By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The opposition’s leader yesterday warned that a future PLP government “will terminate” any agreement that results in Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines leasing crown land on Paradise Island.
Philip Davis, in a statement, argued it would be “grossly unfair” for the multi-billion dollar cruise line to obtain such a deal in the Colonial Beach area due to the impact on both local businesses and Bahamian access to the area.
Confirming that the opposition party “fundamentally opposes” any lease of such crown land assets, which are supposed to be held in trust and used for the Bahamian people’s benefit, to Royal Caribbean, Mr Davis argued that any such a deal was not in the national interest.
“The deal would set back Bahamian industries, and block Bahamians from the enjoyment of asset use and value in what little is available for ordinary Bahamians,” Mr Davis said, “while nearly monopolising and increasing the riches for Royal Caribbean in The Bahamas.
“The deal would leave Bahamians and the country’s future with the lion’s share of any losses and damage from any unexpected or unforeseen decline in Royal Caribbean’s Bahamas strategy. This is grossly unfair to Bahamians, and the next PLP Government will terminate this agreement.”
Tribune Business can reveal that Royal Caribbean is seeking to lease the ten eastern-most acres, of a 17-acre crown land tract, on the western end of Paradise Island as part of its Royal Beach Club destination. The leased land will be added to private residential properties that the cruise line has already acquired, paying a reported $54m, to create a beach break destination due to open in late 2022.
To make way for Royal Caribbean, the government held off on signing an “approved crown land lease” with Bahamian entrepreneur, Toby Smith, for his $2m project to revive the Paradise Island Lighthouse and create his own “beach break” and excursion destination at Colonial Beach.
Mr Smith, whose project was seeking to lease some of the same crown land sought by Royal Caribbean, then came under pressure from the government to shift his project and move it further west to “inferior” land.
While no lease to Royal Caribbean had been formally concluded, the cruise line’s chief executive, Michael Bayley, spoke last week as if it is virtually a ‘done deal’ as he outlined plans to invest $50m in developing the Royal Beach Club at that site.
This newspaper has also reported that the government used the cruise line’s Paradise Island ambitions as leverage to ensure the Grand Lucayan deal got over the line, saying it would not approve Colonial Beach until the Freeport agreement was done.
“Any project of this type should be owned and operated by Bahamians, fully utilising Bahamian entrepreneurs, vendors, artists, entertainers, retailers, tour guides, water taxis etc,” Mr Davis argued yesterday.
“Secondly, no non-Bahamian entity should receive preferential consideration over the many Bahamian applicants who have attempted to procure this property. Third, all attempts to purchase this property in the past have been denied for reasons overwhelmingly in the public interest: Colonial Beach is one of the only remaining public beaches on Paradise Island where Bahamians have reserved access.”
For once, opposition’s position on Royal Caribbean’s crown land interest matched that of environmental activists. Sam Duncombe, in a statement to Tribune Business, said: “Perhaps, just perhaps, we are beginning to experience an outrage tipping point triggered by recent announcements by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and the Bahamian government that a large tract of land [is to] be granted to the cruise line at the expense of an existing local enterprise [Mr Smith].
“Once again, the government seems hell-bent on allowing a cruise line to isolate its passengers away from general commerce so the company can capture all revenues without sharing. Once again, a foreign ‘investor’ intent on repatriating every penny of earnings it derives from The Bahamas is given priority over a local Bahamian businessperson.
“To add salt to the wound, the Bahamian attorney general publicly accused the Bahamian entrepreneur of being unpatriotic and greedy for objecting to the government’s demand that he move his operation elsewhere.”
Mr Davis said the proposed crown land lease to Royal Caribbean threatened the livelihoods of Bahamian entrepreneurs competing for the same cruise passenger dollar, undermined access to Colonial Beach for locals and other tourists alike, while also increasing water taxi-type traffic in an already-congested harbour to take persons across to the Royal Beach Club.
“As with any policy or transaction conducted on behalf of the Bahamian people, the government has an overriding duty to clearly demonstrate how that policy or transaction is in the interests of the Bahamian people,” the opposition leader added.
“There is none with this Royal Caribbean deal. Why is the government accommodating the request of Royal Caribbean Cruise International despite them already having ownership of Coco Cay?” Suggesting the Paradise Island lease was tied to the Grand Lucayan deal, Mr Davis said the former simply generated more profits for the cruise line with little economic value for the Bahamian people.
“If Royal Caribbean is allowed to acquire government property on Paradise Island and proceed with the project as a sole proprietor, they would be in conflict with both Bahamians and other cruise lines calling at Nassau, which is the leading cruise port in the region,” the opposition leader added.
“In order to preserve public access and government ownership of this only remaining public beach property on that part of Paradise Island, a better arrangement would be to create a public-private partnership (PPP) in which the government leases the land as its contribution to a project in partnership with Bahamians.
“The partnership would then enter into contracts with all of the cruise lines, not just Royal Caribbean, for the use of the facilities, which would also remain open to the Bahamian public. The contracts could then be used to raise finance for the project and the cruise lines could, if necessary, put up the financing to be repaid from user fees.”