Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The deputy prime minister yesterday pledged that the government is still committed to acquiring Grand Bahama International Airport and "restoring it to its former glory".
K Peter Turnquest, speaking at a post-Budget press conference, said the Minnis administration was still in talks with the current joint venture owners, Hutchison Port Holdings and the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), to take over the facility and rebuild it following the catastrophic damage inflicted by Hurricane Dorian.
"We are still in discussions with the owners of Grand Bahama International Airport for the eventual transfer to the government with the objective of restoring it to its former glory with a new terminal, taking into account the level of storm surge it has suffered in past hurricanes," Mr Turnquest said.
"Yes, we do intend to go forward with the transfer of the airport to the government and invest in that facility to get it up and running as quickly as possible." The Government had previously been exploring paying the two existing owners $1 each, and letting them keep the Dorian-related insurance proceeds, but discussions between the parties seemed to cease as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The airport is a vital infrastructure asset for Freeport's business model, and will assume even greater importance should Carnival and Royal Caribbean/ITM go through with their projects for the city. A government takeover, and Grand Bahama International Airport's eventual reconstruction, would also provide a huge boost for investor confidence.
Mr Turnquest, meanwhile, said the Government does not currently intend to sell either of its ownership stakes in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and Aliv as a means to raise instant cash as current market/economic conditions mean the price for both is depressed.
The Government holds a 49 percent stake in BTC, and 51.75 percent of Aliv, but the deputy prime minister said: "The current market, with the economy being the way it is at the moment, we would not be motivated to divest or release the shareholding in any of those entities because we don't believe we'd get the kind of returns we can get when the economy starts recovering.
"For the moment we will continue to hold our position and make sure those entities remain viable and prepared as the market recovers." Mr Turnquest also indicated that the Government plans to extend unemployment benefits beyond the 13-week period at which the Employment Act mandates companies must permanently terminate furloughed staff.
The Government-sponsored benefit for self-employed persons, primarily those in the tourism industry, is to be extended beyond its initial expiry to July 1 - although at a lower sum - to ensure those persons still have some income replacement.
Marlon Johnson, the Ministry of Finance's acting financial secretary, said the possibility of an officer merger between the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) and Bahamas Development Bank is being explored as part of the strategy to cut costs incurred by state-owned enterprises (SOEs).