South Eleuthera: Status of potable water for Tarpum Bay and Rock Sound?

PM: The Government of The Bahamas is quite aware, painfully so, of the inadequacy and poor quality of water in Tarpum Bay and Rock Sound, Eleuthera. We have been aware of that ever since we came to office, and you would have been aware of that for the entire term you spent in office between 2002-2007. We have taken note on a number of occasions that this has become a matter that you would choose to raise publicly now that you are in Opposition, but did not choose to do so while you were in government. There are many parts of The Bahamas that suffer from poor quality water, most of Long Island, Crooked Island, Acklins, the greater part of Andros, all of Cat Island, parts of New Providence and parts of Grand Bahama. We have spent a considerable sum of money in seeking to improve and increase the supply of potable water to Bahamians. We now have for consideration, water for the southern part of Exuma near the Williams Town area. We have done tremendous work in terms of water throughout The Bahamas. We are unable, for instance right now, to pave Mackey Street because we’ve got to replace all the water mains straight down to Madeira Street at a cost of nearly $1 million. We are unable to pave Soldier Road which is in terrible shape here in Nassau because the water mains must be replaced at a cost of nearly $750,000. We’ve got to replace the water main on Bay Street leading from the British Colonial hotel up to past the Paradise Island bridge. The demands for water and water infrastructure are great, huge. We empathise with the people of Rock Sound and Tarpum Bay. The last time I was there and sought to take a shower in Tarpum Bay, I thought I was in the sea – that was several years ago. I understand that it has gotten worse. Your matter is under active consideration. The Government is challenged in terms of its financing, the Government has had to extend its borrowing beyond acceptable limits and beyond limits where we thought we would not go. We will do the best we can. I cannot now give you a firm date when Rock Sound and Tarpum Bay will have its water of a quality and quantity that is acceptable, but I assure you that the Government of The Bahamas is mindful of its obligation and willing, as soon as it is able, to respond positively to the needs and requirements of the people of Rock Sound and Tarpum Bay.

South Eleuthera: Cable television for Wemyss Bight, etc.

PM: The Minister responsible for cable, the Hon. Member for Mount Moriah, last week in the House gave an update on cable expansion throughout the Family Islands to those communities that do not now have cable. We are proud as a government to have introduced cable to The Bahamas. We are proud to have caused probably 90% of the households in The Bahamas to have access to cable. We long to see the day when 100% of the households in The Bahamas have access to cable television. We are challenged because of the cost, firstly. Secondly, the cable company is not owned by the Government of The Bahamas; it is a private company owned by thousands of Bahamian shareholders – we are the regulators. We’ve been doing our utmost to seek to have cable extended to those communities that do not now have it – Mangrove Cay, most of the communities in central Andros, parts of Long Island, parts of Exuma, parts of New Providence and parts of Grand Bahama. Just as the Member has a settlement in Eleuthera called Wemyss Bight in the middle of Bannerman Town and Rock Sound where the settlement was not announced last week, I too as a Member of Parliament have a similar challenge. Between Leisure Lee in Abaco and Treasure Cay there is Sand Banks. Scores of people live between Leisure Lee and Sand Banks. I have a relative, Ms. Natalie Bodie, who is now probably near to 80, who calls me with great regularity: “Hubert when are you going to get cable for me?” The Government has even agreed to pay between the order of $750,000 and $1 million for the Government, BTC between $500,000 and $750,000 and Cable $1 million to be able to put Cable in many of these small communities, of six channels as was done in Cat Island, Black Point, Farmers’ Cay and Staniel Cay in the Exumas, Grand Cay and as must be done for Sweeting’s Cay. Just as the Government of The Bahamas took years and years to make sure that every community in The Bahamas has access to electricity – and there are still a few people in Acklins who say that notwithstanding that we put electricity all over Acklins, there are a few homes that do not have electricity – [and] just as many homes in New Providence do not have access to potable water today notwithstanding that this is the City, there are pockets where cable has not yet gone. We will do our best, our utmost. We will give you the schedule that we will be able to work out between now and next year and if Wemyss Bight can be included, we will be happy to cause it to be included, just as if Sand Banks in Abaco can be included, I’ll be delighted if it is, but we are doing the best we can, and we are doing better than anybody else before our time in respect of this.

Elizabeth: Revenue generating plans by govt to address rise in debt to GDP ratio?

PM: I am delighted that the Member asked me that question. He has never been in the House during a Budget Debate, or for the presentation of the Budget. In fact, he has not been around here period, but I expect that he will be here on Wednesday, May 26 at 10:00am when the Budget for the next fiscal period will be presented. The answer to his question will be contained therein.

Exuma: Employment status of security screeners at Exuma International Airport

PM: The Government does not intend to put them on the permanent and pensionable payroll of The Bahamas. The Government intends to keep them on the same terms and conditions that they were hired by yourselves while you were in office.

West End & Bimini: Has the Government been speaking with the Grand Bahama Power Company about its recent outages, has the Company informed the Government about its rate increase for May and what will be done to address the reported damage to homeowner appliances, etc due to power surges and ongoing problems with the power station?

PM: Mr. Speaker, I am not aware of the power difficulties in Grand Bahama. Freeport is a special creature of legislation. The Power Company in Grand Bahama is able to adjust its rates without the prior approval of the Government of The Bahamas. The residents of Freeport enjoy benefits and privileges that are not enjoyed by Bahamians elsewhere. In the constituency of the Member who has asked the question, I was very proud to be able to cause the electricity rates to be reduced substantially when we came to power in 1992. They used to have to pay a much higher rate than people in Freeport, but thanks to the FNM, we caused them to have to pay a much lower rate than what they were paying before we came to office. And notwithstanding any increase that is taking place now, people in your constituency are still paying a lower rate today than they did 15 years ago. Insofar as outages are concerned we will seek to find out. The Government has under active consideration, bringing under the responsibility of URCA power and water in Freeport, Grand Bahama. We hope that the Member who is asking the question and his Party will see fit to support the Government’s decision when it is made. We would like residents in Nassau, Abaco, Eleuthera and throughout The Bahamas, including Freeport and West End, Grand Bahama to be able to have an independent authority that can make determinations when allegations are made that appliances are damaged as a result of electrical surges or negligence on the part of a utility company. We can only cause that to happen in Freeport if we by law, place the regulation of those utilities under the Authority which we propose to do here in Nassau. I note that the Member is reluctant to say whether his Party will support us when we do that.

Bain & Grants Town: Status of the Prescription Drug Programme and how many pharmacies have signed up?

PM: I do not know how many pharmacies have signed up for the Drug Plan; it is not a matter that I keep under active consideration except to say this: that I expect the Plan to come into effect in August of this year, I expect there to be a reasonable number of pharmacies that are involved, and I expect to be able to cause medications to be made available to the persons affected in a timely manner through distribution both in the public and private sectors of The Bahamas, and that I would wish to encourage as many pharmacies as care to, to join the Plan because the Plan is a good plan and it will benefit Bahamians.

Bain & Grants Town: How many employers are in default to NIB and what is the policy for collection of outstanding contributions, is the policy selective or administered across the board equally?

PM: The policy ought not be selective and if there is any evidence that the policy is selective, I’d be delighted to know. The policy is supposed to be across the board to all entities in The Bahamas and companies, including Members of Parliament and I hope that the Board is doing its job by applying it across the board, even and including Members of the House of Assembly.

Fort Charlotte: Disclose the amount owed to Bahamians whose land has been acquired by the Government for road works, etc and what measures are in place to pay them.

PM: I am not aware of any updated list from the list given by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in terms of the indebtedness of the Government of The Bahamas to persons whose land had been acquired. I am not aware of what steps were taken subsequent to that by him or them while the Member for Fort Charlotte was in office as a Minister to deal with the matter. I can say this: that we have been with some regularity and consistency, working through the list and each time that the Office of the Attorney General certifies title of somebody’s land that has been acquired, we have been causing such persons to be paid. And if there is anyone whose title has been certified by the Attorney General as being good who has not been paid, I’d be happy to be aware of that so I can cause payment to be made.

Fort Charlotte: Can the Minister responsible for the FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit) explain the circumstances behind the resignation of the Legal Counsel? Was there an allegation of harassment on the part of the Director of FIU that has come to your attention?

PM: I do not know; nothing has come to my attention to cause me to want to find out. The Director of the FIU is Reginald Ferguson; I am not aware of any allegation made against him, but if you say that such an allegation has been made, I shall find out and I will be happy to respond to you. And of course, whenever there is an allegation of harassment, the Police ought to be advised so that the matter can be investigated by the police also. [ON SECOND INTERVENTION] – I am advised that the legal counsel at the FIU did not include in her letter of resignation, any allegation of harassment at all.

Fox Hill: Is Government in a position to say whether it has taken note of the criticisms by non-Bahamasair pilots with respect to conditions of safety on the non-Bahamasair services?

PM: I’d be happy to cause an answer to be provided by the Ministry with responsibility if the Member would make available to me the list of the allegations he has. Safety would be a matter of grave concern to ourselves also, and we would be happy to deal with the matter as soon as we have the information.

Golden Gates: Does the Government have a cash flow problem preventing it from paying outstanding monies owed to vendors?

PM: The answer is no, but the Government is stretched in terms of its financial capacity and its ability to fund its essential services and that is a reality with which we must come to terms, and we propose to come to terms with that in the shortest possible time. When you come here on May 26, you will hear some of the medicine we propose for our sick Bahamian patient, which is our nation economically at the moment.

Golden Gates: Please advise on the policy regarding the granting of permanent residency or citizenship to veterinarians, doctors or professionals.

PM: The Government has had in place a policy since I was in office the last time, which doesn’t appear to have changed while you were in office, that professionals needed to be in the country for some 20 years before they were favorably considered for citizenship. There were a few exceptions made to that over the years but that has been the general rule. We are undertaking a review of that policy; we think it is in the national interest for us to do so, and would be happy for any suggestions that you have from your side that should be included in this consideration that we are going to give to the matter.

Farm Road & Centreville: Can the Government provide an update on the Bahamar project and whether is application has been submitted to the Government?

PM: The Government of The Bahamas has made no comment whatsoever on the Bahamar Chinese reported arrangement. The Government is not now going to make any comment on it either. If and when the Government is in a position to make a comment, I assure the Leader of the Opposition and I have told him privately, he would be amongst the first persons to know outside the Cabinet.