Thursday, October 14, 2010

Baha Mar Drama - (Part 1)

The Drama at Baha Mar – Part 1
by Simon

Lights, camera, action! At least, that was the theory. With giddy fanfare the Christie administration broke into the ZNS evening news to broadcast live from Cable Beach a deal hyping an agreement with Baha Mar. The made-for-television reality show was obviously and deliberately timed to coincide with the beginning of the evening news, commandeering most of that night’s broadcast.

But after the lights and cameras trekked back to Third Terrace Centreville, nothing happened. Well, quite a bit happened. Except, of course, the construction of the promised mega complex. The original deal, the world economy and the Christie administration all collapsed, though not necessarily in that order.

The impressive architectural models and glittering high-tech videos of the touted development glossed over the realities on the ground. The public relations bonanza also obscured the nature and details surrounding the proposed plans to re-develop the historic Cable Beach.

We have seen this reality show before. It involves the same mindset, plot and cast of PLP cabinet ministers and their associated dealmakers that brought us the Great Mayaguana Land Give-away. The initial arrangements for the Baha Mar deal and the I-Group deal in Mayaguana involved more than rank hypocrisy by the party whose progressive and liberal brand name are whispery echoes of a by-gone era.

More fundamentally, the deals betrayed the PLP’s own nationalist rhetoric and chest-thumping patriotism. At the core of the Cable Beach and Mayaguana deals were stunning betrayals of the very idea of Bahamianization. This included making Bahamians subordinate in the deals, while alienating prime Crown Land and Government real estate to foreigners in perpetuity.


Equally galling, was the PLP’s attempt to market these schemes to Bahamians as if we were idiots who could not see the big picture or read the fine print. There was also the smugness and arrogance by PLP hucksters. They pretended that these deals were more for the benefit of ordinary Bahamians than for the self-satisfied oligarchs who brokered them with gleeful abandon.

As recently as the 2010/11 budget debate, the Opposition’s Leader in the Senate, Senator Allyson Maynard Gibson, boasted that the Mayaguana Development Company, the group responsible for a proposed development at our most easterly island, was owned 50/50 by the I-Group and the Bahamas Government.

As noted in Front Porch in July: “This 50/50 arrangement would have eventually sold off nearly 100 per cent of Mayaguana’s coastal area and nearly 10,000 acres to non-Bahamians.

“As Mayaguana, by comparison, is somewhat larger than New Providence, the deal the PLP continues to brag about was the equivalent of turning over to a single developer a stretch of coastal land from the eastern end of New Providence to Lyford Cay. Again, the vast majority of this land would have ended up in foreign hands.”

Back to the drama at Baha Mar. Perry Gladstone Christie and his new PLP sold off at bargain basement prices prime beachfront and other public land at Cable Beach that Sir Stafford Sands and the UBP, Sir Lynden Pindling and an earlier version of the PLP, and Hubert Ingraham and the FNM never did over the course of more than half a century. Mr. Christie now has his place in the history books!

The original Baha Mar deal was a disaster on so many levels. Despite the rhetoric, the supposedly new PLP under Mr. Christie never updated their philosophy and policy ideas. The party simply wanted to be back in power. Upon returning to office they scrambled, cobbling together various slogans, clichés and talking points to justify their old habits of wheeling and dealing.

Perhaps realizing the controversial nature of significant elements of the original Baha Mar deal, Mr. Christie -- who purports to be the man of great consultation -- kept details of the deal secret. It was left to the Ingraham administration to table the Heads of Agreements on the initial deal.


This was an insult added to the many injuries inflicted on our national interest in the initial deal, including public land sold at discounted prices and the proposed grant of extraordinarily generous concessions and cash payments. There were initial hints that Goodman’s Bay may have been alienated from the Bahamian people, though somebody appeared to backtrack quickly on this affront.

With Baha Mar and various anchor projects, the PLP failed to embrace newer ideas in terms of our tourism product and economic development. The idea of Baha Mar as essentially another Atlantis may have been a critical mistake. Such a vision stoked the egos of the proponents of the deal and Mr. Christie.

Still, a different type of project or variety of projects at Cable Beach, aimed at a different tourism demographic, would have been the wiser course of action. Moreover, rather than alienating invaluable public land, other arrangements could have been made to secure most of this land for generations of Bahamians.

In the Mayaguana deal the PLP at least pretended to be concerned about the national interest. The deal with Baha Mar was a give-away of monumental proportions.

There could have also been arrangements to enable Bahamians to have various levels of ownership and equity in a development which was to be built on mostly public land. Instead, the Christie administration turned its back on the core ideal of Bahamianization which was at the heart of the movement for Majority Rule.

Sadly, with the conclusion of the original deal with Baha Mar, there was no turning back, one of the slogans beloved by the PLP’s marketers. That other favourite PLP slogan, “Forward Ever, Backward Never”, also crashed and burned in light of the initial deal negotiated by Mr. Christie.

Having set in motion and made unavoidable many of the features of the current deal with Baha Mar, Mr. Christie in his typical political style, has left it up to Prime Minister Ingraham to do the heavy lifting on a final deal which he himself failed to conclude.


Now Mr. Christie is commenting on the Prime Minister’s tone – tone! -- on a final deal. This is in keeping with his usual course of inaction in which style and tone are more important than substance. After all, who can forget his gushing and ingratiating tone when the Baha Mar deal was announced live on television? For all of Mr. Christie’s sweet melodies and tone, nothing happened.

Moreover, despite his lovely tone about the initial deal, he brokered an agreement which was wrong for The Bahamas on many levels. Mr. Ingraham has replaced Mr. Christie’s amateur tone with that of a seasoned leader. Whereas Mr. Christie was impetuous and cavalier, Mr. Ingraham has been measured and has driven a harder bargain.

Unlike Sir Lynden and the PLP’s unilateral abrogation of elements of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, Mr. Ingraham negotiated the best deal he could for the Bahamas with Baha Mar. He has struck the right tone in negotiating with others who simply rolled over the hapless Mr. Christie, who was panicked about getting a deal at just about any cost to secure his re-election and legacy.

Short-term, the Prime Minister has sometimes been criticized about his manner and timing in negotiating elements of a final deal. In the longer term the wisdom of his negotiating strategy may prove more beneficial for the country.

In addition to tabling all heads of agreements related to Baha Mar, the Prime Minister is correct in bringing a resolution to the House of Assembly so that the Bahamian people’s elected representatives can express their will.

This will be time for Mr. Christie to do something which he has been reluctant to do from the inception of Baha Mar: To go on record clearly and unambiguously about his party’s stance on many of the controversial issues involved in an agreement whose initial seeds he helped to plant and water.

Baha Mar Drama - (Part 2)