By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
AN American political commentator has criticised the government for being “plagued” with “less than scrupulous” and “incompetent” Cabinet ministers following Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell’s scathing rebuke of the former’s recent suggestion on a Fox News radio show that the Chinese “own” the government.
Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist, in a statement on his personal blog, defended his recent suggestions that the Chinese government’s multiple investments in the Bahamas suggest that country’s ownership of the government.
Mr Siegfried wrote that in his interview with Fox News Radio personality Tom Shillue and humorist Andy Levy, which was widely shared in the Bahamas yesterday, he was stating “established facts” about the Chinese’s influence in the Bahamas that Mr Mitchell “has clearly been unable to rebut”, adding that “facts are facts, even if they don’t have a pro-Christie bias”.
His statement was posted on his blog just hours after Mr Mitchell had branded Mr Siegfried as having a “very serious problem of ignorance” for spreading “false, malicious and just plain silly” assertions about the Chinese government’s influence in The Bahamas.
Mr Siegfried had previously claimed on the American radio show that after the United States withdrew all government and private investment from The Bahamas following the Great Recession, the Chinese “swooped in” and now “own the Bahamian government” because they “invested so heavily in infrastructure”.
Mr Siegfried also suggested that the Chinese allegedly have some degree of influence over the general election process, as he said that today’s election “actually could swing to the opposition party, which was not supposed to happen solely because of China.”
Mr Siegfried also alleged that China is violating the Monroe doctrine - a US policy that warns European nations that the US will not tolerate the former interfering with the affairs of nations in the Western Hemisphere - and that China is making “geopolitical pawns” out of not just The Bahamas, but other “neighbours in our hemisphere”.
During a subsequent press conference at the Department of Immigration, Mr Mitchell said Mr Siegfried’s utterances were “nonsense and patent rubbish,” and a “convenient, short-handed way” of “frightening” people into thinking that the Chinese will only expand their influence in the country if the PLP is re-elected.
Mr Mitchell also said the “timing” of the statements made by Mr Siegfried was “designed to influence” today’s general election, of which he said the FNM and its associates stand to be the “beneficiaries”.
Charging that the Chinese investments in The Bahamas, particularly China’s involvement with Baha Mar by way of the Export-Import Bank of China (CEXIM), exists on “normal commercial terms,” Mr Mitchell said that the Chinese government has “no hold” over the Christie administration, and that there is “no evidence that China has any hegemonic designs on The Bahamas.”
“There is a bit of misinformation going around via a video with a commentator from Fox News making several assertions which are false, malicious and just plain silly,” Mr Mitchell noted in his statement.
“The assertions are that the United States has pulled out investments in The Bahamas and that the Chinese own The Bahamas and its government.
“The Fox News commentator is obviously suffering from a very serious problem of ignorance. First, the United States as a government does invest in private sector projects in countries. US investors, private citizens and corporations, continue to be by far the largest foreign investors in The Bahamas.
“Secondly, the Chinese government has no hold on The Bahamas or the government of The Bahamas. That is nonsense and patent rubbish.
“The Chinese government is perfectly able to speak for itself, but there is no evidence that China has any hegemonic designs on The Bahamas.
“The China Export Import Bank has financed commercial projects in The Bahamas and at present all loans are being serviced on normal commercial terms.
“The Bahamas itself is not involved in any way shape or form in any geo-political contest between larger countries.
“Any attempt to drag us into such contests is also false and malicious,” Mr Mitchell’s statement said.
In response just hours after Mr Mitchell’s press conference, however, Mr Siegfried, in a statement posted on his personal blog, said Mr Mitchell’s “desperate and confusing press conference” was a “clear demonstration” that “not only is The Bahamas plagued with less than scrupulous government ministers, but incompetent ones as well.”
He also denied that he was trying to influence today’s general election.
“My own comments about The Bahamas are rooted in facts,” Mr Siegfried said. “Officials in the US State Department under Presidents George W Bush and Barrack Obama both expressed their concern about China’s growing control in the Caribbean, which included the Bahamas.
“Experts and major media outlets, including the New York Times, Bloomberg, Forbes and others have also sounded the alarm about Chinese control of The Bahamas. Does (Mr Mitchell) consider them ‘fake news’ too?
“Facts are facts, even if they don’t have a pro-Christie bias.”
Mr Siegfried went on to refer to the Christie administration’s performance during this term, as well as the recent controversy surrounding Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald allegedly seeking to secure millions of dollars in brokerage, trucking and limousine contracts at Baha Mar from as early as 2013.
The US commentator also cited a report he claimed was published in yesterday’s Nassau Guardian, claiming “unemployment in The Bahamas is a staggering 16.2 per cent nationwide and 19.5 per cent in Grand Bahama.”
However the story he referenced was a Freeport News article that was reporting on a 2013 Labour Force study, not recent figures.
The last nationwide unemployment figures from the Department of Statistics pegged the jobless rate at 11.6 per cent nationwide.
Mr Siegfried continued: “Yet, Fred Mitchell and Prime Minister Christie are not focused on solving that. Instead, they have made me and my factual comments the most important thing for them to tackle.
“Not unemployment, crime, addressing potential corruption within the Cabinet or improving the Bahamian economy.”
Meanwhile, Mr Mitchell called on Bahamians not to be distracted by such claims, suggesting they are merely by-products of the election cycle.
Last night, Mr Mitchell released a statement responding to the commentator’s blog post, linking him to the talking points of attorney Fred Smith, QC.
“He should stay out of Bahamian politics. It is none of his business,” Mr Mitchell said.