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Bahamas Cabinet Holds Historic Meeting in Freeport
By Robyn Adderley, BIS
Jul 30, 2015 - 11:31:04 PM

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FREEPORT, Grand Bahama -- The Cabinet of The Bahamas convened in Freeport, Grand Bahama, on Tuesday, July 28, at the Ministry for Grand Bahama, and while on island subsequently held meetings with stakeholders.

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie said during a press conference at The Grand Lucayan that the Cabinet had just completed a full meeting in Freeport for the first time in the history of the country.

Having sat in Abaco previously, this was the second time the Cabinet met outside of New Providence.

Giving a retrospective, the Prime Minister stated talks with stakeholders had been productive and “very, very dynamic.”

He indicated that during their Freeport meeting the Cabinet debated the question of whether the Government of The Bahamas contributes more to Grand Bahama than it receives in revenue from Grand Bahama, and determined to have discussions “on how we could have effectively and efficiently create a new paradigm towards ensuring that policies that will ensue will bring about a resurgence or a greater expansion or a quicker expansion of the economy of Grand Bahama and Freeport, than we can now anticipate.

"So we did give examination closely to these matters, particularly in view of the fact that Business License and Real Property Tax provisions expire on August 4, 2015. And it was important for us to engage with representatives of the Grand Bahama Port Authority and Hutchison Whampoa in a discussion as to the sustainability of the city of Freeport in the context of its being a unique economic free trade zone."

The Prime Minister then said it is known by Bahamians that the government retained international consultants to do a study of the economic situation in the Port Area, as well as appointed the Hawksbill Creek Agreement Committee to review the tax concessions about to expire and make recommendations.

The committee was also asked to make recommendations on how to promote economic activity that can be sustained on the island.

A press conference was held at The Grand Lucayan by Prime Minister of The Bahamas, the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, following the historic cabinet meeting held in Grand Bahama, at the Ministry for Grand Bahama. (BIS Photo/Vandyke Hepburn)

The cabinet observed the reopening of the fire station in Eight Mile Rock on Tuesday morning that had not been functional since suffering hurricane damage. A new fire engine was also added. Later in the afternoon, there was a ground breaking ceremony for the $6.5-million-dollar, state-of-the-art fire station on Settler's Way in Freeport.

There are advanced plans for a high school for West Grand Bahama, along with a state of the art connected sporting facility “to enable the young people of Grand Bahama to not just be the best they can, but to recognize that cultural industries and sporting industries are important segments of the economy of countries in this region."

The Bahamas, said the Prime Minister, is making a strong commitment to sports tourism and cultural tourism, so that gifted young people of the country are given added opportunity to develop skills, which can have economic impact.

He said: “The new Fishing Hole Road causeway and the Sea Wall for Smith's Point projects are all out to tender and I look forward to being back in Grand Bahama very soon for the ground breaking ceremonies.

"It is important to stress the things being done between the government and the private sector, and confidence being reposed in the destination of Grand Bahama.

"We have a very deep commitment to Grand Bahama's economic recovery and further stimulation of its economy,” he said noting that exchanges with stakeholders were very stimulating, ‘near confrontational,’ auguring well for the relationship necessary between the Grand Bahama Port Authority, Hutchison Whampoa, and the Government of The Bahamas: “This relationship has served The Bahamas well in many areas and I think we all recognize that the times have changed. And that in the time that has passed since the original vision was executed for the Hawksbill Creek Agreement -- it is for this generation of Bahamians and investors to make the necessary adaptation to become much more relevant players and much more meaningful contributors to the economy of The Bahamas."

Following the historic cabinet meeting held in Freeport on Tuesday, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, held a press conference at The Grand Lucayan. Shown are the stakeholders present. (BIS Photo/Vandyke Hepburn)

The Prime Minister thanked the representatives of the Grand Bahama Port Authority and of Hutchison Whampoa, along with the representatives of the Shipyard who were present Tuesday morning for discussions on the future of Grand Bahama.

The Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe, he said, is concerned about finding the right way to measure the health of tourism in the country. "We are well aware of the need to incentivise industries, but the question always remains, to what extent ought the central government be pumping direct subsidies into hotel, resort and casino developments, as opposed to using that money to promote the destination. And, how do you arrive at that balance that is necessary. There must be a greater degree of civility between government and private sector in being able to deal with issues."

Blue Diamond Memories Grand Bahama Beach Resort continues to report good bookings, he said; and Sunwing flights are servicing six cities in the United States this summer, and they will begin their winter programme from seven cities in Canada.

Hutchison, he said, made a further commitment to renovate the Lighthouse Point property in Lucaya, which will be completed by the winter season adding an additional 200 rooms to its inventory. It is hoped the decision to further invest in Freeport will be successful, he added.

Sir Baltron Bethel, who is currently in Beijing, he said, made indication on Tuesday morning of the first draft of a Heads of Agreement for a new cruise port in East Grand Bahama to be established by Carnival Cruise Lines, in conjunction with the Freeport Harbour Company.

Additionally, said the Prime Minister, they spoke with Godfrey Smith of the Container Port and it was confirmed that the $250-$300 million expansion is scheduled for later this year.

The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has confirmed the establishment of a Maritime Academy in conjunction with the College of The Bahamas. He said they have committed to recruiting Bahamians for both their cruise and cargo ships. It is hoped this will provide a significant number of jobs for those Bahamians currently unemployed.

He said stem cell research has been delayed to ensure that government regulations are passed to govern it, and that institutions have been attracted to participate in the regulatory aspect of the stem cell regime in the Bahamas. The Okayanos has been approved, and several more will be.

In closing, the Prime Minister commended Dr. Bethel and his committee, and said they did an excellent job interviewing and consulting with the public. "It is important for me to say that my colleagues and I will be looking at the question of the role that that committee should continue to play towards helping the Government of The Bahamas have positive outcomes on the recommendations, 11 of them, that they made in their report.

Following the press conference, a number of contracts were signed: for the expansion of the Farmer's Market, the construction of the Bimini Government Complex, the proposed storage facility at the C.A. Smith Building and the construction of 36 new homes.

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