The Pitter-Patter of 16,000 Chinese Feet
“Dey Comin’!!!” says Shackie, the character from Stan Burnside’s ‘Sideburns’ cartoon in the Nassau Guardian. Possibly up to 8,000 Chinese workers may be coming to New Providence to work on Baha Mar.
Many Bahamians have expressed their concerns. But according to accountant Raymond Winder of Deloitte and Touche, the deal is one of the best things that has ever happened to The Bahamas.
Mr. Winder says it would be impossible for Bahamians to complete the project on their own.
“One of the problems that The Bahamas has is that it doesn’t have a workforce that we can be proud of. I don’t think that there are many Bahamian construction companies that are building Bahamian homes that don’t have at least one immigrant as a part of their labour team. We don’t [even] have sufficient Bahamians to build Bahamian homes.”
Phillip Smith, a former High Commissioner for the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, questions the ratio of Chinese workers to Bahamian workers, which is the highest ratio of foreign workers we can ever remember.
“Foreign construction workers building hotels, roads, docks, industrial plants and even private homes is not alien to our economy – just look around you. Chinese construction workers are not a bad idea in and of themselves but between 5,000 and 7,000? This does seem to be the wrong ratio – one Bahamian job for each three Chinese workers?
“Will the House of Assembly be asked to review the individual files for every applicant with the attendant Ministry of Labour report, as one expects is done before a decision on whether or not to provide a work permit? Or, will the government give the employer what will effectively be 7,000 blank work permits and say ‘fill in the blank’?
“In the future, when the farm operator applies for work permits for a few hundred farm workers will the government bring the files to the House of Assembly for the review of members and their approval? Will the government bring the files of applicants for work permits in the hotel industry and financial services sector for review and approval by the members of the House of Assembly?”
Good questions. What kind of a precedent does that set for future work permit applications?
Is this a one-off occasion or just the first until another similar circumstance pops up?
Meanwhile, PUNCH columnist Nicki Kelly shared Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham’s concerns about the viability of the Baha Mar project.
Mr Ingraham has expressed doubts about whether the company had the financial resources to meet its commitments as prescribed under the terms of the agreement.
What Baha Mar cheerleaders have forgotten is that the company still owes over $200 million to the Bank of Nova Scotia.
The money was borrowed to purchase the govemment-owned Radisson/Sheraton hotel ($39 million); the Wyndham and Nassau Beach hotels ($165 million); and for refurbishment of the Sheraton ($90 million). Plus, accrued interest of $50 million.
Some arrangement would have to be reached with the Bank to free the development of any prior encumbrances, before construction can begin.
Ms Kelly sums it up this way, “In view of Baha Mar’s shaky history, Mr Ingraham is understandably cautious about this latest undertaking, because the last thing the Bahamas government and the Bahamian people need is the blight of another failed development, this one in the heart of Cable Beach.”
After witnessing the slow pace of construction for the National Stadium, many Bahamians are concerned that the Baha Mar project will put Cable Beach out of commission for years.
With extensive port holdings in Grand Bahama, coupled with the massive Baha Mar investment in New Providence, others wonder whether The Bahamas will become a Chinese colony.
Real Estate broker Pat Strachan had this to say:
“With reference to the proposed $2.6 billion project, it seems as if this proposed project was doomed from its inception. The original partners were run out of town. It was criticised by the government. Not one government minister was present at the signing in Miami, or at the announcement in China. I’ve also heard that the Chinese government wants the Bahamas government to guarantee the loan for the development.
“One vital question I must ask is what exactly is being proposed for Cable Beach?
“How will our access be honestly affected in the Cable Beach area?”
And, after initially saying the prime minister would be “on his own” in making the controversial decision regarding Chinese workers for Baha Mar, Perry Christie and the PLP had a change of heart.
Leader of Government Business in the House of Assembly Tommy Turnquest, confirmed that the Ingraham administration intends to bring the labor resolution to Parliament on September 8.
Now may be a good time to let others, including your MP, know how you feel about the project, specifically the Chinese worker component.
Where do stand on the issue? Please leave your comments below.Baha Mar, construction, immigration