THE UNFORTUNATE detention of Swiss banker Emmanuel Fiaux, executive director of UBS Bank on East Bay Street, reveals how many Bahamians are ignorant of what side their bread is buttered on. They want jobs, they want the luxury of living beyond their means, they want their country to survive its present economic crisis, and yet they nurse their innate prejudice against the white foreigner who is the banker, the investor, the financier – the creator of much of the wealth without which this country could not rise above a fishing village.
To read the comments of many Bahamians on The Tribune’s website – Tribune242.com – it is immediately assumed that anyone who supports Mr Fiaux‘s right to courtesy in the Bahamas is only doing so because he is a white foreigner, who heads a bank and drives a luxury car.
The Tribune supports Mr Fiaux’s position not for any of these reasons. Our position is that if he were guilty of any offence, then despite the fact that he represents one of the world’s largest global financial companies, headquartered in Switzerland, he should be charged and prosecuted. But we can find no law that he has broken, nor any reason for his detention. If, as has been reported, he was “irritated” at the way he was questioned, he had every reason to be.
However, Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell, who was off island when the unfortunate incident took place, said he was “satisfied” that the officers did nothing improper in arresting Mr Fiaux and taking him to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, presumably for further interrogation. Mr Mitchell said that as far as he knew, his officers followed the letter of the law. Of course, if this is the type of law that we now have in the Bahamas we suggest that – in view of these hard economic times — Mr Mitchell should save taxpayers the cost of him travelling the world to try to attract investors. No investor is coming to a country that is so anti-foreign.
Since when has it been the law for a person to carry his identification papers on him? We are certain that if we were stopped on any day of the week the only identification we would have would be our name. Because the interrogating officer, who ordered Mr Fiaux’s car to the side of the road, recognised neither his name, nor that of his bank was not Mr Fiaux’s fault – nor was it any reason for the assumption that he was an illegal immigrant qualifying for a stint in the Detention Centre.
And even though he had produced a driver’s licence — we do not know if he did or not — the licence would not have indicated his status in the Bahamas. Although it is stated on the licence that it ”must be in the possession of the holder at all times when driving a vehicle in a public place”, a traffic offender is given the courtesy of 24 hours in which to produce the licence. As far as is known, Mr Fiaux was not even extended that courtesy to produce “his papers”.
Financial Services Minister Ryan Pinder was criticised for taking the first opportunity to go to the bank and apologise in person to Mr Fiaux on behalf of the Bahamas. In this matter, Mr Pinder showed good sense. He knows that this incident certainly makes his attempts to attract investment to the Bahamas more difficult. And although Prime Minister Christie has declined to be drawn into the diametrically opposing views of his Ministers of Immigration and Financial Services, he had sense enough to quickly meet with the Association of International Banks & Trust Companies and the Bahamas Financial Services Board in an attempt to calm much troubled financial waters. At this meeting, Deputy Prime Minister “Brave” Davis stood in for Mr Mitchell who was off island. We wonder if Mr Davis has enlightened Mr Mitchell on the grave problem created by his department?
Seems there is already a rift here with Mr Mitchell supporting his officers and the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister/Immigration Minister and Financial Services Minister apologising for them. The financial meeting was adjourned with government having agreed to “discuss the various issues around immigration and labour in light of the recent immigration roundups that have been widely reported”.
Brian Moree, QC, senior partner at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, said the Immigration Department’s treatment of Mr Fiaux was “bound to cause” the Swiss bank, a financial services giant, to review its presence in the Bahamas.
Expressing hope that UBS would not overreact, Mr Moree agreed the incident was “counterproductive” and “very damaging” to the Bahamas’ efforts to promote itself as an international financial and business centre.
It would be wise for those Bahamians who do not seem to understand the need for foreign staff with skills that they do not have, and the need for foreign banks — especially those that are not commercial banks — to have their own staff, to decide what future they want for their country and what standard of living they want for themselves.
It would be well to ponder the wisdom of the late Ariel Sharon, who spent his life fighting for the dream of a Greater Israel, only to have to accept in his old age that “if we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all”.
Bahamians will now have to make their own decision as to whether they can maintain the standard of living to which they aspire by rejecting such investors as UBS, or whether they are willing to compromise. They cannot have it both ways. Nor can this country that should be noted as a friendly investment centre absorb another Emmanuel Fiaux-Detention Centre episode.