Thank you so much for inviting me to bring remarks to this wonderful gala event.
After the isolation and dislocation that so many of us experienced these past two years, we cherish even more opportunities where we can meet in-person, and fully experience human contact.
As you know, my Administration in The Bahamas came into government just under eight weeks ago.
We won our mandate from the Bahamian people on the promise of bringing about ‘A New Day’ in our country.
A central tenet of that promise was the notion of partnership, working together at every level of society and with the peoples and nations of the world, to bring about the kind of future the Bahamian people so desperately long for.
Your theme this evening – Moving Forward Together – is clearly infused with a similar spirit. It’s a shame that you’re not all Bahamian voters, as you might’ve made our electoral journey a little easier!
But I make a serious point.
As the ‘American/Caribbean’ Foundation, the notion of partnership is inherent to your mission and the need has never been greater to work together for the common good.
Early last week, I attended the World Leaders’ Summit at COP 26 in Glasgow, the UN Conference on Climate Change.
For countries such as mine, and regions such as ours, the impacts of climate change are an ever- increasing reality.
Without the world acting in concert to reduce carbon emissions, and without the wealthier nations supporting those of us in the Global South to adapt and strengthen our defences, our collective future is grim.
The potential mutual benefit, and the inherent virtue of ‘moving forward together’ could not be clearer.
And yet 26 COP conferences, and two weeks of vigorous negotiation, illustrate how difficult forging such partnerships can be.
The Covid-19 pandemic is another case-in-point. We live in a world, and at a time, when tensions, division and rampant self-interest seemingly remain on the increase. At the very same time, it is manifestly clear that solutions are only possible IF WE WORK TOGETHER.
I made the point in relation to the supply of vaccines, when I addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations at the end of my first week in office.
Each of us will only be safe, when we are all safe.
Happily, the partnership we celebrate tonight, is not plagued with such intractable issues.
By and large, those of us in this room can make big things happen.
And tonight, I say let us move forward with the will and steely determination to do so.
A significant section of my government’s platform relates to the Blue Economy.
That is to say, how we would manage, promote and develop resources on the sea (which includes shipping), resources in the sea itself (such as fisheries), and resources on the seabed itself (such as our coral reefs, mangroves and sea grasses).
The Bahamas has an abundance of riches in our seas and waterways. While we may be a Small Island State, we have Big Ocean State potential. We have yet to tap into the fullness of our prospects for fisheries and aquaculture, and have much work to do in protecting these resources for future generations. This is a part of our pathway to food security.
We will also explore safe and sustainable ways to develop blue industries like marine biotechnology and deep-sea exploration.
The ocean will take care of us if we take care of it.
My administration has fully committed to the development of the Blue Economy as a high priority item on our agenda.
This commitment was articulated in the context of diversifying our economy to spur economic growth, with all the implications that has for increasing employment, generating wealth and expanding opportunities. Once again, the impacts of climate change as we experienced it through Hurricane Dorian, and the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighted for us the urgent need to diversify our economic base, and move away from such a heavy reliance on tourism.
If we are to succeed, the critical foundational element to all of it is training and education.
We will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities in our maritime economy, nor meet the challenges of being a low-lying ocean state, without urgent and comprehensive training and education: Training to develop the necessary skills; and broader education to develop the requisite aptitude and mindsets among our people.
The Blue Economy – our maritime economy – is of vital strategic importance to the development of The Bahamas.
Given the enormous potential that we have identified, it is our ‘sleeping giant’ if you will. And a key partner for the Bahamian government will be the LJM Maritime Academy.
The Bahamas, as the seventh largest global Maritime Registry, must be positioned to provide personnel to command the fleet of ships which are owned locally, and those registered in The Bahamas and elsewhere. Therefore, it is imperative that we train our citizens as seafarers to leverage our global maritime potential and embrace the prospective economic benefits, especially for young people.
In our shipyards, we are moving towards less reliance on external labour, as we provide training opportunities for Bahamians to fill local skill gaps, so that our people can be absorbed into that industry. I encourage industry leaders to work with our local training agencies to facilitate this process, as a skilled local talent pool is vital to industry growth and success.
We are already in the process of relaunching the Grand Bahama Shipyard Employment Programme to increase the employment prospects of certified Bahamian workers. It is through Public-Private Partnerships that we are able to make this happen. I encourage other private sector leaders to get on board as we create new pathways for employment within the local job market.
Our New Day Administration regards training mariners as an essential path to national economic empowerment.
With an increase in ships registered in The Bahamas, comes other opportunities. Our status as a leader in regional tourism will prove to be a boon in this regard. As more cruise ships register in The Bahamas, there are more opportunities for money to be spent in local businesses. We will also promote the training and employment of local talent on Bahamian registered ships.
This includes the many cruise ships that will call our nation home. There must be a place for Bahamian talent aboard these vessels at every level.
I know that ACMF has already embarked on a very promising partnership with the LJMMA. We are grateful for the two scholarships which came out of that effort. And we are extremely proud of the young people who benefitted, who in fact graduated top of the class: one became the first Bahamian class valedictorian, and both now hold officer-level positions with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
This is a fantastic way that we can move forward together, and I strongly encourage you to expand and deepen that relationship.
Several months ago, while we were in opposition, we had the privilege of being guided on a tour of the LJMMA.
We were greatly impressed with their facilities and programme, even more so by their committed staff and cadets.
It was a very memorable visit.
I even had the chance to pilot a ship using the Academy’s world-class simulator.
It certainly afforded me the chance to appreciate the great skill involved.
I’m happy to say that, the experience in the simulator did not prove to be a metaphor for my political fortunes, when I crashed the ship onto some rocks.
As we say in The Bahamas, sometimes you have to know when to stay in your own lane!
In inviting you to continue your support for the Academy, please know that the Government of The Bahamas is committed to doing the same.
I understand that discussions were begun with the previous administration, but those somehow foundered on the lack of political will to see it through.
We are committed to partnering with the LJMMA to enhance and expand their offering, and look forward to making good on that promise.
In Glasgow, I made a plea for my fellow world leaders to move beyond the talk, and move to action. Whether through addressing climate change, winning the fight against COVID-19, or revitalizing our economy, we must turn crisis into opportunity. This is a responsibility that both the
government and the innovators and visionaries of the private and non-profit sectors must work towards.
This is what partnership means.
This is the only way we will produce effective results.
This is how we can truly move forward together.