48 total votes.
By TYLER MCKENZIE
THERE is a story many of us are familiar with from children’s books growing up – the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. I’ve been reminded of it in this past week in Bahamian politics.
As a reminder, it tells the story of an emperor who is convinced by two swindlers that he is putting on magnificent new clothes which are invisible to anyone who is a fool. Out he marches, wearing nothing at all, only for a child to point and shout that the emperor is wearing nothing at all, leaving the emperor as the one who has been a fool.
Let us then turn to the Prime Minister’s New Plan – the Royal Caribbean project on Paradise Island, which he objected to while in opposition, but now supports in office.
Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis now supports what he says is a new plan that overcomes the objections he had while sitting on the opposing side of the chamber.
Mr Davis was not the only one to oppose the plan, however, a number of other PLPs followed their leader in speaking up against the project.
One of those was Glenys Hanna Martin, and it was the Minister of Education who pointed and spoke up against the project last week. She did not call anyone a fool – but in opposition, she called the project “hare-brained”, and last week she said: “My views have not changed.”
Much will be said about the political side of whether or not Mrs Hanna Martin should have said what she did – the Cabinet manual says that a Minister may not speak in public or private against a decision of Cabinet or against an individual decision of another Minister.
But on the matter itself – is Mrs Hanna Martin wrong?
This $110m beach club project will gather up visitors as they get off the cruise ship, load them onto a water taxi and whisk them away to Royal Caribbean’s private resort. Not a dollar, not a quarter, not a cent will escape those visitors’ wallets to be spent Downtown or beyond.
Who is this going to benefit? Not the straw vendors at the market, unless some kind of deal is cut to benefit a select few to sell items over at Royal Caribbean’s club. Not the taxi driver union, unless the water taxi is part of their membership. Not the restaurants, not the stores, not the Downtown attractions such as the pirate museum or the Pompey Museum.
It won’t benefit the likes of Arawak Cay, it won’t bring money to places such as the fort heritage sites, it won’t bring people to Baha Mar or Atlantis. Not one of these visitors will head off to tour the rum cake factory, or the distillery, or the chocolate factory.
The beneficiaries of this will be Royal Caribbean – and let’s face it, they can’t be blamed for asking.
Also left out in the cold from this so far is Toby Smith, whose adjacent plan to develop the lighthouse at the end of Paradise Island has already been entangled with his neighbours’ plans, and who finds himself being told to apply again for a project he’s already jumped through many hoops over.
Mrs Hanna Martin said last week, and I agree, that “the cruise industry does not require an island on New Providence. I mean, what we should be developing … is the cultural and entrepreneurial opportunities for the cruise ship visitors when they disembark. They keep saying there’s nothing to do, well let’s get something done”.
She said of the deal: “This is a deal that we inherited from the Free National Movement administration – I did not support it then, my views have not changed on it.”
Since she spoke, I have heard privately from people on both sides of the political divide, the overwhelming impression from which is that they are in full agreement with Mrs Hanna Martin.
Some have said she may have gone against the rules to say it, but she’s not wrong in what she is saying.
For his part, Mr Davis says that Bahamian participation has been “maximised”, while Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper says that four acres of Crown land are included in the project. Royal Caribbean has paid the full annual rent for seven Crown land acres rather than four, for two years, in accordance with the terms in the lease set out with the Minnis administration. Two of those acres were subject to dispute with Mr Smith claiming he had a valid lease for the same land. He has since lost his case over that lease in a court ruling.
If the benefits to Bahamians from this new deal are so plentiful, then one wonders why the government doesn’t spell them out. A few contracts here, a water taxi contract there, doesn’t seem so overwhelmingly different that it ought to have changed minds so thoroughly.
One simple question – how will this benefit Downtown?
Over at the cruise port, there seems little anxiety, with talk of there being more than enough visitors for everyone. Over at the taxi union, leader Wesley Ferguson sent out a voice note in favour of a project that won’t benefit his members.
But the day after this project opens, and a procession of visitors bypass the rest of the island to board a water taxi and take their money off to a walled garden resort that gives nothing to anywhere else, we’ll soon see how many of us point our fingers in protest at the Prime Minister’s New Plan.
Mr Davis has missed the public mood on this – people see this as benefitting a foreign investor over a Bahamian, of giving advantage to a cruise line over the businesses and attractions that we already have. We should be looking for ways to boost the areas that are already in place rather than taking more money out of their pockets.
Some of those opposed to the project are already saying so privately – Mrs Hanna Martin, no matter the political consequences she might face, is right to speak out and hold to her beliefs.