By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Chairman Fred Mitchell yesterday accused the government of attempting to “flood the country with workers from outside the country and undercut the market for young Bahamians” with the introduction of the Commercial Enterprises Bill.
Mr Mitchell also criticised Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar for calling the PLP “crazy” for opposing the bill.
On Thursday, Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune business the Minnis administration was trying to reverse the brain drain of college graduates and highly skilled workers by using the Commercial Enterprises Bill to attract new business. He said the PLP is “crazy” to oppose the bill.
The PLP pledged to repeal the bill if the party returns to power and warned investors and people who may accept the bill’s benefits to “think carefully” before doing so.
The bill passed the House of Assembly with unanimous support from the Free National Movement last week Wednesday and is headed to the Senate where it will be discussed today.
The bill would liberalise the granting of work permits to enterprises who wish to establish themselves in the Bahamas in niche sectors and require work permits for management and key personnel.
The bill would allow foreigners or Bahamians to receive “economic concessions” if they establish specified types of businesses here with an investment of no less than $250,000. Such businesses would be entitled to a specified number of work permits for executives, managers and people with “specialised knowledge”.
“The press today (Friday) quotes the Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar as saying that the PLP is ‘crazy’ to oppose the Commercial Enterprises Bill because the Bill is seeking to reverse the brain drain from The Bahamas. If the PLP is crazy then the FNM and Mr. D’Aguilar are nuts,” Mr Mitchell said in a statement on Friday.
“The first point is that Mr. D’Aguilar and his injudicious remarks are wearing thin. He is the Minister of Tourism talking, not the owner of Super Wash. Secondly, the FNM, they just don’t get it. This FNM government proposes to reverse 50 years of policies that ensure that the benefits of this economy go first to Bahamian workers. This is not about protectionism. This is about a sensible regime which has worked for our country where work permits are granted only if a Bahamian is not available for the job. The FNM proposes to throw the doors open to all and everyone for a cheap price and flood the market.
“The Government itself cannot decide what its rationale for this nutty bill is. First they said it was to liberalise the granting of work permits, then they said it is to help Over The Hill. Now the Tourism Minister, Mr Motor Mouth, has come up with the ingenious but disingenuous rationale that it will reverse the brain drain. It will do none of those things. What it will do is flood the country with workers from outside the country and undercut the market for young Bahamians. Mr. Tourism Minister, you do not fool us. You and your government have no interest in young Bahamians. Please give it a rest.”
On Monday, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham criticised the bill, saying the Minnis administration should “rethink the bill and make necessary adjustments”.
His criticism during a rare interview with The Tribune came less than a week after the bill passed the House of Assembly with the unanimous support of Free National Movement parliamentarians.
Almost none of the bill’s key provisions were spared Mr Ingraham’s harsh assessment. The bill’s $250,000 threshold “is too low,” he said.
The bill’s lack of guarantee that a certain number or percentage of Bahamians be employed as a tradeoff for work permits is, he said, something he could not support.