A report in the Tribune Business on the Straw market as described by a professional working on the plans – is a shocker.
The projected cost of the straw market rose from eighteen million to somewhere between 29 and 36 million. Taking the mid point projection of 33 million, the per capita cost for 300,000 Bahamians is about $110.00. Considering the portion of the population that are not earning any income (children and retired) the amount is higher for income earners.
Clearly the PLP government “lost their heads”.
In September 2007 The Nassau Institute researched operations of the Straw Market. Some of the findings were:
Licensed vendors pay an annual rent of $100.00 per year with no requirement to sell Bahamian made products or straw goods. Over 50% sell no straw and/or Bahamian –made products.
Six hundred and five stalls were licensed, but information as to whether the rents were current – was not known or not available.
Subletting is illegal, however those operating the stalls were mostly Haitian and Jamaican,
Over 50% of the stalls sell knock-offs of name brands in violation of copy-write laws.
It is time to ask whether a straw market on Bay Street is an asset or an unaffordable liability. Rental income is negligible relative to the investment. The result is a government subsidy for a few individual lessees.
There is a notion that the country needs a Straw Market as a shopping experience for tourists. Whether true or not is questionable. However, there is no question about the degraded image for Bay Street as a shopping destination when non-Bahamians are hawking cheap knock-offs and imported souvenirs.
To build a market for the cost originally intended ($18,000,000) is morally wrong because it places the cost burden on the population that derives no material benefit and may even be harmed by the unsavoury image. The days are long gone when the market added “local culture” and the fun of bargaining for Bahamian-made straw work.
When grandiose plans for a government project capture the minds of politicians the sky is the limit and the humble tax-payer is ignored.
William Graham Sumner called him “The Forgotten Man” – “He works, he votes, generally he prays – but he always pays”.
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