IT SEEMS that “Big Bad Brad” is still with us. On November 26, he sent a press release for publication, which declared that the FNM’s proposed immigration clauses in the Bahamas Commercial Enterprise Bill was the “death of Bahamianisation”. It is true that the proposed Bill needs more consideration. However, it is not the death of Bahamianisation, but rather the death of victimisation, PLP style.
The PLP has always prided itself on the introduction of Bahamianisation for the protection of the Bahamian worker. It is true that when the PLP won its first government, Bahamianisation took on a new look. Rather than protect Bahamian jobs, it became a secret, behind-the-scenes weapon to force Bahamians, who needed immigration permits, either for personal use, or for business to toe the party line – regardless of their personal politics.
There was Bahamianisation under the UBP, whereby one could not get a permit for a foreign employee unless Immigration could be convinced that in fact the person was needed for the growth of the business. It was understood at the time that when a business grows under the guidance of an experienced person at the helm, it expands and opens up more jobs for Bahamians with lesser qualifications, but with the ability to learn and the will to succeed.
Immigration, under the PLP granted permits, to their friends, party faithful and persons who, were prepared to sacrifice their dignity to toe the party line. We felt particularly sorry for some of the foreigners, who were granted permits, as they were considered suspect by their friends, who felt that they had crumbled under the temptation of the work permit, and possibly could not be trusted.
We recall several bank managers complaining that when the bank’s essential work permits were pending, they could depend upon certain politicians appearing to apply for a bank loan. The bank would send these applications to head office because they knew that in the ordinary course of business – such as credit ratings – they could not be approved in the Nassau office. However, the bankers in Nassau also knew that if these loans weren’t approved by head office the work permits needed at the bank in Nassau would be withheld by immigration. No matter which way an employer squirmed, Bahamianisation under the PLP had him pinned to the wall.
The same story was repeated in the hotels — that is the main reason for the failure of those hotels managed by government. When the “boys” wanted a free party, they felt they had the right to take over the “people’s hotel” with its free food and entertainment. No wonder the hotel industry failed in the early days under the PLP. It was not until Sol Kerzner entered under the Ingraham administration that the industry started to take its place in the world, and regain the international reputation that The Bahamas once had.
Under the PLP, many Bahamians were encouraged to feel that they were entitled to a job, qualified or not, just because they were Bahamian. The Tribune’s growth suffered terribly under these rules. It was the behind-the-scenes bully tactics used by the Immigration Department to deny The Tribune the one or two qualified foreign staff it needed to assist in the training of young Bahamians that hindered our training programmes, and limited further employment of Bahamians. Rather than hiring mediocrity, we did the job ourselves or introduced machinery that could replace staff in certain areas. In other words, employment of Bahamians was being slowed in certain areas by Immigration under the guise of Bahamianisation.
Recently, we told the story of our training school under a qualified British journalist. In his class were Tribune staff members as well as those not on our staff who wanted to learn — the best of these we employed at the end of the course. The programme was most successful — possibly too successful because at the end of the instructor’s one year work permit, Immigration refused its renewal. The school closed. It ended the opportunities for aspiring young journalists.
One day, despite this, a young Bahamian came looking for a job as a reporter. She had no training. In the course of the interview, she admitted that her desire was to be a ZNS reporter. However, she was told by the PLP politician then in charge of ZNS that the Broadcasting station could only employ her if she were first trained at The Tribune. That is one thing that was never lacking in a PLP politician — crass nerve. Of course, she was not employed by The Tribune — the Immigration Department had crippled our ability to do further training.
However, the PLP did encourage the idea in Bahamians that qualified or not they were entitled to the job just because they were Bahamian. Bahamianisation, PLP style, was killing many Bahamians’ need to apply themselves. “Employers should be able to hire a competent employee and not have to settle in many instances for mediocrity and incompetence because they are forced to hire Bahamian,” said lawyer Fred Smith at the time. This is what over the years Bahamianisation, PLP style, has meant to our work force. It was this protective policy that shackled many Bahamians in mediocrity and incompetence.
In 2007, when Bahamianisation and victimisation were the main topics of conversation — mainly because The Tribune defied their threats — today’s Opposition Leader “Brave” Davis stood up in the House of Assembly and recommended that punitive action should be taken against “biased” media outlets by withholding government advertising. In other words toe the PLP party line or be denied business,
This is how these people think. And so, if managed properly the Commercial Enterprise Bill, should not start class warfare between Bahamian and foreigner — as predicted by Bradley Roberts. Rather it should create more jobs for Bahamians and open up more opportunities for training. For Bahamians keen on succeeding they will succeed. For those who think, like Mr Roberts, that they are entitled just because they are Bahamian, they will be left behind.
Today many Bahamians are being held back by the crippling application of Bahamianisation —PLP style.
If properly and fairly managed in the future, it should lead to more job opportunities for trained, hardworking, and ambitious Bahamians.