By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
THE reopening of the Grand Lucayan Resort, the state of the International Bazaar, attracting new investors, and the high cost of living are major issues that are of concern to residents on Grand Bahama.
After one year in office, there have been mixed views about the Free National Movement administration's performance on the island.
Angela Rolle, a widow and now single mother, says things are worse than before on Grand Bahama, but Lorenzo McKenzie believes that the island is experiencing some progress.
Mrs Rolle stressed that persons are still struggling to survive, adding the Grand Lucayan hotel property needs to be reopened.
"The Grand Lucayan strip generates tourists for the entire marketplace, and it is the lifeline of Port Lucaya; Port Lucaya needs to be back up and running - it feels like a nightmare," she said.
"I think Grand Bahama is not headed in a positive direction and is in dire need of help from the government. For too long the (previous) government had forsaken Grand Bahama. The Grand Bahama people placed their trust in the new government thinking they would be the answer, only to find out it is worse."
Although some on the island do not see progress, Minister of State for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson said the Minnis administration has launched a process to revamp the island's economy.
Unemployment on the island fell from 12.4 per cent to 12.1 per cent, according to the latest figures from the Department of Statistics.
"The Office of the Prime Minister continues to find ways to create employment opportunities," Mr Thompson said in a statement emailed to this newspaper. "This office continued its partnership with the Grand Bahama Shipyard and its job training initiatives; continued the partnership with MSC Cruise lines resulting in 17 Grand Bahamians selected for the first phase of the MSC Cruise lines employment programme with another group presently being interviewed. (The office) conducted a successful and much needed summer job programme resulting in over 500 young people hired during the government's summer programme."
Still, Mrs Rolle thinks Grand Bahama lacks real investors who can help to boost the island's economy.
"We are tired of them offering us fake promises and a mirage of new investors that turned out to be frauds," said Mrs Rolle.
"I am a single mom coping by the will of God and every time you turn around VAT is pulling people down, and the cost of living is high. I have friends who have it really bad, with five and six kids."
Mrs Rolle believes the reopening of the International Bazaar would help to improve the economic situation in Freeport.
"They also need to reopen the road there, and beautify the place (the bazaar) and get it up and opened, and running," she said.
Mrs Rolle said the FNM government should also look at lowering taxes at the ports of entry to attract more airlines to Grand Bahama.
"We need more tourists on the island, and it is too much for airline tickets to come here versus going to Nassau or to another country," she said.
Meanwhile, Mr McKenzie, a vendor at Port Lucaya Marketplace, believes that there has been some progress in Grand Bahama since the FNM came to office.
"There is progress, slow progress in Grand Bahama," he told The Tribune. "We heard that the (Grand Lucayan) hotel deal is just about done; everything takes times, and GB is progressing forward."
Mr McKenzie said more cruise ships are sailing to Grand Bahama as a result of the recent introduction of the new Grand Classica vessel, in addition to the Grand Celebration, operated by Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line.
"Ships are coming in everyday and they are bringing people to the island," he said.
However, Mr McKenzie said that the island needs investors, particularly for new hotel development in Freeport.
"We have not had a new hotel built in Grand Bahama for the last 40 or 30 years, and that's the problem. If you go to the Turks and Caicos every day they are building hotels there," he said.
"We need investors; we need to build hotels, and the government has to do its part. Tourism is our number one industry, and we need to start developing and building more hotels," he said.
Mr McKenzie believes that the former Royal Oasis property needs to be demolished and a new hotel built to stimulate economic activity and create new employment.
"The (nearby) International Bazaar is an eyesore and needs to be cleaned up. I have guests who always come and say 'man, we miss the Bazaar,' and it is sad to drive from the harbour and pass an area that looks like the ghetto - it is terrible," he said.
He said that many families were affected when the hotel and bazaar closed in Freeport.
"I know families who are still struggling and trying to keep on the light. But, no one should wish for the government to fail because if the government fails, then we fail too. The government is not perfect and is not always going to do it all in one year," he said.
Mr McKenzie was also concerned about the additional high fees charged by banks in Freeport, despite the poor customer service.