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Ex-MP slams the Gov’t for $357m GBPA ‘shakedown’

Frederick McAlpine

Frederick McAlpine

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A former MP yesterday slammed the Government’s demand that the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) pay it $357m as “a shakedown”, and questioned if the former is “either broke or desperate”.

Rev Frederick McAlpine, who was prominent in a 2022 demonstration outside the GBPA’s offices, outlined the dilemma facing Freeport’s residents and 3,000 business licensees over the latest clash with Nassau. While many agree a change in ownership and direction is essential at Freeport’s quasi-governmental authority, few want the Government to take over regulatory and development responsibility for the city.

Asserting that “Jesus us help us all” if the Government were to operate the city like it does the Grand Lucayan resort, he nevertheless admitted that the present members of the GBPA’s two shareholders - the Hayward and St George families - “don’t seem to have that zeal and fervour for Grand Bahama and its people” like the late Edward St George, Sir Albert Miller and Sir Jack Hayward.

And, while arguing that neither the Government nor the GBPA have lived up to their obligations under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, Mr McAlpine said he would have preferred that the renewal of key tax breaks for a further 20 years - as contemplated by the 2016 memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two sides - only be for five to six years so as to better hold the GBPA’s “feet to the fire”.

“I think, as I stated, that most people felt that under the late Edward St George, Sir Albert Miller and Jack Hayward there seemed to be more of a commitment and vision with regards to Grand Bahama,” he added. “The descendants don’t seem to have that zeal and fervour for Grand Bahama and its people.

“However, to be fair to them, as I indicated they seem to have done more in the last two to three years than in years past. So, I do believe they are coming around; this present GBPA is coming around. That is because of the complaints and disappointment of people in Grand Bahama, but they are starting to move in the right direction for us.”

As to the Government’s accusations that the GBPA is to blame for what it asserts is a relative lack of economic activity and progress compared to other Bahamian islands, Mr McAlpine said: “I hear them [the Government] saying that they’re the reason for the lack of investment, but that’s not what I’m gathering.

“What I’m gathering is that the Government is recent days, and this could be under the FNM and acquiesced to by this next government, has made it difficult for the GBPA today to be able to do business as a one-stop shop here in Grand Bahama. They make it difficult.”

Investor seeking approvals from the GBPA were being “turned around” and told to approach Nassau for the same permits, with Mr McAlpine accusing both sides of “playing games” and blaming each other.

As for the Davis administration’s demand that the GBPA pay it $357m to reimburse taxpayers for funding government and public services in Freeport, over and above the tax revenues generated by the city, between 2018 and 2022, the former MP said this did not square with assertions by the quasi-governmental authority that the Public Treasury earns $200m annually from the city.

At one point even suggesting the Government is “getting involved in the loan shark business”, Mr McAlpine said: “What I’m gathering, and many in Freeport are as well, is that the Government of t=The Bahamas is seeking reimbursement of some $357 million dollars that was spent in Freeport on its citizenry...

“Despite us paying $200m-plus in taxes yearly through the GBPA, which amounts to over $1bn-plus in five years, which they claim is the period owed form the PLP government is trying to get $357m that it claims it’s owed. That sounds almost like a shakedown.”

Comparing the GBPA situation to Baha Mar, Mr McAlpine argued that PLP administrations seemed “to be setting a precedent of hostile takeovers”. He added: “If the Government, particularly the PLP government, continues down this road; the same path they took with Baha Mar, international investors will be turned off from doing business in The Bahamas.....

“Inquiring minds would like to know, if the Government of The Bahamas was receiving $200m-plus a year how, then, do the GBPA owe the Government, from 2018 to 2022, $357m?” Mr McAlpine asked.

“If the Government of The Bahamas have been receiving $200m-plus a year in taxes from the people of Freeport, please tell me how much of that money has been pumped back into Freeport? Which begs me to ask: Why hasn’t construction started at the airport? Where is the hospital, and not an elaborate community clinic? Hospital.

“With $200m-plus yearly from Freeport taxes, why has the Government done such a poor job at running the Grand Lucayan hotel? If the way the Government runs the Grand Lucayan hotel is any indication of how they will run the GBPA, then Jesus help us all.”

Comments

ExposedU2C 2 months ago

The leadership of the PWC accounting firm in The Bahamas is now so die-hard PLP that they will no longer even entertain the possibility of re-opening the office that the firm had in Freeport for many decades. Such a shame.

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