The question of whether the city of Freeport should continue in the hands of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), be sold to another investment entity, or be taken over by the government remains the subject of often heated debate among politicians, community leaders and others, with many against a government-run GBPA.
Last week, the debate of who should run the GBPA resurfaced.
Member of Parliament for Pineridge Frederick McAlpine sparked the exchange after he renewed his call in a voice message for a top tier management change at the GBPA; however, he vehemently expressed that he was against a government-run port.
McAlpine fears that the city would become a “cesspool of politics,” if more is not done by the GBPA.
In response, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Fred Mitchell said it is “politics of the day” that got the country where it is today.
“It was through politics that we got our independence, Majority Rule, and other notable achievements,” said Mithcell, who is also minister of foreign affairs and the public service.
He said the island has been “steadily dying on the vine with the heirs to the owners of the city very much seeing it as a play thing and not a city with real people, a real place where people live, breathe and have their being”.
Mitchell said new investment is needed and only one organization that can do that is the government.
“The government won’t play footsie with the owners of Freeport,” he said. “Pressure is on and the PLP has been leading the way in this paradigm.”
He added, “The government is impatient with excuses from the owners, pressure from the public and the state of no action that Grand Bahama is in. It must not continue.”
Grand Bahamians have mixed views on the matter.
Owner of T’s Clothing Store, Ronique Brown, said for the past 10 years, she has struggled to keep the doors of her store open.
“I am not sure if it is good for the government to take over the Port Authority, because I think too much nepotism and victimizing goes on when certain people are in power. So, that’s not a good idea,” she said.
“On the other hand, the people in the executive offices of the port seem to be unable to bring in the investors like the late Mr. Edward St. George was doing when he was alive. So, here again, we have an issue.”
Brown believes the GBPA and the government need to outline a viable working plan and fix their working relationship to get the entire island back in good economic standing.
“They need to work together to make doing business easier for local entrepreneurs and international investors,” she said.
“There is too much red tape and hurdles to jump.”
Businessman Lester Smith said despite the promised boom, he is not impressed.
“I want to see the dollars flowing in the community and not just to the selected few,” Smith said.
“I believe Grand Bahama needs new eyes in terms of the investors that we attract. We can’t sell what Mr. St. George sold about the island years ago.
“Things have changed drastically since that time. We need new innovative ideas for investments and I believe Grand Bahama can offer all and every opportunity for business there is. However, we need people with the vision to promote it.”
Meanwhile, GBPA President Ian Rolle said the GBPA is living up to its responsibilities under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA), including approving of business licenses, addressing environmental compliance concerns, regulating utilities, issuing construction permits and maintaining the city.
“In addition to those duties, we have over $1 billion in investments either underway or in the pipeline,” Rolle said.
“People have not seen that amount of activity in many years and this is under the GBPA.”
Listing projects inclusive of but not limited to Carnival Cruise Port, Xquisite Yachts and Six Senses, Rolle said, “A lot of these deals were in the making for some two years. A number of these deals take a year or more to complete. So, GBPA has, right now, for the city of Freeport, well over $1 billion in transactions … that says we are doing our job.”