By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A well-known QC has called on the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) to again become the sole licensor of all Freeport-based businesses, following claims that a $5 million medical facility began operations in the city without proper regulation.
Fred Smith QC, the Callenders & Co attorney and partner, said Freeport continues to “falter and die” due to central government interference.He charged that since the 1970s, successive governments have “stymied, delayed or intentionally obstructed business in Freeport”.
Mr Smith’s comments came in response to remarks by minister of state for investments, Khaalis Rolle, who during last week’s House of Assembly debate on the Stem Cell Research Bill said the former Ingraham administration had given final approval to the the $5 million Okyanos Heart Institute without the necessary legislation in place to govern the industry.
Mr Smith argued, however, that while he was not advocating a position on stem cell research, the former administration had done nothing wrong.
He cited the Hawksbill Creek Agreement as giving the GBPA the authority to grant licenses for the operation and maintenance of hospitals, plus medical and health clinics, in Freeport.
“Under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, the licensing of medical clinics and facilities is exclusive to the Port Authority and not the Government. There is nothing illegal as is being suggested,” said Mr Smith.
He added that successive administrations continued failed to realise that Freeport was a different jurisdiction compared to the rest of the Bahamas.
“The Hawksbill Creek Agreement is the law that governs Freeport, and by sub clause 23 2 (a), the authority to give lawful licenses for the operation and maintenance of hospitals, medical and health clinics, is exclusively reposed in the Grand Bahama Port Authority,” Mr Smith said.
“One of the reasons that Freeport continues to falter and die is because of the continued central government interference through licensing of foreign businesses, Immigration, exchange control and the International Persons landholding Act.
“The Investments Board, the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) and the Office of the Prime Minister should have nothing to do with approving or not approving foreign investments in Freeport by the GBPA,” he added.
“The construct of Freeport is that the GBPA should be the ‘one-stop shop’ licensing authority. Government after government since the 1970s has interfered with, stymied, delayed and/or intentionally obstructed business in Freeport. It was only under the FNM in 1992 that authority was released to give license approvals to exclusively Bahamian companies in Freeport.”
Mr Smith argued that the time had come to allow the GBPA to revert back to its original role of being the sole licensor of businesses in Freeport, whether foreign or Bahamian-owned.
“It is improper for the minister to suggest that there was anything wrong or inappropriate with the Heart Institute having been approved for operation in Freeport,” he added.
“No law requires any regulations to have been in place to govern such operations. It is highly misleading, and a complete failure, to understand and respect the importance of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement. If they would give the Port Authority free reign to do its job and work with the licensees and create our own environment of investment. Freeport could boom overnight.
“The stranglehold, however, which successive governments keep on Freeport punishes it and relegates Freeport to a dying economy limping along. It’s time for the GBPA and its licensees to take Freeport back.”