No it’s not a typographical error or auto correct. You see, the Global Pork Holding, with its enormous and lengthy giveaway, negotiated by one of our toughest negotiators, MP Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, with objections, stipulations and other input from another tougher negotiator, MP Yearwood, is nothing short of ‘pork’ – the fatted pig feeding at the trough of Antigua and Barbuda’s patrimony and national control for a measly $83 million. It is a travesty. Some say, a crime!
But what is ‘pork,’ pray tell? No, it is not that! Neither is it “Arnold,” as some prefer to call the flesh of the swine. In some parts of the world, especially the United States, the term ‘pork’ refers to excessive spending of taxpayers’ money on pet projects for elected officials in their home districts. It can also mean profligate spending, or excessive giveaways. We submit that the Global Pork Holding concession agreement is pork at its greasiest – a sweetheart deal for this company that seems desperate to get its hand on our birthright for an inordinately extended period of time. Never mind that our shrewd, brilliant and hard-nosed negotiators seemed equally and weirdly desperate to conclude this lopsided agreement for pittance.
Of course, whenever one negotiating team pats the other on the back with effusive praise about how that team drove a hard bargain, watch out! It is flattery to deceive! Wink, wink! When Mr. Mehmet Kutman, the chairman of Global Pork weighed in at a news conference with that unbelievable assertion (MP Max Fernandez could not even negotiate a relatively simple deal for Deluxe Cinema without resorting to . . . well . . . government pork and cronyism, according to an attorney and former finance minister, and political leader of the United Progressive Party, Harold Lovell), it reminded many of Brer Anancy pulling a fast one. Kutman’s haste to shore up the government’s position and allay the fears and misgivings of a cynical public was as subtle as a hammer taking to an anvil. This, while he laughed all the way to the bank!
And speaking of ‘bank,’ it appears as though Global Pork Holding has no money. According to the aforementioned UPP political leader, Global Pork is not bringing any money of its own, but rather is banking on the vast tracts of real estate that we are ceding to them for 30-40 long years. Of course, if Global Pork defaults on its loans, the lending financial institution will have the right to seize (gasp!) those vast tracts of OUR real estate.
Interestingly, in the early stages of that recent Global Pork love fest/news conference, PM Gaston Browne admitted that which was already manifest to many: “At this time our cruise product literally is rated the worst in the Caribbean. If we could have done it alone, we would have done it alone. In fact we’ve tried.” Apart from that stunning admission about the sorry state of our cruise product, the question on everybody’s minds is: What happened to the consortium of local investors who are supposedly interested in purchasing the Bank of Nova Scotia? Could they not have been persuaded to invest in the development of the fifth berth for Oasis-class cruise ships? And the improvements to Heritage Quay? And the development of more retail space and concession stores? And so on and so forth? And whatever happened to the billion-plus Citizenship by Investment monies? And if Papa Bird could have built the Deep Water Harbour in 1968 (a mammoth undertaking at the time) without ceding sovereignty and management, and if he could have successfully negotiated a loan with the Royal Bank of Canada to purchase the Syndicate lands for all of Antigua and Barbuda in 1967, then it baffles us why these geniuses in our government are not able to raise capital without shackling two generations of Antiguans with this millstone about our necks.
Meanwhile, here’s what we get for ceding management of our ports to this company that, according to the aforementioned political leader, has not turned a profit in a recent year, and is on the hook for loans at a rather high rate of interest. Not a good sign. But here’s what we get: vague stipulations of intent from Global Pork with ample wiggle room to deliver the barest minimum: $21 million to retire the Antigua Commercial Bank debt; $30 million to build the new pier; $25 million to build new shops; $5 million for local entrepreneurs; and $2 million to give Heritage Quay a facelift. According to the government, no St. John’s Development Corporation jobs will be lost, and there is talk of electric cars and a supposed but vague safeguard for local taxi drivers. And yes, there is the guaranteed minimum 600,000 passengers head tax.
Of course, notwithstanding the happy talk and the assurance by our Attorney General that, “We are satisfied that there is nothing in the agreement that should be concerning the Antiguans to say that this agreement is against the best interest of all the parties concerned.” Never mind that officialdom never bothered to consult “the parties concerned.” Sigh! What’s new? What is clear is that this agreement is certainly not against the best interest of Global Pork Holding who, by their own admission, were eager to get a second foothold here in the Caribbean. (They have an arrangement with Cuba). Seems they found a sucker!
The sad thing is that we have become so accustomed to double-speak and dissembling from officialdom that if they tell us run, we walk. If they tell us that we have nothing to fear, we are running like hell! Oink! Oink! Pass the bacon! This agreement stinks!