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PM defends Dubai trip

Davis says delegation size was cut down

Responding to recent backlash over the government’s large delegation to Expo 2020 in Dubai and the inclusion of several cultural acts, Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis defended the trip saying the size of the delegation was actually reduced and that not all who traveled did so on the government’s dime.

“Not all Bahamians here was sponsored by the government,” he said in an interview with Our News in Dubai.

“Many Bahamians came here on their own. Many Bahamians are here enjoying it because they want to promote The Bahamas and be a patriot.

“We did, in fact, cut the delegation down.”

The delegation included the Royal Bahamas Police Force Pop Band and other Bahamian artists and performers, among them, Shaback, a choir led by Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Press Secretary Clint Watson, whose relatives also made up the delegation in other capacities. 

Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle also attended the event and posted several photos on Twitter, which he later deleted. 

In one post, which he deleted, Rolle wrote, “I wish to set the record straight, The Bahamas government did not pay for my trip to Dubai and did not give me any per diem. Quite frankly I am free [to] travel anywhere in the world that I wish and don’t need 

permission from anyone.”

While some Bahamians raised issue with the size of the delegation, most of the furor arose over the choice of certain acts, with many in the cultural community pointing out that no vetting appeared to be carried out.

Others questioned why the Bahamas National Youth Choir was not selected to attend Expo 2020, which allows participating countries to show off innovations and to network.

“I am totally flabbergasted, upset, and embarrassed for my beloved country to see that they have sent a mostly totally inappropriate delegation to the Dubai Expo to represent whilst disrespecting the culture of the host country,” Pam Burnside, cultural advocate and owner of Doongalik Studios, said in a Facebook post.

Dexter Fernander, director of the youth choir, said he was told by an official from the Ministry of Tourism last year that the choir was being considered for the event.

“That person never even called back to say we were not accepted but it is what it is,” Fernander said earlier this week.

He added, “I found out on social media just like everyone else. I was like, ‘Oh, OK. I guess the choir isn’t going.’

“Unfortunately, I wish they had told us earlier. We had an opportunity to go to Nashville also for the Martin Luther King special ‘Let Freedom Sing’ concert that’s happening in the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

“We turned that down with the understanding that we had a responsibility for the country first. There was no communication about if we were accepted or rejected.”

Over the weekend, OPM explained that the trip cost the government $1 million, less than the $1.7 million budgeted by the previous administration. 

OPM also noted that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) spent $3.5 million and $500,000 was donated by the private sector for the event. 

The Free National Movement said it wants a detailed account of the trip. 

When asked about the matter yesterday, Minister of Economic Affairs Michael Halkitis said the government will do a full accounting.

“…At the end of the day, we will do an accounting and we will see when everybody is back and all the expenses are settled,” he said.

Halkitis added that he believes the trip was money well spent.

“We think it’s well spent and, at the end of the day, we want to be able to give a ledger to say this is what we allocated and here’s what we spent and here are some of the benefits that we think are accruing to us,” Halkitis said.

“Some will be immediate and some will be longer term.”

 Mutual benefits 

While in Dubai, the government signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the UAE for technical assistance.

Davis said the MOU is a foundation toward building mutual benefits between The Bahamas and the UAE.

“We talk about digitization but yet where are we with those things?” he asked. 

“…We do lack some capacity in our country and where we do have capacity, it needs strengthening. Hence, the memorandum of understanding that was signed. It lays the foundation to at least start the discussion to a pathway to bringing mutual benefits to each country in the areas that are spoken about.”

Non-Resident Ambassador of The Bahamas to the UAE Tony Joudi called for The Bahamas to have a permanent mission in Dubai. 

“If you look at the UAE, you will find about every embassy is over here,” he said. 

“Every single worldwide embassy is found right here in Abu Dhabi.

“…Some Caribbean nations have embassies here or, if not embassies, consulates. Why we as a nation, we don’t have an embassy or a consulate yet in Dubai or Abu Dhabi?”

In response, Davis said the government is “minded to do so”. 

“Those things are just picking up now and we will continue to see how we can forge a more meaningful relationship for The Bahamas,” he said. 

“That would include the establishment of a permanent mission in this region.”

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Travis Cartwright-Carroll

Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018.

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