Bahamas Information Services (G.B.)
SOUTH AFRICAN FOREIGN MINISTER TO VISIT GRAND BAHAMA
Bahamas Information Services (G.B.)
Important role seen for Port Authority
in expansion of Freeport/Grand Bahama
By DUDLEY BYFIELD
Bahamas Information Services
FREEPORT – The Grand Bahama Port Authority will continue to play an important role in the growth and showcasing of Freeport and Grand Bahama. Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Fred Mitchell made this clear on Saturday in a press briefing that followed the weekend conference of the Foreign Ministers of Commonwealth of The Bahamas and the Republic of South Africa and their delegations.
South African Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, led the South African delegation, and the Bahamian delegation was at the beginning headed by Minister of Labour and Immigration Hon. Vincent Peet, who was acting as Minister of Foreign Affairs at the opening ceremonies in the Conference Centre at Our Lucaya Resort.
The Commission met in closed sessions on Saturday in discussions that included the areas of agriculture, arts and culture, education, foreign affairs, and health. Mr. Mitchell arrived Saturday afternoon and took part in the discussions, pointing out that the conference represented a further strengthening of the ties already established between The Bahamas and South Africa in the Joint Commission set up under the bi-lateral accord signed in April last year in Pretoria, South Africa.
Responding to a query at the briefing about the positioning of the Grand Bahama Port Authority in the future growth of Freeport, Mr. Mitchell said Mrs. Willie Moss has been at the forefront of such planning and was the point person at the Port and he had spoken to the Port’s Chairman Julian Francis on a number of occasions and also the co-chair Sir Albert Miller and they had all been involved from the start.
“They have been wanting,” Mr. Mitchell said, “to see the city in its maturity in its 50th year, expand and showcased it to the world.
“We expect to sign another one of these bi-lateral agreements with the Government of India in January, and the Indian Government would have been here last week, but there was some bad weather and they were only here for a short time so the visit didn’t come off as expected. But they promised that at the earliest opportunity they would be back again.
“So the Grand Bahama Port Authority has been front and centre again in all of this and I really hope that some business contacts will develop for the city as The Bahamas very much needs Freeport to be successful.”
In terms of the growing importance of Freeport/Grand Bahama in foreign affairs, Mr. Mitchell indicated coming expansion plans intended to ensure the Ministry of Foreign Affairs having a greater presence in Freeport. Foreshadowed were a Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building in Freeport, an up-to-date VIP Lounge at Grand Bahama International Airport and an arrangement for US visas to be issued in Freeport to eliminate Bahamians traveling to Nassau for this purpose.
Mr. Mitchell pointed out that the Ministry had just done some cosmetic work at the Passport Office to ensure that the Passport Office is able to deliver better service.
He declared, “The place is cramped, and that’s the one area where Foreign Affairs interfaces with Grand Bahama.
“In the planning, we already have approval to put up a new Passport Office in Freeport and there is a question that we are trying to decide, which is whether or not to use the existing General Post Office here and some of the space in that as a means of trying to improve the access to service; or whether we need to build a stand-alone building.
“The stand-alone building is an attractive proposition, given what we may have to go through to make the changes in the post office. It will be interesting to hear what people’s responses are to this.
“Because what I said in discussions with the Port is: ‘There needs to be a VIP Lounge put in the airport because as the city matures and develops you are now going to have more people of VIP stature coming through that need to be given special services as they pass through the airport, both in and out’; and that is a Foreign Affairs function.
“We need to establish a Protocol Office up here for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to put a Protocol Officer here.
“There needs also to be an actual office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so we are looking at all those things developing down the road.”
Mr. Mitchell continued: “Secondly, the Americans have been talking to us for some time about a mechanism for the delivery of visas to people in Grand Bahama to cut down on the expenses of traveling to Nassau.”
Mr. Mitchell added: “Now there was a time when Nassau was the size of Grand Bahama’s population and it had a consulate at that time so there really should be a consulate for the Americans here dealing with visa issues: but there are budgetary constraints and other things.
“So I think the Ambassador is trying to work on how this can be done on line and cut down on (Bahamians) having to stay overnight, and all those kinds of things, to get visas. Or, the alternative is to see whether or not a Consular Officer from the US Embassy can come up here on a periodic basis for a number of days; and for that what is required is a secure space for them to do so.
“We have said from Foreign Affairs that we are willing to provide that secure space if they will do that. So it may mean that a stand-alone building is really what we will have to do in order to do all of those things.”