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COVID-19’s ‘last chance’ for Freeport’s resurrection

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Fred Smith, QC.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The COVID-19 pandemic is “the last opportunity to resurrect Freeport” and create a platform for the Bahamian economy’s “resurgence”, an outspoken QC argued yesterday.

Fred Smith QC, the Callenders & Co attorney and partner, told Tribune Business that reviving and exploit infrastructure designed to support 300,000 people was the “silver lining” amid the economic and health crisis caused by COVID-19.

With the government desperate for ideas on how the economy and foreign exchange reserves can rebound in tourism’s absence, Mr Smith voiced disappointment that just on person from Grand Bahama - local Chamber of Commerce president, Greg Laroda, was included on it.

Warning that time was running out to exploit the economic potential of a city that he branded “the Venice of the Caribbean”, due to its multiple canals and waterways, he said successive governments and Cabinet ministers had all failed to appreciate what Freeport is “serving up on a silver platter”.

“Every pandemic has a silver lining,” Mr Smith told this newspaper, “and for The Bahamas that is the opportunity to take advantage of the infrastructure that is lying fallow and, unfortunately, disintegrating, in Freeport.

“I know the government has established this ambitious Economic Recovery Committee, but it is relatively thin on persons from Freeport and Grand Bahama with one representative. I think that given the post-Dorian and post-COVID environment, it presents the government with one more - and, I think, last - opportunity to take a bold step to not only resurrect Freeport’s economy but inject a long-term resurgence into the Bahamian economy.”

Mr Smith argued that the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, with its framework of investment incentives, coupled with Freeport’s status as a ‘free port’ and proximity to Florida and the US east coast, provided a strong foundation on which the Bahamas could diversify and rebuild its economy if the Government were to move away from its Nassau-centric approach.

“Regrettably, few - if any - Cabinet ministers and MPs have any real appreciation for the scale of the investment that has accrued, and infrastructure that has been lying dormant in Freeport from the late 1970s and early 1980s,” he added.

“I don’t know how many of them have taken a boat tour through the Lucayan Waterway or the other canal systems that exist - the Bell Channel, Fortune Bay, Silver Cove and Bahama Reef - just to name a few. Freeport is the Venice of the Caribbean.

“I don’t think they’ve driven around the miles and miles of roads and subdivisions that go nowhere but are all laid out. The infrastructure is designed for a city of roughly 300,000 people minimum. I have cycled, I have driven, I have walked, I have run throughout the canal system of Dover Sound, which is empty except for a few houses,” Mr Smith continued.

“There are canal systems that are 40 years-old with walls that have not collapsed. There are a lot of streets, many of them signposted, many of them with cable, water and electricity connections, many of which are lying fallow and people in Nassau have absolutely no concept about.

“I wish and beg the Cabinet to spend a little more time in Freeport. This is not some rinky dink place; this is the best live flesh and blood city that has been gifted to The Bahamas by a development company. Regrettably, Freeport is slowly dying, and that is tragic because it has so much potential.

“Freeport remains mired in a quagmire of red tape, centralised Nassauvian red tape, rolled out through Immigration, exchange control, the Investments Board and licensing. We are captive to Nassau bureaucracy instead of being what was originally envisaged - the Port Authority being the ‘one-stop shop’ for everything.”

Mr Smith said the Minnis administration had failed to “take advantage” of Freeport’s economic potential following its 2017 general election success, but added that the pandemic had given it a chance to redeem itself.

“This opportunity, post-Dorian and post-COVID-19, is staring the Government in the face,” he told Tribune Business. “This opportunity is being served up on a silver platter to the Government, and it will be their last opportunity before the next election.

“Not only is it an opportunity, but Freeport and Grand Bahama, by extension, are in deep need of visionary, open-minded, ambitious and flexible thinking. I urge the Government to work with the Port Authority and the licensees to establish a committee to develop an ambitious short-term resurrection plan to rethink the ‘magic city’,

“There is a silver lining to every pandemic and natural disaster, and this one is staring the Government in the face.”

Mr Smith added that The Bahamas’ proximity to the US “bodes well” by positioning the country to be among the first to benefit when the US re-opens and tourism in all its forms recovers.

Comments

longgone 4 years ago

The Hawksbill Creek Act died in 1967---It's a waste of time to bring that up!

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The_Oracle 4 years ago

The spirit of the act may be dead, but the potential is greater than ever, which is what scares the political class of Nassau. always has, always will. But Freeport is an island of the Bahamas with many Bahamians having made their lives there and deserve more than the 50 years of contempt they've received, from both PLP and FNM administrations alike. The travesty is the lost potential for the country.

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TalRussell 4 years ago

Comrade King's Counsel Freedy will never call for walls of Freeport to come crashing down on the family-owned corporate port authority, along with its more than 40 years old collapsed purpose.
Few recognize that FREE port, was never incorporated as a city/town/municipality, and that tourism came much later, and only as a Sir Stafford afterthought tool as means generate quick casino cash...that the so-called magic city never did materialize. Nod once for yeah, Twice for no?

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Economist 4 years ago

" Mr Smith voiced disappointment that just on person from Grand Bahama - local Chamber of Commerce president, Greg Laroda, was included on it."

Good reason by government as he won't say boo and he certainly won't rock the boat. Don't have to worry about any creative thinking from him.

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regrolli 4 years ago

Freeport has and always will be ignored by Nassau. Time to secede.

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bcitizen 4 years ago

Might as well say Nassau is the Bahamas and the other islands are its colonial possessions to leach off of and treat however it wants. It is time the Bahamas adopted some kinda of state or provincial system like the US or Canada. Everyone you speak too that lives on any other the other islands feel grossly ignored.

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banker 4 years ago

Kwasi Thompson is the wrong person for Freeport.

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birdiestrachan 4 years ago

A very large portion of Grand Bahama is flood land.

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birdiestrachan 4 years ago

Not only flood land but it is also the Hurricane Capital of the world. The horror stories of water up to roofs, and persons waiting on top of roofs to be rescued.

was the Drama King on the Island during Hurricane Dorian? has he heard from persons who lived by cannels and their experience?

What about Queens Cove?

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BONEFISH 4 years ago

A well known person I know ,advocated that the Bahamas have a federal Westminister system of government like Canada.

Also the country needs a strong system of local government.Some of decision making done on New Providence should have transferred to the various islands.

But Bahamians have always be resistant to progressive ideas.The politicians and the business elite like this current system.It centralizes decision making in their hands.Also they control the patronage system that underlies it.They like having their personal fiefdoms.

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