Young Man’s View: Cabinet Report – Top Marks Or Bottom Of The Class?

Friday 20th, February 2015 / 08:41 Published by

Kenred Dorsett

This will be the last time I write the name Ken Dorsett until he does something worthwhile.

The Minister of the Environment and Housing heads a department that has much potential but he has done so little. He has nothing to report in three years at the helm. He has been a ministerial disappointment, particularly among younger members of his party. He certainly has not bucked the party line.

gradesDorsett has unfortunately been the subject of a lot of negative speculation. In as much as hearsay information is not factual, what is peculiar is that he has been at the forefront of a number of the controversies facing this government and, as Minister of the Environment, what can be said is that he has been at the helm from one environmental cataclysm/issue to another – whether we talk about water (oil spills at Clifton), air (smoke emanating from the dump), land (unresolved oil waste in Marathon) or fire (dump). Recently, my son could not attend school for one day because his classroom was filled with smoke.

Under Dorsett, there has been no legislation on oil exploration and nothing of significance relative to a national energy policy. On New Providence, residential energy self-generation (RESG) participants still can only supply a maximum 5 kilowatts to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) grid. This amount is further restricted on the Family Islands. The minister admitted there was no initiative available to compensate Bahamians for energy they placed into the BEC grid.

What’s more, the only permitted technologies are wind turbines or solar photovoltaic systems and BEC can limit the number of participants. Even more notably, to facilitate all this, the Electricity Act would have to be amended and though Dorsett promised it would happen “in short order” it has yet to happen. When it came to commercial/business renewable energy systems interconnecting and feeding excess power into the BEC grid, Dorsett said the only permitted participants are public/government buildings and approved manufacturers under the Industries Encouragement Act.

So, why are we limiting our renewable energy options to wind and solar power? There is no move to incentivise Bahamians to conserve energy.

Whatever happened to the much talked about carbon war room and the so-called programme purportedly launched to reduce The Bahamas’ carbon footprint? What happened to the plan to take schools off the grid, using renewable energy?

Will the referendum on oil drilling ever materialise? Where’s the regulatory framework?

Now that exploratory wells are being drilled, one would like to know how the Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) was selected; who are profit sharing; if oil is discovered, will the money go into the consolidated fund (and likely be wasted), in a heritage fund or some other financial vehicle?

The housing aspect of his portfolio would be considered by some as low hanging fruit. But, Mr Dorsett is not known to have overseen the construction and completion of any houses thus far; if he has, they certainly haven’t come on-stream as yet. The much anticipated housing programme has been repeatedly delayed beyond their own deadlines, though the National Insurance Board was even approached for funding.

At the very least, a loan facility could be put in place to allow people living in the inner cities and who may want to build houses to have an opportunity to do so if they qualify. It is a shame that in 2015, people are still using slop buckets. Mr Dorsett should press for the redevelopment of the Over-the-Hill area.

Whilst he cannot be blamed for the proposed Mortgage Relief Act, he also – as Housing minister – doesn’t push for it.

Dorsett is lots of bluster and has become somewhat rotund in recent years. He seems to have acquired a new tailor and so, if nothing else, his taste has seemingly improved since he’s become a Cabinet minister.

Interestingly, one would like to know what happened to the government’s garbage trucks that were nearly brand new in 2012? And where is the staff that manned these trucks? Noticeably, they have seemingly disappeared and we now see evidence of widespread privatisation of garbage collection and all manner of waste.

Mr Dorsett reminds me of Puss in Boots. His ministry is simply too big and should be the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources with someone else having oversight of housing. To date, I know of no environmental management certificates having been issued; there remain outstanding questions about Renew Bahamas; there has been no air quality legislation (Air Quality Act, Mineral and Petroleum Resources Bill, etc); no known emissions targets have been set; and no measures put in place to address the threat posed by climate change.

If Renew Bahamas is to become an independent power producer selling power to BEC, where is the legislation concerning it? Who would have oversight, why is there no URCA-like entity in place? What is the production standard?

We must adopt an organised recycling programme – as I observed in Europe – where students, households and workplaces are encouraged to sort their trash in order to produce more environmentally-friendly citizens and cleaner communities. The minister must seek to implement and enforce stricter, green building standards.

Where are the environmental wardens? There must be greater coastal management in The Bahamas.

Ken Dorsett has squandered his opportunities. He is asleep at the wheel and earns a D-minus.

V Alfred Gray

The Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government, is a non-performer. To use the words of one interviewee, “why is he still in government?” His performance has been dismal on every level; he is simply inept.

Frankly, the Minister of Agriculture should know the definition of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and one recently got the impression that Mr Gray did not, particularly since he claimed that BAMSI (the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Institute) is not growing genetically modified foods, asserting that the crops grown at BAMSI were USDA certified (one wonders if he realises that many GMOs are USDA certified).

He also said that his government spent $50m on BAMSI thus far only to have that statement walked back by the Prime Minister, who said they spent much less. Now, either Gray’s $50m claim was a moment of clarity and truth about the governing party’s apparent use of BAMSI as a watering trough for the party faithful or it is indicative of the minister’s cluelessness of his own portfolio.

He rolls from one gaffe to another. Recently, he claimed that if they knew who burnt down the BAMSI dorm and knew that the person was aggrieved, he would have paid the person out of pocket. How many contracts have been handed out to non-contractors?

There are many who believe that BAMSI is a slush fund, where money goes into the pocket of party loyalists and others and where its key consultant, Omer Thomas, has a questionable academic history but still makes more money than Cabinet ministers. When will an independent audit be done?

Local government, as it is presently constructed, can hardly work on the Family Islands. This is primarily due to the fact that it has been bastardised by central government, it has become too politicised and, quite honestly, there isn’t enough economic activity on some islands. Local government should have first been implemented in Nassau, where it would have had the kind of independence and resources that could have made it more impactful – that can still happen. As it stands, local government continues to be used as a political tool to reward friends and target enemies.

With whom does BAMSI have contracts for fruits and vegetables grown there?

Bahamians may not know that the farms that BAMSI now claims were also there. Whilst I commend the government for at least launching a sustainable food production programme for the first time in 20 years, I do not feel that the products are being marketed effectively.

Notably, since the conception of BAMSI, agriculture on the other islands has received precious little, if any, attention. Whether we are talking about livestock on Long Island or farming on Eleuthera, it is clear that the minister is only capable of focusing on one project at a time.

There has been no concerted effort to remove the restrictions on packing houses, removing the $9,000 limit. Relative to fisheries, there is simply nothing to report in terms of Mr Gray’s support for the sector or any assistance that he has rendered in helping fishermen to access markets.

As it stands, The Bahamas is one of the only countries in the region without a standards bureau, which is needed to oversee the process, ensuring that fruits and vegetables reach international standards which are a requirement of the World Trade Organisation. When will Arawak Cay/Fish Fry and Potters Cay be cleaned up and such standards of cleanliness constantly enforced? Whatever happened to modernising the Produce Exchange?

The only positive light in Gray’s ministerial tenure has been his fondness and support for regattas.

Alfred Gray should lose a significant part of his portfolio, especially since he seems happy just being minister of something. He earns a QF for quick failure.

Michael Halkitis

The Minister of State for Finance is the face of the government’s financial reorganisation and, as such, it is difficult to think that he actually believes some of the things that he says. He does seem to be reasonably competent in the carriage of his duties. The fact that he’s spinning voodoo economics may be more a matter of group think and group speak than his own personal views.

The level of confidence one ought to get from the functional Minister of Finance – not to be confused with the titular minister of finance – is not entirely there in large part because he is singing a political tune. There has been an inadequate degree of control of the various slush fund or discretionary spending programmes that could open the door to allegations of diversion and corruption.

The rollout of Value Added Tax (VAT) was not as bad as forecasted, though there were – and still are – some challenges. It has gone fairly well. One notes that the co-operation of the private sector had much to do with avoiding what could have been a calamitous launch. I still think that more teaching and educational programmes related to VAT are needed.

So, the only issue now arising is whether we will see an effective collection and reporting process from businesses charging VAT. I, like many Bahamians, are still not sure about the attainment of VAT credits. What happens to visitors leaving the country, how will they be refunded? Where is the Central Revenue Agency situated and how is it staffed?

The mortgage relief plan was an absolute failure. The success rate was less than five people and this was a major platform on which the government campaigned. I realise that Halkitis is an administrator at finance and I appreciate his skill set and work ethic. He is a highly capable minister and blame must also be laid at the feet of the substantive Minister of Finance – Prime Minister Perry Christie.

In addition to VAT, to use the words of one interviewee, the immediate implementation of National Health Insurance – though needed – could set the governing party on a political suicide mission.

Relative to Customs, for which the state minister has direct oversight, there have been no marked improvements. Corruption continues to permeate the ranks. Moreover, the promised introduction of a single electronic window – that shares shipment details, modernises the department and could quicken the process as people could pay even before their shipment arrives – has not come to fulfilment. Jurisdictions such as Barbados are far ahead of us in that regard.

Why is Customs still not accepting credit and debit cards? What kind of third world foolishness is that? Considering our level of trade, much more must be done to properly outfit and modernise Customs.

Whose idea was it to take personal emoluments out of the Budget? The Bahamian public is demanding greater fiscal responsibility.

It was promised that travel would be curtailed, but it appears that the PM has acquired a new taste for private jets and faraway trips. If we are adopting austerity measures, it is not evident. There has not been sufficient reporting or engaging of the public. Not enough has been done to inspire the confidence that such activities are not rampant throughout this administration, particularly when one considers the plethora of no bid contracts being handed out, from road works to construction and so on.

How is it that the initial budget for the Attorney General’s office was $8m and a building, which is the mirror image of the former, now, costs $20m? There is no transparency in the procurement process and there have been countless examples of this happening. One can always tell when the government is borrowing from the National Insurance Board (NIB) and when they are borrowing from international lending agencies. Anytime they borrow from NIB, there is a no-bid contract that we are told about after the fact. Whenever they borrow from an international agency, Request For Proposals are sent out – for example, the work on the proposed national development plan (IDB) or on the modernisation of customs (IDB). Just watch the pattern.

I continue to believe that Halkitis – personally – is one of the most honest guys in local politics.

A technocrat who is also a future leader of the people of the PLP, he earns a C.

Shane Gibson

Believe it or not, the Minister of Labour and National Insurance is one of Perry Christie’s better ministers.

In what can only be described as a brilliant, Machiavellian move, he oversaw the hiring of his old union buddies at the Department of Labour. Robert Farquharson – a former union general – has now become the biggest thorn in the side of the trade union movement.

He must also be credited with the successful rollout of the new National Insurance Board card, though lines and wait times to get such a card are ridiculously long. However, there has been far too much labour unrest and some have claimed that there have been attempts at union busting.

This time around, Gibson has seemingly avoided many of the scandalous episodes that plagued his last stint as a minister.

There has to be a greater effort to strengthen the position of the NIB trust fund. The fund cannot be left exposed despite actuarial warnings.

More can be done at the Ministry of Labour to assuage the fears and concerns of workers. He must move to resolve the labour unrest before there is a massive strike and the economic wheels come to a standstill. Admittedly, he has his hands full, particularly with some unions who have simply been unreasonable.

A likely blight on his record is the fact that he has made assertions about job creation that couldn’t be proved, particularly when they fly in the face of the Department of Statistics. That said, one would credit him and the Prime Minister with saving the jobs – as reported – of more than 300 Atlantis workers who wouldn’t have been on the employment line during the Yuletide season.

Much more has to be done to foster public service reform. As minister with responsibility for the public service, Mr Gibson would certainly be aware of the attitudes of some public servants, the greedy tip-tip culture and what seems to be a lazy, laidback approach with the surety that at the end of the month, their salaries will be in the bank. There is a need for training exercises in terms of customer service and more rigorous assessments of one’s competence and on-the-job performance.

One of Mr Gibson’s Cabinet colleagues – in an interview with me – jokingly referred to him as the “smooth talking, Teflon don” within the Cabinet. Maybe there’s some truth to that.

Shane Gibson earns a solid C.

Michael Darville

The Minister for Grand Bahama is the minister of nothing. Perhaps he could be considered as a glorified commissioner for Grand Bahama who sits around the Cabinet table because the governing party was pandering to attain the votes of Grand Bahamians during the last election cycle. He can also be referred to as the minister of public relations for Grand Bahama or even the minister of funerals and christenings.

Let’s be honest: no one knows how the Ministry for Grand Bahama is constituted. Who is its permanent secretary? What does the minister do besides attend meetings, funerals and outings?

The minister for Grand Bahama has little clout or power to impact the lives of the people of the island. The Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) controls Freeport and the only representative of the Ministry for Grand Bahama in Freeport is its office space. The minister cannot even promise a road in Freeport, he cannot promise a reduction in property taxes or business licences or anything. He could perhaps come up with a few ideas to assist in negotiations between the government and the Port Authority but that’s about it.

The governing party promised to create a duty free zone from east to west Grand Bahama. That has not been done.

So, what has the government done for Grand Bahama? Celebrate the return of a Celebration cruise ship, the opening of the Memories resort and a few other token undertakings.

East Grand Bahama continues to lack development and has no economy and I’m told that west Grand Bahama is becoming a depressed area with not many job opportunities. Unemployment continues to be high and I’m told by Grand Bahamians that some of their relatives have left to seek jobs in Bimini and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The government must now decide if they will extend the duty free allowances and continue to not mandate for the collection of property taxes or business licences in the Freeport area as outlined in the Hawksbill Creek Agreement. These three clauses in the agreement will soon expire. So, will the government decide to levy business licence fees and real property tax? Will they extend the terms with the Port Authority? Frankly, the original owners of the GBPA are now both dead and the GBPA are merely administrators, having divested their assets.

Perhaps, the government should seek that the two families – the St Georges and the Haywards – are bought out of their interest in the GBPA, which could allow for another equity partner to step in and perhaps reinvigorate that city and, by extension, the island.

Since investors don’t know what the government’s move will be concerning the aforementioned expiry of those clauses, many have stalled expansion and/or investment in anticipation of a decision.

The future of Grand Bahama will depend on the government’s decision. The Haywards and the St Georges should be approached and nudged along with a view to selling their shares.

Grand Bahama is the real industrial driver for diversification of our economy and it can take the population pressure off Nassau. It is also home to people with a lot of technical expertise and it has so much potential (it still has the longest privately-owned runway and it is several times bigger than congested Nassau).

As for Dr Darville, I’m going to give him a B for effort and an F for delivery! Could Mr Christie please give this man a real job that justifies the expenditure?

Fred Mitchell

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration is difficult to grade. But he has been very active and has, more than some of his colleagues, provided a plausible reason for quite a bit of what he does.

Now, one has heard the argument that he reacts defensively and is over sensitive. That appears to be true. One of the things Mr Mitchell has to work on is that he is dismissive of anyone who dares to comment or question his decision-making.

My interviewees contend that a number of Mitchell’s overseas trips do not fall in line with the needs of the country and that they haven’t yielded tangible results. Indeed, foreign affairs should be tied to economic policy. However, observers asked: “What has been the benefit of the Caricom relationship, what has come of our work with the United Nations in terms of Bahamian priorities? What are our foreign policy successes?”

While one could speak about the embarrassing failure to appoint envoys in a timely fashion to critical posts throughout the world, I also know that that was due to the Prime Minister’s meddling with choice candidates for those posts (remember Elliston Rahming?)

The minister must address the issues concerning visa issuance in Haiti.

Now, whilst many Bahamians support Mitchell’s move to crackdown on illegal immigration, I think that we should codify the immigration policy before moving further. Indeed, since the current policy has no legal framework, it falls into a grey area. We must figure out where policy stops and law begins. Moreover, since policies are subject to interpretation, legislation would actually protect the minister and the government itself as it carries out its illegal immigration assessments/crackdowns.

We must be careful to balance necessary action on illegal immigration against the law itself and against international perceptions. Yes, the New York Times had to retract and correct its story, but if any immigration officer violates conventions we have signed on to relative to international human rights standards, we could end up on CNN. And then, we will have a real problem.

We need greater consultation of a revised immigration framework. I support the minister in his efforts to stem the tide of illegal immigration whilst also addressing such concerns at home. But, it must be codified and done humanely.

One cannot randomly pick-up 100 persons and then have to let 82 go. We must streamline our approach, otherwise we lose valuable time relative to manpower. Bahamians – particularly those who hire illegal immigrants – should cease and desist with such acts and that would also lend support to immigration initiatives.

Now, I do hope that no one in the government is fool enough to believe that the US won’t spy on us anymore. That’s just what foreign countries do and no amount of soothing apologies and promises will change that.

I’m watching the new school permit plan play out and – again – I would advise that September is too soon and, again, these changes should be brought to Parliament. Generally, I think Mr Mitchell represents the brain trust in the Christie Cabinet. Beyond his faults, he’s a good minister and has become one of the more popular since his immigration initiatives. Interviewees all feel that much more can be done in foreign affairs.

Fred Mitchell earns a B-minus.

Allyson Maynard-Gibson

The Attorney General has to be the most self-promoting character in the Christie Cabinet. She was, interestingly, not present when the controversial nolle prosequi was issued to the benefit of one of her former private clients.

Recently, she doubled down with her self-appointment to the Inner Bar as a Queen’s Counsel over all other female attorneys at the bar. In my opinion, blatant self-promotion.

Swift justice is a headline-hunting farce that has not materialised and the prosecution of cases remain dismally slow. Moreover, there have been promised answers to questions which have never materialised.

Whatever happened to the cases involving those young men who died in police custody? Why has the Office of the Attorney General not brought charges against those officers?

We have still received no official word about the AG’s meeting at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) or, for that matter, to whom she spoke. I am certain that even in this legalised environment, the commercial banking sector still has the concerns it previously had about the numbers industry. Clarity must be brought to these queries.

How is it that a Bahamian Attorney General has allowed for the establishment of the National Intelligence Agency without the appropriate legislature structure? It is, in part, for this very reason that I believe the AG should be apolitical (though that’s highly unlikely). The AG should be one of the guardians of the Constitution and of the people’s interests as opposed to the political interests of her party.

Like so many others, she has seemingly placed her role as PLP power broker above her role as the nation’s AG.

Has The Bahamas’ government requested the name of the member of BEC’s Board who was purportedly paid off by a foreign company to influence contracts some years ago? Now, I know that the Bahamas and the United States have certain mutual legal interests and that the lines of communication are open. So, why is the AG finding it so difficult to get an answer?

Is the US refusing to tell her? And why would they refuse to tell her, it’s of no benefit to them, right? Is someone keeping a secret?

Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson earns an F-minus.

Damien Gomez

The Minister of State in the Ministry of Legal Affairs has been unimpressive. However, he has not quite done anything senseless nor has he projected himself as an “all for me baby!”

While there have been moments where his technical expertise has shone through, they have been few and far between. I imagine that he has to fight for the spotlight. The net impact on law and order in The Bahamas, from his efforts, are yet to be felt.

In light of this and the grade of his senior minister, the Attorney General, Damien Gomez gets a D-plus.

By ADRIAN GIBSON

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