By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A prominent QC yesterday said Freeport “would welcome with open arms” the billionaire philanthropist whose proposed North Andros free-trade zone was rejected by the Prime Minister at the weekend.
Fred Smith QC, the Callenders & Co attorney and partner, urged the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and its partner, Hutchison Whampoa, to “reach out” to Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong and entice him to a city that was “designed for this very purpose”.
And he also called upon the Government, through the Prime Minister’s Office, Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) and National Economic Council (NEC) to purposely direct “all large-scale investments” to Freeport given that it already possesses the physical infrastructure and “legal framework” - via the Hawksbill Creek Agreement - to accommodate them.
“I hope that Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong will redirect his interest to Freeport where we would welcome him with open arms to develop the free trade zone concept in this city, which is designed for this very same purpose,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.
“I encourage the Grand Bahama Port Authority, Hutchison and DevCo (Grand Bahama Development Company) to reach out to the good doctor in the hope he may become interested in Freeport. I certainly hope the Port Authority will make it attractive and easy for him to come. We have thousands and thousands of Bahamian citizens and residents who are dying of economic dearth.
“I also emphasise my view that the Bahamas Investment Authority, National Economic Council and Office of the Prime Minister should resolve to direct all large-scale future investments to Freeport. It has the legal framework, so that it is unnecessary for Cabinet ministers to have to negotiate and sign Heads of Agreements with developers.”
Mr Smith spoke out after Dr Hubert Minnis, in his national address on Sunday, promised that his administration will not permit a free trade zone’s development in North Andros nor the sell-off of vast tracts of land to international investors.
Tribune Business understands Dr Soon-Shiong’s ambitions have been significantly scaled-down in size compared to the 500,000 acres detailed in the initial proposal, and would require a much smaller footprint - especially since it would only be developed in stages should it receive the go-ahead from the government.
Nevertheless, Dr Minnis said yesterday: “In the draft proposal there are concepts for the development of half a million acres of land, aragonite harvesting, medical research facilities, air and seaports, and other developments.
“The proposal has not been formally analysed nor reviewed to determine its viability, nor has it been presented to the National Economic Council (meaning the Cabinet) for consideration....... My government has not approved the proposal.”
Accusing the Opposition of “misusing” revelations about the North Andros Green Free Trade Zone proposal “to sow confusion in our country”, the Prime Minister promised: “Let me be very clear for all to hear. This government will not grant a free trade zone in Andros.
“We welcome Bahamian and foreign investors submitting proposals that are win-wins for the people of The Bahamas and for the investors. At this time of great economic hardship we need all the appropriate investment we can get. However, my government will not approve concepts from Bahamians or foreigners we think are not in the best interest of the Bahamian people.”
Dr Soon-Shiong, who was said by Forbes to have a net worth of $6.9bn as at March 2020, would appear to be the sort of legitimate, bona fide investor that The Bahamas needs to attract to reignite its economy and employment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A part-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, and owner and executive chairman of the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune newspapers, his initial Andros proposal - which has yet to be formally submitted to the government and its investment agencies - aims to create 750-plus full-time jobs, and 10,000 construction jobs over the build-out.
Some $200m-$250m will be invested over the first two phases of a development targeted at the Morgan’s Bluff area in North Andros. The project is focused on “value-added” manufacturing involving the creation of finished products from aragonite and other Bahamian natural resources, rather than simply exporting the raw material.
Mr Smith, meanwhile, said yesterday: “I am glad that the Prime Minister has emphatically advised the nation that half of Andros is not for sale to a foreign investor.
“Not only because Freeport should be the preferred first stop for this kind of development, but because Freeport is a ready-made turnkey investment opportunity, and it is completely inappropriate to despoil and sacrifice other environments in the Bahamas at the altar of private profit to a foreign developer.”
He reiterated: “Send them to Freeport. All the infrastructure is already here, and whatever environmental damage there is has already been done. The tax exemption construct is already there with the Hawksbill Creek Agreement turn-key investment opportunity. It would provide thousands of jobs for Bahamians who have skills and are ready willing, able and available. Don’t reinvent the wheel elsewhere.”