OSWALD BROWN WRITES
The Radisson Resort at Our Lucaya’s decision to layoff 202 employees could not have come at a worse time for the island of Grand Bahama, which has been struggling to extricate itself from economic quicksand since the damage caused by two devastating hurricanes in 2004 forced the Royal Oasis Resort and Casino, the hub of economic activity in the downtown area, to shut down.
With unemployment in Grand Bahama by some estimates exceeding 20 percent, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and his FNM government acted quickly to try and cushion the blow for those who joined the ranks of the unemployed last Friday when they received their layoff notices from Our Lucaya, but the stop-gap measures announced by Minister of Labour and Social Development Dion Foulkes at a press conference on Friday can hardly be considered as evidence that the FNM government “recognizes the hardship being experienced by families here in Grand Bahama, especially the former employees of Our Lucaya,” as Foulkes claims. Clearly, the FNM government’s lack of attention to the hardships being experienced by residents of Freeport, the nation’s second most populous city, and Grand Bahama in general suggests otherwise.
What’s more, it is time to stop placing the blame on the word-wide recession as being the major reason for the economic plight of Grand Bahama. The truth of the matter is that the FNM Government, and particularly Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, simply lacked the vision to find innovative ways to address Grand Bahama’s economic problems, especially after it became quite apparent that tourism, the mainstay of The Bahamas’ economy, was practically on its deathbed in Grand Bahama and needed an infusion of fresh ideas to revive it.
Everyone involved in tourism accepts that the crux of the problem with regard to more tourists coming to Grand Bahama is the lack of one or more of the major airlines bringing passengers to the island on a daily basis. Since we are aware of this fact, it stands to reason that more effort should have been made to correct this problem. If landing fees at Grand Bahama International Airport (GBPA) are too high, as some have suggested, rather than pick fights with the GBPA, the government should have used the negotiations process to focus more attention on this issue. I am sure officials of the GPBA are still as committed to the continued growth and development of Grand Bahama as they were when their efforts resulted in Freeport being dubbed “The Magic City.”
Meanwhile, if nothing concrete was accomplished and reviving tourism continued to be difficult, it would have made every sense in the world to revert to the original idea behind the creation of Freeport, and that was to establish an industrial enclave for which no duty on imported materials served as a magnet for companies wishing to invest in Freeport. This was what Edward St. George, the late chairman of the GBPA, did when he successfully negotiated for companies like the Freeport Container Port and the Grand Bahama Shipyard, among others, to infuse new life in Grand Bahama’s economy.
This was also the approach the new GBPA management team, headed by Chairman Hannes Babak, had embarked upon to nurse Freeport’s economy back to good health. But for some insane reason, for which Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has yet to provide an explanation, Babak’s work permit was not renewed at the end of 2009. The decision not to renew the Babak’s permit was made in a surprise announcement by Ingraham at a press conference in the VIP Lounge of the Lynden Pindling International Airport shortly before he left for Copenhagen, Denmark, in December of 2009 to participate in the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.
Ingraham gave no reason for his decision, which he apparently made without informing then Minister of Immigration Branville McCartney, who was responsible for dealing with matters of this nature. However, I refuse to believe that Babak’s work permit was not renewed because he had fired someone who was a friend of Ingraham’s, a claim that was fodder for the rumour mill at the time. I can’t possibly believe that the Prime Minister of The Bahamas would be so irresponsible.
What is unquestionably true, however, is that it was a stupid decision that derailed or aborted several major projects that Babak was working on bring to Freeport. Babak is well known European financial circles and along with GBPA President Ian Rolle, they seemed to be taking the GBPA in the right direction in the aftermath of the acrimonious public squabble between the two principal owners of the GBPA – Sir Jack Hayward and the estate of his late partner Edward St. George – that resulted in a court battle having to determine who owned what percentage of the GBPA.
Surely, it can be successfully argued that if Ingraham had not refused to renew Babak’s work permit and stubbornly declined to reconsider his decision, despite public statements of support for Babak from Sir Jack, Grand Bahama would not be in the poor economic health it is now in. To make matters worse, instead of acceding to Sir Jack’s wishes that Babak’s work permit be renewed, Ingraham decided to play hard ball with him because of his refusal to agree to the sale of the GBPA to the Chinese owners of the Container Port. An extremely wealthy British aristocrat with strong conservative views, Sir Jack’s opposition to the sale of the GBPA to the Chinese obviously is because of their communist ideology.
So as long as this stalemate between Ingraham and Sir Jack continues, the chances of Grand Bahama making strides towards economic recovery are dismal. Therefore, rather than announcing stop-gap measures to help ease the pain of the 202 employees layed off by Our Lucaya Resort last Friday, Labour and Social Development Minister Foulkes should be seeking the support of his cabinet colleagues to convince Ingraham to stop being so stubborn and realize that he made a mistake in not renewing the work permit of Hannes Babak. He should follow this up by sending an urgent message to Sir Jack to contact Babak and inform him that he will get a work permit to continue doing the good job he was doing at GBPA aimed at nursing the island’s economy back to good health.
Oswald T. Brown
Freeport, Grand Bahama
March 7, 2011