Freeport, Grand Bahama – Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham speaks to the media in Grand Bahama at a press conference at OPM, Freeport.
The government will cause the balance of redundancy payments for Royal Oasis workers to paid within the coming days and weeks, and closed out its list of persons owed payment on Monday, at 5:00pm so that it can deal with the persons it knows exist and have entitlements, Prime Minister Ingraham announced Saturday.
Mr. Ingraham’s announcement came during a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister, Freeport.
Press Conference Transcript, Re: Royal Oasis Resort and the Grand Bahama Port Authority
THE PRIME MINISTER: I had a town meeting this morning at the Mary Star of the Sea Hall during the course of which I announced to the assembled persons that the government is going to cause to be paid the workers at the Royal Oasis Hotel the balance of their redundancy payment entitlements and that we had a list of persons who had only been partially paid and that we intended to cause them to be paid also.
[I announced] that there was a list of persons that I had heard about that was not in my possession and that members of parliament in Grand Bahama ought to review that list that we have in our possession between now and Monday at 5:00pm, at which we propose to close the list and deal with those persons that we know exist and have some entitlements. We have a number of all the persons and their names and we propose to cause them to be paid next week or as soon thereafter as it is possible to administratively deal with the matter.
Other than that I indicated that the events at the Grand Bahama Port Authority are proving to be challenging for the government, and that it is our hope and expectation that the matter about the ownership of the Port, removing the Port out of receivership, causing the Port to do what it was set up and established to do is of grave concern to the government and we hope that the matters can be resolved in the shortest possible time.
I propose to be in touch with the principals of the Port Authority, the Haywards and the St. Georges, to ensure that they are fully aware of the government’s concern and desire with respect to a resolution of the issue that impacts upon the Port. It is critically essential for Freeport’s growth and development for there to be a Port Authority that is effective and that is whole and that is focused.
It is not possible for the government to cause Freeport to be steered in the direction we think it needs to be in without having a Port that is effective, a Port Authority that’s functional, a Port Authority that’s not in receivership and a Port Authority without leadership.
I also indicated that while I thought that some economic growth would take place in Grand Bahama and in Freeport in particular over the coming months, I didn’t expect for Freeport to be on an upward curve consistent with what we expect in terms of development and economic growth before the middle of next year, but that we would do and continue to do all we can to spur things on as rapidly as we can, regard being had to constraints which we face and other circumstance.
Q: What sort of measures is the government going to put in place to prevent another situation of investors leaving and abandoning properties, leaving workers without severance?
THE PRIME MINISTER: There are no perfect solutions to anything in this world. Governments that find it necessary to put in place labour laws and constraints that are seen as hindrances to development end up not getting development. Sometimes you end up with a bad situation, but you must not allow one bad situation to cause you to put in place rules that stymie development and growth for the entire development for the entire economy.
There were a number of circumstances that led to Royal Oasis being in the position it’s in. There were adequate warning signs and the government sought not to take steps to deal with the matter. They were indebted to the government for more than $13 million for casino taxes, they own Immigration more than $750,000, they owed Customs, they owed National Insurance, they owed the Union pension fund, they were bouncing checks for employees’ deductions for their wages to pay their loan payments and this was going on for a considerable period of time.
The government did nothing. The government felt at the time that it was doing its utmost, I suppose, to preserve jobs to the maximum extent and eventually the bottom of the bucket fell out.
Now we who are here can second-guess the government and say ‘they could have or should have done lots of things’, but you have a bad economy in Freeport. The present casino that you have is only open because of the government’s money. Some people can argue that the government should not be in that business and the government would have a point of view as to the extent to which it wants to preserve some jobs.
I saw a lady this morning who told me she is working one day a week at one of the hotels and another one who talked about getting paid $2.10 for every room you clean and there is no basic pay. Things are tough in this city. And because things are tough in this city and this island, some unorthodox decisions are taken by the government. It doesn’t cause me to feel that we have a precedent that has to be used elsewhere, but Freeport requires unusual circumstance.
The monies we are going to be paying out to all of these workers over the coming days and/or weeks: if you want to take a hard business/governmental decision you may say the government has no obligation to do so. But Freeport requires a special focus by the government and we are going to fix Freeport. The only thing I ask Freeport is that when we fix it this time, don’t let others come and mess it up again.
We are going to take our time and we are going to fix it. We are going to swallow individual prides and we are going to do all the things that we would normally not do to cause to be restored this economy because we believe that Freeport can be a substantial employment centre and growth centre for economic activity in The Bahamas. You are the industrial capital of the country and we want to cause to be created here the Air/Sea port facility where Associated Distributors is located, to cause you to be what you were envisioned to be 50 years ago.
It’s going to take a little while and we ask for continued patience and understanding of Freeport and Grand Bahama. We will work unceasingly to turn things around for you and then we expect you to be a contributor to the overall revenue of The Bahamas so that we can then help some others in The Bahamas who also need help. But right now we are very focused on your restoration and return to economic growth.
Q: There are reports on repairs to Royal Oasis casino and what is the future of the casino?
THE PRIME MINISTER: I am going to allow all announcements about the Royal Oasis to be made by the persons who are intending to become the new owners. We are not going to be a mouthpiece for any developer. Those who want to tell the Bahamian public something they will speak for themselves.
We are doing what we are supposed to be doing to prepare ourselves in the event of them living up to what they say they are going to do. In the case of paying the workers, we are going to cause the workers to be paid independently of whether or not they carry on. I would not be surprised if they make announcements not long from now.
Q: How much monies are expected to be paid out to the workers?
THE PRIME MINISTER: Millions. How many millions I don’t know now. The reason I say I don’t know now is we have a set of numbers of persons who received some payments from the government before. There are also some persons who received partial payments before. There was an understanding that another group would be paid by somebody else. Indications are that that somebody else is now not going to pay all of those workers as was expected so that is an additional group that has to be considered.
I kept hearing since I’ve been here yesterday about a group of 135. I don’t know anything about them. I’m making available to the members of parliament here a list of all the names which the government has and I am asking them to seek to determine whether or not there are any persons who should have been on that list who are not on that list. I have indicated to them that we are going to close the government’s list at 5:00pm on Monday (October 29) and so if they have additional names and circumstance we’d be grateful if they would make them available to ourselves.
We are going to do the same thing with the Union, to find out from them the same answer. Kwasi Thompson’s father (Attorney James Thompson) represents the Union. We are making available a copy of the list to him because he wrote to my office as the lawyer on behalf of the workers, to see the extent to which what we have is consistent with those he is representing and then we would be in a position to know that we have taken account of the whole thing.
The government will not be collecting its $13 million in casino taxes nor its $750,000 in immigration fess nor its many other hundreds of thousands owed to other agencies of the government. Those dollars will be gone forever from the public’s point of view. There will also be the issue of the Union pension fund. I am led to believe that the pension fund has enough money in it to pay all the persons who are entitled to receive pension benefits, but the Union pension fund is owed, I suppose, more than $3 million. I don’t know what arrangements have been made for that.
At some point we will make full statement in parliament, but at the moment we are not blaming anyone. We are just going to tell the facts and we’ll make some comments in future. This is a very difficult thing to do but it’s the thing that we have to do. I gave an analogy this morning that when you get a dog you take the ticks also. We won the government so we enjoy all the good and we are stuck with all the bad. We are not complainers.
Q: Is the infighting in the GBPA causing a direct impact on investor confidence?
THE PRIME MINISTER: It’s not measurable but from my perspective it would, necessarily so, that you have the quasi government agency in Grand Bahama in receivership, that some accountant from an office in Nassau is having to make major decisions about what the Port does and that the owners of the Port are unable to sit down and run their own business themselves, and that businessmen and investors are unable to look into the eye of an Edward St. George or a Sir Jack Hayward and say ‘this is the deal’ and get an answer.
There is no question about it – the current state of affairs is unacceptable. The Bahamas government and the parliament of The Bahamas did not expect when it did a deal for the Hawksbill Creek Agreement to have a dysfunctional Port Authority. The Port Authority has many legal entitlements. The government of The Bahamas expect the Port Authority to become what it was intended to be and we don’t intend to sit down forever biting our fingernails about the issue.