Businessman: Create more ‘Freeports outside Freeport’


Tribune Business Reporter


A Grand Bahama businessman yesterday suggested that the Government create more “Freeports outside Freeport” until the situation with the existing city resolves itself.

Speaking after Friday’s protest outside the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), James Rolle, Dolly Madison’s general manager, told Tribune Business: “The GBPA has not been looking out for the interest of Grand Bahama for a couple of decades, but what’s really happening now is the small man is feeling the pinch. I think that’s what this is.

“It seems like all of the breaks, or the majority of the breaks that are happening in the Freeport area, and especially when it comes to investment, goes for foreign people. They are getting those breaks.

“Most of the Bahamian businesses in Grand Bahama are small businesses, and it’s the small businesses that really drive the economy. If the small businesses dry up, then basically even big businesses will find it difficult to operate.”

Mr Rolle said that while the demonstrators were justified in their actions, he does not know what it will achieve or prove. He suggested that the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce start advocating more forcefully on the private sector’s behalf.

“The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce may be able to expand its wings if small businesses see that there is a voice. I believe right now the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce, as a representative of the licensees of the GBPA, have a greater voice with the GBPA than the Government,” Mr Rolle said.

Asked whether the Government and, by extension, The Bahamas should break with Freeport’s founding treaty, the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA), which still has 32 years to run, Mr Rolle offered an alternative.

“The Government still controls the West End and East End of Grand Bahama. They should just create more Freeport’s around Freeport, and leave the current city of Freeport to its own devices until it sorts itself out,” he argued.

“I wish there was a way for the Government to take it and give it to somebody else. The only thing is that if the Government breaks the contract, who is actually going to manage Freeport?

“There’s still a lot at stake when the Government breaks that HCA. Does the government then take back a lot of that vacant land that actually comes under the portfolio of the GBPA, and who’s going to manage that? So if we talk about the Government literally taking over or giving the GBPA to someone else, who’s going to manage it is my only concern.”

Alfredo Bridgewater, owner/operator of Coco Nutz, added: “I missed the protest, but I guess the general sense was that the GBPA weren’t doing enough to push investment this way.”

Arguing that large Grand Bahama industrial enterprises have already “rebounded” from COVID-19, but tourism-based businesses have yet to do so, he said: “This is too long for our airport to be the way it is, and our tourism industry will not rebound quickly if the airport remains in the state it is in now.

“It is unfair that the people who have benefited from that airport all of these years refuse to fix the airport for the betterment of the Grand Bahamian community.”

Mr Bridgewater stopped short of calling for the Government to break the HCA, saying: “There are some good pieces in the HCA, and I think it was written well enough where people had different visions and foresight into what they saw Freeport becoming.

“But, right now, we are in the third generation of family ownership of the GBPA, and I don’t think the people running it now have the drive to keep the GBPA going. They are only interested in a pay cheque and job security.”


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