I am happy to extend best wishes to Bahamians everywhere. On behalf of all Bahamians I extend a warm welcome to all persons visiting with us during this special season.
Christmas is a joyous time of year in The Bahamas. In addition to decorating our homes and offices we mark the anniversary of Christ’s birth by worshiping in churches of our choosing, exchanging gifts, sharing meals, spending time with family and friends and celebrating at festivals, most particularly Junkanoo.
This year Christmas comes as the global economy, much as our own, continues a slow recovery from the most severe economic downturn in recent memory. Still I continue to be inspired by the generosity of Bahamians who notwithstanding continue to make Christmas a season marked by a spirit of generosity and of sharing.
This generosity of spirit has been most recently demonstrated by the awe-inspiring response to my call for increased volunteerism to measurably expand the number of persons engaged in mentoring our young people creating networks of care and hope.
My Government has taken care to manage our economy prudently and sensibly so as to ensure that we are well-positioned to benefit from the global recovery as it occurs. This prudence has enabled us to preserve jobs in the public service and to avoid salary cuts or lay-offs within the public sector as experienced in many developed and developing countries.
We are pleased also that our extensive programme of public infrastructure renewal and upgrade, particularly in New Providence but also and in our Family Islands, is progressing well. The New Providence Road and Utility Project will be completed in July next year. In the meantime, all roads under construction in New Providence are open and drivable this Christmas seasons.
The construction of the new Cargo Port at Arawak Cay and its related In-Land Storage Depot are also progressing well, permitting the revitalization of the Historic City of Nassau to take shape. And, the Phase II redevelopment of the LPIA is moving ahead well.
Similar progress is being achieved with road and water works in our Family Islands. In Abaco and Grand Bahama construction of new public sector office complexes are completed and construction of the new Marsh Harbor International Airport terminal is progressing well.
The New Accident and Emergency and new Operating Theatres at the Rand Memorial Hospital will be commissioned in January. And the Child and Adolescent Unit at the Sandilands Rehabilitative Hospital will be completed and commissioned early in the New Year.
Baha Mar’s redevelopment of its Cable Beach resort properties commenced in earnest this year. The construction of a new deviated portion of West Bay Street and of a new commercial village provided employment opportunities for five large Bahamian construction companies and for scores of Bahamian sub-contractors.
In Grand Bahama, the expansion projects at BORCO and at Statoil are moving forward.
All these projects have been important stimuli for job creation in the all-important construction sector creating employment and economic security for many Bahamians breadwinners and their families. This has strengthened economic activity putting us in a stronger position to compete when economic recovery comes.
This year we launched the National Jobs and Retraining Programme to better equip unemployed persons to find new employment or in becoming productively self-employed.
This national jobs training programme, continued government infrastructure and other development projects and new and additional private sector investments will combine to make 2012 economically better for growing numbers of our people.
We continue to be troubled by the persistence of violent crime which mars the lives of too many of our people especially in New Providence. We are especially concerned with the number of young people who become ensnared by criminal activity.
I and my colleagues in Government are dedicating our full energies and doing all within our capacity to remove the criminal elements from our streets. In this vein we have significantly strengthened our anti-crime legislation, modernizing our laws to meet the challenges of modern, sophisticated crime, ensuring that vacancies on the Court Bench are filled and that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is adequately staffed. Further we have ensured that our law enforcement agencies are properly manned and equipped to fulfill their mandate.
We recognize that the fight against crime cannot be done by the Government and law enforcement alone. We can and we will defeat the crime problem; but we will only do so together. That is why we continue to call for the full support of the good and law-abiding majority of our people.
We can rejoice in the knowledge that the overwhelming majority of our young people are on the right track. They continue to pursue with good results academic studies, sports, the arts and business. I gratefully and happily recognize and acknowledge their accomplishments. Our young people are not only our future; they are making significant contributions today.
This year we did not escape nature’s wrath as Hurricane Irene cut a path through our archipelago most seriously impacting parts of Cat Island, Eleuthera and Acklins but also scattered communities around others of our islands including our capital city. The preparedness of our communities and the rapid response of first responders helped ensure that there was no loss of life or serious injury for which we are grateful. Regrettably, many families suffered serious damages to their homes and businesses and public infrastructure again was adversely impacted. The Government has sought to lessen the burden of those losses upon residents with customs duty waivers for all hurricane restoration works. Additionally, hundreds of homes have been repaired and restored through the assistance of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA)
Notwithstanding the past difficult year we have reason to give thanks and to look to the future with hope. In so many respects, The Bahamas has been fortunate when compared to some communities in both developed and developing countries.
We are pleased and grateful for the thousands of our citizens who have long given of their time and talents to improve the social fabric and well-being of our nation. Working in youth groups, social clubs, service clubs, charitable organizations and churches, they bring comfort and joy to the aged and the infirmed, help to the needy, and guidance, mentoring and inspiration to the youth. For them we are ever grateful.
We appreciate also the thousands of public servants who do their best in their various areas of responsibility to advance the business of the country, who teach our children, who work tirelessly to protect our health and safety, and who guard our borders and territorial integrity as well as our lives and property.
As is required of them, many will be on duty again this year during the holiday season so that the rest of us can enjoy the celebrations in safety. To them we owe a debt of gratitude.
In closing I leave with you a selection of Christmas gift suggestions compiled by Oren Arnold:
To an enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.
My wife Delores, family and my colleagues in Government join me in wishing each and every one of you, and the visitors within our land, a blessed Christmas and a happy and safe holiday season.