NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The government must take some very ‘dramatic steps’ and ‘be bold’ to resurrect the city of Freeport, according to a well-known QC.
Fred Smith, Callenders & Co attorney and partner said: “Freeport and indeed The Bahamas is experiencing an existential threat to our economic survival. More so for Freeport because we have for so long been in a recession and Lord knows why we deserve as much bad luck as we have had.
“Over the last few years there have been so many promising opportunities that were developing for Freeport and by extension Grand Bahama but unfortunately we were struck by Dorian and obviously now the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think that it is important for the government to accept that to resurrect Freeport they are going to have to take some very dramatic steps. They are going to have to be bold and experiment with this economy and to liberalize it in a very dramatic way. The government in their manifesto already agreed to extend the benefits of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.
He said: “The government is going to have to go a lot further and not only extend the benefits that expired but by expanding the free trade zone opportunity that we are competing with with many other locations in the world. With the COVID economic decline we are going to have to be at the front of the competition.”
Smith said that it is no longer ‘appropriate’ for there to merely be discussions between the government, the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and Hutchison Whampoa.
“That discussion needs to be much broader. It’s not a question about what the port group of companies will give to the government in exchange for extensions of the tax provisions. It really is now what can the governor do working with the licensees and the citizenry of Grand Bahama and working with the Port Authority to resurrect Freeport and by extension Grand Bahama to it can become a pillar of the Bahamian economy for decades.”
Smith said the GBPA must become more of a developer rather than simply maintaining the Port Group of companies.
“This is no longer a situation where we can just wait for an investor to be interested in Freeport and Grand Bahama. All of us must work to put Freeport on the cutting edge of economic opportunity and global competition,” said Smith.
“The government will have to make dramatic changes to the Freeport economic landscape. It will have to dramatically amend the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, pass other legislation and really give muscle to the skeleton of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, making business easiest to do in Freeport, cutting through the red tape and extending tax opportunities,” Smith added.
“If we loosen the reigns and liberalize the economy with immigration, exchange controls, removal of the red tape and extended tax benefits, Freeport will see a resurgence and will be a giant of the economy of The Bahamas.”