Letter to the Editor
On the 1st September, The Nassau Guardian carried a story with an interview with Derek Winford, the CEO of Bahamas Supermarkets Ltd., which does business in The Bahamas as City Markets. The story said that I attended a meeting with the CEO to discuss my intervention in the press on behalf of my constituents about the fate of City Markets. The story said that it was expected that I would issue a statement subsequent to my meeting and I now do so.
In The Tribune 28th August, the CEO Derek Winford said that City Markets is in business to stay in business. I welcome that statement. Aside from Mr. Winford’s response, there were two other responses in the press to my intervention. Mine was a simple intervention that expressed concern for my constituents who work at City Markets, noted the issues in the store about inventory and equipment, and in the face of those fears of my constituents who are employees of the store, I asked the Ministry of Labour to intervene both in a formal and informal way to seek to protect the rights of the workers at the store.
There is a history in this country of companies that are foreign owned promising that all is well right up until the day they shut the doors and the owners abscond, leaving the workers swinging their hands.
The Minister of Labour has the authority to intervene to protect the workers in law, not for the government to save the company but to protect the workers.
I think the two responses by Rick Lowe of the right wing Nassau Institute (6th September) and Jerome R. Pinder (1st September) are perverse and knee jerk. My simple intervention got translated by these two unbridled market forces men to mean that I was interfering in business in The Bahamas and advocating that City Markets be saved by the Government. Wonders never cease from the usual suspects. There are times when such an intervention by the government is appropriate, but we are not there yet with City Markets.
My simple intervention was for the Minister of Labour to ask the company what is going on and to seek assurances that the rights of workers are being protected. I did meet with Mr. Winford. It was a good meeting, which reviewed the difficulties that the company faces. It appears that they are suffering from a bad market, some issues relating to the management choices made by the company when it was first bought by the Barbados cum Trinidadian company and from pilferage, euphemistically called ‘shrinkage’.
The Bahamas Supermarkets CEO assured me that money is not being taken out of The Bahamas, but is in fact being put into The Bahamas by Neal and Massey, the ultimate owners of the company. He assured me that his company has a long term commitment to the success of City Markets. It appeared to me that there was a communications problem internally with the staff, which he also assured me he would seek to correct by visiting all stores and speaking to the employees. I am advised that he has done so.
It is not an easy decision for a Member of Parliament to decide to intervene in matters of this kind, because the question is – where does the greater public interest lie: in trying quiet diplomacy or in making the matter public and risking further harm to the company that you really hope to save? I chose the route of public intervention. One of the roles of a Member of Parliament is to shape the public debate and to air issues that would normally not see the light of day. I hope that in making the intervention that I did, I have served the larger public interest.
There are thousands of Bahamian shareholders of City Markets who are waiting for a return to profitability. A half hour meeting with a CEO is not a forensic audit, so one never knows, but the meeting seemed a sincere effort to correct some impressions and to urge continued patience as the company works its way back to profitability.
I want to thank Mr. Winford for the seriousness with which he has dealt with this matter and his commitment to making things work. I will continue to monitor the situation. I hope for all of our sakes that the company succeeds, including for the sake of the naysaying Rick Lowe, who may well not have had General Motors vehicles to sell but for the intervention of the US Government and who, I assume, sells some of his cars to those same City Market employees. It should go without saying that if those employees are without work then they won’t be able to buy any cars from Nassau Motors, which, after all, is presumably a main aim of his life.
Fred Mitchell MP Fox Hill