One of the largest players in the tourism industry of The Bahamas has reportedly been criticized for failing to properly start repairs in the wake of October’s Hurricane Matthew despite receiving millions of dollars in tax concessions from the government.
According to a report from The Tribune newspaper, Hong Kong-listed Hutchison Whampoa Limited has yet to start restoration work at the Grand Lucayan Resort complex in Freeport despite the imminent start of the peak winter tourist season. This has allegedly led to some 1,000 rooms at the largest hotel on the island of Grand Bahama remaining out of action while the firm has also yet to repair its Memories Grand Bahama All-Inclusive Beach Resort, which has meant partners TUI Group and Sunwing Travel Group are unable to specify a re-opening date.
KP Turnquest, Deputy Leader for the Free National Movement opposition political party, criticized Hutchison Whampoa Limited for not beginning meaningful repairs even after being granted a “blanket” 20-year extension to its property, income and capital gains tax exemptions.
“It was given those extensions without any guarantees of investment and it has pocketed the tax breaks,” Turnquest, who is a member of the Caribbean island nation’s parliament representing the East Grand Bahama constituency, told the newspaper. “Our backs are up against the wall and it has no solution. You’re either going to give the same incentives to everybody or tie [Hutchison Whampoa Limited] to measurable, deliverable results. The government has no idea how to get favorable results from it for the wider economy.”
The Tribune reported that the tax breaks granted to Hutchison Whampoa Limited in the summer came as the government of Prime Minister Perry Christie sought to restructure its relationship with the Grand Bahama Port Authority while all other local and foreign Freeport investors are still required to apply to receive the same incentives, which are reviewable every five years.
“They’ve made business more difficult to do in Grand Bahama with no result,” Turnquest told the newspaper. “There’s no incentive for Hutchison Whampoa Limited and the Grand Bahama Port Authority to develop. All they’ve done is add a bureaucratic burden on Bahamians and create a disincentive for investors to come to Grand Bahama.”
In the immediate wake of Hurricane Matthew, Christie declared that he had written to Hutchison Whampoa Limited and urged the international conglomerate to begin effecting immediate repairs to its Grand Bahama-based assets. The Tribune reported that the investment holding firm had subsequently submitted a $120 million insurance claim and does plan to begin mending its properties but explained that progress had so far been “painfully slow”.
As the Grand Lucayan Resort complex has been up for sale for several months, Turnquest reportedly expressed concerns that the property might see a repeat of the Royal Oasis Resort situation of 2004, when that enterprise’s owner shuttered the business and left with the insurance monies.
“From day one, that’s been a concern,” Turnquest told The Tribune. “The Grand Lucayan Resort is closed and who knows when it will fully open. The casino is closed [and] there are lay-offs in the industrial sector. It does not bode well for the immediate future of Freeport.”
Turnquest also reportedly pointed to the government’s failure to so far pay the over 100 employees made jobless by the closure of the Treasure Bay Casino despite agreeing to take over all payroll duties in a bid to keep the facility open.