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Now that the general election has been concluded, the average Bahamian must not and should not expect the ushering in of "heaven on earth". The challenges which confront the Christie administration are exceedingly great but I am more than persuaded that they will be overcome, where possible, and managed effectively where they cannot be totally eradicated.
Perry Christie, a lifelong friend, and his team have a rocky road ahead. The expectations of most Bahamians have been heightened and crystallized by electoral hype and promises. No one governmental initiative will ever be able to eradicate crime and the fear of crime. Already we have recorded some seven alleged homicides since the advent of the Christie administration.
Some deluded political pundits and their half-baked cronies have "blamed" the incoming Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration for these alleged homicides. Crime exists within the mind and ability of all of us but the distinction between law-abiding people and the actual criminals is simple. The latter acts out his/her inclinations. The rest of us either walk away or resort to conflict resolution.
Far too many of our younger people have been born and reared in hostile and debilitating circumstances. Mind you, these are not absolute excuses for anti-social behavior but they do not help the stark reality. A large number of our youth, especially, the males, tend to drop out of or abandon the educational system for whatever reasons.
As a result they are "dumb" and "un-trainable" in far too many cases. They end up following the life of a delusional thug and/or druggie. Society then pays a heavy price. Low income levels and menial jobs are the order of the day. This results in literal economic slavery and bogus personal goals. As a direct result, a majority of them are relegated to the life of serfdom/slavery.
Over the past five years, due to international financial circumstances and the cockeyed economic response by the outgoing Free National Movement (FNM) administration and its seemingly autocratic former leader, the Bahamian middle class has been decimated. We now have the phenomenon of the working poor. Thousands of homes have been foreclosed on and even more people now lead hopeless and non-productive lives. Many have been forced to beg, rob and steal. Some have had to resort to actual prostitution.
Of course, the FNM and its rejected leadership, across the board, cannot be entirely blamed for the prevailing economic and social conditions within the nation; but they sure assisted, greatly, in jacking us all up. Hubert Ingraham, God bless his soul, has now ridden off into the Abaconian sunset and left all of us holding "papa's brand new bag". That bag, such as it is, alas, is empty.
Most of us are now on the road to serfdom and will be picking peas out of shaving cream for a long time. Those rejects of the FNM will "survive" as most of them are professionals or business persons who have allegedly accumulated big money during their tenure in office. Some of them use to live amongst us, now they live behind high gates. Others always had access to money and the rest would have made business alliances and connections since being in office. There will also be one or two who will immediately move into the private sector in industries and trades which they once regulated.
The Christie administration must deal with three issues immediately: crime and its causes; massive unemployment and under-employment; and, of course, the jump starting of the economy. None of these issues will be a cakewalk and the prime minister must join with all stakeholders and reasonable Bahamians, across the political divide, in coming up with viable solutions.
These are "the best of times but also the most challenging of times" and the partisan nonsense must be stopped and stopped now. The issues, I submit, are all about bread and butter. Yes, there are other challenges but bread and butter ones are key.
I invite Dr. Bernard Nottage (PLP-Bains Town & Grants Town), the minister of national security, to call a conclave within the next 30 days of all relevant parties at a secure retreat to hash out all important matters related to his portfolio -- no grandstanding and certainly no political posturing.
The clergy, members from civil society, law enforcement agencies and others should huddle down at Gambier or Adelaide for a day or two away from the daily distractions. There is no need to go over to Atlantis or over to any other "big name" resort. In fact, I suggest the use of the facilities of small Bahamian hoteliers and restaurants.
Relative to unemployment, the minister of labour, the minister of finance and the minister of immigration should also hold a retreat with stakeholders and others to flesh out workable solutions to the vexing problem of unemployment and under-employment.
Bahamians, once again, must come first in our own nation. Where foreign investors need to be courted, so be it but local entrepreneurs must be offered the exact same incentives and access to capital -- no more, no less. Slack immigration and migration of illegal persons must be addressed and stopped within the next 60 days.
As a person who believes in reconciliation and consensus, I am not prone to call for the appointment of commissions of inquiry, but they must be convoked to investigate many of the acts done by the FNM while in office. No, we don't need a witch hunt, but the chips must fall where they may. Too much "funny business" may have gone down over the past five years and we must get to the bottom of it if we are to get off the road to serfdom.
Christie and his administration, if they do the right things, may well remain in power for the next decade. If they fail, however, they know, by now, that the Bahamian electorate has awoken from its long slumber and will not tolerate slackness, nepotism and gross neglect from our political leaders. If they slip, history will not be too kind to them.
To God then, in all things, be the glory.
- Ortland H. Bodie Jr.
By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE BAHAMAS Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) yesterday said it continued to remain vigilant over the employment situation at Atlantis following Brookfield Asset Management's assumption of ownership, interpreting the fact it had not been called in as a positive sign.
Union president, Nicole Martin, said that the union had not been involved in any talks with management prior to the move, telling Tribune Business yesterday: "We didn't have any formal discussions, which is actually a good thing.
"Our contracts says that if there is a change in ownership, prior to the sale the employer w ...
Local economists and analysts must be watching with a very wary eye the most recent jobs reports coming out of the United States.
Last week, the latest jobs numbers -- for the month of May -- were released. The news was worrisome. The U.S. economy added only 69,000 jobs for that month, compared to 77,000-plus in April and 143,000-plus in March.
America's recovery from now what is widely referred to as the 'Great Recession' is sputtering at best.
This is bad news for The Bahamas. Weak performance in the U.S. economy translates into weak performance in The Bahamas' major economic pillar -- tourism.
The close inter-relationship between the U.S. and Bahamian economies is nothing new and the impact of any movement in U.S. labor markets is almost instantly transmitted to our tourist industry.
American visitors to The Bahamas tend to travel more frequently when they are confident about their future well being and when they have surplus funds or more disposable income at their command.
As the U.S. economy slowly emerges from the devastating global recession, any news regarding a slow down in job growth in the U.S. not only shakes the confidence of the U.S. consumer, it could also lead to immediate adjustments in household budgets resulting in cut-backs in unnecessary discretionary spending, or more precisely, tourist travel to places such as The Bahamas.
For the past three years or more the Ministry of Tourism together with local tourists associations have been desperately trying to increase visitor numbers to The Bahamas via various promotion and advertising strategies including subsidizing "companion-free" flights to The Bahamas. More recently, the mega-resort Atlantis, once known for its robust occupancy, has severely slashed its rates to attract badly-needed visitors.
While there has been some success, we are not out of the woods yet and any disturbances in the U.S. labor markets which would dampen or restrain our efforts is, to say the least, most unwelcomed.
Some analysts predict that the economic turmoil in Europe could push the U.S. and most of the rest of the world into another big recession. If that is the case, Bahamians should brace themselves for the fact that these tough economic times are not going anywhere soon. And act accordingly.
In the face of the dismal jobs reports, we are dealing with our own set of economic challenges. The country's deficit for the 2011/2012 fiscal year rose to a record $570 million -- an increase of $256 million or 82 percent more than the $314 million that was originally anticipated. The government now has to borrow $504 million to cover this deficit. This means that the national debt will increase to $4.8 billion by the end of the next fiscal year. And a projected $5.4 billion by 2014.
These continue to be extraordinary economic times that require bold, creative and extraordinary measures from policy makers.
We are hopeful, for our collective sakes, that the recent downturn in the U.S. job numbers are an aberration and not the beginning of a long negative trend which could render further harm to our increasingly fragile economy.
Prime Minister Perry Christie said he expects some business owners to say they can no longer operate in The Bahamas because of the government's impending changes to its immigration policy, and added that while the move will give Bahamians more jobs, the changes are not set in stone.
Christie said he has an open door policy for business owners and investors who have questions about the government's work permit policy or a legitimate reason why foreign workers should be hired over Bahamians in key areas.
Earlier this week, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell said the government plans to stop granting work permits for maids, housekeepers and laborers within a year. He said that category makes up the bulk of work permit applications at the Department of Immigration. The government is also pledging greater scrutiny of work permits beyond domestic helpers and residential laborers.
Christie stressed that his government would not impose any policies that would derail economic growth and recovery. However, he said his administration is grappling with high unemployment while issuing thousands of work permits for jobs Bahamians can fill, which is the basis for the policy change.
"We know that we must do nothing to cause any kind of reduction, any kind of halt to the progress we are making," he told The Nassau Guardian yesterday. "We know that we are going to act responsibly, and so therefore it is not a question for us of intending to make decisions that are harmful to the economy or will cause the economy to go into a tailspin. That is something we know we will avoid because we must."
Christie welcomed public discourse on the work permit issue but said focus must be put on long term national development and ensuring Bahamians are involved in more aspects of the economy.
"It is good for the concerns to be expressed in the way they are being expressed," he said. "I expect some people to announce that they can no longer do business, but there comes a time in a country when I think a great effort has to be made to stimulate thought and reflection on where we ought to be going.
"We have an obligation that was based on the consultation we had with the Bahamian people who supported us to do our very best to integrate into meaningful positions in our economy as many Bahamians as we possibly can. And we know we must do it collaboratively and not imposing it upon people.
"To those areas where people have protested to me I will make the necessary inquires and if there is something we have to fix, I will fix it."
He added that those who have concerns over the policy should speak to him before making assumptions.
"We are partners and I would expect that if a minister of the government makes a particular point that they regard as harmful, if they are unaware of what he is intending by making the point, then they should speak to the minister or myself with a view of getting full clarification," he said when asked about concerns from the hotel sector.
After Mitchell's announcement, President and Managing Director at Atlantis George Markantonis said officials at the hotel are "very concerned" by the looming change. He said the current foreign staff complement at the hotel is "critical" to Paradise Island's success.
Robert 'Sandy' Sands, senior vice president of administration and external affairs at Baha Mar, called for more clarity on the work permit issue.
Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Leader Branville McCartney called the government's plans "extreme" and lacking in foresight.
Christie said he had a recent meeting with Markantonis, who outlined Atlantis' growth and contributions to the economy. He added that he did not think the impending work permit changes would harm Atlantis' operations.
The prime minister also acknowledged that there are legitimate concerns over delays in work permit processing. He said he promised to look into work permit delays for a particular restaurant franchise and see what resolution he could bring to the matter.
For more than 40 years, the pilots of the Bahamas Airline Pilots Association (B-ALPA) have committed ardently to the success of the national airline, Bahamasair. Professionalism, an unwavering commitment to safety and continued high standards have afforded Bahamians an airline worthy of this great nation.
However, the efforts of the pilot body have gone without notice due to the continued failures of executive management. The continued losses, lack of a viable business plan and little regard for industry best practices have kept Bahamasair stuck in the 1990s era when management and the then government decided to park four Boeing 737-200 aircraft, wholly owned by Bahamasair, on the tarmac removing scheduled jet services from the eastern seaboard of the United States.
For the past three years, our association has seen the media reports and heard the cries of the local hoteliers seeking a solution to the tourism airlift shortfalls. The Lynden Pindling International Airport was opened with much fanfare and pageantry, as an enticement to international airlines. It was announced that the gateway to the country was now ready to receive them.
To the discredit of Bahamasair, no business plans were revealed nor any airlift strategy proffered to help fill the hotel room nights needed at Atlantis, Sandals (Exuma), Cable Beach and soon Baha Mar. Instead, the Ministry of Tourism actively pursued foreign airlines while the shareholders chronically griped in Parliament about the accrued losses of a poorly run airline where managers, some of them political appointees, run the day-to-day operations without penalty after failing to make any appreciable change to the status quo of Bahamasair and make it a viable entity in the global market.
Bahamasair recently acquired a third 737-500 aircraft, which was intended to be used to maintain schedule integrity and begin flying international routes to source additional revenue streams for the airline. Concurrently, the Grand Bahama tourism product was in dire need of airlift to help jump start that local economy, on a smaller scale compared to the New Providence market with remarkably more room nights to fill.
BALPA saw this as a golden opportunity to make the national airline relevant and desperately wanted to be an integral partner in solving the Grand Bahama airlift situation. This opportunity would have been the perfect option for Bahamasair to begin international flights outside of South Florida again, with executive management looking to streamline operations and seeking greater efficiencies before beginning a real push to compete in the Nassau airlift market and be ready for the Baha Mar opening.
To the contrary, Bahamasair, under an agreement with the Ministry of Tourism, sought out a foreign airline to operate out of Grand Bahama on our behalf. The arrival of this foreign carrier, operating scheduled services on behalf of Bahamasair and the Ministry of Tourism, is in direct violation of the industrial agreement with B-ALPA and Bahamasair. It is unthinkable that Bahamasair in conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism, at the detriment of Bahamian pilots, would seek to use Bahamian tax dollars to provide flying jobs for foreign air crew. Most egregious is the fact that the foreign carrier operates the same aircraft type that Bahamasair operates and Bahamian air crews have been operating safely and successfully for the past 30 years.
The wet leasing of a foreign carrier to operate flights Bahamian pilots are fully capable of flying goes directly against the shareholders mandate of Bahamianization. The dreams of many future pilots are being turned into dismay.
The hopes of additional job opportunities for Grand Bahamians, who could be hired as ground support staff or even flight attendants, are all dashed due to this callous disregard for our very own.
We want to know how much money has been spent over the last three years on MOT's 100 percent funding of a Bahamasair-brokered wet lease agreement with Vision Air and Xtra Airways Ltd?
If MOT was so interested in funding an airline initiative, why was it not mandated to fund or partner with the national airline?
How many Bahamians have lost job opportunities because of this and previous wet lease agreements?
The pilots of Bahamasair have flown as far north as Edmonton, Canada, and as far south as Suriname, Dutch Guiana, for the pride of the Bahamian people. We are a proven commodity and comprise a body of capable, experienced men and women who have resolved to fight for the flying opportunities we deserve, opportunities that provide career development and growth. The same opportunities that the Ministry of Tourism is providing to foreign carriers flying into our country, paid for by Bahamian tax dollars, are opportunities that should be reserved solely for Bahamians.
- Bahamas Airline Pilots Association
The new minister of tourism says that the new administration is "firmly committed" to boosting airlift into the country and addressing the major increase in arrivals needed to sustain both Atlantis and Baha Mar.
Obie Wilchcombe, shortly after his swearing in into Cabinet, called airlift an "immediate concern". While cruise arrivals remain strong, improving the number of tourists arriving by air is considered of paramount importance to both the public and private sector. Wilchcombe said the issue of air arrivals has never been properly corrected since the financial downturn.
"We have to ensure that the numbers are back to where they used to be," he said.
"When Baha Mar opens in 2014, we want to have airlift at its capacity. Our mind-set is we want to get to the point where we don't have enough hotel rooms to accommodate the visitors, and we are firmly committed to that."
According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the Bahamas received approximately 1.34 million tourists last year - representing over a 2 percent decline compared to 2010. Don Robinson. the president of Baha Mar, recently told Guardian Business that airlift needs to increase by 30 percent - or 400,000 - by the time the $2.6 billion mega resort opens at the end of 2014.
But air arrivals are crucial to the economy in a broader sense, Wilchcombe added. Long-stay visitors have the luxury of staying in the country for a longer period compared to a cruise passenger. A longer stay translates into more business for hotels and other businesses that directly and indirectly benefit from tourist spend.
Wilchcombe said part of the strategy will be a continued focus on emerging markets.
"We will begin the process immediately, going after new routes and new destinations to fly into The Bahamas," he said. "We have a good presence in North America, but we want to integrate the South American and Asian markets because we feel like those regions have potential to work here."
A non-traditional route that has already proven lucrative is Copa Airlines. The direct flight to Panama, flying several times a week, has become a valuable asset to business travelers and visitors.
One of the direct benefits of improving airlift will be additional jobs.
"It's extremely important considering the high level of unemployment right now [with] the record number of unemployment particularly in Grand Bahama, so immediately we have to cause for more opportunities to be had," he said. "People want to work, but they're not going to be able to work unless we create the job opportunities for them."
He continued, "Tourism has a way of creating a lot of linkages and a lot of other jobs are created because of the tourism industry. So our job is to create that level of opportunity by getting the tourism numbers to a level that we know will cause a spillover and create the opportunities we desire."
The Gaming Bill will not be debated and passed in Parliament this year, it appears. As our representatives wrap up their matters for 2013, the bill is not their focus of attention.
The Gaming Bill was tabled in the House of Assembly in October and the hotel industry expected it to be debated and passed quickly. However, members of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) caucus have expressed concerns over the proposed law giving foreign casino operators the authority to engage in Internet gaming while the local web shop industry remains illegal.
As the government continues to delay debate on the Gaming Bill, Robert Sands, senior vice-president of administration and external affairs for Baha Mar, has argued that the resort is losing precious time to promote the new legislative regime and to take advantage of the competitive advantages it will bring to The Bahamas.
Sands said the "time is now" to debate and pass the bill. Baha Mar is scheduled to open in December 2014.
"We are disappointed that it has been delayed because what in fact it does is delay the positioning of The Bahamas as a globally competitive gaming tourism destination," said Sands to The Nassau Guardian this week.
"It's important we begin to get this positive message out. Any delay also delays the ability for existing gaming operators to drive incremental tourism revenues and to increase the tax base and tourism growth.
"We all know this 2013 Gaming Bill is geared to put The Bahamas on a level playing field with the rest of the world's biggest and most profitable tourism destinations."
The Christie administration is giving its backbenchers the opportunity to voice their concerns internally over the controversial bill, we understand. It is unclear if this process will lead to changes in the legislation.
Last month, Dr. Bernard Nottage, leader of government business in the House, said debate on the legislation would likely begin next year. Atlantis is also waiting on the new legislation.
Bahamians want to see Baha Mar and Atlantis succeed. With an unemployment rate of 16.2 percent, growth at the major resorts could bring needed employment. It is unclear if the disquiet in the PLP's caucus is large enough to prevent the passage of the law as it is currently drafted.
Prime Minister Perry Christie will have to use his experience as a politician and legislator to move this process forward. He likely is aware of the serious concerns of the major hotels over the delay. They are already making investments based on the proposed changes in the gaming laws.
The PLP leader will ultimately have to make a choice that angers someone. If he forces through the bill with a bare majority, the opponents in his caucus and those who view the bill as discriminatory will be upset. If he takes out the discriminatory aspects of our gaming laws and allows Bahamians full participation in the sector, the church and his conservative members will be upset.
Leaving the bill indefinitely in limbo is unwise. Most seem to support expanding the sector to create jobs. Politically speaking, the prime minister just needs to decide if he is comfortable justifying the discriminatory aspects of our gaming laws. If he is and he has the votes to pass the bill, then he should force it through.
None of our prime ministers have appeared deeply bothered regarding discrimination and gaming in The Bahamas. Christie pushing to make this bill law would not change the status quo.
Whether those involved in frontline politics have realized it or not, the political landscape in The Bahamas has changed. With the proliferation of the Internet and international television, the new Bahamian voter is different from the voter of the past, even the last election. Through Facebook, YouTube, television houses like CNN, FOX News, etc., Bahamians can get any news in the world on their smartphones, tablets or laptops instantly and live. Most of the new Bahamian voters will not attend political rallies. They want to be able to in the comforts of their homes, or anywhere else for that matter, see their leaders outline their platforms for the upcoming elections electronically or digitally. This way, people in Inagua, Mayaguana, Cat Island, Long Cay, Abaco, Grand Bahama or New Providence, for example, can simultaneously view the candidates and the party leaders.
In the United States the first general election presidential debate was held on September 26, 1960, between U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, and Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, in Chicago at the studios of CBS' WBBM-TV. "Television primes its audience to rely more on their perceptions of candidate image (e.g., integrity). At the same time, television has also coincided with the world becoming more polarized and ideologically driven" (Hayes, p. 235).
No general election debates at all were held for the elections of 1964, 1968 and 1972, although intra-party debates were held during the primaries between Democrats Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy in 1968, and between Democrats George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey in 1972.
It was not until 1976 that a second series of televised presidential debates was held during the general election campaign season. On September 23, 1976, Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter and Republican incumbent President Gerald Ford agreed to three debates (one on domestic issues, one on foreign policy, and one on any topic) on television before studio audiences. A single vice presidential debate was also held that year between Democratic Senator Walter Mondale and Republican Senator Bob Dole.
The dramatic effect of televised presidential debates was demonstrated not only in 1960, but again in the 1976 debates between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Ford had already cut into Carter's large lead in the polls, and was generally viewed as having won the first debate on domestic policy. Polls released after this first debate indicated the race was even. However, in the second debate on foreign policy, Ford made what was widely viewed as a major blunder when he said, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration." After this, Ford's momentum stalled, and Carter won a very close election.
Debates were a major factor again in 1980. Going into the debate, Jimmy Carter had a narrow lead over Ronald Reagan in a race considered 'too close to call'. Reagan, with years of experience in front of a camera as an actor, came across much better than Carter and was judged by voters to have won the debate by a wide margin. This translated into Reagan turning a close election into a landslide victory.
Since 1976, each presidential election has featured a series of vice presidential debates. Vice presidential debates have been held regularly since 1984. Vice presidential debates have been largely uneventful and have historically had little impact on the election. Perhaps the most memorable moment in a vice presidential debate came in the 1988 debate between Republican Dan Quayle and Democrat Lloyd Bentsen. Quayle's selection by George H. W. Bush was widely criticized; one reason being his relative lack of experience. In the debate, Quayle attempted to ease this fear by stating that he had as much experience as John Kennedy did when he ran for president in 1960. Democrat Bentsen countered with the now famous statement: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
The year 1992 featured the first debate involving both major-party candidates and a third-party candidate, billionaire Ross Perot, running against President George H. W. Bush and Governor Bill Clinton. In that year, Bush was criticized for his early hesitation to join the debates with him being alluded to as a chicken. Furthermore, he was also criticized for looking at his watch which aides initially said was meant to track if the other candidates were debating within their time limits, but ultimately it was revealed that the president indeed was checking how much time was left in the debate.
Moderators of nationally televised presidential debates have included Bernard Shaw, Bill Moyers, Jim Lehrer and Barbara Walters, and recently Bret Baier and George Stephanopoulos among others.
I stand to be corrected but I don't know that there was ever a nationally televised debate between the leaders of the major political parties here in The Bahamas. The last televised debate, moderated by Wendall Jones of Jones & Co. (who is to be commended for his fortitude in pushing for this debate) was between the candidates in the famous Elizabeth by-election, which ended up in the Election Court with Ryan Pinder of the PLP coming out on top. I believe that it was a grave political mistake for Dr. Duane Sands not to participate in the Elizabeth debate and that he would have fared much better had he did.
There should be at least two debates between the leaders of the political parties - one on New Providence and the other Grand Bahama. We should be careful not to exclude any leader of any party running in the upcoming elections to be fair to all. The venue for the debates should be at the leading convention centers on the mentioned islands with an audience of voters on a strict first come first serve basis. These properties should view this as their contribution to nation building as good corporate citizens. Police presence goes without saying to keep the peace and to ensure that the debates are not unduly interrupted and are kept safe and professional. The world would be watching. Colored lights resembling traffic lights should be installed to aid the candidate as to the time left with green indicating 30 seconds, yellow indicating 15 seconds and red indicating only five seconds are left. If necessary, a buzzer may be used or a flag. The moderators should be anchors from the major media houses including Wendall Jones, Shenique Miller, Jerome Sawyer and Candia Dames, for example.
The debates should be two hours long with four five-minute or two five-minute and one ten-minute break. The candidates should be standing behind their podiums with the moderators seated on the other side. The moderators should ask the questions allowing each candidate two minutes to respond and others one minute to respond or rebut. There should be no opening statements, just closing statements. The questions should be on issues that are pertinent to the voters, e.g. the economy, Atlantis, jobs, crime, immigration and education. The candidate should agree to the rules beforehand.
The candidates in each constituency should also have a chance to debate the issues on a smaller scale but also televised nationally. I agree with Wendall Jones when he said that if a candidate is not willing to participate in a nationally televised debate and put forth his and his party's position on the issues, then he or she is not worthy to be a candidate.
The time has come for a more mature discussion by our political leaders on the issues impacting not only the electorate, but all the people of our beloved country and generations to come. We cannot underestimate the importance of this upcoming election. After the debates the new Bahamian voter will be more informed as to who to cast his ballot for on that great election day. And as they say, let the proverbial chips fall where they may.
May God be with us all.
- Pastor Mark Smith
The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) is seeking greater collaboration with the public sector to solve a "major skills shortage" that has rapidly become a "national challenge".
In a lengthy statement sent recently to Guardian Business, the influential body echoed many of the sentiments recently expressed by Baha Mar and Atlantis. The BHTA said that there are plenty of Bahamians looking for work. The greater question, it said, is whether Bahamians have the qualifications to be valuable, long-standing contributors to the industry.
"Employers tell us that when they go through employment applications and conduct interviews, the number of qualified applicants dwindles considerably," said Stuart Bowe, BHTA president. "In most areas of our industry, technical skills and past experience, particularly for entry-level positions, are secondary considerations. Strong soft skills are paramount. We must consider the work ethic of the candidates for hire and their ability to communicate, build relationships, make decisions and to engage and relate to others in a professional manner."
The BHTA highlighted the results of a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) entitled "Analysis of The Bahamas' 2012 Wages and Productivity Survey", which noted that 62 percent of firms had an employee resign or be dismissed in 2010-2011.
The most common reason for dismissal was "problems with behavior", coming in at a whopping 65 percent. Bowe told Guardian Business that the data quantifies what employers have been saying for a long time.
"We have a major skills shortage in The Bahamas - both soft and hard skills. This is exacerbated by a high rate of turnover which according to the survey results is largely attributed to behavioral problems," he explained.
As tourism is the country's number one industry and the linchpin of the economy, the BHTA is calling the issue a "national challenge". Rather than focusing on the negatives, however, the tourism association is urging more collaboration among stakeholders.
Indeed, the top private sector employers in the country have become increasingly vocal on a perceived skills shortage. Baha Mar exclusively told Guardian Business that it would be "hard pressed" to fill the thousands of jobs opening up when the $3.5 billion mega resort opens in December 2014. Top management from new hotels at the development, such as Rosewood and Grand Hyatt, have openly expressed concern over the maintenance of service standards.
Atlantis, meanwhile, has received the most attention of late.
George Markantonis, the president and managing director of Atlantis, told this newspaper that it has 200 to 300 job openings at any one time. He said that the Paradise Island resort struggles with a "skills shortage" on a daily basis.
The ongoing debate has been linked with government's apparent crackdown on work permits. Immigration officials have visited both mega resorts and detained expatriate workers last week. The incident at Atlantis made international headlines, while the corporate community worries that such actions could have negative impact on business and investment in the country.
For BHTA's part, it believes that a solution must be arrived at soon, as The Bahamas has evolved into a high-cost destination. The workers must back up the hefty price tag with service on the ground.
"The tourism industry has changed considerably in recent years. We have evolved into a higher-end destination, which means that we must consistently deliver exceptional service," it stated. "While industry standards have risen, more needs to be done to raise the quality of education and training by all public and private sector stakeholders."
The 8,000 jobs at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island would be placed in jeopardy if the government approves the Baha Mar project in its current form, Chairman and CEO of Kerzner International Sir Sol Kerzner said yesterday.
"It's a deal that makes no sense," Kerzner told reporters. "It's a deal that could be harmful to the people of The Bahamas and certainly to future investors and indeed ourselves.
"...It will be a bloodbath."
Kerzner spoke with reporters via telephone from London.
He expanded on a statement he released a day earlier expressing concerns about the terms of the Baha Mar deal and saying it was in breach of agreements Kerzner Internation ...