Johnson on Baker’s Bay work permits: We made best decision in the circumstances

The 135 work permits for a Mexican construction work team to carry out work on Baker’s Bay Golf and Ocean Club were approved as recently as last month, according to Minister of Immigration, Financial Services, Trade and Industry Elsworth Johnson.

Speaking with The Guardian outside Parliament yesterday, Johnson said the approvals by the immigration department came after Baker’s Bay waited months and those approvals were “nothing untoward”.

“In December, they [came] to the government and said they wanted to get the place up and running,” he said. “COVID-19 came and obviously everyone was sheltered in, so that created some difficulty.

“In my mind and in my heart of hearts, I know for a fact that the decision that was made had nothing to do with any overtures by anybody and Baker’s Bay never made any overtures to say ‘if I do this, you do that.’”

The government has been criticized over granting approval for the 135 work permits at a time when thousands of Bahamians remain out of a job, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Dorian.

Explaining the hires, Baker’s Bay has pointed to a “critical” need for “a large scale specialized” workforce in a short time frame, and has pointed to the fact that the vast majority of workers at the site are Bahamians.

“Given the increase in demand for construction services in both Abaco and Grand Bahama as a result of the damage sustained by Hurricane Dorian, the availability of a large scale specialized workforce to restore and reopen the property in the shortest time frame is critical,” it said on the weekend.

“As such, Baker’s Bay has sought and received approval for our 135 Mexican national construction work team — the global workforce (GWF) — who will supplement our existing robust and ongoing, primarily Bahamian labor-driven construction efforts that includes some 420 Bahamian professionals.”

It said the 135 short-term work permit holders will assist with rebuilding its Abaco location between July 1, 2020, and September 30, 2020.

Johnson said the aim of Baker’s Bay was to get employees back to work and businesses around the establishment up and running.

“There is every intention from where I sit and the prime minister’s instructions are that Bahamians are to benefit and be given first opportunity,” the minister said.

“There are more than 420 Bahamians working there and it’s growing. There are companies in there working as they go, looking for persons to come in.”

Johnson pointed out that Baker’s Bay initially requested 500 and then 300 work permits.

The Guardian asked Johnson whether he has any regrets over the grant of the work permits, to which he responded, “I have to do my best to the service of The Bahamian people and to make the best decision in the circumstances; that’s what we think are in the best interest of The Bahamas.”

He noted, “What we’re (government) guided by is a policy where after you’ve searched countrywide, fit and proper persons would come in.”

He continued, “At the end of the spectrum, if you invest $2 billion, and I’m not talking about other people that you may want to come to ensure that your investment is solid, you should be able to come and your wife should be able to come. So, I’m going to continue to do the best I can for the short period of time that I have.”

Johnson said he has been reported to the prime minister numerous times for being “too inflexible” and that he simply wants to ensure that “Bahamians get the first opportunity and those allowed into the country are fit and proper persons who are in the best interest of building a bigger and better Bahamas”.

Baker’s Bay said that by bringing in the Mexicans, it has significantly increased its probability for achieving recovery and reopening goals as they specialize in the recovery and reconstruction of hurricane-ravaged communities and, particularly, private club communities such as Baker’s Bay.

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