By MALCOLM STRACHAN
WITH the Bahamian Contractor’s Association (BCA) making a statement at the end of last week disqualifying China Construction America’s (CCA) claims that the particular skills needed for this phase of construction could not be found locally, many of us are left smelling a rat.
It was communicated to the Bahamian people via a press release from the Department of Labour that the current phase of construction at The Pointe does not require Bahamians at this time, as this stage demands for “specialised post tension concrete construction workers”. It was suggested that it was due to a lack of able Bahamian men that the current labour composition at the resort’s construction site, ironically enough, has the inverse of the ratio signed off on under the Heads of Agreement.
The press release, which came from the office of Labour Minister Dion Foulkes, noted that there are 73 “non-Bahamian” workers and 24 Bahamian workers.
Quite a carefully scripted choice of wording, might we add.
Perceivably, the minister should be able to tell the Bahamian people of which nationalities are the 73 “non-Bahamian” workers comprised. Adding more insult to injury, the tone in which the release was written read as if it was intended to passively mislead the Bahamian people by not directly stating if the non-Bahamian workers were Chinese.
Additionally, making mention of the Bahamians working at British Colonial Hilton, when they are of no consequence to the Heads of Agreement that only speaks to the construction of The Pointe, also seems like an attempt to manipulate any public perception that CCA was in breach of the agreement.
Naturally, many among us were taken aback by the claims that Bahamians were unable to build a superstructure, especially having done so on previous landmark projects in the country.
This is certainly not our first rodeo.
Indubitably, it has been astounding that the labour minister contends that based on CCA president’s assurances (for whatever they’re worth) of eventually living up to the 70 percent Bahamian, 30 percent non-Bahamian labour requirements that they are not in breach of the agreement.
The minister, after having supposedly been in the dark about CCA’s decision to disregard the required labour complement, per the Heads of Agreement, did not question why he was not notified.
Surely, a foreign investor withholding information that is disadvantageous to the Bahamian people must not sit well with Minister Dion Foulkes. After all, he has been given charge of overseeing the country’s labour affairs, has he not?
Quite the contrary, from the time the prime minister stated his satisfaction with CCA acting in accordance with the agreed upon terms and Minister Foulkes’ defense of CCA after a Tribune investigation showed otherwise, the government has refused to take a strong stance.
Furthermore, what has been even more disconcerting is the fact that the minister is abetting an outright lie from a serial bad actor in CCA. By the Bahamian Contractor’s Association debunking CCA’s false claims, which the minister seems to be in support of, this confusing turn of events is leaving the minister with a lot of explaining to do.
In his capacity as labour head, he would be privy to job postings from The Pointe attempting to enlist local expertise whereas Bahamians could have been given some of these opportunities during the current phase of construction.
Perhaps he can clarify to the Bahamian people if, in fact, CCA has tried to engage the local contractors. As it stands currently, based on everything we’ve heard from the BCA, the communication has been minimal as BCA President Leonard Sands has not been shy about delineating the woes of the construction industry as a result in the lack of “robust activity” for local players.
No doubt, it is astonishing that after the prime minister would have given his stamp of approval with regards to the upholding of the labour terms in The Pointe Heads of Agreement.
Again, either the government has to admit that they are not doing their job properly and allowing CCA to continually call the shots on Bahamian soil, or call it like it is – another disingenuous act on the part of CCA.
There is no two ways about it – this is an overt breach of the agreement between CCA and the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. The document does not speak to what the workforce should look like in phases. It plainly states – 70 percent Bahamians.
Unsurprisingly, the mere idea that it may have been inferred by the labour minister in last week’s press release that the nearly 300 Bahamians employed at the British Colonial Hilton would negate a breach of the agreement has been widely rejected.
No one is going to buy that hogwash, and it would be downright insulting to the Bahamian people if that were in the slightest what was being suggested by Minister Foulkes.
While the government is on one hand promoting empowerment for citizens from some of our most impoverished communities, to ignore what is happening at The Pointe is a disservice to the Bahamian people.
Some of our hardest working, blue collar entrepreneurs had their beginnings in the Over-the-Hill communities. BCA President Leonard Sands, to name one, hailed from Bain Town. Now, he, along with thousands other construction experts are being undermined by a Chinese construction conglomerate on Bahamian soil and our government simply looks the other way on it.
It is one thing to talk about empowerment, but when the opportunity presents itself, the government has to be ready to act on it.
While we are not suggesting an outright cancellation of the agreement, as the economy needs all hands on deck, the last thing we need this administration doing is rolling over for the Chinese.
With that being one of the major campaign tenets of the prime minister, one would have assumed that his self-proclaimed passion for the poor would have led to him setting a fire under the labour minister to rebuke CCA for its supposed lack of communication on the resort project’s labour situation.
Not having done so makes the labour minister seem complicit in covering up the breach of the Heads of Agreement, which is not an attractive look for the ‘pro-Bahamian’, “people’s government”.
Certainly, it is necessary for the government not to allow this to be swept under the rug. Now that the BCA has confirmed that the local expertise exists to complete this phase of the project, we expect the government to take another look at this and be honest with the Bahamian people. How does this not constitute as an overt breach of the Heads of Agreement?