Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Debate and division on 4,920 work permits for Chinese labour for the $2.6 billion Baha Mar Cable Beach resort complex heat up

PLP should be prepared for September 8
tribune242 editorial

SEPTEMBER 8th is D-Day for Baha Mar when parliamentarians will debate and vote on whether to approve 4,920 work permits for Chinese labour to build the $2.6 billion Cable Beach resort complex. The investment is backed by a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China. The resort will be constructed by China State Construction Engineering Corporation and the request for the permits comes from the People's Republic of China.

Legislators are caught on a cleft stick with this one -- a case of be damned if you do, or damned if you don't.

Bahamians have always been against foreign labour to the point that even the unskilled believe that as long as they are Bahamians - regardless of their lack of ability - they should get all jobs. However, today the economic situation is different. The construction business is down, Bahamians are desperate for work.

The question is are they desperate enough to suppress their grumbles and agree to these permits in order to stimulate the economy and find employment for themselves, or are they going to dig their heels in and say: "No."

According to Baha Mar if this project goes ahead it will create 3,300 temporary jobs for Bahamians during construction and 7,000 permanent jobs on completion.

We have always understood that wherever in the world Chinese investors build, they do it with their own labour. Looking at it from the Chinese point of view, their country also has to provide employment for their own people. It is their money which they invest in their citizens to create a project in a foreign land. On completion that project will then benefit the country in which it is located.

Mr Christie believes that the Chinese government -- with better negotiating skills on the part of Mr Ingraham -- could have been talked out of such an unusual request. Little does Mr Christie know. When these permits were first talked of the figures being tossed about were between 5,000 and 6,000 workers. If this is so to get the Chinese -- who we understand are adamant about their Chinese labour policy -- to drop down to 4,920 is a miracle in itself. However, if these permits are eventually agreed, with the exception of a handful of their top executives, everyone of them must return to China on the completion of the contract. This should be non-negotiable.

Mr Christie is agitated because - after many complaints of not being consulted by the Ingraham government -- he is now being asked to join that government in deciding whether these permits should be granted. For once he would rather Mr Ingraham let that bitter cup pass from him. He believes it is a cabinet decision, not his. However, what he must never forget is that if he had been more decisive in dealing with the Baha Mar development before he lost the government in 2007, there would have been no need for this debate. So not only is it incumbent upon Mr Christie and his colleagues to step up to the plate and vote on behalf of their constituents, but the PLP should recognise that what is being requested is unprecedented in Bahamian history. Therefore, voices from all segments of this country must be represented, and the only way to hear from the people is through their "representers."

We hope that Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell is not going to waste the time of the House by blaming Prime Minister Ingraham for losing the Harrah's Entertainment deal because of a statement he made in the House.

He must remember that the new owners of Harrah's -- as disclosed in a case before the Supreme Court of New York -- had decided to abandon the Baha Mar-Harrah's agreement before Mr Ingraham even spoke in the House.

Mr Mitchell must also be reminded of the January 25, 2006 letter of Sarkis Izmilian, CEO of Baha Mar, to Mr Christie, in which he stated that despite his (Izmilian's) "best efforts these past three odd years the Government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas (the Christie government) has failed me." Mr Izmilian added that he was at that time considering whether "investing billions of dollars in this country is the right decision."

It must also be remembered that the Christie government was still negotiating with Baha Mar up to two days before the 2007 election, which the PLP lost. Mr Mitchell must also recall that, because of the many rumours spinning around at the time, there was no way that the Ingraham government could sign the Christie government's unfinished agreement without much investigation. He must especially remember the "secret" agreements in the contract about the land deals that the Christie government knew would explode in its face if it came to the floor of the House and the knowledge of the Bahamian people. Therefore, a scheme was devised so that the controversial land transfers would not have to be approved by the House -- certainly not before the 2007 election.

"The country is desperately in need of relief in respect to this dire unemployment situation," Mr Christie told the press after a party meeting over the weekend to decide the position they would take in the September 8th debate. "The question for us is examining in detail what the implications are, the impact on Bahamian labour, and the length of time of the work permits."

This is the issue. When September 8th comes we hope that both sides stay focused. Regardless of whether the Christie Opposition tries to muddy the waters with red herrings, sits mute, or stays away, the position they take will be judged on that momentous day.

August 24, 2010

tribune242 editorial