By The Hon. Melanie S. Griffin, M.P., Minister of Social Services and Community Development.
It is indeed myspecial privilege and honor to rise and make yet another contribution on behalfof the very fine residents of the great Constituency of Yamacraw in particularand our country in general in this 2013/2014 Budget exercise and I give thanksto Almighty God for the opportunity to do so.
Iwould also wish to express my heartfelt concern over the damages incurred by floodvictims, particularly those of Yamacraw. For many of them this was ‘déjà vu’ as they relived the flood of some 15years ago. The only difference was thesefloods were worst.
Mr.Speaker, I join my colleagues from Pinewood, Sea Breeze and other flooded areasin commending the work of NEMA and all its participating agencies which includeparticularly for the assessment exercises Social Services, Ministry of Works,Defence Force and BIS. We thank you foryour commitment, loyalty and continued efforts in service to our country. Just to reiterate information for personsaffected by the floods, assessment applications and duty exemption forms areavailable in the Urban Renewal Centers in affected areas and also at theElizabeth Estates Police Station during the day and Epiphany Anglican Churchafter 4:00 p.m. until further notice. You may also contact NEMA at 322-6081/5 or visit their office on thefirst floor of the Churchill Building for assessment or further information.
Expressions of Congratulations
On behalf of entire staff of theSocial Services, I want to send a shout out to Social Worker, Ida Seymour whowas joined in marriage to Mr. Walter Walkes at Transfigruation Baptist Churchon Saturday. Best wishes and blessingsto Ida and her husband as they begin their new life together.
Just a quick Constituency update, Mr.Speaker. Apart from our ongoingprogrammes, we are currently replacing the monument sign to the entrance ofNassau East South, work is imminent to improve playground area on the park onWillet Road in Eastern Estates, resurface the walking track on the Winton Parkand replace the track on the Rugby Road Park east of Winton.
I am also excited and wish to proceedwith a project I initiated in June 2010 to develop a community park at the bluehole site in Colony Village, Mr. Speaker, and will resume dialogue with theBahamas National Trust and the residents of Colony Village in short order.
Plans are also underway to bringUrban Renewal to the east, Mr. Speaker and I wish to thank Rt. Hon. PrimeMinister and Member of Parliament for Centreville for delivering on thiscommitment he made to residents at a meeting in Yamacraw in January.
We are all cognizant of the challengesour country continues to face as we recover from the throes of the global recession. It has not been easy but, I am proud to be a partof a Government that is committed to making sound decisions, notwithstandingthat they may be unpopular to some, to get our country back on track and to increaseopportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.
This2013/ 2014 Budget Communication as presented by the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister andMinister of Finance, represents a bold, aggressive and comprehensive policyinitiative to address public finances, introduce much needed reforms in thefight to rescue our economy, reduce crime, create jobs, secure our borders,satisfy our mandate as set out in our Charter for Governance and provide reliefto the disadvantaged and needy in our midst in keeping with the politicalideology and philosophy of the founding fathers of this great ProgressiveLiberal Party.
In this regard, I commend the Rt.Hon. Member for Centreville in his capacity as Minister of Finance and theHonourable Member for Golden Isles in his capacity as Minister of State forFinance along with the staff of the Ministry of Finance for producing as the PrimeMinister said in his communication and I quote “a budget that secures the future of all Bahamians.”
This Budget expresses the heart of acaring, considerate and compassionate Leader and Government with an aggressivesocially-driven agenda to ‘wash every tear from every eye’. The eyes of children who find it difficult tolearn because they are not getting enough food to eat; the eyes of parents whofeel a sense of hopelessness because they can no longer provide the most basicneeds of food, clothing and shelter for their families, the eyes of olderpersons who feel like no one cares about them, the eyes of young people whofeel like no one is on their run, the eyes of persons with disabilities whofeel that no one is addressing their needs and the eyes of all those who are vulnerable among us who justfeel that nobody cares. This Budgetdeclares today, Mr. Speaker, that the “people first” Government is back.
We don’t mind the naysayers, Mr.Speaker, their job is to oppose and they do it well, never mind the fact thatit was their failed policies and bad management of the financial affairs ofthis country that have us in the deplorable state we are in today with almost oneof every four dollars in revenue going to pay interest charges on the publicdebt and cover debt repayment, instead of going towards social, security,health and educational programmes to advance our people. We will let them talk and try to rewritehistory, Mr. Speaker. The Bahamian people,with the help of God, know well how to determine what is best for them. That is why they spoke so resoundingly on May7th, 2012. We also have alegacy of abiding faith in a loving and caring God. Even though we may be going through somedifficult times right now, we know within our hearts that the formeradministration and their disastrous fiscal policies have not taken us, whereour God cannot reach us. That is why theRt. Hon Member for Centreville could say with assurance, “The economy hasclearly turned the corner and we can anticipate steady, ongoing growth and employmentcreation in the period ahead.” If wewere in church, Mr. Speaker, I would certainly call for an “amen”.
The Ministry of Social Services and CommunityDevelopment has been at the forefront of delivering services to those who havebeen hardest hit by the recession. The Government through the Department ofSocial Services has been as responsive as possible to those in distress andthis is indicative from data provided by the Department. See Annex I
There is no doubt, Mr. Speaker, thatpersons who receive assistance are appreciative of what is provided but many bemoanthe length of time it can take for their application for assistance to beprocessed and approved or having to wait on long lines for hours to collect food coupons at the end of the month, or not getting much needed schooluniforms for their children in time for the start of the new school year. Letme hasten to say that these issues are not caused by the staff of theDepartment not fulfilling their duties; the reality is that the volume ofclients has increased and the processes involved from the time of applicationto the investigation, approval and disbursement of assistance are labourintensive and have not kept up with the times. These issues have caused frustrationsfor clients and staff alike and for years we have heard the comment, “theremust be a better way”. Mr. Speaker, thefact is that there is a better way tomake the delivery of social service more efficient and less stressful for clientsand staff of the Department and its supporting agencies and even for thebusiness establishments, which provide the goods and services for clients. Yes,there is a better way to ensure that those most in need receive assistance andyes, there is a better way to break the cycle which feeds the need forcontinuous governmental support. Many of our counterparts in the regionand other parts of the world have discovered the way and we in the The Bahamasare well on our way to joining them.
Social Safety Net Reform
Itwas this Government that initiated the dialogue with the Inter-AmericanDevelopment Bank in 2002 on Social Safety Net Reform and began the process inthis regard. It was this Government that signed the loan agreement with the IDBon 30 August, 2012 for The Bahamas Social Safety Net Reform Project and thisGovernment will through this project implement the necessary reforms to bringabout a better and more efficient means of delivering social assistance. I am pleased to inform Members that the Projectis well underway and when fully implemented will revolutionize the delivery ofsocial services and strengthen the Department of Social Services.
While the Ministry of Social Servicesand Community Development is the executing agency for the Project, it is being undertakenin partnership with the Ministries of Education, Science and Technology,Health, Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government and the Departmentsof Statistics and Information Technology of the Ministry of Finance. A majorcomponent of the project is the consolidation of a number of existingprogrammes of the Department of Social Services and the introduction of aConditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Programme which will target:
v Householdswith children
v Householdswith elderly persons
v Householdswith pregnant women
v Householdswith adult poor but without children
Mr. Speaker, this means that once theCCT is implemented, approved applicants will instead of receiving assistancefrom various prorgammes, receive a cash transfer to help them meet daily livingexpenses however, households with children will be required to meet certainconditions intended to improve the health and education of the children so asto help break the cycle of poverty.
Mr. Speaker, the current process bywhich people apply for and are approved for social assistance is verysubjective. This subjectivity will be removed through the introduction of aProxy Means Test (PMT) which will be a requirement for all applicants. Eachquestion on the PMT will be given a numerical weight and a state of the artmanagement information system will determine eligibility and the applicant willbe informed on the outcome immediately, before leaving the office. Personsdetermined eligible will be visited by a social worker who will verify the informationon the PMT. There will be an appeals process for persons deemed ineligible andan appeals board will be established for this purpose.
I can report that the PMT was pilotedlast month in four islands, New Providence, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and CatIsland. I had the opportunity to sit in on the debriefing session with thestaff from the four islands who administered the PMT, the IDB consultant whodesigned it and the project team leader. The consensus was that while therewere some minor issues primarily with the wording of some questions, the pilotwent very well. The feedback will allow for the consultant to make thenecessary adjustments to the form so as to ensure that it meets its intendedpurpose when put into use.
The health and educational conditionsthat households with children will have to meet have been determined by therespective Ministries and are being fine tuned with the assistance of externalconsultants. Households with children who meet the stipulated conditions willreceive the full monthly benefits but those who fail to do so will receive areduced benefit. It is not the intent to create hardships for persons byreducing benefits but we must appreciate the need to enhance the health andeducation of our children so that they are not destined for a life of povertyand the objectives of the project is to build human capital and modify behaviorto eliminate dependency on welfare.
Several options for the payment ofthe transfer are being explored and while the proposed method has not yet beendetermined, I can tell you that persons will no longer have to queue up at theend of the month outside an outreach centre, often exposed to the elements andwait on lines sometimes for hours to receive assistance. (The consultants assisting in determining whatthe method of transfer should be are in town this week for meetings with pubicofficers and private institutions including banks. They will also make visitsto Cat Island and Eleuthera.)
Child Welfare Matters
In Aprilthe Department of Social Services in conjunction with the National ChildProtection Council and the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Unit (SCAN) of theMinistry of Health held a very successful Child Protection Month. In additionto participating in a number of the activities in New Providence, I attendedfunctions in Grand Bahama and Eleuthera. The theme for this year was ‘Protecting Children in a Changing World’. This was indeed a very timely theme, Mr.Speaker, because it is important that we raise the level of public awarenessabout some new threats emerging that can bring us all harm, but particularlycan cause harm to our unsuspecting and trusting children. These include theinternet and other high tech gadgets and equipment, which can be very helpfulif put to good use, but can also be harmful when used the wrong way.
Mr.Speaker, at a the Child Protection Youth Rallies in New Providence andEleuthera I discovered that a high percentage of our children have access tocomputers at home or at school and that many of them personally own I-Pads,I-Pods, I-Phones, Kindles, Samsung Galaxy V or some other technological devicethat allows them to connect with the world at the touch of a button. The mostfrightening thing for me, Mr. Speaker, was the large numbers of children whoindicated that they had access to Skype or some other device which allows themto see and talk to the person they are connected to in very real time. Parents and guardians, I implore you tomonitor your children’s use of technology and warn them of the dangers ofposting pictures, videos or comments on the internet that could causeembarrassment to them and their families in any way. The use of chat rooms and social networkslike Facebook should also be monitored. Technology has opened the door to new ways for sexual predators to reachour children. We have all seen how viralthe videos and photos can go on the internet. Please remember, there is nosubstitution for parental guidance. (Statistics)
Additionally,during Child Protection Month, a series of seminars were held for childrenentitled “I gat a right”. The seminars were designed to educate children andyoung persons about the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sessions are continued throughout the courseof the year.
Simpson Penn and Willie Mae Pratt Centres.
Mr. Speaker, in my contribution tothe 2012/2013 budget debate, I made members aware of the deplorable physicalconditions at the Simpson Penn Centre for Boys. In my contribution to the Mid-YearBudget Statement, I shared some of the improvements that have been made up tothat point and I am pleased today to say that there has been a tremendous improvementin the physical conditions at the Centre, some may even refer to it as atransformation. To date, the Government has spent some two hundred and eightyeight thousand dollars ($288,000.00) on repairs and upgrades to thefacility. These include the following:
· construction of a new security boothat the entrance
· repairs to the roof of the multipurposebuilding, which houses the kitchen and dining room
· new security bars and doors
· electrical upgrades in cottagesincluding the installation of tamper resistant lights
· replacements of windows and screens(which is still in progress)
· purchase of durable, institutionalbunk beds complete with lockable drawers for storage of small personal items
· purchase of new mattresses
· contracted private waste collectionservices
· new fencing around the pavilion atthe front of Cottage 2; and
· an automatic transfer switch for thegenerator.
I have no doubt that that the money waswell-spent or rather, well-invested. (Montague and prison) We cannot in goodconscious have high expectations for juvenile offenders after they arereleased, if they are housed in the type of environment these young men had toendure for the last few years.
But, Mr. Speaker, as indicated thework is not complete. Currently, extensive plumbing works are being undertakenin the cottages at a cost of $222,962. These include the gutting of thebathrooms and the replacement of tiles and pipes and the installation ofstainless steel, institutional bathroom fixtures. I am truly impressed by the work thus far and Iam advised that the plumbing contractor has exceeded the scope of works of thecontract and included upgrades that were not scoped or included in the cost athis expense. We are indeed grateful to him for these extras. Further, while notincluded in the contract the contractor has at our request made provisions forthe placement of a commode and basin in each dormitory of the cottage for useat night and we are seeking the necessary approvals so that these can be functional in short order.
But, Mr. Speaker, we arestill not completed. The Government has approved additional works for theCentre in the amount of $199,792.00. These include:
· repairs to the Administrationbuilding inclusive of electrical,plumbing and air-conditioning works at an estimated cost of $160,845
· the construction of a pavilion to theeast of the security booth to serve as a waiting area for visitors, and
· repairs to the tailor shop
Mr. Speaker, the works atSPC total a whopping $710,754 which does not include the commode and basin forthe dormitories, which will cost an estimated $128, 066 in additional fundingfor a grand total of $838,820.
Mr. Speaker, we are wellaware that the physical improvements will mean little if there is no rehabilitationof residents and the transmission of practical skills. For the first time, to my knowledge, TheBahamas Technical and Vocation Institute conducted a training programme on siteover a period of fifteen weeks for the older residents who are past themandatory school age. The residentsparticipated in a masonry and painting programme and also courses in English,Maths and First-aid. As a part of thetraining, the residents completed minor repairs and painted some of thebuildings on the compound. Three residents who have since been discharged weresuccessful in gaining full time admission to BTVI. We already have a proposalfrom BTVI for the continuation of the programme in September and budgetaryprovisions have been made in the Draft Estimates for this.
ThePenn/Pratt Co-educational Unit on the compound of the Simpson Penn Centre is operatedby the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and allows for thecontinued education of residents of both the Simpson Penn and Willie Mae PrattCentres who have not attained the mandatory school leaving age. We havecommenced dialogue with the Ministry of Education with the view of having theolder residents continue their education as well. There are some issues whichwill need to be resolved but hopefully this may be possible in the new schoolyear along with the BTVI programme for older residents.
Mr. Speaker, the technical officersof my Ministry have been in dialogue with technical officers at the BahamasAgricultural and Industrial Corporation (BIAC) for some time for theestablishment of an agricultural programme at the Simpson Penn Centre. We havea considerable amount of land available to us and it is a travesty for thisland to be idle. We are more thanexcited that the Centers and our seniors and children’s homes have beenincluded in the programme foreshadowed by the Rt. Hon. Member for Centrevillein his budget communication for the installation for greenhouses for gardeningpurposes. This programme will provide much needed therapy, employment and producefor the tables of the respective facilities.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to commend the VisitingCommittee of the Simpson Penn Centre under the chairmanship of Mr. PatrickSmith for the successful Gala Ball held last month to raise funds for theCentre. At the ball, a number of personsand organizations were honored for their volunteer work at the Centre and forrecognizing a simple fact, an investment in our youth is a long-term investmentin national development or in the words of the theme for the event, “SavingBoys, Building Men.” We were pleasedthat Mr. Oswald Ingraham, a former member and speaker of this Honourable Houseattended the event in his capacity as Deputy to the Governor General and thatthe Member for Bain and Grants Town and Minister of National Security, the Hon.Dr. Bernard Nottage provided good food for thought as the guest speaker.
Willie Mae Pratt Centre
Mr. Speaker, the physicalcondition of the Willie Mae Pratt Centre was not found to be in the same stateas the Simpson Penn Centre, but there is still much work to be done to improvethe environment and the programmes for the residents and staff. The improvements undertaken to date include:
· some electrical upgrades
· contracted private waste collectionservices
The Ministry of Works andUrban Development has already indicated the need for plumbing upgrades in thecottages and the construction of a new security booth at the entrance however weare awaiting a full technical assessment to determine the scope of works and will move swiftly tohave these completed. I am pleased to confirm however that a contract in theamount of $10,000 has been awarded for repairs for a portion of the roof of theadministration building and this work is expected to commence this week.
Mr. Speaker, we have alsoobtained the commitment from BTVI to offer onsite training for the residents atthe Willie Mae Pratt Centre in September and this will include computer classes,sewing, cosmetology, English and Math. We are grateful to Mr. Jeffrey Ambrose andthe Rotary Club of Nassau for the donation of six computers to facilitate the computerprogramme.
Mr. Speaker, the residents of the WPC decided not to let theyoung men at SPC outdo them and I am happy to report that four residents of theWPC participated in the Ministry of Youth, Sports & Culture’s E. ClementBethel National Arts Festival Individual Verse Speaking Competition for NewProvidence for grades 10 to 12. Theywere coached by a volunteer to the Center, Mrs. Helen Turnquest. Three of the young ladies were successful inearning a first, second and third place award. One of these residents is now discharged and has been accepted to BTVIwhere the Department of Social Services will assist with the fees.
I also wish to take thisopportunity Mr. Speaker to commend Mrs. Doris Barry and the Visiting Committeeof the WPC for their commitment to work with the residents and to raise fundsfor various projects.
Community Affairs Division
Mr. Speaker, while tourismexpenditure and the benefits derived from offshore banks are vital for theadvancement of our economy, our potential lies in our people. The Community Affairs Division provides anddevelops programmes that strengthen families and communities and this is doneprimarily through Family Life Centres in Flamingo Gardens, Elizabeth Estatesand Ardastra Estates.
The Division has operated an after-schoolprogramme at the Centres in Elizabeth Estates and Flamingo Gardens for severalyears, which is conducted by trained teachers Monday to Thursday of each weekduring the school term and it, is projected that a similar programme willcommence at the Ardastra Estates Centre in September of this year. Fridayafternoons at Flamingo Gardens and Elizabeth Estates allow children and youngpersons to engage in structured “fun” activities through the Boys and GirlsClubs.
Since its opening, activities at theCentre in Flamingo Gardens have been held primarily in the afternoons onlyhowever, we have now moved to have this Centre open throughout the day and aCommunity Affairs Officer has been posted to the Centre for this purpose.Efforts are now underway to form a senior citizens group and the introductorymeeting was held on Friday, May 17, 2013.
The senior citizens group at the Centre in Elizabeth Estatesthough small continues to meet regularly. We have increased the staff at theCentre hence we anticipate the expansion of the group. This along with theestablishment of similar groups in Flamingo Gardens and Ardastra Gardens willensure that our seniors continue to be an integral part of their community, maintaintheir dignity and sense of well-being and enrich their lives throughinteraction with peers and various activities.
Mr. Speaker, members will be aware ofthe phenomena called the “Digital Divide”. The term is used to explain another difference been the haves andhave-nots, which is access to information on the internet. The Government recognizesthe need to bridge the divide hence we propose to upgrade and increase thenumber of computers at both Flamingo Gardens and Elizabeth Estates so thatcomputer classes are available to persons in these communities. The newestFamily Life Centre in Ardastra Estates is fully equipped with computers and withthe assistance of a qualified instructor, some fifteen (15) adults and seniorcitizens seized the opportunity to enhance their skills or become computerliterate.
Mr. Speaker, during my first tenure as Minister of Social Services andCommunity Development, a literacy programme was operated at the Centre inElizabeth Estates. We know that literacy is still a concern with segments ofour population; we propose to reintroduce this programme later this year at allthree Centres. Higher literacy rates within our communities allow for bettereconomic development in the long-run.
Wealso propose to introduce a Community Mentoring Programme geared towardsyoung persons and monthly forums at each Centre on topical issues.
Gender Based Violence
Mr. Speaker, we would all agree thatthe level of domestic violence in our country, as is the case globally, isunacceptably high. Efforts are being made at both the international and locallevels to address this problem. In December 2012, along with a CabinetColleague and a multidisciplinary team of public officers, I attended a CaribbeanDialogue on the Rule of Law and Gender Based Violence in Miami, Florida,organized by The United States Department of State Secretary’s Office of GlobalWomen’s Issues in collaboration with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairsand the College of Law of Florida International University. The dialoguebrought together rule of law practitioners to advance the agenda for theprevention and response to gender based violence and inter alia share bestpractices from within the Caribbean and across Latin America.
In March, this year, I attended the Fifty-SeventhSession of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women held at the UNHeadquarters along with a delegation including representatives fromnon-governmental organizations, the theme of which was “Eliminationand Prevention of all Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls.”
The theme for this year’s InternationalWomen’s Day observed annually on March 8 was “A Promise is a Promise, Time toEnd Violence Against Women.” A half day forum on gender based violencewas held in New Providence on International Women’s Day. A portion of the forumwas carried live over Radio Bahamas15:40 a.m.’s Immediate Response. I wasalso pleased to travel to Grand Bahama that afternoon and lend the support of theMinistry to the Fourth Annual “Join Me on the Bridge event hosted by the womenthere.
Mr. Speaker, my Ministry’s efforts inaddressing domestic violence includes the initiative launched in July of lastyear, “Domestic Violence is Everybody’s Business,” which is acommunity based public education campaign on the Domestic Violence (ProtectionOrders) Act, 2007.
I also wish to thank the UnitedStates Embassy for facilitating the visit in April of Mr. Ulester Douglas, AssociateDirector of the organization, MenStopping Violence who participated in a number of events including a men’ssummit, a panel discussion along with a number of local presenters and a Trainthe Trainers session geared primarily for men, all of which were well received.
Mr. Speaker, no one agency of theGovernment has the capacity to address the issue of domestic violence and in additionto the initiatives of my Ministry I am aware that initiatives are alsoundertaken by other agencies of the Government as well as non-governmentalorganizations but often details of these are not readily known or shared. Thisoften results in duplication of efforts and resources or even unmet needs.Recognizing the need for a more coordinated and focused approach, thegovernment has approved the establishment of a multi-sectoral Task Force underthe Ministry of Social Services and Community Development, whose mandate includes refining andimplementing a national strategic plan and other initiatives to address genderbased violence. Additionally a Cabinet Committee comprising of Ministersresponsible for social services, health, education, national security and legalservices will have oversight of the work of the Task Force. A Chairperson forthe Task Force has been identified and both groups are expected to becomeoperational by next month.
Additionally, Mr. Speaker, theDepartment of Social Services will expand its Family Services Division toinclude a Domestic Violence to better assist persons subjected to abuse. The Unit’s services will include assistanceto persons in securing Protection Orders, assistance with alternative shelter, counselingand support services.
Bureau of Women’s Affairs.
Mr. Speaker, in2002, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs was placed under my portfolio of SocialServices and Community Affairs. At that time, for the first time, I wassuccessful in having a line item included in the Ministry’s Head for theBureau. The first allocation in the line item was $10,000. When this government was returned to office in2012, the line item stood at $65,000. Inthe 2012/2013 Budget, this government increased the line item to $100,000,which enabled the Bureau’s staff to conduct more workshops and implement activitiesas well as events for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of theenfranchisement of women. Provisions have again been made for the allocation of$100,000 for the new fiscal year.
While the Bureau of Women’s Affairsis one of the smallest units within my Ministry, it has responsibility forensuring that the Government of The Bahamas lives up to a number of signed internationalagreements and responsibilities that pertain to the elimination ofdiscrimination and violence against women and young girls, the empowerment ofwomen and the achievement of equality between women and men as partners andhuman rights.
Mr. Speaker, Istill recall with much pride, the events organized last November in celebrationof the 50th Anniversary of the enfranchisement of women in ourcountry, the culmination of which was the historic Joint Sitting of Parliamenton Monday, November 26, 2012, where the 1959 petition by the Late Dame Dr. Doris Johnson on behalf of theSuffragettes, was read into the record by female parliamentarians across thedivide and the passing of the resolution to “honour, recognize and forevercelebrate: The vision and courage of theleaders and members of the Women Suffrage Movement; the enfranchisement,universal suffrage and social and political change in The Bahamas; the 50thAnniversary of the enfranchisement of women; the continued work of the Women’sBureau;” and “commit to amending the Constitution of The Bahamas through dueprocess to remove all forms of discrimination against women so as to fully andirrevocably engage and utilize the indomitable spirit of Bahamian womanhood innation building.” Those events reminded us of the life and times of those bravewarriors of the Women’s Suffrage Movement who joined forces to ensure that womengot the right to vote and to participate in many of those roles we now hold inour society today. Above all, itdemonstrated what can be achieved when we unite for a common cause and a greatergood. We owe it to them to ensure thatthis type of unity continues.
Last year on July 20, 2012, some 19years after The Bahamas signed on to the Convention on the Elimination of AllForms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), The Bahamas’ initial and up tothe fifth periodic reports to the Convention were considered by the Committeeon the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at the United Nations in NewYork. I had the honour to head the team that attended the dialogue and to givean account of our stewardship in meeting the articles of the Convention, whichis often referred to as the “Women’s Bill of Rights.”
Mr. Speaker, theprocess was indeed rigorous but the experience was educational and enlightening. I would like to thank all those who played arole in assisting us in finally achieving this major milestone and in guidingus through the process.
Mr. Speaker, weare grateful for grants from two regional bodies, the United Nations Entity forGender Equality, known as UNWomen and the United Nations Populations Fund(UNFPA) to advance the work of the Bureau. UNWomen provided two grants, totalingFifty-Four Thousand Dollars ($54,000) one of which facilitated the drafting ofa five year strategic plan for the Bureau, a major milestone, which sets out aclear course towards the elevation of the Bureau to a Department of GenderAffairs and the second for the implementation of a project on StrengtheningState Accountability and Community Action for Ending Gender Based Violence, whichis expected to begin shortly. The grant from UNFPA facilitated the drafting of aNational Gender Equality Policy for The Bahamas, which is currently being refined.I wish to publicly thank the Caribbean Regional office of both UNWomen andUNFPA for their tremendous support of the Bureau and its work.
Mr. Speaker, inaddition to working with non-governmental women’s organizations, the Bureau’s isalso working with men in their efforts to eliminate violence against women, inparticular, the local branch of the Caribbean Male Action Network(CARIMAN). Mr. Speaker, I am hopeful andoptimistic that as this organization grows and develops, it will play animportant role working with men and young boys to decrease violence againstwomen and young girls.
Mr. Speaker, mostof the activities of the Bureau over the years have focused on New Providenceand to a lesser extent Grand Bahama. We have moved to increase our activitiesin Grand Bahama and the Family Islands. Lastmonth, two officers from the Bureau travelled the length of Eleuthera over twodays and held sessions in North, Central and South Eleuthera, which I amadvised were well received. Visits to theFamily Islands will be made on a regular basis to inform women throughout thearchipelago about the work of the Bureau, dialogue with them on issues facingwomen in their community and the means by which the Bureau can support them inaddressing these issues.
Mr. Speaker, I continue to becognizant of the many challenges and discriminatory practices facing thecommunity of persons with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth of TheBahamas and the need for legislation in this regard. Upon returning to office in May 2012, I meta draft bill for legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities,which I reviewed in depth. After several lengthy sessions with legal officersfrom the Office of the Attorney General and technical officers in my Ministry, we decided to revamp the draft to a simpler,easy to read document written in a language that is easily understood by thecommunity for whom it is intended, while not compromising the intent of theproposed legislation; to address the elimination of all forms of discriminationon the basis of disabilities as well as the provision of equal opportunitiesfor full participation in and access to areas such as education, employment,housing, transportation and health care. Also included in the draft legislation,is the establishment of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilitieswhich is intended to be a corporate body with oversight of the legislation.
The Disability Affairs Division ofthe Department of Social Services has been intimately involved in thediscussions on the drafting of legislation to protect the rights of personswith disabilities and I am grateful for their input.
Late last year, I attended aConference organized by The Bahamas National Council for Disability and made acommitment to bring the legislation to Parliament by June and I am workingdiligently to fulfill this commitment.
Mr. Speaker, with advice from theAttorney General’s Office in hand, we are now able to move forward in signingthe United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Cabinet Paper to seek the approval of mycolleagues is being prepared as I speak.
Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt thatthe Government for persons with disabilities is back. In addition to signing on to the UNConvention and bring the disability bill, the Rt. Hon. Member for Centrevillein his budget communication indicated the intent of the Government to “rent andrenovate Our Lady’s Catholic Primary School to accommodate some 100 specialneeds children.”
The Prime Minister did not stopthere, Mr. Speaker, he went further to announce the Government’s intent to constructon New Providence an educational and multipurpose facility for persons withspecial needs. I am elated about thisand the tremendous potential that both of these projects bring for thecommunity of persons with disabilities. My Ministry looks forward tocollaborating with the relevant ministries of the Government and non-governmentalorganizations on the multi-purpose facility.
My Ministry in conjunction with theMinistries of Education, Science and Technology and Health and The BahamasAssociation for the Physically Disabled continue to operate the Centre in theBAPD building on Dolphin Drive for children with severe physical disabilities. Onan average, the Centre accommodates some twenty-six (26) children each week day.While its reach is limited given its size and resources, the Centre is meetinga great need as it allows for the parents and guardians to work knowing thattheir children are in a safe setting and stimulated to the extent possible.Last summer, a group of students from Emporia University along with theirprofessors spent a week at the Centre interacting with the children and theyall had a wonderful time. Hopefully another group of students will be availableto do so again this summer. I wish to commend the Bahamas Association for thePhysically Disabled for its ongoing commitment to this Centre, and inparticular Sir Durward Knowles who has taken a personal interest in the Centreand ensures that no need goes unmet. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons he isnot as active as he used to be so his daughter has taken up the mantle, SirDurward continues to give the instructions, of course.
Mr. Speaker, The Department of SocialServices is projected to receive $39,868,059 in the 2013/2014 fiscal year. Whilethis is marginally less than the approved estimates for 2012/2013, given thatnational insurance contributions and rent costs in particular (which far exceedthe minimal reduction) have been pulled out from Head 44 and placed under otherHeads, the projected allocation is generous and indicative of the Government’s ongoingcommitment to provide social protection to those in need. Just over $2.8m is proposed for Family IslandOperations, excluding Grand Bahama and Abaco, which are provided for under therelevant line items. Increased provisions have been made for the FoodAssistance Programme and the National Lunch Programme.
Previously the allocation for theDepartment’s Work Assistance Programme was by way of a line item – Assistance to Individuals under the 90 Blockbut this item has been removed and provisions for Work Programme participantshas been made in Block 1 under Salary – ContractualWorkers.
Mr. Speaker, Social Services is oftenthe recipient of negative comments but many persons do not realize orappreciate the many roles the Department is required to play. One such role is indisasters. We are all aware of the extensive flooding in New Providence lastmonth. Officers were present at NEMA around the clock on a rotation basis whenthe emergency operations centre was activated. When the decision was taken toopen shelters, the Department immediately secured emergency relief supplies andopened and operated the shelters with staff as shelter managers. Officers fromthe Department were once again called into action to serve on the assessmentteams going door to door in affected communities to assist in determiningneeds. On Sunday past, a representative from the Department was part of theteam that visited Exuma to assess the flooding on that island. I wish tocommend the staff for their quick and committed response.
Mr. Speaker, more and more theDepartment is being called upon to respond to persons who for various reasonsfind themselves homeless. We aregrateful to The Salvation Army and Great Commission Ministries which offeremergency shelter and favourably responds to our requests once space isavailable. While there is a small number of small motels that accept homelesspersons on a short term basis, there is need for more facilities like thoseoperated by the Salvation Army where in addition to persons being provided witha bed and a meal, there is some level of counseling and support to assistpersons in getting themselves together. I had a discussion with the Christian Council last year on this matterand I call upon the religious community to give further consideration toassisting in this regard.
Mr. Speaker, The National Parentingprogramme of my Ministry is now well established and accommodating morerequests. It is currently facilitated in New Providence and Grand Bahama. In 2012 a total of 293 parents and guardiansparticipated in the programme. In addition to parenting classes, the programmealso offers individual, marriage and family therapy. To assist in ensuringparticipation, the Department renders voluntary services for the supervision ofchildren while parents participate in the sessions. The Programme also conductsa Support Group for all participants who successfully complete training. Personswho complete the programme are provided with a certificate of participation.
Mr. Speaker, it is my firm beliefthat it should be mandatory for parents and guardians of residents at theSimpson Penn Centre for Boys and the Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls toparticipate in the Programme. This would assist them in better understandingtheir role and preparing for the return of their children. There are parentsand guardians who once the child or young person is committed have little or nocontact with them and are relieved that the “government” is nowresponsible for the child or young person. This cannot be right. Further, fartoo many of the residents at the centres are there because of”uncontrollable” behavior, which in my view is often indicative ofissues in the home. The Child Protection Act makes provision whereby if ajuvenile court makes a determination that the charge against the child or youngpersons is proven the court may amongother things order the parent or guardian and the offender to attend togetherparenting and counseling classes and we need this provision to be evoked morefrequently so as to ensure that parents and guardians of this specialpopulation are provided the necessary skills to effectively rear theirchildren. In the new fiscal year we will once again move to offer the programmein selected Family Islands based on the greatest need.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to reportthe completion of repairs at the Early Childhood Development on East StreetSouth, which is operated by The Department of Social services. The repairs includedexterior painting and replacement of defective shingles at a cost of $48,000. TheSchool Welfare Division of the Department has oversight for this facility,whose thrust is on child development and seeks to foster healthy infants, toddlersand preschoolers in a nurturing yet challenging atmosphere. The currentenrolment is fifty (50) children, eighteen of whom will move on to grade one inprimary school in September.
Mr. Speaker, the socialservices component of Urban Renewal 2.0 is now operational in New Providenceand Grand Bahama. Last November, the Government approved the engagement ofseventeen social workers specifically for the programme and the first group ofsix began work in New Providence in January 2013 and to date, nine of theCentres in New Providence are outfitted with social workers who work feverishlyto address the social needs of the respective communities. Their activities include:
· walkabouts in the communities withthe police and other agencies,
· conducting investigations to assistclients who are in need of assistance, conducting parenting seminars,
· therapeutic group and individual counselingwith suspended students and at one centre, counseling with children who havewitnessed violence
· Assessments for house repairs whichcomprise the bulk of the work and
· Assistance with flood assessments.
Additionally the NewProvidence workers assisted with activities for Child Protection Monthincluding the rally on Windsor Park.
With respect to GrandBahama, four persons have been engaged in addition to the Coordinator, and anadditional two persons are expected to start shortly. The workers like theircounterparts in New Providence, have been attached to Centres and performsimilar duties.
I wish to commend theCoordinators and the staff for the enthusiasm with which they have approachedthe assignment and their willingness to work on weekends and beyond normalworking hours.
Mr. Speaker, for the past severalyears, the administration of Social Services and Community Development wasconducted from two locations; East Hill Street and Frederick Street. This ofcourse has been very challenging and negatively impacted cohesion. In April, the staff from the Frederick StreetOffice was relocated to East Hill Street and while the accommodations arecramped, we are under one roof. The Ministry however is scheduled to move tonew accommodations by the summer in Aventura Plaza on Bethel Avenue and John F.Kennedy Drive. In addition to the two story suite for the Ministry andsupporting units including human resources and accounts, the Bureau of Women’sAffairs, the Social Safety Net Reform Project and the Community AffairsDivision will each have a suite in the complex. Further, a suite in the complex will beutilized as an afterschool centre for children of employees in the complex whichwill be operated by the Community Affairs Division of my Ministry. We areanxiously awaiting the move to more spacious accommodation, which I am surewill boost staff morale and increase efficiency.
Mr. Speaker, the ongoing unsatisfactoryphysical conditions of the accommodations of Department of Social Services inthe Clarence Bain Building continues to negatively impact productivity and staffmorale. These include issues with the air-conditioning and plumbing inparticular. The Ministry of Public Works and Urban Development continues toaddress these issues but it seems that as soon as one issue is addressedanother comes up. I am aware that aworkable solution is under consideration and hopefully the staff of SocialServices will be adequately accommodated in the shortest time.
I am also acutely aware of the accommodationissues at the Department’s outreach centre on Horseshoe Drive, which arenegatively impacting staff and clients alike and here again it seems like assoon as one issue is addressed another comes up. The Ministry of Works facilitatedthe replacement of two air-condition units mid May however they have not workedas expected. The matter hopefully will be corrected shortly.
Mr. Speaker, this Centre has outgrownits clientele, which includes communities in southwest New Providence. We have been diligently seekingaccommodations in the Carmichael Road area to open a Centre to serve this segmentof New Providence. A number of buildings have been viewed and we havedetermined one of these as the best option and are in discussion with theowners regarding terms that would be mutually agreeable.
The Department recently relocated itsoffice in North Eleuthera to new accommodation as the previous one was indeplorable condition. I know that the staff in particular is extremely pleasedto be in these accommodations, which will assist them in better serving thepeople of North Eleuthera.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report thatwe have secured additional space in Park Plaza, Fox Hill to facilitate theexpansion of the outreach centre in east. This expansion once work is completedwill ease the cramped conditions of the Centre and make it more comfortable forstaff and clients.
Mr. Speaker, approval has been givenfor the relocation of the Department of Social Services in Freeport, whichcurrently operates out of three suites in the National Insurance Building. Therelocation to Sun Plaza will allow for expansion and result in all areas beinghoused under one roof. Currently some internal configuration and repairs arebeing undertaken and this should be completed for relocation in July.
Mr.Speaker, I am happy to report that work was done on the Career Path for SocialWorkers and a proposal submitted to the Public Service Union. We are awaiting the counter-proposal from theUnion for consideration in order to proceed with the process. Hopefully, this matter can be finalized earlyin this new fiscal year.
Mr.Speaker, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Permanent Secretary,senior officers and staff of the Ministry and Department of Social Services forthe yeoman’s task they do in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Let’s continue to work together to create aSocial Service of which can all be proud.
Mr.Speaker, as the Minister of Social Services and Community Development I lookforward to the implementation of the National Training Agency and what it meansto the future development of our human capital and I wish to commend the Prime Minister and theMinister for Labour and National Insurance for this bold and progressiveinitiative which will equip Bahamians with the necessary practical competenciesand skills to meet the current and future demands of the workforce share inemployment and entrepreneurial opportunities which will present themselvesthrough the various developments in New Providence and many of our familyislands. I encourage our people toprepare themselves for the National Training Agency and take advantage of allit has to offer.
Mr. Speaker, as we approach our 40th Anniversary ofIndependence, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind all Bahamians of ourshared dreams and values. I believethere is more that unites us than divides us. Let us work together to rebuildthis country and ensure the future of generations yet to come.
Mr. Speaker, Yamacraw confirms itsconfidence in the member for Centreville, the Rt. Hon Perry Gladstone Christie,the undisputed Father of the House and his ability, along with his team to keepthis ship of state ‘steady as she goes’ and steer it to safe port. Mr. Speaker, Yamacraw supports thisprogressive and people-centered Budget