New political capital city of the Bahamas in Andros

Sir Lynden Pindling, speaking at the National General Convention of the Progressive Liberal Part in 1981, declared that:

“I have a dream.  I have a dream that one day the capital of The Bahamas will sit on the broad plains of Andros.  New Providence will boast our financial capital, Grand Bahama will host our industrial capital, and Andros will nurture our political capital with much more land to spare.”

I submit that Sir Lynden’s declaration has an urgent relevance for The Bahamas today.  To achieve a GDP in excess of 5%, The Bahamas must begin a fundamental redesign of its colonial and inadequate political infrastructure, incentivize Bahamian ownership and reverse its almost total reliance on foreign direct investment and diversify and expand economic activity to  the Family Islands.

The weak, inadequate and archaic physical architecture in which the political administration of The Bahamas operates is in crisis.  The 19th century physical infrastructure of our national institutions contributes to inefficiency, discriminates against persons with special needs, inhibits economic development and does not reflect the sovereignty of  a striving independent country that takes itself seriously.

The quality of governance in The Bahamas is compromised by the obsolete physical architecture.  We take more pride in foreign touristic enterprises and resorts structures than in the national institutions to manage the public goods and services of The Bahamas and provide social, economic security services for Bahamians and residents.

Nassau, the political capital as well as the financial and commercial capital of The Bahamas, lacks the space to build out a modern political capital architecture to meet current and future needs, population growth and sustainable living for the next 50 plus years.

This critical infrastructural crisis in the public administration gives The Bahamas a unique opportunity to transform itself.  The Bahamas can use this need as an opportunity to create, for the first time since Independence, an internal stimulus for economic growth,  by exercising the Bahamian sovereign imagination and political will, through the construction of  a new purpose-built political capital city  on the Island of Andros.

Brazil, in 1980, constructed a purpose-built capital city of Brasilia where it relocated its Legislative, Judicial and Executive Branches of the Federal Government from the old coastal capital city of Rio de Janeiro. Brasilia is now Brazil’s third most populous city with the highest GDP per capita.  Brasilia, designed by Lucio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer and Joaquim Cardozo, with the Hotel Sector, Banking Sector and the Embassy Sector, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its modernistic architecture and unique urban planning.  It has played an unprecedented role in the development of the interior of Brazil and has been designated as the City of Design by UNESCO in October 2017 and part of the Creative Cities Network since then.  Brasilia was built in 41 months.

Similarly, Nigeria, in 1991, moved its political capital from Lagos and constructed a new political capital city in the centrally located and ethnically neutral city of Abuja.   Lagos, the capital from 1914, had been favoured by the colonialist regime due to its location as a coastal town.  By the time of Nigeria’s independence, Lagos had grown in an unplanned manner.  It became overcrowded and chaotic.  With the construction of Abuja, Lagos remains the business capital of Nigeria.  General Murtala R. Mohammed appointed a panel to decide where  a new capital, after the Biafran civil war, where all people would be equally represented, with plenty of land and abundant water.  Abuja was patterned after the wide boulevards of Paris,  and Washington, DC for its design of public spaces, not dominated by any one ethnic group, a symbol of oneness and unity.  To avoid land speculation in the area, all land was vested in the Federal Territory in the Federal Government.

Nigeria sponsored a competition for design of the Master Plan for the new city.  The competition was won by International Planning Associates, a consortium of firms, which proposed a central zone with government buildings, national university campus and cultural institutions, with water supply, airport, schools, health care facilities and public transport on broad avenues, and residential and shopping zones.

Abuja was built in the 1980s and opened on December 12, 1991. Abuja’s population  grew by 139.% between 2000 and 2010, with a population of six million residents in 2016; whereas, the 2006 census had the population at a mere 776,298.  Abuja has increased the geo-political influence of Nigeria.  Diplomatic embassies have been relocated to Abuja, while they have left their consulates in Lagos.  Abuja is home to the Headquarters of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a popular location for international conferences in West Africa.

Crumbling Bahamian Political Physical Infrastructure: An Opportunity

Legislature

The House of Assembly, the core institution of representative democracy, is empowered by the Constitution to make laws for the peace, order and good government of The Bahamas.  The physical plant of the House of Assembly and the Senate is grossly inadequate for a modern democratic state.  The flamingo-pink House of Assembly and the Senate Buildings were constructed in 1815 by the Loyalists.  These buildings reflected the colonial architecture, modeled after the old capital of North Carolina.  The Queen Victoria’s Statue was erected in front of the buildings in 1905.  The House of Assembly lacks legally mandated access for physically disabled persons, proper library facilities, cafeteria facilities, office spaces for Members of Parliament, Parliamentary Draftspersons, Parliamentary Clerk and staff.  Currently, in the House of Assembly there is only one toilet for men and one for women respectively, for single use, for use by legislators, staff and the public. Members of Parliament, who represent Family Island constituencies, are particularly disadvantaged, as they have no office facilities in the Parliament to meet with constituents who travel from Family Islands to bring their petitions to Parliament.  There is no Parliamentary Draftsperson on the staff of the House of Assembly; therefore, Back Benchers and Members of the Official Opposition, who wish to table a Members Bill, must beg the Attorney General to have a draft-person from the Office of the Attorney General or the Law Reform Commission to draft the Member’s Bill.

A customized Parliamentary Complex to accommodate the legislative process,  with adequate research, drafting, dining, support staff support and audio-visual facilities will improve the quality of representative democracy in The Bahamas.

Executive

The Constitution vests executive power in the Cabinet, which has the general direction and control of the government of The Bahamas and is collectively responsible to the Parliament.  The facilities of the Cabinet are inadequate for a modern democratic state.  The Cabinet Office is located in the Churchill Building in Rawson Square. Apart from the Cabinet Room and an office for the Prime Minister, the Cabinet lacks any conference facilities for Cabinet Committees; there are no dining facilities, Press Briefing Room, library and security facilities for the efficient operation of the Cabinet. There is no Press Briefing Room.

Office of Prime Minister

Relocated, to accommodate the construction of Baha Mar Resorts, into a bank and trust building, the old Coutts & Co. Building, lacks the basic amenities of a Prime Minister’s Office, such as secure passages, private entry and exit passages, dining facilities and secure conference and meeting facilities, with proper and secure communication systems. As Head of Government, if the Prime Minister wishes to host a Head of State or official from another country, he most likely will have to host the event at a foreign-owned hotel, as there is no official residence of the Prime Minister with hosting facilities.

Judiciary

The Judiciary, the guardian of the constitutional guarantees and the means by which the law is applied for an ordered society, is a co-equal Branch of the Government.  The independence of the Judiciary is, therefore, a fundamental requirement for the proper discharge of its functions.  Inadequate physical plant maintained by the Ministry of Works, control of non-judicial staff by the Public Service Commission and need for financial clearance from the Ministry of Finance to access its budget may constitute restraints on judicial independence.

The main Supreme Court building in Rawson Square, built by the Loyalists in 1815, has been the location for the Supreme Court since 1921. While the Supreme Court Library is located in the main Supreme Court building, Justices and Registrars of the Supreme Court operate from several other rented buildings, at Saffrey Square and the Euro-Canadian Building.  These rented facilities were not designed for the unique judicial junction.  Therefore, court files must be moved from one building to the next; thus, exposing files to loss and misplacement.  The security of judicial officers is compromised, as they must traverse the same passageways as the public going to and from theirs chambers and courtrooms.  Jurors cannot be effectively sequestered during jury deliberations; witnesses and family members of accused persons are forced to be in close proximity  to each other in the small court-rooms creating opportunities for witness intimidation. The absence of a modern purpose-built judicial complex, with the buildings, staff and budget under the exclusive control of the Chief Justice may compromise judicial independence.

The Bahamas is a major international financial center in the Caribbean, where complex insolvencies and commercial disputes are adjudicated in its courts.  The Bahamas has also passed legislation to position itself as a major arbitration center. Therefore, the Judiciary, apart from its role in maintaining an ordered society, is a key component in boosting the global competitive ranking of The Bahamas as a place to do business, choice of law for international contracts and for efficient resolution of disputes.

Therefore, the national interests of The Bahamas require a modern purpose-built Judicial Complex to adequately and securely accommodate the 16 Supreme Court Justices of the Supreme Court in Nassau and the 7 Justices of Appeal, with proper research resources, conferencing spaces for Justices, dining facilities, humane custodial facilities for persons on remand, audio visual facilities, secure premises and IT infrastructure. The Chief Justice should have adequate resources, with complete control over the judicial physical plant, the judicial staff and a  judicial budget commensurate with the critical role of this co-equal Branch of Government.

Alternative Path

The Bahamas can demonstrate the political will, vision and imagination to take a creative path in rebuilding this decaying and inadequate political physical infrastructure.  Rather than building in New Providence, where there are insufficient public lands to build out a political architecture for the future of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, The Bahamas can spur economic  growth, more diversified economic development in the Family Islands, institute a modern system of local government, reverse migration from Nassau to the Family Islands and lay the foundation for more planned, balanced and sustainable national development.

Andros Option

Andros, known as the “Sleeping Giant” or the “Big Yard”, is itself an archipelago within The Bahamas.  It comprises an area greater than all of the other 700 Bahamian islands of The Bahamas combined.  It is 104 miles long by 40 miles wide at the widest point.  It is composed of hundreds of small islets and cays connected by mangrove estuaries and tidal swamplands.  It is made up of three major islands – North Andros, Mangrove Cay and South Andros, the largest, with 2,300 square miles, and fifth-largest island in the Caribbean.  It is the most sparsely developed of Islands of The Bahamas, with 8,000 inhabitants. It has the following exceptional attributes –

 

  • Based on 2002 data, the total land area of Andros is 1,472,000 acres of which 64% or 902,055 acres  constitute dry unleased Crown Land,  owned by the Government of The Bahamas.  Additionally, there are 507,743 acres of unleased wet Crown Land , about 134,000 acres of farmland and the Hotel Corporation owns some 10,000 acres of land in Central Andros.    Approximately, 96% of the land in Andros is Crown Land.
  • World’s third-largest fringing Barrier Reef
  • World largest collection of Blue holes
  • In 2002, 64% of dry land on Andros was unleased Crown Land, which amounted to 902,055 acres.
  • 6,000-foot-deep Tongue of the Ocean (a mile-deep abyss deeming with vibrant marine life)
  • Great Baha Bank, extensive flats in the west, northwest and south of Andros
  • Fresh Water Lakes, which comprises the largest supply of fresh potable water in The Bahamas.
  • Bone-fishing Capital of the World, with extensive flats in the west, northwest and south of Andros.
  • Fifth largest-largest island in the Caribbean, after Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
  • Four airports with paved runways:San Andros Airport at Nicholls Town; Andros Town International Airport in Fresh Creek (an international port of entry for private pilots); the Clarence A. Bain Airport at Mangrove Cay; and Congo Town Airport in South Andros.  There are daily flights by Bahamasair, Western Air, Sky Bahamas,  LeAir and Watermakers Air.  Androsians have produced and operate two of the most successful charter airlines, Western Air and Sky Bahamas.
  • Sea-Link ferry runs daily to Morgan’s Bluff on the north end of the island and Fresh Creek in central Andros and mailboats from Nassauwith stops at numerous Andros settlements.
  • Morgan’s Bluff, a well- protected bay, the highest point in North Andros and is the first point of arrival to Andros from Nassau Harbour.It transitions from the deep blue of the Tongue of the Ocean to the light turquoise of the lagoon separated by the Andros Great Barrier Reef. Morgan Bluff has the potential to become the maritime logistical freight hub for The Bahamas.
  • Eco-touristic attractions, such as fishing lodges, eco lodges, heritage sites,hiking, hunting, bird watching, kayaking, sailing and diving that can expand the tourism product in The Bahamas, beyond the Las Vegas style resorts and cruise port attractions  in Nassau.

 

Due to these attributes, I recommend Andros as an ideal location to construct a purpose-built smart capital city for The Bahamas, in accordance with principles of environmental sustainability.  Its four airports and fast ferry facilities allow for easy daily commuting between Nassau and Andros.  There is space to expand to accommodate the expected influx of population and the increasingly complex needs of a developing country.

 

Expand economy towards Family Islands

The economy of The Bahamas is concentrated in Nassau, where the tourism and financial tourism industries are located and 70% of the population.  Nassau represents 2.5% of the landmass of The Bahamas. This concentration of economic activity in Nassau is a legacy of the colonial choice and perpetuates economic inequalities that result from this colonial inheritance.  This colonial  legacy continues in driving foreign direct investment almost exclusively  to Nassau.

The national economic policy of The Bahamas remains one of waiting on foreign direct investors to determine the location of economic activity, which has been concentrated on the Island of New Providence where there is currently about 70% of the population.  Nassau, a colonial capital, does not have the space to expand and create the national architecture for a modern and smart sovereign nation.  The construction of a purpose-built smart capital city in Andros will generate a more inclusive and sustainable economic growth, incorporate innovative urban planning, expand  Family Island development, grow the GDP to achieve a minimum of 5% growth rate to reduce unemployment, manage debt servicing and generate sustainable national development.

Design & Innovation Opportunity

The construction of a political capital city in Andros will afford The Bahamas the opportunity to design a Bahamian capital city with a Bahamian character to fulfill its unique needs.   This project will create a design and innovation opportunity for The Bahamians to design a Smart Capital City Master Plan, with iconic architecture rooted in Bahamian culture and imagination, incorporating sunlight, topography, drainage system, IT infrastructure, road network, official sector, commercial sector, residential sector and recreational and green areas.  There should be spacing between blocks and sectors to prevent overcrowding, with an equilibrium between construction costs and Sustainable Development Goals.

The School of Architecture at the University of The Bahamas, Bahamian professional architects, engineers and city planners, in partnership with international city designers and planners, should be engaged to create a uniquely Bahamian Purpose-built iconic Smart Capital City Master Plan that would be a model for the Caribbean and, eventually, seek to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Small Sustainability.

The Capital City in Andros should include the following zones, based on principles of Small Islands Sustainability:

 

  1. Official Zone

National Parliament

Cabinet Facility

Judicial Complex

International Airport

University of The Bahamas, incorporating BAMSI

National Park, National Stadium and Green Spaces/Areas

National Judicial Complex to house the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal

Official Residences:  (a) Governor General/President of the Commonwealth Republic of The Bahamas; (b) the Prime Minister; (c) the Speaker; (d) the Chief Justice; Justices of the Supreme Court and Justices of Appeal; (e) Cabinet Ministers; (f); Members of the House of Assembly and Senators; (g) Permanent Secretaries; (h)the President of the University of The Bahamas.

National Park, National Stadium, National Museum and Green Spaces.

 

  1. University Zone

 

The University of The Bahamas should be expanded to Andros, incorporating BAMSI, as a regional  and international center of excellence, serving national and international students and researchers, by  establishing:

 

  • School of Small Island Sustainability, specializing in agri-business, mariculture and food  manufacture and security.
  • School of Aerospace , utilizing the four airports in Andros, to train commercial pilots, air traffic controllers, civil aviation regulators, airfield safety managers, airport manager, avionics technician, flight planners, software engineers and research pilots, etc. to manage the over 26 other airports in The Bahamas and control the Bahamian airspace.
  • School of Technology and Innovation to teach coding for invention and the development of application to solve national problems and create new products for the global stream of commerce.
  • School of Visual and Performing Arts, with a mandate to curate, research and preserve the culture and art forms of The Bahamas and nurture the creative imagination of the Bahamian people.
  • School of Maritime Studies, in partnership with the MJM Maritime Academy, as a regional and international center of excellence in maritime navigation, engineering and research.

Other international universities can be attracted, given the strategic location of The Bahamas, to establish offshore medical school and medical research institutes.

 

Commercial Zone

 Agricultural/Agri-Business & Maricultural Zones

 University/Research Institution Zone

 Residential Zone

 

  1. Enactment of comprehensive Environmental Laws to ensure community consultation and EIA before the approval of any major undertaking, control carbon emissions, properly manage sensitive nurseries and mangroves and reduce coastal erosion.

 

  1. Drainage and flood control infrastructureto deal with hurricanes and other weather hazards

 

  1. Land Mass Transit System, connecting Nicholls Town, Fresh Creek, Mangrove Cay and South Andros, to evolve to electrical with net zero carbon emissions.

 

 Local Government Opportunity in Nassau

The relocation of the central government administration to Andros will better facilitate the implementation of a system of Local Government Authority in Nassau to ensure community self-government and lessen reliance on the central Government in areas of sanitation, environmental maintenance, community development, economic promotion and business relations.  These functions could be better carried out by the Local Government Authority in Nassau.

Bahamian Diaspora

The Bahamas has a highly skilled and high earning Diaspora in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries of the world.    Unlike other Caribbean countries, some of which have allocated  a Cabinet portfolio to mobilize and engage their diaspora in their respective national development process, The Bahamas has not had a consistent policy to engage its Diaspora.

The construction of a purpose-built capital city in Andros will, I believe, inspire the Bahamian Diaspora to involve itself, as investors, advisors, consultants and second home owners in building a smart capital city in Andros.

Funding

Capital City Investment Public Corporation, a statutory corporation should be established, to emerge into a sovereign wealth fund, to supervise and manage the construction of the Capital City Project.

 

  • The Government could vest about 50,000 acres of the approximate 902,055 acres of dry Crown Land in Andros in Capital City Investment Corporation in perpetuity to be leasedto entrepreneurs, with preference to Andros residents, Bahamian investors and Bahamian investors in joint-venture with foreign investors, for periods up to 50 years to attract private investment in the public, commercial and residential zones of the capital city, in accordance with a Capital City Master Plan.  For example, in 1955 the Bahamian Government , through the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, granted 50,000 acres of Crown Land, the bed of the sea underlying Hawksbill Creek and various concessions to the Grand Bahama Port Authority to facilitate the building of the City of Freeport.  Freeport is today the industrial center and has the second largest population in The Bahamas.  The Grand Bahama Development Company, a joint venture between Hutchison Development (Bahamas) Limited and Port Group Limited, has a portfolio of 75 acres of land in Freeport.
  • Establish Private Public Partnerships.
  • The Corporation would be empowered to source grants and long-term low interest loans from Scandinavian and Middle East Sovereign Wealth Funds, European Community, U.S and Canadian Foundations, Chinese Government, UNESCO.
  • Impose infrastructure and environmental levy on cruise passengers.
  • Issue Government Capital City bonds on local and international markets.
  • Incentives, with preference to Andros residents, for a fixed period, to Bahamians and non- Bahamians with commercial ventures should include:
    1. Exemption from Custom Duties
    2. Exemption from Real Property Taxes
    3. Exemption from Value Added Tax
    4. Exemption from personal property taxes or rates, capital levies or gains taxes, income taxes, excise taxes, certain export taxes, or stamp duties on certain transactions
    5. Licensing Authority.
  • Offer shares to Bahamian investors in Capital City Investment Public Corporation.
  • Offer relocation/expansion incentives to existing Bahamian businesses willing to invest in the new Capital City.These incentives may include offsets against taxes in Nassau, in addition to duty exemptions, etc.
  • Offer special concessions for residents of Andros.
  • Liaise with Bahamian Diaspora – Recruitmentby offering guaranteed government collaboration with the development of the Capital City through new and creative investments.
  • Provide investment incentives for young entrepreneurs willing to collaborate either as partners or venture capitalists in the capitalization of the Capital City.
  • Provide expansion of aviation to Andros, both internationally and inter-Island, generating fees to the Capital City Investment Corporation.

Conclusion

I call on the Government, the Official Opposition, the DNA and the Bahamian Civil Society to  collaborate in establishing  a National Commission to study the feasibility of building a capital city outside of New Providence.  The construction of a smart political capital city in Andros will enable The Bahamas to build stronger governance institutions fit for the future, create a model of small island sustainability, stimulate economic growth outside of Nassau towards the Family Islands (based on Bahamian ownership, innovation and initiative), reverse internal migration from Nassau to Andros, inspire young Bahamians to engage in the national development project, mobilize the Bahamian Diaspora in the nation building process and improve the Bahamian brand for innovation, sustainability and diversified development.

By Alfred M. Sears, QC