By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A TRIBUNE investigation into the $200 million development of The Pointe in downtown Nassau has raised questions of a possible breach in the terms under which the project should be carried out.
Dozens of Chinese construction workers pour on to the site daily but the Bahamians who should be working alongside them are virtually nowhere to be seen.
On Friday our photographers monitored who went on to the site and with the exception of three or four Bahamians and a guard at the gates of the development, everyone else appeared to be Chinese.
Under the terms of the heads of agreement signed with the project’s developers - China Construction America (CCA) - 70 per cent of the workforce is supposed to be Bahamian and at the “peak” of construction that number should be about 200 people.
When The Tribune looked at the workers on the site in both January and February it was a similar story. Dozens of Chinese builders walked on to the site every day from accommodation opposite the development and virtually no Bahamians anywhere to be seen.
When contacted yesterday, Labour Director Robert Farquharson told this newspaper his office had received “no complaints” about the make-up of the workforce.
However, he admitted the last inspection carried out at The Pointe was last year, before the May general election, when he said the ratio of Bahamian to Chinese workers was “in accordance” with the original heads of agreement.
Mr Farquharson admitted he could not say what the ratio of Bahamian to non-Bahamian workers now is.
Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Brent Symonette also could not confirm the ratio of workers when contacted last night.
“The heads of agreement was 70/30 (Bahamian workers to foreign), not sure if they are compliant with that, but we’ll find out,” Mr Symonette told The Tribune.
For his part, if complaints are lodged with the Department of Labour, Mr Farquharson said it will “take steps to confirm that the terms of the heads of agreement are complied with.”
The heads of agreement for the project, tabled in Parliament in 2017, granted China Construction America between 400-500 work permits for the $200m development.
The deal, dated June 18, 2015, stipulated that Bahamians would comprise 70 per cent of the total construction workforce, once those employed by local sub-contractors were included in the calculation.
And Bahamian sub-contractors were supposed to receive “approximately 40 per cent of development work…in various classifications,” although those were not listed.
However, the document stated the parties “may, through mutual agreement, vary their employment ratio if it becomes necessary for earlier completion.”
The 70 per cent Bahamian labour component was thus subject to alteration, but based on the 400-500 Chinese work permits, that implied around 800-1,000 construction jobs for Bahamians.
The document also committed CCA to “make every effort to fill as many jobs as possible with Bahamian citizens.” However, it then added: “The government recognises, however, that due to the development of the proposed high-rise structures and the tight schedule to complete the development, non-Bahamian labour with special skills and expertise that are not readily available in the Bahamas will be required.”
In 2016, then Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell claimed there were too many non-Bahamian workers at the site. The Department of Labour was subsequently asked to probe the ratio of Bahamian workers to foreign workers at the Bay Street development.
Former St Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman, then shadow minister of foreign affairs, also stated it appeared the majority of workers on the Bay Street property were Chinese nationals.
At the time, Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) President Leonard Sands also demanded the government and developer clarify how many Bahamian companies and labourers were employed on Phase II of The Pointe.
When questioned on the matter yesterday, Mr Farquharson said: “I can’t say what it is now, but the last time the Department of Labour conducted a survey, and that would have been I think before the May general election.
“We conducted a survey, an inspection at The Pointe, and we confirmed that the ratio of Bahamian to Chinese workers was in accordance with the heads of agreement. And I think that is 70 (per cent) Bahamian and 30 per cent non-Bahamian.
“… I can’t say what it is now. If there are concerns, I’m sure the Department of Labour will take steps to confirm that the terms of the heads of agreement are complied with.”
When asked if any complaints have been made recently concerning the ratio of Bahamian to non-Bahamian workers at the site, Mr Farquharson said: “We have had no complaints from anybody regarding the ratio of Bahamian to non-Bahamian (workers) at The Pointe resort.”
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis recently took Cabinet colleagues on a visit to The Pointe to check on its progress.
“The labour component, we have had discussions on that,” Dr Minnis said after touring the development in February. “We came to an agreement that the labour component can be no less than 70 per cent Bahamian and 30 per cent foreign nationals and they have stuck to that commitment of 70/30.”
At the time of that visit, the president of The Pointe, Daniel Liu said at the current phase of the project, 58 Bahamians were involved and that CCA was keeping to its promise of a 70/30 labour split in favour of local workers.
Mr Liu added a total of 150 Bahamians contractors had been involved since The Pointe project began.