Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cayman Islands officials and dive business operators were looking at Bimini in The Bahamas an example of what not to do in pitting protection of fragile marine life ...and coral reefs against mass development

Tough Lessons: Cayman Islands Looking at Bimini for What Not to Do

A leading dive hotelier in Cayman told a local TV station there Wednesday that Cayman officials and dive business operators were looking at Bimini in The Bahamas as an example of what not to do in pitting protection of fragile marine life and coral reefs against mass development.

Keith Sahm, General Manager of the world-famous Sunset House, and a lifelong diver and master instructor, said dredging in Bimini to make way for a cruise port are taking a toll on that island’s marine resources.

“Hopefully, we can learn from others’ mistakes and we won’t have that happening here in Cayman,” he said.

Mr. Sahm’s comments came in response to the signing of a $2.5 million contract for an environmental impact analysis related to a proposed cruise berthing in Cayman where along with marine resources, the study will examine traffic flow and other issues. The dredging required, Mr. Sahm said, would kick up enough sand and silt to suffocate corals, effectively wiping out Cayman’s main attraction and triggering a ripple effect that would impact the entire economy. “Once people start coming down here not to dive because everything’s washed out, dead, the taxi service, the hotels, everything will take a huge drastic hit,” he said. The widely circulated TV interview that has been circulated over the internet and among dive enthusiasts included mention of the mammoth suction cutter dredge, the 450-foot Niccolo Machiavelli, that is plowing through waters off North Bimini now even as the legal battle continues about whether or not proper permits were granted prior to work starting.

The reference to “learning from others’ mistakes” was the latest in an onslaught of criticism of the project that some maintain is simply too large for the island. Malaysian-based Genting Corp.’s Resorts World Bimini wants the cruise port in aid in driving business to its resort and casino. The company has revealed it wants to attract as many as 500,000 guests a year, disgorging cruise passengers onto an island that now has a population of about 1,700.

Warnings about the impact of dredging to accommodate cruise ships came originally in the company’s own commissioned Environmental Impact Assessment and lately, from all over the globe.

Last week, internationally respected marine artist and scientist Dr. Guy Harvey urged caution before Bimini’s reefs that some have called among the most magnificent in the world were destroyed.

“The islands of Bimini are an environmental gem and every step should be taken to conserve these resources,” Dr. Harvey said.

World record holder and TV celebrity Neal Watson expressed deep concern last week, calling the activity “a pending catastrophic event.”

“Having started the first recreational dive operation in Bimini in 1975 and still involved in promoting diving in Bimini, I am devastated by the pending catastrophic event about to occur in this diver’s paradise,” said Watson.

“This fragile ecosystem has already suffered a degree of degradation over the past 40 years, which has occurred throughout not only the Caribbean but also the entire world. However, this dredging project will cause more irreversible damage to the reefs in the next 30 days than would normally occur over the next 30 years.

“This is not just an environmental issue but an economic issue. In addition to the three top of class dive operations located in Bimini that generate millions of dollars in revenue for the hotels, marinas, restaurants, bars and merchants, Bimini is uniquely located 48 miles from South Florida, which has the largest number of registered boats as well as the largest concentration of divers in the Continental Unites States. Because of Bimini’s proximity to South Florida and its reputation as a world class dive destination it attracts hundreds of small boats that come to Bimini to dive Bimini’s incredible reefs and support the local hotels, marinas and merchants. All of this is in jeopardy,” said Watson, who holds the world record of the deepest compressed air dive, descending to 437 feet. He once swam 66 miles underwater in 19.5 hours from the Florida Keys to Miami, never surfacing. He’s been featured in People Magazine and Outside magazine, and on TV in many shows, including Inside Edition and The Today Show.

And the dive industry’s organization, DEMA, expressed similar outrage.

“A very real concern to DEMA and to all diving businesses – especially those based in nearby Florida ­– is the fact that any environmental degradation, especially of the magnitude being described in the North Bimini Ferry Terminal Project EIA and its addendum, is likely to have a negative impact on the perception of pristine diving which Bimini now holds in the minds of diving consumers,” said California-based DEMA president Tom Ingram.

“As a result of this project, it is possible that the number of divers visiting Bimini will decline dramatically as public perception develops regarding this project’s potential environmental impact.”

Thousands have signed a petition urging the government of The Bahamas to enact a Freedom of Information Act and an Environmental Protection Act that they say, had they been in place, would have allowed public consultation before a project of this proportion was undertaken and might very well have prevented dredging that is predicted to cause irreparable damage, according to the company’s own Environmental Impact Assessment.

May 22, 2014

Save The Bays

Friday, May 23, 2014

Privy Council in London granted Bimini Blue Coalition's injunction application ...stopping dredging activities in Bimini

Privy Council Grants Injunction To Stop Dredging

Tribune Staff Reporter

In a stunning new development, the Privy Council in London today granted Bimini Blue Coalition's injunction application stopping dredging activities from continuing in Bimini, reversing a decision by the Bahamas Court of Appeal on Monday.

The injunction is effective immediately. As consequence, Resorts World Bimini developers cannot dredge unless and until they can persuade the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court that the permit they have was properly granted with proper consideration by the Director of Physical Planning and that additional conditions are satisfied.

Dredging activities in Bimini began over a week ago.

May 23, 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

...households would ultimately be better off with value-added tax (VAT) compared to payroll tax

VAT better than payroll tax, Oxford Economics finds

Guardian Staff Reporter

While the introduction of value-added tax (VAT) would slow the economy down and result in a “surge in inflation” in the short-term, households would ultimately be better off with VAT compared to payroll tax, according to a new study by Oxford Economics.

The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) and the Coalition for Responsible Taxation commissioned the report.

The report, titled “An assessment of the macroeconomic implications of alternative strategies for deficit reduction in The Bahamas”, examined four models of VAT and two models of payroll tax over a 10-year forecast.

The government has said VAT, which was originally proposed to be introduced on July 1 at a rate of 15 percent, will be delayed and introduced at a lower rate, although the exact date or rate has not been announced.

Among the report’s key findings is that introducing VAT at a rate of 15 percent or 10 percent with a broad range of exemptions would result in inflation of over 6.5 percent in the first year VAT is introduced.

The report said all tax models examined have much smaller differences in growth in the economy in the long-term.

The models include: introducing VAT at a rate of 7.5 percent or 10 percent with a narrow range of exemptions; 10 percent or 15 percent with a broad range of exemptions and payroll tax at a rate of six percent or 12 percent where employees and employers shares the cost equally.

The report noted “all strategies for deficit reduction are estimated to have a broadly similar impact on the supply side capacity of the economy”.

However, the report said introducing VAT at a rate of 7.5 percent or 10 percent with a narrow range of exemptions would result in the highest long-term level of gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

The report also said those models would result in a “permanently lower” inflation rate.

The report admits that some assumptions had to be made regarding the future of The Bahamas’ fiscal policy, including changes in tax rates, the introduction of new taxes and government spending.

The report said introducing VAT at a rate of 15 percent or 10 percent with a broad range of exemptions is more preferable from an equity perspective, but indicated that it is not the most efficient way to address such concerns.

The report also indicated that broad exemptions would reduce the impact on lower income households, but that is a “second-best solution” because the benefits apply to everyone, irrespective of income.

If the government were to compensate directly lower-income households through means-tested personal transfers implemented, this would be a more efficient response to the distributional issues raised by the implementation of VAT, the report said.

In April, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis said the government is considering implementing a compensation element to VAT to assist low-income families, similar to New Zealand.

Following the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) in New Zealand, the government implemented a family tax support system that provided low-income families with wage supplements.

The cash transfer was determined by the size of the household, according to New Zealand VAT expert Don Brash.

No surprises

In an interview with The Nassau Guardian, BCCEC Chairman Robert Myers said the decisions the government makes based on the findings of the Oxford Economics report are critical.

Asked whether the report’s findings surprised him, Myers said, “No. It didn’t surprise us. The numbers that showed big increases to inflation, the reduced numbers of VAT, the payroll tax is actually quite efficient.

“But there are other external issues that impact that like the WTO (World Trade Organization).

“The question really becomes do we have a short-term tax and then a long-term tax, do we try and come to an agreement and fit something in that works in between.”

Myers, who is also the co-chair of the Coalition for Responsible Taxation, said the report was submitted to the government on Tuesday night.

He said the Chamber of Commerce will form a consensus before making its position public.

The chamber is expected to release its position paper on proposed tax alternatives sometime next week, Myers said.

He encouraged Bahamians to review the proposed solution models in the report and form their own opinion.

The report can be read on

May 22, 2014


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The phone calls of people in The Bahamas is alleged to have been secretly intercepted, recorded and archived the National Security Agency (NSA) a part of a top-secret system which is codenamed SOMALGET

Cell Phone Tapping Claims Denied

By Jones Bahamas:

The phone calls of people in The Bahamas may have been secretly recorded as a part of a top secret United States surveillance programme, an online article alleges.

The article titled, “Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA is recording every call in The Bahamas,” appears on the online site, The Intercept.

In the article, it is alleged that these calls are being secretly intercepted, recorded and archived by the National Security Agency (NSA) as a part of a top-secret system which is codenamed “SOMALGET.”

The report which cites documents provided by US contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, further alleges that the programme was implemented without the consent or knowledge of the Bahamian government.

“Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within The Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month,” the report claimed.

According to the publication, SOMALGET, is a part of a broader NSA programme called MYSTIC, which in addition to monitoring telecommunications systems in this country, the report alleges, may also be secretly monitoring the systems of other countries such as Mexico, the Philippines and Kenya.

In fact, the report claims that MYSTIC is being used to collect data on cellular phones from a combined population of as many as 250 million people across a number of countries and it seeks to expand its access.

The report noted, “By targeting The Bahamas’ entire mobile network, the NSA is intentionally collecting and retaining intelligence on millions of people who have not been accused of any crime or terrorist activity.”

Further the report states that, “SOMALGET has been deployed in The Bahamas to locate “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers” – traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.”

But the publication also references a 2013 crime and safety report published by the U.S State Department which concludes that Americans face little to no threat of Bahamian terrorism, “war or civil unrest.”

According to the publication, THE NSA has been using MYSTIC to gather cell phone metadata in five countries since 2013 and it claims it was intercepting voice data in two of those countries.

“Documents show that the NSA has been generating intelligence reports from MYSTIC surveillance in The Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and one other country, which the publication did not name claiming this was in response “to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.”

“The more expansive full-take recording capability,” it alleges, “has been deployed in both The Bahamas and the unnamed country.”

While the report noted that the NSA refused to comment on the programme, the agency did deny claims that its foreign intelligence collection was “arbitrary and unconstrained,” adding that it adheres to procedures that “protect the privacy of U.S. persons whose communications are incidentally collected.”

The Bahama Journal reached out to local national security officials for comment on this report but those calls went unanswered up to press time.

May 21, 2014

The Bahama Journal

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tom Ingram, executive director of the California-based Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) ...said the dredging of 220,000 cubic yards of seafloor at the heart of Bimini’s pristine reef system to accommodate a resort’s cruise ship ferry ...could ruin what is a “recreational diving jewel” of The Bahamas

DEMA: Dredging could devastate Bimini’s thriving dive industry

Dredging could devastate Bimini’s thriving dive industry
IMPOSING – The ferry pier and terminal will project 1,000 feet off the coast of North Bimini, directly into an area containing 14 of the country’s most pristine and ecologically significant dive sites. DEMA head Tom Ingraham warned that the project could ruin Bimini’s $19 million dive industry.

Top reputation among divers could be ruined by possible environmental degradation associated with the Resorts World Bimini pier terminal project, international NGO warns

As a hotly-opposed dredging operation got underway off the coast of Bimini this week despite legal challenge, a global non-profit warned that the associated environmental degradation could destroy the island’s extremely lucrative dive industry.

Tom Ingram, executive director of the California-based Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA), said the dredging of 220,000 cubic yards of seafloor at the heart of Bimini’s pristine reef system to accommodate a resort’s cruise ship ferry could ruin what is a “recreational diving jewel” of The Bahamas.

He strongly urged the government to look carefully at the project before allowing it to move forward, even as a 450-foot mammoth dredger began to excavate the seafloor this week.

“A very real concern to DEMA and to all diving businesses – especially those based in nearby Florida ­– is the fact that any environmental degradation, especially of the magnitude being described in the North Bimini Ferry Terminal Project EIA and its addendum, is likely to have a negative impact on the perception of pristine diving which Bimini now holds in the minds of diving consumers,” Ingram said.

“As a result of this project, it is possible that the number of divers visiting Bimini will decline dramatically as public perception develops regarding this project’s potential environmental impact.”

He said it is possible that this perception – and perhaps the reality – of the environmental impact will cause Bimini and The Bahamas to trade the affluent and sustainable diving consumer population for a population of less-affluent cruise and ferry consumers, with less-well-known demographic, life stage and economic characteristics.

“Such a trade of one population for another could have devastating impacts on the number of divers visiting Bimini, with a resulting economic impact on Bahamas Dive Association (BDA) members, DEMA members and the economy of Bimini,” Ingram said.

DEMA, based in San Diego, represents the business and consumer interests of the recreational scuba and snorkel diving industries around the world. DEMA’s mission is to promote sustainable growth in safe recreational scuba diving and snorkeling while protecting the underwater environment.

Located 48 miles from Florida, Bimini has long enjoyed a reputation among American DEMA members as a pristine diving and fishing location and annually attracts more than 3,000 diving visitors to businesses which belong to the BDA, as well as more than 3,700 annual diving visitors who arrive in private vessels, Ingram noted. Together, they generate more than $19 million a year for the economy of The Bahamas.

“These diving visitors are in addition to the thousands of visitors each year who make the short journey by air or boat to fish in Bimini’s unspoiled waters. These tourists currently spend an annual average of almost $2,800 each on Bimini, including spending at diving operations, hotels, restaurants and other facilities on the island,” he said.

“There is a strong possibility that any negative environmental impact could be long term in nature. Since underwater areas close to popular dive sites are being transformed to accommodate the North Bimini Ferry Terminal, even a partial failure to create the economic benefit projected will be devastating to the long term environmental and economic survival of Bimini.

“In our opinion, the potential economic upside of this project is inadequate when compared to the great risks involved with the potential for failure of this project to create positive economic benefit, and the long-term environmental risks involved.”

May 16, 2014

Save The Bays

Friday, May 16, 2014

The government is moving ahead with a National Health Insurance (NHI) plan / universal health scheme

Gibson: Gov’t Will Meet NHI 2016 Deadline

By Korvell Pyfrom
The Bahama Journal

Despite tough scrutiny from the Opposition over its ability to implement the much touted National Health Insurance (NHI) plan, Labour and National Insurance Minister Shane Gibson yesterday assured that the government is moving ahead with establishing the universal health scheme.

However, Mr. Gibson who has repeatedly been quizzed by the press about how much the government is paying a Costa Rican based firm contracted to consult the government on the plan’s implementation, was still unable to provide any figures.

“We’re not operating in a vacuum as soon as we have all the information and we are ready to release the information we will release it,” Mr. Gibson said to reporters outside of Cabinet Tuesday. “It makes no sense to me personally, to release information bits and pieces at a time.

“As soon as we are ready to release the appropriate information through the appropriate means then we will do so, but at this time we are not going to be releasing information every time the committee meets.”

The administration has announced January 2016 as the deadline for its rollout of NHI, but earlier this week Mr. Gibson announced that elements of the plan will be implemented ahead of that date.

Free National Movement (FNM) Deputy Chairman Dr. Duane Sands is among those skeptical of the plan ever coming to fruition and recently he said that the government’s track record on meeting its deadline makes it highly unlikely that NHI will ever come to reality.

But Mr. Gibson dismissed these assertions and suggested Dr. Sands is a man desperate to be elected.

“It is very difficult for me to keep responding to an always rejected man who wants to be a politician. He is at his best when he is criticising and I’m not going to endorse or authenticate what he says by responding to it,” he said.

“As soon as he is able to be elected in parliament and the people say that we want you, I will speak to him.”

The government contracted Costa Rican based Sanigest Internacional healthcare and management consultancy firm in March to provide a costing, benefits package and payment modalities report within three months.

Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez has announced that the report is expected to be completed in early July.

May 14, 2014

Jones Bahamas

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Neal Watson, president of the Bahamas Diving Association expressed grave concerns about the future of Bimini’s waters the 450-foot-long cutter suction dredger, the Niccolo Machiavelli, hovers ...waiting for a legal case to make its way through the courts ...possibly clearing the way for it to dredge a channel accommodate cruise ships delivering passengers to a resort and casino

Dive association: Bimini dredging ‘pending catastrophic event’

Nearly 40 years after he first began sharing the beauty of Bimini’s coral reefs, luring divers from around the world to the tiny island in the northern Bahamas, one of the most respected names in the world of undersea adventure today issued a warning that Bimini is on the verge of a “pending catastrophic event”.

Guinness world record holder, movie and TV celebrity and president of the Bahamas Diving Association Neal Watson expressed grave concerns about the future of Bimini’s waters, as the 450-foot-long cutter suction dredger, the Niccolo Machiavelli, hovers, waiting for a legal case to make its way through the courts, possibly clearing the way for it to dredge a channel to accommodate cruise ships delivering passengers to a resort and casino.

That dredging, say opponents, would wipe out some of the most spectacular coral reefs in the undersea world.

However, Malaysian-based Genting Group, which owns Resorts World Bimini (RWB), has said it needs to dredge the channel and build the pier to deliver up to 500,000 guests a year to the casino and hotel on the island that is now home to about 1,500 residents. RWB has said it is following all appropriate laws.

Concerned citizens who formed the Bimini Blue Coalition and initiated the legal action said they are worried about everything from the destruction of their way of life and the management of human waste, to the lack of direct economic benefit and the destruction of the reefs. Six of the world’s best, experts have said, lie in the path of the planned channel. Concerned citizens also worry that the dredging will stir up so much silt and cause so much turbidity that it will kill off Bimini’s rich fishing grounds that were immortalized in Ernest Hemingway’s novel “Islands in the Stream”.

“Having started the first recreational dive operation in Bimini in 1975 and still being involved in promoting diving in Bimini, I am devastated by the pending catastrophic event about to occur in this diver’s paradise,” said Watson.

“This fragile ecosystem has already suffered a degree of degradation over the past 40 years, which has occurred throughout not only the Caribbean, but also the entire world. However, this dredging project will cause more irreversible damage to the reefs in the next 30 days than would normally occur over the next 30 years.

“This is not just an environmental issue but an economic issue. In addition to the three top-of-class dive operations located in Bimini that generate millions of dollars in revenue for the hotels, marinas, restaurants, bars and merchants, Bimini is uniquely located 48 miles from South Florida, which has the largest number of registered boats, as well as the largest concentration of divers in the continental United States. Because of Bimini’s proximity to South Florida and its reputation as a world-class dive destination, it attracts hundreds of small boats with divers that come to experience Bimini’s incredible reefs and support the local hotels, marinas and merchants. All of this is in jeopardy,” said Watson.

“Bimini has attracted fishermen, boaters and divers since the days of Hemingway,” added Watson, who continues to promote Bimini and was recently re-elected for another two-year term as head of the Bahamas Diving Association, the organization he has headed for 15 years. “The uniqueness, natural beauty, pristine clear waters, abundant marine life and incredible reefs are threatened.”

May 14, 2014


Concerned citizens who oppose the Resorts World Bimini mega-resort are cautiously celebrating ...after the developers agreed, at the urging of a judge, not to begin dredging without handing over all the necessary permits

Bimini locals remain wary over resort’s lack of transparency

The Niccolo Machiavelli
CAUSE FOR CONCERN – The Niccolo Machiavelli dredger anchored off Bimini’s pristine and ecologically significant reef system. The 450-foot vessel is to be used as part of the controversial construction of a 1,000 foot pier and ferry terminal by Resorts World Bimini. The developers have agreed, at the urging of a judge, not to start dredging without delivering copies of all the necessary permits and approvals to concerned citizens.

Coalition delighted by pledge not to dredge without handing over permits; still concerned about secrecy, failure to consult with the community

Concerned citizens who oppose the Resorts World Bimini mega-resort are cautiously celebrating after the developers agreed, at the urging of a judge, not to begin dredging without handing over all the necessary permits.

The Bimini Blue Coalition, which initiated a judicial review challenge of the project citing the potential for extensive environmental damage foreshadowed in the company’s own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), claims if any permits or approvals do exist, they have been granted by the government in secret, despite numerous requests for information.

“We are delighted to know that Resorts World intends to abide by Bahamian law and commend the legal team that has represented us so well,” said the coalition in a statement. “But at the same time, given the lack of transparency thus far on this issue, where the government and the developer are concerned, we are still very wary.

“We have requested that we be notified before any permits or approvals might be granted and given an opportunity to present very valid reasons why permits shouldn’t be granted.

“This resort will be a game changer for Bimini. One can’t walk back the cat. We don’t want to awaken one morning to find permits have been granted, work is beginning and the people of Bimini have never had any input whatsoever.”

The developer’s attorney, John Wilson, agreed to produce the permits before dredging last week Friday at the urging of the court, after the coalition’s lead lawyer, Fred Smith, QC, sought an injunction to force Resorts World Bimini’s hand.

“In all fairness and justice, given that this entire development is before the court, we ought to have sight of the relevant permits so that we can take the appropriate actions,” Smith argued, adding that the arrival of a massive dredger off the coast of the island suggested that a start to the dredging was imminent.

The area tapped for excavation to accommodate a cruise ship-size ferry includes six of Bimini’s pristine reefs and is dangerously close to eight others, the coalition says. Smith told the court his clients are seeking to prevent “irreparable” ecological damage.

Several scientists and experts have backed this claim, with international dive guru Neal Watson recently saying dredging in Bimini will cause more irreversible damage to reefs in 30 days than would normally occur in 30 years.

“An entire process has been undertaken, in secret, where we have not been given an opportunity to be consulted, and to make a considered contribution to the decision-maker as to whether a permit should or should not be granted. We have been asking for them, they haven’t given them,” Smith told the court. “We were told we would be given them, we now find the dredger, at the site, we still haven’t seen a permit.”

Court of Appeal President Justice Anita Allen pointed out that Wilson had already given a commitment to the Supreme Court that his clients would not begin work without permits. She asked why he could not simply give another undertaking not to begin dredging without first issuing notice that the permission had been granted, and providing copies of the permits to the coalition.

“You have nothing to hide, you have your permits – I don’t know if you have them or not – but you can’t dredge until you have them,” she told Wilson. “The further undertaking I’m asking: can you not go a step further and say ‘We will give you a copy of the permits before we dredge’?

What’s wrong with that? If they are all lawful, if they are all legal, they are all properly given, what’s the problem?”

Before committing to provide the permits, Wilson argued that although a similar commitment had been given in the lower court, his clients should not be held to it as the matter had been stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.

Justice Abdulai Conteh said he was “troubled” by this line of argument, adding that the court must guard against any move to alter the facts on the ground in Bimini and thereby undermine the entire proceedings, effectively rendering the hearings futile.

“This is not semantics or if you like, some theory. The courts are there to do justice, regardless of who or what is involved,” he told Wilson.

The court also asked the government’s attorney David Higgins if he could confirm whether permits had in fact already been granted.

Higgins said he did not have that information – a statement which drew an expression of disbelief from Smith, who pointed out that in its draft bill of costs, the Attorney General’s Office had claimed 48 hours were spent investigating what permits had or had not been granted, at a combined cost of $46,000.

The appeal itself centers on the question of costs, and was applied for against a Supreme Court decision that the Bimini Blue Coalition must pay a combined $650,000 as security ­- $400,000 to the developer and $250,000 to the government – before the case could continue.

Earlier on Friday, Smith presented a number of amendments to his original notice of appeal, several of which Wilson objected to. In particular, he opposed the claim that the amount the Bimini Blue Coalition had been asked to pay was excessive to the point that it effectively denied the applicant and other grass-roots organizations of their right to access the courts.

Wilson argued that the court had given very strict guidelines when allowing an extension of time for the appeal, and that Smith was going outside those guidelines.

A protracted legal discussion ensued, with Justice Allen maintaining that Smith had been given strict instructions to limit his appeal to certain provisions of the original notice. Justice Conteh, however, said in his view Smith’s additions went to the heart of the appeal ­- the question of what the costs should have been.
Eventually, Smith asked leave to amend his notice to better reflect the earlier instructions of the court.

The court also questioned Smith’s attempt to drop the case against Resorts World Bimini in an effort to focus on the government, specifically the process by which it granted permits to the developer. In this way, Smith sought to avoid having to pay security for costs, which he has maintained his clients cannot afford.
It was noted the Supreme Court earlier ruled that failure to pay any part of the $650,000 would lead to the entire case being thrown out.

Although Justice Conteh said that in his opinion, it was a composite ruling and the two respondents could be separated, Justice Allen was not convinced and Smith indicated his willingness to argue the appeal against both parties if necessary.

May 13, 2014

Save The Bays

Monday, May 12, 2014

Irresponsible assumptions in the aragonite issue and debate

Fueling alarm and confusion

Dangers loom with irresponsible agitation

Managing Editor

The alarm over aragonite is reaching a fever pitch.

A coalition of pastors, union leaders and civil society activists has been making the rounds on talk shows, demanding that the government negotiate higher royalties for aragonite, a unique mineral with a wide range of uses.

At a press conference in Rawson Square last Tuesday, National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas President John Pinder estimated that the government could pocket as much as $300 million per month, or $4.2 billion a year, if it renegotiated the royalties to no less than $350 per metric ton.

The government currently receives $2 per metric ton on aragonite exported from Ocean Cay, just south of Bimini.

The figures quoted by Pinder are significant amounts.

The coalition also says in its fact sheet being circulated that the Bahamian aragonite operation has the potential to be a multi-trillion-dollar industry.

President of Sandy Cay Development Co. Limited Tony Myers, whose company has a 25-year lease from the Bahamas government, said they are selling on average at $12 per metric ton — far from the $900 figure we keep hearing from the coalition.

At the press conference last week, Pinder was supported by Dwight Smith, chairman of the Police Staff Association; Gregory Archer, president of the Prison Staff Association; members of the Bahamas National Citizens Coalition, and other activists who claim the royalty portion of the agreement between Sandy Cay and the government is up for renewal next month.

We asked Pinder on Friday where the numbers he quoted came from.

While Pinder was the spokesman at the press conference, he told us he did not personally do the research and advised us to speak to Wesley Campbell, who he said is the researcher for the Bahamas National Citizens Coalition.

But a seemingly irritated Campbell refused to speak to National Review yesterday.

He angrily accused us of “deceiving” the coalition’s chairman, Rev. Andrew Stewart, by failing to provide him with a copy of the lease between Sandy Cay and the government.

Campbell said the failure of National Review to turn over the lease to the coalition was deceptive because the coalition had previously provided National Review with information as part of its probe into the aragonite issue.

While Campbell refused to speak to us, Stewart did so on Friday night.

We questioned him about the information his group has put into the public domain.

Stewart said the coalition has a research team that has done a lot of work.

We asked him about the coalition’s claim in a fact sheet that the lease between Sandy Cay and the government of The Bahamas is “renewable every two years” and was granted by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government.

He insisted this was a fact.

When informed by National Review that the lease was signed under the Ingraham administration and does not speak to renewal every two years, Stewart said this statement by the coalition had been based on an “assumption”.

We found this admission simply unbelievable.

Asked whether the coalition leaders have read the lease, Stewart admitted that they had not and asked National Review if he could have a copy.

We then committed to asking our source whether this would be possible.

We believe the coalition was confused by a letter written by Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister David Davis on June 3, 2010 to H. Campbell Cleare III, the attorney for Sandy Cay.

In that letter, Davis advised Sandy Cay that it could recommence its aragonite operation while a new lease was negotiated. Sandy Cay bought the old lease in 2009 from AES Corporation, which operated at Ocean Cay and unsuccessfully sought to get approval from the Bahamas government for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) operation.

The government signed a 25-year lease with Sandy Cay on April 20, 2012.

The lease signed with Sandy Cay provides for “a royalty computed as B$2 per ton for demised mineral exported from The Bahamas encompassing the first five years of the lease, after which the royalty shall be computed as 10 percent of the sales price, with a minimum fee of B$2 per ton up to a maximum fee of B$12 per ton for demised mineral exported from The Bahamas”.

The lease was backdated to June 3, 2010 when negotiations began.


After admitting that the coalition is agitating even though it has not read the lease, Stewart said the fact that the lease is not up for renewal adds strength to the coalition’s argument.

“It’s unthinkable to us that the lease would have been a mere blanket 25-year lease and after over 40 years having been renewed by successive governments periodically, for the government to just give them a 25-year blanket,” said Stewart, who also could not prove that the government previously agreed to leases renewable every three years.

The government’s former lease for Ocean Cay had no such provision either.

“What our assumption was, not seeing as you have seen the 2012 lease, having only had in our possession the 2010 lease, we assumed that it was renewed somewhere around the anniversary of the 2010 year lease,” Stewart explained.

But again, there was no 2010 lease, just a letter written by the government to Sandy Cay allowing the operation to resume while the negotiations for a new lease took place.

Stewart told National Review, “We stand corrected that it is the FNM government and that it is not this government” that negotiated the lease.

He added, “Having discovered that now and having that verified it’s a far more horrendous position that the Bahamian people find themselves in than we had ever imagined. Our research department just gave the daily cost on the world market.”

Myers, the Sandy Cay president, provided an invoice showing that one of his latest shipments had a cost of $12.50 per metric ton.

Asked whether the coalition has taken into consideration that aragonite has significant add-on value after it is processed by U.S. companies that buy from Ocean Cay, Stewart said, “We recognize that there are layers of costs and pricing, but world market price first cost, our research department has discovered that $900 is a figure.”

After further questions from National Review, Stewart also admitted that the coalition never reached out to Sandy Cay to ask questions on what the company is doing or how much it sells aragonite for.

Incredibly, he also admitted that the coalition has not had conversations with the government over a matter it has been making so many demands about.

After it was explained to him that the lease is not up for renewal, Stewart said the government could still act in the interest of the Bahamian people.

“We feel that the government is the influential bargaining agent that can influence or with the stroke of a pen change these arrangements,” said Stewart, insisting the coalition has “professional research”.

He added, “The Bahamian aragonite is the most sought after aragonite in the world because it is of the highest quality.”

Further explaining why the coalition has acted without reading the current lease for aragonite harvesting that exists, Stewart said, “The whole issue with regard to our natural resources has been a private issue in the Office of the Prime Minister.

“Facts are not easy to come by, and for us to have gotten this far, I think we have done a yeoman’s job. And in fact, one must remember that we are operating without the Freedom of Information Act.

“Once we have that it wouldn’t be like pulling teeth. And so, we have come this far by faith and we trudge on ahead in seeking to inform the Bahamian people.”


We agree with Stewart on the need for the long-discussed Freedom of Information Act.

While we see wisdom in discussing the aragonite issue and whether the Bahamian people are getting what they deserve, we abhor discussions fuelled by misinformation, incomplete information and emotions.

This is counter productive to what those leading the cause might be seeking to achieve, and it may create disharmony.

The so-called facts being put in the public domain are fuelling hysteria and a great deal of confusion.

The coalition should be embarrassed that it is making claims in the absence of all the facts.

It is riling the emotions of the public although it has not read the aragonite lease.

It is speaking — by the admission of its chairman — based on an “assumption”.

This is highly irresponsible.

It has not spoken to the principal of the company harvesting aragonite.

It has not had discussions with the government on this matter.

Union President John Pinder trusted the “research” of the Bahamas National Citizens Coalition.

Pinder said revenue from increased aragonite royalties could be used to pay every Bahamian at least $50,000 within 18 months of adjusting the terms.

He said this could significantly drive down crime and bring prosperity for all Bahamians.

Pinder aligned his good name with what the coalition presented to him, and did so with the backing of both the police and prison staff associations.

We wonder if the coalition knows how easy it is to access the lease it has not seen.

We respectfully urge our fellow citizens to be careful how they accept information without doing their own research.

We have reported the results of our initial research into this matter.

We do not take the side of Sandy Cay, but it is important to give it a voice in this national debate and that is why we contacted its principal, Tony Myers.

It is why we asked him to allow us to see his company’s invoices.


Last week, Minister of Environment Kenred Dorsett said successive governments have “not been aggressive” enough when negotiating royalties for aragonite.

He also said the former administration signed off on an aragonite royalty of $2 per metric ton, even though it initially wanted a figure of between $12 and $15.

The minister also suggested the deal is being reviewed.

“We are looking at those issues to make sure the people get what they are entitled to in terms of their fair share of the revenue associated with extracting those natural resources.”

Dorsett advised that a Cabinet sub-committee was formed a few months ago to address this matter.

It is clear that the government should play a stronger role in bringing a more temperate approach to this debate.

We make no statement on whether the government is getting fair royalties.

If in fact there is a review taking place, we hope, and we assume that the government is making use of its scientific and technical experts to drive the process.

Clearly, there is also a need for public education on this matter.

The government should make a full and clear statement, as opposed to ambiguous statements not thoroughly considered.

In driving this discussion, all involved should do so responsibly — the government, the media and civil society.

This matter has reached a point where the spread of misinformation has had a huge impact on many people now demanding the government renegotiate royalties.

In a democracy, agitation is good.

But in the absence of facts, it could be dangerous.

Its outcome can only be positive if it is done responsibly.

May 12, 2014


Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Bahamas is believed to be the only country in the world that produces high quality oolitc aragonite in commercial volumes ...and studies suggest Bursus Cay has “an infinite amount”

Aragonite Developer Plans Factory Outside Port Area

Tribune Business Editor

The manufacturing facility for a proposed $50 million aragonite mining project will be located on Grand Bahama outside the Port area, a spokesperson yesterday saying it was unclear whether Wednesday night’s Town Meeting was truly representative of local community opinion on the project.

Katherine Smith, the former FNM Senator and Atlanta consul-general who is acting as spokesperson for Nassau Island Development Company, said the firm was now awaiting a formal government response on how it should proceed with conducting its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

She added that the company had submitted its first documents to the Government two weeks ago, and Wednesday’s Town Meeting was designed to show the company’s transparency with regard to its plans.

Tribune Business sources said most persons speaking at the meeting voiced their opposition to the Nassau Island Development Company project, especially fishermen who felt its location - at Great Bursus Cay - would impact the area’s main fishing ground and their livelihood source.

K P Turnquest, the FNM MP for eastern Grand Bahama, expressed his unhappiness that 30-50 persons, who have no connection to the constituency, and appeared to include Urban Renewal workers, had been bussed in to attend it.

Among those attending the meeting, apart from Mr Turnquest, Senator Tanisha Tynes and former MP Ken Russell, was Michelle Reckley, the Government-appointed head of Urban Renewal in Freeport.

Mr Turnquest said his understanding was that the meeting was called to inform east Grand Bahama residents, who would be most affected, about the project and its likely impact.

“I couldn’t understand why they would load up the room with people who have no interest in the discussion,” Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business. “They were called and asked if they would come to the meeting. Somebody provided the bus.”

Emphasising that he was not accusing the developers of providing the bus service, and being responsible for their presence, Mr Turnquest said some had come from communities such as Eight Mile Rick, and added: “I couldn’t understand why they were there.”

Summing up the meeting, the MP added: “It’s incumbent on the developer to do the EIA and the rest of the work, and prove that what they’re going to do is not going to destroy the livelihoods of people in the area..... They can’t come to us with a blank cheque. They can’t get to second base without first base.”

Mr Turnquest also called on Nassau Island Development Company to ensure that if the project did proceed it would have a training programme in place for east Grand Bahamians, and not have to import labour.

Ms Smith, meanwhile, said the developers “don’t know yet” whether the opinions voiced at the Town Meeting were representative of the local community. Apart from four fishermen, she said the others who spoke were Fred Smith QC and Joseph Darville of Save the Bays, and persons with “different interests”.

She added that Geoff Moxey of Phoenix Engineering, who has been hired to conduct Nassau Island Development Company’s EIA, had already completed “scoping” work at Bursus Cay.

A report on this had been sent to the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology Commission (BEST), detailing the company’’s harvesting, dredging and construction works scope.

Ms Smith said Nassau Island Development Company was now waiting for BEST to respond to it and set out the parameters/framework for how the EIA is to be conducted.

Emphasising that the developers could not proceed without this, she told Tribune Business: “We’re awaiting a response from BEST to the scoping report. It doesn’t make sense for you to go out and do an EIA until BEST says this is what we want.

“We’re waiting on them to tell us, on the basis of the scoping report, what’s next.”

Emphasising that Nassau Island Development Company could mobilise within 90 days of receiving all necessary government approvals, Ms Smith corrected previous newspaper reports suggesting up to 800 jobs - 500 full-time, 300 construction - could be created.

While 300 construction jobs would be created at peak, this level would likely be trimmed by 50 per cent once the harvesting section would be completed, and full-time jobs will total 10-200.

Suggesting that Nassau Island Development Company’s total investment would likely be more than the previously announced $50 million, Ms Smith said the project offered the potential to diversify the economy, create new sources of foreign exchange, and boost entrepreneurship.

Apart from exporting aragonite, the developer also intends to use it to manufacture products at its own factory, and supply other Bahamas-based manufacturers wanting it.

“The owner of the company wants to locate it [the manufacturing plant] in east or west Grand Bahama, “ Ms Smith said.

Asked why Nassau Island Development Company was not seeking the incentives offered in the Port area, she replied: “We would expect we would have the Industries Encouragement Act, and get some concessions there.”

Apart from tropical play sand, Ms Smith said aragonite was used in agriculture and animal feed, and there were also possible applications for fisheries projects and conch farms.

Nassau Island Development Company believes the Bahamas is the only country in the world that produces high quality oolitc aragonite in commercial volumes, and its studies suggest Bursus Cay has “an infinite amount”.

“From what our studies have said to us, this is a continually regenerating and replenishing product, and that area can never be over-harvested,” Ms Smith told Tribune Business.

May 09, 2014

The Aragonite Royalty Issue in The Bahamas

Environment Minister Ignores Union’s Request on Aragonite Exports

By Jones Bahamas:

Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett has rejected requests from the National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB) to renegotiate the royalties the country receives from aragonite mining and also denied allegations that the country has approved aragonite mining near East Grand Bahama.

While speaking to reporters outside of Cabinet yesterday Minister Dorsett brushed off the union’s suggestion for the government to review the agreement for aragonite export which reportedly now sees the government receiving $2 per metric ton to increase it to $350 per metric ton.

“We’re not following the union’s direction, I’ve spoken in parliament on this matter, on the fact that we are now moving to create the national resources unit in my ministry I have spoken about salt, I have spoken about aragonite, I’ve spoken about oil, all of our extractive natural resources and the people of The Bahamas getting through the government fair compensation for the exploitation of those resources so this is nothing new,” he said.

“With respect to aragonite we are looking at the entire legislative framework because the existing legislation that is on the books which is quite dated was an approval for a specific company to carry out the undertaking in the absence of comprehensive environmental regulations governing the activity so were looking at the entire sector.”

Moving forward, Minister Dorsett said the government will use other countries as a benchmark to consider the best ways advance the industry.

Minister Dorsett also took the time to address claims that the government gave approval to a local developer to mine aragonite near East Grand Bahama.

“My colleague, the minister responsible for Grand Bahama has indicated that certain statements were made at a recent meeting in East Grand Bahama that may possibly give the impression that the government has approved aragonite mining activity on Burses Cay, I want to set the record straight in that regard,” he said.

“No such approval has been given by the government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”

According to Mr. Dorsett, the Nassau Island Development Company submitted an application to the government to mine aragonite on Burses Cay, however he said it is only under review.

He added that if any decision is made, the protection of the environment will remain a top priority.

During a press conference in Rawson Square earlier this week, the NCTUB president urged the government to renegotiate the amount of royalties the country receives from the export of aragonite.

According to Mr. Pinder while the country currently receives only $2 per metric ton, it is sold at $900 dollars per ton by the Billingham Dredging Corporation.

Mr. Pinder said the country is projected to reap $4.2 billion annually if royalties are received no less than $350 dollars.

Aragonite is a specific form of calcium carbonate sand. It is used to produce, cement, glass containers, soil and agricultural lime.

May 09, 2014

Jones Bahamas

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Two years later ...we seek to objectively assess how the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government has performed ...provide a prognosis on the rest of the administration’s term ...and offer some recommendations on the way forward

PLP governance: Two years in

In a couple of hours from now, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) will commemorate two years since the general elections that ushered the party into power. The PLP won the 2012 general election in a landslide victory over the incumbent Free National Movement (FNM) government, after what was generally considered to be a remarkable election campaign.

The PLP came into power in the aftermath of the Great Recession and was confronted with challenges of great proportions. There was no doubt that the expectations of the electorate in relation to the new government were high and there was an urgent need for relief, which the PLP promised during its campaign for office. As a result of the state of the economy and the myriad issues the new government was expected to address, the PLP government did not have the luxury of a honeymoon.

Simply put, the Bahamian people wanted solutions and demanded an immediate change in circumstances. Two years later we seek to objectively assess how the government has performed, provide a prognosis on the rest of the administration’s term and offer some recommendations on the way forward.

The Charter for Governance

The PLP deviated from the orthodox format of manifestos which outline the agenda of a political party during its term in office. Upon the release of the Charter for Governance (Charter), the PLP noted that the document, termed Vision 2030, was designed to be a road map to go beyond the guaranteed five-year tenure in our political system.

While some might consider this to be presumptuous, the PLP articulated its belief that the nation’s development could not be planned five years at a time. The reality remains that the proposals and initiatives documented in the charter are so numerous and significant that it is unreasonable to expect them to be actualized in full within five years in the democracy that we practice without radical and/or autocratic decisions.

It is appropriate for the populace who are the employers to review and assess the government – the employees – based on the representations made in their plan as contained in the charter, although it is unclear how specific goals will be selected for examination. Subsequently, it is up to the Bahamian public to grade the government during and at the end of its current term in office to ascertain whether the mandate should be renewed.

A consensus building government

Prime Minister Perry G. Christie has been consistent in his approach to governance. Christie could very well be regarded as the great consensus builder based on his inclination to practice inclusive politics. He is known for seeking to involve the citizenry in the decision-making process of governance. There are commentators that oppose this approach with criticisms on its impact on the speed of decision making and surmising such as a sign of indecisiveness or weakness.

The late Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who was not deemed to be a proponent of consensus building, had the following to say on this topic; she noted that consensus is “The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?” This mind-set was perhaps one of the greatest criticisms of her leadership and is believed to have contributed to her political demise.

Nevertheless, leaders have differing philosophies and styles; hence, no one approach could be regarded as being superior to the other. The government must continue to collaborate with the people and relevant stakeholders in order to ensure continuous engagement and involvement in matters of national interest. However, where such consensus building will contradict the beliefs, principles, values and policies of the government, our leaders must be prepared to proceed with their agenda in spite of opposition as long as the decisions are in the national interest.

The highs of the first two years

In order to fairly assess the first two years of the current administration, one must refer to the content of the PLP’s charter, which should govern the government’s policies and agenda during its term in office. It is fair to state that the government has had some high moments during its first two years, including in no particular order: Budget 2013/2014, which was praised by international observers and rating agencies; the establishment of the National Training Agency; the establishment of the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute; making deliberate efforts to reduce the cost of electricity; engaging in active negotiations to remedy the BTC/Lime deal; the development of a fiscal consolidation plan and commencement of the tax reform process that included the release of a white paper, the implementation of the Central Revenue Agency and a Real Property Tax Amnesty program that nets much millions into the government’s coffers.

The Bimini economy has benefited significantly from foreign direct investment and the opening of the Resorts World Bimini project, while Grand Bahama has also seen a boost in its economy as a result of Memories Grand Bahama Beach and Casino Resort. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) is also set to gain from the procurement of the necessary vessels and equipment to increase its efficiency in securing our borders and stemming the scourge of illegal immigration and poaching.

Past and present challenges

As promised in its charter and the manifestos of other political organizations, the government held a non-binding referendum on the establishment and regulation of a national lottery and web shop gaming. While it remains to be seen how the government will bring closure to this matter, this administration will be remembered for having the courage to address an issue ignored for decades by successive administrations.

Gender equality remains an important national matter that ought to have been addressed a long time ago. The government commissioned a Constitutional Review Committee which provided its report on proposed changes to our constitution. However, the first of the proposed changes, which seeks to provide Bahamian women with the same rights as their male counterparts, is yet to take effect due to the delay in the requisite constitutional referendum.

The pandemic of crime continues to be a major challenge for the government by its own admission and as evidenced by the level of lawlessness in our society. The other issues relating to the detention center and the level of union activism over this period has indeed presented challenges to the government. When combined with the sluggish global and local economic growth, as well as the declining yet still high rate of unemployment in The Bahamas, it would not be an understatement to state that this PLP administration has its plate full.

Going forward

Artists often highlight the beauty of a plain canvas that many may not view in the same light. A plain canvas presents a unique opportunity to start something unique and create a special piece. In other words, whether the plain canvas is new or wiped clean the opportunity remains available to do something great and exceptional.

The government need not dwell on any of its accomplishments or get side-tracked by distractions and challenges of the last two years. Rather, it must embrace the gift of a new day to accomplish its goals and objectives. The government should wipe its slate clean - if it must - and focus on its agenda as documented in the charter.

While it may be argued that time is of the essence (and it sure is) and is running out, there remains ample time for the government to make the necessary changes to put The Bahamas in better standing for greater success. In the words of the “Oracle of Omaha” – Warren Buffett: “Someone sits in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” The government must be resolute in ensuring that the necessary trees are planted and the requisite foundations are laid today to protect, shield and preserve the future of generations yet unborn.

• Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to

May 06, 2014


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Despite having sort-of decriminalised same-sex intercourse ...the government has not moved to cement legal protections for the equal treatment of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in The Bahamas

Lgbt Community: Too Tiny To Count?


The Bahamas government’s position on the issue of LGBT “rights” is tangled
The Bahamas government declined all recommendations concerning LGBT rights




“Like I’ve said before, I don’t know of any person who is gay in this country who doesn’t have the same rights as I do. And so for you or anyone to say that that’s discriminating and such, I don’t know. Someone has to prove it to me.”

– Rev Dr Randford Patterson, Bahamas Christian Council president.

THIS is the second time in my life that I’ve agreed with the Bahamas Christian Council on an issue. Our first mutual agreement came earlier in our conversation when Rev Patterson said that Bahamians were too passive. Try not to be too shocked, times are changing. As the vocal religious community shouts at an even smaller yet silent advocacy grouping, has anyone ever bothered to ask the Bahamian people how they feel?

Despite having sort-of decriminalised same-sex intercourse, the government has not moved to cement legal protections for the equal treatment of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Which begs the question of why the political strength to alter laws fell short of enacting supporting policy?

In the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Period Review last year, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, France, Uruguay and Argentina asked The Bahamas to consider measures to promote non-discrimination and tolerance regarding sexual orientation. In particular Uruguay noted that Bahamas law contained certain legal loopholes that “generated discrimination” against the LGBT community.

Perhaps it was the Sexual Offences Act, where the age of consent differs for same-sex acts between consenting individuals by two years, that left countries unconvinced that the government had necessary protections to protect human rights. Or perhaps the reference to “in a public place” with regard to same-sex?

Nevertheless, The Bahamas government declined all recommendations concerning LGBT rights.

The government’s position on the issue of LGBT “rights” is tangled. On one hand there is a strong stance on the protection of tourists and the tourism economy, from the product of state-sanctioned homophobia; and on the other there is a near total denial of sexual orientation discrimination in the local and national context.

Despite highlighting at every opportunity that his political career has suffered because of his marked support of LGBT rights Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell recently attempted to stratify discrimination. Apparently, there can be social, religious, and official discrimination – all coexisting yet only one with the political weight to effect changes. The issue surrounding gay rights, or lack thereof, in The Bahamas remains undefined, undocumented and under reported, yet it is clearly marked as an agenda. This characterisation allows the government to sidestep the matter under the guise of focusing on more pressing national issues such as crime, or unemployment, both of which apparently only take place under nondiscriminatory circumstances.

Also last month, Saint Lucian activist Kenita Placide presented a statement on behalf of the LGBT caucus at the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Ms Placide said: “The criminalisation of adult consensual sexual activity and our communities, along with efforts by political and religious authorities to manipulate and stoke fears about sexual orientation and gender identity, only makes matters worse. Whether at the national level or at the CSW, decision makers must stop using these issues and our lives for their geopolitical gain.”

But where is the motive, where is the activism? In 2014, there are still no local reporting mechanisms to characterise crimes against persons based on sexual orientation, and as a result no concrete evidence of human rights abuses.

In a study released last year the Pew Research Centre found global correlation between age, secularism and affluence on individual attitudes on homosexuality. Basically it’s looking like the young, rich and not-so-religious are cool with gay people. Not too promising for the Caribbean, where the masses straddle the poverty line with hyper-spirituality, and the old show no signs of relinquishing influence.

But what do we know statistically? The 2013 Guyana study conducted by Caribbean Development Research Services Inc (CADRES) discovered that the majority of Guyanese are tolerant or accepting of homosexuals despite a pervading belief that being homosexual is a matter of choice. CADRES, a political consulting firm, reported that 58 per cent of Guyanese are tolerant or accepting, 17 per cent are undecided and 25 per cent homophobic.

Perhaps the crowning glory of the study is the data indicating that three per cent of Guyanese identify as homosexual and four per cent admitted to bisexuality. CADRES goes on to uncover that the majority of Guyanese support the retention of the buggery law – though it was explained that many were unaware of the law and its implications.

During her presentation lecturer Dr Melissa Ifill said the study was critical to expanding a research body that has been limited, and inevitably stigmatised, by contextual focus on HIV/AIDS research, which has been the primary donor of prior qualitative studies.

In Trinidad and Tobago there is also active discussion on the inclusion of sexual orientation protections in the constitution. The country recently completed its constitutional reform commission and the resulting report has been characterised as fuel for political cowardice on the issue.

In an interview following the report’s release, Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) spokesman Colin Robinson slammed the commission for enabling political cowardice at the sacrifice of human rights to a measurable number of citizens. On the issue of protections the Trinidad and Tobago commission ruled that there should be more dialogue on the issue.

Mr Robinson said: “We estimated 3,500 adults are homosexual based on 2013 poll – this is a very conservative estimate. That number is equal or larger than a number of ethnic and racial minorities and we don’t have debates about their rights … what are we waiting for? We’ve had the national debate, we’ve seen movement on this issue, we’ve seen visibility of citizens, we’ve seen a constitutional reform commission deeply understand and get it right, get the conclusion of the issue right, but then get the solution wrong.”

Herein lies the challenge: who is going to prove it to Rev Patterson, and how? Where are the hard facts to stand up against people who insist that legal technicality is the ceiling as far as LGBT rights are concerned; to embolden politicians? To Rev Patterson and many others afforded a national platform, the campaign to amend laws for protection based on sexual orientation is a non-issue.

By framing LGBT rights as agenda and not a human rights issue we delegitimise victims’ claims by creating division between two fictional groups. It also characterises any lobby for increased protections as an “agenda”, a term that has been used by detractors to connote direct personal gain of one group over or against the will of another. In this case the larger group represents a nameless, faceless and emotionless majority that are somehow diametrically opposed to homosexuality yet don’t feel strongly enough to negatively harm the tiny community.

Five years ago former Tribune news editor Paco Nuñez wrote: “The problem with constructing a national identity out of generalisations is that it forces you to leave out the details, especially the ones that go against your polished version of the truth.”

Debate over gay rights in the Bahamas has been dominated by faith-based institutions and geographically bounded to New Providence for too long. The discrimination and social exclusion of the LGBT community is negatively correlated to the education and sensitivity training for public servants on the issue. The government must first educate public servants of their duty to LGBT members and sensitise workers on how the denial of public services constitutes a human rights abuse.

By denying discrimination - and resulting dialogue - validity on a national platform, the government authorises a culture of silence on human rights abuse. In light of statistics emerging from the region the time has come for local research to determine public attitudes on the issue and the way forward.

Bolstered by empirical data, evidence-based dialogue can provide constructive rebuttal to the vocal minority that dominates the public sphere in a bid to extend generational fears and stigma. Or to be fair, it may prove once and for all that the LGBT community is in fact, too tiny to count.

April 28, 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Niccolo Machiavelli ...the monster dredger and reef destroyer ...should not be allowed to tear up the seabed off the coast of north Bimini

‘Reef Destroyer’ arrives in Bimini

By Diane Phillips & Associates

Machevelli dredgers off Bimini harbour

Environmentalists say pristine dive sites set to be destroyed in defiance of senior judge’s warning

Niccolo Machiavelli Bimini, The Bahamas
Niccolo Machiavelli ...the monster dredger and reef destroyer

A mammoth seafloor dredger, dubbed ‘The Reef Destroyer’ by local environmentalists, has arrived in Bimini as developers forge ahead with construction of a controversial ferry terminal despite a top judge’s stern warning.

The 450-foot, 1,200 ton Niccolo Machiavelli is a specialized cutter-suction dredger designed to break up hard material which standard dredgers cannot remove. It is among the most powerful machines of its kind, and is set to be unleashed on one of the most pristine and significant marine ecosystems in the world, environmentalists say.

“That monster dredger cannot be allowed to tear up the seabed off the coast of North Bimini,” said Fred Smith, QC, attorney and one of the directors of fast-growing environmental movement Save The Bays. “There are 14 world-class dive sites and some of the most sensitive and important reef systems on earth there - many of them directly in the developers’ intended path of destruction.

“Resorts World Bimini is being allowed to move full speed ahead by a government that has failed in its mandate to act in the interest of Bahamians – and this despite a strong warning from one of the country’s top judges.”

Last month, Court of Appeal Justice Abdulai Conteh told lawyers for the government and Resorts World Bimini that construction should not be allowed to progress while the project is being challenged in the courts.

"In a democracy, no self-respecting government would do anything to jeopardize proceedings before the court. When there is a contested issue, one should not change the facts on the ground until a decision is made,” the judge said. “It’s more than a precept, and it is applicable in the Bahamas - it's about the rule of law.”

Justice Conteh's comments came as part of the ongoing appeal by Save The Bays and the Bimini Blue Coalition against a Supreme Court’s ruling that unless Smith’s clients pay a collective $650,000 ‘security for costs’ to the government and Resorts World Bimini, their judicial review action would be dismissed.

“Clearly, this administration has no self-respect,” Smith said yesterday. “The justice spoke to the grave implications if work continues, but the government has obviously given carte blanche to the developers, and they are racing ahead to get the work done before justice can run its course.

Environmentalists in Bimini say work on the ferry terminal is continuing despite Court of Appeal Justice Abdulai Conteh’s statement that the facts on the ground should not change until justice has run its course. Opponents of the development have circulated photos of newspapers dated after the judge’s remarks, with work underway in the background.

“This is always the way in the Wild West development show that this country has become. By the time a court can decide if a project is being undertaken according to the law, it is already a fait accompli, the environment has already been irreparably damaged, and local communities have already been overwhelmed or displaced.”

Smith noted that following Justice Conteh’s remarks, the attorney for Resorts World Bimini promised the Court of Appeal his clients would do nothing without the appropriate permits.

“The responsibility for this falls squarely in the lap of the government,” Smith said. “If work is continuing it is because they are allowing it to continue. They continually bow to the will of wealthy developers and the Bahamian people are always the losers in the end.”

On April 25, Smith wrote to the Attorney General’s Office urging the government not to do anything to jeopardize the Bimini judicial review proceedings.

“We would be grateful if you could urgently revert with confirmation that your respective clients will maintain the status quo (by which we mean, not carry out or allow the carrying out of any further changes to the development site including construction or pre-construction operations” the letter said.

In a letter to Resorts World Bimini, sent on the same day, Smith asked the company to confirm whether the government had granted any permits, licenses or approvals in respect to the development.

Smith said there has been no response to either letter to date.

Meanwhile, a recent presentation by marine biologist Dr. Kristine Stump demonstrated that under successive developers, the Bimini project has already had serious negative effects on the marine environment.

The results of her study showed declines in several important fish species that occurred after mangrove deforestation.

“We found acute and chronic effects on not only the sharks, but also the entire marine community following the development within the lagoon,” Stump told the dozens of scientists and conservationists attending an international conference in Nassau.

The waters around Bimini, Bahamas are home to a plethora rare and important marine species, including the endangered small-toothed sawfish.

The Niccolo Machiavelli is a cutter-suction dredger equipped with a rotating cutter head for breaking through hard materials such as compacted sediment and stone. The material is then sucked out by dredge pumps. The vessel can dredge to a depth of 35 meters and exerts a cutting power of 7,000 kW.

It is named for the 15th century Italian thinker whose notoriously cynical political theories gave rise to the expression “The ends justify the means.”

BahamaNews Ma Bey

April 30, 2014