No worse time for job layoffs

EDITOR, The Tribune.

Just when you think the economy in Grand Bahama couldn't get any worse, it has.

Like many Grand Bahamians, I was very disappointed to hear the heartrending news that Hutchison Whampoa had terminated 70 of its employees at the Freeport Harbour Company, the Grand Bahama Airport Company and the Freeport Container Port in the last week of December.

That's another 70 Grand Bahamians who have been added to the already crowded unemployment line.

The unemployment rate in Grand Bahama has to be in excess of 20 per cent. The question that everybody might be asking is this: Where will these terminated persons find work in Grand Bahama?

Many of these persons were the breadwinners in their households. Doubtless, several of them might opt to leave Grand Bahama for New Providence in search of work.

This recession is causing many families in the nation's second city to split up.

These Grand Bahamians are left with few alternatives. It's either that or poverty and destitution.

Further, these terminations will add more burden on the government. Thousands of struggling Bahamians are already living off various forms of government welfare.

In the December 30 edition of The Nassau Guardian, Julian Russell, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) candidate for the Central Grand Bahama Constituency, stated that many companies in Grand Bahama have closed their doors under the Free National Movement (FNM) government in the last few years.

According to Russell, these companies include: Fenestration Glass Company, the Home Centre, Freeport Concrete, the Yamaha Dealership, the Bowling Alley, Stone Crab Restaurant, three restaurants operated by Rick Hayward, the Native Hut Restaurant, Papa John's Pizza, a McDonald's franchise, and countless other stores.

It is interesting to note that none of the PLP candidates (Dr Michael Darville, Julian Russell and Gregory Moss) said anything about the closure of the Royal Oasis Resort and Casino in September of 2004 under the Christie administration.

Approximately 1300 Grand Bahamians lost their jobs. This island continues to reel as a result of the closure of that resort.

In fact, I personally know a few families who were employed at that resort. These former employees of Royal Oasis have yet to recover financially.

Russell further stated that a PLP government intends to aggressively implement measures which will put this island's future back on a path to success.

If the PLP wins the 2012 General Elections, it would be very interesting to see how they will restore Grand Bahama's ailing economy in a global financial crisis, the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

What measures, Mr Russell? Perhaps the PLP plans to pull a rabbit out of its hat.

As I read the article about the PLP's response to the lay-offs on the front page of The Nassau Guardian, I began to wonder if Russell was blaming the Ingraham administration for the terminations at Hutchison Whampoa.

He did accuse the FNM government of having a "lackadaisical" attitude towards the nation's second largest economic sector.

I agree that the FNM government should have been more aggressive in Grand Bahama.

That being said, with so many American and foreign investors apprehensive about investing their hard-earned dollars in the United States, Europe and Asia, it is very difficult to envisage many of them investing in The Bahamas at this juncture.

I say this because Russell was reported as saying in The Nassau Guardian that "we must urgently take the initiative in crafting a successful tourism formula and attracting more investments to the island (Grand Bahama)".

I don't believe that the FNM is disputing this. All are agreed that Grand Bahama desperately needs foreign capital investments in order to rebound to financial health.

Russell is not the first politician to say this, however. In fact, I think the Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing has said the same thing on numerous occasions.

With respect to Russell's statement about crafting a successful tourism formula. Why didn't the PLP craft one while in office between 2002 and 2007?

It seems as if everyone has ideas on how to fix the economy in Grand Bahama while in the opposition, but when in government, they are all of a sudden bereft of those grandiose ideas.

According to the December 29 edition of The Freeport News, the reason why Hutchison Whampoa decided to lay off the 70 workers is because its biggest client, the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), has cut some of its stops here.

The terminations had nothing to do with the Ingraham administration. I have been to the Freeport Container Port just recently and I can tell you that business is very slow there.

In addition to declining business at the Container Port, the Grand Lucayan Resort, which is Grand Bahama's largest resort, continues to struggle financially.

About three months ago, 37 workers who were members of the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) were abruptly terminated at that resort for allegedly engaging in a protest in the front of tourism stakeholders from the United States.

The Grand Lucayan Resort is also owned by Hutchison Whampoa. In light of the decision by MSC to cut stops at the Container Port, it is very difficult to see what the Ingraham administration could have done to make MSC executives change their minds. These people are really only concerned about their bottom line.

All the same, the terminations couldn't have come at a more inopportune time, especially for the FNM government.

Even Zhivargo Laing has admitted to The Nassau Guardian that Grand Bahama's economy is still very challenged.

Clearly, this unfortunate incident has troubled the FNM Parliamentarians on the island. Many of their constituents are struggling to make ends meet.

While I appreciate the fact that the PLP, as the Official Opposition, has a duty to keep the government's feet to the fire, so to speak; I believe, though, that the party was wrong to use the terminations to gain political mileage.

Fingerpointing won't put those 70-plus workers back on the job or put bread on their tables. Sometimes I wonder if the PLP is elated that Grand Bahama and the rest of the country is doing bad financially so that they can get back into power.

These politicians need to stop rowing and try to fix the economy.

Moreover, at some point the Opposition will have to admit to the Bahamian people that the global recession is adversely affecting our economy.

Blaming the Ingraham administration for our economic woes is wrong. Rather than putting the Ingraham administration in their political crosshairs, members of the opposition should lobby the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and Hutchison Whampoa instead to lower their exorbitant fees at the airport and the harbour.

Travelling to Grand Bahama is just too costly for many low- and middle-income American families.

If the two companies are unwilling to lower their exorbitant fees, then the best solution for either an FNM or PLP government would be to build an airport and a harbour in either West End or East End, Grand Bahama. This could help the ailing tourism sector. But to use the plight of the 70 displaced workers for political mileage is not the thing to do.

As Zhivargo Laing said in the December 31 edition of The Freeport News regarding the three PLP candidates who took the FNM government to task over the terminations, at some point one must decide if it is more important to be human than political. I couldn't have said it better.



Grand Bahama

January 2, 2012.


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