“THE PLP is fundamentally opposed to the Commercial Enterprises Bill. It did not support it in the House. It will not support it in the Senate. It will take its case on the road to the Bahamian people. When we come to office, we will repeal it and those who accept its benefits ought to think carefully before accepting the benefits of this legislation,” said Philip “Brave” Davis, leader of a four-member PLP Opposition in the House of Assembly last month.
Twenty-one years ago in the same House of Assembly, one could almost hear the voice of the late Paul Adderley, former attorney general in a PLP government, as he stood to read out a long, rambling letter that he had sent that same day to investor Sol Kerzner, threatening that if his PLP party became the government at the next election, it would not honour the Ingraham government’s agreement with Mr Kerzner for an incentive programme to increase Bahamian employment at Resorts International on Paradise Island.
PM Ingraham’s government in 1992 was faced with the same economic crisis now challenging today’s FNM. The Ingraham government was desperate to get Bahamians back to work, and businesses moving forward. It was also anxious to distance The Bahamas from its international reputation as a “nation for sale” after a scandalous drug inquiry in the last days of the Pindling administration.
Prime Minister Ingraham’s first government, which inherited a failing economy, was anxious to get Bahamians employed and reinvigorate the economy. After a 25-year rule, Prime Minister Lynden Pindling – bewildered by his government’s 1992 election defeat – admitted that he knew “his people were hurting”, that their “homes were being sold, that parents were taking kids out of school”. But by then he was so removed from his people, and so used to their adulation, that he didn’t think that joblessness and suffering “would have affected them so dramatically in determining what they would do during the election”. The “Father of the Nation” certainly got a rude awakening when he found himself out on the pavement. And what made matters worse, the man he had dismissed as a mere “delivery boy” had replaced him.
The first item on Mr Ingraham’s agenda was to get investors back and jobs created for Bahamians. Sol Kerzner had taken a look at The Bahamas during Sir Lynden’s regime, apparently didn’t like what he saw, and backed off. However, when the Ingraham government was voted in, Sir Sol’s late son, “Butch”, encouraged his father to give The Bahamas a second chance. Obviously, Sir Sol liked what he saw under Mr Ingraham and invested in Sun International – now Atlantis. At the time of the purchase, the Paradise Island resort was in bankruptcy.
Bahamians were probably in a worse state after the Pindling government than they are today. Then, not only was the Treasury bankrupt with several small businesses closing because government was unable to pay what it owed them, but unemployment was high and rising.
On the horizon was Sir Sol Kerzner with an offer to invest in a bankrupt Paradise Island hotel and employ a large number of Bahamians. At the time, the offer was like manna from heaven. But Mr Adderley, objected. It was the same Mr Adderley, former chairman of the government owned hotel corporation, which had lost millions of dollars of public funds every year on failed hotel projects. Between 1974 and 1993, the hotel corporation had spent more than $400m on buying and operating hotels. Operation losses during this period exceeded $200m.
Sir Sol had already committed financially to the Paradise resort investment when the Ingraham government agreed to waive Sun’s gaming taxes and fees for 20 years in exchange for a $250m expansion of the Paradise Island resort, which would create 2,000 new jobs. Mr Ingraham’s position was that not only would at least 2,000 Bahamians be employed, but government’s revenue would increase steadily as a result of the expansion.
Mr Adderley, speaking from the floor of the House objected. In a long, rambling letter, which took up three columns in The Tribune, he declared — as did PLP leader “Brave” Davis last week – that the PLP would have none of it. As soon as the PLP returned to power it would cancel the agreement. In his long ramble, Mr Adderley also accused Sir Sol of taking “unfair advantage” of the Bahamas’ inexperienced Prime Minister, and warned that if he didn’t renegotiate now, he would be forced to do so when the PLP won the government. Fortunately, the PLP did not win the government in the following election.
We telephoned Sir Sol in London to ask what message he thought the letter would send to foreign investors.
“What do you think? I don’t have to tell you that. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the message it sends to foreign investors,” he replied.
Needless to say, Sir Sol’s gamble of investing at that time with a country with such a tainted reputation was the best thing that happened to the Bahamas. Other investors followed. Not only did Atlantis succeed, but it exceeded all expectations. Next to government it was the largest employer of Bahamians in the country. And Sir Sol credited much of its success to his Bahamian employees. He said that the number one compliment received from guests related to his Bahamian staff’s friendliness and service. “And that, for me, is very rewarding,” he said.
We suggest that Mr Davis stop playing politics, use his brains to understand the urgent needs of his country and people, and speak only when he has constructive suggestions as to how this little nation can pull itself up from under the financial burden it was left when Mr Davis’ government lost the election. The Commercial Enterprise Bill might need some tweaking, but it is certainly worthy of serious consideration and adoption.