NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Citizens for a Better Bahamas (CBB) Chairman Lemarque Campbell yesterday questioned how the government will ensure its request for proposals (RFP) process for Nassau’s cruise port development is fair and transparent.
He said stakeholders nor the public have been involved or apprised as to what the government envisions for the port or the specific criteria for bidders.
“That raises serious concerns,” Campbell told Eyewitness News Online.
“If you are going to put out for tender on such a major development, you should ensure that full details on what is needed for the project and what the government is looking for is released.
“[That way] everyone is on even footing [and there is] fair competition basically in competing for this development.
“If you [don’t] have that information — we call it a symmetry of information — [and] only certain individuals know exactly what the government wants, this is just the perception…
“At the end of the day the government can choose who it wants to run the development.
“We won’t know how that decision was made.”
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 by UK-based Global Ports Holdings (GPH), the world’s largest cruise port operator.
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).
Last week, businessman Ethric Bowe said if the government consulted the public on the development before issuing an RFP there would be fewer concerns about the transparency and fairness of the bidding process.
Campbell made a similar point.
“It ensures there is no conflict of interest and also that the government is getting the best deal for the Bahamian people at the end of the day,” the CBB chairman said.
“[It also ensures] that there is no one else who is benefitting from this under the table.
“All of these questions arise if you don’t have and fair and open RFP process.”
Campbell said the government ought to have been more proactive in releasing information.
He when this does not happen it should understand the public’s suspicions.
“If everything is done behind closed doors then the public definitely [is going to have] serious questions,” he said.
“That gives the perception that there may be some dubious activities that are occurring.
“The government should just be transparent from the beginning in order to ensure that people have the confidence that the process is actually undertaken in a rightful manner.”
Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar and Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis have said the cruise port bid process will be fair and transparent.
D’Aguilar recently labelled the criticisms about the bidding process as “absolute rubbish”.
He said a committee of civil servants and industry professionals will be selected to evaluate the merit of the bids.
As of last week, that committee had not been formed.
The tourism minister has been a vocal proponent of Nassau’s cruise port being controlled by a public-private partnership similar to Nassau Airport Development Company.
In August, he said the government was still in the very early stages of trying to understand what to do with the cruise port to improve the visitor experience.
The two-month RFP period ended last Friday.
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.
In September Chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employer’s Confederation (BCCEC) Mike Maura said 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 is the chief executive of APD.