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GBPA reforms critical as 'we're at the bottom'

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A prominent Freeport attorney is today backing a Government takeover of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), telling Tribune Business: "We're at the bottom and haven't moved for 20 years."

Terence Gape, a partner with the Dupuch & Turnquest law firm, writes on Page 2B in today's newspaper that "we can no longer have a 'nation within a nation'" with Freeport continuing to exist as a company town outside Nassau's control and influence.

Asserting that "no investor comes here and says they want to deal" with the GBPA, he argued that management and ownership at the quasi-governmental authority, have "failed Freeport" and lack the necessary skills, contacts and ability to revive the city's fortunes and turn it around.

Speaking to this newspaper, Mr Gape added that the GBPA and its owners, the Hayward and St George families, had abdicated their governance and developmental responsibilities under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement when they and Hutchison Whampoa elected to sell the Dorian-devastated Grand Bahama International Airport to the Government for $1 plus $1m in staff termination costs.

By dropping the rebuilding in the Government's lap, the Dupuch & Turnquest partner said this showed the GBPA and its owners were "bankrupt of ideas" and "have no plan to go forward with Freeport" as the Davis administration pushes for "decisive action" to transform the city's fortunes with reforms to both its governance and founding treaty.

"I feel that the present regime have failed Freeport because we're at the bottom," Mr Gape said, explaining why he was backing the Government's push for fundamental reform. "Tourism is zero, land values are zero and there's no commerce here whatsoever. We haven't moved for 20 years, so as the Government comes in we have to deal with the Government.

"The Government is doing a bang up job in other islands, and the Prime Minister has a keen interest in Freeport. He's referring investor clients to us now, so I know what he could do. If the airport gets built, we're lined up to get an explosion. All we've got to do is cause government to be part of what needs to be done, and we'll go.

"Not one investor comes here and says they want to deal with the 'pink building' (the GBPA). Not one. Not one. If they were doing their job investors would feel happy dealing with the 'pink building'. They just don't have it. I think that a change, and becoming part of The Bahamas, and having the Government in charge is going to be a real boon and is just going to open doors."

Not everyone will likely share Mr Gape's views on a government takeover of Freeport, but he urged the Davis administration not to alter the tax breaks and investment incentives currently provided by the Hawksbill Creek Agreement. "I think that's important because all of the benefits of the Port area are collated there," he added, "and those benefits inure to all investors that come.

"They look at it, so the Hawksbill Creek Agreement should be kept. That means we don't miss a beat. The investors that are here don't miss a beat." Suggesting that Freeport could potentially provide the Public Treasury with an extra $100m per year in taxes, Mr Gape also voiced scepticism about the GBPA stating that there are between $1bn to $1.5bn in investments in the pipeline, agreeing that most if not all have been sourced by the Government.

"We have had a dead hotel on the beach for more than seven years," he said, referring to the Grand Lucayan. "You have got 75 shops in the Port Lucaya Marketplace that are more or less empty, shut down. There used to be 20 restaurants, and now we're down to two. It's a ghost town.

"I've always said that the airport deal was a disgrace from my point of view, but when the Port Authority and Hutchison sold that airport for $1 it proved to me they have no plan to go forward with Freeport, have no part of that, and are bankrupt of money and ideas.... The Government should have made them, the Port Authority and Hutchison, build that new airport."

Mr Gape said that, unlike the GBPA, Freeport residents can vote the Government out every five years if it fails to deliver. Writing in this newspaper today, he added: "My own opinion is the belief (which I believe is shared widely by the Bahamian-resident public and by Freeport investors alike) that if Freeport is to have a viable future, it must be a part of The Bahamas, which means politically a part of The Bahamas.

"The present position of being a fiefdom, or principality or company town, or all three owned and operated by descendants of the original investor group must end as it is no longer tenable. Free enterprise as practiced by the families, especially in these last 20 years has failed us.

"Moving forward, I submit, we need to be a part of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas governed by our own properly elected politicians (for better or for worse) being the same form of government as applies to the rest of The Bahamas," Mr Gape continued.

"This regime change must be friendly, but it is inevitable. The families should receive a fair price for their assets and dynamic investors found to turn Freeport and Grand Bahama around and, as the Government has stated, this should be done decisively and in very short order."

Fred Mitchell, the PLP's chairman, yesterday said the party "reiterates its full support for the Prime Minister and his government’s proactive and decisive approach to addressing the myriad issues facing Freeport".

He added: "This is the country’s second largest population centre. It cannot and must not fail, and the Government remains committed to constructive engagement with all stakeholders on how we can work together to secure the right corporate partnership for the management of that city in addition to accessing new and fresh capital to facilitate the future growth and development of Freeport."

Accusing FNM leader, Michael Pintard, of "trying to have his cake and eat it too", Mr Mitchell added: "The problems in Freeport have nothing to do with the Prime Minister's statement. The problem is the Grand Bahama Port Authority's shareholders are unable or unwilling to carry out their responsibilities under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.

"Mr Pintard should be familiar with that since he is now unable to use the bridge in Lucaya to get home to his house because, four years after Hurricane Dorian struck the island, the Port is unable or unwilling to repair the bridge. The bridge is but one example. The abandonment of the Grand Lucayan hotel, the abandonment of the Grand Bahama International Airport by the Grand Bahama Port Authority are others.

"By his failure to articulate a cogent and coherent policy solution for Grand Bahama, albeit alternative, Mr Pintard has not demonstrated an appreciation for nor an understanding of the gravity of the economic and social challenges facing Bahamian families in Grand Bahama."

Comments

moncurcool 10 months, 2 weeks ago

The last thing Freeport needs is a government takeover.

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TimesUp 10 months, 2 weeks ago

You may think we are at the bottom but if your garbage stops being picked up, your roads deteriorate to Nassau's standards, you get charged real property tax, you loose your tax free business concessions, you revert to Nassau's building code and title issues etc etc etc.

Let me ask, how has the GBPA prevented the government from bringing investors to Freeport all this time? Has the GBPA somehow prevented the government from selling the hotel? How will government takeover possibly help Freeport?

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birdiestrachan 10 months, 2 weeks ago

I agree that the FNM government should have made Hutchinson and GBPA rebuild the airport , Hutchinson sang all the way they unloaded the Our Lucayan hotel and their responsibility for the airport , can anyone do worse ?.? Then those fellows on the house floor bragged how they paid one dollar for nothing no surprise , the FNM gave BTC to Jamaica they are calling BAHAMIANS from Jamaica ,

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DiverBelow 10 months, 2 weeks ago

In the conversations on the future of Freeport, let's be transparent on the facts. Like what has Freeport paid to Nassau in past years when all they had was Atlantis as the premier attraction. It's always easy to conveniently forget when the Nassau economy has improved. Most other national governments would have placed heavy penalties on the actions (or inactions) of Hutchison/PortProperties for their lack of repair to the Airport & Hotel post Dorian. GBPA could not go against their Chinese partners/income source, nor can Nassau. Do you think Nassau is capable? British Colonial is still stagnant. Yes, you may be able to change govt participants every five years. But, can you change the mind-set?

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