Nation for sale, pt. 2
PHILIP C. GALANIS
Published: Sep 23, 2013
Last week, we invited our readers to consider whether The Bahamas, along with its most important assets, has become a nation for sale to the highest foreign bidders. This week, we would like to Consider this… does our history confirm whether we have been and continue to be a nation for sale?
Any discussion of our nation and foreign investors must start with the legacy of the three men who have led this country over the past five decades. Most political leaders are very conscious of their legacy, which is what they have accomplished during their tenure and how they will be remembered by history.
Sir Lynden Pindling’s legacy
Sir Lynden Pindling’s legacy will forever be concretized as a liberator and political emancipator, having led Bahamians to majority rule and then to national independence, as well as rapidly expanding the Bahamian middle class. Like other Caribbean founding fathers of their nations, Sir Lynden will enjoy the public and private plaudits and platitudes reserved for such greats as Norman Manley of Jamaica, Errol Barrow of Barbados, Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago and John Compton of St. Lucia, to mention a few.
The middle class expansion coincided with the enormous infusion of foreign direct investment in a post-independent Bahamas, most notably in tourism, financial services and the industrial sectors, the latter more prominently in Freeport, Grand Bahama.
Perhaps the greatest negative that will interminably blemish Sir Lynden’s 25-year tenure is the drug trade that so negatively pervaded and devastated our society in the 1970s and 1980s and left an enduring scourge on our country four decades later.
One of the reasons that Hubert Ingraham defeated Sir Lynden at the polls in 1992 was the former’s ability to persuade the Bahamian electorate that The Bahamas had become a “nation for sale” to the foreign drug lords and that that sell-out demonstrated that the PLP should be voted out.
Hubert Ingraham, the nation’s second prime minister, will have a positive legacy relative to his radical transformation of the political culture of The Bahamas by freeing the airwaves, which before the Ingraham years were monopolized under the PLP by the state radio and television stations. He will also receive high marks for significantly improving the appallingly archaic infrastructure throughout The Bahamas.
However, Ingraham will also be remembered for empowering the foreign investor, sometimes at the expense of Bahamians. One of his first acts as prime minister in 1992 was to repeal the Immovable Property Act, which moderated the purchase of large tracts of Bahamian land by non-Bahamians, stopping the previous practice of buying on speculation of capital appreciation and with no requirements to develop such land. The repeal of this law and the replacement legislation that once again facilitated the acquisition of land by foreigners benefited Ingraham’s political benefactors, principally old-money realtors who further enriched themselves with hefty commissions earned from resulting land sales, driving land prices far beyond the reach of many upwardly mobile Bahamians.
Also during his first term, the Ingraham administration sold two government-owned hotels on Cable Beach to Jamaican nationals, namely the Ambassador Beach Hotel, purchased by John Issa and renamed Breezes, and the Balmoral Beach Hotel, purchased by Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart and renamed Sandals. Both of these properties, although sold at bargain-basement prices, have enhanced the Bahamian hotel inventory and provided sustainable jobs for many. While we do not criticize those investors for making what were obviously prudent investments in The Bahamas, the more essential question is: Could and should these properties have been offered to Bahamians in order to encourage them to have a substantial equity interest in our primary industry? That was not done.
During his second term, Ingraham attempted to allow the sale of the property which sits on the Clifton Heritage National Park. The wealthy investors wanted to convert this ‘sanctuary’ into a gated community primarily for rich foreign investors, with finger canals dug into an aquifer and a golf course. It was only after tremendous opposition to this plan and a promise by Perry Christie, then the leader of the opposition, along with the support of throngs of environmentally-conscious and historically-minded Bahamians, that if the Ingraham administration proceeded with that development, when he came to office, that decision would be rescinded. The public outcry forced the Ingraham administration to reverse its decision to proceed with that development.
Today, virtually every Bahamian citizen who can dial a telephone curses the day that the third Ingraham administration sold our national telephone company to a foreign company, Cable and Wireless, when there were suitably qualified Bahamians who could have completed that acquisition.
There is no doubt that Ingraham, who blindly led his Cabinet colleagues who were either too weak or too ignorant to put the brakes on our nation’s sale, will leave a legacy known for the sale of our patrimony to foreigners.
Our current, and the nation’s third prime minister, Perry Christie, is still working on building a legacy for his tenure in office this second time around. Having spent only one term in office from 2002 to 2007, Christie initially seemed to continue to march to the rhythm of his predecessors by promoting an anchor project policy for the Family Islands, which, at first glance, sounded good, but when seriously considered, involved a record-setting sale of Crown land to foreigners, again, as before, in the name of national development.
In his first term in office, the Christie administration did little to economically empower Bahamians. The government’s primary focus was on the red carpet that was spread out for foreigners, while simultaneously piling on the red tape for Bahamians. This, among other things, was one of the reasons why his party was dumped by the electorate in 2007 for Ingraham.
We can only hope that the current government’s approach to foreign direct investment will not be as myopic this time as it was last. Christie has a golden opportunity to catapult us to the next stage of our national development by elevating Bahamians from workers to owners, from employees to employers, from jobholders to shareholders. He has an opportunity, like Sir Lynden who took a chance on a young group of Bahamians who called themselves the ‘Sunshine Boys’. Surely, a success like theirs can be repeated in the first two decades of the 21st century.
Christie has the singularly unique opportunity – like never before – to build a positive legacy that will include the radical transformation of The Bahamas from a politically independent country that is primarily dependent on foreign direct investment into an economically empowered one, where citizens and foreigners will never be able to even consider the possibility that we are a nation for sale.
No sensible person will oppose the need for foreign direct investment in The Bahamas; rather, what we will oppose is a foreign direct investment policy that is not sensible and is exclusionary to our own. We will look at the latter next week.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.