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Meeting spurs public-private economic debate

The first Bahamas Economic Recovery Strategy Meeting was held in Nassau yesterday, drawing key figures in government and industry together to debate a national economic plan. Pictured: (left-right) Minister of Investment Khaalis Rolle; Prime Minister Perry Christie; and Chester Cooper, president of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation. 

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TheBahamasInvestor.com
Friday, September 28, 2012
Friday, September 28, 2012

Private Public PartnershipThe government held political consultations with a cross-section of stakeholders during the inaugural Bahamas Economic Recovery Strategy Meeting September 27.

Minister of Investment Khaalis Rolle said that he saw the talks as crucial to the nation’s economic recovery and to help secure much needed jobs.

“For too long we’ve done things in a way that wasn’t consistent with true private/public sector partnership and today we’re going to begin that dialogue,” he said.


In his opening remarks, Prime Minister Perry Christie echoed similar sentiments saying that public consultation is exactly what the country requires. Stakeholders must have an open line of communication with the government in order to fully understand the latter’s views, he said.

Christie added that he is considering adopting an initiative first brought on stream by the country’s first Prime Minister, the late Sir Lynden Pindling. Sir Lynden established a council of economic advisors.

“It should be institutionalized, so that if another government wants to change it, they would have to go to Parliament and change it,” Christie said.

He added that these advisors would be public servants, recruited on the basis of their capacity to “examine the economy in its entirety, with the ability to help the government plan the economic future of the nation.”

Thursday’s event, held at the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau, was designed to canvass the concerns of various sectors. The open discussions focused on an interim and long-term plan for economic development for The Bahamas, industrial diversificiation and sector coordination.

During his address, Christie touted the successes that developers have had in The Bahamas. In Bimini, he pointed to the Florida-based Capo Group’s development of Bimini Bay and its parternship with the Malaysia’s Genting Group to open a 10,000 sq ft multimillion-dollar casino. He also noted that San Salvador’s Club Med had significantly increased employment on the island.

He also noted some of the challenges faced by the jurisdiction, including unemployment, crime and slow economic growth.

“It’s incumbent upon Bahamians to develop their own country, rather than have foreigners do it for them,” he said.

He urged Bahamians to look at ways to diversify the economy, particularly in sectors such as agriculture and fisheries.

According to the Prime Minister, The Bahamas has 30,000 arable acres in Grand Bahama, 50,000 in Abaco and nearly 200,000 in Andros. The land, he said, is comparable to Florida’s farmlands.

“We have to look at our country to see how we are going to move forward. What kind of economic model we are going to need,” he said. “We have a wonderful opportunity to bring the country back. We have to find a way to work together.”

Chester Cooper, president of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, called the meeting “a revolutionary step” in terms of “getting the conversation going.”

“Many times in our business we have management retreats, but we never really sit as associations, chambers, or business people to have economic retreats,” said Cooper.

Stuart Bowe, president of the Bahamas Hotel Association, said that there were several bright spots on the horizon in tourism.

“The Warwick company just purchased the Paradise Island Harbour Resort. Atlantis is refreshing their properties. BahaMar is bringing in more rooms. We have the best airport in the region [and] the roads are being completed,” he said.

“In 2014, we have the World Cup in Brazil. In 2016, we have the summer Olympics in Brazil. So we are poised, certainly from a tourism standpoint, to do our part and we look forward to partnering with all of you.”

In recent times the BHA has presented several recommendations to the government in order to gain assistance.

It has asked the government to put in place incentives to spur economic activity, particularly in small hotels and businesses on the Family Islands. It has also spoken to the government about the revitalization of downtown Nassau. BHA has also underscored the need to improve energy efficiency and lower utility costs.

“I don’t believe that any country in this hemisphere has had the level of foreign direct investment dollar value, as well as per capita, that The Bahamas has had over the past 20 years,” says Rolle. “But, when you look at the downstream benefits of that foreign direct investment, The Bahamas has not lived up to its obligations. It’s not maximized its potential. We hope this dialogue really begins a sincere process to get the economy back on track and to develop a long-term philosophy on how we manage this country.”

Attending Thursday’s event were Chamber of Commerce representatives from Nassau, Grand Bahama and major Family Islands.

The meeting also attracted members of the Bahamas Contractors Association, the Bahamas Real Estate Association, the Bahamas National Trust, The Bahamas Cooperative Credit League, the Bahamas Motor Dealers Association, The Bahamas Small Hotel Network, the Landscape Association, Marine Operators of The Bahamas, the Nassau Tourism Development Board and the National Congress of Trade Unions.

tblair@dupuch.com

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