Nationalise GB Port? Not for now

DEPUTY Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest yesterday said the nationalisation of assets was not currently on the agenda as he responded to a recommendation by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham for the government to purchase the Grand Bahama Port Authority instead of the Grand Lucayan hotel.

Mr Turnquest, Minister of Finance and East Grand Bahama MP, said while the option was not new and had been long considered, any shift on nationalisation would require full agreement by all stakeholders.

“One of the things we share with the former prime minister is that we do need to focus on the economy of Grand Bahama and cause economic activity to happen,” said Mr Turnquest.

“With respect to the Port Authority itself, obviously that is a complex issue as it involves a number of entities. But we recognise status quo is unacceptable so we continue to focus on Grand Bahama and the revitalisation of the economy. It’s why we continue to solicit investment in both tourism and industrial sectors.”

Mr Ingraham - in an interview with The Nassau Guardian - suggested the government should purchase the GBPA instead of the shuttered Grand Lucayan hotel in a bid to “reset” the island.

He wrote: “I am of the view that the government should not purchase the Grand Lucayan hotel; instead it should purchase the port from the Hayward and St George families and also acquire their families’ 50 percent ownership interest in the DevCo, the Harbour Company, the Airport Company and other related entities.

“Grand Bahama needs a reset, and the ownership of the port by the government with some other financially capable strategic partner(s), including Bahamian investors, could be that reset.”

It continued: “The ownership of the port and 50 percent of the Port Group of Companies by the government (and its private sector partners) should establish a new entity heavily managed and directed by private experts.

“I suggest that the international airport and port in Freeport and the DevCo must be components of the new entity so that sensible costs can be structured to improve the attractiveness of travel to Grand Bahama given its proximity to the USA.

“The licensing and regulatory responsibilities of the port might then be transferred to local government authorities in Grand Bahama. The new entity, with government and private ownership, would focus on the business of developing the whole Grand Bahama district.

“Such a permanent solution to the vagaries of the Freeport economy will obviate the ‘boom’ and ‘bust’ experiences associated with this area of the Bahamas for years that I choose not to recall.”

In response Mr Turnquest said: “It is not a current issue for us however we continue to look at innovative ways to reimagine what Grand Bahama can be, and to look for partners who can help us to realise the full potential of Grand Bahama, and Freeport in particular.

“It is possible,” he said to The Tribune when asked about the viability of Mr Ingraham’s proposition.

“However, we don’t have to acquire it and we will continue to evaluate all options in the public interest. These are thoughts that have been considered for many years, and as we evaluate all options to spur development, it’s on the table.

 “But we are not in the business of nationalising assets and any adjustments going forward would have to be agreed by all parties.”

There has been a national discussion on the government’s possible move to purchase the Grand Lucayan properties after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis recently told Free National Movement supporters on Grand Bahama his administration will not allow the resort to permanently close its doors and would buy the resort if necessary.

The Grand Lucayan closed in 2016 for repairs following Hurricane Matthew; only one of its three properties has opened its doors since then – the 196-room Lighthouse Pointe.

Last week, Canadian developer Paul Wynn confirmed he had pulled out of talks to buy the hotel, saying the potential purchase lacked “economic feasibility”.