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Photo: Ministry for Grand Bahama
Freeport, Bahamas - Remarks by The Hon. Dr. Michael Darville Minister for Grand Bahaman on the occasion of The Annual Banquet and installation of officers of The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce Saturday, 30th January, 2016:
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and once again welcome.
First, let me say congratulations to the incoming executives of the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce, led by Mr. Kevin Seymour, and at the same time, offer my sincere thanks to the immediate past regimes and acknowledge your contribution to the growth and development of the Grand Bahama community during your tenure. The Prime Minister sends his regrets that he could not attend this event tonight due to another engagement and promises to do his very best to meet with the Chamber in the near future. Additionally, he would like to express to you his sincere desire and commitment to influence planning and policy in a direction that will stimulate new investment in Freeport in a way that would revitalize the City and lead to a path of long-term sustainability for the economy of Grand Bahama, and has said that he intends to address this important subject in Parliament next week.
Ladies and gentlemen, despite a difficult economic climate, many Bahamian-owned businesses throughout the length and breadth of Grand Bahama remain optimistic and are committed to long-term growth.
Several businesses are undergoing upgrades, such as Bahama Rock, which has commenced a $9.3 million phased expansion, and other businesses, such as Caribbean Bottling, Bahamian Brewery and Island Bedding, all small and medium-sized businesses are following suit.
Some infrastructural work is underway such as the state of the art fire station, as well as the storage facility at the C.A. Smith Complex, which are both on schedule and within budget. Many of you will recall the ground-breaking ceremony which took place in December, 2015 for the six million dollar Causeway, replacing the Fishing Hole Road, which is a being undertaken in a public-private partnership with local stakeholders and the Government of The Bahamas.
The Ministry of Housing has commenced the construction of thirty-six (36) homes in the Bahamia subdivision, and the renovations of government buildings are on-going.
There are planned upgrades for the Rand Memorial Hospital and the West End Clinic on the horizon; and there has been successful strides in the growth and development of new industries, such as medical tourism, and in the ensuing months we hope to see further growth and development in the air and sea logistics sector.
The Government has been quite active in its focus on Grand Bahama, recently approving several projects which will have a significant impact on our local economy. These include the $280 million, Phase V investment in the Container Port expansion by Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), in partnership with Hutchison Ports, which will see a 40% increase in capacity and output to two million containers per annum and, will have a significant impact on production and employment at the Container Port. Additionally, Mediterranean Shipping has announced the opening of a maritime academy in Freeport to train and recruit 240 Bahamians over a two-year period for crewing on MSC vessels. MSC is also working with the College of The Bahamas’ Northern Campus for the creation of an education module tailored specifically for the maritime industry.
In Tourism, the Government recently approved the $168 million expansion of the Deep Water Cay Resort with Six Senses as operator of a five star mixed-use resort. The build out will be phased over a seven year period employing more than 120 persons per annum and will include 68 hotel units, including 56 hotel keys and 65 custom-built residences, a 7,000 square foot, two-storey spa facility and fitness centre, five eateries, including a full-service restaurant, a cooking school for guests, and 2,500 square feet of flexible space for meetings and events.
Another key stakeholder in Freeport, Hutchison Port Group Holdings, has invested $5.5 million dollars to renovate the Lighthouse Pointe as an All-Inclusive property and is projecting a 70% occupancy level in this year. Meanwhile the Harbour Company is on schedule with its $17 million dollar upgrade at the Freeport Habour.
These, ladies and gentlemen, are only some of the steps being taken by Freeport’s licensees toward a positive direction of economic growth.
Freeport’s overall hotel performance was positive in 2015, largely as a result of expanded airlift by Sunwing’s operations in Canada and in the USA, and from new gateways in Cincinnati, Newark, Dallas and Baltimore. As a result, the Memories Resort, operated by Sunwing, achieved a 90.4% occupancy level last year which contributed to Grand Bahama, as a whole, experiencing a 30% increase in international arrivals. With that said, Grand Bahama is still not performing to the level of other islands in the commonwealth, which have less infrastructure and human capital, and it is widely recognized that considerably more investment must be sought and incentivized to increase the level of economic activity in Freeport, and by extension, Grand Bahama.
The Bahamas Government is working diligently to conclude an agreement with Hutchison for a Waiver of Exclusivity on cruise port operations in the Freeport area, which will pave the way for the establishment of a cruise port by Carnival Cruise Lines in East Grand Bahama. This project is critical to the stability and continued viability of Grand Bahama’s cruise business, especially in light of plans by three cruise operators, Hain-mark, Celestyal and Carnival, which commence cruises to Cuba beginning this year.
To further stimulate entrepreneurial development on the island, the Government has extended duty free concessions to East and West Grand Bahama. These concessions have impacted a wide cross-section of registered businesses, and now potential entrepreneurs have the benefit of reduced building costs through duty exemptions on material imports and machinery for the construction of commercial buildings and, I am pleased to report that as a result of these concessions many new businesses opened their doors last year and have created jobs.
While these initiatives are commendable, there is much more that must be done on the part of the Government and the private sector in partnership to move the Freeport economy to a level of sustainability that will significantly impact not only employment, livelihoods and the long-term economic well-being of Grand Bahama. As the country’s second city, and beneficiary of revenues generated from taxes imposed in other parts of The Bahamas, Freeport is expected to carry its weight both in terms of GDP and revenue gains for the Government.
What must therefore, also be on everyone’s mind is the Government’s position with respect to the expiring concessions on real property and capital gains taxes.
As you know, the Prime Minister appointed the Hawksbill Creek Agreement Review Committee in March, 2015 to formulate and present recommendations to the Cabinet. The Terms of Reference for the Committee was firstly, to achieve consensus with the Grand Bahama Port Authority and licensees on a long-term economic strategy for the development of Grand Bahama Island; secondly, for the creation of the framework for long-term investment promotion on Grand Bahama to attract quality investors operating competitively and at world class standards. Thirdly, for a regulatory framework that is in keeping with present and changing international best practices, and lastly, for the implementation of a tax regime that ensures the continued maintenance of aspects of Freeport’s infrastructure and enhancement of the government’s revenue base.
The Committee recently launched a website at www.hcareview.org, in addition to a Facebook page, to provide the historical context for the hawksbill creek agreement review process, as well as to provide information to Freeport licensees and the general public on the Committee’s scope of work and process, and on the legal framework that exists today.
The Hawksbill Creek Agreement Review Committee has submitted its recommendations to the cabinet subcommittee; however, there is still more input that is required to provide the Cabinet with the information it needs to effectively and intelligently take action in these matters.
The Government is extremely pleased with the progress that the Committee has made in light of the weight of its mandate, complexity of the task and the short time-frame given to present its recommendations.
The work of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement Review Committee and broad scope of the recommendations to date, clearly demonstrate that the Committee is up to the task in undertaking and completing such an exercise in spite of its rigor and complexity.
Ladies & gentlemen, you can rest assured that the Government will do whatever is takes to secure a viable and relevant frame-work and development strategy in collaboration with stakeholders for moving Grand Bahama upward and onward, together with the rest of The Bahamas.
Thank you and once again, congratulations to you Kevin, and the entire team.
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