The dire implications of McAlpine’s Ocean Industries Incorporated Bill for Freeport’s economy

Dear Editor,

Perhaps in a move to get under the skin of the Free National Movement administration that sacked him from the Hotel Corporation in 2018, the outspoken Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine tabled a private Bill for an Act to repeal the Ocean Industries Incorporated (Aragonite Mining Encouragement) 1971 in the House of Assembly in early December 2020.

The readership would recall that, much to the annoyance of Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells, House Speaker Halson Moultrie allowed the bill, drafted by Bahamian Evolution, to be read in Parliament.

If I am interpreting Bahamian Evolution correctly, the lobby group seems to be suggesting that if the Bahamian government, and by extension its people, wrest control of the aragonite and mining industries, the state would then be in the position to create a lucrative sovereign wealth fund mirroring the ones in Norway and the United Arab Emirates, in which Bahamians would be collecting upwards of $100,000 annually.

With his Pineridge constituency located on Grand Bahama, McAlpine should’ve been cognizant of the potential dire implications of the Ocean Industries Incorporated Bill for that northern island, which has been in a protracted recession since 2001.

The reason I say this is because Grand Bahama just happens to be the home of Bahama Rock Ltd, a mining company owned by the American based S&P Index conglomerate Martin Marietta, that has 400 locations in 32 US states, Canada and the Caribbean.

With approximately 80 full time jobs, Bahama Rock’s importance to Grand Bahama’s economy cannot be overstated, especially with the challenges at the Grand Bahama Shipyard Ltd and Polymers International and the abysmal tourism industry.

The 80 employees at Bahama Rock are Bahamians, whose dependents probably number in the hundreds. Bahamians working at Bahama Rock don’t just have jobs, but solid careers that pay lucrative salaries that rival those of white-collar professionals in Nassau, and without a college degree. And I am not even talking about those in management.

What’s more, Bahama Rock routinely trains its staff, taking Bahamians throughout the US to its 32 locations for extensive training. In addition to attractive salaries, the Bahamian staff is covered under the company’s catastrophic health insurance, up to $1 million, I was informed.

Bahama Rock treats its Bahamian staff way better than 99.9 percent of Bahamian companies, many of whom circumvent government labor laws in order to maximize the profits of their Bahamian bosses. Moreover, Bahama Rock is one of the most outstanding corporate citizens in Freeport that always extends a helping hand towards worthy causes in Grand Bahama. Bahama Rock is managed and run by Bahamians.

Bahamian Evolution’s bill, if green-lighted, has the potential to destroy a corporate entity that has been a member of the Grand Bahamian family for decades, placing scores of Grand Bahamians on the already overcrowded unemployment line at a time when jobs are few and far between on that northern island, even before the advent of COVID-19.

McAlpine, being a Grand Bahamian, MP and pastor, should be acutely aware of the economic plight facing that island. He has probably seen the long lines at social services, with hundreds of destitute Grand Bahamians looking for handouts.

The hierarchy of Bahamian Evolution, to the best of my knowledge, resides in New Providence. The fact that they are pushing this bill, with Bahamian investor Cameron Symonette of Bahamas Materials Company Limited in their crosshairs, underscores their ignorance of what is going on in Freeport.

My question to Bahamian Evolution and the Pineridge MP is this: if Bahama Rock, owing to your bill, is shuttered, what then is the next move? Will the lobby group then shift its focus on the oil giants BORCO and Equinor South Riding Point?

What’s more, the day ordinary Bahamians are given $100,000 by any Bahamian government will be the day pigs grow wings and fly. I’m afraid Bahamian Evolution, despite its seemingly good intentions, is needlessly raising the hopes of ordinary Bahamians who are financially challenged.

Remember, we are talking about Bahamian politicians in charge of the political system, whose financial tentacles are ubiquitous, extending even into the transportation and fishing industries, competing with ordinary people trying to make ends meet.

Based on my layman’s observations, wealthy Bahamian investors tend to piggyback off of multi-million-dollar foreign investments, taking very little risks in the process. With an economy so heavily reliant on foreigners (e.g., tourists), it is difficult to understand why so many Bahamians are xenophobic.

In closing, I am willing to give Bahamian Evolution the benefit of the doubt regarding its potentially harmful bill, despite the fact that in the group’s quest to frustrate the wealthy Symonette family in its proposed North Andros venture, they will hurt ordinary Grand Bahamian families in the process.

Kevin Evans 

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