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"To promote and foster the highest quality service to the maritime industry through training development; working with all agencies, groups and other associations for the benefit and development of its members and the peoples of the Caribbean region."

    Grantley Stephenson
    David Jean-Marie
    Carlos Urriola-Tam
    Roger Hinds
    Hernan Ayala-Rubio
    Kim Clarke
    Marc Sampson
    Ernest Taylor
    Juan Carlos Croston
    Stephen Bell
    Cyril Seyjagat
    Jeanine Liong-A-San

  • 2006

    2006, September 14:  An article appearing in the Bahama Journal today presented the concerns of the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce regarding the present situation at the Grand Bahama Port Authority.  Under the headline "Freeport’s Uncertainty" the publication presented excerpts from a statement distributed by the Chamber.

    The report stated that: "In the midst of litigation over the ownership and control of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, the president of the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce says "an air of uncertainty permeates Freeport and Grand Bahama."  Dr. Doswell Coakely in a press statement on Wednesday declared that Freeport continues to drift on the "sea of nothingness."

    Dr. Coaklely


    About a month ago, at a public meeting, Dr. Coaklely had stated his opinion that : "The Grand Bahama Port Authority is obviously in trouble."   (See: "... Port Authority Needs To Be "More Transparent")

    Turmoil at the port authority came to light when the senior-most executives of the Port Authority resigned.   (See previous CSA News story on the topic).

    Today's story regarding the press statement put out by the Chamber quoted its President, Dr. Coakely, as saying:  "The open legal threat by one of the suitors to all businesspersons who might have entered into agreements with the Grand Bahama Port Authority since the late Edward St. George’s death is equally troubling."

    The story continued:

    "The promise of retaliation through the courts certainly does not help the cause of Freeport ’s economic development, nor does it act as an incentive for prospective investors. It is in fact a ‘red flag’ and a negative signal to all current and hopeful licenses to curl in their investment plans until such time as the ownership battle is settled. We all know this can take years to resolve and prove painful for all sides, including the licensees."

    The Chamber president was referring to the battle over the assets of the late Edward St. George, the Port shareholder, whose ex-wife, Mary, is now demanding 50 percent of his assets, as was reportedly their agreement when they divorced many years ago.

    As reported in The Bahama Journal on Wednesday, Mr. St. George’s daughter, Caroline, is claiming that her father’s assets are co-mingled with hers and she is determined to protect her interests.

    Dr. Coakley noted that the Grand Bahama Port Authority Ltd. is no ordinary company.

    The Hawksbill Creek Agreement created what was to become The Bahamas’ second largest city, Freeport/Lucaya, on Aug. 5, 1955. Freeport was designed to be exactly that, a “free port” that would encourage foreign investors to come to Grand Bahama Island through a variety of tax exemptions.

    This agreement is a contract between the government of the Bahamas and the Grand Bahama Port Authority Limited (commonly referred to as simply the Port Authority), a private company founded by Virginian financier Wallace Groves.

    Under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, the government of the Bahamas granted the first 50,000 of Crown land in the center of Grand Bahama Island to the Port Authority and gave the Port Authority the exclusive right to develop it. In return, the Port Authority was required to dredge a deepwater harbor; construct an airport, hospitals and schools and provide other services and amenities. Later, the Port Authority acquired additional land from the Crown and from private sources, giving it a total of 150,000 acres, or 233 square miles for development.

    As an incentive for doing this work, the government of The Bahamas granted the Port Authority the right to grant business licenses. Later, the Port Authority was given permission to license casinos and to develop tourism within the Freeport area.

    The cornerstone of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement is that residents or licensees in the Port Area are free from personal income taxes, corporate profit tax, capital gains tax, death taxes or property taxes until 2015.

    "It is also very unfortunate that licensees of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, being party to the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, have not been involved in the process as they ought to," Dr. Coakley stated. "With the second party being cannibalized from within, the government being the third party to the agreement must now closely weight its options."

    Dr. Coakley noted that the government was previously encouraged to take "a forensic look" at the workings of The Grand Bahama Port Authority, and circumstances of the day show that the suggestion has merit. Now the scene is being played out openly in the courts of New York and elsewhere."

    He said that under the current circumstances, the big question is whether the Grand Bahama Port Authority can fulfill its mandate as provided for under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.

    "It would seem that every time Freeport tries to get up something happens to lull it back to sleep," Dr. Coakley stated.

    "While every other part of The Bahamas seems to be well on the development path, Freeport is languishing in apathy and regression. It is a must that the Hawksbill Creek Agreement be visited, and the government must get involved in what is going on in Freeport before it is too late."

    Concerns about the state of the Grand Bahama Port Authority have persisted in recent months, fuelled by the departure from the Port of top Bahamian executives, including former CEO and Co-Chairman Julian Francis, the former Central Bank governor who served at the Port for exactly a year.

    The appointment of Austrian-born Hannes Babak as chairman also fuelled great debate with some suggesting that a Bahamian should have been appointed to fill that position, and others suggesting that because he has business interests in Grand Bahama he would clearly be in a conflict of interest position.

    Now, Damian Gomez, Caroline St. George’s attorney, says his client is considering suing Mr. Babak, claiming that he is unfairly positioned to benefit from the Port’s profits.

    So far, the government has decided to take a hands-off approach to the present state of affairs at the Port.

    Both Mr. Babak and Port CEO Sir Albert Miller were said to be out of town this week, but a source close to the Port had said the company planned to release a statement aimed at easing the worries of licensees and other observers.

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