The PLP’s hypocrisy on RCI’s beach club

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper yesterday announced the Davis administration approved a $100 million proposal by Royal Caribbean International (RCI) to build a beach club on Paradise Island.

Of the 17 acres on which the project will sit, four are Crown land. They will be used as equity stake in the project, which will be transferred to the Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Bahamians will also be invited to invest in the project and hold equity up to 49 percent, with the remainder being held by RCI.

According to Cooper, RCI will not have equity ownership in any ferry business from Prince George Wharf to the site.

He also said several key activities at the site, including water sports, entertainment, tours, food and beverage, retail, security, environmental monitoring and landscaping will be reserved principally for Bahamian entrepreneurs and businesses.

He also advised that the government will impose a Tourism Development Fund levy of one percent of the annual gross revenue of the Royal Beach Club.

This move will no doubt increase the fortunes of RCI and contribute to the coffers of the treasury, however, we are extremely doubtful that it will not impact business downtown and that Bahamians beyond those employed there and the elite investor class will reap any real rewards.

And it is those same concerns that seemed to inform the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) objections to the project while in opposition.

PLP Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said in March of 2022 that the deal RCI struck with the former administration for the same project on Paradise Island would “set back Bahamian industries and block Bahamians from the enjoyment of asset use and value in what little is available for ordinary Bahamians”.

“This is grossly unfair to Bahamians and the next PLP government will terminate this agreement,” Davis said.

“There are many compelling reasons to support our position.

“First and foremost, any project of this type should be owned and operated by Bahamians, fully utilizing Bahamian entrepreneurs, vendors, artists, entertainers, retailers, tour guides, water taxis, etc.

“Secondly, no non-Bahamian entity should receive preferential consideration over the many Bahamian applicants who have attempted to procure this property.

“Thirdly, all attempts to purchase this property in the past have been denied for reasons overwhelmingly in the public interest.”

Davis also cited possible damage to marine life as a result of the “consequent increase in shuttle traffic between Prince George Dock and Paradise Island”.

He also claimed the businesses of Bahamian entrepreneurs operating on the western end of the beach would be “substantially destroyed”.

Additionally, he said given that the vast majority of tourists come to The Bahamas to visit the beach, giving the Crown lease to a single cruise operator “will unfairly shut out the vast majority of our tourist customers”.

Davis said a better idea would be to lease the land to Bahamian companies that could build an attraction there that could be visited by the public and all cruise line passengers.

At the time, he also urged all Bahamians of conscience and goodwill to reject the deal and added, “Given RCI’s longstanding operations in The Bahamas, there is no proven additional economic value or exercise of any corporate social responsibility.”

Interesting, then, that Cooper said yesterday, however, “RCI has been an outstanding partner with The Bahamas and its commitment to deepening its relationship with The Bahamas was also a key consideration in granting approval.”

We do not think it is a coincidence that Cooper was the deliverer of this announcement.

We have quoted the prime minister’s words when he was leader of the opposition at length to demonstrate the PLP’s reckless hypocrisy on this matter.

Though the PLP indeed terminated the last agreement, which we, too, believed was egregiously bad, this new one does not appear to address many of the issues the PLP itself previously raised.

This is the same RCI that wanted the government to lend it money to purchase its own property.

And this is the same government that terminated that deal.

Cooper said yesterday that final approval of the project is subject to submission and approval of a standard environmental impact assessment and an environmental management plan.

However, environmentalists have previously voiced opposition to RCI’s plan for a beach club in that location.

This should be instructive for the government and the opposition.

When Bahamians say they do not trust what politicians tell them, look no further than RCI’s Royal Caribbean Beach Club.

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