New political capital city of The Bahamas in Andros, pt. 2
I propose that The Bahamas exercises political will, vision and imagination in rebuilding its decaying and inadequate political physical infrastructure. Rather than build a new Parliament, Cabinet Office and judicial complex in New Providence, where there are insufficient public lands to build out a political architecture for the future of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, The Bahamas should use this opportunity to spur economic growth, more diversified economic development in the Family Islands, institute local government in Nassau, reverse migration from Nassau to the Family Islands and lay the foundation for a more planned, balanced and sustainable national development.
Andros, known as the “Sleeping Giant” or the “Big Yard”, is itself an archipelago within The Bahamas. It comprises an area greater than all of the other 700 Bahamian islands of The Bahamas combined. It is 104 miles long by 40 miles wide at the widest point, with only about 8,000 inhabitants. It is composed of hundreds of small islets and cays connected by mangrove estuaries and tidal swamplands.
It is made up of three major islands – North Andros, Mangrove Cay and South Andros, the largest, with 2,300 square miles, and fifth-largest island in the Caribbean. It has the following exceptional attributes:
(a) Based on 2002 data, the total land area of Andros is 1,472,000 acres, of which 64 percent or 902,055 acres constitute dry unleased Crown land, owned by the government of The Bahamas. Additionally, there are 507,743 acres of unleased wet Crown land, about 134,000 acres of farmland and the Hotel Corporation owns some 10,000 acres of land in Central Andros. Approximately, 96 percent of the land in Andros is Crown land.
(b) World’s third-largest fringing barrier reef.
(c) World largest collection of blue holes.
(d) In 2002, 64 percent of dry land on Andros was unleased Crown land, which amounted to 902,055 acres.
(e) 6,000-foot-deep Tongue of the Ocean (a mile-deep abyss teeming with vibrant marine life).
(f) Great Bahama Bank, extensive flats in the west, northwest and south of Andros.
(g) Fresh water lakes, which comprise the largest supply of fresh potable water in The Bahamas.
(h) Bone-fishing capital of the world, with extensive flats in the west, northwest and south of Andros.
(i) Fifth largest island in the Caribbean, after Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
(j) Four airports with paved runways: San Andros Airport at Nicholls Town; Andros Town International Airport in Fresh Creek (an international port of entry for private pilots); the Clarence A. Bain Airport at Mangrove Cay; and Congo Town Airport in South Andros. There are daily flights by Bahamasair, Western Air, Sky Bahamas, LeAir and Watermakers Air. Androsians have produced and operate two of the most successful charter airlines, Western Air and Sky Bahamas.
(k) Sea-Link ferry runs daily to Morgan’s Bluff on the north end of the island and Fresh Creek in Central Andros, and mailboats from Nassau with stops at numerous Andros settlements.
(l) Morgan’s Bluff, a well-protected bay, is the highest point in North Andros and the first point of arrival to Andros from Nassau Harbour. It transitions from the deep blue of the Tongue of the Ocean to the light turquoise of the lagoon separated by the Andros Great Barrier Reef. Morgan’s Bluff has the potential to become the maritime logistical freight hub for The Bahamas.
(m) Eco-touristic attractions, such as fishing lodges, eco lodges, heritage sites, hiking, hunting, bird watching, kayaking, sailing and diving that can expand the tourism product in The Bahamas, beyond the Las Vegas-style resorts and cruise port attractions in Nassau.
Due to these attributes, I recommend Andros as an ideal location to construct a purpose-built smart capital city for The Bahamas, in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals. Its four airports and close proximity to New Providence can facilitate daily commuting by fast ferry and scheduled and charter air service.
Expand economy towards Family Islands
The economy of The Bahamas is concentrated in Nassau, where the tourism and financial tourism industries are located and 70 percent of the population. Nassau represents 2.5 percent of the landmass of The Bahamas. This concentration of economic activity in Nassau is a legacy of the colonial choice and perpetuates economic inequalities that result from this colonial inheritance. This colonial legacy continues in driving foreign direct investment almost exclusively to Nassau.
The Bahamian model of economic development, based on tourism and financial services relies on foreign direct investors to stimulate economic activity, which has been concentrated on the island of New Providence where there is currently about 70 percent of the population. Nassau, a colonial capital, does not have the space to expand and create the national architecture for a modern and smart sovereign nation.
The construction of a purpose-built smart capital city in Andros, as a Bahamian initiative, will generate a more inclusive and sustainable economic stimulus, incorporating innovative urban planning, expanding Family Island development and to growing the GDP to achieve a minimum annual growth rate of five percent.
Design and innovation opportunity
The construction of a political capital city in Andros will afford The Bahamas the opportunity to design a capital city with a Bahamian character to fulfill its unique needs, in accordance with a smart capital city master plan.
The School of Architecture at the University of The Bahamas, Bahamian professional architects, engineers and city planners, in partnership with international city designers and planners consultants, should be engaged to create a uniquely Bahamian purpose-built iconic smart capital city master plan that would be a model for the Caribbean and, eventually, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site of small islands sustainability.
The capital city in Andros should include the following zones, based on principles of small islands sustainability.
Official zone: national Parliament; Cabinet facility: judicial complex; international airport; University of The Bahamas, incorporating BAMSI; national park; national stadium and green spaces/areas; national judicial complex to house the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.
Official residences: (a) governor general/president of the Commonwealth Republic of The Bahamas; (b) the prime minister; (c) the speaker; (d) the chief justice; justices of the Supreme Court and justices of appeal; (e) Cabinet ministers; (f); members of the House of Assembly and senators; (g) permanent secretaries; (h)the president of the University of The Bahamas, etc.
Also, a national park, national stadium, national museum, national theater and green spaces.
University zone: The University of The Bahamas should be expanded to Andros, incorporating BAMSI, as a regional and international center of excellence, serving national and international students and researchers, by establishing:
(a) School of Small Island Sustainability, specializing in agri-business, mariculture and food manufacture and security.
(b) School of Aerospace, utilizing the four airports in Andros, to train commercial pilots, air traffic controllers, civil aviation regulators, airfield safety managers, airport managers, avionics technicians, flight planners, software engineers and research pilots, etc., to manage the over 26 other airports in The Bahamas, and control the Bahamian airspace.
(c) School of Technology and Innovation to teach coding for invention and the development of applications to solve national problems and create new products for the global stream of commerce.
(d) School of Visual and Performing Arts, with a mandate to curate, research and preserve the culture and art forms of The Bahamas and nurture the creative imagination of the Bahamian people.
(e) School of Maritime Studies, in partnership with the MJM Maritime Academy, as a regional and international center of excellence in maritime navigation, engineering and research.
International universities and businesses can be attracted, given the strategic location of The Bahamas, to establish offshore medical schools, medical research institutes and innovation and entrepreneurial hubs.
Other zones include, commercial zone; agricultural/agri-business and maricultural zones; university/research institution zone; residential zone; enactment of comprehensive environmental laws to ensure community consultation and an EIA before the approval of any major undertaking, control carbon emissions, properly manage sensitive nurseries and mangroves and reduce coastal erosion; drainage and flood control infrastructure to deal with hurricanes and other weather hazards; land mass transit system, connecting Nicholls Town, Fresh Creek, Mangrove Cay and South Andros, to evolve to electrical with net zero carbon emissions; fast ferry service to provide hourly scheduled and charter daily service to facilitate commuting; air service, hourly scheduled and charter flights, from four airports to facilitate daily commuting.
Local government opportunity in Nassau
The relocation of the central government administration to Andros will better facilitate the implementation of a system of Local Government Authority in Nassau to ensure community self-government and lessen reliance on the central government in areas of sanitation, environmental maintenance, community development, economic promotion and business relations.
The Bahamas has a highly skilled and high earning diaspora in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries of the world. Unlike other Caribbean countries, some of which have allocated a Cabinet portfolio to mobilize and engage their diaspora in their respective national development process, The Bahamas has not had a consistent policy to engage its diaspora.
The construction of a purpose-built capital city in Andros will, I believe, inspire the Bahamian diaspora to involve itself, as investors, advisors, consultants and second-home owners in building a smart capital city in Andros.
Capital City Investment Public Corporation, a statutory corporation should be established, to emerge into a sovereign wealth fund, to supervise and manage the construction of the capital city project.
(a) The government could vest about 50,000 acres of the approximate 902,055 acres of dry Crown land in Andros in Capital City Investment Corporation in perpetuity to be leased to entrepreneurs, with preference to Andros residents, Bahamian investors and Bahamian investors in joint-venture with foreign investors, for periods up to 50 years to attract private investment in the public, commercial and residential zones of the capital city, in accordance with a capital city master plan.
For example, in 1955 the Bahamian government, through the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, granted 50,000 acres of Crown land, the bed of the sea underlying Hawksbill Creek and various concessions to the Grand Bahama Port Authority to facilitate the building of the City of Freeport. Freeport is today the industrial center and has the second largest population in The Bahamas. The Grand Bahama Development Company, a joint venture between Hutchison Development (Bahamas) Limited and Port Group Limited, has a portfolio of 75 acres of land in Freeport.
(b) Establish private-public partnerships.
(c) The corporation would be empowered to source grants and long-term low interest loans from Scandinavian and Middle East sovereign wealth funds, the European Community, the U.S. and Canadian foundations, the Chinese government, and UNESCO.
(d) Impose infrastructure and environmental levy on cruise passengers.
(e) Issue government capital city bonds on local and international markets.
(f) Incentives, with preference to Andros residents, for a fixed period, to Bahamians and non-Bahamians with commercial ventures should include: exemption from custom duties; exemption from real property taxes; exemption from value-added tax; exemption from personal property taxes or rates, capital levies or gains taxes, income taxes, excise taxes, certain export taxes, or stamp duties on certain transactions; Licensing Authority.
(g) Offer shares to Bahamian investors in Capital City Investment Public Corporation.
(h) Offer relocation/expansion incentives to existing Bahamian businesses willing to invest in the new capital city. These incentives may include offsets against taxes in Nassau, in addition to duty exemptions, etc.
(i) Offer special concessions for residents of Andros.
(j) Liaise with Bahamian diaspora – recruitment by offering guaranteed government collaboration with the development of the capital city through new and creative investments.
(k) Provide investment incentives for young entrepreneurs willing to collaborate either as partners or venture capitalists in the capitalization of the capital city.
(l) Provide expansion of aviation to Andros, both internationally and inter-island, generating fees to the Capital City Investment Corporation.
I call on the government, the official opposition, the DNA and the Bahamian civil society to collaborate in establishing a national commission to study the feasibility of building a capital city outside of New Providence.
The construction of a smart political capital city in Andros will enable The Bahamas to build stronger governance institutions fit for the future, create a model of small island sustainability, stimulate economic growth outside of Nassau towards the Family Islands (based on Bahamian ownership, innovation and initiative), reverse internal migration from Nassau to Andros, inspire young Bahamians to engage in the national development project, mobilize the Bahamian diaspora in the nation building process, and improve the Bahamian brand for innovation, sustainability and diversified development.
• Alfred Sears is a former member of Cabinet and a Queen’s Counsel.
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