By Malcolm Strachan
IN what has been a lacklustre first six and a half months of leading the nation, Prime Minister Minnis found himself in the midst of another self-inflicted shooting gallery last week. After being recognised as the Person of the Year by the Bahamas Press Club, the prime minister sought to give the press a lesson in journalism and point out a multitude of deficiencies. Whether he was right in his analysis or not is a matter of debate. However, the ill-advised speech may have taught the prime minister a valuable lesson – “don’t throw stones from a glass house”.
The list of blunders thus far under the Minnis Administration are far too many to delve into, as he constantly makes missteps in getting his message across. Perhaps the most damage is done by Minnis’ penchant to contradict himself – saying one thing and then another after not being able to withstand the negative blowback. This is very harmful to the credibility of a man who fought against all odds to remain leader of his party and then eventually become prime minister.
With so many campaign promises collecting dust on the shelves of the Office of the Prime Minister, the revitalisation of Grand Bahama is possibly one that causes the most angst to some of our most desperate brothers and sisters. With the economic buoyancy of the nation’s second city at stake, it is unfortunate how Grand Bahama is consistently used as a political football.
Shortly after coming into office, the prime minister touted many plans for Grand Bahama. Chiefly, he made it a crucial selling point to the electorate that the government would oversee a sale of one of the island’s largest employers – the Grand Lucayan Hotel. Beyond some preliminary “tyre kicking” by potential purchasers, including the government, nothing material has happened.
As we round off the year, the government has not made any further definitive statements on a timeline for a sale of the resort. But we do know that discussions with the Wynn Group have stalled.
The former government has made their statements - asserting they left a deal in place for the resort, which the current government claims was a bad one. To that end, at his press briefing last week, Press Secretary Anthony Newbold defended the government’s lack of movement over finalising a sale for the resort according to the timeline specified by the prime minister. He also indicated the deal constructed by the previous government was not in the best interests for Bahamians.
He said: “We hear the former administration saying, ‘we left a deal on the table’, and all the number crunchers for this administration looked at the deal and said, ‘You have got to be kidding me; we can’t do this to the Bahamian people’.
“So that deal was put aside. So, when they are comfortable that whatever is being offered will be beneficial to the Bahamian people – and not that jobs are not important, jobs are very important, but you are not going to put a couple of jobs on the table and indebt the Bahamian people for another 50 years, and put them in a hole that will be difficult to dig out of. This administration is not prepared to do that.”
We find this curiously strange given the fact these circumstances mirror that of Baha Mar, which the prime minister has completely altered his tone on – especially when faced with the quagmire that is the Bahamian economy. The prime minister himself railed against Baha Mar coming into government – insisting it was a bad deal and not in the best interests of Bahamians. He even went so far as to suggest he would cancel any deal that did not pursue the interests of the Bahamian people.
With hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and concessions involved in the sale of the resort, the only thing we have to show for it is jobs. And while we are happy that thousands of Bahamians have gainful employment, it still does not sit well that the Press Secretary, who speaks on behalf of the prime minister, would make such a statement in relation to the practice in which we surrender millions of dollars in concessions for nothing more than the promise of jobs in return. It would be beneficial for there to be a broad understanding of which side of this issue is the government on.
Aside from the Attorney General saying there was nothing wrong with the Baha Mar deal - which is expected in the name of political expedience - the public is still left in the dark. With the resort reaching various milestones, such as the SLS Baha Mar opening its doors in the past few weeks, the government may be able to successfully move itself further away from yet another unfulfilled campaign promise.
There should be no surprises here, though. This is the stuff that Bahamian politics, and perhaps politics at large, is made of – big promises and minimal results.
It would have been ideal had the prime minister kept his word on disclosing the full details of the Baha Mar deal so one and all can see if it was, in fact, a good deal for the Bahamian people. Because if it isn’t, the rationale behind not moving forward with a deal for the Grand Lucayan, which would provide jobs, as well as indirect business to third party vendors, is severely flawed. Certainly, after “crunching the numbers” and not seeking to recoup any of the $600m that was practically given away in the Baha Mar deal, the government should have equally seen that a few thousand jobs was not a good enough trade-off.
Mr Newbold said himself: “The government should not indebt the Bahamian people for a few jobs.”
Regardless of the government having to lie in the bed made by its predecessor, surely, retroactive steps could have been taken to mitigate the fiscal burden that is upon is. Helping the previous government sweep the damning details of the Baha Mar sale further under the rug is only telling of the Minnis administration’s disinterest in the public pressure to quash the deal if all of the particulars were revealed.
As desperation looms in Grand Bahama, the government now has to figure out what it needs to do to get the island firing on all cylinders. While the prime minister talks about future policies and touts tech summits, the island is sitting on an asset in an already-established industry.
The prime minister’s statements in October, in which he suggested he would like to see the Grand Lucayan open and with full occupancy by the end of 2017, are seemingly much more of a dream than a reality with just a few weeks left in the year. This is undoubtedly a huge disappointment to Grand Bahamians whose vexing frustrations have been known since Hurricane Matthew thrashed the island in 2016.
Grand Bahama has been on the receiving end of the short side of the stick for years, and the government seems tone deaf and clueless on what it needs to do to revitalise the island’s floundering economy.
As far as the government voicing the possibility of them purchasing the resort, we are also unclear if this remains a viable option. Truth be told, as the prime minister’s inexperience becomes more pronounced, the fear of the government becoming potential owners of the resort provides little to no comfort to the people of Grand Bahama.
With the Christmas season upon us, the prime minister’s failure to deliver on this much anticipated initiative will see many families go into the yuletide season with heavy hearts. While we know how the political game is played, exploitation of the suffering and downtrodden is something we can do without.
If the prime minister is at all serious about improving the lives of Bahamians - particularly those in Grand Bahama – he and his government need to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Grand Bahama desperately needs an immediate economic stimulus. The prime minister promised them this. He has no choice but to deliver. Otherwise, it will be another knock against his already weakening credibility.