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“Blueprint for Change” Speech from the Throne delivered by The Governor General

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#TheBahamas, October 8, 2021 – Governor General His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Cornelius A. Smith read the ‘Speech from the Throne’ at the Opening of the New Parliament, October 6, 2021 at Baha Mar.   The Speech communicated the “Blueprint for Change” of the Progressive Liberal Party Government, which upheld commitment to good governance, established on the principles of Transparency, Integrity & Accountability.

The overall objective, the Speech conveyed, is a “partnership with the Bahamian people to bring about a healthier, wealthier, and wiser society,” towards ‘a New Day.’

The Governor General in delivering the Speech from the Throne stated that a priority of the new government is, in light of the weaknesses in the healthcare system that were exposed by COVID-19: the introduction of legislation and policies to address future major health risks and avoid the need for Emergency Orders.  Also important is investment in healthcare infrastructure throughout The Bahamas that ensures that Family Island clinics are properly equipped, inclusive of the capacity for telemedicine; building of new hospitals in New Providence and Grand Bahama through public-private partnerships; prioritization of public health and wellness initiatives; and aggressive movement to introduce catastrophic healthcare insurance to make healthcare more affordable, and to address the mental health issues of the country.

Also a priority — despite the weak economic outlook, the government will amend the VAT Act to lower the rate of VAT across the board to 10%.

With respect to economic initiatives, the Governor General pointed out that there will be:

 

  • Focus on issues that will rescue, restore, and strengthen the economy
  • Pursuit of strategies to address infrastructural needs of the country
  • Measures to stabilize public finances and increase public revenue
  • Implementation of a Debt Management Plan to address the historic debt burden and deficit
  • Amendment of ‘The Procurement Act’ to strengthen provisions for Bahamian participation in Government Procurement at all levels
  • Amendment of ‘The Fiscal Responsibility Act’ to strengthen the independence of the Fiscal Responsibility Council
  • Amendment of ‘The Public Financial Management Act ’to ensure full compliance with all existing legislation
  • Amendment of the ‘Commercial Enterprises Act’ to ensure that when jobs are being filled, Bahamians receive the highest priority
  • Introduction of measures to encourage renewable energy industries in solar, wind, wave and ocean thermal energy
  • Recommitment of The Bahamas to a minimum reliance on renewable energy by thirty percent by 2030
  • Introduction of a ‘Merchant Shipping Bill’ to bring the jurisdiction in line with its international obligations, contemporary practices, and to enhance competitive edge in the global maritime industry
  • Promotion of Grand Bahama to harness the power of the maritime industry

 

There will be growth of the cultural and creative economy; a re-launch of “Sports in Paradise” for major international sports federations and leagues.

Also, a commitment to:  Achieving greater food security and reducing reliance on imports as a matter of priority; introduction of a regulatory framework for the Cannabis Industry; legislation to facilitate a comprehensive programme of digitization for the country; restructuring of the Bahamas Investment Authority to streamline application processes and develop a new marketing strategy; consultation with key stakeholders to appropriately amend legislation to provide increased tax incentives and concessions for domestic investors; transformation of approval processes and launch of BahamasInvest to retain competiveness and mobilise local and international investors to grow the economy; a return of Tourism to pre-COVID levels by harnessing existing markets; development of an investment portfolio for the Family Islands to promote an investor-friendly environment with a focus on an investment portfolio for specialised industries; infrastructural upgrades throughout all of the Islands of The Bahamas in an effort to create investment portfolios; expansion of the provision of potable water and implementation of a national strategy for the management of water as a natural resource; introduction of a new and progressive Building Code to increase resilience in the face of Climate Change; and advancement of the airports in Exuma, Grand Bahama, and North Eleuthera and development of all major airports across The Bahamas through Public Private Partnerships.

With respect to improvement of social assistance programmes, the Speech declared that the government will collaborate with the private sector and non-governmental organisations to implement immediate relief measures for Abaco, Grand Bahama and Ragged Island.

Through partnerships with Social Services, Urban Renewal and Civil Society, including the churches, the government will work to ensure that every Bahamian has life skills, food to eat, clean water and a roof over their heads.

The government will increase the pension for Senior Citizens; increase the benefits for persons with disabilities and ensure that the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act are fully implemented and enforced.  It will introduce legislation for the protection of consumers and increase the minimum wage phasing in a livable wage.

In addition there will be re-introduction of the RISE programme “which provided substantial benefits to many families”; relief to mortgage and rent payers to prevent an increase in and reduce homelessness; legislation to provide for the establishment of an Urban Renewal Authority to improve the quality of life of residents throughout The Bahamas; creation of a national ‘Second-Chance’ jobs programme that allows those who have served prison time to enter the job market; and the expungement of records of those young people convicted of minor offences related to the use of marijuana, so that they may more easily re-join the formal, productive economy.

On crime, the Governor General stated from the Speech:

“My Government is fully committed to ensuring that the citizens of The Bahamas feel safe and secure and will address Crime and its associated social ills by adopting a holistic and multifaceted approach.

“My Government will continue to strengthen the Royal Bahamas Police Force to battle crime and preserve the peace; and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to better defend our territorial sovereignty.

“My Government will transform The Bahamas Department of Correctional Services into a rehabilitative institution in alignment with its mandate.”

The government, said the Governor General, “after the broadest consultation with stakeholders, will seek to reform the electoral process in The Bahamas.”

Referring to economic issues he detailed, from the Speech that the government will amend the Hotels Encouragement Act to provide better incentives for Bahamian-owned and joint venture boutique hotels and related tourism offerings; introduce legislation to create tax incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises owned by Bahamians; re-establish harmonious tripartite relations between Labour, Employers, and the Government; ensure that all labour issues are addressed as a matter of priority; advance the overall effectiveness of the Public Service through the expansion of training programs to assist in proper skill set placement customer service and revenue enhancement, also by implementing digitization to provide efficiency in clearing backlogs within the Ministry and Public Service Commission.  In handling the accumulation of pending matters, the government will create room for new matters to be addressed immediately and consistently.

The government considers housing to be a basic right, and as such through programmes and policies it will increase access to affordable homes.  New subdivisions will be developed using public-private partnerships; the government will return to building houses for Bahamians.

To ensure that the natural resources of The Bahamas benefit the people of The Bahamas, the government will strengthen legislation that established a Sovereign Wealth Fund and proposes that all of its non-financial assets be held in this fund for the benefit of generations of Bahamians.   It will provide the legal, fiscal and regulatory framework with the creation of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.   The government will also secure Carbon Credit payments for the country’s natural resources.

On the subject of education, the Governor General reported that the government strongly reaffirms that universal and equitable access to quality education is key to national development and to the fulfilment of each person’s potentiality.  As such, it is fully committed to support every young person in overcoming obstacles to digital learning, and to restore in-person lessons as soon as it is safe and practicable with health guidance.  Programmes will be established for monitoring and assisting high school dropouts so that immediate action is taken to ensure they continue to contribute to society as productive citizens, and measures will be introduced to expand the curriculum offering and incorporate educational models that build character, promote self-esteem and foster good citizenship for a deeper understanding and appreciation of our history.  The gap in access to education caused by COVID19 prevention protocols must be closed with a comprehensive remediation programme to ensure that no child is left behind.

Magnet Schools and specialty institutes for science, technology, engineering, the visual and performing arts, mathematics, financial literacy and entrepreneurship will be created.

The Governor General relayed that “My Government will amend the Education Act to provide for universal preprimary education for three- and four-year olds, consolidate the National Accreditation and Equivalency Council of The Bahamas (NAECOB) and the Preschool and Day Care Council, and specify home-schooling modalities.”

He also stated: “The good health and well-being of our youth is of prime concern to my Government. My Government will invest in their development, encourage and support their participation in national life, and provide and promote opportunities for their future.

“My Government will create national programmes that tackle new threats to the well-being of young people, including issues of mental health, lack of self-confidence and identity, excessive social media consumption, and national identity and unity.

“My Government will create a National ‘First-Job’ programme that allows young people between the age of 16–25 to gain a one-year Government subsidised placement in a field of national priority, including the new economies and trade.

“My Government will launch the Community Youth Service, and offer stipends for young Bahamians, to provide service to NGOs and community groups. This can build a vital bridge between school and the job market.

“My Government will establish a National Youth Guard in order for young people to receive technical training enabling them to serve in a Disaster Response Corps.”

“Madame President and Honourable Senators, Madame Speaker and Members of the Honourable House of Assembly: capitalize on the ongoing successes of the industrial sector on Grand Bahama and use the investment arm of the Ministry for Grand Bahama to create a one stop shop to attract new local and direct foreign investment by way of duty free concessions across the entire island.

“Family Island Affairs and Local Government are priorities for my Government.

“My Government will develop strategic plans for each island.

“My Government will work towards the finalisation of a Local Government Act for New Providence.

“My Government will empower Local Government with revenue-raising powers and share jurisdiction over local affairs and community management and development.

“My Government will increase the budget for Local Government Councils during our five-year term.”

“Madame President and Honourable Senators, Madame Speaker and Members of the Honourable House of Assembly: My Government will not tolerate corruption and is committed to introducing effective anticorruption legislation.

“My Government will govern for the many, not for the few, and promote the best interests of Bahamians and The Bahamas.

“My Government will increase accountability and transparency.

“My Government will fully implement the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Measures will be introduced to amend the rules of the House of Assembly to enable fixed sessions of parliament.”

The Speech continued that the government will pursue a foreign policy that promotes and upholds the founding principles of democracy, human rights, and non-interference; strengthen engagement with the international community, becoming more strategic and deliberative in participation in regional and international organisations. In collaboration with neighbouring countries, the government will work to strengthen maritime borders, and seek regional solutions to common issues such as migration.

The government will deepen relations with bilateral and international partners and bring focused attention to the promotion of trade and investment, and the provision of technical assistance.

It will expand its reach in the global community by opening Consulates and Embassies, including the appointment of Honorary Consuls and Non-Resident Envoys in key areas of the world to ensure that national interests are promoted and protected.

“Madame President and Honourable Senators, Madame Speaker and Members of the Honourable House of Assembly: These are the policies and plans upon which my Government will legislate in order to bring about a New Day in The Bahamas.

“We look forward to working in partnership with the Bahamian people to bring about a healthier, wealthier and wiser society.

“I pray that the blessings of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.”

 

Photo Caption: The Governor General His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Cornelius A. Smith delivers the Speech from the Throne, October 6, 2021 at Baha Mar convention centre.  Also pictured are, from left Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Hon. Philip Davis, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investment and Aviation the Hon. Chester Cooper; and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon. Fred Mitchell.

Wives of Cabinet Ministers are in the audience.   (BIS Photos/Letisha Henderson) 

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Hurricane Hole Superyacht Marina opens in the Bahamas 

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By Sherrica Thompson

Staff Writer

 

#TheBahamas, November 30, 2022 – Sterling Global Financial officially opened its Hurricane Hole Superyacht Marina on Paradise Island in the Bahamas on Friday, November 25.

The company broke ground for the $250 million redevelopment project in January 2019.

The deep-water floating docks are designed to cater to the needs of superyachts, sports fishers and smaller craft by adjusting to water levels and providing consistent access to vessels.  The company said this will help reduce the likelihood of damage during hurricanes.

While speaking at the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Philip Davis praised the Hurricane Hole Superyacht Marina, noting that it will add to the island’s vacation profile.

“This 250-million-dollar development is set to revitalize and diversify Paradise Island’s luxury vacation profile.  The entire development has effectively created a downtown district on Paradise Island and includes restaurants, harbourfront residences, professional offices, a food store, a wines and spirits retailer, and other commercial and retail vendors,” Davis said.

Davis also said the marina will boost tourism on Paradise Island.

“This boon is bringing excitement to Paradise Island, adding to the convenience for Paradise Island residents and the experience of visitors at hotels and short-term rentals.  More dining, boating choices, entertainment, and convenient services will serve to augment the overall experience of residents and visitors alike,” the Prime Minister explained.

Adding that: “At the heart of this development is the Sterling Hurricane Hole Superyacht Marina capable of hosting the world’s most exclusive superyachts — boats up to 420 feet in length.”

Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper said the marina will increase the country’s booking for the next three months.

“These are exciting times for Nassau’s Paradise Island.  These are exciting times for tourism, and we know that our bookings for the next three months are 16 per cent ahead of where they were in 2019,” Cooper said.

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Hurricane Season 2022 ends today;  337 died + Damages at $54 Billion

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By Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

November 30, 2022 – What was predicted to be an extremely active hurricane season ends today Wednesday November 30, thankfully, falling a little short of 2022 predictions.  Less storms, less major storms still 337 were killed and damages hit over $54 billion.

The season started slowly when compared to recent years. In fact, 2022 was the first hurricane season in eight years where a storm did not develop before June 1st.   Nonetheless by June 5 the first storm was in and it was named: Alex which was one of the few storms to survive crossing land moving into the Atlantic from the Eastern Pacific basin.

Alex was the first of fourteen storms.  Bonnie and Colin arrived in July without much damage and the season was quiet for another month.

Then came September, which spat out Hurricanes Danielle; Earl; Fiona; Tropical Storm Gaston; Hurricane Ian; and Tropical Storm Hermine in quick succession.

Hurricane Fiona which reached Category 4 strength became the first major storm of the season on October September 20th passing by the Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos with severe flooding in the two Latino Caribbean countries and violent winds in TCI, a small British overseas territory which it hit as a Category 1 storm.

Bermuda would also feel the wrath of Hurricane Fiona which continued north, into Canada where at Cat4 strength it become that country’s strongest, devastating infrastructure in places like Prince Edward Island.  The death toll in Fiona: 31 people.

Only seven days later Hurricane Ian, which at its strongest was a Category 4, barreled towards Florida and the Carolinas going past Jamaica and directly over Cuba in the process, with destructive results.

Almost 150 people were killed according to US media.

Large swaths of Florida were torn apart and thousands left homeless.  A 12 foot storm surge meant many people in single story homes had to leave them behind lest they drown in the water filling them.

In October Category 1 Hurricane Julia and Tropical Storm Karl formed.  Skirting the Central American countries, Julia still drenched Venezuela, Guatemala and El Salvador – reports of severe flash floods led to at least 91 people died.

Hurricanes Lisa, Martin, and Nicole formed in November.

Nicole was a surprising late season Category 1 hurricane which brought extreme flooding to the Dominican Republic and Northwestern Bahamas affecting areas still recovering from hurricane Dorian.  It went on to further damage areas of Florida which had only weeks before been slightly affected by Hurricane Ian.   Nicole brought a direct and damaging hit.  At least 11 people were killed.

According to official assessments, the University of Arizona turned out to be the most accurate predictor of the season claiming back in April that there would be fourteen named storms, seven  hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

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Hurricane Nicole – A symbol of climate injustice

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By Deandre Williamson

Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellow

 

#TheBahamas, November 29, 2022 – With the trauma of Hurricane Dorian still lingering, Abaco and Grand Bahama residents braced for Hurricane Nicole as they experienced another unfair blow of climate injustice.

As sea levels rose, triggering storm surges and flooding, the northwestern islands of The Bahamas were placed under hurricane watch.  For many, this signaled that the fight for climate justice must continue.

Some residents on those islands evacuated their homes and fled to shelters hours before Nicole made landfall in The Bahamas on Nov. 9 as a tropical storm and strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane with winds up to 75 miles per hour.

“The wind was manageable.  It wasn’t as bad as we thought.  In our area we got maybe a limb or so that blew down.  The power was out for a while, but thank God, we made it through it,” Abaco resident Mark Anthony Swain said.

Although the impact of Hurricane Nicole was minimal when compared to Hurricane Dorian in 2019, climate change is the underlying cause of the intensity and frequency of hurricanes in recent years.

When Nicole exited The Bahamas, the “all clear” was given, but the country isn’t clear from future hurricanes and the devastating effects of climate change.

However, it’s clear that The Bahamas and other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) need climate justice because they are hit hardest by the impact of climate change, are the least responsible and together bear next to no responsibility for the climate crisis.

While the Government of The Bahamas is fighting for climate justice, residents of Abaco and Grand Bahama are calling for more to be done to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Swain, who also experienced Hurricane Dorian, said the countries that are major contributors of carbon emissions in the atmosphere should do more to assist smaller countries in fighting climate change, so when hurricanes and other natural disasters occur, the smaller countries will be able to maintain themselves.

“I think these other countries that are contributing to the climate challenge that we are facing should be held responsible and accountable in that regard,” Swain added.

China, the United States, Russia, India and Japan are the top five countries with the highest carbon emissions in the world.

Grand Bahama resident Randy Deleveaux, who was on the island during Hurricane Nicole, agrees that more should be done concerning the climate crisis because The Bahamas is in a hurricane zone based on its geographical location.

“We know that every year rain, sun or shine, it appears as if we are going to have a hurricane, whether it’s a major one or not a major one,” Deleveaux said.  “As a matter of fact, even though the ones we consider not major, we still have to take more necessary precautions because Dorian taught us we can’t take nothing for granted.”

Deleveaux suggested that the government should ensure that every household is equipped with storm shutters, floatation devices and life jackets.

“There are so many things that the government can do and persons can do in relation to hurricanes because we always have to prepare,” he added.

“Every time we have a hurricane coming, persons have to run and scrap for plywood to put on their windows.  We need to move from that and be able to properly prepare.

“Look at our coastal erosion and stuff like that because of the hurricanes.  I remember one time you could go on the beaches and see sand, now some of these beaches don’t have no sand like that because of hurricanes and we’re not even looking at the impact that is having on our coastal and marine life. We don’t replace the sand.  There is so much things we can do.”

 

Loss and Damage

But no matter how large or small a hurricane measures on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, there is always loss and damage associated with a storm.

According to Prime Minister of The Bahamas Philip Davis, during the Caribbean Regional Heads of Government Meeting in Preparation for COP27, more than 50 percent of The Bahamas’ outstanding debt can be linked to the impacts of the hurricanes between 2015 and 2019.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in its damage and loss assessments (DaLA) synthesis, noted that The Bahamas has lost more than $4.2 billion over the past seven years as a result of Hurricanes Joaquin, Matthew, Irma and Dorian.

Abaco and Grand Bahama are still rebuilding from Hurricane Dorian and, although minimal, the damages from Hurricane Nicole are being assessed.

Prime Minister Davis was in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt attending COP27 when Hurricane Nicole passed through the northwestern Bahamas.  At COP27, he called on world leaders to get real about ensuring that loss and damage are compensated for.

“We do not have a significant carbon footprint in the world. Yes, we do have a significant carbon sink in the world.  But yet still, after this hurricane has passed, who’s going to have to pay for the recovery, reconstruction and for normalizing the lives of my people?” Davis said in a video interview.

Climate justice fights for solutions to the climate crisis that would result in reduced emissions and industrialized rich nations sharing the burden of the crisis by helping SIDS handle the severe effects of climate change.

Swain lost his home during Hurricane Dorian and there are others who also lost their homes and some are still living in trailers in Abaco.

Without insurance, Swain is rebuilding his home, but the progress is slow.

He explained that the Disaster Reconstruction Authority and other NGOs promised to help him, but they haven’t delivered on their promises as yet.

“We will, out of pocket, try to do some things to get us along,” Swain said.

Hurricane Dorian caused a housing shortage in Abaco and the demand for a home is great.

According to Swain, because of the demand and desperation to find a home, the rent in Abaco is skyrocketing.

“You can find the average apartment, two bedroom, going for no less than $1,500.  In some instances it’s over $2,000,” he said.

After negotiations and hearing the pleas of Small Island Developing States, COP27 closed with the announcement of a loss and damage fund to compensate countries impacted by climate change. This is a huge step in the fight for climate justice.

 

This story was published with the support of Climate Tracker’s Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship.

 

Deandre Williamson

Journalist

Member, The Bahamas Press Club 2014

 

Caption:  Flooding in Abaco caused by Hurricane Nicole. (Photo/Abaco resident)

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