Some shed tears, others applauded, while others expressed gratitude and appreciation that development they describe as “long overdue” is finally about to come to their island.
Residents at town meeting held by the Government and the Cat Island Partners group on the proposed Cat Island Golf and Beach Resort for that island assured officials that they are ready to embrace the opportunities expected to emanate from the project its principals say will create 937 full-time job opportunities.
Government Ministers led by Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham, as well as officials from the Department of Physical Planning, the Department of Public Works, the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and the Water and Sewerage Corporation were in attendance at the meeting.
Emphasising that the government does a phenomenal job in carrying out background checks and scope assessments on project proposals for the country, Minister of Works and Transport the Hon. Earl Deveaux explained that the primary purpose for the town meeting was to give the Cat Island Partners group the opportunity to make a presentation on their proposed development.
“The government receives any number of proposals for development throughout The Bahamas,” Minister Deveaux explained. “As a matter of fundamental policy, we think it is important when we get to the point of approving a proposal that we think can bring value to our country and our communities, to allow the people to have an input in the decision as to how they feel about the proposed development.”
It was an opportunity residents took full advantage of.
Mrs. Seymour-Russell of Old Bight said, “I’ve been back in Cat Island as a young entrepreneur for 21 years. I came back to build my island. I was here all these years struggling, I have children and I have to send them off to Nassau. It’s time for Cat Islanders to come back home. I need for this development to come in so my children can be prosperous.”
Meoshi Curtis, a teacher on Cat Island also expressed concern about the lack of opportunities for the youth of the island, a situation she said she expects to be alleviated as a result of the proposed development.
In what marked one of the more emotional periods of the town meeting, young Angelique Brown, who moved back to Cat Island at the age of 18, shed tears as she expressed hope for new opportunities.
“I have two beautiful daughters and it pains me to know there is nothing to keep them here when they reach that age and I feel we really need this,” she said. “I am sorry for my emotional breakdown, but I left Nassau because of the living that is there and I have struggled and struggled. I have somewhat made it, but I feel that there are others like me who need to make it…there are lot of people on Cat Island that are hurting.”
Responding to a concern expressed about a lack of trained talent on Cat Island to meet the proposed project’s employment needs, Beverly Thacker, Education District Superintendent for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador said young persons are desperate to find something to do, and advised that the Ministry of Education is working to prepare students to meet such needs.
“Just about two months ago at the high school in Old Bight there was a career fair which the Ministry of Tourism joined in and they had a three day event here,” she noted. “Students are being trained right now in the schools in Family Life and Consumer Science where they are training students in the various aspects of tourism.”
A question meantime was raised during the town meeting on whether the government plans to give consideration to establishing a branch of the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) in Cat Island to provide ongoing training of residents there.
Residents also posed questions and expressed concerns about infrastructural needs on the island such as garbage disposal, potable water and a mini-hospital facility, and how these needs will be addressed in tandem with the start of the proposed development.
Prime Minister Ingraham, during his remarks to residents, pledged the government’s commitment to doing all it can to cause the development happens and happens in the shortest possible time.
Member of Parliament for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador Phillip Brave Davis, who also expressed confidence in the project’s developers reminded that Cat Island, having a history of commerce and agriculture is “on the rebound”, and urged residents to trust their leaders in government regarding their development plans for the island.
“No government administration has in their mind or intent to do what is not best for the people of The Bahamas,” he said. “There may be differences on how we may achieve that, but you must trust your leaders.
“You will find often that whereas words pass between the political divide,” Mr. Davis continued, “at the end of the day when you see them voting on a piece of legislation they usually are unanimous because government; both Opposition and the Executive understand that when government is pursuing its policy you ought to support that policy.”