We have witnessed the signing by the Secretary to the Cabinet; the Secretary to the National Economic Council, and Mr. Jim Mosko of the private sector grouping, of a Memorandum of Understanding designed to achieve certain objectives.
It has long been held as an objective of successive Governments of The Bahamas that freight ought to be moved from Bay Street.
We seek firstly to lower the cost of goods and the cost of living for Bahamians by reducing the cost of imported goods. We seek to expand the ownership by Bahamians of an important, profitable sector of the Bahamian economy.
We seek to broaden the ownership in the shipping sector in The Bahamas in particular, and to facilitate and accommodate public and private sector collaboration.
For more than 40 years it has been the objective of successive Governments of The Bahamas to remove freight from down town Bay Street.
Many discussions have been held and many attempts have been undertaken. This is why my first predecessor in Office, Sir Lynden Pindling, so feverishly hoped to accomplish this objective and tried to do so on a number of occasions.
My immediate predecessor, the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie also sought to achieve this objective without success.
I’m very pleased this morning to have a hand in beginning to deliver on the commencement of a 40-year delayed promise to the Bahamian people.
By doing this we will open up significant real property along Bay Street for redevelopment and growth in down town Nassau. We will reduce congestion along the main thoroughfare in our city and we will permit the restoration of our to its earlier days of charm.
Historically, and today, the substantial income derived from shipping activity into New Providence has been owned and controlled by a select few families: the Symonettes, Bethells, Kellys, Farringtons, Roberts – more recently, the Moskos and even more recently – the Lightbournes and the Wells.
Today we are taking action so that income derived from shipping is distributed more equitably and evenly amongst the population of The Bahamas.
60% of profits derived from this enterprise will go to Bahamians other than the historic shipping families – 40% directly by the Government and 20% by the general public. And we look forward to the day when the general public will end up owning the 40% which the Government is now taking as its ownership.
This is a further effort by my Government to deepen and broaden ownership of our economy. We began this exercise during my first term in office with Cable Bahamas and Bank of The Bahamas.
We have a most enviable record in terms of deepening ownership in the Bahamian economy, not comparable to any others before our time or even now.
This will also provide the Government with an opportunity to consolidate its Customs Service at our principal port of entry thereby ensuring that the same rules apply to all items entering the country, so that different customs officers at different ports of entry do not apply different rules and that different practices do not exist.
We now have along Bay Street, Customs posted at John Alfred Warf, Seaboard Marine, Kelly’s Dock, Union Dock and Arawak Cay.
As a result of this Memorandum of Understanding, Customs will be posted at one place – at Arawak Cay.
This will also assist us to better deploy our customs officers, placing an adequate number of officers where they are needed, and permit us to re-deploy some customs officers to be revenue officers.
This will also put us in position to not have scattered all over New Providence, all sorts of so-called ‘bonded warehouses’, because all bonded warehouses will be located at one location on Gladstone Road.
I want to thank all – in the private and in the public sector – who have laboured long and hard to make today possible. I especially wish to thank Jimmy Mosko, Chairman of the Group who has had to liaise between sometimes conflicting views in the private sector on the one side and with the Government on the other, and to pay tribute to the private sector for having the confidence to be able to come together and agree with the Government on this way forward.
It took a great effort on the private sector’s part because they were faced with reducing income which they are now making, and having threats by an Opposition Party that it would discontinue to operation at Arawak Cay.
And so they had to be bold and take my word and my action for it that a deal done with the Government of The Bahamas is a deal done, irrespective of any noise to the contrary in the marketplace.
The Government therefore, looks forward to a harmonious relationship between the private sector and ourselves. We expect that the Port will be managed by the private sector and not by the Government.
The ownership ratio is 40/40/20 – that is, 40% privately owned, 40% government owned and 20% to be made available to the general public.
I look forward to the day when the Government of The Bahamas will be out of this business completely, and do the job which it is best able to do – regulate, as opposed to operate and manage.