About the Bahamas

The 100,000-sq-mile archipelago of The Bahamas begins just 50 miles (80 km) off Florida's east coast at the island of Bimini and stretches more than 500 miles (1,295 km) southeasterly in a chain comprised of some 700 islands and cays in the Atlantic. The capital, Nassau, is on New Providence, while Freeport/Lucaya on Grand Bahama is the second largest city. Total land mass is estimated at 5,340 square miles (13,940 sq km).

Time zone
Eastern Time, same as New York, Boston, Miami and Toronto. At 12 noon in Nassau, it is 5pm in London, 6pm in Geneva, 9:30pm in New Delhi, 1am in Beijing and 2am in Tokyo.

History
Columbus became The Bahamas' first celebrity visitor when he "discovered" the New World, landing on San Salvador in 1492. Over the next three centuries, these islands were key way points for explorers and adventurers along routes linking the Old World with the New. Through the late 17th century, the islands became a hotbed of pirates and privateers who preyed on merchant ships. The Bahamas became an official crown colony of Great Britain in 1717. Slavery was fully abolished in 1838. Limited self-rule was granted in 1964, and The Bahamas became an independent, self-governing nation on July 10, 1973 - celebrated today as Bahamian Independence Day.

Government
The Bahamas has enjoyed political stability since independence, and its popularly elected parliament traces its heritage to the House of Assembly which first met in 1729. The political system is based on the British Westminster model with a Governor General, a Prime Minister and a Parliament. The two primary political parties are the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), elected for a five-year term in 2002, and the Free National Movement (FNM), which governed between 1992 and 2002, replacing the PLP which held power between 1967 and 1992. Queen Elizabeth II is the nation's sovereign and Perry Christie is Prime Minister, presiding over a 40-member Parliament (29 PLP; 7 FNM; 4 independent).

Judicial System
The Bahamas legal system is based upon the English common law. The judiciary of The Bahamas is made up of a series of courts. The Magistrates Court is the small claims court. The Supreme Court, which is equivalent to the High Court, is presided over by the Chief Justice and ten other justices and has unlimited jurisdiction. Appeals from the Supreme Court are to The Bahamas Court of Appeal. Appeals from the Bahamas Court of Appeal are to the Privy Council in London, England.

The Bahamas Bar is made up of over 600 lawyers, many of whom have been trained in the United Kingdom and other parts of The Commonwealth. Lawyers are members of The Bahamas Bar Association and are governed by a Code of Professional Conduct.

Economy
The Bahamas, while actually located in the Atlantic, is a member state in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, although not its common market. About 50 per cent of the country's gross domestic product is related to tourism, which employs over half the workforce. New investments in hotels, resorts and developments range from US$1-billion mega-projects on Paradise Island and Cable Beach, to distinctive communities in the Out Islands. As an attractive locale for offshore banking and investment, the next biggest economic driver is the financial services industry, which accounts for 15 per cent of GDP. The construction industry drives 10 per cent of GDP. Agriculture and fisheries comprise less than five per cent of the economy. Mineral resources are salt and aragonite.

Population
Estimated at about 325,000 in 2005, with annual growth of 1.8 per cent. Nearly two-thirds of the population resides in Nassau. About three in 10 people are under 15, while 62.7 per cent are 15-59 and 7.9 per cent 60 and older.

Financial services The Bahamas has carved out a specialized niche as a leading offshore financial centre, largely favoured by Canadian, Swiss and US institutions. The Bahamas counts more than 250 licensed banks and trust companies. Some 60 institutions are licensed to provide fund administration and 90 are licensed to provide broker-dealer and/or investment advisory services. One of the greatest appeals of using The Bahamas as a domicile for corporate and financial services is its tax-free status; no taxes are levied on personal income, capital gains, corporate earnings, sales, inheritance or dividends. (Courtesy of Bahamas Investor, except paragraphs on the Judiciary and Taxation)

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