By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE $2.1bn Chinese fishing proposal for Andros, which placed the former Progressive Liberal Party government in the line of fierce criticism, took centre stage during the United States ambassador to the Bahamas’ confirmation hearing with nominee for the post Doug Manchester saying more US investment is needed in this country.
During the United States Committee on Foreign Relations hearing, Chairman Marco Rubio, Republican Florida senator, pointed to the issue as “without doubt concerning” because of Florida’s proximity to The Bahamas.
Mr Rubio said if The Bahamas ever leased its waters to the Chinese it would negatively impact US-Bahamas relations.
He asked whether Mr Manchester had given any thought to how he would approach this situation should it arise if he is successful in securing the diplomatic post.
Mr Manchester said: “I really do believe that the presence of Homeland Security and our Coast Guard off the shore and all of what we’re doing to protect The Bahamas really needs to be continually emphasised to the Bahamian government, even though China has in fact made a significant economic contribution to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas in the form of hotels (and) resorts.
“We just need to encourage more business from America to be there.”
He also said: “I already had talks with people in regards to the University of The Bahama(s) and I think there is no reason why we can’t have a medical school there.
“I believe with a medical school down there we could in fact encourage some medical instrumentation to be manufactured there and to do everything we possibly can to allow for America’s interests to be appreciated and as a result of being appreciated, certainly protecting our rights with regards to fishing and other security issues.”
Last November, the PLP was heavily criticised after reports the former Christie administration gave the green light to its embassy in Beijing to pursue talks of a fishing and agriculture partnership with China.
In response, then Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries V Alfred Gray at the time said there was no way, under any circumstance, that the government would give foreigners, no matter who they are, a licence to fish in The Bahamas. However he also admitted to giving The Bahamas ambassador to China permission to have the discussions.
The controversial proposal reportedly projected a $2.1bn injection into the local economy over ten years through an equal partnership between The Bahamas and the People’s Republic of China.
According to earlier reports, the proposed partnership further entailed the incorporation of 100 companies, with the agricultural products and seafood to be used for local consumption, and exported to China and the United States for sale. The proposal also reportedly included the option to lease 10,000 acres of Crown land in Andros.
During the height of the controversy, Mr Gray said he “never spoke with any Chinese” and simply gave the Bahamian Ambassador to China Paul “Andy” Gomez permission to discuss “investments”.
Despite the denials from the government, the report prompted Free National Movement Leader Dr Hubert Minnis, who was then in opposition, to criticise then Prime Minister Perry Christie for his “deafening” silence on the matter.
It was not the first time he raised concern on this issue. Last July, while speaking at a rally at Christie Park, Dr Minnis said the government was negotiating with the Chinese for 10,500 acres of land in Andros.
Dr Minnis also alleged the proposal was part of the “secret deal” Mr Christie negotiated with the Chinese to remobilise the Baha Mar resort.
In November 2016, Mr Christie criticised Dr Minnis for “emotionally exploiting” Bahamians’ anxiety over Chinese investment.
In Parliament, Mr Christie revealed that the previous FNM administration held talks with the People’s Republic of China and private Chinese companies through the Bahamas State Investment Administration Bureau for projects and co-operatives, which included Crown land acquisition.
However, he stopped short of tabling the documents to support this, and instead invited Dr Minnis to review the files so that he could be informed without “having to make it into some ridicule of a nation”.
As for the $2.1bn Chinese proposal, Mr Christie also said last November that if such a proposal had ever come before his Cabinet, it would have been “rejected outright”.