Mr. Speaker, the National Security Budget was increased by over 4 percent during this current fiscal year and it totaled just over $232 million. Of the aforementioned total, funds were disbursed to the following agency inclusive of:
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force which was allotted $55,380,776;
Mr. Speaker, in this regard, I demanded that the agencies under the purview of my ministerial portfolio remit a full and transparent accounting audit of how finances were expended, to safeguard against corrupt practices, mismanagement, and wasteful spending. Of importance to note is that, as a result of prudence management, the mid-term budget allocations’ expenditures for the agencies under the purview of my Ministry are all within the established budgetary estimates for the fiscal period 2017/18. The agencies spending to date reflected the following percentage of their budget allocations:
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force, to date, has spent $26,949,098 or 48 percent of its allocated budget;
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF)
Mr. Speaker, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) represents the second arm of law enforcement in The Bahamas. Upon coming into office last year May, our Government pledged its commitment to provide the necessary human capital, equipment, and operational assets to enable the RBDF to fulfill its mandate in protecting our borders, assisting with law enforcement, and providing disaster relief assistance throughout The Bahamas, in conjunction with our regional partners.
This branch of law enforcement has the difficult task of safeguarding the maritime domain which is further compounded by an expanding network of criminality and the increasing intensity of hurricanes that threaten the peace, security and prosperity of The Bahamas. However, we are cognizant that the RBDF is the agency of Government which stands on the front line of border security. With improved strategies and better use of resources, tremendous inroads have been made. I am pleased to report that the use of a number of new policy frameworks and new operational strategies will not only secure our country but will allow for its continued growth, development, and advancement.
Mr. Speaker, our Government in preparing the agency to meet the threats and challenges ahead, has established five strategic goals that have been classified as:
- Operation Decentralization which comprises the establishment of bases throughout The Bahamas;
- Operation Mobilization which is designed to ensure the readiness of the Force to respond to threats both locally and regionally;
- Operation Environment and Conservation which is directed towards the preservation of our environment.
- Operation Transformation which includes the professional development of the RBDF personnel; and lastly,
- Operation Regeneration which focuses on the development of our nation’s youths.
Mr. Speaker, with reference to operation decentralization, the Defence Force is seeking to establish adequate bases in the southern islands, specifically Inagua and Ragged Islands. Originally intended for completion by March 2016, these facilities are essential to sustaining extended air and sea patrol operations in the southern Bahamas. Due to additional demands thrusted upon the Defence Force it was no longer feasible or economically practical to have patrol boats return to the Coral Harbour Base for refueling only to have to travel back to the southern Bahamas.
Mr. Speaker, upon assuming Office it was revealed that the last Government failed to strategically plan for the establishment of adequate bases in the southern Bahamas. In addition, the lack of a comprehensive strategy has resulted in a shortage of personnel to meet the agency’s multi-purpose role in the southern Bahamas. Nonetheless, our Government is committed to ensuring that the agency forges ahead by maximizing the use its resources to ensure that all organizational requirements are met. Accordingly, 120 applicants were accepted for recruit training at HMBS Coral Harbour in January 2018 to strengthen the Force’s human capital.
Mr. Speaker, as previously alluded, it is my intent to provide our law enforcement agencies with 21st century facilities so that they can conduct business in the 21st century. Hence, our Government hopes to establish on the island of Inagua the HMBS Inagua Strategic Base. The operational base will be responsible for interdicting much of the illicit activities that originate in the southeastern Bahamas. It is also the intent of our Government to begin the construction of a new administration building and barracks, as well as, a technical workshop at the Matthew Town Base during this fiscal period. The purpose of this project is to provide logistical and technical support for long term deployments of coastal and ocean patrol craft assigned to the southeastern Bahamas corridor.
Mr. Speaker, funding is available in the budget and the project is expected to take nine months to complete at a cost of $2.6 million once funding is released. The Ministry of National Security is currently awaiting the approval of drawings for this project by the Ministry of Works. Once approved, contractors will be invited to submit bids for approval by Cabinet through the Tenders’ Board process. Again, unlike our counterpart, this process will be equal, equitable, and transparent because Government of the people should operate in the above manner.
Similarly, Mr. Speaker, technological upgrades will also be continued at Matthew Town, Inagua, where the Defence Force Maritime Centre is currently undergoing a significant upgrade in preparation to be outfitted with a state-of-the-art radar system at a cost of $2.1 million. Funded by the US State Department, this system will substantially improve the Defence Force’s maritime domain awareness, thus enhancing its ability to detect vessels involved in illicit trade and to better facilitate its search and rescue missions.
Mr. Speaker, projects to undergo the same approval process during the next fiscal period include the construction of a base and aircraft hangar at Gun Point, Ragged Island. Situated 120 miles west of Inagua, the proposed base and aircraft hangar at Ragged Island is critically important for sustaining land and sea operations near the eastern border of the Great Bahama Bank, where most of the Dominican poaching occurs. Additionally, the establishment of a base in Ragged Island would also serve to counter what is described as a ‘balloon effect.’
As air and sea patrols increase in the southeastern Bahamas, drug and migrant smuggling routes are expected to shift away from the Inagua area towards other areas such as the Ragged Island chain and the Great Bahama Bank. The proposed bases in the southern Bahamas will facilitate the decentralization of the Defence Force operations at strategic locations that would enable the Defence Force to detect, track and apprehend criminals. In the future Mr. Speaker, it is the intent of our Government to construct new bases in Grand Bahama, Bimini and Abaco.
Mr. Speaker, while the Defence Force is decentralizing some of its operations, it is important to maintain the Coral Harbour Base. Currently, the Coral Harbour Base has inadequate storage and maintenance space for its spares, equipment, supplies, and maintenance of patrol craft due to increased numbers of personnel and ships. Mr. Speaker, I therefore, intend to approve the commencement of the construction of a new Engineering Workshop and Supply Warehouse on the north shore of the Coral Harbour Base during the next fiscal period. These facilities will serve as primary locations for the much-needed storage and maintenance spaces. Additional upgrades at the Coral Harbour Base this fiscal period will include the construction of a parking lot on the northern side of the Base to accommodate the workforce. Likewise, there are plans to procure a 1,000 kilowatt generator to power the northern side of the Base, allowing for continuity of the day-to-day running of operations in the event the primary power source fails.
Mr. Speaker, with reference to operation mobilization, it is the intent of our Government to ensure that the RBDF is ready to respond to threats both locally and regionally. In accordance, the Defence Force has assisted in evacuating hundreds of residents from Inagua and Ragged Island in advance of Hurricane Irma, as well as, managing hurricane shelters in New Providence. To date, the Defence Force personnel are still in Ragged Island providing security to local residents and are helping to restore normalcy to that Island. More recently, the Defence Force personnel have also assisted local authorities with shelter management for persons left homeless in the aftermath of a major fire in the Mud in North Abaco. Mr. Speaker, this is what Government for the people, and about the people, means.
Mr. Speaker, last year, and for the first time in its history, the Defence Force participated in a major regional disaster relief operation. This included deploying its landing craft, HMBS Lawrence Major, on a dual overseas mission to the Commonwealth of Dominica to transport personnel and relief supplies from The Bahamas and Jamaica on behalf of both Governments, as well as, the Bahamian-Dominican community. The significance and success of this effort has elevated the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s status in the region. Rest assured, my Ministry will continue to propel this and all other agencies under my remit to 21st century operations so that we will continue to be relevant leaders within this region and globally.
Operation Environment and Conservation
Mr. Speaker, with reference to operation environment and conservation, our Government is committed to the preservation of our environment. Thus, under my administration, the Defence Force has commenced the installation of its first Coastal Radar as a part of a long-term National Coastal Radar Programme. It has also initiated the development of both plans for the National Coastal Security and the Drone Programmes. To this end, the RBDF has implemented the assessment phase of the Coastal Security Programme for New Providence and has also commenced reconnaissance flight operations out of Mathew Town, Inagua in support of this effort.
Mr. Speaker, my Ministry is ever cognizant of the country’s long standing reliance on the sea for social and economic sustainability. In accordance, it is and will continue to be our Government’s intent to ensure that the Defence Force plays a pivotal role in assisting and protecting our marine resources. As previously alluded, law enforcement agencies will not operate in silos but work hand-in-hand without duplicity of monies and efforts to safeguard our nation. In conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, the Defence Force is part of a multi-agency coastal security programme along with the Police, Customs, and Immigration.
This collaborative effort is aimed at securing the coasts of New Providence and other designated Family-Islands against migrants, drugs, guns and other contraband smuggling activities. Testing and evaluation of the plan has been initiated and is expected to be fully implemented during the last quarter of this fiscal period. Full implementation of this plan hopes to be in place by the mid-year on New Providence and it will consist of collaborative onshore/offshore coastal patrols, observation posts, and drone operations 24/7.
Mr. Speaker, all within this Honourable House are aware that I am a proponent of 21st century professional development. If our agencies are to operate using global principles and standards, then it is imperative that our Officers have 21st global training. With reference to operation transformation, it is my intent to encourage and provide professional development opportunities for the RBDF personnel to transform their operational practices. As such, during the first half of the 2017-2018 fiscal period, I have ensured that Defence Force Officers and Marines had the opportunities to participate in a host of local and overseas training throughout the United States in conjunction with the US State Department under its International Military Education Training Programme and the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
Mr. Speaker, in addition, Officers have also had opportunities to engage in professional development training at Britannia Royal Naval College and other parts of Europe and the Caribbean. The RBDF is embarking on the creation of an accredited Maritime Defence Training Institute for the training of its Officers and enlisted personnel. This military institution will focus on the development of character and leadership, management and supervisory, and professional and technical skills for members of the Force. It is my vision for the Defence Force to have this institution so as to enroll personnel from partner nation forces within the region. Additionally, the Force has already commenced the first phase of development of its Naval-Infantry School, with the intention of making it a regional centre of excellence for amphibious military training.
Mr. Speaker, plans are also underway this fiscal period to install a newly purchased maritime bridge simulator at the HMBS Coral Harbour. The simulator was a part of the Sandy Bottom Project and its current costs is expected to be $1.6 million. This asset will provide the assistance needed to effectively train and prepare those Officers and Marines who are in command of the respective Defence Force vessels. This simulator will not only reduce the required time to qualify Officers but it will also allow those individuals to experience various simulated conditions at sea thereby helping to better prepare them for their roles.
Mr. Speaker, I stated in my Budget Communication in June 2017, that the Government would undertake a comprehensive Manpower Audit of all law enforcement agencies. The Manpower Audit for the RBDF is closely linked to the operation transformation because it focuses on the professional development of its personnel from recruitment to retirement. With reference to the human capital in this agency, we needed to determine, as a matter of urgency, what is required in the form of human resources to effectively operate the RBDF as the base has expanded and will continue to do so in the future. I am pleased to report that the Audit is near completion and a final report is being reviewed to determine relevance.
Mr. Speaker, using research methodologies and analysis, the Audit will provide insight into the contextual and structural layers of the RBDF. More importantly, it will determine the number of personnel necessary to complement the strength of the Defence Force. Simultaneously, a review of the organizational structure will assist in making it relevant to 21st century principles and practices necessary to operate within The Bahamas. Also, changes are necessary to ensure that human capital development programmes are adequate to assist current members of the Force and prepare new recruits while offering feasible and transparent practices from recruitment to retirement.
Mr. Speaker, my Government’s ultimate goal is to rebrand the RBDF with a strategic focus on developing a purposeful agency that is able to competently safeguard the maritime domain of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, provide readily available disaster relief, and provide search and rescue operations in a robust society driven by technological advancements. More importantly, the agency will develop a comprehensive approach to its main portfolios driven by evidence-based data.
Mr. Speaker, with reference to its operation regeneration which focuses on the development of our nation’s youth, the RBDF is full committed. Succession planning is of pivotal concern to our Government and me. Being ever mindful that law enforcement agencies must have viable succession planning to ensure the pipelines remain filled with talented and qualified individuals equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills is essential.
I am pleased to report to this Honourable House that remarkable inroads are being made in transforming the lives of hundreds of Bahamian high school youths through the Force’s Rangers Programme. So successful has the programme become that we have commenced the transformation of the Programme into a National Rangers Youth Service Programme. The Programme has been phenomenal in assisting in the development of our nation’s youth as it is geared towards developing character, leadership, while fostering entry level skills for the workplace, as well as, instilling a sense of social responsibility in our nation’s youth.
Mr. Speaker, the programme presently operates on New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, the Berry Islands, North Andros, North Eleuthera, and Long Island, and involves over 30 high schools with approximately 1,500 students. In the very near future the Programme will be partnering with BAIC, BAMSI and BTVI so as to provide viable options for the students upon exiting the compulsory phase of the education sector. Due to the effectiveness of the programme, it was awarded the National Youth Organization Award for 2017 from the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture. Plans are now being formulated for the development of a National Rangers Leadership Institute. Mr. Speaker, under this Government, the future of our youth is hopeful.
Capital Development Projects Undertaken by the Defence Force
Sandy Bottom Project
Mr. Speaker, now onto a topic which breaks my heart due to the complacency and lack of poor governance by the previous administration. The Sandy Bottom Project was a programme designed to facilitate the decentralization of the Defence Force operations through the acquisition of new patrol craft, the modernizing of ports and the dredging of harbours at: Coral Harbour, New Providence; Gun Point, Ragged Island; and Matthew Town, Inagua. The Project was established is an agreement between the Ministry of National Security (the Client) and Damen Shipyards (the Contractor). The Civil Works phase of the Project was coordinated by the Project Execution Unit that was headed by a representative from the Ministry of Works, along with an Engineer Consultant, and a Liaison Officer from the Defence Force.
Mr. Speaker, this project represents another failed attempt by the previous Government to strategically plan. As the old saying goes, “when you fail to plan, then you plan to fail”. The expected cost of the project was approximately $232 million and it represented the single largest capital investment that the Government of The Bahamas has ever made in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. Consequently, a project which should have already been completed is still in the pipelines because our Government had to revisit all contractual agreements and plans so as to set it on a course for success.
Approximately nine patrol crafts were purchased from Damen Shipbuilders, whom was responsible for the completion of the refit and/or outstanding warranty-related repairs for two Bahamas Class vessels; the dredging of harbours and channels at the Coral Harbour Base in New Providence, Matthew Town in Inagua, and Gun Point in Ragged Island; and the construction of quay walls and revetments at the aforementioned three harbours. To date, a total of $219,182,712.48 has been spent on the project with a balance of $5,460,836 remaining. The outstanding sum will pay for completion of HMBS Bahamas and Nassau refit, shipping and installation of the bridge simulator, and as retention of contingency fees on completion of the Sandy Bottom Project.
Delays in the Sandy Bottom Project Completion
Mr. Speaker, being cognizant of good business acumen, the decision to remove the building contracts from the Van Oord scope was made by the Ministry of National Security, after reviewing the cost impact to the Government. Van Oord from the Netherlands was the primary sub-contractor hired by Damen Shipyard. Van Oord hired Heavy Marine Foundation from The Bahamas to undertake the installation of the quay walls and the aprons at Coral Harbour and they began the tendering process for the nominated sub-contractors for the 7 buildings needed by the RBDF. The former Government failed to monitor the Sandy Bottom Project effectively. As such, the original completion date of March 2016 had to be extended and the remaining cost were unjustifiable. Hence, the cost of the remaining 6 buildings will now be paid out of the Defence Force’s Capital Development Budget over the next two budget cycles.
Mr. Speaker, other problems surrounding the project included, the scope of work at Coral Harbour had changed. The Government agreed upon an option for the reclamation areas in the vicinity of the old hotel that increased the RBDF property foot print by some 2 ½ acres. This change in scope required the import of additional rocks from the Netherlands, which required additional time and money. Simultaneously, the then Government had to decide a way forward for the transplanting of a number of mature cluster of brain corals in the channel, which also impacted the completion deadline.
Second, Mr. Speaker, the scope of the work also changed on the island of Inagua. Following a town meeting with the community leaders, the then Government decided to extend the foot print of the harbour at Inagua. This change in scope required the ordering of additional construction materials from the Netherlands, which resulted in an extension of time for the contractor. Further, with the advent of Hurricane Joaquin, extensive damages had been sustained in the southern quay wall at Inagua, which resulted in a total re-construction of the quay wall at this location as opposed to a refurbishment of the same structure, as mandated in the contract document, which also resulted in delays for the Sandy Bottom Project.
Third, Mr. Speaker, on Ragged Island, the then Government sought to increase the project scope. Under the original scope, the contractor was mandated to dredge the channel entrance and install the channel markers. However, due to the incomplete state of the existing Gunpoint Harbour, the then Government extended the scope which included the construction of the break water system. This involved the importation of more rocks from Norway via bulk carrier, the completion of the northern quay wall with the furnishing installed, and the construction of the southern quay wall with Roll On/Roll Off and slipway system, and the installation of all furnishing and drainage system.
Mr. Speaker, such lack of proper planning will not occur under my administration for we are stewards of effective and efficient governance. Since coming to Office, my Ministry has sought to ensure that the finger jetty for the 150 ton travel lift was completed at Coral Harbour. Also, the remaining works at Ragged Island and Matthew Town, Inagua have been completed. It is anticipated that the pedestals for ship-to-shore power would be energized and the operation building would be completed in short order. The total amount paid to Damen Van Oord since May 2017 is $7,494,279.72.
Electrification of Pedestals at the Coral Harbour Base
Mr. Speaker, consequently, good governance is easier said than done. It would seem to a logical person that if one is going to purchase new craft then the electrification of pedestals necessary for the supplying of electrical power to ships when moored alongside the Coral Harbour Base would be priority. Not the case under the previous administration as they failed to see the long-term necessary logistics. Absolutely no consideration was given for the electrification of pedestals and the human capital necessary to maintain the new developments. Any new developments has both a financial and human capital costs and an inefficiency in capacity or capability has exponential costs if it’s an after-thought.
Mr. Speaker, this component was not a part of the Sandy Bottom scope and therefore it became the Government’s responsibility. However, the contractor (Van Oord Bahamas Ltd) installed all the infrastructure mandated under their contract involving the electrical system at the Coral Harbour Base. The decision to procure a contractor for the electrification of the pedestals is the nominated approach, as cited in the Van Oord Contract. This approach allowed the client to exercise the right to forward names of potential bidders to the Project Executions Unit to start the tendering process.
More recently, an invitation was submitted to the existing electrical contractors, along with additional contractors with a revised scope for their consideration. The contractors under consideration are all on the list of the Ministry of Works approved contractors. Again, Mr. Speaker it is my Government’s intent to ensure we have qualified contracts with insurance so as to avoid a fiasco as was the case with BAMSI which occurred under the former Government.
Mr. Speaker, to ensure an equal and equitable process, it was further mandated that such proposals be submitted to the Commodore of the RBDF office marked confidential for onward transmission to the Tenders Board for approval by the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of National Security and the Cabinet. Proposals for the electrification of the pedestals were expected to be submitted no later than the 2nd March, 2018. The completion of the electrification project will also entail a discussion with the Bahamas Power and Light on electrical power requirements, in order to obtain cost; the procurement of an electrical contractor through the tenders’ process; and the procurement of a contractor to construct plinth houses on both the south and north sides of the base through the tender process. The electrification project is expected to take approximately 4 to 6 months to complete, upon approval of funding.
Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, until the completions of all necessary works, patrol craft are required to constantly run their own generators when moored alongside the Coral Harbour Base. Patrol craft generators consume approximately 75 gallons of diesel per day at a cost of $300 per day or approximately $9,000 per 30-day month. Without electrical shore power, ships’ generators are required to operate 24 hours per day for the operation of equipment aboard a ship. This accelerates wear and tear on the generators and increases maintenance requirements and downtime for servicing and repairs.
To date, 4 generators have had to be purchased at a cost of $152,268 as replacements aboard the 42 meter patrol craft due to constant running. The problem will also persist for ships deployed to the southern Bahamas. Consequently, power supply will not be available in Inagaua and Ragged Island until after the proposed plans for the expansion and construction of the bases have been approved. As a result, ships deployed are required to operate their generators 24 hours per day. The electrification of pedestals along quay walls and jetties would, therefore, allow generators to be shut down, thereby extending their service life and minimizing downtime for patrol craft.
Mr. Speaker, it is my intent to examine the most cost-effective and expeditious measures to ensure we maintain our vessels. Also, it is imperative that we devise effective means to prepare Bahamians to maintain our vessels. Currently, Damen wants a 3 to 5 year contract to maintain our vessels while we build capacity to do the same. As such, it is once again lends credence on the need for a manpower audit which will ensure we have adequate personnel to meet the needs of the RBDF.
Patrol Craft Status
Mr. Speaker, with reference to patrol crafts, of the 9 patrol crafts, purchased from DAMEN Shipbuilders, 2 are currently non-operational. Damen engineers and technicians will complete repairs to the hull of HMBS Madeira by early March. Madeira’s hull was damaged by a Dominican poaching vessel after a failed attempt to escape. Two Dominican vessels were captured during the incident in November 2016. Repairs will be carried out by DAMEN technicians alongside the Coral Harbour Base to ensure the ship’s warranty is maintained. All occupants have since served their court sentences at the Department of Correctional Services. The second vessel, HMBS Arthur Dion Hanna, is expected to commence repairs later this year upon acquisition of parts as a result of a grounding in November of last year.
Mr. Speaker, with regard to The Bahamas Class Vessels, HMBS Nassau completed its refit in April of last year but had experienced an engine failure on two separate occasions, involving ingress of water. The second occasion occurred after a new engine was shipped under warranty and installed. However, investigations conducted by Caterpillar representatives suggests a design flaw within the exhaust system that was installed by the original shipbuilders in the United States. The matter is being reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office for a final determination with respect to culpability for the damage and the redesign the exhaust system. HMBS Bahamas has sustained extensive damage after a fire had broken out aboard that vessel during its initial refit at Bradford Marine in Freeport, Grand Bahama in October 2016. The vessel was subsequently shipped to DAMEN for completion or refit which was returned May 2017.
Operations Command Centre
Mr. Speaker, with reference to the construction of the Operations Command Centre, it is expected to be completed in March and fully operational during the last quarter of the 2017-2018 fiscal period. The Operations Command Centre will enhance the Defence Force’s capacity to command and control all of its air, land and sea operations. Designed under the Sandy Bottom Project, this three-story building will become the conduit for command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and interdiction operations throughout The Bahamas.
It will also be outfitted with the latest state-of-the-art technologies for ship and aircraft detection, tracking and interception operations. Feeds from the Coastal Radar System, the Force’s Over the Horizon Tactical Tracking System, the Maritime Automated Identification System, the Motortrbo Radio Trunking System, and the Drone and Coastal Security programmes will all be channeled through this state of the art Command Centre to create a common operating picture that will inform command decisions and better synchronize operations.
Mr. Speaker, the tight security Command Centre will be staffed by representatives from the Defence Force’s sea-going squadron, air-wing, commando squadron, and harbour patrol unit to maximize efficiency of its operations. Additionally, representatives from Police, Customs and Immigration will also be accommodated during drone and coastal security operations.
Detection & Tracking Devices
Mr. Speaker, with reference to detection and tracking devices, a Coastal Radar System was purchased. It will consist of a series of radars installed at strategic locations throughout our chain of islands to enhance the detection, tracking and interdiction capabilities of the Defence Force over the next five years. Funded by the U.S. State Department, the first coastal radar is in the process of being installed in Inagua and will be completed during the first quarter of this year. The radar comes equipped with Forward Looking Infra-Red Cameras, as well as, a Global Maritime Distress and Safety System for Search and Rescue Operations, and an Automatic Identification System for identifying and tracking commercial vessels plying the area.
Additionally, provisions will be made over the next 12 months to install the Over The Horizon Tactical Tracking System aboard the Defence Force’s ships and aircrafts for tracking and suspect vessels. Also, the base, patrol craft and aircraft will be outfitted with a Motorola Motortrbo Radio Trunking System for enhanced communications between air, land and sea assets of the Defence Force and its partner agencies. Both tracking and communication systems are being funded by the US Government.
Mr. Speaker, in an effort to ensure that all law enforcement in The Bahamas operate on one continuum, my Government has tasked the Defence Force with the development, implementation and coordination of a multi-law enforcement agency, the Unmanned Aerial System Programme to aid the various security forces with detection, tracking and interdiction of illicit smugglers and poachers on land and at sea. A Request for Proposal is being prepared to determine the best course of action for this programme, which is intended to be implemented during the next fiscal period.
Mr. Speaker, it is the intent of our Government to make the Defence Force one of the most efficient and effective military agencies in the region. Preparations are being made by the Defence Force and the US Southern Command to host the Annual Regional Military Tradewinds Exercise here in The Bahamas in June of this year. Sponsored by the United States Government and US Military Southern Command, the two-weeks long military exercise will conduct a major counter-terrorism training event involving over 400 persons from 20 nations with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force as the lead exercise agency commanding various units of militaries from around the Caribbean and the world. The Force’s involved platoons and personnel are expected to extract valuable real-world experiences from such an event. Mr. Speaker, this will ultimately aid in the agency being fully prepared to address any national security threats.
Mr. Speaker, in retrospect, and despite challenges past and present, the Defence Force continues to make positive strides towards the development and implementation of a strategic plan that will promote the security, peace and prosperity of The Bahamas over the next few years. It is an agenda that aims to decentralize its operations, invest in the development of its human capital, mobilize its operations locally and overseas, regenerate the potential of Bahamian youth through its Rangers National Youth Service Programme, and work towards conserving the natural environment of The Bahamas.
Mr. Speaker, my Ministry and, by extension, the Government and people of The Bahamas are very proud of the outstanding accomplishments of members of the Defence Force during the past year and the future goals they endeavor to achieve. We are also very appreciative of the multiple roles the Officers and Marines are called upon to perform; and their ability to adapt and adjust to an ever-changing world of criminality that presents numerous challenges throughout the length and breadth of an archipelago with vast maritime borders. To this end, the members of the Defence Force can rest assured of the commitment of the Government of The Bahamas to their success, development and well-being. We, therefore, encourage the men and women of the Defence Force to continue to perform at their very best as, together, we Guard Our Heritage.