LAST year, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell announced that he was taking a year off to create relationships that would assist in the development of business and investment for the Bahamas. His first target was the Middle East — specifically the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
He was looking for development financing from high net worth individuals and governments, he had said at the time.
On his return, he reported that The Bahamas had offered officials in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar sound investments for their sovereign wealth funds, co-operation in tourism and investments in private sector projects, including attracting high net worth individuals to bank in the Bahamas.
He reported that he had “settled diplomatic relations with Qatar”. An Ambassador from that country came to The Bahamas and did extensive tours in economic areas of interest in Grand Bahama, he said. There was a similar story with the United Arab Emirates whose Minister of Foreign Affairs, he said, chose The Bahamas as the only Caricom country which he visited on a hemispheric-wide tour last year.
“This is likely to mean,” said Mr Mitchell, “the settling of the following agreements with these two countries: an investment protection act, an air services agreement, a visa waiver agreement, a general co-operation agreement and double taxation agreement. There is a lot of work to be done if this is to be settled before the General Assembly at the United Nations in September. Our presence in consular or diplomatic form may be necessary to support what we plan to do.”
Obviously another Bahamas embassy — another unafforadable expense for the Bahamas — was anticipated. We see that an embassy has already been established at 22 Khalid bin Al Waleed Street in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. It would be of interest to know the cost of this embassy to the Public Treasury, how many staff members are posted there and what investment – if any – it has brought to The Bahamas to date.
We suggest that the Public Accounts Committee undertake an in-depth study of all of our embassies and consular offices to discover the cost of each one of them. When one considers the size of The Bahamas and the financial straits that the country is now in, some thought should be given as to whether our interests could be represented just as well by a friendly embassy in a foreign country. That’s the way it was done in the “old days” when Bahamians weren’t so arrogant as to go around puffing out their chests and pretending to be big shots when they hadn’t a bean in their pockets – which unfortunately, as far as the missing “bean” goes, is still the situation today.
“I believe,” said Mr Mitchell on his return last year, “that with that presentation and those made in the United Arab Emirates, and with careful nurturing of the relationship, there will be tangible benefits for the Bahamas. We are dealing with two countries with impeccable reputations as friends of the West. We are doing this in concert with our traditional trading partners who have indicated no opposition to what we are doing and plan to do. Our Caricom neighbours are also involved in similar outreaches.”
Although Qatar is officially backing the Western coalition in its fight against radical Islam, Washington has claimed that there have been “other signs that Qatar has been pursuing a different agenda”.
It has been reported that the most damaging allegations of Qatari support for radical Islamic groups have been made in Washington, where “Treasury officials have publicly ‘outed’ a number of prominent Qataris whom they accuse of channelling funds to Isil militants – the very militants that the Qatari regime is supposed to be fighting”.
Like the Ebola virus that we want to remain in Africa, we hope that in his travels, Mr Mitchell does not unwittingly introduce a secret Isil (ISIS) sympathiser to our country.
The Middle East is on fire — pray that the flames don’t touch our shores or that a potential investor from the Middle East is not “outed” by Washington’s Treasury department as an investor in the Bahamas. What a scandal that would be.
For the sake of The Bahamas we would advise Mr Mitchell not to wander too far into unknown lands among peoples whose traditions, he, nor the Bahamian people, understand.