By Malcolm J Strachan
IT has been one month since the Minnis administration has taken office, and the Bahamian people are already concerned with the actions of their new Government; or more accurately, their new Attorney General.
Carl Bethel, who had served under previous Ingraham administrations, in one week has made two colossal missteps that have rubbed the Bahamian people the wrong way.
The first, was his declaration that there was nothing, as far as he had seen, that was criminal in the issuance of contracts by the previous administration. Therefore, in his estimation, there was nothing the new Government could do legally against those persons who had milked the Bahamian people for the last five years.
This is unacceptable.
The Bahamian people didn’t vote out a corrupt administration to vote in one who doesn’t know how or what to do with those who had abused them. The people want justice, and it us up to this administration to get it for them.
Which brings us to the second more concerning remark the Attorney General made with respect to Baha Mar.
According to Mr Bethel, there is nothing untoward in the deal which has been made public thus far that would warrant its renegotiation.
Let us pause here for a moment and make something clear.
What we have learned thus far in these now unsealed Heads of Terms is shocking. The former Government had agreed to, and kept secret from us, a deal that would see the hiring of Chinese workers over Bahamians, that would include the waiving of all taxes including stamp, duty, and VAT on a multi-billion dollar resort, and the obligation of our Government not only to kick in marketing dollars for the property, but also hundreds of millions of dollars in capital expenditures to fix the dump, BEC, and Water and Sewerage for their comfort (not ours).
So let’s get this straight, not only did we waive off nearly a billion dollars in taxes through both sales of the property from CEXIM to Perfect Luck, and then from Perfect Luck to CTFE, but the previous Government agreed to upgrade all these critical items (dump, BEC, and W&SC) as a condition of the sale of this resort! So we have put ourselves on the hook for almost $2billion dollars in money’s lost and expenditure we will have to find for what, jobs?
Where is the proof that this was the best deal out there? There clearly has to be other factors or favours involved. Someone had to be getting the gravy train for them to agree to this – because on the face of this, only someone who hates you would bring this to the table. What ministers of the last government have contracts for services down there now? Will we ever know if we allow this to continue? How could anyone in all good conscience say that this deal is in the best interest of the Bahamian people?
So to Mr Bethel’s point, we have to ask, how could he feel that this deal was in, and is in, the best interest of the country?
Let us remind you that the FNM has already borrowed $722 million just to cover the expenses of the previous government and new spending for this fiscal year. Where in the world could this Government find over a billion dollars to fix the dump, BEC, and WSC to make this toxic deal happen?
Facebook was quick to correct the Attorney General, with many Bahamians urging him to find a reason to upend this deal.
Having seen what the PLP had done to this country, they urged Mr Bethel and the FNM to show us that they are working in our best interest, and not the Chinese.
We saw from the emails of Jerome Fitzgerald, that members of that party wanted everything. Taxi franchises, customs brokerage and trucking services, and when you wouldn’t give it to us we take the whole thing from you. That’s the reputation our country has now. That’s the reputation we have allowed this previous administration to lay on us because of their actions. If we were to continue with this and rubber stamp their foolishness we are a party to their nonsense. We are culprits with them in destroying this country as a place where investors have a fair and clean chance of doing business. The Chinese construction company, CCA, who were to blame for the missed multiple opening dates has come out smelling like roses in this deal. Initially they were only asking for $125 million. In this deal they get $145m and the chance to make an additional $600m to finish off the resort they said was 97per cent complete. You telling me Bahamians couldn’t finish that? Bahamians couldn’t have that $600m worth of business? And to add insult to injury they agreed to 1,200 more Chinese workers to come here to finish off the resort! This is insanity! And before anyone starts off on some nonsense, stopping this deal will not damage our country’s interest or hurt our international reputation.
Renegotiating this deal will show the world that we have expelled the pirates, and the Bahamas is open once again for real business. The pirates are gone. No longer do you have to take a bag to the Minister’s house to get an approval for anything. No longer does the Minister’s brother have to be the one to get the contract to do this repair or build this building. Those days are over. We are not going back there. The country can’t afford it!
This Minnis administration has a mandate from the Bahamian people to do what is necessary. We should rip this deal up, and tell them to go back to the drawing board. The jobs at the resort will be just fine. See, we can’t let these games of them rushing to hire people to necessitate an early opening of the property to now handcuff us to this onerous deal. They think we’re fools - that we can’t see what the play was coming. But the game is up now.
They’re out of office and the Bahamian people are watching to see what this Government will do. Anyone can come to me and say we’ll give you jobs - jobs is a must - it’s a hotel after all for goodness sake! You need people to make the beds and cook the food. And even there they are relegating us to line staff positions because they also got 300 work permits to run the properties in those Heads of Terms.
The bottom line is this; we need to get a better deal - pure and simple, and the minimum standard should be what Izmirlian had in his offer. Anyone interested in purchasing this property has to start at paying the appropriate taxes. Anything short of that, the Bahamas can’t afford.
Now is the time for serious, fiscally prudent movements from this Minnis administration. Giving away concessions and work permits like they are candy is not the way to start.