50 Unanswered Questions

Since the start of the current administration’s term in office, a preponderance of unanswered questions continues to mount. And since newspaper columns can only be so long, I have chosen to pull from that mound 50 questions that need to be answered by the government:

1 -Is the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas currently certified by physicians as being in good overall physiological and psychological health?

2- What is the outcome of the court case between Deputy Prime Minister Brave Davis and the Weisfisch brothers, and what were the allegations against Mr. Davis in that case? This was the case whose file Mr. Davis requested be sealed heading into the general election. The case progressed since then though, but the details have not been reported.

3 – On November 27, a month after Hurricane Sandy, the director of NEMA said the agency was still awaiting $1.1 million in relief money from the government. Was this money ever released? Hurricane victims on all affected islands say they have received no assistance since the storm – where is the government’s comprehensive post-storm relief and reconstruction report to Parliament, inclusive of information on the exigency orders which expire this month? What was total cost of damage to public buildings and facilities on the affected islands and have any of those structures been repaired?

4 – Minister BJ Nottage told reporters last year he would look into why the Royal Bahamas Police Force provided him incomplete crime figures – omitting several categories including attempted murder. He tabled those figures in Parliament as the basis for his report to the nation that serious crime was down for the year. Did the Minister look into this as he said he would, and if so, what were his findings?

5 – How much of the $15 million allotted to Urban Renewal has been spent in the last seven months, and on what, in itemized breakdown?

6. Last year the media reported a spike in police involved killings. What is the status of inquests into those incidents?

7. Are Ministers BJ Nottage and Keith Bell still armed with handguns? Why were they given handguns to begin with, are they ever carried into Parliament or Cabinet and since the Government says serious crime is down, why is this needed at all?

8. What is the total number of Bahamians, contractual or otherwise, terminated from the Public Service since May 7, 2012?

9. After almost seven months, when will the Government fill the critical post of Chief Hospital Administrator left vacant after its termination of the former Administrator?

10.   What is the National Intelligence Agency for which a highly paid director has been appointed? What is the mandate of this agency? What is the statute law that gives effect to this agency? Since the police force already has an intelligence section – the Security and Intelligence Branch (SIB) – why was a different intelligence branch needed? What domestic intelligence is this agency acquiring that is not already being acquired by SIB and how is it acquiring it?

11. When will the Freedom of Information Act be brought into force?

12. Has the government paid Baha Mar the $45 million it contractually owed it since last year as per their Heads of Agreement that stipulated the payment upon the project reaching a certain phase of construction?

13. Was Dean’s Blue Hole in Long Island sold?

14. Prime Minister Christie told the nation he was bringing in gaming consultants from South Africa to assist the government with what he thought would be a yes vote in the gaming poll. Minister Obie Wilchcombe said the government would not be paying the group unless it decided to go ahead with their proposal. The vote was no, which would mean the proposal Mr. Christie said they were being brought in to present would no longer have been needed. But after the vote, Mr. Wilchcombe said the consultants had not yet been paid but needed to be paid. Paid for what? And what is the bill Mr. Wilchcombe claims we owe to these consultants?

15. As per his announcement last year, will the Prime Minister be adding more Ministers to his already enormous Cabinet?

16. How can the government claim it has instructed a 10% cut in spending because of lack of revenue when it is pushing for a raise in MP salaries and pensions, a new multi-million dollar Parliament building and new house for the Prime Minister?

17. At the end of 2012 Mr. Christie announced that talks between the government and Cable and Wireless had reached a dead end and that he would meet with his negotiating team in early January to thank it for its work and move on. Why then is the charade continuing?

18. Last year, Standard & Poors (S&P) revealed that the Government was exploring whether “a third party” could take a minor stake in BTC and thus return the company to majority Bahamian ownership. This is something the government never told the Bahamian people about, and did not publicly deny. Who is this “third party” the government is considering?

19. Last year the government removed Defence Force officers from their posts and placed them on the streets to help make up a shortfall in police officers (created by their removing police from the streets to place in urban renewal). Are those Defence Force officers still out of their posts?

20. Mr. Christie announced that critically needed vessels for the Defence Force might no longer be purchased because of the national debt. What is the status of those vessels and what became of the management committee of senior officials in the ministries of Finance and National Security appointed to head a project responsible for overseeing the acquisition of those vessels?

21. After failing to produce the number of projected qualified applicants it announced to the nation, the government said it would revamp its Mortgage Plan. Has the plan been revamped, and if so, how so?

22. Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna-Martin last year said the new Abaco International Airport was an expense the government was not willing to carry on the public purse and its completion date was not then known. When will the airport be completed?

23. When will the health issues at the Anatol Rodgers high school in Nassau and Lewis Yard primary school in West Grand Bahama be resolved by the Ministry of Education?

24. Regarding repairs to the hurricane damaged Crooked Island high school, has the Minister of Education as per his promise, investigated why all bids under his watch to repair the school were rejected? Has the Ministry put the work back out to tender?

25. How many of the significant number of retires re-hired by the government into senior and well-paying posts are also still being paid their pension, and why are they receiving both salary and pension when this is against public service policy?

26. Last November the government announced it was handling the human resources functions of a private development – the proposed Reef Village project at Our Lucaya in Freeport. The Minister for Grand Bahama said his office was processing applications and selecting persons to present to the company for hiring. Has the government completed this unprecedented exercise and who are the persons the government chose?

27. Will ZNS, according to reports, be laying off staff due to its inability to pay all persons now on its payroll, and why did ZNS take on additional staff if its payroll was already stretched?

28. What was the final price tag for the January 28 gaming poll?

29. Minister Jerome Fitzgerald announced he would be going to Cabinet to seek an additional $1 million above budget for the Department of Education to hire additional teachers to address teacher shortages. Did that happen, were those teachers hired, how many were hired and have all teacher shortages now been addressed?

30. Last August, Parliament approved a resolution to borrow $7.5 million for the government’s Social Safety Net Programme. The Minister responsible said the loan would ensure the government has the necessary funding to meet the needs of the poor. Why then is the Minister saying she will ask for even more money in the mid-year budget when her ministry received this loan approval just five months ago?

31. Last August a reported 600 persons applied for work at Urban Renewal’s job fair in Bains and Grants Town. How many persons found gainful employment through that event?

32. Last August, BEMU President Charles Wildgoose said his union was seeking answers from the government on matters including group health insurance, promotions and transfers for teachers. He said the Education Minister forwarded the matter of health insurance to the AG’s office for legal review. What is the status of all these matters?

33. Prime Minister Christie last year said his administration would soon begin to devise a 20 to 30-year national development plan. What is the status of that plan?

34. Last year Minister BJ Nottage said that while his government did not budget for necessary repairs to Her Majesty’s Prison, Cabinet would discuss the matter “in the not too distant future.” Did that time ever come and if so, what was the outcome?

35. On the heels of repeated armed and snatch and grab robberies, Minister Nottage pledged greater monitoring and scrutiny of Cash for Gold establishments. Has that greater monitoring been implemented and how so?

36. What is the status of the continued operation of Freeport’s casino at Our Lucaya?

37. The government has not granted the Opposition an Opposition Day in Parliament since it took office nine months ago. The period is set aside each month for the Opposition to put its questions to the government on the affairs of the country. Why has this not yet been afforded to the Opposition?

38. Last year, State Finance Minister Michael Halkitus announced the government is seeking to reduce the annual capital expenditure reserved for public corporations by up to $40 million in an effort to bring its fiscal house in order. Will part of this reduction be seen in the mid-year budget?

39. Has legal action filed by five tenants of the Pilot House Condominium Association against House Deputy Speaker, MP Dion Smith that included allegations of assault and the use of racial slurs been settled? If so, what was the outcome?

40. Last year Labour Minister Shane Gibson foreshadowed a program that would employ, on a “case-by-case basis” some of the people from the former government’s 52-week job programme when it ended. Did this programme begin and if so, how many people were hired by the government, where were they placed and at what cost to the public purse?

41. Last year the Tribune reported that attorneys of a US based company were in the process of filing documents which could lead to several PLP representatives being sent to jail over alleged non-payment of almost $60,000 for campaign material. What is the status of this filing?

42. Minister Obie Wilchcombe last year said the Government was “modifying” Bahamasair’s then-planned takeover of Vision Airlines’ service to Grand Bahama because the $4-$5 million his ministry would have to pay for this was “simply too high”. What modifications were made and has new airlift been secured to fill the gaps in that island’s tourism sector, particularly given the prime minister’s statement that he expects tourist arrivals to Grand Bahama to increase by 100,000 with the start of the proposed Reef Village project?

43. Is it now sensible to assume that the former Royal Oasis resort in Freeport, after almost nine years of sitting closed and having become infested with mold after only two months of being closed, will not be re-opened?

44. During the 2012 Boxing Day Junkanoo parade, Mr. Christie said he wanted to see Junkanoo moved from Bay Street as it had outgrown Bay, and that he would be looking into starting those discussions early this year. Have those talks begun?

45. According to Minister Fred Mitchell, officials from the Dominican Republic said their country intends to take measures to stop poaching in our waters, and promised that there would be a drastic drop off in the incursion from their country. Has that drastic drop been seen as promised?

46. Minister Jerome Fitzgerald said the two Catholic primary schools in Nassau that are slated to permanently close their doors as of June 2013 will be used by the government under a lease agreement. What are the terms of the agreement and what will the schools be used for?

47. The Prime Minister announced that Cabinet is considering an application from regional mobile phone provider Digicel to offer broadband services locally. Has Cabinet made a decision on this application?

48. Minister Brave Davis said his Ministry is setting up a Road Maintenance Unit (RMU) Department at a cost of $15 million annually. Will this continue given reported budgetary constraints?

49. When will the government issue its Electronic Communications Sector Policy so that BTC, Cable Bahamas and any other possible companies can be guided accordingly? The policy under the previous government expired last October and both companies have been agitating for the new government to issue its policy.

50. The mid year budget is supposed to be tabled this coming Wednesday, February 20th. The Prime Minister told the media two days ago though that he still did not know how much his government will need to borrow to keep things going, The mid-year budget should already be complete – so how could he possibly not know this?

Tribune Column by Sharon Turner