THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (2-6 MAY 2016)

Posted on: May 6, 2016

Authored by: Elcott Coleby
Source: Bahamas Information Services
Date: May 6, 2016

 

PM CHRISTIE ATTENDS CARIBBEAN ENERGY SECURITY SUMMIT

Prime Minister Christie traveled to Washington DC on Tuesday of this week where he joined other CARICOM Heads at the Caribbean Energy Security Summit. CARICOM leaders met with United States Vice President Joseph Biden where they again shared their expectations on funding and technical cooperation as the region formulates its strategic plan to arrest global warming.

Post millennium goals call for containment of global warming to within 1.3 degrees Celsius based on pre-industrial levels. At the current rate of global warming, The Bahamas could lose eighty percent of its land mass to rising sea levels by 2050.

The Bahamas recently ratified the Paris Accord at the UN in New York after participating in its negotiation in Paris in December 2015.

Switching gears and commenting on domestic policy issues, Prime Minister Christie revealed that he met with Baha Mar’s receivers earlier in the week and agreed that the project should be completed before the new buyer for the $3.5 billion is selected. The receiver Raymond Winder has indicated a June date for the selection of a buyer. 

Also in Washington DC was National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage who met with officials at the US State Department to continue consultations the government’s Citizen Security and Justice Initiative that includes the establishment of a national parole system for ex-offenders. 

Others in attendance were Foreign Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell and Environment Minister Hon. Kenred Dorsett.

  

OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL CLARIFIES BILL #4

Amid ongoing public debate, commentary and opposition to Constitutional Bill #4 largely driven largely by misinformation, the Office of the Attorney General released a statement on Sunday, 1st May 2016 to provide greater clarity to the general public on this specific bill. The statement is released below in its entirety due to its importance.

“Bahamians will participate in a referendum in which they will be asked to vote on four amendments to our nation’s Constitution

“Many Bahamians have sought clarification on legal questions that have arisen in the course of debate regarding Amendment Four.

“Is it possible that in the future, judges could interpret Amendment Four as giving people the right to same-sex marriage?

No.

“While it is the role of judges to interpret the Constitution and statutes, they must do so according to established legal rules. They are not free to ignore the language of the amendment or the will of Parliament.

“In the case of Amendment Four, Parliament made sure to define “sex” as “male or female”, so no future court could interpret “sex” as “sexual orientation”. And members of Parliament stated on the record, repeatedly, that their only intent in passing these amendments was to give men and women equal rights.

“If the Constitution is “supreme” over other laws, couldn’t Amendment Four be used to overrule the Bahamian law that says marriage is between a man and a woman?

“No. The Matrimonial Causes Act says that in The Bahamas, in order to be legal, a marriage must be between a man and a woman. Nothing in Amendment Four could or would change this law.

“Amendment Four would prevent new laws and action by the state that discriminate against men and women, but it would not affect the Matrimonial Causes Act because it is a pre-independence law that was expressly “saved” by the Constitution. Article 26(4)(c) of our Constitution states that the non-discrimination provisions of Article 26 do not apply to laws from before 1973.

“What about the Privy Council? Although nearly every country in the Commonwealth already has the right to non-discrimination on the basis of “sex” in their Constitutions, the Privy Council has NEVER interpreted this provision to create a right to same-sex marriage in any of those countries for which it remains the final court of appeal. All countries in the Commonwealth that do allow same-sex marriage have very different constitutional provisions from the Bahamas or passed specific laws permitting it.”

“The word “sex” may mean male or female, but what if people change genders in order to marry?

“Sex” in Amendment Four is defined as “male or female,” and that means male or female at birth. There are settled cases in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth that state that the law only recognizes a person’s sex at birth for the purposes of marriage. Thus, a person born a male cannot marry another person born a male. What matters is what is on your birth certificate.

“The Office of the Attorney General urges persons to attend the public information sessions being conducted by the Constitutional Commission.”

 

PRIME MINISTER CHRISTIE OPENS THE SIR JACK HAYWARD BRIDGE 

Prime Minister Christie was in Grand Bahama on Monday May 2nd to participate in the official opening of the $4.3 million Sir Hayward Bridge, a causeway that will significantly reduces the travel time between Freeport and East Grand Bahama. It replaces the sixty year old Casuarina Bridge

In his address Mr. Christie reiterated the critical importance of the shareholders of the Grand Bahama Port Authority and the government working together to attract more investment in securing the future of Grand Bahama. In doing so the Prime Minister covered three important points.

“We are very near to the conclusion of complex discussions and negotiations in terms of the future of Grand Bahama” pointed out Christie, but explained that due to meetings in Washington DC, his update to Parliament on the status of Freeport will be deferred until Wednesday, 11th May.  

Secondly, he said “we have to recognize that special instruments must be created for Grand Bahama to promote it more effectively. The infrastructure is just too sophisticated, too rewarding to investors for there not to be an instrument that would be able to attract investment from all over the world at a much more significant pace than is currently done.”

 “Thirdly,” said Christie, “we are living in a more competitive world and no matter what we think and what our politics is all about, countries are racing to take advantage of what they see in The Bahamas and making decisions to take them beyond us.” 

Also present during the opening were: Minister for Grand Bahama, the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville; the Hon. K. Peter Turnquest, Deputy Leader of the Free National Movement and Member of Parliament for East Grand Bahama; the Hon. Neko Grant, Member of Parliament for Central Grand Bahama; members of the Hayward and St. George families, past and present executives of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, and other leading business people in the Grand Bahama community. 

 

FORMER GOVERNORS GENERAL URGE “YES” VOTE ON EQUALITY BILLS

Two framers on The Bahamas’ 1973 Independence Constitution and Governors General Sir Orville Turnquest and Sir Arthur Foulkes released a joint statement on Wednesday evening expressing their support for the four constitutional bills and urging Bahamians to vote “yes” on June 7. The statement is published in its entirety below:

“As former Governors General of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, as former Members of Parliament, and as signers to our nation’s Independence Constitution, we wish to express our full support for gender equality in our Constitution and to encourage the Bahamian people to Vote Yes on all four of the amendments that will be presented in the June 7th referendum.

“We are proud that the Constitution we helped to create in 1972 prohibits laws which discriminate on the basis of race or religion; now this right to non-discrimination must be extended to Bahamian men and women. In strong democracies, citizens bear the same responsibilities and enjoy the same rights, whether they are male or female.

“Bahamians are being asked: should our sons and daughters be equal in our Constitution and under our laws? Our answer can only be yes; not only because democracy depends on this kind of equality, but because we are fathers and grandfathers.

“We know that families provide the foundation for every strong society, and laws that divide families weaken our nation. Our sons and daughters, and our grandsons and granddaughters, should have the same opportunities, the same privileges and the same protections under the law.

“We urge Bahamians to reflect carefully and to be guided by the truth, not by fear and confusion. This is a historic opportunity, a moment for progress and celebration. Voting Yes is the right choice for our country, for our democracy and for our sons and daughters.”

A ‘NO’ VOTE OVER SAME-SEX MARRIAGE FEARS A ’TERRIBLE SHAME’

The brisk debate over the pending referendum bills continued this week with Bahamas Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson telling the media that it will be a “terrible shame” if Bahamians vote ‘no’ to the referendum constitutional bills out of fear of same-sex marriage.

“This bill is not about the transgender comments” said Mrs. Gibson. “We are focusing on what this is about. In 2016 Bahamians are ready and anxious for June 7 to come so that they can vote ‘yes’ to all four amendments, making it very clear that in today’s Bahamas equality reigns.”

The Attorney General however does not believe that the current debate over transgender rights is particularly controversial. She thinks it is healthy for our people’s democracy and it is respectful for the government to answer their questions.

“I don’t really call it controversy. I think it is exciting. It sends a message about how strong our democracy is that people are interested in having information.

BAHAMAS SUPREME COURT GETS TWO NEW JUSTICES.

Cheryl Grant-Bethel and Joyann Ferguson-Pratt are the two latest Justices to be sworn in by Governor-General Dame Marguerite Pindling at Government House to serve on the Bahamas Supreme Court bench. Mrs. Ferguaon-Pratt is the former Chief Magistrate.

On Tuesday, 2nd May 2016 Justice Grant-Bethel, a veteran public prosecutor and former Deputy Commissioner of the Law Reform Commission was sworn in.

RAMSEY CONVICTED ON 14 OF 18 COUNTS OF BRIBERY RELATED CHARGES

The verdict was handed down in the Bahamas Supreme Court presided over by Justice Bernard Turner on Tuesday evening where a jury found Fred Ramsay guilty on fourteen of eighteen counts of bribery related charges.

The 79 year old former insurance executive, BEC board member, politician and entrepreneur faces $10,000 in fines and four years imprisonment at the Bahamas Department of Corrections for the role he played in securing a multimillion dollar BEC contract for French energy giant Alstrom. Mr. Ramsey reportedly received some $325,000 from Alstrom between 1999 and 2003 for the use of his influence in what turned out to be a global bribery scandal.

Mr. Ramsey’s attorney, Wayne Munroe asked the court to arrest the jury’s decision pending arguments pursuant to Article 28 of the constitution that specific documentation germane to Mr. Ramsey’s defense were not disclosed. He further argued for bail for his client in light of his health status.

Justice Turner granted Mr. Ramsey $40,000 bail and the hearing on the constitutional motion is scheduled for 12th May.

ISLAND LUCK AND COB PARTNER FOR INCREASED FINANCIAL AID

Students entering the College of The Bahamas (COB) and tertiary institutions abroad can expect some much needed assistance in meeting those ever increasing tuition costs, thanks to the Island Luck Cares Foundation.

Announced on Tuesday evening by the CEO of Island Luck Sebas Sebastian at the Harry C. Moore Library at COB, $500,000 in scholarship money is being made available to the College of The Bahamas for qualified students and another $100,000 is being allocated to assist high school students in their scholastic endeavours.

“ALL SYSTEMS ARE GO” FOR 2016 BAHAMAS CARNIVAL

‘All systems are go’ for the 2016 Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival under the theme “GLOBAL FUSION SOUNDS”, according to Bahamas National Festival Commission (BNFC) CEO Roscoe Dames at Monday’s press conference hosted to update the public on preparedness for the festival, May 5-7, 2016. Mr. Dames said the Da Cultural Village opens at 12:00 noondaily and is free to the public until 6 p.m. each day. Junk-a-mania, the official opening by Prime Minister Christie and an old fashion Junkanoo rush took place on Thursday night; the Music Masters and concert with Wyclef Jean and Destra took place on Friday night and Road Fever and final concert is scheduled for Saturday to cap off a three-day fun filled Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival experience. Tickets for the events — scheduled for after 6:00 p.m. daily — can be purchased at all Cash-N-Go locations in New Providence and at Da Cultural Village on the day of those events.

In Passing…

The YES CAMPAIGN launched its family island campaign in Exuma on Tuesday of this week. This corresponds with the continuing education program by the Constitutional Commission that was also held in Exuma this week. The commission explains what the 4 constitutional bills mean but does not encourage people to vote either way on the bills.

Tall Pines MP Leslie suggested that since members of the LGBT community do not share the same values as heterosexuals, they should be exiled to an island away from the general Bahamian population. He offered $1,000 toward their relocation expenses. Erin Greene shot back that Mr. Miller’s comments demonstrated a “severe degree of ignorance.” PLP Chairman Bradley B. Roberts said Mr. Miller’s statement does not reflect the policy position of the PLP or the government as the PLP was founded on the principles of “social justice and equality.” Mr. Miller responded that he was only speaking “in jest.”

Last week we reported that the Public Hospital Authority received 10 brand new Ford F-350 ambulances. Well on Thursday morning May 5th, 2016, these ten (10) new Emergency Service Vehicles (ESV) were officially commissioned in a ceremony at the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre. The ESV’s will be deployed between New Providence and Grand Bahama.

The Urban Renewal Commission donated ten laptops to the children of Long Island on Wednesday evening at a ceremony at Evangelistic Temple. On hand to accept the laptops was Long Island MP the Hon. Loretta Butler-Turner.

With new CEO Pamela Hill in place at the Bahamas Power and Light (BPL), the BEC line staff and management union heads both agree that for the time being, no layoffs are anticipated at the Power Company. Paul Maynard and Clint Minnis said they met with Ms. Hill and told her that staff morale was low but promised her that they will do all that they can to help her in the process.

Notwithstanding House speaker Major’s position to defend the freedom and independence of the House to the point of calling judges to the bar of the House, Central and South Eleuthera MP Damian Gomez said it was “unlikely” that Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles will be summoned to the House.

With growing interest in the acquisition of the $3.5 billion Baha Mar property, the government secured another delay in winding up the property on Thursday. The government secure a September 2016 update meeting with Justice Ian Winder.

Connecticut Sun Jonquel Jones played just 16 minutes in her professional debut against the Chicago Sky with the Sun winning 84-81. Jones shot 3-5 from the field and 2-3 from beyond the 3-point line.

Labour Minister the Hon. Shane Gibson told the media that the government is still willing to meet and resolve all outstanding issues with the Bahamas Customs, Immigration and Allied Workers Union (BCIAWU). He was optimistic after months of tense and sometimes acrimonious negotiations, with Sloan Smith accusing the government from blocking a strike vote. “We want to do something for them,” Gibson said who has pointed out in the past that the two remaining labour agreements are the doctors unions and the customs and immigration union.

Former Attorney General and Education Minister Alfred Sears has called for the establishment of an “Integrity Commission to investigate the conduct of members of Parliaments, senators, and senior public officials” and for term limits for prime ministers. Mr. Sears, who currently chairs the governing council of the College of The Bahamas, was recently ratified as the PLP’s candidate for Ft. Charlotte, the constituency he represented for two consecutive terms, from 2002 to 2012.

On Thursday the YES Bahamas campaign urged Bahamians to register to vote and to approach the upcoming referendum with a full understanding of “what is at stake, and to make the right decision for our nation and our sons and daughters.” In a statement, President of the Senate and Co-Chair of the YES Bahamas campaign Lady Sharon Wilson also thanked former Governor Generals Sir Arthur Foulkes and Sir Orville Turnquest for their support of the referendum “not as statement but as fathers and grandfathers.”

Bishop Simeon Hall yesterday said he was “disappointed” by former Court of Appeal President Dame Joan Sawyer’s recent comments branding the impending referendum “a waste of time”, as he urged support of the four Constitutional Amendment Bills. The prominent religious leader said a “yes” vote to all four referendum questions would put the electorate “on the right side of history.”

Edison Sumner, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) Chief Executive Officer said that a properly-functioning Freedom of Information Act would ensure business is conducted with “a higher degree of integrity” in The Bahamas. He made specific mention of public contract administration. Regarding the June 7 referendum on gender equality, Mr. Sumner opined that its outcome could have far-reaching consequences for the Bahamian economy and its ability to reverse the “brain drain” phenomenon.

Supreme Court Justice Bernard Turner yesterday ruled in favor of the owners of land that has provided access to the western end of Cabbage Beach. The Cabbage Beach Vendors Association sought an injunction, which would have prohibited Access Industries from blocking the pathway adjacent to the RIU Hotel that leads to the western end of Cabbage Beach.

Education Minister the Hon. Jerome traveled to Coral Gables this week to meet with University of Miami officials as the government irons out an agreement for the establishment of a medical school in The Bahamas. This policy initiative was announced by Prime Minister Christie at the launch of the NDP diagnosis in April.

The terrible news circulated quickly on social media on Friday morning, even going viral. The feisty President of the Air Traffic Controllers and other airport allied workers union Nelerene Harding reportedly collapsed and lost consciousness while shopping at a local supermarket. She was rushed to hospital where remained at press time. Her condition was not fully known at the time.

The back and force within the FNM continued on Friday with former Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson defending Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins amid criticism leveled against the Member of Parliament over leaked emails, which revealed he recommended to FNM Leader Dr. Minnis that Dr. Duane Sands be appointed to the Senate. Dr. Rollins also suggested that Dr. Minnis remove Senator Kwasi Thompson from the upper chamber.

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