The speech and the details

The Davis administration’s Speech from the Throne offers insight into potential legislation not explicitly foreshadowed, but also leaves key questions unanswered about necessary agenda items not outlined.

Grand Bahama is the country’s second-largest economic center, making its rebound from years of stagnation and repetitive natural disasters a critical component in the desired growth of The Bahamas’ gross domestic product.

Though the speech highlights plans to bolster Grand Bahama’s maritime and industrial sectors, it is silent on the way forward regarding the city of Freeport’s incentives and its management.

Back in 2017, the Minnis administration introduced the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Extension of Tax Exemptions Bill, which sought to repeal the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investment Incentives Act, 2016, passed by the Christie administration.

The Minnis administration argued the need for a repeal of the 2016 act, stating that the legislation stood in the way of investment prospects for Freeport.

However, the repeal bill was still listed on the Order Paper of the House of Assembly just prior to Parliament’s dissolution in August, meaning it was never passed.

Days before last month’s general election, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper said the party would, “reinstate and enforce the Grand Bahama Incentive Act to make the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) more accountable”.

“We plan to partner with all of the stakeholders to promote Grand Bahama and find the right development partners”, Cooper added.

The administration’s speech from the throne is not only silent on the enforcement of the 2016 act, but on the Davis-led government’s position regarding the GBPA, and what observers view as the need for reform for Freeport’s regulator.

Moreover, while bolstering the maritime and industrial sectors would bode well for Freeport’s economy, more details are needed on the administration’s plans to grow the economies of east and west Grand Bahama, the former having been nearly decimated by Hurricane Dorian, and the latter languishing in protracted need of sustainable economic development.

When the administration announced in its speech a plan to amend the Fiscal Responsibility Act “to strengthen the independence of the Fiscal Responsibility Council”, it was a foreshadowing of legislation to grant the Parliament its independence from the executive branch of government.

The Fiscal Responsibility Council — whose members are appointed on the advice of the House Speaker and which is mandated by the act to oversee government’s adherence to fiscal rules — is in the same position regarding its independence as is the Parliament, in that both have the secretary to the Cabinet as their accounting officer.

This means that both bodies are under the administrative control of the same branch of government they are mandated to hold accountable — an untenable state of affairs that can be addressed by an act of Parliament to put the legislature in administrative control of its affairs.

The administration’s intention to strengthen the council’s independence, meantime, suggests it takes seriously the intention of the fiscal responsibility legislation, which is a positive signal of how it may approach its management of the country’s finances.

The government pledges to “transform The Bahamas Department of Correctional Services into a rehabilitative institution in alignment with its mandate”.

This is a pledge spanning successive administrations, and is one of a number of legislative agenda items in whose fulfillment other pledges have hope of success.

The Davis administration pledges to create a national “Second-Chance” jobs program that allows those who have served prison time to enter the job market, further pledging to expunge the records of young people convicted of minor marijuana offenses as part of the program.

Productively re-entering society after serving time in prison not only hinges on the ability of offenders to secure gainful employment, but on the experience of prisoners while incarcerated.

Poor conditions and traumatic encounters prisoners endure can so damage their psyche that without adequate mental help, they could potentially become more of a danger to themselves and others than was the case prior to incarceration.

This is why the details regarding the administration’s plans to transform the country’s prison into a rehabilitative institution are so important, and it is in the national interest that those details are made known, together with how such plans will be resourced.

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