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Chamber war on COVID advocacy

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A furious internal row has erupted at the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce over a major retailer's complaint that it is doing to little to address private sector concerns over COVID-19 restrictions.

The response to an e-mail from Kelly-Anne Huber, Rubins Department Store's marketing manager, prompted the Chamber's vice-chairman to rebuke a fellow director and Board member for creating "unneeded animosity" with the very business community whose interests it is supposed to represent and advocate for.

Tim Ingraham, who is also Summit Insurance Company's principal, told Khalil Parker, also the Bahamas Bar Association's head, in an October 29, 2020, e-mail that the Chamber would now have to "repair the damage" caused by a response he branded "inappropriate" and "dismissive".

Khrystle Rutherford-Ferguson, the Chamber's chairman, told Tribune Business yesterday she had attempted to reach out to Ms Huber to discuss the issues Rubins and herself were facing but had been unable to contact her.

Pointing to previous statements to this newspaper and other media, Mrs Rutherford-Ferguson said the position of herself and the Chamber since the beginning of the latest COVID-19 restrictions in early October was that curb-side limitations and curfews would be damaging to all retail and restaurant businesses.

She also denied allegations that the Chamber's role as business community advocate was being compromised, or blunted, by her political ambitions. Mrs Rutherford-Ferguson, refuting claims she was on the candidates' shortlist to run for the Free National Movement (FNM) at the next general election, said she was focused on representing "the entire business community no matter their political persuasion".

The entire e-mail exchange, which was leaked to Tribune Business and other media, was triggered by an October 29, 2020, e-mail from Ms Huber that was headlined Where is The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce. She argued that the private sector's main advocacy body had been "silent since March" and provided little to no support for retailers currently suffering under the curb-side limitations.

"As many of you know we have been in business a very long time and hope to continue serving The Bahamas for many more years," Ms Huber said of Rubins, in an e-mail that was sent to all Chamber directors, and which Tribune Business sources have confirmed as genuine.

"We understand these times are uncertain and difficult for all of us. However, we are curious as to what your plan of action is? You have been SILENT since March, with little to no support to the retail sector.

"Besides Ms [Tara] Morley, who has stuck her neck out for retail businesses, we are extremely disappointed in the leadership of your organisation. Sadly, because of Ms Morley's outspokenness, I'm sure she is scrutinised and targeted by the 'powers a be', and most certainly making it impossible for her to run a business."

Ms Morley, head of the Bahamas Federation of Retailers, has consistently spoken out about the impact COVID-19 restrictions have had on retailers. Ms Huber, though, concluded her e-mail with a plea for help for the retail sector: "Where is the Chamber? Why aren't you all protesting like the rest of us? Why aren't you on the front page of the papers? Where is the Chamber president [chairman]? Where is your voice?"

This provoked a dusty, dismissive reply from Mr Parker in his capacity as Chamber director. He wrote to Ms Huber: "Your passion is noted. However, the substance of your unwarranted attack on the Chamber of Commerce and its Board undermines your objective.

"Like most businesses, you may have been distracted by global and national events, which may account for your apparent failure to observe the Chamber’s consistent championing on behalf of the business community throughout this ordeal."

Suggesting that her concerns had not been voiced in an "appropriate manner", Mr Parker added: "I would invite you to ask specific questions as opposed to casting broad aspersions. There is always room for improvement and deeper engagement. However, this must begin with civil discourse. You appear to have a relationship with Ms. Morley, I invite you to engage with her and she can revert to us regarding the same."

This produced a withering reply from Mr Ingraham in his position as vice-chairman, who told Mr Parker: "I personally find your response very inappropriate to a member, or indeed any business owner, in this country. We are here as servants of, and advocates for, that community, and such responses will only create unneeded animosity between us and the people we represent.

"We are nothing without our members. Businesses are frustrated with the current conditions, and that is not without reason, and certainly should not be minimised. While they may occasionally express frustration toward us for a perceived lack of advocacy, answering them in a flippant, dismissive manner is never the answer.

"We must always ensure that we are doing, appear to be doing or are prepared to do what is reasonable to advance the interest and concerns of members, and not dismiss them because the language used is not to our liking. Hopefully we can repair the damage I believe was done with your response."

The e-mail exchanges are understood to have caused consternation among multiple Chamber Board directors who fear it will alienate their members and the wider business community at the worst possible time with the private sector already reeling from COVID-19.

Mrs Rutherford-Ferguson, meanwhile, told Tribune Business: "First and foremost I do understand there are many retailers that might be frustrated, especially with all the restrictions placed on the way they do business.

"It's very clear, the Chamber's position on curfews and curb-side restrictions..... Curb-side restrictions are very damaging to businesses, especially in the retail and restaurant space. The Chamber's efforts with regard to advocacy on behalf of the business community is well put. There are no questions around the Chamber's position on certain restrictions.

"We are continuing to advocate on behalf of our members so as many as possible get back to operations as quickly as possible, and in as safe a manner as possible."

Comments

Bahamabird 1 year, 9 months ago

...said she was focused on representing "the entire business community no matter their political persuasion".

What a strange statement. I do not think that I have ever walked into a business and been able to determine its "political persuasion". Seems that it is Mrs. Rutherford-Ferguson who is seeing things through a political lens which must be of concern to Chamber members. So unfortunate that the business community must find ways to work around the Chamber.

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tribanon 1 year, 9 months ago

Finally it's revealed that both Khrystle Rutherford-Ferguson and Khalil Parker have all along been serving Hubert Minnis's own political interests by suppressing the Chambre's duty to conscientiously represent the interests of its business members.

Here we see yet another shining example of Minnis's very wicked, nasty, arrogant and vindicative ways. Minnis never should have compromised or blunted the Chamber's role as business community advocate by wrongfully taking advantage of the well known political ambitions of Khrystle Rutherford-Ferguson and Khalil Parker.

The rest of the Chambre's Board should be loudly calling for the immediate resignations of Rutherford-Ferguson and Parker. Until they resign, The Bahamas Chambre of Commerce will remain a frightened mouse rather than a roaring lion when it comes to properly representing the vital business interests of all its members.

Minnis must be made to refrain from his dastardly and stealthy tactics aimed at silencing the voices of important groups in our society like the Chambre. Small wonder our economy is in such a shambles!

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tribanon 1 year, 9 months ago

Oops! "vindicative" in 2nd para of my post should be "vindictive".

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 9 months ago

It's ok, Chester Cooper kept saying medical incidentses on the news this morning..I think he was mixing up incidents and instances...but what do I know sometimes I firget how to spell teh and this autocorrect is the devils spawn. (cuz fb is the devil)

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JokeyJack 1 year, 9 months ago

I don't know which garbage dumpster Mr. Parker has been "advocating" behind, but I am a very very very avid follower of the news, and I do not recall hearing a squeak out the Chamber to voice any inkling off opposition to anything coming from the "competent" authority. I would suggest any course entitled Marketing 101 from any college or education institute, even the worse one out there would be an improvement. Heck, fire up a Youtube video on the subject. Boom.

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 9 months ago

What I saw was the chamber chiefs jockeying as hatd as they could for board and committee appointments. It will be interesting when the review of all the COVID contracts is done and the assessment made on who got and why, what was delivered for what was paid when people were on the verge of starvation. starting with the always down rapid Bahamas.

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DWW 1 year, 9 months ago

yes, i have been wondering who is getting all the lucrative 'emergency' contracts in the bahamas. With FOIA i'm sure we will never know.

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 9 months ago

Khalil Parker's response sounds very much like the way our politicians react to our legitimate complaints. Men who've been given positions of authority have somehow become too big to dialogue with the serfs. Treat everybody as you would like to be treated if you were the customer and you can't go wrong. Do this with the complainers too, try to identify their issue, determine if it's valid and address it. You're there to serve not to be treated like Henry VIII.

I'm almost in shock to hear the way Jeff Lloyd speaks down to just about everyone given his impassioned sermon pre 2017 election where he said (basically) the govt ~"better provide some answers or I'm going to take action. You work for us". And Im positive the people who know him well would say what you describe isnt Jeff, he's the nicest man. Im confident theyd be correct. What happens to these men when they take power????? What prompted Lanisha to put her likeness on an award like Juliet Caesar? What is it?

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tribanon 1 year, 9 months ago

Self-idolatry born out of immature infatuation with political power is of course usually the answer to your last three questions.

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