Ingraham-Babak Issue Raises Critical Questions

Hannes Babak

In a very interesting front page article which was published in the January 19 edition of The Freeport News, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham spoke somewhat candidly about the work permit issue surrounding former Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) Chairman Hannes Babak.

As most Grand Bahamians should know by now, the Ingraham administration refused to renew the work permit of Babak in December of 2009 for some unknown reason. In the interview with The Freeport News’ Lededra Marche and other members of the local press, Ingraham still refused to say why his administration is adamantly opposed to renewing the work permit of the former chairman of the port.

By all accounts, Babak is a very wealthy man. Even the prime minister said in the interview that Babak “was a monied person who didn’t need to work.”

Babak was the owner of Freeport Concrete Company Ltd. and The Home Centre. Both of these businesses have closed down during the past two years, leaving scores of Grand Bahamians on the unemployment line. There is a school of thought that suggests that Babak intentionally allowed his two companies to go belly up in order to get back at the Ingraham administration for not renewing his work permit.

Further, critics of the Free National Movement (FNM) have pointed out that had the prime minister renewed the work permit of Babak, Grand Bahama’s economy would have been in much better shape. It has been repeatedly said by Ingraham’s critics that Babak had several investments on the drawing board; and that Ingraham’s refusal to renew Babak’s work permit has caused these investments to either be shelved or cancelled outright. Perhaps the chief critic of the Ingraham administration is former editor of The Freeport News Oswald Brown. The loyal readership of The Freeport News would have come across many anti-Ingraham articles that were written by Brown.

Brown has repeatedly chided the Ingraham administration over its handling of the Babak work permit issue. He has also taken Ingraham to task for not dialoguing with the Honorary Chairman of the Port Authority Sir Jack Hayward. As far as Brown is concerned, the blame for Grand Bahama’s economic woes must be laid at the doorstep of the Ingraham administration.

I think the Ingraham administration has made a crucial error in not responding to Brown. I think the FNM has grossly erred in underestimating the former editor. While the FNM public relations machine has remained mum, Brown has continually chipped away at the governing party’s base in Grand Bahama through the print media, particularly The Freeport News. Too often diehard supporters of the FNM have dismissed Brown’s criticisms as the ranting of a man who has a vendetta with the Ingraham administration. Sometimes loyal FNM supporters are guilty of giving the articles of the former Freeport News editor an offhand analysis without even reading them.

However, I am of the view that we can learn more from our critics than from our rabid supporters. Diehard supporters of the FNM will never see anything wrong with their party. The same thing can be said about radical supporters of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) also. Sometimes it takes a critic, even if he doesn’t mean well, to show us where we have gone wrong.

That being the case, I think Oswald Brown has made several valid points in his contributions to the press. I believe that the Ingraham administration’s policy of not dialoguing with Sir Jack and the other principals of the Port has been counterproductive. While the prime minister and Sir Jack remained in their standoff, hundreds of Grand Bahamians were brought down to their knees because of the sorry state of the economy. While I am glad that Ingraham and Sir Jack are finally talking, this will no doubt be of very little comfort to the hundreds of Grand Bahamians whose lives have been devastated financially.

However, real or imagined, the Babak work permit issue could very well figure prominently in the minds of the Grand Bahamian electorate on election day, thanks to the literary output of Brown. However, Brown and the other critics of the Ingraham administration must appreciate the fact that the prime minister could very well have a valid reason for not wanting to renew Babak’s work permit. Also, the prime minister’s refusal to divulge the reason for his decision could be equally as valid. Perhaps if he does go ahead and say why he has made this controversial decision he could end up opening a can of worms. Who knows? As far as I am concerned, I find it absolutely inconceivable that Ingraham would want to hold 40,000-plus Grand Bahamians hostage just because of one man. Yet this is the gist of many of Brown’s articles. The prime minister has to know something that he doesn’t want the rest of us to know.

Moreover, the question that Brown and the other critics of the Ingraham administration must ask themselves is this: How is it possible that the success of the Port Authority is contingent on Babak being there? Grand Bahama used to be very successful before Babak joined the Port Authority. If the island of Grand Bahama, particularly Freeport was successful before he was chairman, why all of a sudden it cannot be successful now without him (Babak)?

Yet with that being said, I still believe that Ingraham should have said why Babak’s work permit hasn’t been renewed. While such information would not have erased the memory of the many hardships that hundreds of Grand Bahamians have had to endure over the past four-plus years, it would have at least explained to us, including Brown and the other critics of the FNM, why the prime minister had made the decision in the first place. In the final analysis, Ingraham has missed a grand opportunity to put the Babak issue to rest once and for all. Thank you!

Kevin Evans