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News Round UP: Week Ending 10/22/16

Jamaica

WILD cheers rang out across the expansive lawns of King’s House in St Andrew on Monday, National Heroes Day, as deejay Shabba Ranks rose to accept his Order of Distinction (OD),from Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen.

Shabba Ranks, whose given name is Rexton Ralston Fernando Gordon, was recognized for his invaluable contribution to the Jamaican music industry.

Dressed in an off-white suit, pewter-coloured shoes, topped with a Fedora Bordeaux, the two-time Grammy Award winner moved towards the platform and earned the loudest cheers from the hundreds gathered.

Before ascending the steps, the 50-year-old artiste paused, doffed his Fedora then handed it to the uniformed guard. With this, the cheers grew even louder.

It was a proud Shabba Ranks who spoke to the Jamaica Observer moments after the investiture.

“Triumphant. Dat a my feeling right now because, as my mother used to tell mi from I was little, that hard work does pay off. So wi can see dat di validation for hard work is jus’ greatness — good really begets good. For my island to look at me as one of those proteges and bestow the Order of Distinction pon me, when I first hear, it’s just delight, joy and ‘cause me to think about how, for so many years, mi a work with the strength of my forefathers who did their work and still could not achieve dis in their lifetime… So mi jus’ proud,” he stated.

The deejay, known for tracks such as Trailer Load, House Call, Ting-a-Ling and Mr Lover Man, said he continues to work, having recently completed a summer tour in Europe.

“Di music continues. Di music never stops. People in their mind feel like di music stop. Music can’t stop until di man who is doing di music is ungrateful to God Almighty, that’s when his creative process and development ends. So whoever waan hear Shabba, I never disappoint, I’m always here. Mi have some whole heap a music but some people feel like they don’t want to pay Shabba for my music… a some free issue dem want an’ for 30 years I’ve been doing that. So, if they don’t want to pay my yute dem will release it in case of anything.”

He said he is ready to perform on a local stage any time, once promoters are willing to pay.

Watching from the sidelines was Shabba’s mother, Constance Christie, whom he affectionately calls “Mama Christie”. For her, Shabba had nothing but the highest praise.

“When mi look pon Mama Christie mi jus’ know how beautiful life is ‘cause she bring mi forth and nurture mi in di right an’ proper way so mi could become a progressive man in dis world. Every time mi look pon her mi see progress. Every time mi Look pon her mi see a representation of God Almighty… every time mi look pon her mi just see strength and and niceness,” Shabba added.

Five distinguished Jamaicans were conferred with the nation’s fifth-highest honour — the Order of Jamaica (OJ) — at the annual national awards ceremony.

They are: Ambassador Anthony Johnson for distinguished national service in the public and private sectors, and particularly his contribution to the foreign service; former Member of Parliament and Jamaica Labour Party stalwart Dr Kenneth Baugh for distinguished service to the Jamaican Parliament as well as his work in the field of medicine; Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer for outstanding advocacy for senior citizens; Professor Renn Holness for outstanding work in neurosurgery; and Dr David Wayne Boxer, for distinguished contribution to the National Gallery of Jamaica and the arts.

The OJ is considered the equivalent of a British knighthood, and members of the order are styled “The Honourable”. Some 200 Jamaicans received awards.

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United States

The United Nations has launched a new trust fund to support a coordinated system-wide response from the UN and its partners to help Haiti overcome the cholera epidemic and support the establishment of strong water, sanitation and health systems in the French-speaking Caribbean country.

The UN said that outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon established the UN Haiti Cholera Response Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) “to generate and manage resources to rapidly supply the UN system responses in the Caribbean country”.

“The Trust Fund will direct the resources contributed by donors to the highest-priority activities of the system-wide approach, focused on intensifying emergency response to address cholera transmission, as well as ensuring rapid access to effective care and treatment in parallel with investments to build sound water, sanitation and health systems, the best long-term defense against cholera and other water-borne diseases,” the UN said.

The UN said member states, regional bodies, inter-governmental organisations, businesses and individuals can make contributions to the trust fund.

Last Friday, at UN Headquarters in New York, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed member states on the issue, saying the first track of the new UN approach to tackling cholera involves intensifying efforts to treat and eliminate the disease.

He said the second track aims to develop a framework proposal to member states for material assistance to those Haitians most affected by cholera after the 2010 outbreak.

The UN said the new system-wide approach is also developing a proposal for a package of material assistance and support for those Haitians most affected by cholera.

While early funding is urgently required to support the implementation of the new approach, the UN said the trust fund will also support other interventions, including responding to the increased risk of cholera caused by the devastation brought by Hurricane Mathew.

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International

Caribbean countries are expected to benefit from a multi-million dollar agreement signed between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

USAID will provide more than US$31 million to improve health in Latin America and the Caribbean over the next five years and PAHO said the partnership will support its technical cooperation in its member states in areas including tuberculosis, malaria, neglected infectious diseases, maternal and neonatal health and inequities related to gender, ethnicity and other social determinants.

The agreement also supports efforts to strengthen health information systems, as well as health systems overall, PAHO said.

“We are proud of the many health achievements that our work with USAID has produced in our member countries, and we are grateful for the opportunity to continue this partnership to build on those achievements,” said PAHO Dominican-born Director Carissa F Etienne.

“We very much look forward to working together over the next five years.”

PAHO said it has worked with USAID for nearly three decades to improve the health and lives of people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“This collaboration has led to health progress including the eradication of river blindness from several of the region’s countries, continuing declines in malaria cases and deaths in 19 of the 21 endemic countries, and the attainment of most of the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” PAHO said.

“At the same time, this joint work has also highlighted the need for innovative strategies to build further on the progress achieved.”

USAID’s Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Marcela Escobari, said “we are encouraged by the gains that the health sector in Latin America and the Caribbean has made in the decades since USAID first embarked on partnership with PAHO.

“Together, with local ministries of health, we continue to help improve affordable access to quality health care for the most vulnerable people in the region,” said Escobari.

PAHO said the new agreement will support continuing and new efforts to build “strong, sustainable and equitable health systems” and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the long-term goal of achieving universal health.

The new agreement includes support for PAHO as technical secretariat for a Promise Renewed for the Americas, an initiative to reduce inequities and accelerate improvements in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health. Other partners include UNICEF, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

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Guyana

Guyana on Monday, signed an agreement with the United States that Washington says provides a “significant step” in the fight against offshore tax evasion.

US Ambassador to Guyana, Perry Holloway and Finance Minister, Winston Jordan signed the agreement to implement the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

Under the US FATCA legislation, Washington demands that foreign banks provide information to America’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on any customer deemed a “US person” if they have more than US$50,000.

Washington has said that the legislation aims to crack down on tax dodgers who hide hundreds of millions of US dollars in offshore accounts annually in an effort to avoid paying taxes.

Hon . Winston Jordan Minister of Finance and Ambassador of the United States of America to Guyana, Perry Holloway signing the FATCA agreement at the Ministry of Finance.

“Today’s signing makes a significant step forward in our countries’ efforts to work collaboratively to combat offshore tax evasion, an objective that mutually benefits our two countries,” said Holloway.

Jordan said the Guyana-US FATCA agreement provides for automatic sharing of tax information between the two countries.

“The FATCA agreement represents another step in our country’s cooperation with each other in order to combat money laundering and tax evasion and avoidance,” he said, adding that the automatic exchange of information has the potential to increase transparency, cooperation and accountability among financial institutions and encourage taxpayers to voluntarily disclose all relevant information to tax authorities.

He said that the sharing of information across countries is important for the enforcement of domestic tax laws.  “By working together to increase transparency, both Guyana and the US will be able to detect and deter abuse of the tax system in both countries.  This will enable better accountability within the global financial sector,” Jordan said.

According to the minister, the agreement which was signed in the Board room of the Ministry of Finance will allow for the exchange of banking and tax information for citizens residing in both countries as foreign nationals.

Describing the signing as an historic event, Jordan said the agreement represents both the culmination of a long travelled road and the beginning of a new phase in Guyana-United States cooperation in tax and anti-money laundering matters.

FATCA was enacted in 2010, by the US Congress to prevent tax fraud and evasion by US taxpayers using offshore banking facilities. It creates a new regime of automatic tax information sharing between financial institutions. FATCA requests foreign financial institutions to identify and report information about accounts held by US taxpayers in their jurisdictions. FATCA is part of a global movement towards Automatic Exchange of Information (AEIO) of non-resident financial account data among tax authorities.

According to the Minister of Finance, “The Automatic Exchange of Information has the potential to increase transparency, cooperation and accountability among financial institutions and encourage tax payers to voluntarily disclose all relevant information to tax authorities.

He said Guyana chose to be involved in this important venture not only because it will help to reduce tax evasion in the United States, but also in Guyana, through the exchange of information between the two countries.

The enforcement of the FATCA required the Government of Guyana to amend local laws to empower the Guyana Revenue Authority to send and receive information as may be requested by any of the two signatories.

According to Jordan, Guyana amended Section 63 of the Financial Institutions ACT, Chap 85:03, Laws of Guyana, to designate the Guyana Revenue Authority as the competent Authority, on behalf of the Government of Guyana. “This will allow Financial Institutions to provide the GRA with customer information on reportable accounts,” Jordan explained.

Citing recent developments which saw the Bank of America pulling out as the correspondent bank to Guyana’s banking sector, the minister said regulations such as FATCA will aid in a return of stability and trust in the country’s financial sector.

According to the finance minister, the implementation of FATCA is only one aspect of Guyana’s recent efforts to strengthen the regulation of its financial sector.  He pointed to work done to satisfy recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and a National Risk Assessment that was undertaken this year among other initiatives.

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 St. Lucia

The Council of Ministers of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL), has approved new regulations aimed at enhancing the environment for competition in the telecommunications sector in the sub-region.

A statement issued here Monday noted that the new regulations were approved at the 34th regular Council meeting held in Castries and addressed consumer protection, unfair restrictions on consumer choices in services, and submarine cable regulations, which set out conditions for fair access to submarine cable capacity.

The new regulations also cover access to network infrastructure and wholesale services regulations, which impose conditions on licensees holding significant market power to share their networks, in addition to regulations and guidelines on the conduct of market analyses.

The statement said that the Council discussed the current work being undertaken by the ECTEL and the national regulatory bodies to address the impact of the Cable & Wireless/Columbus merger on the markets, and approved recommendations on new licences for telecommunications service providers.

Earlier this year, ECTEL announced that negotiations regarding the multi-billion dollar merger had broken down without the parties reaching an amicable agreement.

ECTEL chairman, St. Lucia’s Telecom Minister Guy Joseph said with rapid technological changes both the regulator and the telecommunications service providers must adjust their business practices in order to better serve the consumers in the region.

The statement noted that over the next two months, the Council of Ministers will facilitate presentations in their respective countries to familiarise ministers and parliamentarians with the purposes and provisions of the new legislation.

The meeting also approved the work plan and budget to fund the operations of the national Commissions and ECTEL for the financial year October 2016 to September 30, 2017.

“The ECTEL Council of Ministers approved the sum of EC$100,000 (One EC dollar =US$0.37 cents) as a contribution from the Member States to address the emergency rehabilitation of the people of Haiti who lost lives, property and livelihoods following the passage of hurricane Matthew in September 2016,” the statement stated, noting that a similar financial contribution had been made to the French Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country following the destruction caused by the massive earthquake in 2010.

ECTEL is the telcom regulator for St. Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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Regional

Caribbean countries have been warned that they need to build national awareness of the fiscal risk associated with pension schemes and need for reforms.

“At a minimum, the actuarial deficits should be systematically monitored and reported to the public with more frequency and a degree of detail to allow proper evaluation of the fiscal risk,” according to a new study released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Since their establishment in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, contribution incomes have exceeded benefit payments and administrative expenses for most countries and the systems have accumulated a large fund.

“The schemes appear relatively sound until about 2017. Thereafter, they are projected to incur substantial deficits and eventually run down their assets, raising the prospects that the government would have to bear a share of the promised pension benefits,” the study warned.

“To avoid crowding out other priority expenditures, the authorities could, in the short term, implement parametric reforms that would help offset the impact of demographic pressures. Phasing in these reforms now will prevent a significant buildup of pressures and avoid the need for drastic measures in the future.”

The study on National Insurance Scheme Reforms in the Caribbean, notes that National Insurance Schemes (NIS) in the Caribbean are weighed down by population aging, slow economic growth, and high unemployment.

It said as a result of these factors, the NIS’s in the region are “projected to run substantial deficits and deplete their assets in the next decades, raising the prospects of government intervention”.

The study, part of the IMF Working Papers, notes that population aging is putting increasing pressure on public finances in the Caribbean.

“Long term projections point to continuing unfavourable demographic trends. Thus, pension schemes have become unsustainable. In addition, there is a concern that investment of pension funds may lead to high exposures to government securities.”

The study warns that these developments, together with anemic economic growth, rising unemployment, and limited room for macroeconomic policy intervention, suggests that pension reforms are unavoidable. But it pointed out that a range of reform measures, with varying socio-economic impact could be implemented to contain the projected increase in pension spending.

The study quantifies the impact of three parametric reforms, highlighting their implications for economic growth, intergenerational equity, and fiscal savings.

“In addition to containing demographic pressures, raising the retirement age would not only be inter-generationally fair, but could also have a positive effect on economic growth in the long run by increasing participation in the labour force,” the authors of the study said.

They said that at the same time, it will reduce the welfare of older workers and the unemployment of the young.

“An across-the-board freeze in old-age benefits for two years is shown to improve the financial position of the pension systems but it could somewhat dampen economic growth and, at the margin, could increase old-age poverty.

“Finally, a one percentage point increase in the pension contribution rate would bring the contribution rate closer to global averages and improve the sustainability of the pension systems, but it could also discourage labour market participation and aggravate intergenerational imbalances.”

The study notes that for most countries, implementing these three reform measures concurrently would suffice to put the pension scheme on a sustainable path.

It said for other countries, such as Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Jamaica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, these measures would need to be complemented by improvement in the coverage of the pension schemes.

“While the appropriate combination of the measures necessary to eliminate the actuarial deficits varies depending on each country’s circumstances, most countries need to undertake these reforms now or risk even higher taxes, lower growth and unsustainable debt dynamics,” the study added.

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Barbados

Regional airline LIAT is forecasting a loss of EC $9.2 million (US$3.4 million) this year, despite recording a net profit of EC$5 million at the end of August.

Chairman of the shareholder Governments, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, gave the assessment of the company’s financial performance at a news conference following a meeting of shareholder Governments in Barbados on Wednesday.

“This is moving from numbers close to EC$100 million, to EC$57 million and even last year EC$57 million roughly have of it had to do with losses incurrence, selling Dash-8s and paying severance pay,” Gonsalves told reporters.

He outlined a number of limitations and challenges which impact the airline’s service to the travelling public, including a smaller fleet – LIAT currently operates nine ATRs and is expected to acquire a tenth in November – as well as weak technology, and the need for training of frontline staff.

He added that the board is currently undertaking a review of the organizational structure to determine the optimal number of employees needed to serve the entire network.

“When I became Prime Minister, LIAT had about 1200 people employed, that’s 2001. Now LIAT has 669 persons employed and the head count in the budget is 630,” Gonsalves said.

He added that the company is also looking to cut unprofitable, non-performing routes in a bid to improve its service.

“A critical review of the schedule has to be fine-tuned, clearly LIAT needs to do fewer routes, but do what we’re doing much better. This would mean eliminating some routes and cooperating with third party carriers on those routes. LIAT has to continue removing non-performing routes as appropriate based on commercial assessment,” Gonsalves said.

The airline’s management has also requested the approval EC $5 million to be divided between the shareholder Governments of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

According to Gonsalves, Dominica – the fourth shareholder Government has been exempted from meeting its quota as that country is still rebuilding from the widespread devastation caused by Tropical Storm Erika last year.

Gonsalves added that there is a long-term capitalization issue still to be addressed with the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and also to have more participation “from other territories which benefit from the LIAT network”.

The prime minister is planning to convene a meeting between the current leaders of shareholder governments and their counterparts from Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Lucia, to discuss the possibility of them entering as equity partners.

On the issue of taxes, LIAT is to submit a request to the CDB in support of a study of the impact of proposed reduction in taxes.

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Trinidad & Tobago

 Local Government elections will be held in the twin island republic on November 28.

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley who made the announcement on Thursday during a post Cabinet press briefing, also said nomination day will be on November 7.

Rowley told reporters that while the government could have had the election in January , other things were taken into consideration such as elections in the Tobago House of Assembly.

The last Local Government Election was held in October 2013.

Both the People’s National Movement and the United National Congress have been screening for candidates to represent the party as local government councillors since August.

Local Government reform, which was promised by the PNM prior to elections, is expected to also go to parliament before the year ends.

However, Local Government Minister Franklyn Khan has said changes would not affect the upcoming election.

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