Prime Minister Philip Davis indicated yesterday that it is time for the government to take “decisive action” regarding concerns about the compliance of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and its related companies with the terms and conditions of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.
While delivering his communication on the 2023/2024 annual budget in the House of Assembly, Davis pointed out that although Grand Bahama contributes 12 percent of the overall gross domestic product (GDP) of The Bahamas, its economy declined by 9 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year.
He said this was worrisome, given the economic growth in other islands of The Bahamas during a particularly robust year.
“There was a silver lining as the tourism sector witnessed a slight increase in 2022, which was evident in the growth of the accommodation and food service industries. Unfortunately, the statistics show a prolonged decline in the Grand Bahamian economy. The evidence confirms the view of my government that the Hawksbill Creek economic model, which was meant to attract foreign direct investment, does not work. Furthermore, in our view, the governance model of the Grand Bahama Port Authority must change, in order to realize the promise, growth and prosperity which we all desire,” Davis said.
“Additionally, the government of The Bahamas has serious concerns regarding the compliance of the GBPA and its related companies with the terms and conditions of the Hawksbill Creek Act, and its subsequent amendments. Previous administrations have made efforts to tackle the situation, but the issue is clearly systemic and fundamental. We believe the time has come for decisive action. In due course, we will make a separate, detailed announcement, perhaps sometime during debate.”
Signed in 1955 between the government and Wallace Groves, who formed the GBPA, the Hawksbill Creek Agreement gave GBPA authority to establish a city and free trade zone over 50,000 acres that would spur economic development on Grand Bahama.
In exchange, GBPA “agreed to provide infrastructure, which included the dredging of a deepwater harbor, the construction of an airport, hospital, schools and other amenities”.
The Grand Bahama Port Authority did not immediately respond to Guardian Business inquiries when contacted yesterday.
Opposition Leader Michael Pintard said the government must meet with all Grand Bahama stakeholders before any decision is announced, adding that the opposition could not get behind any possibility of nationalizing the port.
“The prime minister made very strong statements concerning the future of the Grand Bahama Port Authority. He did not say what the intentions are, but signaled that over the next 14 to 21 days it is likely that they may make an announcement. I want to make it absolutely clear …we are not in support of any attempts by this administration, whether it’s an attempt to nationalize – which we certainly don’t believe could be on the table, we use the term for the sake of completeness – but this government ought to engage in a conversation with the residents of Grand Bahama, the licensees of the port. Obviously they should be in conversation with the port, all stakeholders in Grand Bahama about any contemplation they may have relative to GBPA,” he said.
“We have a concern about the quality of performance at GBPA and its related companies, and we believe we need investors in The Bahamas who have regulatory responsibility, we need them to have more skin in the game. We cannot have a deterioration of the infrastructure in Grand Bahama, that’s unacceptable. We can’t have a company that is not engaged in ongoing discussions with its licensees, but at the same time we want to make sure that all of us are at the table determining the way forward for GBPA and Freeport. The Davis administration is not the group to take control of GBPA and its related companies, they are not to be one of the considerations.”
In recent months, Minister for Grand Bahama Ginger Moxey has admitted to strained discussions between the government and the GBPA. She has openly opposed recent policy shifts implemented by the port, including increases in electricity and water rates at the Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC).