Wednesday, Apr 1, 2020
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Promoting Bahamian ownership in the economy

Dear Editor,

The proposed development of a “beach experience” by Royal Caribbean International at the entrance to Nassau on western Paradise Island is concerning.

It has ruffled more than a few feathers.

It raises questions about the management of Crown lands for development purposes, and it fuels questions of international investors displacing Bahamians in the economy.

The interest Royal Caribbean has in the development of a beach experience at that location is not new; two previous governments gave them a cold shoulder.

The development of beach experiences by cruise lines in the Family Islands have been approved because of their remote locations. This was hardly the case with Paradise Island.

Royal Caribbean International’s confirmation that it has purchased privately-owned land on Paradise Island for the development of a beach experience gives credence to suggestions that its proposal has already received the approval of the government.

The International Persons Landholding Act requires all commercial purchases of real property to be approved by the Bahamas Investment Authority, chaired by the prime minister, prior to acquisition.

Such approvals stipulate the proposed use of the real property to be acquired.

I am reluctant to accept the astonishing statements by Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism, and Carl Bethel, attorney general, as the position of a government to questions about such a project. The government’s mantra is after all “the people’s time”.

Minister D’Aguilar claimed on a radio talk show that the government was of the view that there were insufficient attractions for visitors to New Providence and that the primary attraction – Atlantis — was old and visitors were “tired of that”.

As for the attorney general, he responded by suggesting that Royal Caribbean’s plans would improve the visitor experience.

He also suggested that a Bahamian developer of a similar attraction, already approved for development on the government-owned land on Paradise Island, was “selfish” in resisting requests, nay demands, from the government to shift the location of his project from the approved location to accommodate Royal Caribbean’s Crown land requests.

For a minister of tourism to justify Royal Caribbean International’s “beach experience” at the entrance to Nassau by “dissing” the iconic Atlantis Resort as “tired” for cruise passengers who require “something new” is shocking.

One wonders whether he also thinks that stopover visitors should avoid the “tired” resort?

And, I wonder if he expects the 2,000 plus direct employees and thousands of additional indirect workers connected to the four Atlantis properties to find employment at the Royal Caribbean International beach experience.

The comments of both ministers demonstrate that the government does not believe its own propaganda.

Surely, a government that one year ago unveiled the Global Ports Holding-led $ 250 million transformation plan for Nassau’s cruise port, with commitments for Bahamian participation, followed by its June 2019 promised transformation of the Western Esplanade from Arawak Cay to Junkanoo Beach, including Clifford Park, into an entertainment and cultural center for the “over 20,000 cruise ship visitors coming to Bahamian shores daily” cannot now claim that a Royal Caribbean “beach experience” on Paradise Island is needed to satisfy the interests of these same passengers?

In June, the prime minister said that the transformed Western Esplanade area would “help boost Bahamian ownership in the tourism sector” … “significantly boosting spending by Bahamians and cruise ship passengers”.

Now a resort that has served as the largest private sector employer of Bahamians over the past 27 years is disparaged and a Bahamian who stands to be displaced by RCCL is called selfish?

Surely this is not what Bahamians voted for.

And, it is not what Bahamians expect or deserve from their government.

Concerned Bahamian

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