Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press:
There are two matters that I wish specifically to address this afternoon. Firstly, the undemocratic and calculated misconduct of the Opposition in seeking to delay and derail the 2010/11 Budget.
I will also address the pandering and posturing of the Opposition in relation to the proposed BahaMar development.
The 2010/11 Budget Debate will go down in Bahamian history as a watershed moment. During one of the most serious debates about our future, the Official Opposition abandoned its constitutional role.
Around the world responsible government are acting to protect the interests of their people. In The Bahamas, the Opposition has announced that it is disinterested in taking and tough decisions. Instead they have decided to mount a campaign of smoke and mirrors to disguise their true interest – the pursuit of personal power at any and all costs.
The Leader of the Opposition exited the parliament of The Bahamas on the evening of 10th June after most of his members began to leave. Indeed he was amongst the last of the PLP Members to stand and leave the House. Hurriedly he called a press conference to correct a previously released press statement informing the public that his Party had voted against the Budget. Now he had to explain why his Party had abandoned the people’s business.
Those who are truly in control of his Party decided to instigate an end to the legitimate debate of the Budget by introducing unconstitutional amendments.
The Leader of the Opposition was powerless to control that element. This was par for the course. He had failed during 5 years as Prime Minister to control his Cabinet or his back bench.
1. The Bahamas Constitution States: No amendment to a Money Bill, which has the effect of imposing any charge upon the Public Treasury, can be moved by anyone other than a Government Minister on the recommendation of the Cabinet.
I remind the Bahamian people that by law, the national budget has to be passsed and signed by the Governor General to come into effect 1 July.
If the PLP had their way, the budget would be late and thousands of civil servants would not have been paid on time; essential government services would have ground to a halt and thousands of civil servants would have found themselves without access to their earned pay.
By storming our of Parliament the PLP failed to cast their votes for or against a decrease in Parliamentary salaries, an increase in taxes on beer, departure tax, motor vehicle licensing fees and increase in customs duty on the import of motor vehicles, increases on hotel guest taxes and voting on the budget itself. In short, they ducked having to make a hard choice.
The PLP proved that even they did not have faith in their antics. They did not have the courage of their convictions to actually stay in the House and vote against the Budget on the vote for second reading and committal.
The PLP’s Bizarre Comments on Bahamar
The second matter I wish to address is the irresponsible pandering of the Leader of the Opposition on the issue of the renewed potential of the Bahamar investment, and the speculative numbers of Chinese construction workers, who along with thousands of Bahamians, would be employed by the revitalized project, should the same be approved by the Chinese and Bahamian Governments.
Mr. Christie has suggested that my Government is seeking to keep secret, its negotiations with Bahamar.
No negotiations are taking place between the Bahamas Government and Bahamar.
I want to remind the Leader of the Opposition that he left Bahamar with a signed Heads of Agreement dated April, 2005 but that his Government failed to do the necessary as far as the obligations of the Government under that Agreement to transfer certain Government-owned lands to Bahamar – specifically portions of West Bay Street.
The Leader of the Opposition also sought prior to May 2007 to conclude a Supplementary Heads of Agreement with Bahamar. He failed to complete it by the time his Government was voted out of Office in May, 2007.
Subsequently my Government completed the stalled negotiations for a Supplemental Heads of Agreement and signed that agreement on 31 January, 2008.
We brought the 2008 Supplemental Agreement to Parliament on the 18th February, 2008. And, we sought and obtained that approval of Parliament for the transfer of certain government-owned lands to Bahamar.
The public is aware that Bahamar’s arrangement with its American partners -Harrahs Entertainment (Harrahs), Starwood Hotels, and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (Starwood) as provided for in the 2005 and 2008 Heads of Agreements failed.
Since that time Bahamar has sought to find new funding for its billion dollar development at Cable Beach.
The Bahamas Government has been flexible with the time lines for the commencement and completion of the Bahamar development project so as to permit Bahamar some leeway in obtaining the required funding for the project.
Bahamar has announced periodically in the press, progress being made in securing that financing, most recently from the China Export Import Bank and the China State Construction Company. The Bahamas Government is not a part of those negotiations but has been kept informed of the discussions.
Bahamar has advised publicly that its arrangements under negotiation with the Chine Export Import Bank and the China State Construction Company includes a provision for the engagement of a large number of Chinese labourers on the project.
Bahamar has also commented in the press that the construction of the new West Bay Street corridor and the new commercial village associated with the proposed Bahamar project is likely to engage the majority of suitably skilled Bahamian construction workers including the majority of those now unemployed.
The Government of The Bahamas is committed to ensuring that foreign direct investment in our economy benefits Bahamians. It would be unconscionable for large numbers of foreign workers to be engaged in The Bahamas if large numbers of similarly skilled Bahamians are available to take up those jobs.
Recently, I indicated that the large number of foreign workers likely to be required for the Bahamar project was not a decision which the Government would make without reference to the Parliament of The Bahamas. It has been estimated that at some point there could be as many as two foreign workers for every one Bahamian worker. This contrasts with the ratio at the Kerzner International worksite, where at the height of construction 7 out of every 10 labourers were Bahamians.
Mr. Christie, while certain to seek credit as the “father” of the Bahamar Project is already seeking to find shelter from becoming a part of a tough decision on the labour component for the construction of that project.
Mr. Christie is recorded as having stated to the Press that “with respect to that decision (foreign workers for Bahamar construction), the Prime Minister is on his very own.”
Just as my Government tabled the January 2008 Supplementary Heads of Agreement concluded between the Government and Bahamar, and just as my Government sought legal authority of the Bahamian Parliament to transfer government-owned lands to Bahamar, should that company meet conditions precedent set out in both the 2005 and 2008 heads of Agreements, my Government will seek Parliament authorization for any extraordinary labour component of any agreement reached between Bahamar and its funding agencies.
I want to make clear that only if the Government of China signals its intention to approve the funding of the Bahamar Project by the China Export Import Bank and the China State Construction Company will my Government give consideration to the matter.
I also make abundantly clear that my Government will not approve any extraordinary foreign labour component for the Bahamar Project without the support of the Official Opposition.