Opposition Leader Davis: “Who Wins, Who Loses?” with Economic Empowerment Zone Bill 2018


Leader of The Opposition Philip Davis Q.C. (Photo by Torrell Glinton)

Philip “Brave” Davis, Q.C., M.P.
Leader of the Official Opposition

Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party
Thursday, July 26th, 2018
Economic Empowerment Zone Bill 2018

Mr. Speaker
Today marks two days since we lost a great son our country, my friend and ardent supporter Bishop Rodney “Coffee” Roberts.

Bishop Roberts is one, who came from a mighty long way to reach the higher heights of accomplishment in this society.

His story is one, which our young people can and should emulate.
From humble beginnings, he became a writer, a singer, and an unwavering proclaimer of the Word of God.

He was a strong spiritual leader within the community of the Grove community; and through his television and audio ministry, he was renown throughout The Bahamas.

I take this time to extend condolences to his wife, his children, and the church community of Five Porches of Deliverance.

I also add to my colleagues’ expressions of condolences on the passing of Phenton Neymour.

He was a patriotic Bahamian who was deeply committed to the national development of our country and its people.

He was a strong advocate and astute politician, who moved from the PLP to the CDR, to the FNM and then came full circle.

He wanted transformation in our politics.

On this past Monday, he lost a fierce battle.

He was a soldier in the army.

He gave his best. He has left us far too soon.

I extend condolences to his family on behalf of my wife and the wider PLP family.

Also, Mr. Speaker

I join colleagues in this Place and the country at large in expressing my deep condolences to the family of the late Basil L. Sands Sr.

Mr. Sands, who is the father of MP for Elizabeth, was a brilliant man.
He was a pioneer in his field as an accountant.

At the time when his professional career began, many did not know much of the profession.

He launched and founded his own practice, and was successful beyond measure.
He was the founding President of the Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants.

In politics, he was a supporter of the PLP.

He never wavered in that support; nor did he not hide it.

Whether we were in or out of government, he demonstrated his love for and support of the PLP. His solid commitment to the progressive cause was never taken for granted.

As a PLP, he was unselfish. He was humble. He was kind!

Today, evidence of that progressive contribution sits within this Chamber in the person of the Member for Elizabeth.

I extend heartfelt sympathy to his wife Roberta, his children Robert (Sandy), Diane, Basil Jr., Rene and the Minister for Health Dr. Duane Sands. He was extremely proud of all of them.

Mr. Speaker
I would be remiss if I, too, do not lend tributes to the family of the legendary Everette “Elisha Obed” Ferguson – who in 1975, defeated Miguel de Oliveira to capture the World Boxing Council (WBC) Light Middleweight Title.
That moment for me was a proud one. His championship was won just eight months after my call to the Bahamas Bar.

My call was uplifting and I never thought that there would be another event that would have so inspiring and uplifting, but his victory was.
Back then, The Bahamas was an infant nation, resolute and punching our way to the top in the world.

I celebrate his life and legacy by noting that, even now, the new generation of Bahamians athletes are making their mark in the world.

Mr. Speaker

In midst of our grief, we have joy – an uplifting spirit that celebrates our successes in swimming with Joanna Evans; in track and field with Miller-Uibo; in basketball with First NBA Draft DeAndre Ayton.

Mr. Speaker

We are still punching our way to the top; and each moment that occasions us opportunities to shine on the world stage, we ought to seize.

Unfortunately, we have a government that is passing up all of the publicity and potential that rests in the IAAF Relays to showcase our talents to the world on our own soil.

The People’s Time Government is just – a slogan. An empty catch-phrase because the truth is – This Government is not for People!

This is the government who embraces the ill-fated ideals of cancelling, stopping, and blocking opportunities for people!

Our young people’s hopes have been dashed.

They can’t be serious.

They are continually carry this campaign narrative, which they invented to trick to the Bahamian people to get elected.

Mr. Speaker

The country’s reputation will suffer as a result of the cancellation.
Our global brand is shot to pieces.

What a shame! What a Disgrace! What a poor display judgment!

Mr. Speaker

I have done so in private and I am constrained to ask the Prime Minister once again to reconsider this decision!

If nobody else on that side does, the Member for Killarney ought to know better.
Don’t let our young people down! Stop blocking their chance to shine!

Defend them! Standup for them! Do something other than jetting around the world calling Bahamians corrupt!

Many of those young people come from communities that the Bill before us purports to uplift and empower.

Mr. Speaker

The Over-the-hill communities represented the underpinnings of what it truly meant to be Bahamian.

It was within these areas we were taught the importance of hard work, family, and a deep sense of community.

For the most part, those communities – the elders, particularly – were the fabric that knitted us together.

Over the Hill was built on the foundation that gives us a rich history and an enduring pride.

Mr. Speaker

Bain Town and Grants Town along with Centerville fostered the evolution of a professional class of black Bahamians.

These Bahamians have contributed to the political and economic system of our country.

However, there is a contrasting version of this story.

There is the reality of neighborhoods facing the plight of violence fueled by social and economic inequalities.

Under their blanket of poverty are broken homes that dim the hope and dreams of so many young Bahamians.

They are gripped in the struggle. And that struggle is real!

It is a real was told yesterday by the Member for Englerston concerning the travails of her people and the inefficiencies of the Department of Social Service!

Mr. Speaker

I recognise the urgent need to respond to the challenges of these communities. We need a durable long-term solution to their situation.

However, the Prime Minister’s highly touted concept of special economic zones is flawed!

Its chief flaw is that fact that it offers further enrichment to the rich at the expense of the poor. That is what this is.

This initiative is a cart before the horse approach!

It dangerously falls short of addressing the structural challenges plaguing the Over-the-hill.

Mr. Speaker
The Over-the-hill economic woes, which are longstanding, have been exacerbated by educational and economic gaps.

Now, increasingly the spectre of illegal migrants, who in some instances occupy entire streets, the situation is even more complex.

This is the state of the inner city. Some areas having broader inequalities than others.

And, while much has been made of the role of special economic zones (SEZ) in the Over-the-hill area, arguably, the SEZ lack the necessary protections!

This lack will catalyse the exploitation and marginalisation of residents.
Mr. Speaker

The question I ask Who Wins, Who Loses?

For example, if a landlord uses the concessions granted under the SEZ to improve their rental property, can the Prime Minister assure tenants that the direct impact of this initiative will not result in the displacement of people.

Can he assure this House? And what are his solutions when displacements occur?

The great concern within this framework is all qualifying individuals who stand to benefit will not reflect significantly those residing in these areas.

The point is: You are not going to help the vast majority who are under these rough living conditions.

Mr. Speaker
What the government has dubbed Special Economic Zone are in essence special exploitation zones.

So, the question I ask again is, “Who Wins, Who Loses?”

How will this initiative improve economic and educational outcomes?

How will this SEZ address the urgent challenge of the lack of income, poor health, and family instability?

This exercise is a sham! Maybe the Prime Minister can answer that?

Or this: How will this SEZ transform communities challenged by violence and highly constrained dreams?

Can the Prime Minister answer that?

Mr. Speaker

Looking at the Bill, it comes up short! And there is no reasonable response.
Who Wins, Who Loses?

I am not ignoring the lucrative investment opportunities being advanced through this policy.

What I do recognize, though, is the negative social and economic cost more to maintain than the benefits this SEZ will bring.

For example: What happens when the investor [THE RICH AGAIN] takes advantage of the outlined concessions?

Takes advantage without delivering substantial employment and do not improve the social infrastructure?

Maybe the Prime Minister could answer that?

Mr. Speaker

Crucially, the focus on creating this Special Economic Zone does not address the problem at the heart of these communities.

The National Development Plan (NDP) has been abandoned.

With that plan was an evidence-based policy movement that contained thorough ideas to directly cure the social ills.

You threw it away!

The varying possibilities of economic exclusion will not improve poverty trends and will present an added barrier to economic mobility.
We need to uplift the poor – NOT THE RICH!

Mr. Speaker

The Prime Minister’s attempt to improve low-income neighborhoods as a Special Economic Zone by the offerings of tax breaks and concessions must determine first whether the programme helps residents of low-income communities.

And it must carefully examine how to avoid the inevitable reality of gentrification from this policy.

The economic distress in the Over-the- hill community is a problem that urgently and unequivocally needs a solution indeed.

However, it needs a solution that creates the environment for favourable and fair treatment.

Mr. Speaker
We must ensure that the policies created to transform communities are people-oriented, people-centred and people-driven.

These policies should encourage accessibility to employment first!

They should consider closing of educational gaps through skills training integrated with the National Training Agency.

We must create a path to accessing capital and business grants for residents to meaningfully benefit from the concessions outlined in the SEZ.

We must closely measure the net effect of these concessions on investment and how it benefits local residents.

That is what a PEOPLE’s TIME, People Driven; People Centred approach will focus on first!

But contrary of this approach Mr. Speaker

This SEZ framework is guaranteed to increase property values, increase rents, and lead to higher business profitability in an exclusive outcome.
In short, this does not benefit the vulnerable!

This hurts the poor!

This displacement policy will favour one side, creating concessions and loopholes promoting gentrification.

It will cater the highest returns to business and investors who will take advantage of tax free incentives.

Meanwhile, the poor and the vulnerable have to pay 12% VAT!

It is unclear whether residents in the Over-the-hill area will benefit or be kicked out.

How does the government intend to achieve a balance between promoting development and protect existing residents?

Mr. Speaker

The question I ask this Government is: Who Wins, Who Loses?

It is, therefore, imperative that policymakers involved in the implementation of this framework provide a transparent and rigorous evidence base traceability method to help determine the success or failure of the SEZ when this provision comes up for renewal.

In the absence of collecting evidence and an unevaluated programme in the future, how can make sure we know whether these Special Economic Zones work when it comes time to renew them?

Mr. Speaker

The Prime Minister must satisfy the residents in these areas that the ripple effects of this initiative will not hurt the most vulnerable.

The Poor! Those deprived by the system! Those who are unemployed and need the help now!

The Prime Minister should be made aware during the implementation phase of his personalized politically wrapped initiative, that gentrification ultimately and negatively impacts the least advantaged.

Truly renewing the communities with providing opportunities through innovative solutions to poverty require an Urban policy.

Perhaps those opposite did not take that into consideration.

An Urban policy where most vulnerable groups; Bahamians shunted into the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods across our country is given a pathway to the highest quality of life.

But I guess that is asking too much from this Government, who is only concerned about awarding benefits to RICH people!

Mr. Speaker

What is additionally required are policies aimed at improving the housing options.

We need to deliver economic opportunities, which produce better neighbourhood conditions without favouring the affluent and hurting the poor.

The over-the-hill communities need people-oriented policies, which enable less advantaged groups to transform their realities into better living neighbourhoods.

Neighbourhoods with better schools equipped with the latest technologies.
Communities whose healthcare needs are readily accessible.

This is what those communities need.

A greater economic opportunity; creating more inclusive economic development for those residents living Over-the-hill.

The People! Not the rich.

Mr. Speaker

What is needed is a “whole of Government approach” to address the root causes of the Over-the Hill Communities.

This Bill before us seeks only to deal with economic conditions and leave out such glaring policy and administrative issues such as better schools, enhanced clinics, and access to real financing.

The Over-the-Hill residents need jobs – job opportunities that will empower their upward growth!

They need to be able to own businesses to allow them to elevate themselves.
They need higher standard of environmental control, removing roadside garages, public infrastructure such as sidewalks, road paving, sanitation etc.

And the list goes on and on.

When I said earlier that the Prime Minister and his Government had put the cart before the horse, I was referring precisely to the Government being able to address these conditions.

Mr. Speaker

There is now talk of local government for New Providence.
It is an initiative, which we on this side welcome.

But it is precisely through local level government that we might revive and resuscitate our Over-the Hill communities.

But I think that idea too is just plenty talk.

The Local Government Minister has already been removed from his portfolio.

And guess what? We still don’t know why!

We must get serious.

This government has not demonstrated logic in its rationale!

The SEZ will not do it. In fact, as I indicated before, the SEZ will provide additional exploitation of the residents living in these areas.
When they are pushed out by the greed of business interests, where will they go?

What is your plan then Prime Minister?

Do you have any plan for the people, who already have been fired by your government?

Thousands fired! Some, simply for being Bahamian!

And now you want send the Greedy in to destroy their small communities.
Ya’ll are heartless!

Mr. Speaker

While the over-the-hill communities will become areas exploited for profit, the poor I say will not benefit.

There is no need for the Government to rush this Bill.

Much of what the Bill seeks to achieve is already present in various extant pieces of legislation.

In policies and programmes such as the Urban Renewal Programme and in agencies such as the Ministry of Works, the Department of Environmental Health, the Real Property Act and, indeed in Customs Regulations.

These efforts can be achieved already.

And I warn the Government that I am afraid that there will be an overlapping of procedures and of administrative arrangements.

Nothing substantive will be achieved!

While there are potential for economic benefits to distressed communities across the over-the-hill areas, I say, the devil will be in the details.
And only time will tell.

Despite good intentions, the Prime Minister continues to overlook the highlighted and unintended negative consequences of economic empowerment zone bill.

Pretty much in the same way that he misled this Parliament with that BAD OBAN DEAL, he has overlooked the consequences of the special exploitation zones!

The program favours some people or companies over residents! Just like OBAN!

I wonder who the mystery man or woman is in this?

Others are fueled to benefit with their narrow interests at the mercies of the residents of Over-the-hill.

Mr Speaker

We cannot emphasise enough how critical it is that these concessions benefit the people that they are impacting.

The government has an uncompromising obligation in the implementation of these economic zones to prevent tax breaks and economic incentives that will disproportionately harm low-income residents and local businesses.

I personally believe that concessions or economic activities that do not translate into new activities or harm low- and modest-income residents will be contrary to the government overall public policy goals during this program.

We urge the government in advance to introduce a mechanism to identify practices that would constitute abuse.

The government must create a safeguard against exploiters, who will utilize loopholes to abuse the program.

Mr Speaker

I want the Prime Minister answer the question he continues to dodge like he does with meeting the press: Who Wins and Who Loses with his policies?

And please do not give a cheap answer like saying “THE PEOPLE” –
This is an extraordinary state of affairs when the Member of Parliament of Killarney lacks a coherent plan to address negative impacts that Economic Empowerment Zone bill will have on residents.

Instead, he has come into this place and is overnight an expert on the history of the Progressive Liberal Party.

He spends more effort telling old stories than demonstrating to the Bahamian people his understanding on what his decisions will mean for real people.
The poor people. The vulnerable people.

The People who know and are saying it every day that it is not their time!

Who will Win and Lose with this government’s policies?

Plainly stated, as in OBAN, the Rich and Affluent.

They win!

Yesterday, the Member for Killarney considered himself to be a friend of the poor;

Well I know of no friend who would want to see our people kicked out of their homes.

A friend introducing a policy framework that does very little to improve the lives of the poor.

….Creating a “double burden” on the Over-The-Hill residents. Is that what a Friend of the Poor do?

And sadly, instead of addressing the root of the problem and what drives urban poverty the Member for Killarney offers this House a trickle-down economic policy that will not eliminate poverty.

I submit this Government is no friend of the poor and the Prime Minister and MP for Killarney is no trusted historian on the PLP!

As I end my Contribution, Mr. Speaker

I encourage the government to address some of these gaps.

I want them addressed because domestic and foreign investors will win and small local SMEs in the Over-The-Hill communities will lose.

The Prime Minister needs to rethink his strategies because I have serious doubts this SEZ will generate any spill overs to the wider community.

If the government fails to address the connected social and economic challenges and does not promote social developmental linkages, educational training, and economic upgrading, this Economic Empowerment Zone will be the greatest broken promise of our lifetime.

Time reveals the truth, no matter how much you beautifully weave it in the thread of lies. With time, the knots open and the truth comes out.

Time, Mr. Speaker

The People’s Time government should know that the truth will eventually be revealed.

Thank you Mr. Speaker….