REMARKS BY THE
RT. HON. PERRY G. CHRISTIE, MP, PC
LEADER OF THE PROGRESSIVE LIBERAL PARTY
AT THE GRAND BAHAMA CONCLAVE
ON FRIDAY 28TH JANUARY, 2011
AT THE HILTON OUTTEN CONFERENCE CENTER
The Prime Minister spoke here in Freeport at a pre Christmas breakfast on 18th December. I think that the speech was remarkable for what it did not say. As usual, the Prime Minister sought to blame the PLP for issues and failures which are entirely of his own making. What we now know as “the stop, review and cancel” programme was invented by him and helped to plunge this country and this island into the deepest recession that we have known in modern times.
What particularly concerned me about the Prime Minister’s address is that after three years in office in what he likes to call his third non consecutive term, he still does not get it. Quite frankly neither does his FNM Members of Parliament. How is it not possible for the Prime Minister to come to Grand Bahama and at least get some basic understanding and appreciation for all the human suffering which his government and his policies have wrought on Grand Bahama and its people. Everything that he said in the speech seemed to be blaming the PLP mantra.
The Prime Minister spoke about the fact that certain tax exemptions will expire under the provisions of the Hawksbill Creek agreement. He said that the Grand Bahama Port Authority has asked his government to begin discussions on the question of what the position of the government will be on those exemptions and whether they should be renewed. In a style that has become all too familiar, he said that he did not even want to talk to them until they got their house in order. Presumably, he meant the dispute between the groups of shareholders.
The PLP holds a different view and a different approach in this matter. The thing is it is simply bad manners not to talk to someone who is a major investor in your country. But I am sure that you are not surprised at that. That is the FNM’s way: talk to people any kind of way and any kind of how.
The PLP would if it were the government at the very least begin discussions with the Grand Bahama Port Authority at least at the technical level so that we can understand the issues, the revenue implications and the implications to the future for investment in Grand Bahama.
My initial thought is that the potential real property tax revenue that would come from the expiry of the exemptions would be a great benefit to the Public treasury and to the Bahamian people. These therefore have to be studied carefully. But the economic structure and system in Freeport has benefitted our country greatly and we must be careful not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
In short order, we in the PLP will be organizing a group at the Parliamentary level to begin informal discussions with interested parties in Grand Bahama about these tax exemptions and I would encourage all of you here to form your views and let us know what you think ought to happen. Our Committee ought to speak with the Grand Bahama Port Authority and also the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce and other groups including church leaders and civic organizations. We need to hear your views. When we come to government, I intend to hit the ground running.
I wish to announce that the PLP holds the following position with regard to the sale of BTC as announced by the Government of the Free National Movement.
1. We do not agree and will not support in the House of Assembly and the Senate the sale of any of the shares in BTC to Cable and Wireless. We do not believe that it is a trustworthy, reliable and capable strategic partner for The Bahamas and BTC.
2. We call on the government to cease and desist in pursuing the sale as they have announced it.
3. If the FNM administration proceeds against the advice of the PLP and sells to Cable and Wireless, we put Cable and Wireless on notice of our central position that the sale to Cable and Wireless is not in the national interest and when we return to Government we will re-examine all of the provisions of the deal and we will aggressively renegotiate the terms of the agreement that we deem repugnant to the national interest. There is precedent for this because the PLP when it came to office renegotiated the terms of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement because it found the delegation of the powers of immigration control to a private company to be repugnant to the national interest. The PLP negotiated that change which came into effect in 1969, which saw the Grand Bahama Port Authority return immigration control to the Bahamian people where it rightly belonged. The PLP told the owners of the Port in advance that it would do so and it did. We made the same principled point to the developers of the then proposed Clifton Cay and when we came to office we changed the deal in the national interest. We are doing the same now with Cable and Wireless.
4. Amongst the items which we now find repugnant is the notion that the Free National Movement administration has agreed that the Government of The Bahamas is to become a minority shareholder in BTC but will still have to fund part of the pension liabilities of the company in the first instance by advancing the sum of 39 million dollars from the Public Treasury, with a continuing obligation to fund future losses. This is simply a bad deal, which is not in the best interests of the Bahamian people.
5. We assert, as a fundamental principle, the commitment to build a true share owning democracy in The Bahamas. In pursuance of that principle, we propose, when we win office again, to aggressively explore lawful ways and means by which Bahamian ownership of BTC can be enhanced, through the offering of shares to the Bahamian public, with appropriate controls to prevent the concentration of shares into the hands of one group or family, whether Bahamian or foreign. We believe that BTC should then be opened to competition and the telecommunications market liberalized as soon as is reasonably practicable thereafter. A BTC, owned by a wide cross section of the Bahamian community, could purchase the best management expertise and technology to provide the Bahamian and foreign business community a competitive world class and affordable service like the Bank of The Bahamas.
6. We believe that this course of action is in accordance with the wishes of the country and is consistent with our Party’s core values and constitution which states: “To obtain and maintain for the Bahamian people, a fairer and more equitable distribution of the wealth of The Bahamas so as to provide more security and dignity for the less fortunate.”
· This is no time for divisiveness or disunity within our ranks. Instead we must be cohesive and united. The PLP of Grand Bahama has to get out of the disunity business! The bickering and in-fighting has got to stop! There is just too much of it, especially here in Grand Bahama. We need to work together. After all, we are joined together in a common cause and we all know who our common political enemy is. So why can’t we keep those things that unite us at the forefront of our minds and lay aside the things that divide us? We have to unite to fight! Believe me, my brothers and sisters, there is no other way to succeed; there is no other way to win.
· We need to put the Party machinery in Grand Bahama, in the whole Northern Bahamas, in a state of readiness. Indeed we need now to put it in a state of high alert! We are entering now the final phase of preparation for the next General Election. As the party in Opposition, we start off with a strategic disadvantage: we do not know when the next General Election will be held. Since we don’t know that, and won’t know that, it behooves us all to get ready from now. We need to ensure that when the bell is sounded, we will find ourselves in full readiness for battle. We need to proceed on the premise that the next General Election will be called sooner rather than later. If time proves us wrong and the Election is actually called later rather than sooner we will have lost nothing by having prepared for an early contest. On the other hand, if we do not prepare now, thinking the Election will be called later rather than sooner, and an Election is called early when we are not yet ready, we will curse ourselves in the darkness for another five years.
· The Bahamian people cannot take another five years of this uncaring and incompetent FNM Government! The Bahamian people have had enough. It is time for Hubert Ingraham to go! It is time for the FNM Government to go. The sooner the better! But to make that a reality, we have to ensure that we are united in our common purpose of wresting the government from the clutches of the FNM in the next Election. We must be united and we must be organized into an efficient and disciplined fighting force from one end of our nation to the next but especially here in Grand Bahama where our Party’s challenges have always been more formidable than anywhere else.
· So let us keep our “eyes on the prize”. We need to return the PLP to power. Our country needs it badly. Our days cannot be brighter and our future cannot be secured if we continue along the path we are all on now. We need to bring the PLP back; bring the PLP back to the seat of power and authority.
· We need to bring the PLP back because we need to return our nation to the path of prosperity we left it on when we were last in power. We bequeathed to Hubert Ingraham and the FNM a healthy and prosperous economy but in just a few short years they have squandered their inheritance! The economy is sicker today than ever before and nowhere is the level of this economic illness greater in our country than in Grand Bahama.
· We have to change that! We have bring jobs and prosperity back! We have create a bright and hopeful future for our country once again! But make no mistake about it. It won’t happen under the FNM. They had their chance and blew it. Only the PLP has the vision and the team and the proven ability, and the sense of compassion and caring that can restore our country and put it back on the right path.
· So, my brothers and sisters, whether you be Stalwart Councilor or branch officer, whether you be from Freeport or from one of the settlements and towns of the east or west here in Grand Bahama, whatever your station, whatever your position within the Party, even if you are just an ordinary member, I call upon each and every one of you tonight – I charge each and every one of you tonight – to report for duty! In the words of that old motto that fired up our hearts and minds a generation ago, the time has come again to “STEP NOW’! Your Party needs you! Your community needs you! Your island needs you! Your nation needs you. So step now, step now to the forefront. Let us join hands and hearts, and in unity and in fellowship, let us together step now toward our common goal of returning our country to the right path. The suffering that abounds in the land is too great and too deep. We must end it! There is not a moment to lose!