AG hails ‘greatest ever Out Islands investment’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Attorney General yesterday asserted that the Davis administration is making “the greatest investment in the Family Islands of the country that we have seen since independence”.

Ryan Pinder used his Budget debate contribution in the Senate to tout numerous initiatives that showed “we are not Nassau-centric” as he focused on planned infrastructure and agriculture investments beyond New Providence. In similar vein, he also hailed the various tax breaks and incentives designed to stimulate first-time home buyers, the housing and construction sectors as “the most expansive set of concessions in the history of The Bahamas”.

Pointing to the Family Island Development Trust Fund, which is to be seeded with $200m in capital, and financed by 10 percent of all real property tax and Road Traffic Department fees collected on these islands, he said: “This fund will facilitate the Government in making immediate and significant investment in Family Island infrastructure through strategic private-public partnerships (PPPs) where Government investment can be leveraged with private sector success.

“We also propose to leverage aviation-related revenue, inclusive of to the extent permissible overflight fees, to create a fund for aviation infrastructure, which would be another sub-fund of the National Infrastructure Fund. We would then be in a position to co-invest with professional airport developers and operators to properly invest in the logistics and tourism hubs of our family of islands, our airports.”

The Bahamas is on track to collect between $28m and $32m in overflight fees during the regime’s first year in operation, Senator Michael Halkitis, minister of economic affairs, said in an earlier hearing. However, given that these revenues were supposed to finance the Civil Aviation Authority and other aviation-related agencies and infrastructure, ending annual multi-million dollar taxpayer subsidies to them, it is unclear how much money will be left over for the Out Islands.

Still, Mr Pinder added: “In all examples under the National Infrastructure Fund, the Government are real capital investors in the projects. Return for investment. We look to expand this concept in areas such as renewable energy investments; growth fund for the Family Islands where government promotes the development of needed infrastructure supporting the sustainable tourism segment, and a food security fund to promote development of sustainable food production to improve self-dependence and exports.”

Turning to Family Island agriculture, he said: “This cultivation centre at Hatchet Bay will be a model one-stop shop for agri-business that will be rolled out nationwide in our agricultural centres. Ensuring this infrastructure is in place ensures that agriculture develops in a full circle environment, from the farm to the table and on the shelves in the store.

“We also note that farmers and any growth will require government support. Countries the world over make it a practice to subsidise agriculture to ensure that they have an element of food security. We have made provisions in this budget to put together a viable concessionary regime for agriculturalists in specifically-identified food security areas.

“For example, we as a government believe that poultry can provide an almost immediate catalyst to stimulate food production in the country. We have a plan, detailed in part in the Budget, to attract the best technology and processes to develop a full-scale poultry production operation. This includes a series of concessions that will be available,” Mr Pinder continued.

“These concessions include land concessions (BAIC and the Ministry of Agriculture have thousands of acres for agricultural development) as well as electricity rate concessions to producers and direct cash subsidies, as found in this Budget, for the support of poultry farmers and producers. In this Budget, we are allocating $500,000 in direct support for farmers.”