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National Report

March 28, 2019

 

 

 

The Most Hon. Dr. Hubert Minnis  Prime Minister

Commonwealth of the Bahamas

25 March 2019

 

Fellow Citizens and Residents:

Last Thursday, the nation said a final farewell to Monsignor Preston Moss, OM, the former Vicar General of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, who was honored with the Order of Merit in 2018.

For nearly 55 years, Monsignor Moss served as priest, and a spiritual guide.

He was a man of deep compassion, kindness and love, who played a leading role in our national development, following majority rule and independence.

As a student at St. Augustine’s College and as member of Our Lady’s Catholic Church in the late 60’s, I remember how proud the country was of this native son, whom many saw as a Bahamian prince. Monsignor Moss, was one of the country’s best preachers. He spoke often, and passionately of the need for the holistic, and full development of the Bahamian people.  He stressed the importance of the spiritual, physical, educational, social growth and development of all citizens, with an emphasis on our children and youth.

Tonight, in my second Report to the Nation, I will outline a number of elements of our vision and program, for holistic social development.

 

Fellow Citizens and Residents:

Education is at the very core of our economic and social development.

Our mission, is to ensure that everyone has access, to the educational opportunities they need and deserve, in order to succeed in life and to become responsible citizens.

We cannot, and we will not advance as a country if we fail to make great strides in education and training at every level.

Since majority rule we have made tremendous progress in universal access to education.

Government- and church-operated schools, have successfully educated thousands of young Bahamians, many of whom went on to tertiary education.

We must celebrate and pay tribute, to generations of teachers, principals and educational professionals, in the government-operated school system, who have given outstanding national service, in the educational development of our young people.

Our country is also richly blessed by the many church-operated schools run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, the Anglican Diocese, the Baptist community, the Methodist and Seventh Day Adventist churches, and others.

I recall educational pioneers, like Dr. Keva Bethel, the courageous Rev. Dr. Charles Saunders, Rev. Charles Sweeting, Ms. Juanita Butler, Deacon Leviticus Adderley, and generations of educators, who helped to mold the character, and develop the talents of tens of thousands of young Bahamians.

Today, our challenge is to build on our success and to make far-reaching progress to improve and to transform Bahamian education for the 21st Century.

Education is vital for our competitiveness and productivity as a nation.

Two weeks ago I attended the annual track and field championships of the Bahamas Association of Independent Secondary Schools.

Whenever I am with our young people I am inspired by their vast talent and energy, and their tremendous promise.

Our great ambition and mission as a country must be to harness these talents and this incredible energy to make our Bahamas one of the more successful small countries in the world.

Education is one of the keys in achieving this goal.  We must reform, transform, and improve every stage of learning: preschool, primary school, junior and senior high, as well as BTVI, the University of the Bahamas, and other education and training agencies.

We have to think big, and to act boldly to secure our future!

Beginning this September, qualifying students will be able to attend the University of the Bahamas, tuition-free.

We will make more announcements on this at a later date.

We are committed to expanding access, to technical and vocational skill training, for many more Bahamians.

In August 2018, we allocated $2.6 million dollars for scholarships at BTVI. The Government awarded, $1,000 scholarships, to students enrolled in full-time programs, inclusive of preparatory programs, certificate programs, diploma programs, and associate degree programs.

The scholarship, which is named “The Bahamas Be Your Own Boss” (BYOB) scholarship, is geared toward providing students mainly between the ages of 18-25 years old with the requisite technical and vocational skills, to start businesses and/or, secure employment in the business sector.

Approximately eighty percent of the scholarships were awarded to students 18-25-years-old who met the criteria.

Special consideration was given to Family Island students, who reside in areas, where full-time programs are not available.

The remaining scholarships, will be awarded to individuals over the age of 25 years old, on a case-by-case basis.

Fellow Citizens and Residents:

The Government’s Bahamas Early Start or BES Project, is designed to enhance the early childhood sector, by strengthening, the equitable delivery of comprehensive, and quality childhood development, for all children from the earliest stages of development.

This project, will impact both public and private pre-schools through: the revision of the national pre-school curriculum; the training of teachers, care givers, and teacher’s aides, on effective strategies in early childhood education; and through parent information and education.

In April 2018, the Ministry of Education, introduced the Universal Pre-Primary Education Initiative to key education stakeholders.

The initiative will increase access to pre-primary education for three and four year olds throughout the country.

At the beginning of the 2018/2019 academic year, three new preschool classrooms were opened in New Providence with an additional four new state-of-the-art preschool classrooms just about completed.

To date, more than 700 additional students have been enrolled in public and private preschools through the Universal Pre-primary initiative.

Of these just under 400 vouchers have been paid to the Ministry of Education-approved private preschool providers through the Private Preschool Partnership Program.

Three and four year olds, whose parents could not afford to send them to preschool, now have access to pre-primary education to prepare them for first grade.

We have launched a Lower Primary School Literacy effort.  The goal is to implement strategies to increase the percentage of students achieving A-D, in Language Arts, in the Grade Level Assessment Test, known as GLAT.

Fellow-Citizens and Residents: 

After our administration came to office the Ministry of Education launched a pilot programme to introduce tablets to preschoolers in public preschools.

Eleven preschools including on: New Providence, Grand Bahama, Long Island, Andros, Cat Island, and Abaco, participated in the pilot project.

A laptop and LCD projector, were given to each teacher, and an Amazon Fire Tablet, to each student.  These devices are being used to support the teaching and learning process in preschools by providing students, and teachers with technology that may help to develop and to enhance 21st Century learning skills.

Teachers and teacher’s aides, were trained in the use of the technology devices and the Whispercast Management system.

Students use selected educational software on the devices for a maximum of thirty minutes three days per week to support the current interactive preschool program.

This exercise provides them with the opportunity for hands on discovery, play, creative expression, and outdoor physical activity.

Infrastructural upgrades have taken place at most of the preschools to accommodate the increased demand for Wi-Fi and internet connectivity. The remaining schools will be upgraded by 2020 through the Smart School Initiative.

We will launch a pilot program, at the Anatol Rodgers High School, for the use of tablets in high schools.  The pilot will test the efficacy of digital literacy, on student achievement at the high school level and examine student attitudes, toward using technology across the curriculum and subject disciplines.

Digital media provides significant learning opportunities for students to improve literacy and other academic outcomes.

As technology and information develop, school communities will have to tailor their approach to instructional practices, and adapt current and future trends, to improve student learning in a digital world.

As of December 2018, the Ministry of Education acquired 12,000 digital devices for distribution in our schools.

Contracts have been signed with the country’s two major internet service providers to install high speed internet services in all government-operated schools.

This high speed service will enhance teleconferencing and closed-circuit television.  Teleconferencing will help us to expand e-learning and meetings between district superintendents, principals, and others with the Ministry of Education.

We also intend to boost distance education, which will enable schools throughout the country to engage in instruction that may not be available at their school.  This may include, instruction from other jurisdictions.

We are continuing our school modernization program, with expanded and new school facilities that will improve the learning environment, as facilities are built, renovated and upgraded.

A new San Salvador High School was completed in 2018.

A.F. Adderley Jr. High, CH Reeves Jr. High, Eva Hilton Primary School, and North Eleuthera High School, have been expanded and renovated.

We are reviewing, urgent structural repairs, to be addressed before the start of 2019/2020 school year.

 

Fellow Citizens and Residents:

Education, also plays a critical role in preventing and addressing crime.  But we must also combat crime, through: enhanced policing; the criminal justice system, and the mobilization of cutting edge technology, in order to better secure our homes, streets and businesses.

After many, many years of increasing crime rates, our neighborhoods are getting safer, and more secure.

We are safer and more secure because of our comprehensive approach to policing.  But we still have plenty work to do.  We have a long way to go.  But, we are making strides in the fight against crime.

There have been reductions in serious crimes, like murder, armed robbery and shop breaking.

In 2018: there was a 25 percent decrease in the murder rate, an 18 percent decrease in armed robberies, and a 23 percent decrease in unlawful sexual offences.  But we must do even more to reduce crime.

Today, there are more police officers patrolling the streets instead of sitting behind a desk.  Our manpower audit, has helped us redirect personnel, in the fight against crime.  The Royal Bahamas Police Force, attributed the decrease in crime, to increased police visibility, and to geo-referenced based monitoring for the strategic deployment of police officers.

In 2018, 100 newly appointed police officers were deployed throughout the agency to provide additional manpower to assist with the overall management of crime on New Providence.

We expect approximately 130 new recruits, to be trained this year; 100 for New Providence and 30 for Grand Bahama.

This year, we will purchase 90 new vehicles for the police force.  We will be relentless in preventing, and fighting crime. We will relentlessly track down those who do us harm.

In 2018, 1213 law enforcement officers were trained and retrained.  This included:

  • 794 Police Officers
  • 134 Police Recruits
  • 41 Bahamas Customs Officers
  • 12 Immigration Officers
  • 9 Bahamas Department of Correctional Officers
  • 4 Royal Bahamas Defence Force Marines
  • 9 Security Officers and
  • 210 civilians from the National Neighborhood Watch Council

 

Since the establishment of the National Neighbourhood Watch Council (NNWC), in May 2018, there has been an overwhelming response by communities to formalise and to equip their respective watch groups with the necessary training.

At the end of February, there were a total of 92 neighbourhood watch groups; 80 in New Providence, and 12 in Grand Bahama.

Two hundred and sixty-nine people (269) graduated from the National Neighbourhood Watch Council training programs, in 2018.

 

Fellow-Bahamians and Residents:

We must use every instrument at our means to make the Bahamian people feel safer and more secure.  This includes innovative and modern crime fighting technology.

There are plans to install an additional 507 CCTV cameras throughout New Providence this year.  This will bring the total, to 750 CCTV cameras.

A contract was awarded in late January 2019, for the installation of 100 shotspotters in high crime areas. Shotspotter technology, increases the ability of police, to more quickly respond to gun-related crime.  Shotspotter technology, is “an advanced system of sensors, algorithms, and artificial intelligence (used) to detect, locate and alert police to gunfire”.

We are building a national drone program that will aid in the detection, and prevention of crime that will be operational in New Providence this year.    This program, will also assist with border control, and in other areas of national security.

We are also reviewing, other crime fighting technologies such as body cams, and dash cams, for law enforcement officers.

To better protect our borders, and to reduce illegal migration, we will install a land-based radar in Inagua, in the Southern Bahamas.

Our multi-layered security approach, will also include drones and vessels.  We will enhance our interception capabilities by decentralizing the dispatch of vessels in the Southern Bahamas.  We will expand, base facilities to accommodate drone deployment.

We are also improving our operational guidance capacity by engaging regional intelligence networks, inclusive of the United States of America, the Republic of Cuba, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

 

 Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

To reduce crime, we must reduce the rate of re-offending.  The Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS), has increased the number of participants in personal development programs and employability opportunities, through the Work Release Programs.

One hundred and twenty four (124 inmates), both male and female graduated from BTVI, concentrating in subjects such as auto mechanics, barbering, carpentry, computers, electrical work, garment making, plumbing and masonry.

Seven correctional officers enrolled at BTVI to become certified instructors of inmates in the aforementioned subjects.

We are making renovations and repairs to the maximum security facility.  A new rehabilitative dormitory and kitchen are expected to be completed this year.

A more extensive needs and feasibility assessment is also being carried out for building an additional facility to house training and rehabilitative programs, for more inmates.

These initiatives are a part of a broader strategy to help inmates to become better equipped with the necessary tools, to re-enter society, while lessening the risk of re-offending.

 

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

We are all acutely aware, of the need for education to make a living, and to thrive in an increasingly competitive, technological and globalized environment.

But being able to supply our needs – as important as it is — does not make us complete.

Even the ability to acquire more and more of our material desires, does not bring happiness.

Completeness and happiness comes with cultural development.  It is culture that makes us unique in God’s creation.  It is our ability to express ourselves culturally and to celebrate our art forms that make us complete as individuals, and as a nation.  That is why we love Junkanoo so much.  It brings together our historical memory, our ability to create stunning visual beauty, our ability to create music, our ability to dance and celebrate our wonderful heritage.

Culture, is also about how we conduct ourselves, how we worship, and acknowledge the supremacy of God in our lives, how we show respect for one another, especially our parents and teachers.

So my colleagues and I are determined to support and to encourage the continued cultural development of our nation in all its positive expressions.

This is why we are launching a public arts and murals program which will result in the display of public art, including, in the revitalization of downtown Nassau.

One of these murals, will be created on the wall of the old jail on East Street, across the road from Mortimer Candies.

 

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

Because we are wonderfully blessed with a rich and vibrant culture, we must preserve, and celebrate our diversity of cultural expressions, while passing on our traditions to future generations.

The benefits of a strong arts sector and creative economy, are well known. The arts stimulate business activity, and attract tourism.  It has been shown, to be an effective strategy, for revitalizing areas struggling with poverty. It helps at-risk youth, facilitates a child’s success in school, and brings public spaces to life.

To ensure that our arts sector continues to thrive and grow, we are moving forward with the establishment of a million-dollar culture fund.

This fund, will be dedicated to supporting the development of Bahamian painters, writers, sculptors, filmmakers, artisans, playwrights, poets, musicians and performing artists, involved in projects of cultural significance. Artists will be able to apply for small grants, to support initiatives that will add to the cultural expression of the country.

These grants, will be managed and administered, by an independent non-political entity, to ensure that no Bahamian artist, has to ask a politician for a grant. Although the government will seed the fund, it will be open to donations from private donors.

The fund will be a co-investor in the projects, and grant recipients, will be required to fulfill the terms of their grant award.

Eligible projects will include those with a public component that benefit the community and the costs needed by an individual for the execution of a cultural project.

Such projects may include: writing a book, putting on a play, or an exhibition, making a film, or documentary, a community art activity, or setting up writing workshops, which may produce poetry, stories and other written material.

Grant applications, will be reviewed by a panel of members, representing all areas of the art community.

 

Fellow-Bahamians and Residents:

As I have said before, our Government’s priorities are economic growth and job-creation; combatting and preventing crime; and social development, especially in areas such as education.

We are already building a stronger economy, with more opportunity.

We are reducing crime.   And we have broad social vision and agenda, based on our commitment to social justice, equality and opportunity.

In my next report, I will address other areas such as health care, the environment, energy reform, modernization, and various infrastructure projects.

Let us continue to seek God’s guidance, to become better men and women of compassion, committed to the common good, and especially to the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged.

Thank you for listening this evening.  May God continue to Bless the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

Good night.