y Travis Cartwright-Carroll
NASSAU, Bahamas — Former prime minister of The Bahamas, Hubert Ingraham, said in a letter to the editor that his administration never tried to purchase the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) because the Port “enjoyed good leadership” at the time.
Today, Ingraham said, the Port, absent of the late Edward St George and the late Sir Jack Hayward, needs new leadership.
“In short, my administrations never sought to purchase the GBPA or to put new leadership in place because during my terms in office the Port enjoyed good leadership,” he said.
“My three administrations were able to collaborate with the Port owners in doing the necessary for Freeport and Grand Bahama to prosper.
“Today we do not have the benefit of Edward St George and Sir Jack Hayward as owners, managers and promoters of Grand Bahama. And so, I continue to believe the Port Authority needs new leadership. It needs new ownership. And, Freeport needs new and additional investment.”
St George and Hayward led the Port for over two decades.
Ingraham was responding to a Freeport News editorial, which criticized him for not purchasing the Port during his time as prime minister.
Last week, Ingraham said the Minnis administration should purchase the Port instead of the Grand Lucayan resort complex.
The editorial, dated August 9, said, “Well, he was the chief executive in the land on three occasions with tremendous clout and nothing is on record of any of his governments making any inroads on purchasing the GBPA and putting in new leadership, as he now suggests his successor in the FNM leadership post, Dr. Minnis, should do.”
But Ingraham defended his legacy and meticulously detailed why his government did not need to buy the Port.
When the FNM took office in 1992, Ingraham said, Freeport’s economy was in the “doldrums”.
He said his administration eventually partnered with St. George and Sir Jack to stimulate investment on Grand Bahama, which included amending the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.
“The result of those legislative amendments followed by targeted promotional tours and the good working arms-length relationship we established with the GBPA was the inflow of hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign direct investment into the Freeport economy,” he said.
“Significantly, we facilitated Hutchison Whampoa’s entry into the Freeport economy in 1995, not only as developers of the container transshipment port but as 50 percent owners with the St George and Hayward families in the Grand Bahama Harbour Company, the Grand Bahama Development Company and the Grand Bahama Airport Company.”
Under his first two administrations, from 1992 to 2002, the former prime minister said, Freeport saw “greater economic expansion than it had seen in a generation”.
Unemployment on Grand Bahama, he said, dropped below seven percent.
Ingraham said Freeport saw numerous developments during this time including “a world class energy company into ownership of Freeport’s electricity company (with a requirement that opportunity be made available for Bahamian ownership in the company); the development of the Grand Bahama Container Transshipment Port; the Grand Bahama Ship Yard; the Bradford Marine Mega Yacht Repair Facility; the redevelopment of the international airport; the beginning of the sea/air business center; the construction of the 740-room Our Lucaya Resort; the development of the Pelican Bay Marina Village; the redevelopment of the Princess Hotel; the expansion of oil transshipment and storage; the entry of new and additional pharmaceutical companies; the entry of new manufacturing companies including Polymers International; and the expansion of upscale residential developments among other developments”.
“My government also oversaw the expansion and upgrade of the government operated education footprint in Freeport, the introduction of local government and the substantial upgrade of public infrastructure outside of the Port area and eased access to a myriad of public services (passport office, judicial services, business license, car and drivers’ licensing),” he said.
Ingraham said, “My government was satisfied that the leadership of the GBPA, if not always in sync with the government, was engaged and determined to continue to expand economic opportunities in Freeport which would grow opportunities for all of Grand Bahama.”
But, he added, “Time, health and age have had its impact on the leadership of the GBPA and the company, for whatever reasons, was unable to ensure a strong leadership succession plan.
“Early in the 2000s the principal owners St George and Sir Jack began contemplating the sale of the GBPA.
“Then in 2004 Edward St George passed following complications from surgery.
“A nasty court battle ensued over the ownership of the Port.
“That court action occupied the attention of the owners during much of the period between 2004 and 2012, and distracted their focus and attention away from the business of Freeport.
“The management/leadership of the Port went through a series of transitions, none satisfactory to the owners.
“By the time the intra-family court wrangling was settled, the health of Sir Jack had begun to deteriorate.
“Notwithstanding, the owners of the GBPA entertained a number of proposals for new private sector ownership but the St George and Hayward families never reached agreement on a sale.
“Also, during this period, the lack of focus on new and expanded investment by the owners of the Port was compounded by the fallout from the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States of America, the series of hurricanes which began impacting Grand Bahama in 2004 and then by the 2007 Great Recession which impacted not just Grand Bahama and The Bahamas but the global economy and hence the global investment climate.
“Grand Bahama’s second economic boom had ended and the international investment climate, like Freeport, was in the doldrums.
“Then Sir Jack passed in 2015.
“Under these very different circumstances and given the known interest of the owners of the GBPA in finding suitable new owners for the Port, it is in my view an opportune time for the government to consider entering into a public-private arrangement to purchase the interest of the St George and Hayward families in the Port and in its attendant group of companies in which the families hold 50 percent ownership.”
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian