THE tabling of the Heads of Agreement for the Disney deal in South Eleuthera gives us all the chance to see the devil in the detail.
All told, the investment will be between $250m and $400m – and the government projects that to bring a rise of $805.1m to the Bahamian economy over 25 years, and an extra $357.5m in government revenues – or $14.3m a year on average.
Of course, questions have already been raised in response to the tabling. Environment groups in particular have said the deal is the realisation of their worst fears.
“What we see is a repeat (or worse) of Castaway Cay, where Disney quite literally manufactured an artificial beach, dredged an enormous channel and turned what used to be a pristine island of stunning beauty into an amusement park,” campaigners said yesterday.
More than that, they also pointed the finger toward how much Bahamians themselves will benefit from the deal.
Disney has promised 120 jobs for Bahamians during construction and “as many as” 150 jobs for Bahamians after that, including a commitment of using 80 percent Bahamian workers during the construction phase.
Campaigners in response are asking - is that it? In return for a 50-year lease on the seabed and the construction of a $250m pier, they are asking that if up to 20,000 people a year are being brought to the location, shouldn’t The Bahamas be expecting a little more in return?
Looking down the list of the exemptions provided to Disney reinforces that thought. No real property taxes for at least 20 years, longer if the location is properly maintained, no tax against its operational revenue, and more.
Some of these are familiar – exemptions to customs, excise and stamp duties during construction is an enticement used by the government before, but it also extends to operations and to cruise ships and passenger boats. There are also no business licence fees for ship operations.
There’s also the catch-all clause – that if someone else in a similar line of business gets a better deal later on, then so does Disney.
So how much of this is essential to draw in the investor? How much is the price of doing business? On balance, is the reward enough for the amount we forfeit?
Residents of Eleuthera are in need of jobs, that’s for certain, and for those who have been long out of work this will represent a lifeline we sincerely hope they can grab on to.
But campaigners are right to ask the question of government as to whether enough is being done for the Bahamian people in such a deal – and why the agreement doesn’t include more protections for entrepreneurs and the environment.
One other note – the PM doubled down on his decision to announce the deal first at a town hall in Eleuthera, saying he did “not apologise to anyone for respecting the population of South Eleuthera”.
Keeping everyone waiting for the full details – including the campaigners who have been long wanting answers – does make us wonder if he respects the population elsewhere, who might have trickier questions for him to deal with.