||Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM
Hon. Philip Brave Davis, MP
Deputy Prime Minister and
Minister Of Works And Urban Development
Abaco Business Outlook Conference
25th September 2013
I am, of course, very happy to once again be in Abaco and to participate in this day of reflection and discussion on matters which will impact the potential of Abaconians for the growth and development of the economy of this wonderful island.
It is certainly easy to simply stand before you and utter words that, on the surface, seem to address those things which you recognise as being of great importance to you.
But this will serve no one well - and so I propose to have a frank discussion in the hope that it will help engender a necessary appreciation that we are all together in the same vessel called The Bahamas.
None of us really stands alone, although I know that there are those who care not one whit for what happens to folks the next settlement over, much less people living on Ragged Island.
Your Government cannot permit itself the luxury of this kind of thinking.
It is for this reason that I propose to address matters situated in Abaco as well as to offer an appreciation of what likely lies ahead in other areas that are important to the overall health of The Bahamian economy.
May I begin with an update on where we seem to stand with the Marsh Harbour International Airport. I am saddened by the turn of events on this extremely expensive - and - much anticipated project.
My Ministry has been challenged to provide all the necessary approvals to the contractor for the construction of the airport buildings as there have been and continue to be concerns of a technical nature which do not permit the Ministry of Works and Urban Development to issue necessary approvals.
This is a most serious and vexing matter.
I am not an engineer nor do I pretend to be one; but I accept that there are extremely good reasons for, first, a thorough approval process to be followed by the issuance of approvals following any required adjustments and then the requisite follow-up through regular objective inspections and confirmation of building according to an approved plan.
Yes, adjustments are made to meet unforeseen circumstances; and, yes, the application and approval process can sometimes be frustratingly slow and tedious. Also, yes, I agree that the application and approval process needs overhauling. Recent announcements either by me or by officials of the Ministry confirmed that we recognise this - and are in the process of updating and modernising how we conduct all our business with the construction community.
You might fault us for the time we are taking in the research and planning process to bring this all about; but you certainly can’t fault us for the effort to PLAN instead of just rushing to get things out so that we could claim to be doing more than is sometimes in the People’s best interests.
Sometimes politicians make promises and proceed to browbeat public servants to get moving on things and end up with difficulties like we now have with the airport.
Besides the problems with all of the necessary approvals not being in place which would mean that an occupancy certificate cannot be issued resulting in delays in opening, we also have concerns being expressed about whether all the structural elements actually meet fire and safety codes.
Further, I am advised that other agencies of the government and representative of potential users, namely airlines, have difficulties with the spaces and equipment being provided for them; it seems that “the design of the interior would demand additional staffing to operate a separate international and domestic security operations.
The airlines are also asking for ticket counters to be redesigned as there are presently no allocations for space for printers and ticketing machines.”
Apparently, the “Immigration (Department) also has an issue with their access to their work area and the security of the same.”
“There is also the relocating of the switching system for runway lighting to the new control tower and the removal of the existing building.”
Some technical equipment required to meet international standards are presently under review to ensure proper compliance.
I am told that the Civil Aviation Department is presently short listing potential new Controllers from more than 100 persons who applied.
We approached this unfinished project when we returned to government last year with a view to completing it in the shortest period of time while trying to ensure that the taxpayer was receiving value for money and that the project was a complete one, which would best serve all the needs of travellers, and those employed within the facility and in its environs.
All told, even though this description of the challenges with the Marsh Harbour Airport was not pleasant to learn about and certainly is not pleasant to report to you and the Nation. I am pleased, however, to confirm that under the leadership of my colleague, the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin, the Government is gradually cutting through all the nonsense surrounding this entire project with a view to, at the earliest opportunity, to make sure that the airport facilities to our travelling public, is efficient, safe, secure.
You will be kept up to date with progress as it is made.
You would also be interested to know that the Government has made a major policy decision with regard to the future operation of airports in our Family of Islands:
The view is that the current model for Family Island airport management is unsustainable, as it requires a considerable investment of public funds.
It is the policy of the Ministry of Transport and Aviation moving forward to ensure that, to the extent possible, all Family Island airports must be self sufficient, with a view to reducing the cost of operating airports for the Public Treasury.
This would reduce the strain on the public purse, and simultaneously, generate a new revenue stream for the Government.
Accordingly, the Ministry of Transport and Aviation is pursuing the option of private management of the Marsh Harbour Airport.
In that regard, a Request for Proposals to manage, develop and operate the Marsh Harbour airport was published in May of this year, inviting Bids from qualified Bahamian firms.
Three companies submitted proposals.
The Minister of Transport and Aviation appointed an Evaluation Committee headed by Sir Baltron Bethel to review the proposals and to revert to the Minister with their recommendation.
I am advised that the Committee has now completed its work and has made a recommendation for the consideration of the Minister, who will in turn consult with the Cabinet.
Abaco we are turning the corner…..
Confirmation of what we, in this Government produce, is available for all and sundry to see right here in Abaco with the success being experienced by Baker’s Bay and Winding Bay which, you will no doubt recall, were both the result of our Government’s vision and initiatives during our last term in office.
We are a proven commodity in productivity. The facts confirm this statement.
Speaking of productivity, you would no doubt be aware that we are about to experience a considerable increase in total rooms available for occupancy by tourists with the opening of the new Baha Mar Resort in just over one year.
This project started in earnest almost ten years ago and went through some “trying times” but a visit to Cable Beach in New Providence would present one with a totally transformed and changing landscape.
Both major political parties have been supporters of this project.
It started with an agreement between the then-partners of Baha Mar in 2005 and then faced serious financial challenges as well as other challenges during 2008 and 2009.
The principals persevered and found new partners and a few years ago began the process of bringing the design concept and the plans to fruition beginning with a new agreement with the Government.
The Baha Mar team is doing a tremendous job and the end product will, no doubt, secure many accolades for its look and amenities over the foreseeable future.
It will also mean employment opportunities for up to eight thousand people and an additional 430,000 stop over visitors annually.
You will have heard of a new boutique hotel being developed on western New Providence by a Bahamian businessman.
The marvellous Albany project is negotiating with the Government now - for an expansion of its project.
A Bahamian Doctor has also just announced plans to build a hospital facility abutting the Albany site for both local needs and to take advantage of the opportunities in an expanded Medical Tourism field.
Another Bahamian is negotiating for a casino license as part of a potential major resort development in southwest New Providence.
The South Ocean properties seem to be of interest, once again, to another group of investors with a focus on golfing.
The vast and, now iconic, Atlantis Resort is in the process of a multi-year renewal of its plant and product offerings.
Atlantis is executing the complete renovation of its Royal Towers and the Cove Hotels as well as opening new food and beverage facilities; adding new amenities and attractions.
Abaco, We are turning the corner!
Atlantis has plans for the renovation of the Ocean Club Suites and there is a very real potential for the re-development of the entire Ocean Club Hartford wing.
Not too far from here, we are experiencing a process headed by an International Asian conglomerate, Resorts World and the Genting Group, who have begun to turn Bimini into one of our most attractive Family Island destinations having due regard to the environment, local culture and traditions.
The modern Resorts World Casino opened during July of this year creating some 400 new jobs and numerous entrepreneurial opportunities for Bahamians.
Their high-speed cruise ship is expected to bring over 400,000 visitors to Bimini annually.
They are presently upgrading existing facilities, including the airport, to support the needs of the resort and building the necessary infrastructure, in partnership with the Government, to facilitate night flights and larger aircraft.
The Government has also approved the further extension of Resorts World facilities with the addition of two more Boutique Resorts.
The first, a 300-room hotel, is expected to come on stream within six months using state-of-the-art prefabricated construction.
And while discussing the Northern Bahamas - I have not forgotten Grand Bahama.
Visits to Grand Bahama, which was once the jewel in our crown, have been distressing for all of us over the past few years.
The pain and suffering of people on Grand Bahama, after years of dismal neglect, the ravages of hurricanes and the effects of the recession, has been very real.
We have sought to bring some immediate relief to those in need as evidenced by our extensive network of support within the Urban Renewal programme.
We all recognise, though, that, while what is being done under Urban Renewal is both necessary and good, it is, in fact, not nearly enough. Every opportunity is being embraced both at home and abroad to extol the incentives, benefits and infrastructure, which make Grand Bahama, and Freeport in particular, an attractive place in which to invest.
The 400-room Reef Village is now under renovation, and when completed, it will operate as a Blue Diamond five star all-inclusive resort. Sunwing, one of the partners in this venture, will provide airlift with several flights per week from Canada to Freeport and will join forces with other air carriers and tour operators to support increased tourist traffic from the United States into Grand Bahama.
This injection is expected to create over 1,000 new jobs.
Major projects in San Salvador include a 360 new condo-units as part of the existing Club Med Resort and the potential of another 125 room five star resort.
The government will make substantial upgrades to the San Salvador airport; including ensuring availability of fuel, equipment and facilities to facilitate direct flights from Europe.
Abaco, we are turning the corner…..
Eleuthera is seeing upgrades and expansion taking place at the Cove Resort, Coco di Mama resort, French Leave Village and Marina, and Sky Beach resort, all combined employing significant numbers of Bahamians.
There is also an apparent uptick in real estate sales, second home construction and resort development in Eleuthera, Exuma, San Salvador and, yes, here in Abaco.
Let us look at Abaco within this picture.
There is no doubt that The Bahamas is experiencing positive activity, some would even call it a renaissance, with new and exciting things happening in so many islands.
Baker’s Bay is the one single major development that has weathered well the financial storm, and has proven to be a source of stable employment here in the northern part of the country.
The resort has recently increased its staff complement by 60 new employees, bringing its employee total to 560.
In the coming year, it is expected Baker’s Bay will increase in its membership by 100; in economic terms that will result in increased job opportunities for its own operations as well as provide spin-offs to local businesses here on the island.
And, while the same news of success did not come for Winding Bay, from where I sit, I can assure you its resurgence is on the way.
A proposal for its redevelopment is now before Government and, while I cannot say much more at this time, I must stress – there are plans for resurgence.
With this growth through development, the government has acknowledged the fact that reducing our import bill for food is of great importance to the further progress and development of our nation.
To this end - my government has delivered a new approach to this sector of our economy that will launch new opportunities for family island communities.
Therefore greenhouses with their potential for the growth of year-round farming possibilities are being rolled out across the country.
Here on the island of Abaco, the North Abaco Farmers Association has already received international funding to develop a greenhouse project and is today receiving the necessary technical assistance.
Don Sawyer, a player in the agriculture sector here on the island, is also making new investment inroads in the use of these new technologies on this island.
There is resurgence at Abaco Big Bird – because, since coming to office, we have enforced new protections in the areas of poultry – thus stimulating an increase in local productions there.
Some additional 1,200 acres of land has been made available to Abaco Farms for further production of food using new technologies along with Texas A & M.
That same prestigious institution is also sharing their new knowledge in food production across our country to assist farmers to increase their yield for market.
We expect that when our plans for this sector of the economy are fully in place, farming with the rise in new methods of farming will result in more employment and new business owners will emerge.
Abaco, We are turning the corner…
And so Abaco, I want to assure you – We will build the North Abaco port.
We will shortly open the new Marsh Harbour International airport.
The BEC Marsh Harbour substation civil works are completed and the installation of the switchgear and transformers is in progress with a completion date in sight.
New sporting facilities are now on the drawing board. Combine this with the wonderful natural resources of large tracts of available land; excellent soil conditions and a long term reputation of success in agricultural ventures; excellent fishing and vast areas of the sea, both shallow banks and the deep south Atlantic, available for exploitation; exciting resort facilities like Baker’s Bay with its excellent example of environmental sensitivity and its resort and residential development which continues to attract high net worth visitors and its close proximity to South Florida and the south-east coast of the United States;
This great land with its wonders of nature including the wonder of the ocean holes and our unique flora and fauna; All blended together with intelligent, hardworking and industrious Abaconians, you then have the perfect recipe for great success in the near and distant future.
I assure you - the Government will be your most willing partner as you chart your way forward.
Use the availability of the tremendous talent brought together - in this room - by Mrs. Albury and the Counsellors Limited in the 2013 version of the Abaco Business Outlook, now celebrating ten years.
If the past is anything to go by, then you are in for a life changing experience as you focus on how you can take advantage of the positive changes and opportunities, which will confront you as the weeks, months and years go by.
I thank you all for my invitation here today; to give a brief account - as we across this great country of ours - turn the corner to prosperity and growth!
Have a wonderful day….……and May God Bless you all.
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