Freeport, The Bahamas - The following are the remarks made by
attorney, Terence R. Gape at today's Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce Luncheon:
speech today is titled “The Forgotten Island” because for years I have been
saying that the only Investors that we get in Freeport are either those that
are ship-wrecked or those that get off by plane by accident (But it is
remarkable to note that those few who do by happenstance arrive very often fall
in love with what Freeport has to offer).
Let me say immediately that, aside
from the depressing state of the economic affairs of Freeport, I am excited about
the prospects we have before us in this exciting year of 2015, to bring about
change in our wonderful town, to cause it to be the work engine and job
production engine that it should be for the whole Bahamas.
I believe this year will mark the
beginning of a new experience for Freeport and The Bahamas,
certain things happening.
I am especially excited at the Prime
Minister’s appointment of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement Review Committee headed
by our own Dr. Marcus Bethel, and by the continuing works over these past few
years by our own Minister for Grand Bahama, Dr. Michael Darville, and the
Minister for Tourism in trying to stem the downward spiral in which we have
found ourselves in the Freeport and wider Grand Bahama economy.
I believe the appointment of this
Blue Ribbon Committee bespeaks the belief held by the Prime Minister and
growing members of the Government that
needs to be given the ability to grow and prosper, and they understand what
needs to happen to accomplish this goal.
One of the published important tasks
of the Committee is to “create a framework for immediate and long-term
investment promotion on the Island to attract investors that can operate assets
competitively at a world class standard, and effectively and efficiently
utilize the land resources with proper environmental safeguards.”
This designated task for a
Government Committee is extremely important
and significant, not only for what is says but because it signifies to
me the first time that the Bahamas Government has declared its active interest
in an intended direct involvement in the attraction of visitors to our Island.
You will note the Government’s use
of the words “Investment Promotion”.
This is Big!
Just as important were the Prime
Minister’s obiter comments that, and I quote: “following the death of Sir Jack
Hayward and Edward St. George, there are entities around the world expressing
an interest in the purchase of The Grand Bahama Port Authority. The Committee will be able to assist me, as
and their work will be of immense value even though that is not within their
terms of reference in the event of some purchaser manifesting in the near
future with the intention to purchase, we would want to ensure that we are
transparent and open in all that we do with the Bahamian people because there
is a lot at stake here in Grand Bahama.”
More on this later.
In my Call to Action Article of
2012, I advised then of the deplorable condition of Tourism in Freeport, which
I then described as -O- in my estimation and belief. Since then, the Ministry of Tourism has
done, together with Hutchison, a major job in attracting Memories to our shores
and in providing
airlift which has, I believe, stemmed the Tourism dip.
There still remains much to be done.
We are still a long way from
attracting the Quality Tourist to our shores, which would probably take some
further years of marketing and the building of more luxury hotel product. These are the tourists that fully support
our restaurants, bars, fine shops and we are in dire need of their
patronage. These are also the Tourists
that would invest in the vibrant second-home market we
I pointed out in 2012 that the
Island was then and remains now in dire need of Development Investors to take
advantage of our Sixty miles of pristine beaches and over Twenty miles of canal
frontage: Development-ready Land that is the finest in The Bahamas and indeed
in the Caribbean.
I explained in 2012 that I felt then
and feel now that a major shift change could take place in our economy within a
2 years by concentrating on the luxury condominium/condominium
hotel/second-home market: this is more true today.
An actual survey of the Construction
Industry in Freeport:-
3,000 sq. ft. presently
construction - 0
under construction - 0
Buildings presently under
How did we get to this impasse,
where even the Prime Minister noted a few weeks ago that Nassau/Paradise Island
are experiencing a boom in the upscale, high-end construction of second homes
and luxury condominium construction, followed closely by Abaco and Exuma but
that Freeport’s ECONOMY was
When the Government extended the tax
exemptions of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement in 1993, one of the major
conditions was the establishment by the Port Authority and DevCo of “an
organization to promote Grand Bahama Internationally” a P.M.O.
This P.M.O. was never established
and, accordingly, especially after the Perfect Storms of 2004, our Island was
and remains Forgotten.
I believe and pray that the
Government realizes that Freeport and Grand
represent the one Island in The Bahamas where the next
jobs can be created and, for this reason and many others, I believe that the
Committee and the Government should have as their goal, rather than the short
term goal of the payment of taxes into the general Treasury by the residents of
this stagnant economy,
BUT the revitalization of the Freeport
economy by the establishment of this P.M.O. fully funded by the Port Authority
and DevCo, to be made up of a Board of Directors in equal parts of the
groups of Government/Port Authority/ DevCo and the Licensees.
What can this P.M.O. do?
We already have the product but it
needs an organized Professional Group of
continuously on the road at seminars, private meetings and professional
marketing events in Florida and across the Globe and constantly bringing
International Groups to our Island.
In the Florida Market alone, there
20 multi-Billion Dollar Development Groups presently building over
luxury condominium units, most of which will be completed at the end of
2015. These Groups are going to be
looking for places to go.
The Bahamas is
Freeport need not miss this second boom period - we missed the boom of 2002-
2008 completely for the lack of this P.M.O. and we are now missing the current
boom which started in 2011 for this same reason.
Real Property Tax
I have changed my previous opinion
that the Real Property Tax
exemption should not be extended.
In 2012, I argued that though for
Forty years Freeport had enjoyed an exclusive exemption from Real Property Tax
(which Tax was imposed in the rest of The Bahamas) the fact of this exemption
had not benefitted Freeport especially these past
20 years because,
of course, Freeport had not promoted the
exemption or itself as other areas of The Bahamas: Nassau/Paradise
Island/Harbour Island/Abaco and Exuma, all of which pay Real Property Tax, are
outstripping Freeport and are prospering.
All, again, for lack of a P.M.O.: the Forgotten Island.
I also argued in 2012 that new
investors and land sales were also stymied because the present owners of the
land (of which DevCo and the Ownership Families own the larger part) have no
carrying cost. This is still true.
I now believe that the exemption
should be extended, say for a further
10 years, subject to the
establishment of the P.M.O. as I described before and perhaps a proviso that
any and all undeveloped land should pay Real Property Tax if it remains
undeveloped after the next
5 years, in any event.
I know there are any number of
proposals that are being made and discussed on this subject but I believe the
bottom line should be that we take this opportunity to reactivate the Freeport
economy and make it a major, prosperous factor in the Bahamian economy,
creating and attracting those next
10,000 jobs that the Country needs.
On the issue of the Port Authority
and the Ownership Families, I believe my position is well known.
I am embarrassed to say here
publicly that Free Enterprise has failed us
I agree with Sir Jack Hayward’s own reported opinion often recently expressed
that the present Ownership Families “need to go” But Free Enterprise is
resilient and I believe, and the Government also believes, it is still the way
In 2012, I expressed that from my
reading of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement and my knowledge of Freeport, the
ownership of the Port Authority and its assets
to include DevCo should
be in the hands of a
It was not meant to be a fiefdom to be handed down to new
generations. Our experience of the last
12 years is proof of this.
I believe the Government has also
come to this conclusion, hence the obiter task given by the Prime Minister to
his Committee to advise on.
I also believe that given the
failure of the Ownership Families, especially over these past
and the continuing deteriorating relationship with Hutchison, that effective
change in the direction of Freeport can only happen when this sale by the
Ownership Families takes place and soon.
Accordingly, I am excited about this
year of change, that indeed the burgeoning investment climate being experienced
in the other Islands of The Bahamas has brought the stark contrast of the
Freeport Economy to the attention of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of
Finance and that the Government, after these many, many years, is prepared to
be proactive in the Freeport Economy and accepts responsibility in this Area.
All this speaks well for this year
of change BUT the big change must be this: we in particular as Bahamians and
Bahamian residents must be proactive: the Government has asked for our input
and we need to give it.
too long, we as Licensees have feared for our position in this Company
Town: this must change and we must
agitate for good things to happen.
Terence Gape was called to the Bahamas Bar in November 1972 when he joined the Firm of
Dupuch & Turnquest of which he is now Senior Partner and head of its Freeport Chambers.
Mr. Gape has distinguished himself as a leading Counsel in commercial matters representing such Firms as: The Southern Company, The Dart Corporation, Group Vivendi, the Ginn Company, Associated Grocers Inc. and DeVry University in their major Investments in Grand Bahama.