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The announcement that Resorts World Genting in partnership with RAV Bahamas, Ltd. will open a 10,000 square foot casino at the Bimini Bay Resort and Marina this December is welcome news. With unemployment hovering around 15 percent and Grand Bahama struggling with unemployment around 21 percent, this investment has near term tangible benefits.
The Bahamas needs a diverse portfolio of hotel accommodations and entertainment, a luxury boutique gaming resort certainly adds to that repertoire. We can thank Atlantis for a grand introduction to the mass tourist market but The Bahamas is much more than Paradise Island, we are a nation of 700 islands and surely the world is ready to see more.
With global press coverage, it begs the question as to who is Resorts World Genting? Resorts World Genting falls under Genting Malaysia Berhad, part of the multinational Genting Group, a consortium of companies and brands with significant market exposure in Asia only recently expanding to the Western Hemisphere.
The Bahamas is right to encourage and invite investment from the Genting Group; Resorts World Genting Resorts knows how to operate world class integrated resorts. World Genting won the World's Leading Casino Resort in 2005, 2007-2010, and Asia's Leading Casino Resort from 2005-2010.
As the prime minister noted, "Their vast customer base, marketing clout, and state-of-the-art operations will have a very positive impact on Bimini Bay Resort and the local economy, creating new construction and permanent operational jobs as well as entrepreneurial opportunities for Bahamians."
The Resorts World Genting brand name cannot be underestimated, the mere announcement of investment in The Bahamas made worldwide headlines thrusting The Bahamas into spotlight. This publicity attracts the attention of potential investors and developers; The Bahamas is open for business.
But there are still questions. Bimini has a population of 2,008 according to preliminary Census 2010 data released by the Department of Statistics. With an estimated 300 new jobs in the immediate future and the potential for additional 700, how will Bimini cope with the rapid increase in population?
Bimini will require substantial infrastructural improvements in the very near term to meet the expectations of the high net-worth individuals it so desperately seeks. Will Bimini's runway be expanded to accommodate larger jets? Will utilities be able to keep up with increased demand as the local and tourist population swell?
Should the casino operate with such predicted success to increase Bimini's economy by 25 percent; Bimini's infrastructure must be ready to handle the success.
And this leads to the definition of success, while predicted to be an economic success, is this a social success? We have gained the investment of an award winning integrated resort group, Genting, and yet, the very center of their investment, a luxury boutique casino touted with windows to display the tranquil beauty of The Bahamas, leaves Bahamians outside looking in? We praise the investment and invite all to enjoy the splendor of our country, but are Bahamians left out?
Little has excited stronger opinions and emotions in recent times than the debate as to whether or not to decriminalize the numbers business. The arguments have grown stronger with the appearance of the "web shops", which have sprung up in New Providence.
Prohibition of numbers gaming in The Bahamas
In The Bahamas prohibition of the numbers business has been full of contradictions and irony. Bahamians have been playing numbers and running numbers businesses illegally for years. There have been police raids on such activities and prosecutions to no avail.
At the same time, it should be noted that Bahamians play games of chance at the annual carnival in Oakes Field without hindrance for 45 days each year.
The worst of it is that the money they spend goes out of the country to benefit another country.
Furthermore, unreasoning emotionalism has sometimes gone as far as calling for a ban on raffles, which are also games of chance, but happen to be one of the most productive means of funding the work of non-governmental, charitable institutions from which Bahamians have derived great benefit.
This country would be sorely bereft if such organizations ceased to exist.
The government purse cannot satisfy all the cultural and social needs that the benefaction of private sector individuals and corporate groups, such as the new web shops, supply generously.
Commentary and calls for action, as regards decriminalization of the numbers business, have run the gamut from letters to the editors of the local dailies strongly supporting or condemning the regularization of this form of gaming to even stronger evangelical fervor for complete prohibition of such enterprises. In its election platform, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which won the government in the May 7 general election, promised to put the issue to rest through a popular referendum. This commitment has since been reaffirmed. It is obviously time for a more logical look at pros and cons of the debate.
The case for decriminalization of the numbers business
Support for decriminalizing local gaming, particularly as relates to the operations of duly licensed web shops rests on the following main points. Such legislation would:
1. Assist in bringing about full legitimacy to businesses that are already duly licensed, tax compliant and in full compliance with all labor laws;
2. Create new revenue streams for the Public Treasury in tough economic times through the taxation of the profits of web shops.
The added income, which would run in the millions, would allow the government to build more hospitals and schools and operate more social programs benefiting all Bahamians;
3. Bring order and stability to the entire web café concept ensuring that only duly licensed and authorized vendors are able to operate a "legitimate" café or satellite locations abiding by all the rules and regulations, which this entails (sales, payouts, etc.).
Web shops are creating jobs, adding to the bottom line of various suppliers of goods and services, making large charitable donations and paying such taxes as current legislation demands
The supporters of legitimizing the numbers business as represented by the web shops argue that:
o Web shops are not the old numbers operations with runners and their customers making shady deals on the corners of rundown neighborhoods, with both sides at risk to cheating, robbery and police arrest. Rather, they are technologically sophisticated businesses providing safe surroundings, entertainment and accountability to the extent that the provisions of current legislation permit them to.
o Web shops supply various forms of entertainment that Bahamians choose for themselves.
o Web shops contribute to this country's economic health as businesses.
Providing easily verifiable information, proponents of the move for a referendum
o The various web shop groups together employ 3,000-plus Bahamians. They have also absorbed a good many persons who were made redundant when Atlantis downsized in recent times.
o They stimulate small business growth and further employment in purchasing courier, construction, repair and maintenance services and many others.
o They pay National Insurance contributions to the tune of $4 million-plus annually.
o Other payouts include over $10 million for electricity and cable services and paper.
The most serious aspect of the failure to decriminalize the numbers business
The law in action does not distinguish between the operators of numbers establishments and their customers and employees; when the police have made their periodic raids all have suffered the embarrassment of being hauled away like criminals. The implications are very serious:
1. In the trying conditions brought on by the lingering recession, Bahamians are glad to have the jobs that the growth of web shops has created. Is it right to shame these hardworking and honest Bahamians, deprive them of the dignity of work and perhaps drive them to less salubrious situations where they might indeed engage in dangerous and real criminal activity?
2. Consider the case of the web shop customers. The Bahamas government obviously does not hold games of chance to be intrinsically wrong, as it has legitimized casino gaming and raffles. Where then is the justification for excluding Bahamians from playing numbers, if they so choose? Can it be an attempt to deprive them of an aspect of their civil rights? Probably not in intent, but certainly in action.
How sound are the arguments against the decriminalization?
The lobby against gaming tends to claim that formal gaming businesses attract crime, take trade from small businesses and victimize the poor who are likely to make up the greatest percentage of gamers.
Gaming is also blamed for addiction and the breakup of families. Religious conservatives agree with these points and add that gaming violates the biblical standard of stewardship and brings about a decline in the work ethic.
The trouble with the anti-gaming argument lies in assigning blame for complex social issues such as crime, addiction and family dysfunction to a single source - playing numbers. This fallacy is compounded when prohibition of the numbers business is promoted as a solution and, sometimes, the only solution to this range of social ills.
Does banning/prohibition work? An example from history.
The biggest question is: Does prohibition work? History gives many peerless examples to the contrary.
The anti-liquor lobby had long held banning alcohol as the solution to the social and economic consequences of the consumption of strong drink.
Their cause in the United States succeeded when in 1919 the U.S. Government passed the Volstead Act, which prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. It is said that alcohol consumption did decline to some extent, but the period between the passage of the act and 1933 when the act was repealed, known as "Prohibition", gave rise to gangs of vicious bootleggers and other criminals, who often enjoyed the complicity of ordinary citizens. Chicago's notorious Al Capone and his ilk fed a reign of terror such as the United States had not known before.
It is obvious that prohibition can drive issues underground and create problems even greater than those it sought to get rid of.
The trouble with trying to legislate moral choices is that it obscures the deeper issues contributing to social and economic problems, thereby delaying or preventing the identification of causes and the search for more solid and lasting solutions.
Establishing a more workable and sustainable approach
Would it not be better to look into the matter logically, set up rules and regulations and establish a solid framework for compliance and monitoring as regards the operation of web shops?
Democracy in action
Prime Minister Perry Christie and his government appear to be taking the democratic route by allowing the web shop operators a hearing and by proposing to put the matter to the Bahamian people through a referendum.
It is a strategy that has already been criticized by opponents of legitimizing local gaming, but it is certainly to be congratulated as democracy in action.
Bahamians have long signalled their choice in the matter of playing numbers for whatever reason.
If they can be entrusted to vote for governments, would it be right to deprive them of the right to choose their entertainment when it does not impinge on the rights of others?
Prime Minister Perry Christie yesterday said the practice of politicians using money to sway voters has deteriorated to "repugnant" and sometimes "criminal" levels over the past 15 years.
Christie's comments were delivered at a Parliamentary Conclave hosted at the British Colonial Hilton where he also called on parliamentarians to decide whether they are committed to bringing about election campaign finance reform.
"The country has to decide, Opposition and governing people here, we have to decide whether or not we are prepared to put in place regulations that will govern the conduct of elections and persons who are contesting those elections with respect to the monies being spent," the prime minister said.
"We have to be honest with ourselves here, brutally honest with ourselves in the recognition that practices have evolved in The Bahamas over the last 10 years, 15 years that are repugnant to best practices in a democracy. Do we have the will to address what we know to exist in the best interest of this democracy?"
His statements came a day after he told the House of Assembly that two international groups which monitored the May general election called for government to create laws that would limit campaign spending.
The groups also recommended that government prohibit anonymous donations or international donors from giving money to campaigns and to create a mechanism to oversee the flow of money within campaigns.
On the sidelines of the conclave, Christie told reporters that he knows of many instances when politicians have used money to buy votes.
"We are living a lie to just continue to allow this current system that we are operating under to exist, because you know and I know and everyone else knows a lot of things are happening in this current system, where you're taking advantage of all sorts of opportunities if you're the government, and it places people at a significant disadvantage and that's not how a democracy functions."
He added: "There are laws now that say that you shouldn't treat, meaning that you shouldn't do things to induce people to vote for you in an election, and clearly you can just list countless examples where the law is breached.
"Almost like when I'm in power I do it and when you're in power you do it.
"We have to examine all of the practices of how money is used and how people come to you asking you for money during the course of an election.
"It is harmful to the democracy to be caught in situations like that, and that is why the observers recommended that we change."
Christie said he would not force the legislation on Parliament but would speak to members of his government about the need to bring about reform.
"I'm hoping that it is understood that I am committed to initiating discussions with the political parties and yes I would like to say that I will be recommending to my colleagues a certain course of action with respect to the steps we should take," he said. "But I don't want to impose it on The Bahamas. Like everything else we should involve and I'm hoping that there would be unanimity moving forward on the kinds of laws that will come out of the recommendation of the observers."
Days before the last general election, then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said he received reports that PLP operatives allegedly tried to buy votes in a Haitian-Bahamian community by hiding cash inside t-shirts.
"There's a deep, underlying and disturbing pattern in the PLP," Ingraham said at the FNM's final election rally on Clifford Park. "While we in the FNM are busy trying to encourage all registered voters to vote and vote early, they are doing their best to try and influence voters."
Ingraham said he was told that people were given yellow t-shirts with as much as $600 concealed in the fabric.
However the PLP also alleged that the FNM tried to sway voters with jobs and contracts. Before the election, PLP Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchel alleged that voters in his constituency were offered repairs to their homes and jobs at the Atlantis resort if they voted for the FNM.
The Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. has expressed concern over the decision of the government to tighten its work permit policy, but Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell said yesterday the Christie administration will make no apologies over its position.
"This is a rational policy by a rational government, which is acting reasonably in the defense of its own people," Mitchell said.
"This is the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and there is no apology that has to be made for a policy of Bahamians first."
In a press release, the embassy asked authorities in The Bahamas to let Filipinos who work here keep their jobs for the time being.
"We presented Manila's position on behalf of many of the more than 1,000 Filipinos in The Bahamas, particularly housekeepers, cooks, hotel employees and medical workers who stand to lose their jobs as a result of the so-called Bahamianization of the local labor force," said Consul General Ariel Penaranda in the release.
Penaranda led a team that visited officials in New Providence earlier this month.
Labor Attache Luzviminda Padilla said, "The position of The Bahamas authorities is completely understandable, but it would be greatly appreciated if our workers could be allowed to keep their jobs for the time being and at the same time be assured of certainty in terms of renewing their work permits so they could plan ahead."
Mitchell said in the House of Assembly in March that the government plans to cease issuing work permits for maids, housekeepers and laborers within a year.
Last year, Mitchell told reporters that he was concerned about the emergence of Filipino workers who are reportedly threatening Bahamian jobs as domestic workers.
He said conventional wisdom is that Bahamians do not want to do these kinds of jobs.
Mitchell said yesterday he wanted to put the work permit issue to rest.
"Whatever policy there is with regard to work permits the general principle applies, whether at the laboring level or whether at the management level," he said.
"Bahamians first and that means this, no work permit is going to be issued unless a Bahamian is not available for that job and that applies whether from the top down to the bottom.
"It applies whether it's the bank, whether it's the newspaper, whether it's the industrial sector up in Grand Bahama. It applies across the board."
Mitchell said people who currently hold work permits would not have them abruptly revoked.
"But at the point of which the work permit comes for renewal the question is asked afresh, is there a Bahamian available for this job? And if there is a Bahamian available for the job then a work permit will not be granted or issued," he said.
The Fox Hill MP noted that the Filipinos are the first to express concern over the proposed policy.
Mitchell described some public reaction to the government's position last month as 'hysterical".
St. Anne's Member of Parliament Hubert Chipman, who is also the shadow minister of immigration, called the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) plan "excessively aggressive".
Former Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney, who heads the Democratic National Alliance, also said it was "extreme" and lacking in foresight.
President and Managing Director at Atlantis George Markantonis said officials at the hotel are "very concerned" by the impending policy 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.
Recently, the ratings agency Standard and Poor's (S&P) revised the country's financial outlook from stable to negative, insisting that the government's fiscal profile continues to weaken.
That was followed more bad news on the economic front when Prime Minister Perry Christie said that Sandals Emerald Bay Resort is in danger of closing its doors.
The government has met with the developer and is determining what assistance can be extended to help save the 600 jobs at the resort and the hundreds of others which result from the economic activity generated by the investment.
The closure of Sandals would devastate Exuma - this at a time when high unemployment rates persist across The Bahamas. The Department of Statistics most recently measured the jobless rate at 14.7 percent.
Since the 2008 financial crisis there has been great debate worldwide about the role of government in market societies. Some say government should never intervene to offer bailouts or assistance and let market forces solely determine the fates of businesses. Others argue, that for the greater good, governments should do what they can to ensure that formerly strong industries survive the "financial tsunami" that has destroyed so many.
Here in The Bahamas, Sandals is now a test case for these opposing ideologies.
Sandals is a reputable company, a pride of the Caribbean. It bought the Emerald Bay resort from its receivers several years ago, bringing the property back to life and employing hundreds of Bahamians. However, things have been tough.
When asked about operations, Sandals Hotel Manager Kyle Mais told The Nassau Guardian that while occupancy levels are picking up, the resort is not making a profit. The resort opened in 2010.
"We have not made a profit since we have been open," Mais said.
"We need government assistance to make sure that we stay viable and actually are turning a profit because after all, it is a business."
Mais added that the cost of doing business there is very high, pointing to high electricity costs, the cost of subsidizing airlines, paying taxes, etc.
We do not think the government should be in the business of owning hotels or paying the salaries of employees of private businesses. However, it is reasonable for the government to offer assistance to reputable businesses in financial trouble due to global conditions through, for example, tax breaks. These breaks could include exemptions of deferred payments.
Stopover guests, the kind Sandals brings to The Bahamas, spend significantly more than cruise visitors. Our economy grows stronger when we are able to bring more of these people to our shores. Sandals also helps diversify our tourism offering - it offers smaller all-inclusive hotels - as compared to the mega-resort model exemplified by Atlantis and Baha Mar.
The prime minister should do all he reasonably can to assist the Jamaican Stewart family with their investment in Exuma. If those 600 people are jobless because the hotel closes, most will end up on the welfare line seeking unemployment benefits.
We are better served by helping the resort get back on its feet rather than handing out more welfare checks.
Guardian Business: Can you briefly describe your experience in the tourism sector and what your role is today?
Sonia: I had the privilege of working for the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island from 2002-2005. It was a breakthrough opportunity for me after serving seven years at the Ministry of Works as a design engineer and project manager. In the role at Atlantis I drew on my project management skills, as I had responsibility for executing an annual multi-million dollar capital budget for all the senior vice presidents of the company who were at the time my internal customers. Unlike in the public sector I was given a lot of autonomy to run the projects department. I, of course, closely coordinated with the heads of the facilities division but felt empowered, and I was expected to succeed.
I currently own and operate a full service mechanical and electrical engineering consultancy and, as it turns out, my major project is the Baha Mar Development resort being undertaken on Cable Beach. Graphite Engineering Ltd. has been selected as the Mechanical and Electrical Engineers of Record for this project.
GB: Why did you choose to work in tourism as a career?
Sonia: I did not choose tourism specifically as a career, but as a consequence of what was available in the economy. An opportunity in tourism presented itself and I was pleased to embrace it. Bahamian engineers continue to be under represented in major tourism projects at the level of design and onwards. This will only change if we continue to build capacity and, when given an opportunity, we provide stellar service.
GB: What has been your most memorable moment?
Sonia: My team was given the opportunity to oversee the renovation of the Crown Ballroom. By dollar value it was the largest project given to our department. It was not a technically challenging assignment but we had a very short time frame to deliver the project, and we were able to get it done.
GB: Has the industry changed since you started your career? How?
Sonia: As it specifically refers to the engineering services in hotels, there have been a myriad of changes because the mechanical and electrical systems that support these buildings, keeping them lit and cool, continue to be more sophisticated.
GB: What should The Bahamas focus on to stay competitive?
Sonia: We are currently sitting on an opportunity to aggressively push sustainable tourism and make this a given for any property in The Bahamas. We should require that our hotels in the first instance be high performance buildings, with excellent carbon footprints. We should be reusing, recycling and cutting waste. If we can do this without hurting our cost competitiveness we would set ourselves apart from the pack and demonstrate that we really care about our country.
GB: What advice would you give to a young person who is considering a career in tourism?
Sonia: Do your homework, literally. There a lot of opportunities very high up in the food chain of these resorts that Bahamians can fill. We must accept the fact that a lot of the developers are multi-national companies and it means we may be competing with international persons for jobs at home. This means we need to get international exposure and experience, and be prepared to function at the top of our game.
The Atlantis resort on Paradise Island is a symbol of economic prosperity, growth and wealth for The Bahamas. The luxury resort, which opened its doors in the early 1990s, came at a time when the country was struggling financially and needed a beacon of hope to guide it to economic stability.
When Sol Kerzner, hotel mogul and chairman of Kerzner International, opened the hotel in 1994, the country was in recession and experiencing a low point in its tourism performance. He was almost single-handedly responsible for the revitalization and expansion of the tourism sector.
The Bahamas owes a great debt of gratitude to Kerzner. However, current anxieties over the future of Atlantis are due to the fact that the nation had ignored the wisdom of its grandparents - don't put all your eggs in one basket.
Nearly two decades after Kerzner bought the Paradise Island property, and several expansions later, the future of the mega-resort is unclear. Kerzner recently defaulted on a $2.5 billion loan held by creditors overseas. The Atlantis resort, One&Only Ocean Club and Kerzner's Mexican holdings were collateral for the loan.
A group of senior lenders who are owed $112 million out of $2.5 billion went to court in Delaware and argued that minority lender Brookfield Asset Management was getting an unfair advantage, in regards to the debt-for-equity deal.
Brookfield pulled out of the deal just over a week ago after Judge Donald Parsons granted the lenders a temporary restraining order and questioned why the Toronto-based asset manager, as the most junior of the seven creditors, should be the only one to benefit from equity ownership of the "uniquely valuable" Paradise Island resorts.
The collapse of the Brookfield deal compounded fear and speculation of possible job losses and foreclosure at Atlantis.
However, at a recent press conference last Wednesday, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham reminded reporters that when he came to office in 1992 Resorts International on Paradise Island was in bankruptcy.
"We did not panic in The Bahamas at that time. When Kerzner came in he bought it out of bankruptcy," he said.
Atlantis has five percent of The Bahamas labor force on its payroll.
It's a frightening number when you take into account that if it were not for the impending opening of the Baha Mar resort on Cable Beach, there would be no other entity, government or private, that could support these jobs.
This is a fact that never sat well with many people.
"First of all, I was always concerned about Atlantis being there and hiring up to 7,000 to 8,000 at one time in any country," said Leon Griffin, president of the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union.
One private employer holding the fate of all those employees in its hands is a recipe for disaster, Griffin said. "That is certainly dangerous what could happen or might happen. That has been my fear all the while [with] Atlantis and Baha Mar. I [have said] to government to be very cautious. I would prefer that kind of investment divided into four or five sections around The Bahamas.
"It's very scary because it's our leading destination - I'm hoping for the best," Griffin said.
He added that Atlantis accounts for at least one third of taxi drivers' business. "The airport is considered an important area, then Atlantis/Paradise Island, then downtown and Cable Beach. If they close down, we might as well forget it. I hope every Bahamian, even if he doesn't work in Atlantis, will pray that things go well," he said.
For each of the 8,000 direct jobs at Kerzner there are an additional 1.25 to 1.5 indirect jobs in the economy. This means 18,000 to 20,000 jobs or 15 percent of all jobs in our economy, are related directly to the operations of Kerzner International in The Bahamas.
In addition to the jobs it supports, Atlantis' additional contributions to the Bahamian economy from Kerzner's operations include:
Local purchases of goods and services - $190 million annually; Electricity consumption of the order of $47 million paid annually to BEC; Business license fees - nearly $27 million annually (inclusive of resort hotel license fees and licenses for joint venture time share and condominium operations); Room occupancy tax - $20 million annually.
As far as The Bahamas is concerned, Atlantis is too big to fail. Ingraham has said that at the moment there is no need for concern as a foreclosure would not be in the best interest of Kerzner or his creditors.
"The lenders themselves would like to collect their money back. In order for them to collect their money back, it is important for Kerzner's property on Paradise Island to be successful," he said.
It is hard to shake the feeling that some of this wound is self-inflicted.
Ingraham said he believes that responsibility for this current predicament rests with the former Christie administration.
Kerzner International now has a loan for $2.5 billion and the security for the loan is the properties on Paradise Island. Much of the loan was spent outside The Bahamas.
"It was inappropriate and wrong for the Government of The Bahamas (Christie administration) to agree for the properties on Paradise Island to be put up as a security for a loan where the proceeds of the loan were going to be spent outside The Bahamas. That was a big, big mistake," Ingraham said.
The whole situation also raises the question of whether The Bahamas has sufficient laws and regulations to protect itself against the failure of a major employer.
Raymond Winder, managing partner of Deloitte and Touche Bahamas, said that because of the lack of bankruptcy laws and regulations similar to the U.S., any creditor could put Kerzner into receivership.
"We don't have a situation that would allow an organization in financial distress to be able to ward off creditors and others who would seek to take advantage of the organization and allow it to go through a process of reorganization," he said.
However, Winder said he remains optimistic that a few months from now things will not be as dire as they are now.
"I don't anticipate that it's going to be protracted because clearly Kerzner in order to continue [to] meet its obligation and being able to present a positive face to the international community needs to have this resolved," he said.
While the future may, for the moment, be cloudy, there is still a bit of hope on the horizon.
Kerzner officials and the government have said bookings are getting better and Ingraham has said the government does not expect there to be job losses at the Paradise Island property.
"If they say bookings are strong and looking up, then you would know the odds of there being significant reduction of employees are slim in the short term," he said. "Obviously one can't speak of a year from now when one looks at Florida maybe granting full licenses to casinos. In the short and medium term Kerzner appears to have no reason to lay off staff.
"I also do not believe Atlantis has a considerable [number] of non-productive employees that any investor has to get rid of. In any business operation, clearly if there's a significant decline in revenue then a business will have to make an adjustment," Winder said.
However, President of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce Winston Rolle said while Atlantis reports that bookings are up, Bahamians should be concerned about Atlantis' debt crisis.
"One of the things we also need to be mindful of, we talk about bookings but what are the rates? [We are] already subsidizing air travel to get people here, so are we booking rooms at reduced rates to get the numbers up? We have to look at booking quality not just quantity," Rolle said.
"The magnitude of Kerzner going into a recession impacts all of us, impacts all we do, the amount of government revenue through casino tax, NIB, import tax on goods they bring in, departure tax from tourists that affects government's revenue and if that goes down the government has to look at what social program to cut back on. It's very widespread."
Despite all of the assurances and prognostication, no one knows precisely what these seven lenders are going to agree to. At the moment, the property is still owned by Kerzner and no jobs have been lost.
The hope and expectation of every parent is to produce offspring who attain higher levels of success than they did. The genuine desire of each generation should be one that is built around the attainment of higher heights and charting of new territories by successive generations.
The Bahamian Dream was born out of dissatisfaction with a substandard life and discomfort with the status quo. It is one of deep aspiration, a cherished desire, unique ambition and daring vision of a Bahamas in which the average Bahamian can be all that he/she hopes to be. It is a dream embedded in the minds of our forefathers and defined by the achievement of feats unimaginable in that era, but conceived in the hearts of our founding fathers. This dream peaks at the juncture where Bahamians hold their destinies in their own hands and their strength lies in their unity, fortitude and beliefs.
It has afforded Bahamians like myself, born in Farm Road to parents who formed part of the working class at the time, educated in Bain and Grants Town at the Willard Patton Primary and C.R. Walker Secondary schools with opportunities to receive tertiary level education, command decent salaries and become homeowners. The pursuit of this dream has also encouraged some of us to take risks and become entrepreneurs in spite of the challenges associated with such endeavours - a sacrifice made willingly to provide a better way of life for our children and generations yet unborn. However, as impressive as this may sound, reality dictates that far too many Bahamians, particularly of my generation, have yet to claim the same testimony.
It appears that the Bahamian Dream is met by roadblocks due to an inability to foster ownership of the economy by a wide cross-sector of Bahamians. This is 'the tragedy of the shrinking middle-class and select upper class' that characterizes the 21st century Bahamas and threatens the very essence and crux of the dream. There is the accepted fact that there are more educated Bahamians up to post-graduate levels today than there were before, as well as more Bahamian entrepreneurs. In addition, we acknowledge that The Bahamas has the third highest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere and it can be argued that we enjoy a decent standard of living as a result. However, one may ask the following questions: Why aren't we satisfied? What more do we want? The reality is that as a people collectively, we are yet to lay hold of the entire dream. There is still much more to be achieved, more grounds to cover and we owe it to ourselves and future generations not to stop until we have done so. The dream encourages us not to become complacent or lackadaisical, but to continue pressing until we have witnessed widespread prosperity. To many this is a utopian outlook and nearly impossible, but I belong to the more optimistic crew of believers who dare to believe that it is possible and at the least, we should attempt to make it possible.
Banks and the government
The global economic crisis is real and has impacted us severely. Atlantis, the country's largest private employer which has created thousands of jobs for Bahamians and effectively improved the standard of living and quality of life for many, has been plagued with rumors of possible defaults on their obligations which can place thousands of jobs at risk. There is a rising concern that the inability to bring this matter to a quick resolve can have a negative impact on an already depressed Bahamian economy. The inability of successive governments to diversify the economy and reduce our vulnerability and dependency on employment by foreign employers has contributed to the catastrophic position that we find ourselves in today. A robust small-medium sized business sector would have safeguarded to some extent against such possible misfortunes. We are still waiting on the government to pass legislation concerning SMEs and it is unclear why such an important piece of legislation has not been enacted to date. In the same manner that we passed vital legislation to save the turtles and the sharks almost overnight to preserve our marine resources, the passage of legislation to make Bahamians more self-sufficient should have been met with equivalent and perhaps more priority.
It is challenging for today's Bahamians to become entrepreneurs being faced with start-up costs that many of them are unable to meet. There are insufficient venture capital funds to provide access to seed money and there are limited alternative sources of funding. Bahamians complain regularly that financial institutions won't lend them money to start a business, but instead are quick to provide funds to finance the purchase of vehicles, vacations, grocery, furniture, etc. If this is in fact true and the facts suggest that it is, why do they continue to enjoy our patronage? After all, they have made millions and billions of dollars which some of them have expatriated back to their home countries or issued in dividends. We must come together to demand more from these institutions and in the mean time patronize the financial institutions, banks, co-operatives and credit unions that will assist us in achieving the Bahamian Dream and provide more attractive rates and offers based upon the credit risk posed to each customer. The power rests with the people and this power should be activated to make this dream a reality.
In recent times, the government has made several moves that will delay the economic advancement of the average Bahamian and defer the attainment of the Bahamian Dream. In addition to the questionable levels of borrowing, the country's fiscal position forced the government to carry out what was viewed by many as a fire sale of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC). The firm was sold to foreigners reportedly under value and the bidding process appears to have been tainted. A Bureau of Public Enterprise should have been formed to oversee the privatization process to ensure transparency in the bidding process and lack of political interference by politicians who are primarily concerned about the electorate's and/or special interests' concerns. It is worth considering the approach adopted by the U.K. in privatizing its equivalent of BTC about three decades ago. In 1981, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government announced that her government would be privatizing British Telecommunications (BT), which held the monopoly on telecommunication and informed the public of a program to phase in liberalization of the market prior to the sale. The irony of this transaction from a Bahamian perspective was that Cable & Wireless, who bought BTC, was the first firm to offer alternative telephone service and receive an operating license through their subsidiary Mercury Communications in this newly liberalized market. In 1984, legislation was passed empowering the state to sell BT. In the same year, up to 51 percent of BT shares were sold to "British" private investors. Legislation was also enacted that enabled BT to be in a position to succeed in the midst of an already established local competition by allowing BT to form joint ventures, expand globally and manufacture its own apparatus. The remaining government shares were eventually sold in 1991 and 1993.
What Thatcher effectively did was expand the middle class and create wealth for hundreds of thousands of Britons through liberalization and eventual privatization. Contrasting the U.K.'s approach to the government's modus operandi in choosing to sell to foreigners, one wonders whether the government is a proponent of the Bahamian Dream or whether it has a vision for its people. It is little wonder that we are faced today with a tragedy of the shrinking middle class and select upper class.
If we are to empower Bahamians in the 21st century Bahamas, creating jobs alone from foreign direct investments and empowering a handful of Bahamians is not the course of action to be taken. Bahamians need a government in place that is sensitive to the needs of its people at large. Sir Clifford Darling, Sir Randol Fawkes, Sir Milo Butler, Sir Lynden Pindling and Arthur D. Hanna, among others are men who were radicals of their time, understood the needs of the people and fought for majority rule. They denied themselves and swallowed their pride to meet those needs. That is why, more than half a century later, they are still loved by many Bahamians. We cannot allow our progress in advancing economically to be retarded.
This generation and future generations will not be satisfied with just a job in the civil service, hotels or banks, which are not owned by Bahamians. An economy dominated by job seekers, as opposed to job creators, will not experience the rebuilding or expansion of the middle class. The lack of ownership within The Bahamas' economy by a broad spectrum of Bahamians fosters job insecurity and impedes the chance for a better way of life thereby choking the Bahamian Dream.
Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) official suggested yesterday that Atlantis and Baha Mar representatives reported challenges in finding Bahamians to fill job vacancies at their resorts in a bid to get the government to sign off on additional work permits.
"I believe they are trying to make a case early, because the first thing an investor will say is, 'We can't find suitable or qualified persons, therefore we need 'x' amount of work permits,'" BCHAWU General Secretary Darren Woods said.
"To say there is a shortage in terms of skilled people - cooks, painters and stewarding personnel - is a concern for us, and I definitely doubt that is accurate because we would have heard that cry from Atlantis as mandated by the industrial agreement."
George Markantonis, president and managing director of Atlantis, said last week that on any given day the mega resort has 300 to 400 vacancies.
Markantonis insisted, "we cannot get people for" many positions the company has advertised online. Those positions include cooks, painters, a kids facility manager, an IT service support manager, a concierge and an assistant director of marine mammals.
According to Kristen Wells, the director of the Baha Mar Academy, the up-and-coming mega resort is "hard pressed" to fill thousands of positions needed by the end of the next year when the resort is slated to open.
She said Baha Mar is faced with traditional shortages in professions like food and beverage, wait staff, restaurant managers, assistant restaurant managers, front and back of house and room supervision.
Woods said Wells' and Markantonis' comments came as a complete surprise. He said many of the 800 or so people Atlantis made redundant in 2008 are still unemployed.
Woods noted the union's industrial agreement dictates that the resort inform the union of job vacancies. The union in turn provides recommendations for suitable candidates.
Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell told Parliament that in the interest of protecting Bahamian jobs, the government plans to cease issuing work permits for maids, housekeepers and laborers with a year.
Yesterday, he called the disclosures by the two resorts "incredible", particularly as the work permit debate between the private sector and the government escalates.
"That's an incredible thing for an employer to say and so both the government and the private sector have to determine why that is, and see whether those vacancies can be filled," Mitchell responded yesterday.
"I sent a note to the vice president of human resources at...Atlantis, saying this here is a young man sitting before me.
"His qualifications are master's degree in business administration [and a] bachelor's degree in computer technology and you say you have perhaps 600 vacancies.
"Why is this young man not able to get a job at Atlantis? What's the reason?"
Mitchell insisted if there is a Bahamian available for a job, a Bahamian should get that job. He said a work permit is not going to be issued.
Woods said the union is still trying to assist the 140 former Baha Mar workers, who were laid off in February. He said Baha Mar should recognize those Bahamians are "very skilled" long-term workers.
However, in the deeds of release agreement Baha Mar stipulated that those workers are "barred from seeking or obtaining employment with [Baha Mar] during the 18 months following the effective date".
Woods said the union is still negotiating with Baha Mar to have that clause removed. He said the union does not oppose foreigners occupying jobs provided that no Bahamian can fill those jobs.
He added that the union intends to write to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Immigration requesting an investigation into Baha Mar's and Atlantis' claims.
During the mid-1980s, Michael Jordan played professional basketball for the Chicago Bulls. His first six years were marred with many individual accolades, but no championship rings. Jordan was the subject of a whirlwind of criticism because he could not bring home the championship trophy, and rightly so.
Coaches were fired and new players were brought in until at last, in 1990, the Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to win their first ever NBA Championship. Deservedly so, the Bulls remained one of the hottest NBA tickets for a number of years. They played staggering defense, had a great offense and played team basketball. They were the epitome of a great basketball team and the city of Chicago and the NBA reaped the rewards.
From 2002-2007, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) brought continuing growth to the Bahamian economy. Our tourism product was doing very well and I know personally of persons who had two jobs. The PLP commercialized their success through press conferences, press releases and print media, albeit their campaign was ineffective. The PLP also had a few major scandals which many Bahamians believed were not effectively dealt with by Perry Christie. Many Bahamians believe that his indecision vastly contributed to the PLP's lost in 2007. It has also come to light that Christie allowed the Bahamian assets in Atlantis to be used as collateral for Sir Sol Kerzner's ambitious investment campaign oversees. Christie should be given credit for the good progress that the economy made during this time and he should also be given credit for the bad decisions that he made during his tenure.
In 1992, Hubert Ingraham ushered in a new chapter in Bahamian history. He opened the airwaves - a move that I believe has deepened the democracy in The Bahamas. He completed the deal for Atlantis to begin business operation on Paradise Island - a single move that I believe has positively contributed to the stability of The Bahamas for the last 18 years.
Since 2007, The Bahamas has seen major infrastructural work. We have seen the completion of the straw market, the ongoing work at Lynden Pindling International Airport, the completion of the Milo Butler Highway, the completion of a new court complex on Nassau Street, the commencement of the Baha Mar project and the reconstruction of underground water mains and the paving of new roads in New Providence. Ingraham and his Cabinet are to be given credit for these capital works, but be reminded that all governments have the responsibility to build infrastructure.
Additionally, since 2007, The Bahamas has seen four murder records in five years. We have seen major spikes in unemployment and unemployment, rape, armed robbery and several scandals involving missing or unaccounted funds at several government ministries. We have also seen mismanagement on major projects and a soaring national debt. Who can forget the scandal at the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA)?
My point is that just as Ingraham, Christie and their Cabinets receive praises for the good that they have done, they must also share in the items gone wrong. This applies to all past and future governments. You can't have it both ways.
When Jordan was losing, he was blamed. When he started to win, he was known as the catalyst for their victories. There is no difference with our present government and it will be no different with future governments. A spade will always be a spade. Let's evaluate our government's performance as it unfolds and call it as we truly see it; put our love for party aside and try to see issues from a nationalistic perspective.
There is no need to 'pretty up' our commentary. There is no advantage to be gained for covering up known facts and telling untruths. Bahamians need to stop trying to defend the indefensible, especially when the facts exist to prove otherwise.
- Dehavilland Moss