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$139K for straw vendors’ legal fees

The government has paid out nearly $140,000 in legal fees to assist the straw vendors who were incarcerated in the United States last year, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham revealed yesterday.

According to Ingraham, who opened debate on the mid-year budget yesterday in the House of Assembly, a little over $139,000 was spent on their legal fees.

Nine Bahamian straw vendors were arrested at a New York airport in September last year, as they waited for their flight to be called.

The women were later charged with trafficking counterfeit goods. They pleaded guilty to the charges. Following the arrests, the government hired attorney Elliot Sagor of the New York law firm Hogan Lovells to oversee their cases.

In the days that followed, the vendors were released on their personal recognizance after they were sentenced to time served and placed on probation of between two and three years. Additionally, three of the vendors were ordered to pay restitution.

As previously reported the government has allocated $18.1 million to the Department of Finance to pay outstanding bills to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) incurred by various government ministries and departments.

“We are seeking to bring the government’s account current,” Ingraham said. “Its electrical account with BEC has traditionally lagged behind.”

He said the government is making provisions to pay the outstanding BEC bills of all government agencies including the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Her Majesty’s Prison. He noted however that the government will only pay the BEC bills of government agencies or departments, and not entities owned by the government such as Bahamasair or ZNS.

He added that he hopes the government does a better job in the future keeping its accounts current, while consuming less energy and conserving more.

“There is far too much wastage taking place,” he added.

The prime minister said another $416,000 is going to assist indigent persons, $203,000 for the national lunch program, and $3.1 million to assist the needy.

Ingraham added that $595,000 will go towards paying air traffic controllers and$4 million will go to the Public Hospitals Authority. Ingraham also said that the government paid out $2.2 million to disengaged CLICO workers.

An additional $5.1 million will go to ZNS for the payment of separation packages.

Ingraham said the government has given ZNS the go-ahead to begin planning for its upgrades. He noted that the government will make funds available to ZNS in July in the new budget.

The revenue collected during the first six months of the fiscal year is below government projections, Ingraham stated. However, revenue collection improved in unexpected areas and in places such as Grand Bahama, confirmed the prime minister. He congratulated customs officers on that island for maximizing collections.

Ingraham reported that relative to the corresponding period in fiscal year 2009/2010, revenue collection in the first six months of 2010/2011 was down by approximately $50 million.

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