Call to stop sale of Baha Mar
Former Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian is calling on the Minnis administration to place a moratorium on the completion of any sale of the Cable Beach project, and other related transactions, so that the government and the public can thoroughly “assess the extent of the toxicity of these arrangements to our country and how the best interests of Bahamians can be met”.
Izmirlian, through his company, BMD Holdings Ltd., also wants the authorities to reopen the casino license investigation and report the findings of the Gaming Board.
The statement came five days after Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis tabled the unsealed heads of terms in the House of Assembly.
The government entered that agreement with China EXIM Bank and China Construction America (CCA) last August to get the project completed and open.
The deal was sealed by the Supreme Court, its secrecy becoming a major source of controversy in the lead up to the May 10 general election.
Under the agreement, the Christie administration agreed to issue up to 1,200 work permits to CCA to complete the resort.
The government also agreed to waive stamp duty and value-added tax (VAT) on the transfer of assets from the Baha Mar Ltd. (BML) group of companies to Perfect Luck Assets Limited to facilitate the sale.
In a statement yesterday, BMD applauded the new government for making the agreement public.
“In BMD’s view, these documents confirm the nation’s fears that the previous administration had engaged in the wholesale giveaway of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax waivers and concessions that the country could not afford and that rightfully should have been earmarked for The Bahamian people, solely to facilitate a charade of a sale in the lead up to the general election last May,” the company said.
It also said, “The giveaways laid out in the heads of terms by the Christie administration to China EXIM Bank and Chow Tai Fook (the Baha Mar purchaser) are egregious and an insult to the Bahamian people.
“What else did the former administration do in its desperation to get any kind of a deal to announce related to the sale of Baha Mar to try to win re-election and feather the economic nest of its members? The heads of terms is only one document of many about the former government’s secret dealings on Baha Mar and the only document made public thus far.”
The statement described the August deal as a “bread crumb trail” to many other referenced documents that must be vetted to determine the extent of the “improper giveaways” as well as the longer term economic and social destruction implications to The Bahamas of the “so-called sale of Baha Mar”.
The statement added, “The grossly unfavorable concessions revealed in the heads of terms, along with other commitments made by the prior government to satisfy by the end of this year — including Chow Tai Fook’s demands for increased power generation from Bahamas Power and Light, for the city dump, and for what it wants from the Water and Sewerage Corporation — place a crippling financial burden on The Bahamas that the country can ill afford at a time when the new government is forced to borrow another $722 million.
“It is outrageous that the Christie administration would agree to grant 1,200 new Chinese work permits to CCA when Bahamian workers could, and should, finish this resort.
“At a conservative estimate, with the cost of completion standing at $600 million, these sums would have been a welcome boost to the local construction industry.
“These permits literally take food out of the mouths of Bahamians to reward the same Chinese construction company that had failed to meet multiple opening dates that it had set.
“It is unthinkable that a government that claimed it was working in the best interests of the Bahamian people would have agreed to such terms.”
Izmirlian also contends that the heads of terms was unfair to him.
The statement said, “…Not content to stop at the confiscation of the resort, the heads of terms expressly prohibits any payments to companies associated with Mr. Izmirlian, a long-time resident and the largest foreign investor in the history of The Bahamas, as well as payments to the former expatriate executives of Baha Mar.
“This is state-sponsored discrimination, contrary to the laws and constitution of The Bahamas, and sets an awful precedent for foreign investment in The Bahamas.
“Accordingly, BMD is considering its legal options against the parties involved in constructing these highly questionable agreements.
“BMD recognizes that with the election of this new and honorable government comes the hope of the Bahamian people in restoring good governance to The Bahamas by an administration that will truly act in the best interests of Bahamians. We stand ready and willing to assist in that regard.
“There is no question that Baha Mar should be completed successfully and fully opened as soon as possible.
“But that Baha Mar should be, as originally conceived, a key economic sparkplug for The Bahamas. The Bahamian public should be convinced and be confident that the owner of Baha Mar is there for The Bahamas, committed to creating jobs for all Bahamians and enhancing the Bahamian way of life.
“BMD reiterates that it is fully prepared to purchase Baha Mar, and it is committed to completing and operating Baha Mar with a full Bahamian workforce and organization.”
In opposition, Minnis had pledged to execute a “real sale” of Baha Mar and said under a Minnis administration, only Bahamians would be allowed to complete the project.
He has not addressed these specific points in recent times.
In the Senate on Friday, Attorney General Carl Bethel confirmed that it is not the government’s intention to undo the deal with Chow Tai Fook Enterprises.
“Even though we may disapprove of the way certain legal and other matters were handled in respect of the Baha Mar matter, as a responsible government, we will do everything to facilitate the completion, sale and opening of the resort, so that the full measure of its potential economic benefits can be realized for the Bahamian people.”
Bethel said the prime minister has instructed the Office of the Attorney General to remain engaged with the stakeholders in the project and continue to use the good offices of the government to ensure that this matter remains on track and to update the public on essential developments.
The attorney general noted that other “commercially sensitive documents” remain sealed at the request of the private parties in the matter.
“After careful review and discussion with the other parties, we are of the view that those documents should remain sealed for the time being, for the legal reasons which have been given by the judge”.
Those reasons were that the documents should remain sealed to preserve the integrity of the sale process, which remains a commercial live issue, Bethel advised.