Government of The Bahamas
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
In my Communication to Parliament last week, I introduced the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investment Incentives (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in the context of measures and incentives for the recovery of Grand Bahama economy following the massive devastation of Hurricane Matthew.
In that Communication, I also pointed out that “in order to bring about early and sustained economic recovery that will benefit the people of Grand Bahama in this current emergency, we must do whatever we can to protect and create businesses and jobs”. The amendments being proposed to Section 14, Section 15 and the Schedule to the Principal Act are directly related to achieving that objective.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the lack of basic communication services and the ongoing recovery effort, more time is needed for licensees to avail themselves of the opportunity to apply for concessions available under the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investment Incentives Act 2016. The Principal Act is deemed to have come into force on 4th May, 2016 and the demand deadline for making application is 4th November, 2016. An amendment is 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. The exercise to produce the framework for a One Stop Shop within Freeport is underway. The One Stop Shop, which is needed now more than ever as a result of Hurricane Matthew, is intended to optimize the process for approving new businesses in the Port Area by harmonizing the agencies required for investor outreach and business development. More time is needed for public consultation, before finalizing the Regulations and the One Stop Shop, as well as putting in place the necessary administrative machinery and staff.
Under Section 14 of the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investment 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 twenty 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. The opportunity is therefore being taken to make amendment to list the affiliated companies in the Schedule and to allow the Minister responsible to amend the Schedule to the Act by Order.
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, we are 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 the Grand Bahama Port Authority and the licensees in Freeport, both large and small in their recovery efforts to benefit the economy and the people of Grand Bahama.
The provisions of the Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investments Incentives Act 2016 and the amending Bill we are considering today, are vitally linked to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) made on 26th April, 2016 between the Government of The Bahamas, the Grand Bahama Port Authority Limited, Freeport Harbour Company Limited, the Grand Bahama Development Company Limited and Freeport Commercial and Industrial Company Limited. That MOU will not only chart the course of further development in Grand Bahama, but provide for Government to acquire shares in certain of the companies, place directors on their Boards, generally to align the functions of the Grand Bahama Port Authority with those of the Government, and attract new capital investment in the Grand Bahama Port Authority, among other measures which are in keeping with international best practices, the welfare of the people of Grand Bahama and economic growth.
Assessment of damages, relief, clean-up and restoration of buildings and infrastructure continues unabated. The water supply has been restored and as of last Friday Freeport Power had restored electricity to 90% of the customers with plans to restore electricity to the entire Island of Grand Bahama including West End by November 15th.
Due to the vital economic importance of the hotels and Container Port, I have been in communication with the principals of Hutchison Group appealing for repairs to be carried out as soon as possible. I have also appealed to Sunwing to restore their suspended flights as soon as the necessary repairs have been carried out with a view to reopening for the winter season.
I am pleased to report that a preliminary financial damage Assessment Report on Hutchison owned properties was received from the Adjustor on November 3rd. An owners’ project director has been appointed and is now on site working to identify and appoint contractors so that the necessary repairs can urgently proceed. Quantity surveyors have been appointed and will be on island next week to begin the project. Memories and the Casino will be the first buildings to be restored. I am advised that contractors are on site looking at the facilities and within the next week management will be in a better position to give a more realistic completion date. Management has confirmed that the Lighthouse Pointe Building of 198 rooms, along with Food and Beverage facilities will re-open on November 7th.
The following updated report has been received from Hutchison Ports.