‘A bad deal for Bahamians’

Dear Editor,

Last week in the House of Assembly, former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis sought to defend his government’s ill-conceived beach club deal with Royal Caribbean International (RCI).

For Protect Our Island Funds (POIF), the revelation of RCI’s 150-year lease signed under the Minnis administration makes it clear that the environment and economic aspects of the Paradise Island project are a bad deal for The Bahamas.

The lease mandates that the government renew every 25 years while ensuring RCI only pays a fraction of what they expect to profit off the project. How will RCI guarantee that money is reinvested in the Bahamian people whose crown land they are profiting off of? The answer is simple – they can’t. We have seen RCI take advantage of Bahamians with the promise of opportunities for everyone and then fail to deliver before.

According to the ex-prime minister, the project will result in “an additional 150 to 200 Bahamians who would be hired at a salary of $30,000 to $40,000 per annum,” but what does this mean for the Downtown economy? Will a beach club on PI only divert cruise passengers to spend into the hands of RCI and away from downtown shops, vendors and onshore excursion operators? RCI has even stated that those jobs will not come soon. So how exactly does this benefit Bahamians?

Our nation’s hair braiders, straw market vendors, artisans, musicians, taxicab drivers, tour operators and other tourism-related entrepreneurs should be concerned about what access to tourists did the Minnis Administration secure for them with the RCI deal.

Will access to the Royal Beach Club be for a chosen few or for all who seek to pursue the Bahamian dream of being a self-sufficient, productive member of society? And if Bahamians are allowed to participate, will the burden of costs of carrying thousands or even millions of dollars in insurance in order to be able to offer their services to cruise line passengers be feasible for the average business owner?

On a recent news interview, Gowon Bowe, CEO of Fidelity Bank & Trust International Limited cautioned the government to consider the overall economic benefits of the RCI deal for Bahamians.

The former chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation questioned the benefits of the RCI lease agreement.

“We often hear that something was done in the best interest of the country but we very rarely see the details behind how do you validate that? How do you demonstrate that? We should have very clear details within the government that says, ‘This is the rate of return that the actual investor is going to get’ and we should then be able to determine a market value for what the government has contributed.”

Bowe also stated: “We should be looking at how do we empower Bahamians not to exclude foreign participation but how do we make sure that every venture that is taking place in The Bahamas has a Bahamian component that is participating in it and that goes back to laying the foundation. That goes back to government being a facilitator.”

From an economic and environmental standpoint, this is a bad deal all around for Bahamians who are too often asked to put the environment at risk for the sake of the economy. Are the dubious economics on this RCI deal worth the financial and environmental costs? No crown land should ever be leased for 150 years, especially this small strip of land that has been a green oasis near our country’s largest city, all for a project with little-to-no economic benefit to the surrounding area.

Protect Our Islands Fund is, once again, calling on Prime Minister Philip Davis to carefully consider how this administration will prioritize protecting the environment on Paradise Island and ensure RCI fulfills its hollow promise of “another” economic benefit for Bahamians.

 – Protect Our Island Funds

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