Businessman Ethric Bowe said yesterday that had the government consulted the public on the Nassau cruise port development before issuing request for proposals (RFP) there would be fewer concerns over the transparency and fairness of the bidding process.
“The Cabinet can perhaps propose the parameters that would cause someone to get the bid,” he recommended, when contacted for comment.
“They (the government) put the parameters in place; they say the company has to do this, this, and this. They lay it out and they put it to the public. The public may say they should do this, and that as well. After that, that’s fine — the government and the public have come up with the criteria for the company that will win the bid.
“Then you put it out to bid and then it’s almost automatic unless a company bids and there is something wrong with them.”
There have been concerns in some quarters about the government’s ability to be unbiased in the RFP process, as well as criticisms that process may have been compromised through its origins in an unsolicited proposal submitted in July by UK-based Global Ports Holdings (GPH), the world’s largest cruise port operator.
The RFP document states, “The RFP is being issued by the government following upon an unsolicited proposal submitted to it for the project”.
GPH operates cruise ports in Mediterranean, Atlantic and Asia-Pacific regions.
Its Bahamian partners are BISX-listed Arawak Port Development (APD) Company and CFAL (formerly Colina Financial Advisors).
“Anything that isn’t on top of the table, you can’t be acting in the people’s interest,” Bowe said.
“I don’t know why, if you are acting on my behalf, you have to keep it a secret from me.
“That [applies] with all the deals they are making. Anytime it is secret, it’s a deal.”
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis assured Tuesday that the cruise port bid process will be fair.
When asked how the government will ensure this, Minnis said, “The entire process has been fair and we will make it as transparent as the world allows. It will be very transparent.”
This week, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar labelled the concerns about the bidding process as “absolute rubbish”.
Speaking to the initiation of the RFP process, the minister said after the government received GPH’s proposal “we said stop, let’s do an RFP process, and make it fair and transparent”.
He also said a committee of civil servants and industry professionals will be selected to evaluate the merit of the bids.
However, as of Tuesday that committee had yet to be formed.
The two-month RFP periods ends today.
The government is expected to select a preferred bidder within 21 days, according to the RFP.
It remains unclear how the decision process will be carried out.
Similar to Bowe, an influential economist, who did not wish to go on record, also suggested yesterday that the RFP process was far too opaque and subjective in absence of stakeholder consultations.
The source said the lack of public involvement with such major projects give rise to concerns about the decision-making process.
Asked whether the government’s assurances of a fair bidding process, including the planned review, sufficiently quell concerns, Bowe said, “No, really it doesn’t. I had great hopes for Dionisio because when he [was appointed], I figured [he’s a] businessman and all this kind of stuff, but there is something about being there that impacts people.
“The only way we are going to fix it no matter who you put [in office] is by changing systems to force things to be done publically.
“That’s what we need. We need it to be done publically. We need fairness and we need competition.”
According to GPH’s 49-page proposal, the development phase of the project is projected to have a cumulative impact of $285.7 million from 2019 to 2021 through the infrastructure investment and jobs created.
The impact of the operational phase on the Bahamian economy was estimated at $216 million in the first year as a direct result of increased cruise passenger arrivals, on-shore rates and cruise tourist spending.
It further projected that the cumulative impact of the project would be $3.7 billion over a 10-year period (2022-2031).
As part of the proposal, the consortium proposed developing a waterfront entertainment park; allowing GPH, as the operator, to address the maintenance, operation, and development of the Nassau’s cruise port; increasing the berthing capacity through the extension of the central pier; revitalizing the downtown area; and facilitating an environmentally friendly solution for traffic congestion by developing tram and electric vehicles.
The proposal also planned for Bahamian participation in investment opportunities, and a charitable effort dubbed the “YES Foundation”.
In September, Chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employer’s Confederation (BCCEC) Mike Maura told The Tribune that every household across New providence would benefit if the island’s sole cargo port operator expands into Nassau’s cruise port and liquefied natural gas (LNG) bunkering.
Maura, the chief executive of APD, asserted that the diversification would boost shareholder returns and enable the company to lower tariffs and fees, which he said could be passed on to Bahamian households in the form of lower prices for goods.