Dear Mr. Editor,
I read your editorial in Thursday’s edition of the Freeport News and noted your suggestion that during none of my three non-consecutive terms in office did any of my administrations seek to purchase the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) or put in place new leadership. I thought a little memory refresher might assist.
When the FNM was first elected to Government in 1992, Grand Bahama was economically in the doldrums. We partnered with the then leaders of the GBPA, Edward St. George and Sir Jack Hayward, to stimulate investment. We enacted legislation to extend the life of the expired Hawksbill Creek Agreement real property and business licence exemptions for an additional 22 years. We also partnered with the GBPA in a number of investment promotion missions to Europe, Asia and North and South America.
The result of those legislative amendments followed by targeted promotional tours and the good working arms-length relationship we established with the GBPA was the inflow of hundreds of millions of dollars of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the Freeport economy.
Significantly, we facilitated Hutchison-Whampoa’s entry into the Freeport economy in 1995, not only as developers of the Container Transhipment Port but as 50 percent owners with the St. George and Hayward families in the Grand Bahama Harbour Company, the Grand Bahama Development Company and the Grand Bahama Airport Company.
Over the first two of my administrations (1992-2002) Freeport experienced greater economic expansion than it had seen in a generation. That economic expansion resulted in Freeport’s unemployment rate drop to below 7 percent. The developments in Freeport also included the introduction of a world class energy company into ownership of Freeport’s electricity company (with a requirement that opportunity be made available for Bahamian ownership in the company), the development of the Grand Bahama Container Transshipment Port, the Grand Bahama Shipyard, the Bradford Marine Mega Yacht Repair Facility, the redevelopment of the International Airport, the beginning of the Sea/Air Business Centre, the construction of the 740 room Our Lucaya Resort, the development of the Pelican Bay Marina Village, the redevelopment of the Princess Hotel, the expansion of oil transhipment and storage, the entry of new and additional pharmaceutical companies, the entry of new manufacturing companies including Polymers International, and the expansion of upscale residential developments among other developments.
My Government also oversaw the expansion and upgrade of the Government-operated education footprint in Freeport, the introduction of Local Government and the substantial upgrade of public infrastructure outside of the Port area and eased access to a myriad of public services (passport office, Judicial Services, business licence, car and drivers licencing).
A construction boom resulted from the high FDI entering the Freeport economy which was coupled by new investments by Bahamians and by The Bahamas Government stimulating still more economic activity in Freeport.
My Government was satisfied that the leadership of the GBPA, if not always in sync with the Government, was engaged and determined to continue to expand economic opportunities in Freeport which would grow opportunities for all of Grand Bahama. This was Freeport’s second “economic boom”; employment, incomes and living conditions for Bahamians living in Grand Bahama were all improving. And, unlike the boom of the 1960s, many, many Bahamians were enjoying the benefits of the boom as business-owners and employers. The number of business licences issued to Bahamians in Freeport more than doubled; in fact the proportion of Bahamian licensees moved from 20 percent to 80 percent. Under the circumstances, the idea (or need) to seek Government ownership in the Port did not arise. In my view that is not the case now.
Time, health and age have had its impact on the leadership of the GBPA and the company, for whatever reasons, was unable to ensure a strong leadership succession plan.
Early in the 2000s the principal owners St. George and Sir Jack began contemplating the sale of the GBPA.
Then in 2004 Edward St. George passed following complications from surgery.
A nasty court battle ensued over the ownership of the Port. That court action occupied the attention of the owners during much of the period between 2004 and 2012 and distracted their focus and attention away from the business of Freeport.
The management/leadership of the Port went through a series of transitions none satisfactory to the owners.
By the time the intra-family court wrangling was settled the health of Sir Jack had begun to deteriorate.
Notwithstanding, the owners of the GBPA entertained a number of proposals for new private sector ownership but the St. Georges and Hayward families never reached agreement on a sale.
Also during this period the lack of focus on new and expanded investment by the owners of the Port was compounded by the fallout from the 9/11 terrorists attacks in the United States of America, the series of hurricanes which began impacting Grand Bahama in 2004 and then by the 2007 Great Recession which impacted not just Grand Bahama and The Bahamas but the global economy and hence the global investment climate. Grand Bahama’s “second economic boom” had ended and the international investment climate, like Freeport was in the doldrums.
Then Sir Jack passed in 2015.
Under these very different circumstances and given the known interest of the owners of the GBPA in finding suitable new owners for the Port, it is in my view an opportune time for the Government to consider entering into a public-private arrangement to purchase the interest of the St. George and Hayward families in the Port and in its attendant Group of Companies in which the families hold 50 percent ownership.
In short, my administrations never sought to purchase the GBPA or to “put new leadership in place” because during my terms in office the Port enjoyed good leadership. My three administrations were able to collaborate with the Port owners in doing the necessary for Freeport and Grand Bahama to prosper.
Today we do not have the benefit of Edward St. George and Sir Jack Hayward as owners, managers and promoters of Grand Bahama. And so I continue to believe The Port Authority needs new leadership. It needs new ownership. And, Freeport needs new and additional investment.
Hubert A. Ingraham