With the government slated to purchase the Grand Bahama International Airport from Hutchison Port Holdings and Port Group Ltd. for one dollar, Englerston MP and Shadow Minister of Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin said yesterday that the government is allowing Hutchison to divest itself of the less attractive parts of its original agreement.
“When Hutchison came to The Bahamas in 1995, its principal objective was the Freeport Harbour… as a strategic addition to its multibillion-dollar global shipping company,” Hanna-Martin said during debate on the Airport Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
“We knew that. But because the Bahamas government wanted other things, they got incredible concessions, which included that airport and the hotel.
“The [Grand Bahama] International Airport and the construction of the Our Lucaya hotel were made a part of the deal to obtain the prize.
“…You have allowed a foreign investor to take all the cream and leave us with the burden in this country.”
Hanna-Martin continued, “The Bahamas today, Grand Bahama is worse off today than it was in 1995. Once the Freeport International Airport bill we’re debating here is passed in the Parliament, Hutchison would have successfully offloaded or dumped two economically challenging entities that were expected to grow and prosper under the hands of the giant.”
The airport suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Dorian. The government has lamented that the current owners have no interest in repairing the facility despite the commitment to provide an international airport in the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.
The Minnis administration purchased the Grand Lucayan resort from Hutchison in August 2018 for $65 million. While the government has plans to sell the property to Royal Caribbean and ITM for its redevelopment, D’Aguilar admitted previously that the government will lose on the sale.
Hanna-Martin said the government allowed Hutchison to run with the insurance money.
“Hutchison wanted out and waited for the moment,” she said.
“And it’s the same government who let them take the insurance money and run and paid for it – $65 million upfront and millions and millions since then, Mr. Speaker.
“We are still uncertain of the aggregate cost of the government’s purchase of Our Lucaya.
“And while the government will pursue the avenue of public-private partnership in the construction of the new airport in Freeport, we should expect the debt burden to rise substantially as a result. Mr. Speaker, the government should pay no more than one dollar.”
Hanna-Martin called for the agreement on the government’s purchase of the airport to be made public.
“We would like to know what has been agreed with Hutchison going forward with this administration for the sale of that airport for a dollar,” she said.
“And they have not done it, Mr. Speaker. This government has not disclosed to the Bahamian people what they have agreed to in relation to that airport.”
She added, “…We do not know what you have agreed to further burden the Bahamian people.”
Hanna-Martin also called for the government to renegotiate how much revenue it brings in from the Freeport Container Port, which is also owned by Hutchison.
“I want to say to the government, the 50 cents, because you see they got 50 cents for a container and were supposed to provide an airport and a hotel and they dumped that on us for us to go find the money,” she said.
“So, the 50 cents that Bahamas customs collects on each container should be renegotiated. I’m urging the government to renegotiate the 50 cents and fall in line with globally accepted prices. Negotiations should not dip below $8 per container.”