Wilson: PM’s criticism of Atlantis loan ‘foolishness’
Criticizing the PLP for permitting Kerzner International to take on a $2.5 billion mortgage in 2006 is “foolishness”, according to the chairman of Arawak Homes.
Franklyn Wilson said Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham’s recent comments in Freeport are misguided because it fails to take into account the country’s international reputation.
“In the minds of leaders in 2006, whatever the government of the day, to say no to Atlantis in terms of taking on a mortgage would have had implications,” he told Guardian Business. “It’s foolishness to say it was a bad decision.”
Wilson felt a refusal on the part of the Perry Christie administration would have “sent a very powerful message to the international investing community”. He also said the purpose of the funding was not just to build a sister hotel in Dubai, but to also “internationalize” the Atlantis brand.
With the Paradise Island property as the flagship, the result is greater visibility worldwide that, at the time, was in the national interest.
“The first always remains the icon,” he added. “Atlantis was going to be a global brand pioneered in The Bahamas. It would have added value to the country tremendously.”
On January 19, Ingraham told The Nassau Guardian it was “inappropriate and wrong” for the government at the time to agree for the properties on Paradise Island to be put up as a security for a loan.
“That was a big, big mistake,” the prime minister said.
The chairman of Arawak Homes wished to go “even further” and point out Sol Kerzner, the founder of Atlantis, was also undertaking stage three of the resort through the construction of The Cove and The Reef. He felt this completion was also in the national interest and noted that the prime minister attended the opening of this phase last summer.
Kerzner’s commitment to The Bahamas is unchallenged, he added, and the fact he was willing to “double-down” in such a debt only validated his belief in the country.
“To say Christie made a terrible error in judgement to put a mortgage on the property is disingenuous. It’s not in the national interest for any responsible national figure to put forward that view,” Wilson told Guardian Business.
Wilson next turned his attention to Zhivargo Laing, the state minister of finance, accusing him of a “dereliction of duty” for not being fully aware of the court battle between Brookfield and senior lenders of Kerzner International earlier this month.
On January 5, when contacted by Guardian Business, Laing said he was unsure of where the matter stood, but expressed confidence the deal was well in hand.
“That is a serious dereliction of duty. How could you not be following it? What was more important?” Wilson asked.
Nevertheless, the top executive told Guardian Business it remains his hope that the Atlantis restructuring has a good ending both for The Bahamas and Kerzner.
“Let us not be self-centered. As important as jobs are for Bahamians, let us not be so narrow in our thinking as to not recognize the implications of this for Mr. Kerzner and his family,” Wilson said. “He has done so much for this country. I hope the outcome will give him the opportunity to improve his standing and come to a more favorable arrangement.”