By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Grand Bahamas Chamber of Commerce will today ‘break ranks’ with its fellow bodies and decline to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) designed to foster greater co-operation between all Chambers in the Bahamas.
Tribune Business understands that the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce has reservations about the proposed structure of the agreement, which will be signed between the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) and the various Family Island Chambers, and believes the issue needs ‘further consideration”.
Barry Malcolm, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce’s president, could not be reached for comment, but a source close to the matter said: “We support the National Chambers, but feel it needs to be structured properly.”
Tribune Business contacts close to the Grand Bahama Chamber were at pains to point out that the issue did not represent a major private sector rift at a time when the business community could least afford it, given the numerous matters it was grappling with.
The MoU is due to be signed today at the BCCEC’s annual general meeting (AGM), which starts at the British Colonial Hilton at 8am.
An April 25, 2014, letter sent to BCCEC chairman, Chester Cooper, said that while the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce saw “great opportunity for a national co-ordinating body”, the initiative “requires that a firm and transparent foundation be built from which it will grow”.
The letter, signed by Mr Malcolm, said that
“before we are prepared to proceed further”, the Grand Bahama Chamber was recommending four amendments to the MoU.
These included creating a separate body to the BCCEC “to perform the umbrella function of co-ordinating the individual island Chambers”, as changing the former’s name might cause confusion.
The Grand Bahama Chamber also took issue with the BCCEC describing itself as “the pre-emminent organisation to speak on behalf of all the sectors of domestic and international business throughout the Bahamas”, arguing that it did not represent “all the Bahamas” and had “no claim as the umbrella for the individual island Chambers”.
The Grand Bahama Chamber also wants the Board of the proposed Bahamas National Chamber Association to be composed from the presidents of individual island Chambers, with officers elected from among Board members.
One source, familiar with the Grand Bahama Chamber’s concerns, said the real issue was that the body did not want to “subjugate itself to Nassau” on issues that were Grand Bahama or Freeport specific.
The concern was that the Government might perceive that it just needed to deal with the Chamber in Nassau on Freeport-related matters, and could thus either ignore or sweep aside Grand Bahama’s business community.
“The GB Chamber has no interest in subordinating itself under Nassau,” the source said. “Freeport’s and Nassau’s agendas often conflict. They [Nassau] don’t have our arguments, they don’t have our fights.”
Edison Sumner, the BCCEC’s chief executive, confirmed to Tribune Business yesterday that discussions between the Grand Bahama Chamber and itself had been held over the MoU, and “we’ll have to see what comes out of it”.
He confirmed Mr Cooper and Mr Malcolm had been in talks on the matter, and reiterated that the MoU was not designed to “usurp” any person or organisation.
Mr Sumner said the initiative was merely designed to foster greater collaboration between the various Chambers on matters of mutual interest and to “move the agenda of the private sector” forward.
“We have a good working relationship with the Chambers in the country, and want to see that continue,” Mr Sumner added.