By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
TRANSPORT and Local Government Minister Renward Wells yesterday defended the size of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis' nearly 20-member delegation to the United Nations' 73rd General Assembly, emphasising that "every Christ soul" that attended had a "function and duty".
Mr Wells, who was part of the delegation, detailed his role on the trip, which was particularly focused on The Bahamas remaining a part of an International Maritime Organisation (IMO) council.
Mr Wells' remarks came on the sidelines of the official handover ceremony regarding equipment procured under a $1.8m Japanese grant aid to The Bahamas. He added that he will be travelling to Japan in November to open a Bahamas Maritime Authority office there.
The UN General Assembly was held in New York between September 23-29. According to a Cabinet Office press release, 16 people accompanied Dr Minnis, including his wife and three Cabinet ministers.
When asked to respond to critiques that the UN trip was bloated with unnecessary personnel, Mr Wells said: "We are in the business of politics, and at times the politics trumps the overall national interest. Every Christ soul who went on that trip had a function and a duty that was needed. I can tell you, this was not some merry-go-lucky party. I want the Bahamian people to understand that.
"I went as minister of transport and local government, responsible for the Bahamas Maritime Authority, and at the end of the day, what ended up happening was that everyday my day was packed with bilateral meetings from various countries around the globe, requesting their assistance that they would keep us on the Group C Council that's a part of the IMO. The competition in the international arena has become stiff, very stiff. And The Bahamas seeks to ensure, seeing as there's only 20 countries on that board and we've been there for 20 years, that we stay. Last year, we were the 20th country -- just skirt by.
"And so the prime minister in his wisdom decided that we were going to increase our strategies at the UN and become a whole lot more relevant in the issues that are at the UN. So he took the requisite team he needed to get the results he needed."
When asked about those who have criticised the administration's travel, including FNM Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine, Mr Wells said sometimes conducting the nation's business requires going to other countries.
He added what differentiates this administration's travel from the Christie administration's travel is purpose and transparency.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating," he said. "When we go and travel, look in the House of Assembly, there's always a report as to what we did and what we accomplished.
"You don't hear us going off on some furlough, some trip, and then we come back and the Bahamian people don't understand why we went, what we did while we were there, and what we brought back for the Bahamian people. That is the difference. Purposed, we are purposed with our travel. And we…inform our bosses, the Bahamian people, why we went and how we spent their money."
When asked if a report will be given at the next session of the House of Assembly, Mr Wells said the prime minister will "probably" present it.
"He'll probably include my portion of the IMO, but if he doesn't, then he'll give both myself and the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Darren Henfield) the opportunity to speak to it. But more than likely he will speak to it."
With reference to his Japan trip, he said: "So as the prime minister said at the airport, please don't say we off having a jolly good time in Japan. We are doing the people's business. We're making money for the Bahamian people.
"The BMA contributes about $5.4m to the economy of The Bahamas - $5.4m. The government (doesn't put anything) into the (BMA). And so we're going to open up another office in Japan to try and increase our ship registry and to try and dominate the Asian market."
Regarding yesterday's handover, Mr Wells thanked the people of Japan for their assistance.
The National Emergency Management Agency has received $1.8m of assistance from Japan to improve logistics capability in the event of a major hurricane.
The equipment includes more than 200 handheld radios, 40 base radios, water pumps and balloon lights, NEMA director Captain Stephen Russell said.
Other equipment includes a wheel crane, flatbed cargo trucks, tractor head, 40ft semi-trailers, refrigerated container, and "other supplies which are en route," said Mr Wells.
Mr Wells said NEMA's aim is to have equipment in the disaster relief warehouses of Hawksbill, Grand Bahama, Coral Harbour, New Providence, and Great Inagua -- representing the north, central, and southern Bahamas respectively.
"I really want to thank the people of Japan for their assistance," Mr Wells said.
"They have been more than gracious in the equipment that they would have given to us and we truly look forward to developing the bilateral relationship with Japan. Asia is the emerging market, and The Bahamas intends to be fully engaged in Asia."