We still await transparency on Grand Lucayan

The government of The Bahamas is today expected to sign an agreement with an American company to purchase the troubled Grand Lucayan Resort in Freeport, an ultimately $200 million albatross that has hung around the necks of the Bahamian taxpayer since August 2018, if estimates stated by the tourism minister are accurate.

The news of a sale brings some relief in that we hope the taxpayers will no longer be directly responsible for a hotel the government was ill-advised to purchase to begin with.

It was a political move that made little fiduciary sense and barreled into absurdity as time drew on with even the man chosen to head the special purpose vehicle and sale negotiations publicly suggesting that the deal that the Minnis administration negotiated was not in the best interests of the Bahamian people.

In December of last year, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper advised via a press release that government, through its special purpose vehicle, Lucayan Renewal Holdings Limited, terminated by mutual consent the resort’s 2020 purchase agreement with Bahamas Ports Investments Limited (BPI), a joint venture partnership between Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and the ITM Group.

Stating that the Davis administration “was frankly not satisfied with what was proposed” by the joint-venture developer, and that there are “several noteworthy entities that have credible interest in the property”, a matter of this importance ought not have been principally brought to the public via a press release which managed to leave many questions unanswered about the Grand Lucayan matter.

A day after government made its announcement, the Royal Caribbean Group in a press statement advised that the purchase agreement was mutually terminated “after the ITM Group made the decision not to proceed with the acquisition”.

This was the first time the public was made aware of this information in the three months since the new administration took office.

What else have we not been told?

Earlier this year, Cooper outlined a process through which the Grand Lucayan sale would occur and our understanding is that several well-resourced groups made significant offers.

However, we have never had a proper accounting of what was spent by the government of The Bahamas, which is continuous and spans the last and current political administrations.

By no stretch of the imagination should the Davis administration believe that concluding a sale is the last we deserve to understand of what has transpired while the resort rested in government hands.

We welcome the details of the sale, however, a full accounting to Parliament is the constitutional duty of the Cabinet.

Given the disgraceful waffling by members of the current administration over something as simple as MPs’ public disclosure, we are not sure duty and obligation are subjective notions in the minds of our current lawmakers.

Further to that, selling the Grand Lucayan alone will not restore Grand Bahama’s economy.

Last we checked, Grand Bahama is in need of an actual airport that can meet the standards of the United States for the pre-clearance facility to return.

We have heard of the beginning of a public private partnership process, but have heard no further details to date.

Of critical importance will also be the government’s plan for landing fees at the airport moving forward.

The rates to land at the airport often made it a more expensive destination to reach from Florida than New Providence despite Grand Bahama being closer to the US.

We hold no illusions that the government will secure a sale price that will match the hundreds of millions of dollars of the people’s money Cooper claims was spent.

What would be ideal would be at the least the recouping of the $65 million purchase price and serious commitment to developing the Grand Lucayan as an economic driver of the nation’s second city.

The government must also hold the new buyer to account.

We have seen what happens when a government partner does not take its commitments seriously and the administration essentially looks the other way.

The airport, Freeport Harbour and the new Carnival cruise port will also factor into the revitalization equation.

We hope that Cooper and the Davis administration have approached this venture with the future of Grand Bahama at the forefront and not just seeking to quickly fulfill a political promise.

A holistic vision, the details past, present and future, a trusted partner, and an attentive administration are all needed to ensure Grand Bahama is not neglected yet again.

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