Nassau, The Bahamas
Monday, 16th December 2019
My Parliamentary Colleague and High Commissioner to CARICOM Reuben Rahming;
The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps (Ambassador HUANG Qinguo, People’s Republic of China)
(Our host) The Dean of the Honorary Consular Corps (Mr Maxwell Gibson, Republic of Korea)
Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Members of the Honorary Consular Corps,
Staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to join all of you once again at the end of the year, for this annual luncheon. This time together gives us an opportunity to review the Ministry’s work for the year. This year presented many challenges, the greatest of which was the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Dorian. There were also a number of significant achievements, some of which were resultant of the hurricane.
At the outset, allow me to congratulate the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Korea, Max Gibson, in his new role as Dean of the Honorary Consular Corps. I also wish to extend a warm welcome to our newest members of the Diplomatic Corps, Her Excellency Sarah Dickson, High Commissioner of the United Kingdom. The return of a resident presence by the UK in The Bahamas is most welcomed. I also extend warm greetings to His Excellency Alejandro Garcia del Toro, Ambassador of Cuba. I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to acknowledge the stellar and dedicated performance of former Honorary Consul Patrick Hanlon, the former Dean of the Corps. I also welcome his successor, the new Honorary Consul for Jamaica, Terrel A. Butler. Just a few days ago, the UNDP Resident Representative, Denise Antonio, based in Jamaica, presented to me her letter of introduction. I expect to receive other envoys in the coming weeks. Along with the staff of the Ministry, I look forward to working with all of you.
I also take this occasion to publicly thank, the Ministry’s staff, without whom the steady flow, and sometimes deluge of work, would not have been realized this year: High Commissioner to CARICOM Reuben Rahming; Permanent Secretary Peter Deveaux-Isaacs, who joined the Ministry in August 2019; Director-General Sharon Brennen-Haylock; Ambassador-at-Large Dr. Kenya Ward; Dr. Paulette Bethel, National Coordinator for the OAS General Assembly, which The Bahamas will host June 2020; Former Permanent Secretary Jack Thompson; Senior Managers and all Members of Staff at the Ministry Headquarters, the Consular Division, the Passport Office and the Overseas Missions.
Colleagues, to avoid the appearance of going over a laundry list of things, or a chronology of events, I’ll to try show what that list represents.
Hurricane Dorian – Undoubtedly, hurricane Dorian is the singular most significant event of this year. It has dominated not only our thoughts, but that of the entire global community. This hurricane was unprecedented on many fronts. Permit me to thank each of you and the countries that you represent for coming to our aid in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. The response of the United States of America—in this regard—cannot be overstated—particularly during the immediate passage of the storm. Simply stated, the world came to help us during our darkest hour. You provided equipment, food and water and other much needed supplies. The UN and others commended The Bahamas on its preparation and management of our response to the hurricane. This was due in large part to important outreach we made to the UN and donor countries before the hurricane struck, so that humanitarian actors were able to move in as soon as it was safe to do so.
Now that we are in the restoration and rebuilding phase, many of your countries have remained and continue to provide support. Our friends in the UN System, Civil Society and the Private Sector are also to be commended for the critical and selfless assistance provided. Such assistance include:
- Approximately $142 million in monetary donations as of September 2019 from countries, regional organizations and humanitarian organizations;
- MOU with Carnival Corporation to fund and support flood damage repairs and basic restoration efforts at Rand Memorial Hospital in Grand Bahama by March 2020;
- MOU between the Government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to assist with the clean-up and debris management of impacted areas;
- A visit by the Prime Ministers of St. Lucia and Barbados, respectively in their capacities as current and incoming Chairs of the CARICOM Heads of Government and they were accompanied by the CARICOM Secretary General;
- Visits by ranking members of the United States Congressional Caucus;
- A visit by officials of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China; and
- Visits by the Secretaries General of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States and the Undersecretary General of the United Nations in charge of Humanitarian Affairs;
- Many of these persons visited both Abaco and Grand Bahama.
These visits have allowed the world to view the extent of the damage to the impacted areas and to showcase the ongoing international support. The UN has estimated some $3.4 billion is needed for restoration and recovery.
Regrettably, it took the tragedy of Dorian to show the world what The Bahamas and other small island developing states (SIDS) have been saying for a number of years. In the result, building resilience must become priority for vulnerable states. Otherwise, the vicious cycle of building, destruction by a hurricane, then the global community rushing in with humanitarian aid will continue. We need active change and initiatives to combat climate change and rising sea levels which now threaten the extinction of small island nations.
Moreover, the use of per capita GNP as a measurement of wealth, with no cognizance of vulnerabilities must be discontinued. This improper matrix prohibits countries like The Bahamas from accessing official development assistance or concessionary loans. Whether a country is middle income or wealthy has no relevance when a hurricane with the magnitude of Dorian strikes. The astronomical cost of rebuilding would be difficult for any country, whether high, middle or low income.
Hurricane Dorian and its ravaging of The Bahamas dominated the dialogues at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) this year, where both the Prime Minister and I participated in a number of panel and roundtable discussions. During his address at the 2019 UNGA, the Prime Minister underscored this message of resilience and combatting climate change. We believe that our partners and friends in the global community heard us and many others of the same view.
Meetings such as those convened this year by the Governments of Romania, the USA and Germany, where in-depth discussions focused on resilience building are encouraging.
Hurricane Dorian Donor Conference
On 13th January 2020, there will be a Hurricane Dorian Private Sector Pledging Conference at the Baha Mar Convention Centre here in Nassau with assistance from the United Nations Development Programme. The goal of the conference is to mobilize domestic and international financing to assist with ‘Rebuilding a Stronger, more Resilient Bahamas’.
Invitations to the event have been extended to UN Member States and other Regional and Multilateral Organizations. The conference will also allow for local and international companies to showcase sustainable and innovative technologies, services and products intended to aid with reconstruction in various sectors such as Marine and Fisheries, Tourism, Capacity Building, Policy Development and Preparedness, Housing, Infrastructure, Education, Environment and Agriculture. Those planning on attending must register by the 31st December 2019.
To speed our recovery I ask you to remind potential visitors from the countries you represent to visit our country as we are still open for business.
Excellences, The Bahamas’ representation on key international bodies fulfills our goal to leverage ourselves as a small country to play a strategic role in the international community and to enhance our capacity to relate to global issues. In this context, The Bahamas was successful in its bid for re-election to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), November last, having secured the sixth (6th) highest number of votes in Category C, and I wish to thank the countries you represent for their support in making this possible. We also launched this year, the candidature of Ms. Marion Bethel for re-election to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Ms. Bethel, who has received the endorsement of CARICOM, has performed with excellence on the Committee and is highly deserving of a second term. The elections will take place in 2020 and we hope to count on the support of your countries for her re-election. We completed our first of a three year term on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). We also began the first of our four year term on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Council, a seat we will have until 2023. In July, The Bahamas was elected to serve on the Council of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) for the next three years, succeeding Trinidad and Tobago who previously held the position.
As you may recall, at the last luncheon, I mentioned that this government was committed to best serving The Bahamas’ interest by our active participation in regional, hemispheric and international organizations through the promotion of close relationships with our neighbouring countries. I can affirmatively say that we have done so and will continue to work actively towards enhancing our engagement. To this end, The Bahamas Embassy in Brussels was opened March this year, with the official opening by the Prime Minister during November. Her Excellency Maria O’Brien is accredited to the Government of Belgium, the European Union (EU) and the Association of African Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP). We will shortly dispatch an Ambassador to Geneva, a post which has been vacant since September 2017. The Ambassador will be accredited to the United Nations in Geneva and the Government of Switzerland. In September, His Excellency Ellison Greenslade presented letters of credence to Italy and in December to France formally accrediting him as the non-resident Ambassador of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas to those countries.
New Diplomatic Relations
It is my pleasure to report that via our Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, The Bahamas recently established diplomatic relations with Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Belarus, and the Republic of Moldova. More are to be entered into next year.
Presentations of Letters of Credence
This year the Ministry welcomed the appointments of new Diplomatic Envoys to The Bahamas, such as: Malta, the Portuguese Republic, South Africa, the Republic of Chile, the Republic of Zambia, Ghana, Romania, Australia, the Republic of Cuba, and New Zealand, with more expected early next year.
This past May, I successfully completed my term as Chair of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), during which time I was able to underscore The Bahamas’ commitment to regional, hemispheric and international organizations as well as promote and maintain The Bahamas’ close relations with our neighbours.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ ongoing priorities are:
- The resumption of maritime delimitation yet extant with some neighbouring states;
- The establishment of comprehensive, meaningful and beneficial maritime agreements;
- Along with our colleagues in national security, combatting international crime such as terrorism, trafficking in persons, drugs and weapons; in this context, I attended the Second Western Hemisphere Counter Terrorism Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aries, Argentina;
- The compilation of a national register of Bahamians abroad in order to encourage their participate in national development;
- The complete upgrade of our Passport and Consular services; and
- The qualitative training of our Foreign Service Officers to represent The Bahamas both in the Capital and our Offices Overseas, in this context 12 new officers completed induction training during the year.
These are in line with the national set of priorities which include:
- The promotion of national development;
- To remain active in discussions concerning the disastrous effects of climate change and rising sea levels;
- To maintain The Bahama’s participation in regional, hemispheric and international organisations such as the United Nations, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Commonwealth of Nations and the Organisation of American States (OAS); and
- To maintain The Bahamas’ firm stance for initiatives against the trafficking of persons, firearms, drugs and other illegal substances.
- In February, we signed a $12-million economic bilateral agreement with the People’s Republic of China, the funds of which will go towards projects agreed by The Bahamas and China;
- Along with our colleagues in Civil Aviation, this year, MFA facilitated the signing of several agreements related to air services with countries such as China, Guyana, Jordan, the USA, Tanzania, Czech Republic, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Morocco, Mozambique, Paraguay and Cyprus. To date we have 22 fully fledged air services agreements, 4 Agreed Minutes, 1 Airline Designation, 2 Code Shares and 28 MOUs. These agreements pave the way for future economic growth and increased airlifts, particularly given the impact of Hurricane Dorian;
- We have in place a visa waiver agreement with India for holders of diplomatic and official passports, while Indian nationals holding visas or permanent resident status from Canada, Schengen, the United Kingdom or the United States can travel visa free to The Bahamas;
- Along with our colleagues in the Ministry of Financial Services, Trade and Immigration, we signed the CARIFORUM-UK EPA, on 27th This will ensure trade continuity with the UK post Brexit; and
- On 9th December 2019, we executed the Headquarters Agreement with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), which reflects the Privileges and Immunities of the Institute. Even prior to the signing of the agreement CARDI has been providing invaluable technical assistance and advice to The Bahamas in the agricultural sector.
Revamping of the Consular Corps
The Ministry has taken on new initiatives in an effort to re-vamp our Consular Corps abroad. We are currently working on a policy to strengthen the corps and there is a review currently underway concerning the policy on how we appoint Honorary Consuls. We have also now created an application form to aid with this process.
On 10th December, the first phase of the online portal for the renewal of adult e-passports was officially launched. In this technology driven environment, the government is keen to make the applicant’s experience easier, safer and faster in order to provide solutions that are relevant to our citizenry’s dynamics and needs. We will soon add to this celebrated initiative, the second phase of the online portal, which will include the renewal of e-passports for minors.
It should be noted that our ‘e-pics’ system surpasses ICAO requirements and is far reaching in innovations in travel documents.
There will also be satellite stations in Inagua, Exuma, Long Island and Eleuthera. We now expect the passport experience to be a more pleasant one. We anticipate that persons, especially those who are technologically savvy, will be breathing sighs of relief and be happy to take advantage of this innovation and thereby avoid and also reduce long lines and waits of the past.
Before I close, permit me to refer to the untimely deaths of two young Bahamian men, rising stars and brilliant individuals, who met their untimely demise in Italy. The deaths of Alrae Ramsey, a Foreign Service Officer who was studying in Austria at the Diplomatic Academy, and Blair John, a Ph.D. student in Canada, shook our ministry and country to their core. The Government has since engaged the services of an Italian law firm to assist with determining what happened to these young men, whose lights were extinguished all too quickly. I thank the Governments of Italy and Austria for all of the assistance rendered thus far.
The past year has proven to be one the most challenging years that The Bahamas has had to face in recent times. We will all have to work together to rebuild what was lost and emerge stronger and more united than ever. It has been made even clearer now to both the region and the world the importance of mitigating the impact of climate change and the time to talk is over, it is now time for action and through our work in the Foreign Service, I trust that we will do our best to facilitate this.
This by no means covers all of the extensive work done by the Ministry in 2019, but, in the interest of time, I will stop here. My remarks will be made available—in a timely manner—on the Ministry’s website and social media pages.
May you and your families have an enjoyable holiday season.
I stand advised that some of you may have questions for me and, so, I remain standing before you to provide what I may in response.