Franklyn Wilson understood the signs

WE SUGGEST that PLP candidates who are trying to hoodwink Bahamian voters into believing that the downturn in the Bahamas' economy is either due to -- or has been made worse by -- the Ingraham government's "stopping, reviewing and cancelling PLP projects" should have a serious discussion with PLP businessman Franklyn Wilson.

Mr Wilson, described in a 2004 diplomatic cable to Washington as a member of then prime minister Perry Christie's "kitchen cabinet:, is said to be one of the PLP's principal financiers and fundraisers.

Mr Wilson, chairman of Eleuthera Properties Ltd, announced on July 21, 2008 that the Cotton Bay resort project with some $35 million already invested in its construction, had been placed in a "holding pattern". He explained that it was "unwise" at that time to build and open a Bahamas-based hotel "due to the global economic malaise".

Mr Wilson placed no blame on the Ingraham government, nor did he accuse it of making the situation worse by delaying investment projects. In fact, several investments either slowed or dried up at the same time because they too were caught off guard by the "global economic malaise". As far as we recall, Albany in Nassau was the only project that went ahead because its principals had already secured its funding -- unlike many of the other projects that remained on the table because their investors could no longer get financing. Banks had stopped easy lending.

In fact -- with the housing boom in the US at its height around 2004, and subprime lenders taking unconscionable risks -- air started oozing from the housing bubble early in 2007. The credit crisis came to a head in August, 2007 -- three months after the Ingraham government started its five-year term in office. With the failure of two Bear Stearns hedge funds, Lehman Brothers' stock fell sharply. The markets looked bleak. Lehman was failing fast. By June 9, Lehman announced a second-quarter loss of $2.8 billion. Mr Wilson saw the handwriting on the wall. On July 21, he made the prudent decision to slow down and hold back.

He knew that with such a serious credit crunch Americans would be losing their homes, their jobs, their security -- there would be few who could afford vacations. The Bahamas, a tourist resort almost completely dependent on the American market for visitors, was in trouble. And businessman Franklyn Wilson knew it. It didn't take a genius to arrive at this conclusion -- only a little bit of native common sense.

By Monday, September 15, 2008, Lehman declared bankruptcy sending global financial markets into a tailspin.

Prime Minister Ingraham could do nothing to stop the flood tide. However, for his five-year term in office, he has been like the little Dutch boy, who seeing the water trickling through the crack in the dyke and knowing that his city-- below sea level - would be wiped out if the dyke were breached, stuck his finger in the crack to hold back the flood tides until help could arrive.

This has been the story of Mr Ingraham's term in office for which he deserves full credit. Unlike most industrial countries, whose leaders belt tightened by reducing the civil service, the Bahamian civil service, although in need of a good trim, was kept intact. One only has to look around to see the accomplishments of the Ingraham government in an economically hostile climate. We went to the airport last week -- the first time since construction started -- and were amazed that despite the financial restraints what has been accomplished.

Like the boy at the dyke -- despite the financial turmoil all around -- Mr Ingraham has been able to hold the fort. And yet his detractors would like the ill-informed voter to believe that he is the cause of the hard times.

We know politics is a rough game, but lying to the uninformed masses is unforgivable.

In his statement to The Tribune -- a month after it was obvious that Lehman was headed for collapse --Mr Wilson said that it would be "unwise to open a hotel in the Bahamas in this climate". He said his group was not going to open the Cotton Bay hotel before Thanksgiving 2009. Since then, two Thanksgivings have come and gone. As we head for a third, there is still no sign of the hotel opening.

In fact, in a call to Eleuthera yesterday, we were told that no hotels on the island are open, only a clubhouse, and a sales team trying to sell lots to encourage the building of vacation homes. A golf course is in progress, but "far from finished and we understand that they need cash", we were told. There was also a complaint that local businessmen still have outstanding bills awaiting payment.

This is the story of Eleuthera, once a major vacation destination and holiday home for the rich and famous -- now held hostage by the world's credit crunch.


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