By MALCOLM STRACHAN
WHILE the government’s decision to increase VAT has been the centre of the nation’s attention for the past six weeks, their plan to revamp the Oban Heads of Agreement was also announced in the latter part of last month. Clearly, this was a decision made as a result of the massive backlash received from Bahamians – Grand Bahamians, in particular. However, what was interesting about the government’s decision is the precedent of displaying the power to reverse conditions in Heads of Agreements that the Bahamian people are not pleased with.
Perhaps knowing that they got the short end of a widely condemned deal was enough for a government already short on victories. Nevertheless, with the government choosing to take this course, we wonder why this bold manoeuvre wasn’t employed in other Heads of Agreements that had some major disadvantages to the Bahamian people.
Speaking specifically, the Baha Mar Heads of Agreement, while successfully leading to the employment of 5,000 Bahamians and a 1.3 percent growth of the Bahamian economy, it also surrendered $600m in concessions to the Chinese. Granted, this was treacherously orchestrated by the previous government, but the tough-talking incoming prime minister could have at the very least explored the possibility of reworking the deal to decrease the number of concessions given to his inherited “Chinese cronies”.
The prime minister promised the Bahamian people that if upon looking into the Baha Mar deal they felt it was not reflective of the advancement of the Bahamian people, they would cancel it. Unfortunately, once becoming the prime minister, his bluster is now seen for what it was – a whole lot of empty rhetoric.
Attorney General Carl Bethel, under the direction of the prime minister, unsealed the Baha Mar deal, only to seal it right back up with the adhesive still fresh. Guaranteeing the Bahamian people that there was nothing untoward in the deal, the government completely glossed over the outrageous number of concessions given to Chow Tai Fook to get Baha Mar up and running.
Now all of the former detractors sing the praises of Chow Tai Fook and bask in the resort’s success as if they helped lay the bricks.
What has been even more ironic is that this was done in the same year they had to borrow to pay $400m in arrears that the former government left in place. The worth of the Baha Mar concessions would have easily covered the deficit last year. A government that was truly well-meaning to its people would have been more imaginative.
While the government barked for over a year to the citizenry about how irresponsible their predecessor was, they’ve employed an insane method of dealing with it – tax the Bahamian people out of our fiscal woes.
There have been zero convictions of any former parliamentarians and the cases that they have before the courts apparently can’t even get off the ground.
Yet, this has all taken place under a government that perpetuated the hollow tagline “it’s the people’s time”.
Meanwhile, The Pointe, another seemingly untouchable Heads of Agreement, has been completely ignored by China Construction America (CCA). And instead of being as heavy-handed as the government has been in placing an onerous 4.5 percent tax increase on the backs of the Bahamian people, they could not be more sensitive to the needs of the Chinese.
What about the needs of the Bahamian people? With unemployment projected to rise a few points before the end of the year, where is the sensitivity to what we need? The Pointe Heads of Agreement explicitly states that there is to be a 70 to 30 labour composition in favour of Bahamian workers. Yet, the Labour Minister has dastardly doubled as the public relations specialist for CCA defending their blatant neglect for the Heads of Agreement at every turn.
What leverage does the Chinese have over the Bahamian government? Can we not see that the penchant to bend over backwards for the Chinese while breaking the backs of the Bahamian people is a form of economic genocide?
This is not what the majority of the Bahamian people voted for on May 10. We voted for change. We voted for a better way of life.
Instead, now more than ever, we lack trust in our elected leaders. Minister after minister has said one thing before entering office, and have spoken out of another side of their mouths afterwards.
It is truly despicable that these men and women who were elected to be the voice of their constituents have largely – with the exceptions of a few good men – only been the sounding boards for voices from within government.
How are the Bahamian people supposed to believe in a system that deceives us? Government does not serve the people if the height of their creativity is to impose taxes on us while foreign interests treat The Bahamas as if it’s a huge playpen.
The government’s decision to implement a 4.5 percent hike to value-added tax will certainly put both the electorate and the government to the test. While Bahamians across the country will have to figure out more creative ways to stretch a dollar, the government will also have to perform near perfectly to meet their objectives.
Former Deputy Leader in the Ingraham administration Frank Watson voiced his doubts on the government’s ability to meet its objective last week. With nearly every technician in the country with a point of view on the VAT increase affirming the same sentiments, it is hard to see how it will be done.
However, for our part, we can only do our best to be as fiscally responsible with our personal spending as we can to ensure that we get through this as a people.