Sunday, June 17, 2012

We all agree that Bahamians with qualifications should not be overlooked... but we also agree with Mr Chester Cooper of the Chamber of Commerce that "'Bahamian First' must not mean 'Bahamian First at any cost' ...We clearly need to perform at international standards to keep the Bahamas competitive"

Bahamians First, 'But Not At Any Cost'


IN THIS column yesterday, we published a warning from the World Bank that fears about the eurozone had reduced investors' tolerance for risk. The bank urged poorer economies -- and this includes the Bahamas - to protect themselves by reducing their debts.

The world's fear of a prolonged -- much longer than originally predicted -- economic crisis greatly threatens our islands because of the nature of our two major industries -- tourism and finance. Of course, to hear the blustering of the PLP on the campaign trail, the Bahamas' unique economy has in no way been affected by this crisis. Although on one occasion Prime Minister Christie, while still in opposition, did concede that even if it had, during Prime Minister Ingraham's administration, Mr Ingraham had made the situation worse. Despite the fact that Mr Ingraham was doing a yeoman's job of managing the Bahamas' affairs so that the suffering here has not been as great as in other countries, the PLP refused to give him any credit. And so, during their five years, we hope never to hear any of them blame the difficult times that we might still have to face on the world's economy -- as far as they are concerned it does not exist. Too many Bahamians believed them -- so for them whatever goes wrong will be the fault of the new government - don't look outside for excuses.

However, like it or not, the stark facts are: The Bahamas' bread and butter comes from tourism and investment. Tourists travel when they have a small nest egg set aside for their vacations. To hear the world's economists talk, in the next year or so this will be greatly curtailed because that nest egg will have to go to pay mortgages, school fees, etc -- savings, savings and more savings will be the name of the game.

Therefore, a place like the Bahamas, which has almost priced itself out of the market with, among other things, its high utility costs, will have to cater to the rich who will be the only ones with the surplus cash to live like kings -- and travel to places like the Bahamas.

Mr Ingraham, in trying to create jobs during this difficult period, decided to improve the country's infrastructure to raise standards that would attract the wealthy -- at the same time putting Bahamians to work. He was criticised for this. But, like it or not, the Bahamas has to have a standard that would encourage a wealthy man -- as happened a few weeks ago -- to take over an entire hotel, turn the centre court into a tropical pool and create on the remaining courts an Arabian Nights setting for his daughter's multi-million dollar wedding. These are the people that this country will need for their survival -- the average citizen will no longer be able to afford "a short trip over". So whatever, the new government is thinking, we hope they will widen their vision and continue the improvement of the island's infrastructure now under contract.

As for the financial side of our economy and the need for investors, the attitude -- that we heard expressed on the floor of the House many years ago -- of "bring 'em in, suck 'em dry, and throw away the husks" just will not work. Just as Shane Gibson's blustering over work permits certainly will close the door to many potential investors.

We all agree that no Bahamian should be without a job if his credentials -- and work ethic -- fully qualifies him for a position.

However, what Mr Gibson must accept is that it is the owner of the business who decides the standard of the person he wants on his staff -- not Mr Gibson's Immigration Department.

Any investor coming in will want around him persons who have worked with him for years -- one of whom will be his accountant. If they are not given some consideration, then they just won't invest.

Many are concerned by Mr Gibson's putting employer's "on notice" that the issuing of labour certificates will no longer be "business as usual."

He said companies that hire foreigners must send "justification" for every employee that they have on work permits to the government.

Employers, who The Tribune interviewed, want to know what his plans are as they already justify every work permit application. These employers maintain that they have measured up to all of Immigration's requirements. They now want to know what Mr Gibson is planning.

At a time when we need all the foreign investment that we can get, Mr Gibson's intemperate threats will certainly not bring them in.

We all agree that Bahamians with qualifications should not be overlooked, but we also agree with Mr Chester Cooper of the Chamber of Commerce that "'Bahamian First' must not mean 'Bahamian First at any cost'. We clearly need to perform at international standards to keep the Bahamas competitive".

June 14, 2012