Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce (GBCC) Second Vice-president Chris Lowe [member of the Rotary Club of Freeport] is urging all licensees of the Port Authority to seriously pursue their rights as it relates to the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA), and form a licensee association to help them forge the way forward.

By LISA S. KING, Freeport News Reporter

Speaking to members of the Grand Bahama Sunrise Rotary Club during their meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Lowe said provisions are in place for a change to be made to the Hawksbill Creek Agreement with the consent of licensees of the Port Authority.

He explained that the Agreement having been in existence for the last 50 years, is now at the halfway point of its life which is defined as ending in 2054. He stressed that with respect to bond, licensees must get involved as changes cannot be made without them.

Mr. Lowe said to this end, the GBCC has been in discussion with the Port Authority, the Ministry of Finance and Bahamas Customs since late last year, with a view of understanding each respective body's perspective and needs, while preserving and maybe improving the function of the HCA for the benefit of Grand Bahama as a whole.

"We need to form the licensees association to properly ratify and enact any mutually agreed upon changes. This is one of the major initiatives of the Chamber of Commerce," Mr. Lowe said. "And, I also believe that the licensees association can and will be formed under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce and be spun off unto itself to work in the future with the Chamber."

Mr. Lowe explained that the HCA is an agreement between the Government of The Bahamas, the Grand Bahama Port Authority and the Licensees of the Port Authority. He added that the HCA says amongst other things, what can be done in Freeport by Port Authority licensees that cannot be done elsewhere in The Bahamas.

He said he encourages licensees who have not done so, to obtain copies of the HCA, the Customs Management Act (CMA) and the Guide to the HCA. He noted that the Guide to the HCA, while written to instruct how things would be done procedurally in the port area, and while written jointly by the Port Authority and the Government of The Bahamas, was never enacted into law.

"While the practice of the licensees may have started out operating under the guidelines of the guide, we have since drifted or evolved into some practices of today that are not written anywhere. Over the counter bonded sale being one in particular," he said.

"Hence the confusion and periodic disruption that occurs when the opinions conflict and 'unofficial' rules change."

Mr. Lowe said the Customs Management Act is the rule of law for the practices of Bahamas Customs and details how the Tariff Act is to be applied throughout the entire Bahamas.

He added that the Customs Management Act is very specific in its procedures, allowances and penalties and even the powers granted and available to the comptroller of Customs are specified in the event that fraud concerning the Tariff Act is suspected.

"Again I urge all licensees to become familiar with these documents as they will help to forge the way forward," he said.

"I also urge every licensee to join and support the Chamber so you can voice your opinion and be a part of the continuing evolvement of the HCA."