The FNM is no UBP

Dear Editor,

Critics of the FNM who accuse it of being a reincarnation of the now defunct United Bahamian Party are in for a rude awakening when the details of the purchase of the Grand Lucayan resort by Royal Caribbean finally emerge. In fact, this deal (like many others) will likely confirm a vast difference between the FNM and the UBP.

The UBP’s principal faults were in its internal socio-economic policies which favored an entrenched status quo and resisted the removal of an unsustainable racial hierarchy in politics and society.

In its dealings with the outside world, which included relations with foreign investors and in its positioning of The Bahamas to take advantage of current trends in the world economy, the UBP demonstrated remarkable strengths.

Most notably, it clearly understood when the interests of multinational investors and The Bahamas did not align, and it came down strongly in favor of the latter.

By contrast, the FNM seems to adopt the position of awe-struck pupil when dealing with foreign multinationals, taking their advice uncritically on how to maximize benefits from their activities.

Ministers’ speeches following heads of agreements read like recited school mantras, scripted by the investors themselves.

Nowhere is this contrast more sharply demonstrated than in our relationship with the cruise industry, where the UBP began a policy that continues to favor onshore (hotel) operators over the cruise sector, since the former bring vastly more economic and fiscal benefit to the country.

In fact, under the UBP government, cruise ships were mandated to shut down their entertainment activities at night when in port in Nassau as they were rightly perceived as unlicensed business competitors to licensed Bahamian businesses on Bay Street and beyond.

Today’s FNM government is in the process of selling the largest hotel property in our second city to a cruise company, which intends to immediately remove 700 rooms out of a total inventory of 1,300 rooms and replace them with (you guessed it!) entertainment facilities. So not only will they permit the cruise industry to downsize onshore rooms, but they will permit it to dampen the environment for Bahamian-owned entertainment options by competing to keep the entertainment dollar.

A smart government, which recognized the strengths of The Bahamas in general and Grand Bahama in particular vis-à-vis the cruise industry, would have begun negotiations with the cruise companies with one principal aim: to see them commit to develop Freeport as a “home port” (as Miami and Fort Lauderdale now are), to which their passengers fly to begin their Caribbean cruises.

Home porting (as opposed to just having a hotel and developing a harbor) would have had two beneficial effects.

Firstly, rather than demolishing rooms, it would compel the construction of vast numbers of additional rooms throughout the island to handle the overnight traffic of cruise-bound passengers from all over the USA and beyond. Anyone who has ever stayed at a hotel anywhere around the Port of Miami would clearly understand this.

Secondly, home-porting would necessitate the rapid reconstruction and improvement of Grand Bahama’s international airport — to the extent that the cruise companies themselves would in all likelihood have financed it.

Instead, what we seem to be getting is yet more downgrading of Grand Bahama’s prospects, driven by a mismatch between savvy foreign businessmen and a hopelessly gullible government, whose national self-loathing is on display every time they get before an international audience.

— Andrew Allen

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