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Port Urged To Again Be Sole Freeport Licensor

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Fred Smith

By NATARIO McKENZIE

Tribune Business Reporter

nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net

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.”

Comments

Islandgirl 6 years, 5 months ago

Correct me if I am wrong, but it is my understanding that the medical facilities and private practice physicians have to pay fees not only to the Port Authority, but to the Central Government itself, in essence double fees. How can this be right? For the rest of us in general, perhaps there should be a re-structuring not only to have a one-stop licencing facility, but in the way those licences are granted and the fees assessed. Seriously, between the gargantuan licencing fees for business that the Port imposes, and the monstrous power bills from GBPA, it is hard to open as well as keep a business going in Freeport. For many reasons, the Port cannot be allowed absolute autonomy; we already suffer from this, as the government itself takes a hands off approach when it comes to dealing with this issue, except when it comes to collecting taxes. That is when they are all over us. The Port answers to no one, and we feel helpless here. Where are the persons who should protect us from this? Minister of Grand Bahama, shouldn't this, in fact, be the mandate of your portfolio? This Port is the biggest thing that separates us from the rest of the country, and probably the largest contributor to why the island is in the state that it is in. Rather than dabbling in urban renewal and every other ministry, take a hold of and fix this.

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TalRussell 6 years, 5 months ago

It's Comrade "QC" Freddy's kind of thinking that contributes to why it is with 40 years of Independence under our belts, Bahamaland's natives are still kneeling before a Britisher Queen Liz, as we Head of State. Now, he wants Freeporter's to continue to live under the controls of some foreigner Port Authority. is this the same "QC" out to safeguard Clifton for Nassau Town natives? Ouch to the bullocks. That hurts like all hell!

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dfitzerl 6 years, 5 months ago

It is unfortunate that we do not do a better job of educating our people on the topics we find so interesting and necessary. I respond to the two previous post simultaneously.

The Hawksbill Creek Agreement grants the GBPA (a corporate entity) and its licensees (3000+ Bahamians) certain benefits and certain authority/responsibility for the private development it proposed to build. It did not grant these to the current owners of the GBPA but to the GBPA itself. Please do not confuse the entity with its owners. The entity can be sold today to someone else (Bahamian or otherwise). Additionally, do not confuse the HCA with the entity (one is a law, the other is a beneficiary of the law).

The real question is does the HCA model benefit Freeport or not? Not who is the current owner of the GBPA? I put to you that, for the most part, the HCA model has and continues to benefit Freeport, and by extension, The Bahamas. It is the closest thing we have to true local government in the country and the area under its jurisdiction is clearly administered more effectively than anywhere else in the country (in spite of what one may or may not think of the GBPA owners). Additionally, GBPA is no less Bahamian than the central government which is controlled by foreign entities like IMF, IDB, WTO, Amnesty International, US Govt, Chinese Govt (and the list goes on).

Most people do not seem to appreciate that every bye-law promulgated under the Agreement giving GBPA specific authority has a Govt Minister as the ultimate arbitor. GBPA has someone in central govt to answer to even if the someone does not appreciate it. Anyone agrieved under the administration of a Freeport bye-law may appeal to the relevant govt minister.

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dfitzerl 6 years, 5 months ago

Part 2 .....

On the matter of license fees, the license fee structure of GBPA models the license fee structure of central government, with the singular exception of the "vendor" fee which is higher. The difference is that a GBPA licensee has the benefits of the HCA (duty exemptions) which provides more bang for the buck. It is true that a professional pays a Freeport professional license fee to Govt and a business licenase fee to GBPA. A non-Freeport professional would also pay both fees, but both to Govt. ....

While the cost of electricity is too high, it is no higher than anywhere else in The Bahamas, or any other non-oil producing Island. ......

I think that Comrade Russell would be pleased if we did as suggested some time ago and spun GBPA out from its sister operational company, Port Group Limited, as a stand-alone regulator and keeper of the HCA (in the same way URCA was spun out from BTC). Then there would be no more cry about being managed by foreigners. But please, Comrade, do not throw the baby out with the bath water by continuing this insane discussion about doing away with the HCA and/or the GBPA (warts and all). In this regard, I agree with Comrade "QC" Freddy but add that central government must do a better job at holding GBPA's feet to the fire rather than usurping the responsibility granted it by the same central government. It must treat GBPA and the HCA as a franchisee of the government, not as an enemy of the government. Let it do its work, but ensure that the work is congruent with the national agenda (I almost said "vision").

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