Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Senate Communication by Senator the Hon. Dion Foulkes

Remarks By Senator the Hon. Dion A. Foulkes Minister of Labour in The Senate Resolution to thank the Governor General for The Speech from the Throne Friday, 13 October, 2017:

Madam President,

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

This biblical passage from the Gospel of Matthew is very popular and often quoted.  It is not always easy to practice this admonition, Madam President, but we should try.

Yes, we should try to wipe every tear from every eye.

Helping the hungry, the thirsty, the impoverished, the sick and the imprisoned is one of our primary obligations.

Coming to the aid of those in distress is our Christian duty.

I fully and unequivocally support the Prime Minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, in his compassionate and Christian approach to offering aid to Dominica, our sister CARICOM state, in their hour of great need.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving me the opportunity to assist and advise NEMA, along with my colleague the honourable Dionisio D’Aguilar, Minister of Tourism, on the massive evacuation of residents from MICAL, Ragged Island and Bimini prior to the arrival of hurricane Irma. 

It was a huge undertaking and involved a very complex ground and air transport operation.

I commend the Prime Minister for personally getting involved at NEMA and at every step of the process.

Captain Stephen Russell and his able staff at NEMA did a yeoman’s job. 

We also want to thank all the civic and business groups who provided drinks, food and clothing at the shelters.

Madam President,

We commend the Administrators, Local Government officials, Police and Defense Force officers who went beyond the call of duty. Some of them went door to door to get the residents out of their homes and on the planes; and in one case, on the mail boat.

We thank all of the airlines and boat operators who participated.

These included Bahamasair, Sky Bahamas, Flamingo Air and Pineapple Air and Tom Hanna’s Mail boat which all assisted in transporting the Family Island residents to New Providence. Once in New Providence the evacuees were safely housed at the New Providence Community Church and the Kendall GL Isaacs Gym.  There were also many who stayed with family members.

Madam President, we wish also to thank Bimini Resorts World and their owners, The Genting Group and Mr. Capo for offering to reopen the main hotel at Bimini to take in as many as 400 Biminites if it became necessary. We are thankful it was not necessary.

Now that the storm has passed the Government and NEMA has shifted its efforts to rebuilding of those damaged communities and supporting the residents who were adversely impacted. It is our goal to bring help and restoration to all those affected as quickly as possible.

We are convinced that our combined efforts saved lives.

I was honoured to be a part of this massive undertaking.

Madam President

I intend during the midterm budget to fully address and account for the hard work and many accomplishments of the Department of Labour and the other agencies and Commission which full under our Ministry.

Permit me, Madam President, to speak specifically to those matters mentioned in the speech from the Throne and to tell a personal story about our relationship with both Her Excellency and her husband the Late Sir Lynden Pindling.

Madam President

In addition to the economic challenges facing us, the fight against crime also remains a most serious challenge.

I am convinced, and have been so convinced for a long time, that until we deal with the societal and economic condition of many of our communities, we will continue to experience a crime problem.

The Government has devised a comprehensive initiative to tackle the crime problem but, more importantly, to improve the lives of Bahamians who, for any number of reasons, are marginalized and left out of the mainstream of our society.

A subcommittee of Cabinet, of which I am a member, has devised a holistic approach to alleviating the crime problem called the National Community Empowerment Initiative or N.C.E.I.

Chaired by the Minister of Youth Sports and Culture, the honourable Michael Pintard, the subcommittee is focusing on four major areas: Social Upliftment, Economic Empowerment, Prevention and Enforcement.

Major parts of the Social Upliftment Initiative include a national mentorship program, volunteerism, faith-based partnerships and community youth activities.

The Economic Empowerment component includes training schools, apprenticeship and employment initiatives, and youth enterprise programs.

The Prevention component includes CCTV, neighborhood crime watch, conflict resolution programs and urgent action by the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

The enforcement component includes several new initiatives already announced by the honourable Marvin Dames, Minister of National Security, who is also a member of the committee.

Our focus is on community-based solutions to crime.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Labour is devising a plan to take our employment exchange to the various neighborhoods in Nassau and in Grand Bahama to sign up as many unemployed persons as we can.

We are going on the blocks, on the basketball courts, outside popular business establishments like food stores and wash houses.

We are taking our employment exchange to the people.

Too often we have applications for work permits in a number of areas and we do not have qualified Bahamians on our list at the Exchange to refer to the employer.

Madam President

Let me just cite some of the areas where we have a shortage: housekeepers, gardeners, farmers, air conditioning workers, welders, engineers, nurses, specialized teachers, spa therapists, butlers,  food and beverage managers,  financial services traders and wealth managers.

May I take this opportunity to appeal to qualified people who are looking for employment: please register with the Exchange.

Madam President,

We are focusing on a national approach to training.

We have consulted several institutions in this regard including the University of the Bahamas, the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute, hotels, the financial services sector, and the industrial sector in Grand Bahama.

We have also consulted private technical training institutions in Nassau and in Freeport.

We want to devise a coordinated public/private sector training initiative where we can focus our efforts on training Bahamians for the demands of the existing market place.

In the financial services and maritime industries we are in the process of devising plans to institutionalize education and training from the primary and high school levels.

We have looked into some of the initiatives in Singapore, Cayman Islands and other jurisdictions as to how to approach this question of training in the financial services sector.

The country we were most impressed with in this regards is Estonia, where the Government and the private sector begin the training of Estonians for the financial services sector from the primary school level.

For example, Madam President, the acquisition of language skills is essential in order to maximize participation in the high-paying jobs in international trading and wealth management.

The constant training in IT skills at all levels in the educational system is a major part of their success.

If we are to maximize the benefits to Bahamians, I am of the view that we have to begin the process of making a cultural change with respect to financial services and the maritime industry, and it must start with our educational and training institutions.

Madam President

The Consumer Affairs division of our Ministry is inundated with complaints from consumers with respect to commercial bank services charges and the increase in these fees and charges.

This is a major concern for the Government.

These complaints include the increase in fees to cash cheques, to obtain reference letters; increase in credit card late payment fees, to even an administrative fee on saving accounts.

At my invitation, the Clearing Banks Association and the Central Bank of the Bahamas have agreed to separate meetings to discuss these issues next week.

The chairpersons and members of the three consumer protection agencies will also participate in the discussions along with members of the Tripartite Council. They include Philip Beneby of the Consumer Protection Commission; Synida Dorsett of the Prices Commission; Pauline Curry of the Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality; Representatives from the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), the Trade Union Congress of the Bahamas (TUCB) and the National Congress of Trade Unions of the Bahamas (NCTUB).

Madam President

We have received numerous complaints from the workers of Club Land ’Or and we have had several meetings with their representatives.

The basic issue is that there is a significant amount of back pay owed to the line staff and managers at the hotel.

We met with one of the owners and the general manager last week to bring a resolution to this very serious outstanding issue.

I can assure the workers at Club Land ’Or that we are doing everything in our power to get this matter resolved.

Madam President

We are in the final stages of concluding industrial agreements with Customs and Immigration and Air Traffic Controllers Unions.

I wish to thank Michelle Dorsett President of the Commonwealth Union of Hotel Services and Allied Workers (CUHSAW) and Mr. Obie Ferguson, President of the Bahamas Managerial Association (BHMA) for their continued support of the government’s efforts to reopen the Grand Lucayan Resorts properties and to revitalize the Port Lucayan area in Freeport. 

Madam President,

I also wish to advise that we continue to receive complaints from the staff at the three major resorts in Abaco and I have received a formal request from the Member of Parliament for North Abaco, the honourable Darren Henfield, to intervene in this matter. Along with the MP, I plan to visit all three properties to meet with the line staff and management.  

Madam President,

We continue to receive numerous complaints from the Exuma Cays with respect to the unfair treatment of workers from the Cays at some of the private cays.

Along with officers from mainland Exuma, I have visited the cays in question and have resolved some of the issues.  Our office in Georgetown is diligently addressing the outstanding issues in the Exuma Cays.

Madam President

The MP for North Eleuthera, Mr. Ricky Mackey, has made several complaints to me with respect to several properties in his constituency. I wish to assure him and the workers that we are addressing their concerns.

Madam President,

I also had the opportunities to address numerous labour related issues on Grand Bahama and Bimini.

I will not get into the specifics during this contribution, but I want to say, there are still a lot of outstanding issues on both Islands.   I thank Her Excellency Dame Marguerite Pindling, Governor-General of this great nation for her most impressive and detailed Speech from the Throne in which, with the utmost grace and poise, she outlined this Government’s plans and agenda moving forward to serve and help the people of this great nation. 

Madam President

I have known Her Excellency for a very long time. Our family were at the early days of the PLP and a few years after majority rule, 1967, enjoyed a close relationship, namely because of my father’s, Sir Arthur, and Her Excellency’s late husband, Rat Honourable Sir Lynden Pindling’s relationship which was based on a strong friendship and a common political objective: the complete political and economic emancipation of our people.  

For over 35 years, after 1970, there was a complete separation of the friendship both personally and politically.

Madam President, as you are aware, my father along with seven others broke away from the PLP and formed the Free PLP and then in 1971 the FNM.

It was only after 1996 that they, along with Her Excellency and Lady Foulkes rekindled their friendship while my father was serving as High Commissioner to the Court of St. James, England.

In 1989, there was an incident outside of the House of Assembly, where I was physically assaulted by the then Prime Minister, Sir Lynden Pindling, during a FNM sponsored demonstration. Sir Lynden would later explain that he was only chastising his godson. He was not my Godfather, but we understood what he meant.

So the reunion in London was significant for several reasons.

Sir Lynden and I made up at a luncheon at his home in 1999 several months before his passing. Her Excellency was the only other person present, and she graciously hosted me.

Several months after that Sir Lynden called me and asked me if I would arrange for my father and Lady Foulkes along with six other persons of his choosing to attend a private dinner at his residence.

My Father agreed and along with my wife Emma and others we had a wonderful evening at the Pindling’s home. 

In 2000, several months before his passing, my father, at his home, hosted a reception in honour of Sir Lynden and Her Excellency.  Both men paid tribute to each other.

The leader of Government Business and Attorney General,

Minister Carl Bethel, and his wife Lisa, were also present along with the former Attorney General, Allyson Gibson and her husband Max among others like The Late Sir Clement Maynard, George Smith, Smith,……………

So, Madam President, when I thanked her Excellency for  her gracious Speech, and it was gracious, I also thank her for the role she played in our political and social development but also in the role she played in the reconciliation  between my father and her husband and to a lesser extent myself.  

As a nation, as a people, maybe it is time for a period of national reconciliation. Maybe it is time for the kinder, gentler approach to our political discourse.

I entreat, I invite all of us in this honourable upper chamber to begin that process of national reconciliation and maybe, just maybe our followers and supporters will do likewise.

I thank you Madam President for your indulgence. 

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