By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
EAST Grand Bahama MP Peter Turnquest has called for the appointment of a select committee in the House of Assembly to probe the revenue generated from the aragonite mining industry in the Bahamas.
Mr Turnquest requested the committee on Wednesday night in the House of Assembly.
During an interview with The Tribune yesterday, he renewed calls for an independent, nonpartisan report on the aragonite mining industry.
Mr Turnquest underscored the need for an in-depth study to validate or dispel the large number of claims made over the natural resource and its potential for providing the government with greater revenue.
“Individual groups have given all kinds of estimates as to the amount that can be generated,” he said. “We (representatives) owe it to the people to ensure that we are doing the best job for them.
“I believe that it is incumbent upon all of us (representatives) to demonstrate to the Bahamian people that we are getting fair value for our product, and to the extent that we are not, that we adjust the rates accordingly to ensure that we are not taken advantage of. This is a new day and we have to ensure that there is fairness and equity in whatever resources we have,” he added.
In May, Prime Minister Perry Christie pledged a full review of the potential revenue associated with sustainable uses of the country’s natural resources, including sand, aragonite, aggregate and salt.
His comments followed concerns over a proposed $50m aragonite mining project by the Nassau Island Development Company (NIDC) at Bursus Cay, Grand Bahama.
Seeking approval from the government for their project, NIDC hosted town hall meetings in the area to address residents’ concerns and to raise support for the dredging.
Mr Turnquest further explained why he made the call for the probe of the industry.
“I called for a select committee to investigate the whole industry to determine whether the royalty fees being received by the Bahamas government are equitable, and the call comes because of the concern of Bahamians generally in respect to the fairness of the revenue the government collects for mineral resources extracted from the Bahamas,” Mr Turnquest said.
“This is important because we need to know whether this is something that is truly viable and will be able to provide the type of sustainable long-term benefit for East Grand Bahama so we can once and for all objectively dispel any misunderstanding or confusion on the whole matter.”
Currently the country’s only major aragonite mining operation is on Ocean Cay, which is 27 miles south of Bimini.
Sandy Cay Development Company Ltd runs the mining operation and pays the government $2 per metric ton as a royalty for the exported resource.
Last month, Bahamas Public Services Union President John Pinder called on the government to increase its royalties from aragonite export.
He claimed the government could get as much as $300 million per month in revenue. However, Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett doubted Mr Pinder’s figures. He said the union leader’s projections are “incredibly high” given what is extracted in this country.