NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday that he will not apologize for breaking the news first to Eleutherans that the government signed a heads of agreement with Disney Cruise Lines for the planned development of a cruise port at Lighthouse Pointe.
In a communication to Parliament, the prime minister said the announcement was made to residents of the island first “out of respect”.
He suggested that future announcements of major developments that impact Family Islands will be made directly to those residents.
“Mr. Speaker, before I close, I just want to point out [that] there was some concern about us having made the announcement first in Eleuthera,” Minnis said of the Disney agreement.
“We thought it was appropriate Mr. Speaker that as Disney, South Eleuthera, an area that was suffering for a very, very long time, we thought it was appropriate that we show complete respect for the community and they should have been the first to hear the changes that [are] coming.
“Mr. Speaker, moving forward, investments that affect certain islands within The Bahamas, out of respect they should know what is happening…
“So, I do not apologize to anyone for respecting the population of South Eleuthera in such a manner.”
The prime minister said the tabling of the agreement was keeping with its commitment to good governance, transparency and accountability.
The government signed the agreement on March 7.
The media was not invited nor advised of the signing.
Dr. Minnis travelled to South Eleuthera for a town meeting where he made the announcement.
Following the announcement, the government issued a press release, highlighting certain details of the agreement.
The opposition questioned whether the government, which signed the agreement behind closed doors, had entered a secret deal with Disney.
According to Minnis, the government has, by tabling the document yesterday, made the details of the agreement available to the public in “record speed”.
He said the government announced the agreement would be laid in the House at the earliest possible date, which was yesterday, as the House did not meet last week.
“I am pleased Mr. Speaker that this agreement is being laid on the table of the House today, which is in record speed,” the prime minister said.
“This agreement is now public for the Bahamian people and the world to see, including various stakeholders, the press and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
“The process has been a model of disclosure, openness and good governance.
“The strategic process we followed from the signing of the agreement to a town hall meeting in Eleuthera to laying this on the table of the House, in short order, is a part of our program of accountable governance.”
Minnis added that in the past, various agreements under “other governments” were never tabled in Parliament and some agreements “remained sealed from the Bahamian people for years”.
According to the prime minister, the government will ensure the project is carried out in a way that safeguards the environment and in line with the interest of the Bahamian people.
To this end, no construction will be carried out until an environmental impact assessment is completed to the satisfaction of the government, Minnis said.
According to the agreement, Disney will ensure a minimum of 120 Bahamians will be employed during the construction phase, and has “committed to aim” for an overall 80:20 ratio of Bahamian to foreign workers during that phase.
Disney plans to invest between $250 million and $400 million in the port project, which will include low-density development and sustainable design, public access, and the restoration of various historical and cultural sites.
Around 190 acres of land Disney purchased from the private seller will be conveyed to the government for conservation and a national park.