End of Year Message from His Excellency Mr. Paul H. Farquharson, QPM, High Commissioner
On 28 May 2009 the Government of The Bahamas signed the "Short Stay Visa Waiver Agreement" with the European Community. The signing of this agreement permits visa-free travel for Bahamians to any of the twenty-five countries that are currently members of the European Union, and vice versa. Negotiations for this waiver agreement had been in progress for a number of years, and the Government of The Bahamas was pleased to see this matter through to its successful conclusion in May of this year.
Late last year the Government of The Bahamas presented the candidature of Dr. Davidson L. Hepburn, OBE, to the Post of President of the 35th General Conference of UNESCO at elections which were held in September 2009. Dr. Hepburn is a seasoned Bahamian Diplomat having previously been posted to the Bahamas Permanent Mission to the United Nations for fifteen years, ten of those as Permanent Representative. Dr. Hepburn was successfully elected to the Post by a vote of 30 to 28 against the very distinguished candidate from Argentina. I was personally honoured to witness the confirmation of Dr. Hepburn as President of the General Conference on 6 October, signalling the first instance that a Caribbean country has held this very prestigious Post. The High Commission looks forward to assisting the efforts of Dr. Hepburn in his capacity as President of the General Conference during his two year term in Office.
In November The Bahamas sought re-election to the Council of the International Maritime Organization under Category "C" during the 26th Regular Session of the IMO Assembly in London. I am pleased to report that in conjunction with the Bahamas Maritime Authority and Bahamas Tourist Office, The Bahamas was successful in its election bid to the Council after receiving a record number of votes. The Bahamas will sit on the Council for a two year term advancing the work of the Organization and the interests of the country. It was also during this Regular Session of the IMO Assembly that I was elected as First Vice-President of the Session aiding the President in his functions in the running of the Session. I am also pleased to announce that Ms. Judith Francis, Maritime Attaché, was re-elected to sit on the Staff Pensions Committee of the IMO.
CHOGM 2009 was also convened in November, in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and the High Commission was called upon to provide substantive and administrative support during this very important conference. The High Commission will play an active role in the follow-up to the mandates set by Heads of Government in 2010 and beyond.
Speaking of Heads of Government, we were very pleased to welcome to London the Right Honourable Hubert A. Ingraham, M.P., Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, on two occasions: the first in October, at which time he was accompanied by his wife Mrs. Delores Ingraham, and the second time in December 2009. The High Commission also received a number of other high profile visitors from The Bahamas in 2009, including the Honourable T Brent Symonette, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs; the Honourable Earl Deveaux, Minister of the Environment; and Sir Michael Barnett, Chief Justice of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
From an economic point of view the past twelve months have been extremely challenging for The Bahamas but we continue forward, advancing the work of the Government of The Bahamas. While The Bahamas has not feared as badly as some of our Caribbean neighbours during this economic downturn, the effect has been felt in the country. It is hoped that the New Year will bring renewed opportunity and prosperity to all Bahamians.
The Royal Caribbean "Oasis of the Seas" arrived into Nassau Harbour on morning of Friday 11 December 2009 on its maiden voyage. The arrival of the new mega-cruise ship not only signalled the solidification of The Bahamas as the premier cruise destination in the Caribbean, but with the "Oasis of the Seas" also provisionally registering with The Bahamas' international ship registry it further solidifies The Bahamas' place as the world's third largest ship register.
In January 2010 the High Commission will begin the process of updating the infrastructure in the Mission to start the enrolment and issuance of Biometric (e-passports.) E-passports are now being issued in the Passport Offices in Nassau, Freeport and Abaco and are being offered through the Consulates in Miami, Atlanta, Washington and New York. It is hoped that the Mission will be able to offer these passports to all Bahamians in the United Kingdom and Europe by the end of the first quarter of 2010.
I am also pleased to announce the creation of the Mission's first website: www.bahamashclondon.net. The website will not only serve British and European communities, but will also assist Bahamian nationals through the dissemination of information and will act as a central portal for all matters relating to the Bahamas High Commission and Europe.
Finally, I am delighted to have been able to complete the remainder of my non-resident accreditations in 2009. I presented my Letters of Credence to the King of Belgium on 29 April; to the President of France on 2 July; and to the President of Germany on 29 October 2009.
The High Commission has big plans for the New Year, but like all Bahamian Missions abroad, is suffering from economic and human resource constraints. In 2009 we said goodbye to two diplomatic officers, Counsellor Julie Campbell and First Secretary Nicole Archer, and warmly welcomed back Second Secretary Michael Guy, who previously served in the High Commission in a different capacity. The High Commission is determined to continue to provide the same level of service as in previous years, despite our being fewer in numbers.
The Mission is committed to assisting the Diaspora and facilitating the work of the Government but will only be able to achieve its goals for 2010 with the assistance of all its friends and constituents. I encourage you to engage actively with us in the New Year and wish you all the best during this holiday season. May God richly bless each and every one of you.
Paul H. Farquharson QPM