There was a time, when real estate men, in the Bahamas, were veritable kings. They were the fat cats who the government relied upon to travel across America, Canada, England, and Europe to do one thing, and one thing only. Their job was to sell every available valuable piece of land to foreign investors.
Every island, every cay, every available few acres to a few thousand acres, every beach front, lake front, hill and subdivision possibility, was up for sale to the highest bidder.
In 1940, if you questioned this status quo established by the government, if you questioned why a select few, like the Honourable H. G. Christie, could travel back and forth, probably on the government’s expense, while others were unable to obtain money for a holiday, you were called narrow and selfish. And shortsighted!
In the early 1900s, with so much land, and so few people, in The Bahamas, willing to risk with their own money, it was best figured that spending other people’s money, was the only sensible way forward.
EARLY GOVERNMENT, EARLY FAILURES
Early government administrations had developed what they thought was an absolutely ingenious idea. They concocted a combined GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and Island development strategy all rolled into one.
The combined strategy was based on selling as much Bahamian land to foreign investors, as possible, in their lifetime. By selling the land, it was hoped that some investors might develop it, using their own foreign money, and a few favourable government legislations to help them along.
Harry Oakes (who gave up his American citizenship for Canadian citizenship and then moved to The Bahamas for tax reasons) came in under this combined economic plan.
Oakes came to The Bahamas in 1935, became a Baronet (Sir) by 1939 (record time) and sat in the House of Assembly as Honourable Sir Harry Oakes (the only foreigner sitting in Bahamian government since Woodes Rogers). All this because Oakes basically funded the Bahamas government under this combined development plan, and the government wanted to keep him happy.
(The Montreal Gazette Thursday 8 June 1939)
The success of wheeling in a fat cat like Harry Oakes made real estate men like H. G. Christie untouchable. They were the golden boys who could do no wrong. Their international handshakes were making all sorts rich beyond their wildest dreams in the Bahamas. No matter what they wanted, they got.
The newspapers defended them and guarded their backs. The Nassau Daily Tribune called the people selfish, narrow and shortsighted for even questioning their strategy.
By the time the 1970s had rolled in, the failure of the early ‘sell it all’ economic plan, which had underpinned so many development projects was beginning to reveal itself. Bahamians woke up to find that they didn’t really own anything anymore. And what they thought they owned, they really didn’t.
Crown land could only be given out sparingly.
For over a hundred years up to 1970, the vast majority of development projects were underwritten either directly or indirectly with foreign money. This was largely before more than 70% of the population could legally vote.
Much of the valuable land had already been sold, or locked into leases longer than a human life span. Sold land was now only changing hands for the umpteenth time, or being divided up by those who had bought it decades before anyone alive today was even born.
For modern the Bahamas however, this previous economic strategy, of aggressive foreign land sales to fuel development, would come to negatively impact life (both socially and economically) throughout the islands.