THE BAHAMAS has “all the ingredients to become a world class international financial centre”, but needs to get its message out.
Geoff Barnes, Baker Tilly accounting firm’s global head, in an interview with Tribune Business Editor Neil Hartnell said that the last thing Bahamians should want is “for the Bahamas to be the best kept secret in the world.”
“That would be the take away for me. With all the stuff going on here, it strikes me that there are great opportunities here,” said Mr Barnes.
“It seems to me that you’ve got all the ingredients here for the creation of a world class international financial centre,” he added.
This interview was one of the featured articles in Tribune Business on Wednesday. Unfortunately on the front page of the same edition of The Tribune, the world was discovering another side of the Bahamas, the ugly side — the side that will scuttle any hope of this country ever attracting the much needed investment that will help create some of the 10,000 jobs promised by the PLP when campaigning to become the government of the Bahamas in 2012. It was none other than Deputy Prime Minister “Brave” Davis— then in Opposition— who told a PLP rally in Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera, shortly before the May, 2012 general election: “Vote PLP. Vote for a PLP government that is ready to create 10,000 immediate new jobs for young Bahamians.”
Now, almost two years later a disappointed electorate is yet to see any of those jobs on the horizon. However, what has happened is, desperately in need of finances to pay government’s bills, the Prime Minister has announced the introduction of a VAT tax, described by the Baker Tilly’s global head as “the most complex of taxes”.
The business community has objected, resulting in future investment being put on hold, which, of course, results in no local job creation – thus crushing all hope of any Bahamian applying for one of those now non-existent 10,000 jobs.
It was no wonder that government’s top brass was rushing around like scalded chickens yesterday to pay their respects and deep apologies to the executive director of UBS bank, who in an Immigration crackdown, unable to show documentation that he was a legal resident of the Bahamas, was bundled into a government vehicle and taken to the much reviled Carmichael Road Detention Centre. It was this same detention centre that recently attracted international attention when some of its guards were accused of beating Cuban inmates. That investigation was started, but the trial is now on hold behind closed doors.
It was here that Emmanuel Flaux, executive director of UBS Bank on East Bay Street, was deposited on Tuesday when in a police-immigration road check his car was stopped. There had been no public warning to expect random inspections that would require identification papers, and so Mr Flaux, like most of us, had no identification with him.
It is the practice in traffic offences that a driver is given at least 24 hours by a police officer to produce his driver’s licence to the nearest police station. But not so in the case of Mr Flaux. It is reported that he was “roughed up”, thrown into a government vehicle, driven to Carmichael Road, and dumped in the Detention Centre.
It was also reported that he was “noticeably irritated”. We don’t know what happened, but there might have been an exchange of words.
We know of a similar case that involved a Bahamian, whose family goes back for many generations in this country – probably further back than the officer who ordered his car to the side of the road. He was told that he was stopped because he didn’t look Bahamian — as if anyone knows what a real Bahamian looks like. He was asked for proof. This so infuriated him, that the ugliest, angriest words escaped his lips. “With a mouth like that,” the officer is reported to have remarked, “he must be Bahamian, you better let him go.”
However, the Flaux arrest has really stirred up a hornet’s nest. As we were writing this article last night there had already been 133 reader comments to the article on The Tribune’s web site — Tribune242.com.
Yesterday, executives of the Association of International Banks & Trust Companies (AIBT) and the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) met with Prime Minister Christie, Deputy Prime Minister and Acting Minister of Immigration, Philip Davis (this means that Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell is again off island), and Financial Services Minister Ryan Pinder “to discuss various issues around immigration and labour in light of the recent immigration roundups that have been widely reported”.
AIBT and BFSB Executives said that “while the industry understands and respects the Government’s ongoing efforts to enforce the country’s immigration laws, the industry believes that it is critically important that a more calibrated and sensitive approach be taken, so as to avoid unnecessary detentions of individuals duly authorised to live and work in The Bahamas. It was further stressed that we must work together to ensure that no harm is inflicted on The Bahamas’ reputation as a welcoming nation.”
In a release, the executives said that the Prime Minister and his ministers were “receptive of the concerns expressed and reinforced their understanding of the value of the financial services industry to the country”.
“AIBT and BFSB will continue our ongoing dialogue with Government and seek to build upon our long-standing constructive working relationships,” the release said. “To this end, the Prime Minister has invited the executives to a follow up meeting with the respective portfolio Ministers. We look forward to engaging the Government in a broader dialogue around issues of labour, immigration and economic development. All stakeholders understand fully that access to financial and human capital are vital, and we must explore meaningful reform to existing regulations and procedures which will encourage the long-term growth and development of the nation.”
This is most urgent. However, if like South Africa, we are now to have “pass laws” we suggest that government make a public announcement to avoid a nasty confrontation with true-blooded Bahamians who certainly will not take kindly to having to explain their existence in their own country.