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Bahamas Government's substantial progress in the implementation of e-Government will serve as a catalyst to drive a new wave of the use of technology in all facets of the Bahamian economy
Related to country: Bahamas

Translations available in: English (original) | Italian | Dutch

E-GOVERNMENT PLATFORM TO BOOST REVENUE

 

 

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune242 Business Editor

Nassau, Bahamas

 

 

THE GOVERNMENT'S newly-launched $10.2 million e-services platform will transform the Bahamas into "a more business friendly jurisdiction", the minister of state for finance said yesterday, with increased Treasury revenues among the "significant" potential benefits.

Zhivargo Laing told Tribune Business that the ease of paying due taxes and fees online might encourage some businesses and entrepreneurs, who had previously baulked at putting payments in the mail or going to the relevant agencies, to now do so.

"I think the benefits are significant, actually," Mr Laing said of the e-government platform, which launched yesterday, "because you're talking of benefits to be had for the general public from the ease of doing some transactions over the computer, as opposed to having to go to some counter, go to some office and get in your car and drive through traffic somewhere to do so. They can do the same from their computer wherever they are in the country or the world."

Asked whether the more efficient, convenient way to pay Business Licences and real property taxes, plus apply for work permits and renewals, could boost government revenues by encouraging businesses/entrepreneurs to pay, Mr Laing replied: "I believe so in the end.

"There's benefits to the Treasury, and it will ultimately improve revenue and economic activity, and make us a more business friendly jurisdiction." Through reducing, or eliminating, the need to stand in line to pay taxes or complete permit applications, business efficiency and productivity should be enhanced.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham yesterday said the Government wanted to "change" the Bahamas' United Nations ranking of 65th out of 180- nations when it came to e-government, while Mr Laing expressed hope that the platform's launch would result in a "significant improvement" in this nation's Ease of Doing Business rankings.

Perception is everything, and he pointed to the impact that Singapore's high 'Ease of Doing Business' ranking was having on its economy. The island nation, which supplied the consultants that assisted with the Government's online service project, had attracted hundreds of companies to establish themselves there, boosting employment and economic growth.

"Over time, the more we encourage this e-government platform, the more there will be benefits all around," Mr Laing said. The Bahamas has slipped gradually in the Ease of Doing Business listings over the past few years, and the minister expressed hope that the nation would have "a much better ranking"

He hoped to see an improvement in the medium term, with a more marked rise long-term..

The first four e-government services launched yesterday were driver's licence renewals, real property tax payments, civil service-wide customer service, and vendor inquiries.

Mr Laing said that "in a couple of weeks" the platform would be expanded to feature the online application for, and payments, of Business Licences. The Road Traffic Act will be amended in October to provide for traffic penalties to be paid over the Internet, thus relieving the pressure on the court system.

And, among the other services to be added over the coming years, are new and renewal work permit applications; Customs duty payments; passport application payments; post office box rental payments; and police character certificate payments.

Mr Laing yesterday said he had already received queries over whether annual International Business Company (IBC) payments could be made online, and added: "Obviously, that's where we intend to go, so whatever transaction one could imagine being done over the computer, we want to deliver over the computer."

While "hundreds" of government services could be provided online, Mr Laing pointed out that the Ingraham administration had to prioritise, as each one required "back end" support to be put in place.

Urging the public and private sector to provide feedback on what services they wanted to be provided online next, Mr Laing said: "It's a Budget issue, a time issue and a logistical issue.

"It will take us time, and as the people from Singapore have pointed out, it took them 30 years to get where they are today. I don't imagine it will take us that sort of time, but it will take us time to bring all these services online."

The Prime Minister said yesterday: "We are deepening and broadening the Government's efforts to create more of a service culture, aided by cutting-edge technology and best practices in the public service. And we are improving the means by which services will be delivered to businesses and the general public.

"The Bahamas has spent many years on the journey that led us to this point in our history. The e-government vision was conceptualised more than a decade ago when we were in office, but it is only now that we have finally arrived at a point where we can present a 'single window' and a new face to government services online."

And he added: "Our vision for the Bahamas is that investing in the use of technology to deliver public services (education, health, financial, etc.) will catapult our nation forward in the delivery of services to the Bahamian public.

"Our vision is that the Government's substantial progress in implementation of e-Government will serve as a catalyst to drive a new wave of the use of technology in all facets of the Bahamian economy."

July 29, 2011

tribune242

Caribbean Blog International


July 30, 2011 | 6:41 PM Comments  {num} comments



Christian terrorism
Translations available in: English (original) | Arabic

By Gwynne Dyer:

 

Three pieces about Muslims in the same paper on the same day (The Independent, July 25). The first is a local colour piece about how there are a lot more Middle Eastern tourists in London this summer. Why? Because France has banned the 'Islamic' veil (or the Babylonian/Roman/Byzantine/Islamic veil, if you want to be precise) that covers the face. So the high-spending female shoppers from the Gulf aren't going to Paris anymore.

So many of them are going to London instead, where big London shops like Selfridges and Liberty are reporting a 40-45 per cent increase in international visitors compared to last year. And since Middle Eastern shoppers spend about 15 times as much as your average British shopper, they are more than welcome, even if many of them look a little strange to the average British eye.

Two pages on, a story about how rickets, a bone disease that causes stunted growth and bow legs in children, is making a comeback in Britain. It's caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight acting on the skin. And, it's Muslims (British Muslims this time), who keep their women indoors or make them cover every bit of skin when they go out who are the main victims of this disease.

Fair comment, but it's striking that nowhere in that story does the word 'Muslim' appear. It did not appear in the first story either. Everybody knows that both stories are about Muslims, but the galumphing etiquette that governs this discourse means that you mustn't actually say so. It's a well-meaning but idiotic attempt to compensate for the vicious anti-Muslim rants that you'll see every day in other parts of the Western media.

Critics gone quiet

And finally, on the letters page, an angry complaint by a British Muslim about the way that Western media jumped to the instant conclusion that the hideous slaughter in Norway was the work of Muslim fanatics. "Now that the architect of the Norwegian massacre turns out to be a blue-eyed, blonde, white, Christian, right-wing fundamentalist," inquired Dr Shazad Amin, 'where have all the so-called experts on 'Islamic terrorism' suddenly gone?'"

"I look forward to now seeing an equally vigorous explanation of how Norway was 'always a key target' for right-wing neo-Nazi groups, supported by a plethora of experts on 'Christian terrorism' to explain the theological basis for these attacks."

If you hold your breath until that happens in the mainstream Western media, you will turn an attractive shade of blue, but we could try to apply the principle here.

Just as Muslims living in northerly climes with weak sunlight suffer rickets because of their clothing preferences, for example, so 'Christians' living in countries with strong sunshine suffer very high rates of skin cancer because of their custom of wearing as little clothing as possible.

Obsession with islamic terrorism

But this is really just quibbling. The real question is: what can be done about the obsession with 'Islamic terrorism' in the Western media, to the virtual exclusion of other kinds of terrorism. It is so strong that even after Anders Behring Breivik claimed responsibility for the Norwegian horrors and explained his (right-wing, Christian fundamentalist) motives, Internet posts continued to argue that he was just a tool in the hands of Muslim extremists.

It's the 'hidden hand' theory of politics, and its adherents generally proceed by the logical process that the lawyers refer to as 'cui bono': who benefits from this action? It's hardly an infallible indicator of who is responsible, because you have to allow for the crazies, and also for those who are miscalculating where their interests really lie. Nevertheless, it's the methodology that the conspiracy theorists prefer.

So, then, who benefited from Breivik's actions? Obviously, he believed that it would serve his own delusional ideology (which he elucidated in a 1,500-page Internet post), but who was really behind it? I'm drifting towards paranoia, I know, but stay with me.

The week before the Norwegian tragedy saw a deluge of revelations of criminality and a firestorm of media criticism about the conduct of Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Suddenly, all the media attention has turned to Norway and terrorism, and the Murdochs are off the agenda.

I'm not going to say anything that might get me sued, but if you like a really big conspiracy theory ...

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

July 29, 2011

jamaica-gleaner

Caribbean Blog International


July 29, 2011 | 8:51 AM Comments  {num} comments



It's too early to write off Chávez
Related to country: Venezuela

Translations available in: English (original) | Portuguese

By David Roberts

 

There's been some perverse wishful thinking floating around in recent weeks on the part of some of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's detractors following his cancer operation in Cuba and ongoing chemotherapy.

Although no one will actually say it, the hope among some of Chávez's fiercest and most passionate critics is clearly that his health problems - he himself has said he's engaged in the fight of his life - will leave him "incapacitated," or even dead, but in either case unable to continue in office.

The idea, however, that Chávez's demise will result in the sudden death of the left-wing/Bolivarian movement he instigated, and which has spread to several other Latin American countries in recent years - including Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador - is naïve to put it mildly.

Of course, Chávez's charisma - along with his petrodollars - has been key to the rise of leftist governments in the region, but that hasn't been the main cause. The polarization of the region has more fundamental roots, such as dissatisfaction with the Washington consensus and liberal capitalism's failure - despite its successes in certain respects - to solve problems of severe poverty and deprivation in Latin America in spite of enjoying years of monopoly following the end of the Cold War. Put simply, too many people were never invited to the party that some have enjoyed in recent years, and have seen, rightly or wrongly, Chávez's ideals as an alternative.

If Chávez were to leave the scene, his leftist allies would certainly suffer in the short term, especially if the new leader in Caracas were from the opposition. In the longer term, however, it is clearly to the benefit of the Bolivarian bloc members to be less dependent on Venezuelan handouts, and to develop better fundamentals to their own economies.

To a certain extent, we've been seeing the waning of Chávez's influence in the region anyway in the last year or so, even while he remains in power. Ecuador under President Rafael Correa, for example, has broken ranks with Chávez on several issues, following a more moderate albeit still left-leaning stance, while some governments that Chávez saw as potential allies, such as Fernando Lugo's Paraguay and El Salvador under Mauricio Funes, went their own way. And that's not to mention the ousting of Chávez ally Manuel Zelaya in Honduras a couple of years ago.

Perhaps the latest sign of Chávez's diminishing clout is the ending of the "Evo checks" scheme under which Caracas donated funds to Bolivia and its president, Evo Morales, personally handed out checks to municipal governments, supposedly to develop infrastructure and other projects. Those petrodollars are apparently not so easily dispensable now that Venezuela is facing severe economic problems of its own, and that's with oil still at close to US$100 a barrel.

So love him or loathe him, the big question now is will Hugo Chávez be fit enough to run for a third term in next year's elections? We will of course have to wait and see, but it's at the ballot box that his opponents should be thinking of beating him, and not by even furtively wishing him the worst of health. A word of advice to the detractors - don't write him off just yet.

bnamericas

Caribbean Blog International


July 27, 2011 | 8:51 AM Comments  {num} comments



OPEC: Venezuela has World’s Largest Oil Reserves
Translations available in: English (original) | Italian | Dutch

By CORREO DEL ORINOCO INTERNATIONAL:

 

 

OPEC’s proven crude oil reserves rose 12.1 percent in 2010 to 1.19 trillion barrels led by Venezuela, which has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the group’s largest reserves holder, OPEC said in its Annual Statistical Bulletin.

OPEC’s growth in oil reserves was mainly due to Venezuela, whose holdings climbed to 296.5 billion barrels from 211.2 billion in 2009, the report said. Top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia’s reserves were steady at 264.5 billion barrels.

Iran and Iraq also boosted their reserves last year. In October, Iran increased its reserves to 150 billion barrels within a week of an upward revision by Iraq, ensuring that Tehran continued to rank above Baghdad.

“OPEC has a fantastic history of competitive reserves upgrades”, said Bill Farren-Price, analyst at Petroleum Policy Intelligence.

Reserves are one of the criteria OPEC has used in setting output targets. Iran and Iraq were rivals in the past over OPEC quotas and OPEC in the next few years is expected to tackle the issue of bringing Iraq back into the quota system. Iraq is exempt at present.

Iraq boosted its reserves to 143 billion barrels last year, up 24 percent, the report said. Iraq has said its reserves increased as work by international oil companies started to yield results.

Venezuela’s move to the No. 1 reserves spot bumps Iran and Iraq to third and fourth place respectively.

RISING GLOBAL SHARE

OPEC said a year ago its reserves increased in 2009 because of Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez’s government said in January it had had overtaken Saudi Arabia as the world leader.

Venezuela’s new deposits were booked in the South American country’s Orinoco extra heavy crude belt.

The boost in Venezuela’s figures helped OPEC attain a larger share of the global total. OPEC holds 81.3 percent of the world’s proven crude reserves, up from 79.6 percent in 2009, the report said.

Saudi Arabia, by far OPEC’s largest exporter, holds an advantage in that its oil is mostly light, conventional, easily-pumped crude. The Orinoco oil needs to be upgraded or mixed with a lighter grade to create an exportable blend.

Some countries such as Algeria, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates had no change in their reserves in 2010 or in any year since 2006, the report said.

OPEC’s 12 members pump more than a third of the world’s oil. Several producers, including Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, have denied suggestions their reserves have been exaggerated.

PUBLISHED ON JUL 22ND 2011 AT 10.29AM


July 23, 2011 | 7:37 AM Comments  {num} comments



Bahamas: The biggest fear for those, like me, who have real concern for the future of The Bahamas is that any suggestion of a vacuum at the top of the PLP in the future leaves the way open for the Marley's Ghost of Bahamian politics, Fred Mitchell
Related to country: Bahamas

Translations available in: English (original) | Spanish

 

Tell me it's not true

BY JOHN MARQUIS

tribune242

Nassau, Bahamas:

 

 

WHEN the PLP was toppled at the polls in 2007, everyone expected the ousted prime minister, Perry Christie, to be jettisoned by the party as the scapegoat for its defeat. Incredibly, he survived the post-election flak to beat off all other contenders for the party leadership and seems set to lead the PLP into next year's election.

SOON after the 2007 general election, when the PLP were unceremoniously dumped into what we all hoped would be the garbage bin of history, I wrote an INSIGHT article saying the party couldn't possibly seek the public's support again with Perry Christie at the helm.

If memory serves me right, I wrote something like this: "The one certainty in the election aftermath is that the PLP can't go into the 2012 campaign with Christie as its leader."

There was nothing particularly original about this statement. Nearly everyone was saying it.

At about the same time, I suggested that Bernard Nottage - Olympic sprinter turned medical doctor - was "the last man standing" in the tussle for the PLP leadership and that his comparative commonsense and rationality would be a godsend to a party on its knees.

Nottage, whatever his faults, appeared to offer quiet maturity, a measure of gravitas and something by way of cool judgment that his fellow contenders seemed to lack.

If there was one thing the PLP needed badly, it was a level-headed action man ready to grapple with the multitude of problems facing the party at the time.

Mantle

By the late summer of 2007 it looked an odds-on bet that Dr Nottage would pick up the mantle and offer a thoroughly discredited party a fresh start. However, it was not to be. By the time I left Nassau two years ago, Nottage had become nigh invisible on the political scene.

His fans said he was biding his time. Critics felt he was scared to commit himself.

Whatever his reasons, his indecision gave Christie precious time to dig in for the long haul. Miraculously and incredibly, Christie is still in place.

Condemned as indecisive by his critics, as "a study in still life" by The Tribune, and a vacillating invertebrate by the cruellest of his detractors, he has somehow managed to survive four years of leadership wrangling with his status intact.

While conspirators, naysayers and sceptics have been whispering behind his back, the genial ex-premier and fabled junkanoo dancer has shimmied and shuffled his way through the raucous throng to emerge once more as the only contender with enough grassroots support to carry the day.

He reminds me of something an American newspaper editor once told me about his early days in journalism. "I worked out very quickly that so long as I could stay sober, all other contenders for the editorship would fall down drunk around me," he said.

In his own way, Christie has done just that. While pretenders like Obie Wilchcombe, Frank Smith and Paul Moss have come and gone (nothing to do with booze, incidentally), he stands as immoveable and inscrutable as those famous stone faces on Easter Island.

No matter how much buffeting dear old Perry takes from the sundry windbags around him, he seems to remain admirably unruffled and intact.

Judging from afar - and I confess four thousand miles of ocean do blur one's perspective - I now see Philip "Brave" Davis as the only possible leader-in-waiting, the sole heir apparent to Pindling's tarnished crown.

There are, however, one or two impediments to his progress.

According to his critics, Davis's acknowledged skills as a courtroom advocate do not translate well into the political arena.

Just before I left Nassau in 2009, he was described to me by a political observer as "less charismatic than a BEC light-pole" with an oratorical style guaranteed to send you to sleep quicker than a boxful of mogadons.

If you're looking for a bit of zest and razzle-dazzle, Brave Davis is emphatically not your man, the observer said.

If you want to light up the night sky at big political rallies, better to buy a box of fireworks than rely on Davis to deliver any verbal pyrotechnics, he added.

So, with the election less than a year away, Christie appears to be the only PLP politician with enough support and survival savvy to lead the party into the fray.

Lamentable as he was as a prime minister last time around, he's the best the party has.

Doesn't say much for the PLP, does it?

The biggest fear for those, like me, who have real concern for the future of the Bahamas is that any suggestion of a vacuum at the top of the PLP in the future leaves the way open for the Marley's Ghost of Bahamian politics, Fred Mitchell.

There is no doubt that madcap Fred has entertained notions about leading the party ever since he sat on that hillock as a boy and fantasised about being prime minister. Over the years, his every move has been carefully choreographed to achieve that aim.

At first he was seen by the late Sir Lynden Pindling as a real prospect. Then The Chief saw the light, changed his mind and saw him for what he was shaping up to be, a political liability of mammoth proportions.

On Mitchell's own admission, Pindling told him in his early days in politics that he had a personality disorder, a damning put-down that the indignant young politician felt inclined to reject. Those observing from the sidelines found themselves nodding in agreement...with Pindling, that is, not Mitchell.

In the dust-up that followed, both men threatened to reveal details of each other's private life, establishing a new low for political debate in the Bahamas and sparking speculation in every bar-room from West End, Grand Bahama, to Mathew Town, Inagua. Unfortunately, neither delivered on his threat, leaving Bahamians in a state of suspense wondering what the heck they were talking about.

Protest

Subsequently, fiery Fred set the Bahamas constitution ablaze under the fig tree in Parliament Square, sent the ashes to Pindling to protest the disciplinary action proposed by the Bahamas Bar Council against him, and threatened to "smite the hand of every enemy that dares to launch out against" him.

So seemingly reckless was Mitchell's behaviour at the time that some felt he was a compelling candidate for therapy. One group of PLPs felt he needed "a good spanking" and said so publicly.

To make things worse, his first excursion into foreign affairs led to his ill-considered suggestion to invade Haiti and topple the military regime then in power. They were the days when he headed his own political party -- the People's Democratic Force.

The scheme reflected perfectly Mitchell's grandiose notions about his own importance and infallibility, but prompted others to look askance at the young firebrand and wonder whether he was not several planks short of a truckload in the brain department.

Astonishingly, Fred felt 200 dinghy-borne marines of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force would make short work of Haiti's army, which then consisted of 5,000 troops full of ill-will who would not have taken kindly to a Bahamian assault on their national sovereignty.

Had Mitchell's plan gone ahead, it would have been the Bahamas' own version of the Bay of Pigs debacle of 1961, the ill-starred US "invasion" of Castro's Cuba which left a number of desperadoes dead on the beach and America's foreign policy in tatters.

His idea would have been a good one, his critics suggested, only if Fred himself were allowed to lead the charge on to Haiti's northern shoreline.

All this, together with his five disastrous years as Minister of Foreign Affairs, ought to have been enough to see off any fanciful notions Mitchell might have had about national leadership.

But no. He's still hanging in there, the PLP's in-house Walter Mitty, a very poor pastiche of Barack Obama who still, unbelievably, sees himself as a rising political superstar.

It's partly because of Christie's taste for procrastination and prevarication that the PLP is still burdened with Fred, an irritant Hubert Ingraham wisely refused to accommodate within the FNM.

While Mitchell was flying all over the world as the nation's foreign affairs specialist, apparently making up policy on the hoof, Christie maintained his Buddha-like silence and inscrutability.

Critics gained the impression that Mitchell was a law unto himself, jetting off at great public expense to burnish his image as an international negotiator while his boss sat bemused in his Nassau bunker wondering what he would get up to next.

It's Christie's apparent inertia that causes most concern. In the face of crisis, he appears to be overcome by head-to-toe paralysis, a pathological incapacity to slap down recalcitrant colleagues and lay down the law.

The consensus seems to be that Perry is a very nice man who lacks the cutting edge required to control a mixed bag of opportunists and liberty-takers like the PLP hierarchy.

Mavericks like Kenyatta Gibson lost patience and jumped ship.

Others wondered how long Christie could brazen it out in the face of sustained - and usually justified - criticism.

Well, now we know. As the 2012 election looms ever closer, a former prime minister who once looked doomed for political oblivion now appears set to lead the charge into next year's campaign. What's worse, some observers feel that, despite his dire showing last time around, he has a reasonable chance of winning.

For the FNM, the PLP's failure to find an alternative to Christie is a blessing.

They can think of no bigger boost for their election chances than the continuing leadership of Perry Christie, a man more hesitant than Hamlet and as dynamic as a dodo.

With the old leader still in place, it will be much easier for the FNM to convince the electorate that little has changed in a party that disgraced itself during 25 years of Lynden Pindling's rule and made a complete hash of everything during the disastrous "comeback" administration of 2002-2007.

Change

Many of the more intelligent PLPs are aware of this and want change before it's too late. Others see ponderous Perry as the best of a bad bunch. As the next few months tick away, they will be hoping that the alleged failings of the FNM in power will be enough to see them through, especially as the new DNA party threatens to split the anti-PLP vote.

However, it would be the height of foolhardiness if, at some future date, they were to opt for Mitchell in desperation. A party whose credibility is already threadbare would have none at all if the Fox Hill fantasist were to emerge as their default candidate in the leadership race.

Not only would the bell toll loudly for the PLP itself. It would boom across the Bahamas like a signal of impending doom.

As I wrote once before, the nation would be chancing its arm to let Fred Mitchell lead a junkanoo parade, never mind a major political party.

You can, therefore, imagine my despair when I caught sight of an Internet story just a few days ago suggesting that the dreaded Fred, after three decades of disorientated rambling round the foothills of Bahamian politics, is actually positioning himself for a do-or-die crack at the top job.

This story said Mitchell still harboured a desire to fly in the face of his critics and make a late grab for power.

The man who threatened to expose Pindling's alleged peccadilloes, torched the constitution in an act of petulant rage, proposed an act of war on a neighbouring state, and flew all over the world achieving nothing as Minister of Foreign Affairs is reportedly hell-bent on turning his boyhood fantasies into fact.

Please tell me it's not true. And if it's true, please reassure me that no-one would be daft enough to support him.

Your future depends on it.

July 20, 2011
 

July 21, 2011 | 6:28 PM Comments  {num} comments



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