PM Christie: Needs of Grand Bahama Must be Addressed Quickly

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George Wilson presents to Prime Minister Christie the state of his community following Hurricane Matthew.
George Wilson presents to Prime Minister Christie the state of his community following Hurricane Matthew.

NASSAU, The Bahamas — Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie said in the House of Assembly, on November 2, 2016, that as a result of the devastation on Grand Bahama by Hurricane Matthew, it has become necessary to “quickly” assess the situation and take such measures as are necessary to protect and sustain its economy as the Government seeks to relieve human suffering.

“While various social and humanitarian programs are being implemented, Government, at the same time in consultation with the private sector, is taking the necessary steps to rebuild, repair, reopen and expand the many businesses and public infrastructure which have been severely impacted by the Hurricane,” Prime Minister Christie said during his Communication. “This is in addition to assistance which is being made available for the restoration of so many homes which have been damaged or destroyed.”

He added that in order to bring about early and sustained economic recovery that will benefit the people of Grand Bahama in the current emergency, the Government must do whatever it can to protect and create businesses and jobs.

“The economy of Grand Bahama is built upon the pillars of tourism, shipping and industry,” Prime Minister said. “The tourism and shipping sectors have been severely impacted. Most of the hotels are closed including Memories and the Grand Lucayan. Freeport Harbour, the Container Port and the Grand Bahama airport, all majority-owned by the Hutchison interests have suffered extensive damage.”

As a result of lack of available hotel room inventory, he pointed out, Sunwing which supplies the majority of the airlift had suspended flights indefinitely, pending necessary repairs. Bahamas Celebration, which delivers significant stopover visitors, had been diverted to Bimini, he added.

“In light of this unfortunate situation, I have written to the principals of Hutchison, owners of the Container Port and the three hotels in Lucaya with the largest room inventory in Freeport, appealing to them to effect repairs as soon as possible and in time for the winter season,” Prime Minister Christie noted. “I have also pointed out that the repair and reopening of the hotels would put them in a better position to positively influence the possible sale of the properties.

“We have also appealed to the president of Sunwing to effect hotel repairs and resume flights as soon as possible.”

Prime Minister Christie noted that due to the foregoing circumstances and in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the lack of basic communications services and the ongoing recovery effort, it is both “expedient and necessary” to effect amendments to the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investments Incentives Act 2016, to allow more time for licensees to avail themselves of the opportunity to apply for concessions available under that Act.

Currently under section 15 of the Principal Act, he pointed out, applications for concessions must be made within six months from the date on which the Act came into force, and where any licensee fails to make application within the specified time, such exemptions shall cease to apply upon the deadline of the application period.

“The Principal Act is deemed to have come into force on 4th May, 2016, and the current deadline for making applications is 4th November, 2016,” Prime Minister Christie said. “An amendment is, therefore, being proposed to extend the time for making an application under the Act from six months to ten months, and to allow the Minister responsible to extend the time period for the making of an application by Order.”

Draft Regulations have been prepared and are in circulation among stakeholders, Prime Minister Christie said. The exercise to produce the framework for a “One Stop Shop” within Freeport is underway, he added.

“The One Stop Shop is intended to optimize the process for approving new business in the Port Area by harmonizing the agencies required for investor outreach and business development,” he said. “More time is needed for public consultation, before finalizing both the regulations and the framework for the One Stop Shop, as well as putting in place the necessary administrative machinery and staff.”

Prime Minister Christie said that under section 14 of the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investments Incentives Act 2016, the companies listed in the Schedule and their existing affiliates, subsidiaries, and joint venture companies, existing at the time of the commencement of the Act, shall be entitled to the benefit of the concessions set forth in the Act for a period of 20 years — subject to fulfillment of their respective obligations under any existing agreement with the Government.

“The Hutchison Group has indicated their considered view that the affiliated companies should also be named in the Schedule to the Act,” he said. “The opportunity is therefore being taken to make an amendment to list the affiliated companies in the Schedule and to allow the Minister responsible to amend the Schedule to the Act by Order.”

Prime Minister Christie stated that, as a vital part of the efforts being undertaken by my Government to bring relief and economic recovery to Grand Bahama in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, his Government is seeking to encourage Hutchison to repair and reopen their hotels, as well as to both restore the damages to the Container Port while at the same time proceeding with the planned expansion to the Container Port.

“We shall also encourage and support the efforts of Grand Bahama Port Authority and the licensees in Freeport, both large and small in their recovery efforts to benefit the economy and people of Grand Bahama,” Prime Minister Christie said.