Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham speaks to current national issues during his address to Free National Movement supporters in Freeport on Saturday, December 18, 2010. (BIS Photos/Sharon Turner)
Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham
Leader – Free National Movement
FNM Pre-Christmas Breakfast
Freeport, Grand Bahama
Greetings, Grand Bahama FNMs
As you know, you are an important cog in the FNM’s wheel and without you, we would not be where we are today. We are not unmindful of that reality; we know that to be fact. What you did for us in May 1990 in the Marco City by-election catapulted us to win in 1992, and what you did for us in 2007, caused us to win the government today. And so we are very much appreciative of that, and we seek to do the best we can for you as often as we can, and sometimes things don’t work out the way we want them to work.
The Grand Bahama Economy
The current economic situation here in Grand Bahama and in The Bahamas is not something that if we could have done something immediately about, we wouldn’t have done something about. But in thinking about it, I want you to remember some of the things that we did do while we were in office that did come here that is helping today to sustain the economy of Freeport and Grand Bahama. There is the Container Port, the ship care facility (GB Shipyard), or Our Lucaya or Pelican Bay or Polymers International. All of those things came while the FNM was in, and the new ownership of BORCO came while the FNM was in. And when you talk to the other side, let them tell you what came while they were in for those five years.
The GINN Development
While we are on that point, let me say that as you know the GINN project down in West End has gone into bankruptcy, the bank has taken over its part of the property. The owner of the other part – who is not Mr. Bobby Ginn that we thought it was, we thought Mr. Bobby Ginn was the owner – he is not the owner. I saw the owners last week. They are making some plans for the development down in West End. I don’t want to make any announcements for them, but they do not want to be known as GINN anymore. They are going to call themselves Old Bahama Bay.
The Harcourt Property (Royal Oasis)
We still have not been certain about the Harcourt property, as you know Harcourt is an Irish company. Both of these are products of the PLP government – they are the two things that I can credit them for: GINN in West End and Harcourt here in Freeport and you know what’s happening with both of them. Nothing has happened with Harcourt yet.
Several other things are in the bill for Grand Bahama and you will hear about them as times goes on, and you might hear about one or so of them very, very shortly but let other people talk for themselves and not me for them.
The Grand Bahama Port Authority
With respect to the Grand Bahama Port Authority, as you know in 2015 the benefit under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement for businesses in Freeport to be exempted from the payment of business license like other places in The Bahamas and from Real Property Tax comes to an end.
The Port Authority has written to my office asking for us to engage in discussions with them as to what is going to happen after 2015. We have told them that we would not be inclined to have any discussions with them until they, first of all, are able to get their own house in order in terms of ownership. Notwithstanding that, they have now written back to us and so I wanted to tell you this publicly. We are not inclined first of all to have any discussions on it with them while they are divided, and secondly, we don’t think it is appropriate to have discussion before the next election.
And when we do have the discussion, we would like to put them on notice of a couple of things that we would like to discuss and agree with them. We do not believe that we ought to continue to have the Port Authority determine what the power rate ought to be in Freeport, or the water rate or anything to do with telecommunications. We believe they ought to come under a national regulatory authority like URCA, and we would like to engage them in discussions about that when its time to talk to them.
Government Pays CLICO Workers and Policyholders
With respect to what is happening nationally, I picked up the newspaper this morning and I saw on the front page where a Ms. Outten is complaining that she was an employee or agent of CLICO, and that she only got $100,000 (one hundred thousand dollars) and that she should have gotten much more. And I was reminded of the story in The Bible about the lepers who were cleansed, and how one came back [to say thank you].
There were about 129 people or thereabouts. The Government of The Bahamas had no legal or moral or ethical obligation to pay anybody any money at all. It was not The Bahamas Government’s bill, it is not your bill as the taxpayers of The Bahamas.
Out of the goodness of our heart we determined that we would put in place a means by which we would pay the wages that were due to these people up to $100,000, and that we would do the same thing for the policyholders up to $100,000. We did that for all 129 of them. There were only five people who were owed more than $100,000. So 124 of the 129 were owed $100,000 or less, and we paid them in full.
Now because five of them were owed more than $100,000 – one of whom was only owed $100, 280+, so they lost $280, but it gets in the newspaper as a front page story that one person didn’t get all they were supposed to get and not a word could be said about the 124.
You know, in public life you often get blamed for many things and you don’t get credit for many things you do, but it is not intended to be a thankful job. It is intended to be a job that you do the best you can everyday and you satisfy yourself that I did all I could and the best I could, and that you will never be able to satisfy everyone.
Take the BTC matter. The PLP has had the nerve and the gumption to say that we are keeping secret the sale of BTC. We told The Bahamas from day one that it was not possible for us to continue to have a monopoly in the telephone business. And we established all sorts of policies to prepare ourselves for this eventual day.
You know, before the time of the FNM, you couldn’t buy a telephone in a shop in The Bahamas. All telephones were BTC’s telephones. Now everyone who wants to sell telephones and cell phones can do it. There was no Vibe, Vonage, Indigo or Skype, [there was] one radio station, only you in Freeport had cable. Now I am catching hell from people as far away as Rum Cay and Ragged Island [asking] “what happened to my cable?”
There are hundreds and hundreds of people employed in the communications sector in The Bahamas who were not so employed, before we began the liberalization of the telecommunications sector in The Bahamas. And we have been methodical in our approach towards it.
The Bahamas has publicly gone to bid twice for the sale of BTC, spent lots of money, invited major telephone companies from anywhere in the world to come forward. On both occasions, the bids that came in were totally unacceptable and were rejected. And ofcourse The Bahamas was not prepared to sell at a fire sale for BTC.
The PLP, just before the last election, agreed to sell it to some person. Zhivargo [Laing] reminded me this morning that normally in The Bahamas, you find a Bahamian fronting for a foreigner. They agreed to sell to somebody who some people think were fronting for some of them.
But the reality is that election came. They never told the public a single word that they had agreed to sell BTC – not a word. On the same day that we agreed and signed we announced it to the public – the same day. They never told the public a word. And if it wasn’t for the election and the winning of that election by the FNM, things would be different today.
Instead of me being condemned by some people for what we are now doing, quite frankly they ought to stop and think. They ought to applaud us for saving them.
I made the point earlier about doing the best you can. The president of the Union, Mr. Evans and others are making lots of noise and making lots of threats – and of course you know, that does not get anywhere with me. But sometimes we have to consider whether or not what you did was the right thing.
We went out of our way to protect jobs for people who are at BTC to your disadvantage. It is in the interest of The Bahamas for the cellular service to be liberalized, by that I mean for there to be another cellular company in The Bahamas in the shortest possible time. Turks Island has two or three cellular companies and they do not have as many people as Abaco. We’ve got one.
We’ve got one and we are charging rates that are not charged in other places; higher than other places. I heard one of the Union presidents say ‘all that has to happen is for Hubert Ingraham to call down to BTC and reduce the rates.’
Yes, I could reduce the rates – and fire hundreds of you. It follows like night follows day.The rates are high because we have more people employed there than they need there. And you have people who are seeking to protect what they have to your disadvantage. It has nothing to do with whether or not we sell to Cable and Wireless – they don’t want it sold, period because there is plenty juice there for them, and we want you to have more minutes for your five dollars.
In fact, many of you have no idea how much money you spend for cellular service. Start adding up how much you are spending on it. We think that you are spending a disproportionate amount of your money on cellular service, and we think its being done to sustain a few people to the disadvantage and at the expense and cost of the many in The Bahamas.
Now, if you love them more than you love yourself – even The Bible tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves, not more than. And so if you love yourselves and the population of The Bahamas more than you love the few people who are working at BTC, then you will stand with the Government.
While the Government owns BTC today, the Bahamian management at BTC has a proposal for the Government for them to let go more than 300 people from BTC, because the say they are overstaffed leading into privatization – which we have not done.
We wanted to have an exclusivity period for cellular service for only two years. The PLP agreed to give it for six years for cellular and landlines – six solid years. We only wanted it for two years.
But the company said that if we are going to buy, and we are only going to have two years, we want to be able to disengage up to 30 percent of the staff as soon as we takeover, virtually.
We said we cannot have that.
So we negotiated a deal that says you can have it for three years, you offer a voluntary disengagement package so that those who have entitlement to pension and others who would like to leave can do so, and that you would not terminate anyone to downsize the company for atleast the two years.
Now in doing that, it affected the price we get paid for it, and it affected how long you are still going to pay higher than you should, because as soon as competition comes, cellular rates are going to drop right down.
We did that for the benefit of the employees of BTC. Apparently their union leadership does not appreciate that.
But we do good because that is the right thing to do, not because we expect for some people to ever appreciate what we do.
The reality is that the Union and the PLP are at one in their fight against this exercise. And you can figure out why the PLP, which agreed to sell it to a one-man show, is now opposed to selling it to a $2.5 billion company, a company that is operating in 30-odd countries in the world, that is publicly traded, and when it buys equipment for The Bahamas, can get the price it pays for equipment in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, and that has bulk purchasing capacity, management capabilities that provide opportunities not only for Bahamians to manage in The Bahamas but also elsewhere in a major company.
Why would they be together in opposition to the sale? We think we know the answer, and over time we will tell you more and more.
But the truth of the matter is that for those who are employed at BTC and elsewhere in the public sector – I wish to caution them not to follow the current plans of the president of the NCTU and BCPOU; Ms. Dobson and Mr. Evans – because when you walk off your job, if you do, there is no guarantee that you can come back to that job – no guarantee.
Jobs are scarce. Jobs are hard to find. And no one is able to stop you from cutting off your nose to spite your face; that is your face. But at the end of the day, you wont have a nose – that is the judgment you can make.
And so I’d like to say to you here in Grand Bahama that we are proceeding to do what we think is the right thing for The Bahamas to do. We are convinced that The Bahamas will be better off in what we are doing.
I don’t like to make everyday people cuss me – they may cuss me anyhow, but I don’t like to make them cuss me. And so we only seek to do this because we are absolutely convinced this is the right thing for The Bahamas to do and quite frankly, we also need the money.
We need the $200 million. We cannot continue to borrow and borrow to sustain the jobs of all those who are in the public sector; we have to sell some things to help us. And one of the things we are selling in an interest in BTC.
And when we sell it, we are also going to sell shares to you the public to make sure that you can get dividends so that 49 percent of the dividends will come to either the Government or to Bahamians individually.
Those of you who can buy shares – more profits to you the public. We’d like to have a share offering and owning society. That is why some of you in Grand Bahama own shares in the Freeport Power Company – the FNM made them do that.
Some people in The Bahamas own shares in Cable Bahamas – the FNM made that happen. And Bank of The Bahamas – the FNM did that. And soon you are going to own shares in Burns House, and the FNM is making them do that.
Our duty to you, is as far as we can, empower you – create employment, create opportunities for you to go into business and create opportunities for you to own more and more of your own economy.
There is absolutely no need for the Government to be in the telecommunications business. We intend over the next three years for 25 percent of BTC to be owned by the public. The Government will continue to own 24 percent until another point in time when decisions are taken.
We believe that we can regulate it through an independent regulator – URCA, and cause fairness and rules to apply in the operation of the telecommunications sector.
We also don’t believe that if we continue to own it, its going to be worth very much to us soon; the value will continue to go down. People are finding more and more means by which they do not have to go through a telecommunications company.
Also we will create some competition for Cable Bahamas in the service of cable. Right now they are the only game in town. Well, when Cable and Wireless comes there will be another game in town that you can get cable service from and then you can begin to decide on carriers.
Grand Bahama’s Prospects
I do want to say to Freeport that I have reasonably good reason to believe that next year is going to be a better year for you here in Grand Bahama, that we hope to come here soon to have a discussion about the concerns in Pinder’s Point and the resolution we are going to seek to put forward for what people in Pinder’s Point are experiencing and/or are legitimately concerned about.