Ladies and Gentlemen:
I fairly recently heard the story of an international visitor who visited The Bahamas for her 60th birthday celebration.
Growing up in Europe, she had always heard stories about and seen pictures of the aquamarine and jade waters of the Exumas, which she described as sparkling like jewels in the sun.
She was determined to come to The Bahamas to see for herself if these stories and images were true.
As a special gift to herself, she chartered a twin engine flight to fly over the waters of the Exumas.
The pilot reported how awed and amazed she was at the spectacular beauty she experienced.
When she returned to Nassau after the flight, she was in tears of joy because of the dazzling beauty of this wonderful part of The Bahamas that you call home.
The Exumas exceeded her imagination and her expectations. It was even more magnificent than she could imagine.
That visitor experienced what many generations of Exumians, Bahamians and visitors have also experienced: the magic and magnificence of the Exumas.
You are blessed with stunning natural beauty. You are also blessed with a rich history and culture.
The 1830 slave revolt in Exuma led by Pompey, which included many brave men and women, is an especially historic milestone in Bahamian history.
That revolt was a signature event in the long struggle for freedom and equality of all Bahamians.
Pompey and other leaders in the struggle for equality over the generations understood that no matter the circumstance of one’s birth, every Bahamian boy and girl deserves the opportunity to realize their potential and to develop their gifts.
This vision of shared opportunity and greater equality is why I entered public life.
It is what gives me hope and what drives me to protect the lives of all Bahamians and to improve the quality of life of every child in our Commonwealth.
This is the vision that pushes me every day to make sure that our Family Islands and cays have the services, the opportunities, the economic investments and the infrastructure you need to realize your potential, to build your economy and to develop your island and cays.
The mission of those of us in public life is the creation and promotion of opportunities for every Bahamian on every island, including: economic opportunity, small business development, education, healthcare, housing, social services, national security – and yes, infrastructure.
I want to speak directly to every student and child here today and throughout Exuma and The Bahamas.
As your prime minister, I want you to know that wherever you go in The Bahamas, that you are at home.
If you want to move and live on Grand Bahama, or New Providence, or Eleuthera, that’s okay.
But if you want to stay on Exuma or return to Exuma, I want you and your parents and your family and neighbors to have the schools, the roads and docks, the hospitals and clinics, a healthy and reliable electricity and water supply and the other things you need.
And I know you need a new international airport that will help to make the economy of Exuma grow and to become more dynamic.
I said recently that we are developing a partnership program between the private sector and the government to build new international airports on a number of Family Islands.
Exuma: You are going to get a new international airport because you are a critical center of opportunity and growth.
You deserve a world-class airport for your convenience and for Bahamian travelers, and because the world wants to come to Exuma, like the woman in the story I told you about.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
My Government’s vision, my vision, is not centered on Nassau alone.
I know that many of your critical needs have been ignored for too long.
You have often not been treated fairly.
Given your history and your potential you rightly deserve much more.
From Exuma has risen national leaders, giants in religion, cultural icons, leading businessmen and women and other citizens of note.
Just as you have invested your talent in the wider treasury of Bahamian talent, we must invest in the needs and the potential of Exuma.
Our vision is one of a literal Commonwealth, in which the wealth of our country is shared in common throughout our Bahamas.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The inauguration of the Exuma Passport Office demonstrates our commitment to your development as well as the comprehensive development of our Family Islands as centers of opportunity and growth.
In our 2017 Manifesto, we said we would:
“Implement measures to expedite the delivery of passport and consular services to Bahamians and that special attention would be paid to residents in the Family Islands and Overseas.”
We were determined to eliminate and reduce the many expenses associated with Family Island residents getting a new passport.
You will no longer have to bear the costs of airline tickets, other transportation and in some instances, accommodations associated with travel to New Providence for first time applicants and for renewal of passports.
We thought it very unfair that communities outside of Grand Bahama and Abaco still had to travel to Nassau to collect their passports.
Even as we were improving passport services on New Providence and Grand Bahama, we knew that we had to also focus on the Family Islands.
The decision was made to open passport offices in strategic islands to provide greater coverage throughout the country.
Because of location and demographic considerations, it was decided that Exuma, Inagua, Eleuthera, and Long Island, would be the islands where new passport offices would be located.
Here on Exuma, the passport system went live for trial on the 27th of January.
I am pleased to say that since then, without promotion or advertising, some ninety-nine applicants have been enrolled.
Fourteen have been completed and returned to Exuma on February 5th. Four more are en route today.
This is a wonderful accomplishment. It represents a new day for Exuma, with another government service available in your community.
By mid-March, a satellite Passport Office will open in Inagua, and shortly thereafter, offices will be opened on Long Island and Eleuthera.
I encourage the residents of Inagua, Eleuthera and Long Island to get ready as they join the residents of Exuma in experiencing the ease of obtaining a passport on their respective islands.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
On coming to office, we moved aggressively to make it easier for Bahamians to get their passports.
We recognized that the passport is one of the most important documents a Bahamian will hold during his or her lifetime.
We treasure our passports.
The Passport Office continues to serve as a leader among government agencies in the use of digital technology.
The new Epics system facilitates the turn-around of passports within 5-7 working days.
Passport delivery time to the Abaco and Freeport Offices and overseas consulates has been reduced to seven to 10 working days.
Since the system went live, more than 140,000 passports have been issued.
Over 10,000 renewal applications were received on the on-line portal.
Eighty-five children have been enrolled since December 2020.
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
I know this global pandemic has been rough on you, including those who became ill, and on the families of those who passed away, and whom we continue to mourn.
I know this has also been a very difficult time financially, especially with the loss of so many tourists and other income.
Our priority was to save and protect the lives of our people.
The pandemic is not over.
But there is light on the horizon and vaccines are on the way.
I thank all of you who have observed the health measures.
Our economy will begin to improve as the world reopens.
Things will get better throughout the country and throughout Exuma.
Please continue to observe the health guidelines.
A better future is in sight.
I am happy to report that a number of small businesses in Exuma applied for and received funding from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
Through the SBCD, 20 businesses have been approved for funding at a value of $476,411. So far, a total of $265 dollars have been disbursed.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I wish to thank all of those involved in making today a reality, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Passport Office and the Administrators Office.
I especially want to thank the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Darren Henfield.
May God bless the wonderful people of Exuma and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
I now officially declare the satellite Passport Office in Exuma, open.