In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the resources of both the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development and the Ministry of Works and Urban Development were expended to bring assistance to the very large hurricane relief effort rendered by private firms and individuals from abroad and within The Bahamas, said Prime Minister Perry Christie.
The nation’s chief revealed this information, during the staging of the 19th Annual Grand Bahama Business Outlook (GBBO) at the Grand Lucayan Resort on Thursday (March 9).
In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, with government assistance, approximately 314 homes have completed repairs from the East End to West End, Grand Bahama at a coupon value of some $5 million, Christie added.
The government made coupon distributions of materials for 964 households at a coupon value of $1.6 million and underwrote repairs to 18 schools and nine government buildings at a value of $1.5 million.
In addition, the National Emergency Management Agency’s (NEMA) overall contribution to the Hurricane effort Grand Bahama was estimated at $4.4 million
According to the prime minister, strengthening the overall economy of Grand Bahama Island has been a priority of his administration since taking office five years ago.
“We inherited a situation from the previous administration, where the economy of Grand Bahama was depressed with high unemployment and resultant economic hardships. Tourism was in severe decline with low hotel occupancies,” he said.
Christie said that since, the government has engaged in an expansive and concerted effort to reenergize hotel, airlift and cruise operations and have injected renewed energy into the tourism market.
They also have continued to build the Ministry for Grand Bahama, enact legislation to support medical tourism and invest in infrastructure.
“We have gone further in a landmark effort to stimulate the economy of Freeport. On 5th May 2016, several concessions under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement expired – specifically, real property tax, real property levy, personal property tax, capital levies on taxes on captioned gains or capital appreciation and a zero tax regime in respect of the earnings of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (“GBPA”) the earnings of Port licensees,” he said.
The prime minister pointed out that most concessions remain intact and will not expire until 2054, such as exemptions on customs duties.
For the concessions that did expire last year, however, it will be recalled that it was originally envisaged that these particular concessions would last for a period of 30 years, but had been extended several times, up until the expiration in May 2016.
The concessions had an expiration date from the start because their purpose was to jump start economic growth and activity, attracting investors and businesses, rather than exist in perpetuity. It is germane to this conversation to remember that in spite of the broad and generous concessions, which apply to the Port Area (Freeport) and not to other parts of The Bahamas, Freeport’s economy had been stagnant in recent years. This is in contrast to other parts of The Bahamas, which, without the tax and infrastructure advantages of Freeport, are experiencing significant economic growth through Foreign Direct Investment.
He furthered that the government, some two years ago, engaged the services of the highly respected McKinsey Group who carried out an extensive study in consultation with the Grand Bahama Port Authority, major stakeholders and other relevant parties.
The McKinsey study also made comparative reference to the manner in which government incentives were being applied in other relevant jurisdictions, which were performance based.
“Following their study we appointed a Hawksbill Creek Review Committee comprised of experienced bipartisan and professional individuals, largely drawn from Grand Bahama, to consider the recommendations in the McKinsey Report,” he said.
This was done to review the expiring concessions and to make recommendations to the government, which would enhance the further development of Freeport, improve the contribution to the local and national economy, improve the governance structure in light of today’s realities and meet the expectations of both investors and the people of Grand Bahama.
The Committee made an extensive report to the government.
“It has become abundantly clear from the Review Committee’s Report that in order for the economy of Freeport to grow and develop in line with the original vision and purpose of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, new development approaches, new capital and new promotion expertise are all required to drive expansion of existing industries and the introduction of new ones,” he said.
The Counsellors Ltd. Group (TCL Group) organized the GBBO under the theme, ‘Breaking Barriers and Promoting Success.’ It featured participating vendors such as Aliv, Atlantic Medical, BTC, and Chocolatess Island Delights.
Published Wednesday, March, 15, 2017