Gibson leads off debate on Baha Mar Resolution

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Kenyatta Gibson, MP

Nassau, Bahamas – Enclosed are remarks by Kenyatta Gibson, FNM MP for Kennedy, on Resolution Baha Mar delivered in the House of Assembly on November 17th, 2010:

Mr. Speaker Sir,

This Member is humbled and is pleased to move the BahaMar Resolution now before this Honourable Chamber.

Mr. Speaker Sir, we do not do take this task lightly.

We do this with the heaviness of heart which ought to accompany any and all fundamental issues put before this Sovereign Parliament.

We do not do consider this a perfunctory, nor simply an obligatory undertaking.

We do this as part and parcel of the faith, duty and confidence reposed in us by the Bahamian people; whom we asked to send us here to this Place and who should expect that we would acquit ourselves honorably and honestly in times such as these, where the national interest and the import of our subject matter, demand that we carry out our duty having special regard to the circumstances before us.

This is an important Resolution and a significant and essential debate.  Controversial though it may be, we should all attempt to be factual, relevant and ever cognizant that we were sent here to act in the best interest of the people of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and to lay to waste selfish political agendas.

The words of the American President Abraham Lincoln seem most à propos at this point in time, when he stated that, “ The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

Colleagues on all sides of the Political divide need to realize that historians and generations of Bahamians to come, will one day look back to evaluate where we succeeded, where we failed and just as importantly, where we neglected or abandoned our duty in this Place.

Mr. Speaker Sir, I move this Resolution well and truly aware of the magnitude of the transformation to the Island of New Providence that the proposed Bahamar Project would visit upon us.

If this Bahamar Project succeeds, (AND I PRAY GOD THAT IT DOES SUCCEED) it will indeed bring express impetus and clout to our regional status and to our tourism product.

Success of the proposed Project would undoubtedly lead to increased Bahamian employment in the short term and also in the long term.

Yet undoubtedly as with most things, Mr. Speaker Sir, there is a down side to this Project. And as with most issues, it is likely that the down side will get a lot more attention than the perceived benefits, (at least for now).

Our archipelagic nation of over 300,000 souls … living upon, dwelling  in  what Sir Lynden Pindling described as “700 beautiful island gems, set in an azure sea of unsurpassable clarity” is coming of age. And along with our arrival at this stage of our national development, must come the kind of Debate that we are having here today.

I therefore salute the Right Honorable Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues for having the courage to bring this matter before this Chamber today to allow a full, frank and open Debate amongst the representatives of the Bahamian people on this issue.

The Right Honorable Member for North Abaco did not run, nor did he hide when the time came for complete, forthright and candid disclosure on the Bahamar Project.  He let the good people of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas know what was transpiring every step of the way.  No secret deals, no back-room arrangements with powerful envoys and special interest groups, no confidential clauses to hide away the real and true nature of the project as the PLP did when they had carriage of this transaction.  The facts were borne out in the sunshine and thus this debate today!

Mr. Speaker Sir, the Bahamian People have legitimate concerns as to the viability, scope and format of this project.  Indeed we have had foreign workers in the Bahamas previously, but having regard to our population size, the proposed 8150 non Bahamian workers is of reasonable concern  to a goodly number of Bahamians.  The aforesaid is so notwithstanding the fact that Bahamar has stipulated that the peak number of foreign workers present in the Bahamas at any given time, will not exceed 5000 odd non Bahamians.

It has been pointed out, that for previous projects of like and lesser magnitude, the ratio of Bahamian to non Bahamian labor was in the region of 70% Bahamian labor and 30% non Bahamian labor.

It has been made abundantly clear that because of the terms and conditions of the loan that has been agreed as between the owners of Bahamar and the Export – Import Bank of China, it is proposed that this ratio will be reversed for this project, with 71% of the workforce set to be non Bahamian and 29% set to be Bahamian citizens.

At the outset, let me publicly condemn and admonish any and all commentary and characterizations proffered by the xenophobes and racist clique, who would spew out hate-filled, disingenuous arguments merely to advance their own partisan political agendas.  Arguments based on the premise of prejudice have no place in civilized society and I invite the Party opposite to condemn in the round any and all persons in their ranks who behave in this manner.

Notwithstanding the same however, such a major departure from our customary policy position, is cause for pause and concern as it relates to the sort of precedent that we are now setting for other investors, both present and future investors, as to the foreign labor levels which they will be allowed or have been allowed, when they develop or developed their varied projects.

And Mr. Speaker, you may have noticed that I used the words develop and developed advisedly, because I am referring to both future developments and developments which are presently in existence.

Because as the Right Honorable Member for North Abaco pointed out during his Press Conference of Sunday last, because of an Agreement previously executed between the former Christie Administration and Kerzner, Kerzner was promised that no investor would get a better deal than Kerzner got in the Bahamas.

Kerzner has now brought to the attention of Government of  The Bahamas, that it has concerns as to the fact that the foreign labor component of the Bahamar Project means that Bahamar’s labor cost would be substantially lower than Kerzner’s was when Kerzner constructed the various Phases of its Paradise Island Resort. Kerzner has also complained, that while it was required to purchase real estate at then current ,proper market values, Bahamar was able to acquire public land, owned by the hard working, tax paying people of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas at Fire sale, indeed at bargain basement prices. (But this Mr. Speaker Sir, might well be one of the reasons why the deal was kept secret by the last PLP government.)

Now the latter concern I will deal with in more detail at a later point in this address; But all in all, you know what Mr. Speaker Sir, Kerzner has legitimate and genuine queries.

From its very outset, in the embryonic stages of this Bahamar project Mr. Speaker Sir, which began under the previous PLP Administration, in which I sat as part of the Parliamentary Caucus, the interest of the Bahamian People was consigned to the back burner.  Mortal men became tin pot gods deciding without proper and full and open consultation, issues most fundamental to our society.  So out of touch, so out of step and so out of tune was the former governing party, that they allowed the dollar figure, that illusionary and mystical yet so elusive, 2 billion, 3 billion dollar figure attached to this project to quite frankly overwhelm them and from documents that have now been “outed”, one is now left with the inescapable conclusion that many supporters of the former Government did not know ALL of the details surrounding Bahamar project and the hand-picked negotiators for the deal chosen by the former Prime Minister  took full advantage of the gullibility and incompetence of their appointers.

From the very start Mr. speaker Sir, long before the Export-Import Bank of China or the Government of China itself ever became involved in this project the Bahamian people had become the unwilling pawns in the greatest sham, smoke and mirrors confidence game in the history of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas!  The great Bahamian land giveaway was on! And the Bahamian people would be the undisputed losers in it all!

Previous governments under Sir Lynden Pindling had been content to allow the Cable Beach Resort, the Crystal Palace and the Nassau Beach Hotels to be built on leased land which continued to be owned by the Government of the Bahamas.  But this formula was not good enough for the Right Honorable Member for Farm Road and Centreville.  Here is the list of land that is presently property owned by the Bahamian people that he has been pledged to be given away in the Deal of a lifetime for Bahamar. Their gain is our loss.  Indeed it is the loss for generations of Bahamians to come:

Approval for the Baha Mar Project requires the transfer of the following publicly-owned land:

Wyndham Hotel & Casino Land  13.450 acres

Nassau Beach Land      7.546 acres

Old Hobby Horse Hall land parcel  70.964 acres

Fidelity Bank         .866 acre

Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Centre  2.259 acres

Cable Beach Police Station    1.377 acres

Old West Bay Street    11.228 acres

New Corridor #7      1.610 acres       Plus an additional parcel of .783 acres

Portions of the back Gladstone Road   50.00 acres

Prospect Ridge Parcel      2.365 acres

Water and Sewerage Corporation  99.782 acres

BEC Parcel       2.570 acres

BEC  Substation          .165 acres

264.965 acres

It is interesting to note Mr. Speaker Sir, how in a five year administration most Bahamian applicants for Crown Land to carry out projects were refused.  But without batting an eye lid, they gave away Cable Beach, Goodman’s Bay, the old Hobby Horse Hall and parts of the Killarney District and then sought to cover up the deal with silence in the face of inquiries from the Bahamian people.

The Bahamian People deserve better, than this wholesale pillage and plunder of public assets.  This egregious land give away, is one of the greatest raids on the material wealth of the Bahamian collective since the post colonial era begun.  It is a moral disgrace and the Member for Farm Road and Centreville should be ashamed of himself!

The scope of this transaction has lead all portions of Bahamian society to question the motives of the former administration, and the motives of the Right Honorable Member for Farm Road and Centreville in particular, in the formation and subsequent execution of this deal.

One such inquiry was made by veteran journalist Nikki Kelly in her column of the 4th October, 2010.  Therein Mrs. Kelley asked the following questions and raised the following points.  {Read from Article}

The Bahamian Public continues to await answers to these important questions.  However I seriously doubt that any such answers, at least credible ones, are forthcoming.

I submit Mr. Speaker Sir that the former governing Party, brimming over with envy and misplaced zeal was on a mission to attempt to duplicate the success credited to the current Prime Minister in transforming a decaying tourism product when he first assumed office in August 1992.

They wanted to duplicate for legacy’s sake, at any cost whatsoever, at my children’s cost, at your children’s cost and Lord help us, even at their own children’s cost, North Abaco’s accomplishment, with the advent of Sun International, now Kerzner International and the world renowned Atlantis property.

Mr. Speaker Sir, It is for me and every other Bahamian to adjudicate that envy is not a fit and proper motivation in the conduct of public affairs. I herein state without fair of contradiction or reprisal, that most Bahamians believe that this deal, this project, this national burden which we have all had to bear for far too long, was poorly conceived and thereafter poorly negotiated, at least as far as the Bahamian taxpayer is concerned.

Bahamar is an individual business in the traditional capitalist model.  It exist solely to make a profit. The same is axiomatic to say the least. You cannot blame Bahamar for negotiating the best deal for Bahamar!  Negotiating the best deal for Bahamian taxpayers was the job of the Member for Farm Road and Centreville.

I am advised and I verily believe, that the Principals of Bahamar could not believe their good fortune, that they could stumble across negotiators and national leaders, who were willing to sell off the birthright of countless generations of our people for peanuts.  They were laughing and continue to laugh all the way Bank.  The Chinese Export – Import Bank that is, Mr. Speaker Sir.

I am confident that with all of the missteps and half steps which have been associated with the Bahamar project from the date the former Prime Minister first announced it, it is more than clear and true to every intelligent Bahamian, that his Government  did not do plenary and due diligence on what was being presented to them.  In their own political self interest, and I dare say, out of the desire to have it said that “Ingraham brought Kerzner to the Bahamas, so Christie brought Bahamar here”, the lose knitted, poorly constructed deal began falling apart, even before the world financial crisis or melt down even started.

In many International business quarters for instance, you could hear long before the Free National Movement returned to power in 2007, that Harrah’s (The international Gaming Giant) and Starwood (A Leading International Hotel Company) were unhappy with their Bahamar Partners.

The lesson we all ought to learn from this is that we must govern with our heads and hearts and not let our egos rule us. These are the issues which confront us. Yes Mr. Speaker it is still a matter of trust.

Mr. Speaker Sir, these are serious times and we are faced with serious issues.  Listen and Look yonder Mr. Speaker Sir. I thought I heard a voice whispering that oft repeated lie – STOP REVIEW AND CANCEL.!  But alas, Mr. Speaker Sir, their voices have grown silent.

Mr. Speaker Sir, here today right before our very eyes, in the most public of public domains, this Free National Movement Government has brought to this Chamber, a Resolution which will set the pace for  BahMar’s 2.6 Billion dollar investment.

Mr. Speaker Sir, for the last three years, this Government has been the object and the victim of the scurrilous lies, propaganda and innuendo of the “Stop, Review and Cancel, tone deaf Choir”.

The facts are now here in the open for all and sundry to see. And what has the party opposite done. Depending on what day of the week you pick up the local newspapers or depending on who is the spokesman or spokeswoman for the organization on any given day: The Party opposite has given so many confusing and contradictory pronouncements as to their position on this issue, that they are themselves are confused as to their own position today!

Mr. Speaker Sir, I think it a fair deduction from events which have occurred, that core ingredients of the original Bahamar Heads of Agreement as negotiated by the former administration, would not have been agreed to by this administration.

The Right Honorable Member for North Abaco has said as much from the first days of his return to office. However we know that notwithstanding those sentiments, here we are today, ready to stand true to our national obligations.

And so, Mr. Speaker, Sir, it was most appropriate, that when this administration took over, it sought fit to renegotiate certain components of the agreement so as to bring some measure of national dignity and equity for Bahamians here and present and for those Bahamians yet still to come.

New components such as Hyatt investing $40 million and two other hotel companies investing $10 million each, so as to take on equity positions in this project are significant.

The China State Construction Engineering Corporation has agreed to invest $150 million in the project and Scotiabank is leaving the unpaid balance of its loan so as to convert the same into a 12% equity stake in the project.

And last but by no means least, was the coup de grace for North Abaco’s detractors and the naysayers, that being the additional $200 million dollars for construction workers and for Bahamian sub-contractors that was gleaned as a direct result of the Prime Minister’s intervention with the Chinese lenders.

And the side opposite has the audacity and the cheek to suggest that the trip to China was a failure. Anytime Bahamian participation can be increased twofold, from $200 million to $400 million on a project, I am sure that the Bahamian people are willing to endure that kind of failure any day of the week.

The oft times quoted President of the Bahamas Contractor’s Association, Mr. Steven Wrinkle articulated his elation after he heard of the additional $200 million worth of work the Prime Minister had secured for Bahamian sub-contractors.  But success, work, and wealth for Bahamian subcontractors translates into less votes for the PLP and thus the trip was a failure.
Success, work, and wealth for any Bahamian save and except the PLP oligarchy who want to gobble up institutions like BTC, is failure for the country at large in their eyes.

The former Government knew that the sheer scale and size of the Bahamar project was bound to require a significant foreign labor component from the outset. The loan Agreement which Bahamar has entered into has certain labor pre-requisite conditions attached to it.  It is obvious that in this economic climate the lending options for Bahamar are greatly restricted if not prohibitive.  What are we then to do?

One PLP commentator and “self proclaimed financial guru” who regularly appears on radio talk shows, had an interesting take on the whole matter.  In the one breathe he indicated that if this government did not approve the Bahamar transaction, we would be living in an economic wasteland in very short order.  Now I do not agree with his hyperbolic analysis, but having regard to the same, I did find curious the second position taken by the learned gentleman. Let us say he was conflicted to say the least.

This pundit went on to state that on the other hand, we should not allow the non Bahamian labor component requirement under the very same Agreement.

Now how can we possibly pull off that trick.  I know that many members opposite are accustomed to having their cake and eating it too, but I am afraid that such a feat is most unlikely when dealing with the world’s second largest economy.

I submit that this project (even if Harrah’s would have remained the joint venture partner) would have necessitated foreign labor, the scope and volume of which, would have been determined by the project planners subject to their skills needs and time constraints.

Mr. Speaker Sir, it would be absolutely unforgiveable and indeed quite out of character, for the government of the day to callously agree to 8,000 plus foreign work permits, as unashamedly as the former Government just gave away the beach front jewels of the country. There will be oversight and regulatory control to avoid abuse.

Mr. Speaker Sir this Resolution gives every Member of this Chamber an opportunity to show to what side of history they will they belong.

This Resolution is not for the cowardly and the faint of heart.  This not for the summer soldier or the fair weather patriot.

We are not happy, indeed we are deeply grieved that we must part with land which has been the mainstay of the public’s direct investment in the tourism plant at Cable Beach.  But at the very least, this government has told Bahamar that the Bahamian people will not part with one more scintilla of its precious land and assets, until we have definitive evidence that they stand ready willing and able to complete their part of the obligation.

Thus it has been agreed that Bahamar will not be given $40 plus million dollars until it erects its structure to at least a height of 100 feet.  And Bahamar has also been advised that  the Bahamian people are not prepared to pay an additional $20 million dollars for utilities nor would we convey the extra land requested on Gladestone Road, but would instead lease it in keeping with our age old policy.

I pray that when they come to write the history of this period, historians will underscore and make special mention of the the Right Honorable Member for Farm Road and Centreville, who unlike Nero, who had a fiddle, chose instead to shuffle while the land was being bartered away.

The PLP vision is curtailed to a large Bahamian work force with no right of passage to Bahamian ownership and entrepreneurship. In the current PLP mode of thinking once a few select law firms and accounting agencies and contractors get their piece of the pie, then it “is to hell with the ordinary citizen”.

That is why they can’t be trusted.

That is why they can’t speak with one voice.

That is why no one wants to chance leaving them near the cookie jar.

They are busy fanning the flames of insurrection and intolerance. They can’t have their way so like the bully they want to break up the game.

Mr. Speaker Sir,

The Bahamar project with its proposed six new hotels with approximately 3,500 rooms and condominiums, and approximately 100,000 square feet of casino space, 200,000 square feet of convention facilities, a twenty acre beach and pool experience, an 18 hole golf course and 60,000 square foot retail village and additional residential products, can have an immense impact on our recovering economy.

It was initially proposed that it will create 3,000 construction jobs and in addition 7,000 new permanent jobs for Bahamians. The construction number should now be doubled.

This is a very ambitious project. So I have decided that we have to take the bitter with the sweet.

You know it would appear Mr. Speaker Sir, that it is the lot of the Right Honorable Prime Minister, to have as his legacy, that for a second time, during this his third non – consecutive term in office, that he would have overseen another re-birth of our tourism product.

The Right Honourable Prime Minister has again demonstrated leadership upon which you can trust  and rely . Here before us is what the PLP termed STOP CANCEL AND REVIEW.

Now we shall all see who are the real purveyors of STOP CANCEL AND REVIEW when the roll is called in short order.

Amidst all of the misinformation and sleight of hand political trickery that is being fed into the public domain, Mr. Speaker Sir, is the form of xenophobia which suggests that if approved the Chinese workers are coming to take something … or get more out of something, than what they will put into it .

As a nation that prides itself on its tourism industry and our hospitality, I wish to see this subtle form of discrimination stopped and stopped now.

The Chinese have the most successful economy in the world. They are a study in discipline and culture from which we can learn much.

The Chinese long before Bahamar even existed, put  their faith in the Bahamian people, and their money where their mouth is by giving us the gift of a substantial contribution towards the construction of the national stadium.

Chinese workers have been here before.  When the Crystal Palace was initially built a significant number of persons from the Philippines, India and Brazil came to the Bahamas as construction workers and thereafter left.  There was considerable opposition to that group as well, but the world did not come to an end.  They did their work and they left the jurisdiction.

I too wish that there would be a larger Bahamian workforce on this project.  I wish we could get 100% Bahamian participation. But alas that is not the reality of our circumstances.  We are trying to make the best of this situation.

When these Chinese workers are finished with their labour here in the Bahamas, I have no doubt that they will return home, to their own native land expeditiously.

Let us not allow this occasion to become one, in which the fear of persons and things foreign to us, leads to the creation of an enemy, out of a nation which hitherto has been a good friend and ally to us all.

Mr. Speaker Sir, our little country has played hosts to people of every walk of life and persuasion on this planet.

From South America came the Brazilians along with Andrade Guiterrezz Construction company to build the extension and US departure terminal at the Sir Lynden Pindling  International Airport.

From France came scores of persons along with Club Med and its signature properties at Paradise island, Eleuthera and San Salvador.

From Germany came touristic projects in Long Island, San Salvador and Cat Island just to name a few.

Mr. Speaker Sir this Resolution is about the Bahamian people and their interest. It is about BahaMar and their investment. It is about future, growth and development.

Mr. Speaker Sir at the end of the day what we do here and what we say here, is for and on behalf of the Bahamian people.

I regret that the former Government so capriciously ignored the principal issue involved here, which is and always shall for ever be THE BAHAMIAN PEOPLE.

This is the new age of accountability and transparency for which we have all labored and pinned. No back room deals, no secret clauses.  It is the People’s land, the Bahamian people’s business and the Bahmian People’s right to know that we defend here today.   

2 COMMENTS

  1. Bahamaspress will be made a legitimate purveyor of the news yet. Present the facts as they are, then allow me to make my own judgments. MP Ryan Pinder and MP Kenyatta Gibson did their parties well in presenting their positions. It is abundantly clear after a review of the presentations though, that Mr. Christie sold the Bahamian people short in his quest for a Baha Mar Tourist Legacy.
    Now that he has decided that he will not serve a full term if elected again and winning as Prime Minister, let me suggest that Ryan Pinder is a good replacement for Mr. Christie. Mr. Pinder has espoused more vision for the future of the Bahamas than Mr. Christie and most of his party has in 40 years. He has spunk and energy and is a forward thinker. I celebrate him as a progressive Bahamian. It is now that progressive Bahamians like Nairn, McCartney, Laing, Neymour, Pinder et al come together and create the vision for a future Bahamas. If these gentlemen can come together, put aside their differences and create a vision for the future of the Bahamas, their political futures will be assured irrespective of their party affiliation.

    • Joe let’s put this in perspective. YOU ARE READING WHAT WE PRESENTED! It is not the other way around ya know….

      BP

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