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An FNM MP ambivalent about ‘FNM Country’s’ economic recovery 

Dear Editor,

The Freeport constituencies of Marco City and Pineridge have not reelected an incumbent since 1997, when David Thompson (Marco City) and Cornelius A. Smith (Pineridge) of the Free National Movement (FNM) were both sent back to Parliament.

The Bahamas, at the time, was in the midst of what former FNM Finance Minister Sir William Allen dubbed an economic boom. The financial prosperity of the 1990s was due to the Clintonian economic policies which spurred economic growth and development in the U.S. and throughout the region. Freeport was also a beneficiary of former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s economic policies. Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and the late Grand Bahama Port Authority executives Sir Jack Hayward, Sir Albert Miller and Edward St. George all played strategic roles in wooing foreign investors such as Hutchison Whampoa and the developers of Bradford Marine, Polymers International and the Grand Bahama Shipyard to Freeport during the booming years.

All of the foregoing investors created thousands of construction jobs to the point that there was a surplus of jobs. With a booming economy during the 1990s, the Grand Bahamian electorate thought it was a no-brainer to re-elect the FNM standard-bearers of Smith and Thompson in Pineridge and Marco City respectively. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that both suffered humiliating losses in 2002 to Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) candidates Pleasant Bridgewater and Anne Percentie, the latter being a newcomer to frontline politics at the time. What changed in 2002 that influenced Grand Bahama voters to reject Thompson and Smith? The answer is simple: the economy had experienced a precipitous decline. Bear in mind that the devastating events of September 11 occurred less than eight months before the May 2002 elections. For the PLP, 9/11 caused the political pendulum to swing in its direction.

As a result of the terrorist attacks in New York and Pennsylvania, causing the death of nearly 3,000 innocent civilians, tourism in The Bahamas and throughout the region plummeted. Fast forward to 2004 and the two devastating hurricanes of Frances and Jeanne, which destroyed the Royal Oasis Resort, which was for decades the anchor touristic resort on Grand Bahama.

The subsequent closure of the Royal Oasis after Frances and Jeanne saw some 1,300 job losses – job losses Freeport has yet to recover from. That spelled disaster for the first Christie administration and the two MPs for Marco City and Pineridge, Bridgewater and Percentie, both of whom lost to the FNM’s Zhivargo Laing and Kwasi Thompson in 2007. Ingraham tried his best in attempting to rekindle the magic of the Magic City, but with the financial collapse of the housing market in the U.S. under the auspices of then President George W. Bush, Freeport’s economic condition experienced further deterioration. This would subsequently lead to the election of the PLP’s Greg Moss over Norris Bain in Marco City and Dr. Michael Darville in Pineridge over Thompson.

In 2017, both constituencies once again opted to dump their incumbents for Michael Pintard (Marco City) and the vociferous Rev. Frederick McAlpine (Pineridge). With all five seats in the FNM’s possession, Grand Bahama, especially Freeport, can once again be considered FNM Country, I think. It was Grand Bahama which leaned sympathetically towards the avant-garde politicians Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Maurice Moore and the upstart FNM in the 1970s, hence assuming the FNM Country appellation either during the 1970s or 1980s.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis is now on the cusp of achieving what both former Prime Ministers Ingraham and Perry Christie failed to do in 17 years, as I have stated on numerous occasions in this newspaper: fixing Grand Bahama’s anemic economy. With the recent announcement of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and the ITM Group signing a letter of intent (LOI) to purchase the Grand Lucayan resort from the government for $65 million, it would appear that Freeporters are now seeing a silver lining at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Based on what Royal Caribbean officials have stated in the press regarding their extraordinary plans for developing the Lucayan strip and the Freeport Harbour, Freeport could very well be transformed into the next Atlantis on Paradise Island or even Disney or Sea World in Orlando. With Royal Caribbean’s aim at bringing in two million visitors to Freeport annually, Freeport could experience an economic boom that has the potential of surpassing the economic prosperity of the Wallace Groves era during the 1950s and 1960s.

In this regard, the chairman of Lucayan Renewal Holdings, Michael Scott, and his board members, must all be congratulated for getting us to this point.

There is reason for optimism in Grand Bahama, despite the naysayers. Grand Bahamians have been at rock bottom for nearly 20 years. But not everyone is excited, it seems. The MP for Pineridge is an FNM, yet he appears to be ambivalent about the potential economic recovery of FNM Country, which would only bode well for him and his four parliamentary colleagues. Some FNMs are interpreting McAlpine’s latest comments as him hoping for Minnis to fail in Freeport. They can understand PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis and Deputy Leader Chester Cooper wanting to see the status quo continue. I want to give McAlpine the benefit of the doubt that he’s truly interested in seeing Minnis fix Freeport. But it’s difficult to overcome the perception that he is banking on the Minnis administration to fail as a way of getting back at Minnis for dismissing him from the Hotel Corporation.

McAlpine was right in admonishing Grand Bahamians to remain cautious in their optimism, as a LOI is not a purchase. Fair enough. However, I believe that the Pineridge MP was incorrect in referencing the Wynn Group’s LOI for the Grand Lucayan as a riposte in this matter.

To compare Royal Caribbean with Wynn, is like comparing apples and oranges. Any objective person who reads about Wynn’s lukewarm pitch for the struggling resort would come to the conclusion that the Canadian investors were not the least bit interested in purchasing the Grand Lucayan resort. That’s why the Canadians made some outrageous demands on the FNM government – demands that no responsible negotiator worth his salt could accept in good faith.

What Wynn was really after was the West Bay Street property for its $120 million development. Wynn was never interested in Freeport. And besides, wasn’t McAlpine one of the harshest critics of the Minnis administration’s move in acquiring the Grand Lucayan resort? Wasn’t he the one pressuring the FNM in the press to move quickly in offloading the resort to a buyer, due to the exorbitant cost in maintaining it? We’ve reached this stage and McAlpine still has an issue.

In the closing, any political observer can see that bread and butter issues have determined the election outcomes in Pineridge and Marco City since 1997. McAlpine, if he’s politically savvy, should seek to reconcile with Minnis and to help in lobbying the FNM administration to move expeditiously in drafting the heads of agreement for the Grand Lucayan resort and to insure that Royal Caribbean and the ITM Group follows through on purchasing the troubled resort.

– Kevin Evans

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