Monday, September 30, 2013

Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC), and the Value Added Tax (VAT) debate in The Bahamas

Tax Coalition Not Out To 'Kill Vat'




By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau, The Bahamas


The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) proposed tax reform committee is aiming to bring “more leadership to the debate”, its chairman emphasising: “This isn’t a Coalition to kill VAT.”
 
Chester Cooper told Tribune Business that the BCCEC was keeping a “very open mind” on the direction the Bahamas should take, telling Tribune Business that tax reform in this nation was inevitable.
 
Providing more details on the BCCEC’s ‘Tax Coalition’ plans, first revealed by this newspaper last week, Mr Cooper said its purpose was effectively to ‘bridge the gap’ between the Government and private sector when it came to educating and informing the latter on VAT and other tax reforms.
 
He added that the Tax Reform Committee would also “examine the fundamentals” of the Government’s VAT proposal to see whether it was the best tax reform option for the Bahamas, of if a revised version - or entirely different tax - was the best option.
 
And Mr Cooper also acknowledged that the Committee was intended to “calm the hysteria” that had arisen over VAT and the Government’s wider tax reform plans, given that most commentators and statements on the issue were vehemently opposed to the proposals.
 
“In a nutshell, over the past several weeks, we have become a little concerned about the level of debate on the issue of VAT, and the level of criticism,” Mr Cooper told Tribune Business.
 
“We want to see this [the Committee] bring more leadership to the debate, organise and elevate it.”
 
Acknowledging that the Government had begun to ‘ramp up’ its VAT educational initiatives, via speeches and presentations, Mr Cooper said the proposed tax reform committee will be co-chaired by Robert Myers, the BCCEC’s vice-chairman, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Bahamas accountant and partner, Gowon Bowe.
 
Its objective, he added, was to “bring together a broad private sector coalition” featuring all key industry associations in an effort to engage both the Government and private sector, analysing VAT’s likely impact on both the overall economy and individual sectors.
 
Mr Cooper promised that the Committee would “really look at the facts and fundamentals of what is being proposed, look at it scientifically, and look at the impact on some of the sectors”.
 
It will also arrange a series of meetings with sister Family Island Chambers, industry associations and their members, in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, to educate them and explain how VAT will impact their businesses.
 
“By and large there’s been a bit of a feeding frenzy coming out and opposing VAT,” Mr Cooper told Tribune Business.
 
“We [the BCCEC] believe in national tax reform. When the rating agencies downgraded us were dismayed by that. We want to have fiscal prudence, but want the Government to have enough revenues and exercise restraint in spending.
 
“We expect, at the end of the day, to have a balanced, equitable tax structure, whether its VAT in its current form or revised form, or a new form of tax altogether.”
 
The BCCEC chairman added: “I think it’s important we find a way to calm the hysteria a little bit, and have a productive, mature discussion that provides leadership from the private sector in that regard.
 
“This is not a Coalition to kill VAT. I don’t want the public to get any form of impression, or the Government to get its back up, that this is a Coalition to kill it.
 
“If it happens, at the end of the day, that all the Associations and people we talk to are opposed to VAT in a very drastic way, because it’s detrimental and their analysis shows the impact is negative, we might take that position. At this point, the Chamber is very open-minded.”
 
The VAT debate has intensified since the Nassau Institute economic think-tank published the results of its study, which showed that the implementation of such a tax would cut Bahamian GDP by between $322-$483 million annually.
 
That sparked senior Ministry of Finance officials and consultants into lining up to slam the report’s findings. One, former PwC senior partner, Ishmael Lightbourne, last week blasted the Nassau Institute’s study as “one of the most extreme, ridiculous and exaggerated” reports he had ever seen.
 
Mr Cooper, though, pointed out that the Wall Street credit rating agencies, plus both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), had all emphasised the need for “significant tax reform in the Bahamas”.
 
“We want our economy to be fiscally sound, by generating enough revenues to service debt and build hospitals road and schools,” the BCCEC chairman added.
 
“What is important is for us to have a balanced, equitable tax structure that improves government revenues but, at the same time, not slow down the economy or disincentivise entrepreneurs from going into business or staying in business.
 
“We are also strong advocates for more efficiency and less waste in government so that we can have prudent spending of the revenues that we are now getting.
 
“There is also a need to stamp out corruption to minimise leakages, and the Government needs to demonstrate that it has the will and the teeth to implement appropriate controls so that we maximise the benefit to the country of the taxes that are now in place and the new taxes that might come.”
 
Emphasising that he did not believe in ‘Soap Box Advocacy’, Mr Cooper said: “Obviously, when I hear a few members opine that VAT will kill their business, I become concerned.
 
“Likewise any suggestion that VAT will slow down the economy, cause businesses to put investment on hold is a cause of concern for me a chairman of the BCCEC.”
 
And he told Tribune Business: “By and large, the public does not understand what is being proposed, and large elements of the business community have not zeroed in on VAT and its impact.
 
“We’re calling on the private sector to be more informed and engaged, and will do our part to make that happen.”
 
September 30, 2013
 
 
 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Venezuelan Government Occupies Toilet Paper Factory to Fight “Economic War”

By Ewan Robertson:



Mérida, 23rd September 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government has ordered the occupation of one of the main producers of toilet paper in the country as part of the struggle to combat “shortages and sabotage” in the economy.

Vice President Jorge Arreaza said the factory occupation, announced on Friday, was in order to “verify the production, distribution and sale of toilet paper” from the Manpa S.A. company, located in the central state of Aragua. The measure was ordered by President Maduro after “violations to consumer rights” were discovered upon an inspection of the factory last week.

The occupation – which will last for 15 days – will be carried out by the government’s National Superintendency for Fair Costs and Prices (Sundecop) and responds to “the state’s obligation to guarantee the normal supply of products of basic necessity to the Venezuelan people”.

The move is part of a wider government offensive to combat shortages in certain basic products such as milk, toilet paper and corn flour, which along with rising prices have been affecting consumers this year.

During Sundecop’s occupation of the factory the consumer protection agency will examine processes of production, distribution and sale, as well as input requirements for the manufacture of the toilet paper.

Manpa S.A. will provide Sundecop with a liaison team to provide documentation on inventories, production costs, sales chains, production capacity and idle capacity, among other areas.

At the end of the occupation period Sundecop will release a report with information on any irregularities in the production and management of the factory, and corrective measures to be applied.

Economic war

Since the beginning of this year the Venezuelan economy has experienced rising prices and an increase in shortages of certain basic foods and hygiene products, while the bolivar currency has fallen sharply in value on the black market.

Officials argue that these trends are largely due to an “economic war” being waged by economic and political sectors opposed to the government, which seek to disturb economic activity through acts of sabotage, hoarding products to create scarcity, and attacking the national currency.

Meanwhile the conservative opposition blames problems in the economy on government price controls and restrictions on foreign currency flows, arguing that these interfere with the “natural” functioning of the market.

Earlier this month the government created the High Commission for the People’s Defence of the Economy in order to combat the “economic war”. It is directed personally by President Maduro and incorporates ministers and grassroots activists.

Measures adopted so far include stimulating production with subsidies, raising some price controls, increasing imports from neighbouring countries, increasing the flow of foreign currency to importers and priority sectors, inspecting producers of foodstuffs and food distribution networks, increasing monitoring of price control infractions, and establishing a telephone line for citizens to denounce acts of sabotage in the economy.

The government is also looking to modify the law combating the misuse of foreign currency allocations to businesses and individuals, in order to better prevent practices which abuse allocations of state-granted dollars and contribute to devaluing the national currency.

Authorities aim to reduce relative shortages of basic products to half their current level by the end of the year, which would bring them below the level considered “normal” by the country’s National Institute of Statistics.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Young Bahamian Entrepreneurs in the tourism industry ...and the revitalisation of The Bahamas as a competitive touristic destination

 

Negotiating With The Gatekeeper: Young Entrepreneurs And Tourism


By Noelle Khalila Nicolls
Tribune242
Nassau, The Bahamas



IF the movements made by a handful of young Bahamian professionals over the past year in tourism are any indication of the entrepreneurial thinking of their counterparts, then there is some hope for the future outlook of tourism in the Bahamas.
 
Entrepreneurs such as Alanna Rogers, Jamie Lewis, Adlai Kerr and Scott Turnquest, owners of tourism startups Tru Bahamian Food Tours, Islandz Tours, and BahamaGo, are breaking barriers in tourism by going head to head with established businesses in nontraditional areas of the business. Their starups are refreshing additions to the product offering, and reflect a break from the tunnel vision way of thinking about tourism in terms of traditional service jobs, foreign direct investment and hotels.
 
The tour business in the Bahamas is not an easy one to get into. Ancient companies such as Majestic Tours, the last of the original travel agents from the days of white-only operators, have an effective monopoly over the key supply chains of visitors. And yet, Majestic Tours only places 19 amongst the 22 sightseeing tours ranked on Trip Advisor for Nassau based activities.
 
In the top spot on the Trip Advisor listing is Tru Bahamian Food Tours, with Islandz Tours following closely behind in the number four spot. As far as Trip Advisor is concerned Majestic Tours is essentially a nobody, despite their relative operational size and level of business experience. Old school business minds with an analogue outlook would not understand the significance of such a ranking. They miss how the Internet acts as a great democratic equalizer in this digital world, particularly for those with Rocky-style ambition and fight.
 
These young entrepreneurs are attempting to solve long-standing problems that the industry has been incapable of solving. The Downtown Nassau Partnership has doled out big dollars to revitalise downtown, focusing in large part on upgrading infrastructure. Their efforts are all well and good, but the creation of new businesses that add value and enhance the downtown Nassau experience could do just as well in the revitalisation efforts.
 
That is what Tru Bahamian Food Tours and Islandz Tours have proven, with Islandz also operating in the merchandising side of the business, with authentic Bahamian souvenirs.
 
Innovation and the expansion of existing products and business services are critical for the revitalisation of the Bahamas as a destination, which is on the decline. Sometimes it seems as though leaders in the business sector are either comfortable or complacent. Either way, it is leading to a lack of improvement and modernisation in our tourism offerings.
 
As far as downtown goes, our city centre is a stale, dry place at night, notwithstanding the few bars and clubs that make an effort. Why haven’t existing businesses figured out a way to make downtown vibrant at night? Why haven’t entrepreneurs seen this need as an opportunity to create new businesses? When the Downtown Nassau Partnership ran its successful bar crawl promotion on the Heineken bus, I immediately wondered why a private group hadn’t made a successful business out of a Nassau at night bar hop.
 
Why haven’t downtown businesses figured out a way to bring more Bahamians downtown? Not all of them are convinced that central to downtown’s success is bringing the city back to life for Bahamians. In fact, there is a night spot off Bay Street that has a notorious reputation for being racist and discriminatory towards black Bahamians. During the recent Goombay Summer festival in Pompey Square, I heard a tourism official say, “It was good, except, not many tourists came out.” Meanwhile, the square was jam-packed with Bahamians, starved for outlets to enjoy downtown.
If businesses are supposed to solve problems, fill needs, serve markets, it seems we are going year to year without innovating solutions and creating products to plug the market gaps; without solving problems and keeping pace with the under-served and emerging markets.
 
The startup BahamaGo is doing just that. It is attempting to solve two critical problems that the Ministry of Tourism with its $80 million annual budget has been unable to do in its more than five decades. So far BahamaGo has had success, not because it has the financial resources to do so, but because it has financial accountability; it has the business motivation combined with passion and drive; and most importantly, it does not have an analogue mind.
 
The reality is most hotels in the Bahamas are in fact small hotels, strung amongst the Family Islands; they are using outdated hotel management tools with no access to the large online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Travelocity and Expedia. This lack of access to OTAs is a major challenge for small hotels, which cannot accept online bookings for their properties, and have no way of offering booking packages that pair airfare and accommodation.
 
Many hotels are using manual ledgers or telepathic room inventory management systems. BahamaGo is an niche OTA created by Bahamian entrepreneurs with technology and finance backgrounds who understand the specific demands and challenges of the local market and are centrally focused on meeting the local needs.
 
Unfortunately, BahamaGo is not only competing against the large OTAs, it is also competing against the Ministry of Tourism (MOT). The MOT is simultaneously pursuing a strategy to solve the same problem, investing big bucks to contract an international company. It is not that the MOT is oblivious to the problems; even though they often take a while, they do act. But it is their action that often undermines entrepreneurial opportunity. And in the long run, the bureaucracy often underserves the market.
 
Small startup businesses in the tourism sector quickly come to learn that the tourism market is not free and open; it has a gate keeper known as the MOT. Large developments, particularly that bring foreign direct investment, need not worry, because the political leadership which sets the tone in tourism always has time for that.
 
A business’ size, bank balance, credit history, experience and level of connections correlate to level of trust that is inherently granted by the gate keeper. The problem for small startups, particularly those put forward by young entrepreneurs, is obvious. They suffer the most having to navigate their own way around the bureaucratic gate keeper.
 
I don’t believe it is intentional, but the MOT is a large bureaucracy that in some instances undermines economic opportunities for small businesses and innovation in the tourism sector. Whereas business is about taking risks, the bureaucracy is about playing it safe (routine processes aimed at protecting the country’s resources and not screwing things up; utilizing public funds in low risk investments); the different modes of being naturally conflict with each other, particularly when it comes to dealing with small businesses.
 
A small business might offer a service that the MOT is willing to pay for, but the MOT will always defer to the company that is perceived to present fewer risks. From a public sector management point of view it makes sense, but we must acknowledge how and when it creates an unsupportive, even anti-competitive environment for small Bahamian businesses.
 
A group of artists and photographers were having a conversation online the other day about Bahamian photographers joining together to create an online stock images website. The discussion was lively and interesting, and when I made my contribution I threw a wrench in the mix. If the MOT operates a free stock images website in partnership with an international stock images company, how could a local company compete? Wouldn’t the MOT’s free service undermine the business efforts of the private group?
 
The MOT has its fingers in many pots, and it often has a possessive like sense of ownership over anything that it is involved in. This posture inevitably becomes the elephant in the room when a private business tries to enter the market.
 
For large players the point is not so relevant, but for young entrepreneurs and small businesses it is critical. At some point, there will have to be a negotiation, whether spoken or unspoken, or some sort of mediation, with the MOT, before the gates of opportunity are fully opened. In the meantime, these businesses are forced to work in spite of the MOT.
 
The events market is a classic area. The MOT is committed to events. However, when the MOT stages an event, it often undermines the capacity of a private business to operate or manage an event in the same market place. On the flip side, if a private individual or company has an event it will not be legitimized as a marketable event to the tourist market unless it has the stamp of approval of the gate keeper.
 
The People to People programme is another example. People to People is a signature MOT programme that pairs visitors with a volunteer Bahamian host to experience Bahamian life and culture. The People to People programme is a successful MOT programme. But, it could also be a great business. The MOT innovated a great product for an important niche sector, but might it not be the time for a Bahamian to pursue it as a private business venture?
 
We must ask the question, what is the MOT really about? Justifying its own existence – its $80 million budget – or supporting a local business market? Shouldn’t we encourage and celebrate the creation of businesses to service areas previously subsided by the MOT? In a thriving tourism market, shouldn’t the MOT theoretically become more and more specialized, because the needs of the market would create viable businesses opportunities that are filled by Bahamian businesses.
 
I am not certain our thinking has reached that level of consciousness. More than likely, if a Bahamian saw an opportunity to create a People to People like business, it would attract resistance from those in tourism responsible for People to People, particularly its founders. And if the MOT was so inclined, it could undermine the business efforts of the private individual.
 
In this respect I sympathise with the civil servants who work at the MOT, because their public service often means missing out on business opportunities. However, their experience in the MOT also creates for them a wealth of knowledge and networks that would be vital assets in business. Instead of normalising career service, I think civil servants should be encouraged to take their experience into the public sector, where they can step out and take on the risks of entrepreneurship.
For all of its shortcomings, there is no question, the MOT has over the years plugged important market gaps with its own innovations, not only in marketing, but also product development. The civil servants who work for the MOT do mean well and they work hard to fulfil the mission of the organisation. In many respects the public/private sector relationship that exists in the tourism industry is something to be celebrated and modelled.
 
But we must not let our pride and good intentions make us blind to our own weaknesses or limitations. From some angles, the enviable relationship between the MOT and the private sector looks incestuous.
 
As the need for product expansion and innovation becomes more and more critical and young entrepreneurs mature, Bahamians are not going to just pass up emerging opportunities. They are going to take risks and start new businesses that defy the logic of the analogue mind. The MOT must examine its role and function in light of this approaching wave.
 
Fundamentally, the MOT has a delicate balance to strike: it must act like a business (for marketing is a core business strategy aimed at achieving business objectives), but it should not be in business. And if its service to the business community is justified in support of big business, then it should also be justified in support of small businesses.
 
I am encouraged by young Bahamian entrepreneurs and I know they will do what is necessary despite the MOT or the wider business environment. There is no question, tourism in the Bahamas is badly in need of product development and modernization and it is the innovators, the young entrepreneurs, small and niche businesses that are the hope for the future.
 
As for the MOT, it if wants to do right by the future, it needs to engage in self-examination and create a way forward that reshapes its relationship with innovators, startups and small businesses, who possess different needs to established and large businesses.
 
The MOT’s challenge is to value and support small and niche businesses; facilitate modernisation in the small business sector; encourage product development, especially through diversification into non-traditional areas of the business; recognize and nourish the talents of true innovators. Fundamentally, the MOT is called to be a facilitator not a gatekeeper; be a partner not a competitor; and to truly support the business of tourism, not merely justify its own existence.
 
• (Noelle Khalila Nicolls is The Tribune’s Features Editor. Follow her on Twitter @explorebahamas. For questions or comments, email nnicolls@tribunemedia.net).
 
September 23, 2013
 
 
 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bolivia advancing in the battle against hunger

By Héctor Miranda, Correspondent/La Paz






THE 70 legislators from 20 countries in the region who took part in the 4th Parliamentary Front Forum against hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean returned home convinced that Bolivia is fighting valiantly to erase hunger, one of the ills suffered by its population.

The meeting, which met over two days in the eastern city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, was an opportunity to learn of the President Evo Morales government plans to improve the people’s nutrition, part of a long-term project which does not exclude current action.

In the opening session, attended by Vice President Álvaro García Linera, the importance of giving decision making powers to campesino organizations and small agricultural producers spread across the country was emphasized.

García Linera highlighted the importance of working for food sovereignty, but noted that this requires political decisions, a transformation of the productive system and empowering of the original campesino social organizations in the control of productive processes.

He also spoke of the need to diversify food cultivation after the colonization of Latin America annihilated the scientific knowledge, engineering, biotechnology and astronomy inherited from civilizations with advanced agricultural and water cultures, among them that of the Inca people.

He likewise recalled that capitalism imposed a regime of food economy subject to the free market and profit in Latin America.

When President Evo Morales assumed power in early 2006, four million of Bolivia’s 11 million inhabitants suffered hunger; a figure that has been reduced by half to date, but which does not satisfy those responsible for leading the country and facilitating better living conditions for its people.

The two million persons still experiencing hunger in Bolivia are part of a 30 million total in Latin America, or 1.2 billion in the world, a problem which would seem more and more difficult to solve.
 
 
BOLIVIA, WATER AND THE BICENTENNARY AGENDA

The first steps to turn around the situation took place in 2006 itself and became established over time, with an awareness of the need to obtain food sovereignty, based on the democratization of land and the strengthening of the neglected campesino economy.

The government distributed tractors and other farming implements, together with seeds and fertilizer and directed strong capital investment to foment food production, apart from support received by the large agro-industrial companies.

On the other hand, through the MI Agua (More Investment for Water) programs, now in their third stage, water was delivered to the most remote areas of the country and all communities, not just for drinking, but to increase production and make it possible for cultivators to be assured of harvests without being dependent on capricious rainfall.

President Evo Morales has reiterated on more than one occasion that he knows of campesinos who previously cultivated one product once a year. Now, with the possibilities provided by water, they can produce various harvests.

In 2012, Bolivia also implemented agricultural insurance to protect the finances of small farmers affected by natural disasters, with a compensation of 1,000 bolivianos ($145) per hectare.

All of this is included in the so-called pillars of the 2025 Patriotic Agenda, a strategy directed toward solving vital problems in the country to coincide with the bicentenary of Bolivian independence, the objectives of which were the central issue addressed at the Forum, convened to discuss, exchange experiences and learn about Bolivia’s advances in food security. (Orbe)
 
September 19, 2013
 
 
 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bahamas: ...The old Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) lost its way long ago ...and the so-called ‘new PLP’ has failed to find it

Sir Lynden’s and the PLP’s entitled imperial court


By frontporchguardian@gmail.com


During the 2012 general election, Sir Lynden Pindling’s widow took to the political stage as a part of the PLP’s strategy to use the late prime minister’s legacy to help the party secure victory. It is debatable how successful was the strategy.

In her appearances, Dame Marguerite sought not only to burnish Sir Lynden’s legacy, which is considerable, and much of which is admirable and contributed extraordinarily to national development.

But many in the country at large, including many PLPs, were dismayed by her tone and remarks which harkened to a darker period in the nation’s history.

Once again on vivid display was that entrenched entitlement and imperious mentality of the Pindling Court: Don’t forget what we did for you and never forget that you owe us.

Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham was chastised as a mere recipient of the favors and consideration of the court, who had supposedly turned on his political masters and benefactors.

It was a not-so-subtle reminder to party Leader Perry Christie and all other supplicants expected to offer life-long obeisance to the court.

Seemingly, the PLP is a Pindling-owned and branded enterprise merely on loan to various caretakers who are to be held accountable to the dynasty. All of which arises from an extraordinary combination of historical revisionism, mythology and hagiography.

 

Berated

At one of the rallies Dame Marguerite berated Ingraham for the way in which she felt he treated her husband after the latter left office. Missing was any reference to the effusive thanks extended to Ingraham by Sir Lynden’s oldest son Obafemi Pindling at the funeral of his father, and which Ingraham graciously declined to use in response.

What has stunned, grated on, and even enraged so many of this lament is Lady Pindling’s seemingly absolute dismissal of the degrading and vicious treatment of many Bahamians by Sir Lynden and his court during his 25-year reign.

It was a ruthless and vindictive era. Dissidents and opponents were to be destroyed. And, quite a number were destroyed.

Lukewarm supporters and half-steppers were reminded of the price of disfavor: a quick call to a bank to stop a loan, blocked access to a job or to a scholarship for a child seeking to go to college, denial of a work permit for a spouse, and a catalogue of indignities and injustices.

There was gross and constant intimidation and victimization including the callous deportation of foreign spouses resulting in exile or the ruin of Bahamian families.

Those who opposed certain policies or wrong-doings or the court’s greed and corruption were set for abuse and ridicule, including veterans of the movement like the champion of Bahamian culture Edmund Moxey and the brilliant Carlton Francis.

Francis was cruelly ridiculed by Sir Lynden from a public platform. He said of Francis who had participated in a public demonstration, “ ... And all I could see was suit!”, mocking a dying man thinned by the cancer ravaging his body.

Outstanding Bahamian educator and civil servant Leonard Archer fared even worse. After he participated in a demonstration by teachers, Lady Pindling publicly asked: “What are we going to do about Leonard Archer?” The next day he was fired by her husband “in the public interest”!

Tellingly, and of tremendous historical significance, more than half of those who formed the first majority rule government eventually left the PLP. Yet there is the laughable conceit within the PLP of its superior nationalism. It is a chauvinistic boast in a party given to all manner of chauvinism.

Even at the time when the Dissident Eight were leaving the party that they helped to build and contributed mightily to majority rule, Paul Adderley, then leader of the National Democratic Party (NDP), commented on their departure noting that the PLP was losing much of the soul of the party.

Decades later, following the death of Charles Maynard, a former PLP grandee remarked that the FNM is now the more progressive of the two major parties. Maynard’s father, Andrew ‘Dud’ Maynard, an undoubted nationalist who toiled long and hard for the PLP, recently noted that the party he once knew and supported had lost its way.

 

Corrupted

Parties of liberation and majority rule cum independence often lose their way, corrupted by temptations of extraordinary political and economic power. Examples abound across the globe. The PLP is but one example of the chauvinism and sense of entitlement that sometimes develops in such parties.

The boundaries between party and state are blurred. By example, what should be afforded an individual or a business as an opportunity arising from one’s rights as a citizen is twisted instead into a grant of favor by the party.

During the reign of Sir Lynden’s imperial court, many business people had to beg or bribe party officials for the grant of all manner of business licences and permits.

Independence leaders often become unaccountable and untouchable with their excesses dismissed. Further, the assets of the state are spoils to be divided with plundering zeal by select interests.

Soon after coming to office Sir Lynden effectively destroyed Bahamas Airways – after his own government had negotiated with a consortium including the hugely successful Cathay Pacific to make the local airline truly international. He summarily broke a prior agreement with Cathay Pacific by awarding certain routes to Bahamas World Airways, an airline conceived by his friend Everette Bannister and scoffingly referred to by many Bahamians as “the paper airline”.

In so doing he destroyed a golden opportunity for the country, resulting in the loss of an expanded local airline and causing a drain of approximately half a billion dollars from the treasury to keep Bahamasair operational.

Imagine what could have been done in terms of national development with half a billion dollars, not to mention a well-managed airline serving cities throughout the Americas. So much for being the party of superior nationalism.

The PLP did considerable work in advancing the national good. But many of the promises of majority rule were stillborn as the party abandoned a genuine nationalism for a pseudo nationalism that routinely touted and celebrated its liberation credentials even as it plunged the country into some of our darkest days.

That national nightmare involved a ‘nation for sale’ or lease to drug barons resulting in mass corruption, the destruction of scores of Bahamians who became addicted to crack cocaine or the easy money associated with the demon drug, and a ripping apart of our social fabric, from which we are still suffering up to this day.

Despite all of this, Sir Lynden and his court showed scant remorse. It is chilling and deeply disturbing still to read the Commission of Inquiry Report into this nightmarish period and to peruse some of the evidence given.

 

Oligarchy

The PLP, the supposed party of superior nationalism, is today an oligarchy of special interests which uses the rhetoric and politics of nationalism to win elections with sloganeering such as “Bahamians First”, then governs mostly in its own interest.

This is the party in which one senior PLP bragged of selling off more land than the FNM, the party of the Great Mayaguana Land Giveaway, the party in which the two top senior leaders have a clear conflict of interest with an oil exploration company.

Having militantly opposed advancing the rights of women in terms of passing on certain rights of citizenship, the party holds a special session of parliament to brag about its commitment to women and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of women attaining the right to vote.

There is a pattern here. The PLP, often quite effectively, employs the symbols and the narratives of nationalism to reinforce its credentials as the nationalist party. The FNM has often played into its hands.

Given repeated opportunities to make January 10 a national holiday, the FNM was often on the defensive, unsure of how to embrace and burnish its own commitment to a more expansive vision of the national good.

Sir Lynden and his court did not try to destroy the Dissident Eight and others in spite of who they were. The PLP tried to destroy them and to deny their nationalist credentials precisely because of who they were and what they represented.

It is a feature of the sociology of organizations, from churches to political parties, that dissidents have to be destroyed and branded as heretics and traitors when they call into question how the organization to which they were dedicated may have betrayed its ideals and the people they were committed to serving.

The old PLP lost its way long ago and the so-called ‘new PLP’ has failed to find it. The party remains dedicated to a certain chauvinism, on stark display at the recent election as the widow of the party’s longest serving leader reminded Bahamians of what it feels that the country still owes the PLP’s entitled imperial court.

September 19, 2013

thenassauguardian

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bankers' are concerned about the proposed Value-Added Tax (VAT) ...and other government initiatives facing the sector in The Bahamas

Vat 'Uncertainty' Puts Bank Hires, Projects On Hold






By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau, The Bahamas




A top banker has warned that the uncertainty created by the proposed Value-Added Tax (VAT), and other government initiatives facing the sector, has caused institutions to place new hires and capital expansion projects on hold.
 
Ian Jennings, Commonwealth Bank’s president, said that with ‘financial services’ likely to be VAT ‘exempt’, the BISX-listed institution and other commercial banks would be unable to ‘net off’ the tax they paid on their inputs.
 
But, acknowledging that it was “not as simple” as a straight 15 per cent across-the-board increase for all Commonwealth Bank’s input costs, he said much would depend on whether VAT’s impact was mitigated by a corresponding reduction in Customs duty.
 
Still, Mr Jennings added that VAT, when combined with the new 3 per cent Business Licence fee and proposed Homeowners Protection Bill, had just added to “the level of uncertainty” facing the commercial banking sector.
 
“You’ve got uncertainty over the Homeowners Protection Bill, the impact of the increase of the Business Licence fees, and you’ve got the impact of VAT,” Mr Jennings told Tribune Business.
 
Pointing to the potential ‘Triple Whammy’ facing the sector, the Commonwealth Bank chief added: “There’s a lot of uncertainty, and as a result it makes you more cautious and much more reluctant as to whether you add staff and undertake future capital projects.”
 
Tribune Business has been informed that at least one commercial bank (not Commonwealth) has warned the Government that it may slash staff, and reduce its branch network via closures, if it brings VAT in as planned, while also maintaining the 3 per cent Business Licence fee.
 
This is because the combined impact of these new taxes would result in a significant bottom line contraction of anywhere between 10-40 per cent, especially given that commercial banks will, under the Government’s White Paper, be exempt from paying VAT.
 
This means that banks and other financial services providers, such as insurance companies, will join Doctors Hospital and healthcare providers in not having to register to pay VAT.
 
Nor will they have to charge the 15 per cent on customer bills. However, their ‘exempt’ status means they will not be able to claim back the VAT they will have to pay on their own input costs.
 
This has led to increasing concern throughout the financial services sector that VAT will spark an increase in their cost base, although the extent of this rise is uncertain.
 
“Our understanding at the moment is that the banks will be exempt, which means that while we will not be collecting VAT on our sales, we will be paying VAT on all our inputs. That means we could be looking at a 15 per cent increase in costs,” Mr Jennings told Tribune Business.
 
However, he acknowledged that it was not as easy as that. Mr Jennings said much would depend on what inputs, and suppliers, would attract VAT, and whether the promised reduction in Customs duties would “offset the increase with VAT”.
 
While VAT is unlikely to spark a 15 per cent increase in commercial bank input costs across the board, only goods will be impacted by a reduction in Customs duties, not services.
 
Mr Jennings noted that services purchased by Commonwealth Bank, such as accounting fees and legal fees, would attract the 15 per cent VAT with no possibility of a Customs duty offset.
 
“Some of those inputs will be increased,” he said. “In a lot of cases it depends on what that reduction in duty is to offset that 15 per cent VAT.
 
“At one time they were saying it was going to be revenue neutral. We have to wait and see for the detail.”
 
Mr Jennings said the banking industry’s single largest expense item was staff costs, something that should largely be unaffected by VAT. 
 
September 13, 2013
 
 
 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Cane Toad is on the move in The Bahamas

The Cane Toad moves from Lyfordcay to Mount Pleasant Village


By Dennis Dames
Nassau, The Bahamas




The Cane Toad, Mount Pleasant Village
It’s on the move, and no one knows for certain the extent of the Cane Toad’s invasion on New Providence Island.  Recent news reports say that the exotic creature was confined to Lyfordcay. 

We know different now.  On Tuesday September 10, 2013 – a Cane Toad was found to be in the Mount Pleasant Village community.  The Lyfordcay police was notified, and action was taken to eliminate the venomous toad.  The Cane Toad undertakers quietly took the remains away.

The question now is:  Where will we find the next Cane Toad on our island?

According to Wikipedia, the cane toad has poison glands, and the tadpoles are highly toxic to most animals if ingested. Because of its voracious appetite, the cane toad has been introduced to many regions of the Pacific and the Caribbean islands as a method of agricultural pest control. The species derives its common name from its use against the cane beetle (Dermolepida albohirtum). The cane toad is now considered a pest and an invasive species in many of its introduced regions; of particular concern is its toxic skin, which kills many animals—native predators and otherwise—when ingested.

Bahamas Blog International

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The dirty rum war

By Gabriel Molina Franchossi:





FROM 1998 through 2003, the Bacardi company invested three million dollars in taking over the Havana Club trademark, in conspiracy with the Bush family.

This past June 25, Cuba and the European Union registered a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO), stating that they had been waiting for 11 years for the United States to revoke Section 211 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1998, which legalized the theft of the trademark.

A book by Tom Gjelten, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause, on the career history of the Bacardi family, exposes this incredible squandering of money. An audit demonstrated how, between lawyers’ fees, campaign contributions and expenses, the fight for Havana Club was highly expensive.

Rubén Rodríguez, president of Bacardi through 2005, wanted to get these expenses under strict control and disarmed the Cuba Group existing within the company, which coordinated Cuba-related issues.

The apologetic Bacardi book admits that, in response to the urging of his brother Jeb, George W. Bush violated international law and U.S. laws recognized by the U.S. Patent Office and the WTO, to utilize the Havana Club trademark in U.S. territory and sell supposedly Cuban rum. To a certain extent, Rodríguez distanced himself from the campaign waged by Pepin Bosch, the third president, who led the company into a hard-fought war against the Cuban Revolution, while triumphing as head of the family. "I made them all millionaires," he proudly declared in Miami.

Bosch contributed to the creation and funding of the Cuban Representation in Exile (RECE), which devoted itself to planning acts of terrorism against Cuba, and appointed Jorge Mas Canosa as group spokesman. The successful businessman wanted to put a non-family member at the head of the company, but Eddy Nielsen Schueg was opposed to this and Bosch resigned in anger in 1975. Nielsen took over the presidency and drew back from attacking Cuba. But some years later, alarmed by the challenge of the Havana Club Holdings (HCH) joint venture, created in 1992 between the French Pernod Ricard corporation and Havana Ron, once again started campaigning, at a time when HCH sales doubled in the fist four years of the venture’s operation.

In April 1995, company president Rodolfo Ruiz and Mas Canosa, president of the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), organized a banquet (at $500 per head) in the Coral Gables Biltmore Hotel, to finance the reelection of Senator Jessie Helms. This ‘give to get’ move was to place at Helms’ disposition the lawyer Ignacio Sánchez, so that he could draft Title III of the Helms-Burton Act with Daniel Fisk, the Senator’s man on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

However, the Helms-Burton Act, baptized the Bacardi Claims Act by Wayne Smith, former director of the Cuba Bureau in the State Department, didn’t do the company much good; its extraterritorial pretensions clashed with European interests and forced a compromise with the EU, thus leaving many of its clauses without effect; year after year, U.S. presidents were forced to temporarily suspend the effects of Title III.

That fall, Bacardi loaded 16 crates of rum from its distillery in Nassau and marketed them in the United States with Havana Club labels. But in 1996, the French-Cuban HCH won a claim against Bacardi-Martini in a New York court, for violating a trademark registered by Cuba and approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1976.

Bacardi continued with its plan in 1997, buying the Havana Club franchise from the Arechabala family for $1.025 million. In real terms, this family had lost it in 1974, given that it did not renew its registration of the trademark or produce rum for 30 years. Nevertheless, Bacardi lawyers fixed their sights on abstracting their case from the 1928 Trademark Act, and had Congress approve a new bill, with retroactive effect, to deactivate the 1976 registration made by Havana Club to sell genuine Cuban rum. They used senators such as Connie Mack and Robert Graham, and Congress members IIeana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Díaz-Balart, to add an amendment to the 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Act’s controversial Section 211 on the National Budget.

The illegitimate amendment allowed them to get around the U.S. Trademark Act when Judge Shira Scheindling, of the Southern District of New York, approved the Bacardi claim. But Havana Club Holdings succeeded in having the European Union and the WTO question the anomalous inclusion at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), which did not cancel the registration of the Havana Club trademark as Bacardi sought via the amendment. But under pressure from Bush, the PTO invalidated its own decision.

The spurious George W. Bush administration, which won the 2000 elections over Albert Gore through fraudulent voting in Florida, was grateful and rewarded the Miami mafia and Bacardi, among other benefits, the denial of Cuba’s right to continue paying for the registration of the Havana Club rum trademark in the United States.

In October 2002, The Washington Post published email messages supplied by the Florida Democratic Party, revealing how the then governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, made the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office change its position in favor of Bacardi.

When the PTO attempted to act in accordance with the law, Jorge Rodríguez Márquez, vice president of Bacardi, sent a brazen note to Jeb Bush, "Somebody has to tell the Patent Office to stop interfering," he demanded.

In response, Governor Jeb Bush replied on April 23, 2002, that his brother, the President, had appointed former Congressman James Rogan to supervise the PTO; and instructed Rodríguez to draft a letter to Rogan asking for "prompt and decisive action in favor of Bacardi," which he would sign. The letter, duly drafted by Rodríguez and signed by Bush, ordered an end to the dispossession immediately; as was carried out. The process revealed the high degree of complicity on the part of the Bush clan with corrupt individuals in Washington such as Congress members Tom De Lay and his colleagues Mel Martínez, Díaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen, funded by Bacardi.

The Post also reported on December 4, that Rodríguez Márquez had spent five million dollars since 1998, paying Congress members, and another $2.2 million hiring lobbyists.

Bacardi admitted to having used corporate funds to pay electoral campaign costs in Texas to the leader of the Republican majority, Tom De Lay. The company was fined a mere $750, despite demonstrating its involvement.
 
In 2002, the EU filed a lawsuit against this second Bacardi Act, and the WTO Arbitration Committee ruled that parts of Section 211 were in violation of the commercial commitments of the United States and needed to be amended by Congress in order to bring them into line with WTO regulations. Thus the United States was urged to adapt them within a reasonable amount of time, as they were in violation of accorded regulations in the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.

The EU plaintiff agreed to give the U.S. more time to abide by this ruling, on various occasions. Thus, in 2004, Congress was presented with a bill on respect for trademarks, signed by legislators from both parties and supported by the National Foreign Trade Council, but the attempt was derailed by the very same legislators with identical bribes.

In July 2005, Europe and the Bush administration agreed, behind Cuba’s back, not to set a deadline for the United States to meet its WTO obligations; they agreed to abstain from asking the Solution of Differences body authorization to suspend concessions to the U.S. at this stage, until, at "some future date" they should decide to so. This understanding facilitated delaying the dispute for an indefinite period.

In this year’s hearing, European diplomats stated that it is time for the U.S. to resolve the issue and the Americans responded that a draft bill is in the hands of legislators in Washington to find a solution. They were informed that 11 years is more than enough time to adapt the regulation. But the 50-plus years of cold war against Cuba have broken the principles of the market economy which sustains this country’s ideology.

The dirty tricks of the Bush brothers and their protagonists in this rum war: Lincoln Díaz-Balart, Mel Martínez, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Tom De Lay and Jack Abramoff are among the more aggressive actors in the dirty war which Washington has insisted on maintaining. Given their corrupted and underhand nature, they constitute a 21st century Watergate. The pro-Batista Congress members of today are playing the same role as Nixon’s band of gangsters: Rolando Martínez, Virgilio González and Bernard Baker, together with Howard L. Hunt, James Mc Cord and Frank Sturgis.

To whom does President Obama have a debt of gratitude?
 
September 06, 2013
 
 
 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Bahamas is yet to have a functioning Freedom of Information Act ...Maybe, it we don’t have one by the end of the year, Vienna can help

WHERE, oh where is that illusive Freedom of Information Act, 2012?

 
 
 
Tribune242
Nassau, The Bahamas
 
 
 
 
The Act was passed by the FNM Government shortly before last year’s election, which swept the FNM from power. It was to come “into operation on such date as the Minister may appoint by notice published in the Gazette, and different dates may be so appointed for different provisions”.
 
Since then, it has gone AWOL - missing without leave. Hardly a month had passed after their election to parliament in May last year than “learned“ PLP politicians began pontificating on what areas of news reporters should be covering. They wanted reporters to focus on more positive news.
 
At that point, someone should have whispered in their ears that if they made positive news, reporters would happily write about it. Journalists neither make the news, nor do they cover it up. However, they do record what news is made by others. At the moment politicians are excelling in creating news, news that obviously they wish reporters would ignore. The news that they are now making is neither positive, nor is it intelligent. But it does reveal a strong tendency to cover up – a tendency to blow smoke screens to divert attention. Such a tendency is only bait to a well-trained reporter.
 
Last year, one of these politicians advocated more investigative reporting. He believed that it would produce more balanced reports, which would create a better informed public. How right he was. But where was the Freedom of Information Act that would make it easier for reporters to get such information?
 
It was nowhere to be found, but Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis had the brilliant idea to suggest that there should be punishment for “biased reporting”. And who was to be the arbiter of what was a biased report? Why the government, of course.
 
Since the publication of leaked documents revealing the shameful conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, FNM leader Dr Hubert Minnis says his party will now push for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act. We must remind him that his government, before it was removed from office, had already passed the Act. It is just awaiting a date to start acting. Unless, of course, this government now plans to amend it, which Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson indicated in March was the intention.
 
According to the Attorney General, although her government wanted to enact the law as soon as possible, it was now under review. There were certain sections, she said, that needed to be reviewed. “We don’t want to have a situation where we have actually brought something into force and it can’t work.”
 
Can’t work? Can’t work in favour of whom — the people or the government?
 
Already there are so many forbidden areas in the present Act that there will have to be skilful manoeuvring on the part of reporters to get certain information into the public domain.
 
Already, although they have protested that they want a better informed public, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell is uncertain if he will release documents in connection with the Cuban beatings if, and when the inquiry has been completed.
 
The environmentalists are pushing for the passage of the Act to protect the marine environment. If environmentalists had prior warnings of developments that could adversely affect the environment and the livelihood of Bahamians, they could protest sooner. But, so far, permits are approved behind closed doors and before Bahamians know it a precious wetland has been destroyed or a public beach has disappeared.
 
In June last year, the publisher of The Tribune attended the International Press Institute conclave held in Port of Spain, Trinidad to receive a posthumous citation awarded her father, Sir Etienne Dupuch, as the world’s longest serving editor, who spent his life defending press freedom and fighting against social injustice in the Bahamas.
 
At that conference, among many other things that impeded press freedom, the Caribbean’s criminal defamation laws were highlighted, as well as those nations that did not yet have a Freedom of Information Act. It was decided that the IPI would launch a campaign for change in these areas,
 
We knew that the Bahamas would be targeted and so we were relieved that, just before we left for Trinidad, the Freedom of Information Act had passed the House. We reported that the Bahamas did indeed have a Freedom of Information Act.
 
We know that IPI, headquartered in Vienna, would be very interested to learn that the new government was still sitting on it. In fact, the Bahamas is yet to have a functioning Freedom of Information Act. Maybe, it we don’t have one by the end of the year, Vienna can help.
 
September 03, 2013
 
 
 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Caribbean nations are to demand from their former metropolises economic and moral reparations for slavery, the genocide of their peoples, and the colonial practices to which they were subjected

The Caribbean has not forgotten


By Roberto Castellanos





IN their fight for the vindication of their peoples and the search for justice, the Caribbean nations are to demand from their former metropolises economic and moral reparations for slavery, the genocide of their peoples, and the colonial practices to which they were subjected.

The cornerstone of this demand was affirmed during the 34th Summit of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which took place in July in Trinidad & Tobago, and which gave the green light to the formation of a regional reparations group, to be supervised by prime ministers and presidents of the region.

The new institution will be responsible for coordinating the national commissions of each state.

The next step is a meeting in St. Vincent & the Grenadines in the first week of September, at which various leaders will have discussions with lawyers and historians to draw up a common strategy. The legacy of slavery includes endemic poverty and the lack of development which characterizes a large part of the region. Any agreement must contemplate a formal apology, but remorse by itself is not sufficient, stated President Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

For this reason, CARICOM has retained the UK law firm Leigh Day & Co, which recently won a claim forcing London to compensate hundreds of Kenyans tortured during their liberation struggle, in the so-called Mau Mau rebellion (1952-1960), with more than $20 million. "Our first step will be to seek a negotiated agreement with the governments of France, Britain and the Netherlands in an attempt to resolve the issue amicably," stated lawyer Martyn Day.

However, David Fitton, British High Commissioner to Jamaica, made clear his government’s position by denying that this ruling set any precedent.

"We don't think the issue of reparations is the right way to address these issues," he said. "It's not the right way to address an historical problem."

Although there is no official data, it is estimated that 12 million Africans were taken by force from their continent and transported to the Western Hemisphere to work as slaves. Moreover, a significant number of them never reached their destination as they died in the crossing due to abysmal hygienic conditions, poor food and crowded into the ships’ holds.

While the Caribbean nations have not as yet presented a concrete monetary amount as compensation, regional media have referred to the compensation granted by the British to owners of Caribbean plantations after the emancipation of slaves in 1834.

Then, London paid colonialists approximately 20 million GBP, currently worth $200 billion.

According to Armand Zunder, president of the Suriname National Reparations Committee, during its occupation of this Caribbean nation, the Netherlands alone obtained a sum amounting to 125 billion euros at the current rate.

Nor is there consensus as to the destination of any sums contributed, but Gonsalves called for the creation of a compensation fund for the economic and social development of the region. (Orbe)
 
August 29, 2013