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Qc: Port Requires ‘Economic Viagra’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

An outspoken QC yesterday urged the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) to “take a shot of Economic Viagra”, arguing that it had become a mere “collection agency” as opposed to a quasi-governmental developer.

Fred Smith, firing the latest salvo in what appears to have become a verbal sparring match with GBPA co-chair, Sir Jack Hayward, urged the Port to account to its 3,500 licensees on how it had spent their fee income over the past 10 years.

Arguing that the interests of the GBPA and its main investment partner, Hutchison Whampoa, were now radically different from those of Freeport’s licensees and residents, Mr Smith said this “dysfunction” could be traced back to the “stripping” of its main assets.

With Freeport’s key infrastructure assets - the harbour, Container Port, airport and Grand Bahama Power Company - long transferred from the GBPA to its Port Group Ltd affiliate, Mr Smith said the Port’s owners and management were solely focused on these profit-making activities as opposed to the city’s development.

Mr Smith, who was responding to Sir Jack’s suggestion that he ‘put his money where his mouth is’ and find a buyer for Freeport, urged the GBPA co-chair not to make himself the issue in their debate.

But, taking up Sir Jack’s challenge, Mr Smith outlined his vision for Freeport as one that embraced medical tourism; an extended Hawksbill Creek Agreement; increased tourism and airlift; industrial growth; alternative dispute resolution (ADR); a boating and yachting centre; COB’s Marine University campus; and a Caribbean Arts Forum.

“Where is the Sir Jack or the St George Family Vision for Freeport?” Mr Smith asked. “I ask them.. Why is Freeport failing? How can we make it succeed? Why do so many legitimate businesses avoid the Bahamas?”

Mr Smith said Sir Jack should also welcome his call for Freeport to be a ‘one stop shop investment authority’, with the city also enjoying the relaxation of central government controls on Immigration and licensing.

“The business of Freeport is about the social, economic and cultural survival and fate of nearly 90,000 Bahamian citizens and foreign residents, who have committed their lives to the vision that once was Freeport,” the Callenders & Co attorney and partner told Tribune Business via e-mail.

“Sir Jack and the St George family own the shares of GBPA. But owning the shares does not make them qualified professional business people or capable of running the country of Freeport within this country of the Bahamas. And how can central Government just sit back and watch this aberration? And do nothing about it?

“These are very serious times. People in Freeport are hurting…barely surviving…These are times that call for serious leadership, not lack-lustre, vision-less behaviour by a collection agency bereft of any imagination, vigour or capacity.”

Mr Smith, who for decades was the GBPA’s external counsel, argued that it had been reduced to a ‘regulatory shell’ that collected its own license fees and service charges, while helping the Government do the same.

With Value-Added Tax (VAT) on the horizon, and potentially Business Licence and real property taxes, too, the well-known QC charged: “And all the while the GBPA sits back and does nothing.

“Where is the protection from government taxes and intrusion by the GBPA? Or is Sir Jack simply happy to sit back as long as GBPA collects license and service charges. GBPA does not care how much is sliced off the flesh of licensees and residents......

“The St George and Hayward families are now simply collection agents for the Port Authority and central government taxes. Edward St George must be spinning in his grave.”

Mr Smith said that while he did not have all the answers for Freeport’s future, he had “been ready, willing and able to step up to the place”.

And he reiterated previous calls for the Government to pass laws regulating the license fees and service charges levied by the GBPA in Freeport.

“The problem is that the interests of Freeporters are not the same as the interests of the St George and Hayward family, or for that matter the GBPA, Hutchison and Devco,” Mr Smith argued.

“The Port Authority, having basically divested itself of the Harbour, Container Port, the airport, the Power Company etc, has really no more interest financially in the growth and development of Freeport except for the few pennies earned in the water and Sanitation companies.

“This means that they can sit back and just rake in the service charges and license fees, as opposed to spending any money and capital infrastructural development.”

The outspoken QC added: “I demand of Sir Jack to provide an accounting to the licensees and Freeport public of income that has been received, and how it has been spent, over the last 10 years at the Port Authority.

“I’d also like an accounting of all the service charges and license fees earned. Where does all the money go? Certainly not into the amateurish care of Freeport?

“I have repeatedly encouraged PMs Ingraham and Christie to pass laws to regulate the license fees and service charges in Freeport. These monies are impressed with a trust for the expenditure for the benefit of infrastructure development and improvement in Freeport.”

Mr Smith said Freeport and the Hawksbill Creek Agreement called for a ‘partnership of equals’, where the GBPA worked with its licensees, residents and central government to make the city better for all.

“Sir Jack and the St George family have a solemn and onerous responsibility to the people,” he added. “We are business partners under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement. We are equals.

“We are not here just for you to reap dividends. We are all supposed to prosper under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.”

Mr Smith said it was “regrettable” that the GBPA’s ownership previously “broke that construct, took the GBPA private with the complicity of the various governments, and stripped the GBPA of its assets.

“Since then it has been in dysfunction, disunity, everybody looking out for themselves as opposed to everybody working together,” he added.

“So my vision, Jack, is for people to work together in unity for the mutual benefit of everybody that has a stake in Freeport, and to make Freeport the success that it can be.”

Comments

jusscoolin 3 years, 8 months ago

If it wasn't bad for the Bahamas .Yahoo has a post on " The Worst Caribbean Ports of Call for Cruises. Guess who's number one and two? Check it out ( https://www.yahoo.com/travel/the-worst-caribbean-cruise-ports-of-call-104735967252.html?hp=1 ) .

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banker 3 years, 8 months ago

I don't know why they just don't make it into a special economic zone, and give away business licences for free like they do in the Cayman Islands to qualified, knowledge-based businesses like IT, pharmaceutical, bio-tech and research. It would thrive again. But Fred has it right. They are just a collection agency, trying to collect for the dregs of the services that they claim to provide. Nobody wants to move there with their onerous licencing, their huge fees and their outdated business practices. Forty years ago they had the promise of a young fertile woman. Now, they are an old hag of a relic thinking that they still possess the charm that they once had. Properly run, it should be a licence to print money and an economic powerhouse. Instead it is a decaying, decrepit fiefdom.

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GrassRoot 3 years, 8 months ago

agree with you. there are so many companies and people out there that need a country so the can set their own rules. Bermuda is too small and too restrictive, Cayman off the beaten path, Switzerland too evolving etc.. In Freeport you can set your own tax laws, produce, get people in - Freeport is the Paradise for the Libertarians billionnaires, and we cant find them? Here's a few names: Koch Industries, Peter Thiel, .... no rocket science. the only thing you need is to throw the GREED over board.

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The_Oracle 3 years, 8 months ago

Fred, you are trying to describe the beauty of a rose to a blind man who blithely trods them underfoot, wielding his spindly stick, tapping on his meandering path.

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DEDDIE 3 years, 8 months ago

Freeport is a broken down Mercedes Benz. Hutchinson Whampoa has all the tools and parts to fix it but refuse to until the driver(St. George and Haewards) gets out.

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The_Oracle 3 years, 8 months ago

Freeport isn't even a negative blip on Hutchinson's Balance sheet. They have what they want: a strategic Container port and land for future use. Who's future is anyones guess.

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GrassRoot 3 years, 8 months ago

land bank. wait until the Nicaragua canal has opened.

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