|Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney gives mid-year budget debate contribution|
|Thursday, 05 March 2009 16:20|
BAHAMAS IMMIGRATION DEPARTMENT
MID-TERM BUDGET CONTRIBUTION
HON. W. A. BRANVILLE MCCARTNEY, M.P.
MINISTER OF STATE
DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION
I am pleased to once again have the distinct honour to stand in this Honourable place on behalf of the wonderful people of Bamboo Town, to represent their interest and to give an account of my stewardship as Minister of State for Immigration. And Mr. Speaker, from the outset, let me say that Bamboo Town supports these Bills.
I beg your indulgence to allow me to direct a few comments to my constituents in Bamboo Town. Indeed Sir, I think it is safe to say that no community, In The Bahamas and Worldwide has been spared the effects of the global economic downturn. As a result Sir, I thought it necessary to gear my representation of The Bamboo Town Constituency towards those persons who have been more impacted as a result of the economic downturn. It is for this reason that the Bamboo Town Constituency held an Economic Seminar, chaired by Mr. Glen Ferguson, for residents to assist our constituents to cope with these tough economic times. I thank Mr. Ferguson for his work in the community and it is our hope that such seminars will continue.
Thy Brother’s Keepers program which started in December, 2007, continues to be extremely active. This Mr.Speaker, is a program specifically geared towards helping our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate. Persons in the community and elsewhere come together to donate clothing and non perishable food items to persons in need. These items are collected from the constituency office for those persons and in many other cases they are delivered to their homes. Mr. Speaker, I would certainly like to thank those persons who have volunteered and contributed to this program. They are indeed their “Brother’s Keeper” and May God Bless them.
We continue with our Bamboo Town free legal clinics. These clinics are held quarterly the last one being the 21st February, 2009. Attorneys volunteered their time to give free legal advice to members of Bamboo Town and Mr. Speaker, I must say, that at the last legal clinic their were more persons from outside of the constituency who attended.
Our seniors in the community continue to meet on a regular basis and Sir, continue to pray for this country. You know Mr. Speaker, I must admit that this program, the senior citizens program, is truly a selfish program for me. I say this Sir, because without fail every time we meet I leave with more knowledge and I dear say wisdom. Sir, I learn more from these beautiful persons, than I can ever learn from any college, university or read in any book. It is the seniors that built the foundation of this country that we now walk on. I thank them for that.
And Although Mr. Speaker, we are facing this economic downturn we must not forget our children and to ensure that they live their best lives. Now, Having said this The Bamboo Town Youth Program, now has a membership of one hundred and five (105) children. On Saturday past the children spent the day at the Meridian School enjoying a day of sporting activities. Mr. Speaker it was indeed a lovely day, I have not recovered from that day, as I realized that those children are much younger and faster than I am.
We continue to reach out to the less fortunate in our communities and assist where possible.
My office remains open Monday thru Friday, 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. and my staff, Ms. Vivia Ferguson, Manager, and Mr. Patrick Gibson remains ready to assist our residents by giving guidance and counseling and assistance where we can.
I wish to commend the churches in my constituency Mr. Speaker, for the support and assistance they have given to our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate.
IMPORTANCE OF MID-YEAR REPORT
Our country should be forever grateful to our visionary, Prime Minister The Rt. Hon. Hubert A. Ingraham, for having the fore thought to introduce this concept of a Mid-Year Budget Report to Parliament.
During our very first Mid-Year budget report, there were those on the side opposite who called it an exercise in futility, an unnecessary exercise. In fact, there were those who called it a waste of time.
This exercise is critical towards our Government’s effort to encourage and promote:
• Best Financial Practices &
• Proper Budget Planning
The world was not in this situation when we first introduced the Mid-Term Reporting, but all can see the importance of such an exercise now. Again, I commend our Prime Minister for his vision and over sight to the Public’s purse.
NEW MANAGEMENT TEAM
In November, 2008, a new management team was appointed in the Immigration Department. The team consists of:-
• Mr. Jack Thompson - Director
• Mr. Roderick Bowe - Sr. Deputy Director
• Mr. Michael D. Clarke - Deputy Director
Three (3) Superintendents were promoted to Assistant Directors, namely:
• Mrs. Fausteen Major-Smith – Freeport, Grand Bahama
• Mrs. Keturah Ferguson – New Providence
• Mr. Dwight Beneby – New Providence
While I take this opportunity to thank the former Directorate for their work, I wish to say how pleased I am that the new team has taken the baton, and I must say, they are running their leg well.
Since the appointment of the new team, renewed emphasis has been placed on the following:
I. CUSTOMER SERVICE:
a) Improvement to the physical conditions
at Headquarters, Hawkins Hill and all Ports
of Entry, so as to make these areas look attractive and more customer friendly.
b) The appointment of a special committee (task
Force) to devise short, medium and long term
Strategies for improved services
For Example; persons should not be waiting
hours on end for an interview or to collect work
permits. The Department must be more responsive
to queries and customer friendly.
c) Creation of the Department’s website,
providing essential information to the
Public and allowing for the down
loading of application forms.
d) Introduction of Information Brochures and
e) Introduction of on-line queries and answers
via e-mail services
II. PUBLIC RELATIONS:
The Public Relations unit under the leadership of Deputy Permanent Secretary, Cora Colebrooke, is expected to disseminate information to the public in a timely manner.
Indeed Mr. Speaker, in our Manifesto 07, at page 36 under the Seven Principals of Public Life, I quote “ Holders of Public Office must be open about all of the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for the decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly so demand.” We are cognizant of the fact that the Department of Immigration is there to provide a service to the public, and that is what we will do.
The unit will issue the Department’s newsletter this week, and start Public Service Announcements (PSAS’) and posters relative to Immigration laws.
The Department will accelerate its new training programme. Staff members will undergo training, in particular in the areas of customer service, apprehension operations, Registry duties and information technology services.
The Immigration Department was approved for eighteen million, six hundred and ninety-five thousand and six dollars ($18,695,006.00) in the 2008/2009 budget estimates.
The higher items in the budget include:
i) 8,766,693.00 (eight million, seven hundred
and sixty-six thousand, six hundred and ninety dollars) or 46% of the total Budget is allocated for salaries
ii) 3,000,000.00 (three million dollars) dedicated to overtime
iii) 2,000,000.00 (two million dollars) allocated for repatriation of illegal immigrants
iv) 1,321,076 (one million, three hundred and twenty-one thousand and seventy-six dollars) allocated to family island operations
The four (4) major items accounts for $15,087,769.00 or eighty percent (80%) of the total budget.
With the exception of overtime (which required a second half release during the first half), all expenditure items remained within fiscal budgets.
The repatriation of illegal immigrants (line item 102600) continues to absorb a large sum of the department’s budget, and our country’s financial resources.
I wish to share some facts/figures with the Honourable Members:
FACT # 1:
Between July 1, 2008 – December 31, 2008, Repatriation Expenditures equal $411,353.50 (four hundred and eleven dollars, three thousand three hundred and fifty three dollars and fifty cents).
The grand total of repatriation to-date equals five hundred and four thousand, one hundred and nineteen dollars and fifty cents. ($504,119.50)
Number of Persons Repatriated over the past nine
January – December, 2000 ……….. 5,791.00
January – December, 2001 ……….. 7,628.00
January – December, 2002 ……….. 6,457.00
January – December, 2003 ……….. 4,642.00
January – December, 2004 ……….. 3,034.00
January – December, 2005 ……….. 5,543.00
January – December, 2006 ……….. 7,179.00
January – December, 2007 ……….. 6,996.00
January – December, 2008 ………..7,058.00
Haitian Nationals ……….. 44,614.00
Other Nationals …………. 9,714.00
In a study prepared by the College of The Bahamas (September, 2005), entitled Haitian Migrants in The Bahamas, 2005 (Pg. 62) a section dedicated to “stopping the migration motor”, it states:
“The motor which drives migration is the demand for cheap labour, particularly in the construction industry.”
Most migrants arrive intending to work, with the knowledge that previous migrants, who also arrived illegally managed to find work and regularize their stay.
Employers are willing to employ illegal migrants. The lack of legal status in the country obliges these workers to be compliant to employers’ request as they are outside the protection of worker’s rights and it allows employers to pay migrants low wages.
If employers were monitored and only allowed to employ people with valid documentation this would reduce the demand for illegal labour. Apprehensions represent only one side of the enforcement necessary to stop the migration motor. Both supply and demand must be constrained if word is to get back to those places where illegals come from that it is no longer possible for illegal migrants to obtain employment and find housing if they are illegal.
It is because of these facts in figures and findings that the Immigration Department have accelerated its efforts to identify, apprehend and repatriate persons who are here illegally.
The cost of Repatriation for air travel over the past eight (8) years is as follows:-
January – December, 2000 …………. $1,374,155.60
January – December, 2001 …………. $1,027,930.70
January – December, 2002 …………. $1,235,271.71
January – December, 2003 …………. $678,009.03
January – December, 2005 …………. $720,573.00
January – December, 2006 …………. $1,290,064.92
January – December, 2007 …………. $1,094,732.00
January – December, 2008 …………. $1,196,153.47
Total …………..... $7,941,848.36
MOTIVATIONAL & TRAINING
The Department will expend sums of money in the area of Human Resources and Training during the final half of this fiscal year.
I am of the view that training is key. Emphasis will be placed on Customer Service Training, Registry Training, Computer Training and Foreign Languages.
Plans are also afoot to hold motivational seminars. Other areas of expenditure include:
• Improvement of physical working conditions
• Purchase of surveillance cameras
• Purchase of vehicles – Buses for apprehension exercises
The Immigration Department remains committed and steadfast in its effort to apprehend, process and repatriate all illegal immigrants within the boarders of The Bahamas.
The Department is ever grateful for the assistance and team work with other law enforcement agencies, namely the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. As I always say, there is only “one Bahamas” and all of us must work in concert to ensure that no effort is spared toward dealing with the illegal immigration problem.
I don’t wish to wake up one morning (in the Bahamas) and ask, where am I? Or to find out that we (Bahamians) are outnumbered in our own country, or we find ourselves, as a minority in our own country.
I am pleased and encouraged by the outstanding work by the Enforcement Unit of the Immigration Department. I think their work has been nothing short of exceptional, the figures bear evidence of this.
If I may, I wish to share some figures with the Honourable Members:
Repatriation figures for this fiscal year are as follows:
July, 2008………………………………… 922
August, 2008…………………………….. 558
September, 2008……………………….. 359
October, 2008…………………………… 735
November, 2008 ……………………….. 349
December, 2008………………………… 589
Mr. Speaker, those figures add up to three thousand five hundred and twelve over a six (6) month period. ($3,512.00)
As for this year the figures are as follows:
January, 2009……………………………. 798
February, 2009 ………………………….. 389
Most of the persons repatriated this year were apprehended this year. In fact, just yesterday, we repatriated one hundred and twenty-eight (128) persons.
Breakdown as follows:
Haitian Nationals………………………….. 119
Jamaican Nationals……………………… 5
Brazilian Nationals………………………. 3
Trinidadian Nationals………………….. 1
While I am on the subject of apprehension, I wish to inform Honourable Members and the nation at large that I insist (it is not an option) that officers always conduct themselves in a professional manner when carrying out apprehensions. Officers who step out of line are on their own, and the Department will deal with them very firmly. We will not compromise on this issue.
With respect to the article which appeared in the newspaper about the ordeal experience by the single mother – an inquiry will be heard this week (tomorrow) with respect to that matter.
BAHAMAS DETENTION CENTRE
Much has been said about the Detention Center in recent weeks.
Let me be the first to say that the Detention Center is not all we want it to be.
This problem has been further escalated following the recent fire to one of its dormitory blocks.
The Department will execute a few small jobs in the area of painting and minor repairs to ensure the best comfort of ALL detainees.
The areas of greatest priority include:
(c) Improvement to playground
(d) Improvement to laundry/wash area
(e) Improvement to Library
(f) Improvement to Security
With respect to the block recently destroyed by fire, the department is awaiting advice and guidance from the Ministry of Public Works with respect to Dormitory I.
The department will be guided by the report and recommendations. As for the criminal charges, I wish to advise that the matter is before the courts.
According to the Ministry of Finances revenue budget estimates for 2008/2009 the Immigration Department total revenue forecast for 2008/2009 fiscal year is thirty-eight million, six hundred and fifty-one, three hundred and seventeen dollars ($38,651,317.00)
The forecast revenue estimates for the first half was pegged at nineteen million four hundred and six thousand, one hundred and twenty four dollars ($19,406,124.00)
I wish to advise that to date we have collected $32,827,361.06 July 1 – March 2, 2009.
I am pleased to report to this Honourable House that the Department has in fact collected twenty-nine million, two hundred and forty-eight thousand, and twelve dollars ($29,248,012.00) for the period July 1 – December 31, 2008.
A variance surplus of nine million, eight hundred and forty one thousand, eight hundred and eighty-eight dollars ($9,841,888.00).
This variance and surplus is due in part to two reasons:
1. The new fee structure which came into effect
On July 1, 2008, and
2. The vigilance by the Immigration Department of
collecting outstanding fees.
Since the formation of the debt collection unit, we have seen an improvement in Payment of Permits.
The newly formed unit under the direction of the Director and supervision of the Finance Officer recently compiled a list of companies owing outstanding fees. Our records revealed the following:
1. Seventy (70) companies have been audited in
New Providence and found to owe The Bahamas Government eight hundred and thirty-four thousand, seven hundred and eighteen dollars and seventy-four cents ($834,718.74) (for New Providence).
2. The department identified another twenty-four
Companies to be audited (for New Providence).
A similar exercise was carried out in The Grand Bahama’s office. Some 330 files were audited and a total of approximately 1.5million were found to be outstanding.
As for those companies who owe The Department money, the department will not be minded to issue further renewals without either a settlement of outstanding fees or a Payment Plan Arrangement.
The big question is how did the fees fall in arrears? What accounted for delinquent payment?
It is apparent that once persons have been issued approval letters, they have taken those letters to mean “go ahead and engage workers”. This is done despite the fact that the letter states that payment must be made within thirty days or the offer will be withdrawn.
Large companies particularly Hotel companies, and persons requesting short term work permits tend to put persons to work before payment.
VIOLATION OF IMMIGRATION LAWS
The Bahamas Immigration Department is actively pursuing those persons who violate our Immigration Laws.
Many persons are not aware that Immigration Officers are trained and does in fact prosecute persons who violate our laws.
Last year, a total of one hundred and fourteen (114) persons were convicted of various offences.
The breakdown is as follows:-
Overstaying ………………………………………. 82
Illegal Landing ……………………………………. 8
Employment of Prohibited Persons …………... 3
Possession of Forged Documents ……………. 8
Attempting to Mislead Immigration Officers … 6
Engaging in Gainful Occupation ………………. 4
Assisting Illegal Landing ……………………….. 3¬
Total ………………….. 114
The afore-mentioned figures only represent Immigration Court Proceedings.
Eleven (11) matters were heard for this Calendar year.
IMMIGRATION WATCH/CRIME STOPPERS
The Immigration Department is sparing no effort to introduce new initiatives geared toward involving concerned citizens as partners with the Immigration Department. To this end, I propose to introduce a new concept called Immigration Watch, which is similar to crime watch.
This concept will pattern the well established Community Crime Watch groups.
I am confident that this new idea will yield great results and success, especially during the winter months when our illegal numbers are highest.
Further Mr. Speaker,
We have partnered with Crime Stoppers in an effort to again involve the public.
The idea is to have an outlet where information can be shared with law enforcement officers – around the clock, 24 – 7. This is already proving to be a success as the department act on tips from crime stoppers. The number is 328-8477 or 328-TIPS.
I am pleased to inform this house that Senior Managers from the Immigration Department met in a one (1) day seminar/conference on Thursday, February 26, 2009 for the purposes of reviewing proposed legislation.
The Senior Managers reviewed proposed legislation to amend the Immigration Act to allow for the introduction of Electronic Permits Cards.
Draft Legislation relative to the harbouring of illegal persons was also reviewed, and the possible increase of fines for persons employing illegals’. Senior Managers also discussed the much talked about Immigration Policy Paper. We anticipate bringing the Immigration Policy Paper to Cabinet in short order.
I wish to speak to the subject of abuse by law enforcement officers i.e. Immigration Officers.
A daily suggested, that reports of beatings, abuse and inhumane treatments have been reported at the Detention Centre.
I wish to make it explicitly clear that the Department does not condone, support, or endorse beatings or violent acts of behaviour by Immigration Officers.
I also wish to say that the department is not in receipt of any evidence to support such claim.
It is also important for me to say at this juncture that wherever or whenever this is found the officer will be dealt with accordingly.
It has been the practice of The Immigration Board to meet every Monday, to consider requests for new and renewal of applications for annual status, including work and residence permits. Meetings are also held on a regular basis in Freeport, Grand Bahama, to consider applications from the Northern Bahamas (Grand Bahama, Abaco and Bimini).
In recent times, the Board has been extremely careful in considering and making decisions on applications for jobs for which Bahamians are qualified. In this regard, many applications are refused; or deferred, to obtain information on the availability of Bahamians to fill these positions. The Department of Labour’s representation on the Immigration Board has assisted the process tremendously and has helped to make determinations in these matters. Having said that, we must be aware that there are still some positions for which Bahamians do not wish to be considered, among them are jobs as handymen, gardeners and housekeepers. It is hoped that, as a result of the current economic climate, that more Bahamians will accept these positions, until other jobs become available to them.
Applications for naturalization, citizenship and permanent residence are also addressed on a regular basis, and decisions communicated to the applicants. It is the intention of the Cabinet of The Bahamas to meet on a regular basis, in order to consider such applications, and to bring to a successful conclusion, some applications that have been outstanding for sometime.
A summary of the applications considered for naturalization, citizenship and permanent residence from July 2008 to the present is outlined below:
MEETING WITH HAITIAN PASTORS
The leadership of the Immigration Department and I met with over thirty (30) Haitian Pastors and several Bahamian Ministers in an effort to discuss the Illegal Immigration problem.
The meeting which took place on Thursday, February 5, 2009 was most productive and all Pastors gave their assurances to assist the Department.
The Pastors extended an invitation to the Department to visit their respective churches. The Department appointed an officer to liaise with the Haitian Community Churches.
The Department recently embarked upon a dialogue campaign. In addition to the meeting with Pastors, the leadership welcomed courtesy calls from:-
• Cuban Ambassador
• Chinese Ambassador
• Bahamas Financial Services Executives
• Bahamas Construction Association
• Bahamas Chamber of Commerce
We anticipate meeting with the Haitian Ambassador in short order, The Bahamas Hotel Association, several Banking Institutions, The Teachers Union and a number of Professional Associations.
70TH YEAR CELEBRATIONS
This year the Immigration Department will celebrate 70 years since the Department’s enactment in 1939. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Historic Past – Dynamic Future.”
The Department proposes to use the opportunity to promote staff unity (bonding) and to sensitize the community about the working of the Immigration Department. Among the activities planned:-
• 70 Day Customer Service Challenge
• Fun/ Run Walk
• Boat cruise
• Children’s Fun Day
• Immigration Family Beach Bash
• Year End Awards
• Among Others
FORGING INTERNATIONAL TIES
The department is also forging ties with our counterparts in the Region to address matters such as:
• Boarder Control
• Exchanging of information (networking)
• Legislation and
The Bahamas Director of Immigration recently attended a regional conference under the theme “Regional Corporation in Building Capability and Capacity Creating an Association”.
Mr. Thompson was elected Vice Chairman of the working group. I am hopeful that as the region tackle the issue of illegal migration there is much success ahead working with other countries.
I am pleased to report that Immigration has turned the corner in many respects. I am optimistic that better days of the department lie ahead. If I may borrow the theme celebrating 70 years, I agree the department has had a Historic past and awaits a dynamic future.
In closing, I wish to acknowledge the hardworking Immigration staff members who work in our Family Islands, Grand Bahama and New Providence to make this country a better place for us ALL.
I encourage the public to continue to support our efforts and together we can substantially reduce our illegal Immigration concerns.
When I was appointed to the Cabinet by the Rt. Honorable Prime Minister, my words to him was that I would not let him down. That position remains. I will not let him down and more importantly,
I will not let the Bahamian people down.
Newer news items: