By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government has received three bids, ranging in investment value from $130m to $250m, for the contract to manage and operate Nassau’s cruise port.
There was little surprise as to the contenders’ identity when the bids were officially opened at the Ministry of Finance yesterday in the presence of all three groups who submitted documentation in time to meet Friday’s deadline.
Tribune Business sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the three bidders as the Global Ports Holding consortium; the Nassau Cruise Port group; and the Nassau Port Partners collective.
Global Ports Holding, which operates multiple cruise ports in Europe and the Far East, together with its Bahamian partners - BISX-listed Arawak Port Development Company (APD) and CFAL (formerly Colina Financial Advisors), triggered the open “beauty contest” for Prince George Wharf through their submission of an “unsolicited proposal” earlier this year.
This newspaper was yesterday informed by multiple contacts that the “base” value of its proposed investment to upgrade, and transform, The Bahamas’ main cruise port was the highest of all three bids at around $250m.
Its “unsolicited” 49-page proposal, previously exclusively revealed by Tribune Business, said its plans to transform Nassau’s cruise port will give the economy a $16bn boost spread over 30 years. This was based on a $285.7m upgrade of Prince George Wharf through a waterfront entertainment park that would inject an extra $216m into the Bahamian economy in the first year alone.
The formal bid valuation suggests that Global Port Holdings’ offer, while it has likely been tweaked and enhanced, may not have changed significantly over the past several months.
Meanwhile, the second-highest investment spend - at $225m - was said to have come from the Nassau Port Partners consortium, which features Bahamian investment house Providence Advisors, headed by Kenwood Kerr.
Mr Kerr appears to be facing a busy Christmas when it comes to public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure investments as he is heading the group attempting to finalise the contract to take over management/operations at the New Providence landfill.
The third and final bid, valued at $130m, came from Nassau Cruise Port. This is a consortium featuring the major cruise lines and the 50-strong Bahamian investor group, Cultural Village (Bahamas), together with their local financing partner, RoyalFidelity Merchant Bank & Trust.
Cultural Village (Bahamas) is headed by Gerald Strachan, the former Family Guardian president, and other key players in the group are understood to include former Central Bank of The Bahamas governor, Julian Francis, and Craig Tony Gomez, the Baker Tilly Gomez accountant and principal. Ex-tourism minister, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, is an adviser to the group.
“At least there’s some competition in terms of the port,” one source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business of the three bids.
Another added: “I’m sure we have three good groups who have made three good proposals. There are eyes on it, and the process should be clear and above board. It’s full disclosure in full public view. Let’s hope they get started quickly on the assessments. The main beneficiaries of this will be The Bahamas and its people.”
The cruise port bidding process came under scrutiny last week amid anonymous claims that the Request for Proposal’s (RFP) fairness and transparency had been compromised through its origins in the Global Ports Holding proposal.
While this was dismissed by Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, and others, several fresh concerns were raised yesterday.
Tribune Business sources pointed out that, in evaluating the Global Ports Holding bid, the Government and its technical committee will effectively be assessing themselves given that the Government holds a 40 percent equity ownership interest in APD.
And there are likely to be concerns over a potential “conflict of interest” relating to the involvement of the major cruise lines in one of the bids, since they would be both operator and customer if the group was selected as Prince George Wharf’s manager.
The cruise lines have recently come under increasing scrutiny by many Bahamians amid the perception that they retain the vast majority of the industry’s economic benefits, while this nation gets the crumbs, especially given their increased reliance on private islands where they control the majority of attractions and activities.
Tribune Business sources said there were also concerns over the composition of the technical committee the Government will form to evaluate the bids, and whether it will complete its assessment and selection of the preferred bidder within the 21-day timeline given that Christmas will intervene.
Most participants are understood to be expecting that this December 28 deadline will be missed, and the selection and evaluation process will continue into January.