Exposing the PM’s half-baked claims
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has told National Review that no minister in his Cabinet, including his then Minister of Health Dr. Hubert Minnis, had any objection to a 2008 proposal for Lighthouse Point that was approved in principle.
The statement exposes the hypocrisy of the current prime minister, Minnis, who sought to use that 2008 approval – which he said would have destroyed the environment – to justify the current proposal by Disney Cruise Line, which has been the source of intense public debate.
“I am not aware of any minister of my Cabinet between 2007 and 2012, amongst whom was Dr. Hubert Minnis, having any issue whatsoever with the development we agreed in principle for Lighthouse Point,” said Ingraham, “never, ever, either then or subsequently.”
At a town hall meeting in Green Castle, Eleuthera, last week, Minnis, who was clearly batting for Team Disney, tried to make a case that Disney’s project would not destroy the land as some environmental interests have been suggesting.
“In 2008, a project was approved for South Eleuthera which allowed dredging and multiple canal networks within the same property; dredging of the salt pond into the ocean; creation of marinas for mega yachts and yachts; division of your land.
“This is what was approved for that property, that some may argue that the land would be destroyed. This project, which was approved, would have caused more destruction than what is being looked at today.”
One of the prime minister’s assistants then took two large placards he brought with him, ripped off the covering and revealed the blueprints for the project Minnis referenced.
A young woman, wearing a pro-Disney t-shirt, then held the placards up for the audience to see.
The obvious question that arose in our minds is why Minnis sat silently in 2008 if it indeed was his view that the 2008 project approved in principle by an administration he was a part of would have destroyed the property at Lighthouse Point.
Further, with no EIA yet from Disney, and no EIA ever provided for the 2008 development by The Related Group, Minnis has pulled his conclusion out of thin air.
“…The approval granted to The Related Group in 2008 for a major development at Lighthouse Point in South Eleuthera was, to the best of my recollection, an ‘approval in principle’; final approval being subject to an environmental impact assessment (EIA),” Ingraham told National Review.
“Since the mid-1990s, all major developments in The Bahamas have been required to have environmental impact assessments completed prior to breaking ground, i.e. receiving building permits, etc.
“Prior to my departure from office neither an EIA nor its companion environmental management plan was submitted to the government for consideration in relation to Related Group’s Lighthouse Point development.
“The [Bahamas Investment Authority] file would best address those queries.
“As no EIA has been conducted of the area, I cannot say with any semblance of accuracy whether the area is environmentally important to the preservation of the biodiversity of our country.
“To the best of my knowledge and belief, it is not. A gorgeous beach – yes! No question of its environmental importance ever came up in 2008.”
Many people are under the misguided notion that the land at Lighthouse Point is government-owned land.
Ingraham yesterday provided important historical context on the land in question.
Up to 1966 some 285 acres of the land at Lighthouse Point proposed for development in South Eleuthera were owned by the government.
That acreage was granted to George Baker, an Eleutheran member of Parliament and former minister in the UBP government.
Some six Crown grants were signed by the governor and by Roland T. Symonette, the premier (1966), and one Jeffrey M. Thompson (1967), minister for Internal Affairs.
Baker paid the government some $6,600 for the Crown grants – some 285.62 acres.
Baker sold the land acquired from the Crown together with other land owned by him – more than 650 acres in total — to the Rockford Island Development Group for more than $9.5 million in 2008.
Following its heyday at the top of the tourism pyramid in the 1950s, Central and South Eleuthera in particular fell into economic doldrums with the closure of the Cotton Bay Club and other touristic developments. Subsequently, the drug trade wreaked havoc on the communities in the 1980s.
Ingraham told National Review: “When I first came to office in 1992 my government was laser-focused on bringing development back to South Eleuthera.
“The first major heads of agreement concluded by my government was for a development at Powell Point (Cape Eleuthera) involving the American De Vos family; another was the redevelopment of the Cotton Bay Resort by Carlos Sarmiento, the Colombian banker and construction magnate.
“Sarmiento’s first proposal to redevelop the old Cotton Bay Club caused my government to acquire and upgrade the privately-owned airport at Rock Sound, Eleuthera.
“One of the last approvals by my last government in 2012 was a second approval for a Sarmiento Group development; this time including the proposed development of a Four Seasons Hotel and Resort at Cotton Bay.”
Ingraham said his government was pleased to have The Related Group, world class developers, interested in a major development in The Bahamas in 2008/2009, particularly given the dire global economic and investment climate at the time.
That development, however, never took off.
Today, the economy of Central and South Eleuthera remains challenged and Lighthouse Point remains undeveloped.
The current prime minister, Minnis, is not known to provide all the facts and full context when he speaks.
We wonder whether he even grasped the significance of criticizing a project approved while he sat around the table as a minister.
He failed to explain that the project was approved in principle. He failed to explain that an EIA was never conducted to back up his claims that the project would have destroyed the land.
And he has failed to explain that before Disney gets final approvals for what it is promising, it would need to conduct an EIA and that EIA would have to be made public.
In a Tribune Business article yesterday, Eric Carey, executive director of The Bahamas National Trust, said that “standards based on today’s environmental realities” — not those that existed 10 years ago — must be applied to determine what impact the cruise line’s proposal would have on the site during both the construction and operational phase.
Carey called the prime minister’s comparison “scary”.
Prime ministers should not be irresponsible in their utterances, especially when they are speaking to issues of national significance.
But Minnis is not a prime minister known for well-considered statements placed in their proper context.
It is thus not surprising that he pandered to the pro-Disney crowd.