Gov’t challenged: Disclose Royal Caribbean’s PI deal


Tribune Business Editor

The Bahamian entrepreneur bidding to restore Paradise Island’s lighthouse yesterday challenged the Government to disclose full details of the revised Royal Caribbean deal that has “massive hurdles” to overcome.

Toby Smith, whose Paradise Island Lighthouse and Beach Club project was shoved aside by the former Minnis administration to make way for the cruise giant’s competing Royal Beach Club interests, urged its successor to provide full transparency so that the Bahamian people can judge for themselves whether it has truly obtained better terms for their interests.

“I think that if the Bahamian government has struck a new deal with Royal Caribbean that they want Bahamians to buy into, they should make public the entire agreement with all the details so Bahamians can decide for themselves if this is yet another ploy where just a few get to benefit,” he told Tribune Business.

The Davis administration has given mixed signals on whether the agreement previously announced is a final, binding version that has received full Cabinet approval or just a preliminary deal that has yet to receive final sign-off. Prime Minister Philip Davis KC was initially reported as saying he expected ground breaking for the Royal Beach Club to be broken“almost immediately”.

However, after Atlantis, in particular, voiced alarm at this statement, both he and Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister and minister of tourism, investments and aviation, clarified that Royal Caribbean’s Paradise Island ambitions now depend on successfully passing environmental scrutiny, and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) satisfying all concerns, before the project can proceed.

Mario Bowleg, minister of youth, sports and culture, yesterday confirmed that the Davis Cabinet has not given full approval to the cruise giant’s Royal Beach Club. “There’s been no final decision made on that deal, so I don’t even know why it’s up for discussion right now,” he said. “It’s again a deal that is in the making and when the final decision is made those responsible for that will make the notation on what it will be.”

Mr Smith, meanwhile, yesterday argued that any go-ahead for Royal Caribbean’s beach club plans on western Paradise Island, in the vicinity of Colonial Beach, remain “a big if”. Pointing out that the 13 acres of residential land acquired by the cruise line will have to be re-zoned as commercial, he also noted that opinion polls showed a majority of Bahamians were opposed to the project.

“This is a massive hurdle,” he argued. “If the Bahamian people are at all consulted on this, there’s clear opposition from Bahamians and major players such as Atlantis and environmental groups. That’s a hurdle Royal Caribbean must first overcome along with the fiasco over the lease of Crown Land.”

Asked whether his project could co-exist with Royal Caribbean’s, given that the latter has reduced its Crown Land footprint and is seemingly no longer seeking the same two-acre parcel he wants, Mr Smith replied: “As a good corporate citizen Paradise Lighthouse and Beach Club is prepared to have a great working relationship with anybody.

“But the fiasco over the lease and the environmental concerns aren’t a good recipe for them to be good near neighbours. If I see a turnaround in their approach, rather than ‘Royal imposition’, then I will assess the situation with them.” Mr Smith also argued that, as a Bahamian-owned and operated project, the profits and economic impact it generates will stay within the country’s economy whereas Royal Caribbean’s will largely be exported overseas.

“As a Bahamian project using Bahamian wholesalers, Bahamian suppliers and Bahamian vendors, our monies will circulate many times through the Bahamian economy whereas with Royal Caribbean, as they have demonstrated through their actions for the past 50 years, they are immediately exported out of the country to the tune of millions of dollars that The Bahamas doesn’t so much as get a look at” he argued.

Royal Caribbean, though, will likely counter that its revised deal with the Government will keep more proceeds circulating in The Bahamas through greater local entrepreneurial and ownership participation. Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister who also has responsibility for tourism, investments and aviation, in unveiling the deal said the Davis administration felt it had resolved all “previous objections” to the cruise giant’s plans through this.

Stating that specific activities at the Royal Beach Club, including water sports, entertainment and food and beverage, will be reserved for local businesses and entrepreneurs, he pledged that Bahamians will also be able to invest in the project and collectively take a 49 percent equity ownership stake. This would leave Royal Caribbean owning the majority interest.

As for the four acres of Crown Land being leased to the cruise giant, Mr Cooper said the Government planned to also convert this asset into an ownership stake in the development that would be held by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, now known as the National Investment Fund. No details were provided on the size of the Government’s equity stake, though, and how much of the 49 percent Bahamian ownership this will account for.

It is also unclear what exactly that ownership will have an interest in. Mr Smith, meanwhile, said he was “encouraged” by the concerns and reservations over the Royal Caribbean project that have been expressed by Atlantis and Glenys Hanna Martin, minister of education.

Of the latter, he added: “She’s a nationalist, she supports Bahamians and is not swayed by the colour of the shirt. She represents all Bahamians. Good for her, good for her.”

As for the Crown Land being leased to the cruise giant, Mr Cooper said the Government planned to also convert this asset into an ownership stake in the development that would be held by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, now known as the National Investment Fund.

It is unclear how much Crown Land will be leased to Royal Caribbean as the Government’s statement did not specify the quantity.

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