Richard Coulson did a column this past week in The Tribune. In it he claimed that in order for The Bahamas to succeed we need tens of thousands of foreigners to come into The Bahamas. We want to be as delicate as possible about Mr. Coulson. He ought to retire to drinking coffee with the geriatric set in Lyford Cay and go quietly into that good night. Not a very bright man. A chronic complainer about his adopted him. Below the column on that was a story about the Grand Bahama Port Authority which seemed to be his as well that the Grand Bahama Port Authority is a relic of the colonial age, a retardant to growth in Grand Bahama and needs to go. Even though Mr. Coulson is wrong on the first, he is right on the second.
By RICHARD COULSON
#Whenever I look at a map of the Caribbean I am astonished at the size of our country: an archipelago 760 miles long, matching the arc stretching from the Virgin Islands down to Trinidad, giving us sovereignty over the 150,000 square miles of earth and water known as the Lucayan Sea. With a land mass of 5,500 square miles comprising our 700 island and cays, we dwarf most of fellow Caricom members like Barbados, Antigua and Grenada, fly-speck island nations of lovely scenes and vigorous people but not blessed with the God-given geography that makes us unique.
#There’s no other Caribbean nation that comes close to all our advantages:
#· Two distinct government, commercial, financial and tourist centres, with the sophisticated facilities of established Nassau and steadily improving Freeport.
#· The industrial zone of Grand Bahama with its container trans-shipment terminal, ship-repair yard and manufacturing and technology zones.
#· Higher education like the dynamic young University of the Bahamas.
#· Agricultural potential provided by the sweeping fields of Andros.
#· The Western Hemisphere’s two largest resort hotel complexes in Atlantis and Baha Mar.
#· The mini-archipelago of the Abacos, a yachting paradise..
#· The unmatched marine and undersea resources of the Exuma chain.
#· The barely tapped potential of skinny islands like Eleuthera and Long, Cat and Ragged, where choice realty abuts incomparable beaches or shorelines.
#·All the above just across the Gulf Stream from the US market, served by nearly a dozen airports with direct flights to American terminals.
#Until about 50 years ago our dispersion across many islands was a hindrance, not a help, to development. Limited telecommunications and movement only by sail-driven mail-boats, served to keep our citizens apart not bring them together. All that has changed. The Internet and its many digital cousins, plus ever improving air and marine transport, are demolishing the problems of geographical distance.
#Our continuing problem is simply – people. We have plenty of bright Bahamians and the shortcomings of our public primary and secondary education are being addressed. But our present 400,000 population — actuarially predicted soon to level off and decline — is too small to provide the human resources for a growing economy.
#We need radical re-thinking of our immigration policy, to double our numbers to at least 800,000. No growing country can move forward with stagnant population. The United States did not fulfil its destiny by stopping with the Mayflower Party and its Anglo-Saxon descendants from the British Isles. They were followed by successive immigrant waves from Nordic countries, Ireland, Italy, Poles and Slavs, later Latins and Orientals, all of whom entered the melting pot and became proud American citizens. Black Africans, imported disgracefully as slaves, went though the transformation process and joined the national consensus.
#The same must happen with The Bahamas. With millions of educated, qualified foreigners eager to move and work here, our Government can surely pick and choose a few hundred thousand who would soon become proud, contributing, Bahamian citizens. Their race and colour would be immaterial, so our traditional ratio of roughly 90 percent black citizenship would inevitably decline, as we too became a more diverse melting pot.
#Fears of congestion from rising numbers are unrealistic, particularly when spread across many islands. New Providence itself has a density of only about 3,400 people per square mile, compared with Singapore with over 20,000. Many observers point to that compact island nation of 5.6 million as successfully combining a nexus of office towers and hi-rise condos with ample preserved acres of parks and green space. With proper planning, New Providence can develop in the same way, with downtown Nassau accepting the busy citified features of a Miami or Panama while surrounding areas remain residential or suburban. Charles Town’s colonial character can be strengthened.
#Only nostalgia for past ways can hold us back from essential change.
#And nostalgia is a sentiment for the old; the younger generation ignore it. Blind Blake and The Cat and the Fiddle that I enjoyed can be remembered and revered. But today’s tourists and locals packing Baha Mar’s Blue Note are blown away by our Vice Versa trio, whose “sheet music” now consists of digital I-pads carrying infinite tunes. Yes, times do change.
It’s time the Grand Bahama Port Authority called it a day
When the Hawksbill Creek Agreement was signed in 1955, creating the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and the free-trade zone based in Freeport, The Bahamas was still an impoverished Crown Colony. Mass tourism and international banking had barely begun, and the mother country could provide minimal financial support.
Again, times have changed. The entire GBPA structure only survives as a colonial anachronism. After the death of the brilliant Edward St. George in 2004, its role in major new investment sharply declined, as Freeport and GB sank into recession due to family disputes, back-to-back hurricanes and the fading cooperation of major GBPA partner, Hong Kong-based
#Not the GBPA, but our Ministers of Finance and Tourism, together with Minister for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson, and Hotel Corporation chairman Mike Scott, took the lead in announcing and negotiating the purchase and planned resale of the Grand Lucaya Resort, as part of a new tourist centre initiated by Royal Caribbean together with Mexican ITM hotel group, in addition to the separate cruise port being undertaken by Carnival Cruises in another part of the island. These ventures clearly represent the wave of the future in Grand Bahama’s renaissance. The St. George and Hayward family heirs remain owners and directors of GBPA but are rarely visible in creating new business.
#The GBPA remains active with many administrative functions, licensing businesses and providing municipal services throughout Freeport. These responsibilities, and its experienced staff, could be transferred to Government. We already have an active Minister of State for Grand Bahama. His office could be expanded to assume all the responsibilities of the GBPA. This would terminate the peculiar status where most of the island is run by the State with a big chunk in the middle carved out under separate GBPA jurisdiction. Combining them would eliminate numerous turf battles between different regulators each claiming rights of supervision. It would also simplify the continuing financial negotiations wrangling about who collects and spends taxes and duties.
#Of course any such combination or merger would require acquisition of the two families’ controlling equity interests in the GBPA, in effect for years. This should not suggest any form of forced nationalization, but rather a negotiated transaction recognizing fair valuation. Any arrangement must reflect the nation holding sovereign control of its territory, but in partnership with private investors seeking a long-term capital return from financing a major position in Grand Bahama’s growth potential.
#The concept has already been followed with our Nassau’s airport and container port, and it’s expected that our massive new cruise port will follow the same pattern. Acquiring the GBPA would be a larger deal, which must include Hutchison-Whampoa’s under-performing realty holdings and high-cost airport. But our Ministry of Finance, with growing expertise carefully run by Minister Turnquest, should be able to handle the challenge.