After being an obstructionist to the Business Community in Freeport, and indeed Grand Bahama and the entire Bahamas, for the past five years the prime minister and his FNM team came to Freeport last evening (Sunday 15th) and claimed that today (Monday 16th) he will order a review of the Customs Department’s requirements with the view to bringing relief to Port licensees from the requirement of having to submit monthly reports on all conditional “duty free” sales purchased locally. The customs department presently insist that licensees are to submit, to them, the record of all bonded purchases as a pre-condition for the issuance of the once-yearly “Over the counter sales” letter which should have been issued to all licensees, applying for the same, before January 1st.
The significance of this letter (it must be understood) is to facilitate licensees of the Port, who are entitled to “duty free” supplies, to purchase them from licensed vendors who are in business locally. Otherwise all licensees would need to import all their supplies directly from foreign suppliers. Alternatively if a licensee wishes, he/she can have a purchase order stamped, signed and approved by the customs department for each and every time they wish to purchase something from a local vendor. One can imagine the problems and delays associated in choosing that avenue. However relief from having to comply with that customs rule is apparently the huge announcement that the FNM promised, in their radio and television announcements that they would deliver at last evening’s event.
I should like to remind you that it was Hubert Ingraham himself who ordered these obstacles put in the way of business in the first place and when we complained he didn’t listen; if he listen then why didn’t he do something about the problem two years ago to bring relief? It is my view that the FNM leader made this announcement in an effort to encourage political support for his team, in this election, but I have awful news for him; that traditional support, that he once counted on so heavily, has taken flight; they want nothing more to do with him and that was very evident to all at last evening’s event; they were conspicuously missing from the audience and Hubert Ingraham recognized as much.
This whole thing started two or so years ago when Ingraham got angry with the business community, in Freeport; business owners objected to his government trying to exact revenue from them in contravention to the Hawksbill Creek Agreement. When his efforts failed (in his anger) he promised that he and Zhivargo would cause amendments to be made to the customs management act which would force Port Authority Licensees to pay more in customs duties. That angered the business community and then began the war of words, legal actions, FNM government interference and high handedness in our business affairs. In their effort to get us, the Ingraham government recklessly ignored our concessions under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement as if they didn’t give a damn.
First they cancelled the “Ten Day Bond” facility which permitted business owners to get their merchandise released from Customs within hours of its arrival on the island from foreign. This action resulted in days, and in some cases weeks, of delays to business owners getting their products on their shelves or at their construction sites. This further angered business owners because they knew exactly why Ingraham and Zhivargo Laing were doing it to them; of course they appealed to both Ingraham and Laing but to no avail. They didn’t care what these roadblocks were doing to our businesses but now that elections are upon us I hear him (Ingraham) talking his nonsense, on a blessed Sunday night, that the FNM cares about the struggles that businesses are going through here on this Island; nothing, I submit, could be further from the truth.
After we settled down to having to endure and accept the adverse conditions with which we would be faced, the duo came up with another obstacle which, in effect, caused a 40-50% loss in business to local vendors last year. It was when Laing and Ingraham instructed Bahamas Customs to require that all requests for the “over the counter sales letter” must be accompanied by a letter from the National Insurance Board stating that the licensee, making the application, was “in good standing” with the NIB. This was clearly illegal and contravened the terms and conditions of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.
The Kelly’s lumber yard folk, to their credit, would have no more of Ingraham’s and Laing’s nonsense and so proceeded to take legal action against Bahamas Customs. Clearly this was not customs’ doings but the legal action had to name the comptroller of customs, among some others, as the offenders. After much economic damage to the bottom line of Freeport’s struggling business community the attorney general withdrew from defense of their position in the case, brought by Kelly’s Lumber Yard, effectively conceding the case to the Kelly’s. We thought, at that point, we were now finish with Bahamas Customs, Ingraham, Laing and their shenanigans but not so; there was more to come.
3000-4000 applications were made by licensees for their 2012 “over the counter sales” letter and again 99% of the applications were rejected. This time, they say, we were guilty of not submitting monthly reports for the year 2011 in respect of our monthly bonded purchases from the various vendors, including gas stations, around Freeport. Even those who did, in fact, submit reports for the months they did have purchases their applications were returned unprocessed on the grounds that those rejected did not submit a monthly report for even those months when they didn’t have bonded purchases; dumb don’t you think?
That is the kind of ordeal Ingraham, Laing and the FNM government brought to bear on Licensees of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, these past three years. Now its election time and they are looking to Grand Bahamians to vote them in power again. Wish to remind all of you, ladies and gentlemen, that the Customs department would not have put these measures in effect if Hubert Ingraham and Zhivargo Laing did not instruct them to do so. Customs officers would never do such a thing without formal orders from the white house (Hubert’s office).
So there is no elation in the Freeport Business community over what Ingraham had to say last evening about removing the customs obstacles; none whatsoever. He needs our votes now and that’s all he (Ingraham) is concerned about. The man thinks that we are STUPID so let’s show him who the STUPID ones are. Joke, Hubert Ingraham, the joke is on you mister. Are you now wondering why the business community didn’t show up for your event? They are not with you anymore; they are all gone away.
The FNM employed the oldest political trick in the book; they anticipated a smaller than usual crowd at their event so they convened at a small room with their small crowd with their wide lenses cameras. This they knew would create a television image of them having a large crowd, but not so. Estimates from persons, in the audience, tell us that they estimated 300 persons; another estimate from someone very credible and fair, watching the whole thing, tells me that they estimate 1000 persons in attendance. But whether the crowd was 300 or 1000 it did not reflect a credible percentage of the more than 22000 registered votes for the five constituencies combined and so I say the event, as far as the attendance is concerned, was a flop.
The curious question to be asked is why didn’t they have a rally in front of their headquarters in downtown Freeport? If they were comfortable that they were going to draw a good crowd they could have blocked off the street at both ends and thousands of people could have attended but they were afraid and their fears were realized. I mean after all they were introducing their five candidates, for the upcoming general elections, to the Grand Bahamian voters weren’t they? I submit that they are aware of the recent poll taken of registered voters in Grand Bahama which tell us that only 17 voters in every 100 say they are still prepared to support the FNM; 83 of the 100 say they want nothing to do with the bastards and that is why they held their event at the small room to hide the small crowd from the eyes of Grand Bahamians. It’s all about numbers you know.
In Grand Bahama their goose is cooked and Ingraham knows it.
Forrester J Carroll J.P
January 16th 2012