By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A 50-year Freeport licensee today calls on the Grand Bahama Port Authority’s (GBPA) owners and Hutchison Whampoa to either finally live up to their development obligations or “get out of the way”.
Stephen Crane, the luxury goods and jewellery retail entrepreneur long associated with Freeport’s Colombian Emeralds operation, is joining the call for the St George and Hayward families to “either sell” the city’s quasi-governmental authority or partner with an entity able to fulfill the GBPA’s responsibilities and attract fresh investment.
Echoing the thoughts of many observers, he argues in a letter sent to Tribune Business (see Page 2B) that both the GBPA and Hutchison Whampoa “abdicated their obligations” by effectively “dumping” Grand Bahama International Airport and its multi-million dollar repair costs on the Government post-Hurricane Dorian rather than tackling the task themselves.
“Grand Bahama enjoys unparalleled tax, stability and locational advantages, giving it extraordinary potential for sustainable economic growth, but the Port Authority is no longer fulfilling its obligations to residents and licensees. The Hawksbill Creek Agreement came with many privileges, but it also obligated the Port Authority to sustainably develop Grand Bahama,” Mr Crane wrote.
“In recent years, the Port Authority has both failed to invest itself and has also failed to attract other significant investment to generate sufficient quality employment. When Grand Bahama was ravaged by Dorian, instead of stepping up to re-open Grand Bahama airport... the Port Authority and Hutchison abdicated their responsibilities, dumping the burden on the Government and, in doing so, abandoning their own obligations to Grand Bahama’s residents.”
Mr Crane said Hutchison Whampoa, the Hong Kong-based conglomerate, had shown it was “only interested” in Freeport Container Port and the harbour. While it holds a 50 percent equity stake and management control in Grand Bahama Development Company (DevCO), it has long been viewed as ‘land banking’ rather than developing the thousands of acres under its control.
“Hutchison has proven that it is not the development partner that the Government of The Bahamas or the Port Authority hoped it would be. As such, Hutchison should divest itself of the important real estate holdings it is not developing,” Mr Crane argued.
“The Port Authority does not have the required financial and intellectual resources, or a productive enough working relationship with government, to uphold its development obligations so it should either sell to, or partner with, an entity that does. Currently, the Port Authority and Hutchison occupy the joint positions and responsibilities of the island’s developers, but they are unable or unwilling to fulfill their development obligations. Both entities should do so now or, get out of the way.”
Arguing that change is long “overdue”, he added that “reversing Grand Bahama’s decline” is critical not just to Freeport and the wider island but because it “should be the engine that drives prosperity for all The Bahamas”. Mr Crane’s comments likely reflect the views of many other GBPA licensees, and also align with Friday’s call by the late Sir Jack Hayward’s grandson “to reimagine and revolutionise” the Port Authority.
Mr Crane, speaking to Tribune Business yesterday, said he first came to Freeport in 1968 and has been a witness to much of its development, growth and struggles. “I’ve seen it stall, I’ve seen it decline and it’s time for change,” he said. “Grand Bahama has a lot of problems that are immensely solvable, but they are not solvable by the people occupying the top positions at the developers.
“I found it an incredibly wonderful place to do business and development, and it breaks my heart to see it the way it is. I really care about Grand Bahama. It’s been my home for 50 years. My perspective is that the community has been hollowed out because so many people have left. People that can get up and go have gotten up and gone.”
Mr Crane’s comments come as Rupert Hayward on Friday pledged “an ambitious masterplan for change” to create “thousand of jobs” in Freeport, while backing Prime Minister Philip Davis KC’s stance that Grand Bahama is “in desperate need of progressive and transformational change”.
Speaking after this newspaper revealed the Government is exploring its options over how to bring about Freeport’s revival through what some believe could be the greatest transformation in the city’s management since its founding treaty, the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, was signed in 1955, Mr Hayward indicated his family intend to play a central role in this by acting as a Bahamian partner for “blue chip” foreign investors.
While providing no specifics, Mr Hayward told this newspaper he has already submitted “a new partnership” proposal that “can attract billions of dollars in investment [and] create thousands of jobs” for Freeport and the wider Grand Bahama to the Davis administration.
The Government is presently examining whether change at the GBPA is best achieved through either a private buyer acquiring the Hayward and St George families’ ownership interests, the Government doing itself or the regulatory and quasi-governmental powers being devolved back to Nassau.
Mr Hayward’s statement indicated he is seeking to restructure the GBPA and its relationship with the Government such that the latter has more say over Freeport’s running and future through “a true Public-Private Partnership” that represents the interests of all parties including city residents and GBPA licensees.
The GBPA, while described by some as a ‘regulatory shell’, still possesses considerable powers that include business licensing, building code and environmental enforcement, city management, and the power to levy fees and service charges together with the operation of a free trade zone that offers multiple forms of tax relief to investors.
However, its income-earning assets have been transferred to Port Group Ltd. These include the 50 percent equity stakes in DevCO and the Freeport Harbour Company, likely to be the two families’ most valuable assets, together with interests in multiple other companies such as Freeport Commercial & Industrial, another major landowner.
TalRussell 1 month, 3 weeks ago
Hopefully, Freeporters' are generously sharing in kind from an abundance Dive Jobs and the Royalties off of the Bahamian-made Sea Treasures, Jewelry, ---- Yes?
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