. Frankly, I am not an advocate of standardized tests. I firmly believe that while some students may perform well academically, standardized tests cannot measure the full range of the multiple intelligences.

Standardized tests are also criticized for tending to be outdated as a curriculum changes, failing to assess an adequate sample of skills and for failing to meet the standards of their own field, among several other criticisms. The ministry must align the curriculum with the development needs of the country in order to imbue a strong sense of self, speak to nation-building, address the question of self-reliance and entrepreneurship, teach the Constitution, etcetera.

Only the most scholarly of students, in my opinion, should be permitted to sit the BGCSE/BJC exams. To truly diversify and establish a more comprehensive educational system, the government and private entities should also construct technical and vocational schools to teach the less bookish, academically-disinclined students a trade/skill.

It is a misconception to assume that every Bahamian is studious enough to become a doctor, lawyer, educator, or to attend university. There will always be a need for repairmen, handymen, plumbers, masons and so on. At grade nine, teachers and administrators should be able to gauge a student's abilities, and thereby separate the more scholarly students from those with technical and vocational leanings.

Furthermore, consideration should be given to establishing a pilot programme, where male and female students are educated at separate schools/classes. This possibly will revolutionize education and lead to greater productivity, as students of both sexes would have fewer distractions and spend less time seeking to impress one another.

Moreover, classrooms must be outfitted with cable tv/internet to foster interactive learning!

One wish is that this new year, a greater number of parents positively become involved in their children's lives, whilst also constructively reinforcing the lessons learnt at school.

This year, with a newly instated president, the evolution of the College of the Bahamas (COB) to a university must be at the vanguard in advancing the national education system. The transition of the college to university will not only foster academic and intellectual leadership but also assist the country with small island sustainability issues and foster economic diversification. Indeed, a university is a "living" system and grows in response to, or alongside, national development.

Will crime escalate to the point that the US blacklists the country as Jamaica has been done?

Going forward, Bahamians must strive for greater social cohesion and partake in community drives to reduce violent crimes. The past year was the third consecutive record-breaking year for murders and rapes, resulting in the Bahamas being listed high atop the listing of countries--per capita-- where rapes and heinous murders are frequent. We must return to being our brother's keepers.

The government must formally articulate its position on capital punishment. There appears to be a lack of political will relative to the reading of death warrants, which would usher in the finalization of legal appeals so that convicted murderers can receive their court-ordered, just desserts. After a suspect is convicted of murder and sentenced to death, the Police Commissioner should immediately be summoned to read his death warrant, particularly if he has exhausted all appeals. As it relates to capital punishment, the law --as entrenched in the Constitution--must be carried out.

Moreover, a witness protection programme must be established to protect state witnesses who are being bumped off which, as a result, has left many Bahamians afraid to testify about crimes seen.

Much more must also be done to combat human trafficking.

Regardless of the noble fight of drug enforcement officers, is it ever possible for the Bahamas, considering our geographic location, to be removed from the majors list (top 20 countries) of illicit drug-producing or drug-transit countries?

In the fight against crime and other social ills, the Bahamas Christian Council must lead by example, focusing more upon community outreach programmes in helping to curb crime, assisting the poor, socializing our people and playing an active role in the lives of citizens, instead of the usual utterances, self-aggrandizing gambits and apparent politically driven mandates. (This does not apply to Rev CB Moss, who is in the trenches and doing a commendable job).

I continue to await any serious, long-term proposals for sustainable tourism. Our tourism product must be reinvigorated to highlight the distinction and indigenous nature of this country's tourism product when compared to any other country in the wider Caribbean, targeting new markets and nurturing wider market share and by incorporating a focus on regional and Latin American tourism.

Considering the spate of violent crime and other social issues, in 2011 more emphasis must be placed on implementing mental health programmes and a plan to confront rampant alcoholism and drug abuse. Furthermore, I look forward to the broadening of the healthcare coverage--particularly for the elderly and indigent--of the national prescription drug plan!

This year, when electioneering is sure to spring into in high gear, I trust that both major political parties would move forward with the people's agenda, scrupulously working towards bettering the Bahamas instead of squabbling over semantics and other trivial, rather foolish barbs.

Will there be an early election called this year or will the election go on as scheduled for 2012? In the 2008, both parties should begin looking towards the future and start preparing the next generation's leaders to succeed the current head honchos, as no party presently seems to have any plans in place to ensure a smooth transition from one leader to another without there seeming to be a leadership void.

Greater efforts must be made to diversify the economy. We must gradually begin shifting from tourism to other industries or we will become a nation of overly dependent, virtual slaves.

The government must encourage the local entrepreneurial spirit and foster economic diversification through a variation of different industries such as farming, fishing, gaming, research and development, manufacturing and so on. I was pleased to see that the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources recognition of the urgent need to resurrect agriculture and fisheries has, in conjunction with FAO consultants, led to the creation of the first five-year development plan for agriculture and fisheries. In 2011, it is expected that the initial phases of this plan will materialize!

Indeed, this year it is hoped that the rate of unemployment--which skyrocketed during the economic recession--and the country's national debt be reduced.

With a general election on the horizon, it is my fervent hope that the government maintains its position relative to the new straw market, ensuring that the products sold at the market should also be 100 per cent Bahamian-made and the market's occupants are either Bahamian or legally allowed to work in this country. Moreover, regardless of the political pressure, the government must maintain its position to no longer subsidize vendors, but instead require each purveyor to pay a fair rent and a maintenance fee.

The influx of illegal immigrants, particularly Haitians, must be more vigorously tackled.

Since yesterday was the commemoration of the one year anniversary of the tragic earthquake in Haiti, I'm anxious to hear the government's account of what happened to those illegal Haitian immigrants who were released from the Detention Centre for a six month amnesty following the catastrophic event.

This year, the implementation of more stringent laws/regulations to manage the construction of future projects along beachfronts is imperative. Furthermore, more work must be done to protect coral reefs, mangroves and wetlands; greater monitoring must be undertaken relative to developments on private islands/cays, of cruise ships and the disposal of waste products in our territorial waters; attention must be paid to national parks and those foreign sports fishermen who enter under the guise of gaming, but purportedly leave the country with coolers filled with an illegal catch; and there must be more of a concerted effort to address the environmental impact of climate change, particularly as the Bahamas is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world.

Let's face it, one way or the other, BTC must be sold! Even more, corporations such as BEC, Water and Sewerage and Bahamasair should be privatized and demonopolised as well as they are (particularly the latter three) pecuniary albatrosses and a burden to taxpayers. It is time to end all monopolies afforded to local service providers to encourage competition and better services!

Will Cable Bahamas ever fulfil its contract for cable television/internet to the Family Islands since many islands do not yet have cable or only has its services in certain areas? When will Cable Bahamas bring its services to the residents of north Long Island?

Lastly, when will the Family Islands, which are in desperate need of economic upliftment, be a greater priority on the government's agenda?

January 14, 2011


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) Privatisation: 1999 to 2011

Privatisation of BTC: from 1999 to 2011

"What I've found out about change is that when you propose it

people don't want it, when you are doing it it's hell, and afterwards

they think it's always been like that."

- former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

IN EARLY 2008, about 10 months after the last general election, the Ingraham government appointed a new privatisation committee (headed by bankers T. B. Donaldson and Julian Francis), with a mandate to find a buyer for the Bahamas Telecommunications Company as soon as possible.

This was a goal that had been pursued ever since the FNM first came to power in 1992. In fact, even before then the Pindling regime had been seeking to divest state assets that were draining the treasury. By the early 90s the PLP had decided to offload government-owned hotels. And believe it or not, they also had confidential talks with Cable & Wireless about a stake in BaTelCo.

Privatisation continued to be pursued by the PLP during its most recent term in office, from 2002 to 2007. Although the Christie administration eventually cancelled the auction launched by the FNM, they went on to start their own process, and agreed (just before the 2007 election) to sell BTC to Bluewater Ventures, a foreign firm with an uncertain ownership and no operating history.

But the incoming FNM government could find no evidence that a deal had been finalised, although Bluewater - in the shape of American executive John Gregg and PLP politico/lawyer Brave Davis - insisted that the Christie cabinet had shaken hands on an agreement. In mid-2008, the Ingraham administration relaunched the privatisation process, eventually paying Bluewater $1.9 million to cover its out-of-pocket costs.


This was surely a damnable waste of money, but the reasoning behind it was clear. The policy had always been to sell a stake in BTC to a major strategic partner - a company with the technical expertise, operating record, and bulk purchasing power needed to take the corporation to another level. There was no interest in selling to someone who merely had the financial capacity to buy.

In 1999, during the first privatisation exercise, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said that if the government simply transferred ownership of BTC to its employees, the corporation would go out of business as soon as it faced real competition. A strategic partner, he said, would enable BTC to compete and move forward in a transformed market.

"We seek to privatise BTC in the national interest," Ingraham said a decade ago, "and we have sought a phased approach to ensure minimal disruption." More recently he said: "We told Bahamians from day one that it was not possible to continue to have a monopoly in the telephone business and we established policies to prepare ourselves. There are hundreds and hundreds of people employed in the telecoms sector who were not so employed before we began to liberalise the market."

Before the government began downsizing BaTelCo in the mid-90s, the corporation had accumulated a workforce of 2100 to accomplish what experts said should require only a few hundred. And this padded payroll was clearly reflected in BaTelCo's dismal performance up to that point.

In 1992 the corporation's revenue was $120.3 million, with a net loss of $1.8 million that year. But after a 50 per cent reduction in staff (based on generous separation packages), BaTelCo's 2001 revenue was $226.4 million, producing a net profit of $57.3 million - almost as much as the corporation had earned over 10 years from 1982 to 1992.


In 2008, the government appointed an advisory committee to oversee the new BTC sale process, under the chairmanship of State Finance Minister Zhivago Laing. This group would formulate the final recommendations to cabinet from information presented by the privatisation committee (headed by Donaldson and Francis). The leaders of both BTC unions were full members of the advisory committee.

The advisory committee authorised a new BTC auction in mid-2009, with the publication of a notice inviting bidders to register. Qualified parties were asked for technical proposals, and the best of these were invited to submit financial bids. The privatisation committee reviewed the bids and passed them on to the advisory committee for evaluation.

At the same time, major changes to the regulatory environment were being pursued to support market liberalisation. These included legislation to set up a new Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority to govern both broadcasting and telecommunications. In short, the government was totally reforming our antiquated communications laws.

According to the April 29, 2009 minutes of the advisory committee, Minister Laing said the new legislation was the result of "a vast amount of work and represented a new era for the Bahamas" that would bring clarity to what could, and could not, be done in the telecoms industry.


At the July 13, 2009 meeting of the advisory committee, Minister Earl Deveaux recalled that during the first privatisation exercise, BTC workers rejected the decision and responded "in a way that brought great distress to the nation." He asked the union leaders for assurances that this would not be repeated. The BCPMU is the middle managers union. The BCPOU is the line staff union.

At that meeting BCPMU president William Carroll said the major issue for the unions in 1999 had been the separation packages, and that was why workers demonstrated. He added that treatment of staff should be one of the determinants for a successful bid, but went on to acknowledge that BTC employees now accepted the fact of imminent privatisation.

In response to a comment from BCPOU leader Bernard Evans that Bahamian buyers had been excluded from the process, Minister Laing said the search was for a strategic partner who would have the financial and technological resources to "take BTC to the level at which the government wanted it to be." That position did not necessarily exclude Bahamian proposals, but it was unlikely that a Bahamian group would fit the bill.

According to the minutes, Minister Carl Bethel said the government wanted a strong international connection, a company with experience in all areas of telecommunications and with the financial strength and operating platform to be able to support BTC's infrastructure and mission. He questioned whether any Bahamian entity possessed those qualities.

Minister Laing said that unlike the previous attempt, this time the government was not seeking to shape the product that was on offer, outside of its conviction that privatising BTC would be better for the country, for the economy, and ultimately for the workers. The government was reforming the regulatory environment and selling BTC as it exists today, and the role of the advisory committee was to determine the best buyer.


The BTC auction notice attracted six initial responses, and four were invited to submit bids. Only two were received by the December 11, 2009 deadline - from JPMorgan Chase's private equity arm and from Atlantic Tele-Network, a consortium that included Colina Financial Advisors. Neither was considered to have met the government's criteria.

According to minutes of the July 23, 2010 meeting, the advisory committee unanimously rejected both bids as "departing significantly in their requirements and expectations from the conditions acceptable to the government."

The committee was then informed by Julian Francis that, following its recent restructuring, Cable & Wireless had expressed an interest in BTC. While both union leaders had reservations about C&W in terms of employee relations, the advisory committee unanimously endorsed a recommendation to engage in talks with the company, which is a major regional and international telecoms operator.

In October of last year, the advisory committee met for the final time to consider the report of the working committee on its talks with Cable & Wireless. According to Julian Francis, a non-binding memorandum of understanding had been drafted that valued BTC at $400-450 million, based on a two-year exclusivity period.

"However, Cable & Wireless believes that an extension may be necessary for BTC to prepare for competition, which would be aggressive given the low threshold for investment under the new regulatory regime," Francis said. "In comparison, the Bluewater proposal was for a five-year exclusivity period for mobile, with each year being valued at between $60-70 million by the committee's advisors."


Francis said the MOU called for Cable & Wireless to produce a five-year business plan acceptable to government before a deal could be closed. This plan would spell out Bahamian involvement in the management of BTC and Cable & Wireless' international operations.

Going forward, he said, the government wanted to have a veto over remuneration, staff cuts, the sale of assets and the location of operations. According to Francis, Cable & Wireless was "convinced that BTC should be run by a Bahamian and the government had indicated that management must remain in the Bahamas."

Both union leaders reiterated their focus on job protection, but Minister Deveaux pointed out that taxpayers wanted better service. Sir William Allen, the government's economic advisor, said technology would continue to erode whatever advantages BTC currently had, even if the market was not liberalised.

With respect to workforce restructuring, BCPOU leader Bernard Evans said "voluntary separation packages are an acceptable option once the terms are suitable." Minister Laing responded that there was room for standstill, with compulsory reductions tied to the end of the exclusivity period. Both union leaders agreed that a three or four year exclusivity period would be "more manageable" in this regard.

The advisory committee agreed to recommend only voluntary staff cuts prior to the end of the exclusivity period, and urged government to extend this period "to help with job preservation in the short term." In a closing note, the October minutes recorded that the committee's recommendations would be passed to government for a final decision, with Minister Laing satisfied that that "all major issues have been discussed and agreement reached."

On December 2, the government announced the signing of the memorandum of understanding, as recommended by the advisory committee, on the same day it was signed. Talks then began to develop more precise contract language to clarify all issues. The agreement included a three-year exclusivity period for mobile and a voluntary workforce restructuring.


But within days of that announcement, the two union leaders and the PLP had begun a drumbeat of opposition to the deal - which was already 13 years too late. "This is just not the right time," said BCPOU leader Evans. "We don't support Cable & Wireless - period." He insisted that separation packages offered to workers should be more than BTC employees got in 1999 (which cost the country some $90 million), and should be enough to last workers a lifetime.

According to the prime minister, "the PLP agreed just before the election to sell BTC to a foreigner, who some think was fronting for some of them. And they never told the public a single word that they agreed to sell BTC. The reality is that the union and the PLP are at one in their fight against this exercise. And you can figure out why the PLP, which agreed to sell to a one-man show, is now opposed to selling to a $2.5 billion publicly traded company that operates around the world.

As the minutes of the advisory committee show, the plain fact is that the union leaders were part and parcel of the entire privatisation process, and after seeking concessions from the government they signed off on the major components of the memorandum of understanding.

"We went out of our way to protect jobs at BTC to the public's disadvantage," the prime minister told a meeting in Grand Bahama recently. "As night follows day, rates are high because BTC has more people employed than they need, and they are seeking to protect what they have because there's plenty juice there for them."

As for the prospects of general strike similar to that which occurred in 1958, it seems clear that the BTC unions' action is a greedy attempt on the part of special interests to hold the nation to ransom rather than a struggle for democracy. And as for the question of Bahamian as opposed to foreign ownership, why hasn't this been raised before?

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January 12, 2011


Saturday, January 15, 2011

FNMs against the Free National Movement (FNM) Government's Policy on the Proposed Sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) to Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC)

FNMs speaking out against party policy
thenassauguardian editorial

It was surprising to read published comments by two Free National Movement (FNM) members this week on the sale of the majority stake in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) to Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC).

Bamboo Town MP Branville McCartney said he would wait to see the memorandum of understanding the government signed with CWC, as well as the details of the proposed sale, before he gives his support in Parliament.

“I cannot make a decision without having the facts,” McCartney said to The Nassau Guardian on Tuesday. “I don’t have all of the facts.”

The government has promised to make all the details of the proposed deal public before it comes up for debate in the House of Assembly.

“Once all the facts are in hand, I’ll be able to make a decision as to whether or not it’s the right thing to do or otherwise,” McCartney added.

FNM Vice-chairman Darron Cash, who is a former party senator, wrote a long opinion piece that was published in The Guardian on Monday. In it, Cash set out why he strongly opposes the BTC sale to CWC.

“I disagree with the government’s proposed action. I believe it is wrong for the country,” said Cash.

“This decision sells the country short. It is a betrayal of future generations, and like a bad stock on BISX—in which you have little confidence—the government is selling the next generation (my generation) short.”

Cash then used more than 5,000 words to explain why he disagrees with the deal.

Hubert Ingraham has run his FNM in a different manner than Perry Christie has run the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). PLPs have regularly criticized Christie and the party publicly.

Ingraham’s troops are not known for this behavior. From all accounts, Ingraham, like the late Sir Lynden Pindling, ensures order is maintained by inflicting painful political consequences for dissent. Christie’s followers seem to have little fear of him.

The FNM has had a tough time in the public relations war over the sale of BTC. The union movement, the opposition and some prominent church leaders have opposed the move.

That public relations fight becomes more difficult when FNMs join the public fight against the sale. When young party members question the party’s actions, or disagree with it, the party is weakened during a war.

The danger for the FNM is that these young members of the party can do more damage to it than the PLP.

The PLP has no credibility when it comes to the BTC debate. It too wanted to sell a major chunk of BTC to foreigners.

The PLP is only protesting the CWC sale in an attempt to cause trouble for the government in the run up to the next general election. The opposition is not concerned about the real debate that has emerged surrounding privatization policy and Bahamianization.

But when FNMs speak out publicly on the issue at the risk of being savaged by the party’s leadership, it appears as if the messenger attempting to convince the country of the wisdom of the CWC sale has turned on itself.

The FNM would be wise, for its sake, to conclude the BTC deal as soon as possible. More public dissent from within the governing party will not stop the deal, but it would weaken the FNM at a time when it is attempting to convince Bahamians it should serve another term in office.


thenassauguardian editorial