Remarks by Rt. Hon. Hubert A. Ingraham, Prime Minister, at Launch of Third Dry Dock, Grand Bahama Shipyard, Freeport, Grand Bahama
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be in Grand Bahama this morning, especially here in Freeport when some good news is taking place. You would have read in the newspapers that the unemployment rate in Grand Bahama is now nearly what it was in 1992 when I came to office for the first time.
I want to assure Grand Bahama that we have been there before, we did it before and we will do it again; and by do it again I mean that we will cause Grand Bahama’s economy to be restored to growth in as short a time as is possible, due account being taken to what is happening in the global economy today as a result, what is happening in our own economy in The Bahamas.
The one regret I have this morning is that Edward St. George, who was a major proponent of this facility, is not here this morning. He pushed very hard for this facility and indeed, pushed very hard for Freeport to begin to realize its original purpose, which was to attract facilities such as this, Hutchison Whampoa’s transshipment facility and Bradford Marine.
I am very pleased that the owners of Royal Caribbean and the owners of Carnival decided to take a chance on a substantial investment in our country, especially at a time when there were options available to them to go elsewhere and there was nothing about our ability that said we could do a better job than any place else.
They invested substantial sums of money here in this business at Freeport and they were amongst the most upfront people with whom I have had to do business in Government.
They were able to say what they were proposing to do, that it would require a certain amount of foreign labour and how they would, over a period of years, cause to be trained persons in The Bahamas to assume some of the positions that would be made available.
It was a frightening thought for many in The Bahamas that we could attract a business that would result in more non-Bahamians being on site at some points in time than there were Bahamian workers. We had never dreamt of such a thing.
Many have not overcome that fear yet, but I think even the doubters are now beginning to come to terms with a reality that has been most beneficial for the economy of Grand Bahama and of The Bahamas.
Not only has this facility lived up to what it said it would do, it continues to provide additional training for Bahamians with additional skills being transferred to many as a result of the persons who come in from time to time.
One of the things that I never tire of telling my colleagues is that we are in a global environment and we seek to provide international services from The Bahamas; that is the basis of the Bahamian economy – the provision of services. We are not manufacturers, we are not producers.
We are in the business of providing services whether that is in tourism, or as in the case today, services in terms of ship care, maintenance and repair.
And if you are in that business and you do not have sufficient local business, as we do not, to be able to provide employment and business opportunities for the society, then you have to be able to attract it from outside the country.
When you attract it from outside the country, you also have to be able to attract and cause to be had the equipment, parts and services required for the enterprise.
All of the ships here this morning are foreign owned, and these ships have chosen to come to The Bahamas to be refurbished, repaired and maintained.
In coming here they require equipment not made in The Bahamas, parts not made in The Bahamas and goods and services which are not available in The Bahamas. And so in this global environment when you attract this business to your country, you also have to attract international labour.
The company that builds a ship in Germany that provides a warranty for the engine or other parts on the ship has to cause that part to be fixed or repaired when something goes wrong.
It is not a question of driving down the street and saying, “I can find Jack Jones who is a mechanic to fix the engine for me today.” Someone from the manufacturer will need to come in and repair the part and do so in the shortest possible time.
If a ship breaks down in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, it has been known for a 747 to be chartered from Europe to come with all the parts, equipment and personnel to cause it to be fixed, fixed in a short period of time and without a lot of undue bureaucracy and paperwork.
We are a very bureaucratic country. We have not reviewed and looked at all the things we would require to be done for the conduct of business for the Government. We still are very much tied to our Colonial past.
One of the things that we seek to do is to undertake major reforms of Governmental processes and procedures so that people can do business with the Government without having to spend an inordinate amount of time and money to have very simple and straightforward things undertaken.
We are going to seek to use this facility as an example of how we can cause the processes of Government to be sped up.
We in The Bahamas are also fully cognizant of another reality: this shipyard is mobile – it can be picked up and taken away any day. The docks were towed here; they are not permanent fixtures. The first dock took almost nine months to come here, being towed through many seas and many parts of the world.
Having had these docks towed to The Bahamas, we certainly want to keep them here in The Bahamas, and we want to keep them in a way that maximizes benefits for our people and our economy.
The Shipyard is a significant effort at the diversification of the economy of The Bahamas. Now as we have the severe downturn in tourism, the Shipyard is a booming business because cruise ships are still carrying many passengers.
Carnival and Royal Caribbean are the major owners and operators of cruise ships and it is primarily their ships that come here to be repaired and refurbished.
And so we do have the opportunity on a continuing basis to demonstrate to them that we are appreciative of their investment in The Bahamas and that we are going take full advantage of it.
Additionally, many of the spin-off benefits that come to the community of Freeport from all who come in to work on the ships have great beneficial effect for those who do not work for the cruise lines.
So while the Shipyard has about 320 direct Bahamian employees, the indirect benefit to the economy of Freeport is multiplied many times.
On behalf of the Government of The Bahamas and residents of Grand Bahama I wish to say thank you. I trust you are continuing to feel comfortable with us, and the extent to which there are things we need to work on we would be happy to do so.
PHOTO: Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham cuts the ceremonial ribbon at the Grand Bahama Shipyard’s official commissioning of its third dry dock on Saturday, March 7, 2009. Pictured from left are Rev. Ian Clark, Executive Secretary, Grand Bahama Christian Council; Derek Harrington, member of the GB Shipyard Board of Directors representing the Port Group Ltd; Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.; Prime Minister Ingraham; Carl-Gustaf Rotkirch, Chairman and CEO, Grand Bahama Shipyard; Giora Israel, Senior Vice President, Carnival Corporation and Kwasi Thompson, Member of Parliament, Pineridge. (BIS Photo/Sharon Turner)