Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis expressed disappointment yesterday that debate on a resolution to borrow $35 million from Hutchinson Lucaya Limited and Bahama Reef Limited to facilitate its purchase of the Grand Lucayan resort was delayed until today.
Minnis was also expected to deliver a communication yesterday, which he said would answer all of the public’s questions surrounding the purchase of the Freeport, Grand Bahama resort.
Responding to The Nassau Guardian outside the House of Assembly on the debate being put off, Minnis said, “I am disappointed. We were ready. But I was not going to do a communication. I switched it. I was going to lead off the debate.”
When asked about his promise to explain the reasons for the purchase to the public, the prime minister said, “Everything will be in the debate when I lead off tomorrow.”
The government is purchasing the resort for $65 million, with $30 million paid up front.
Parliamentary approval is needed to borrow the remaining balance, which will be a government guaranteed loan paid in seven tranches of $5 million over three and a half years, with an interest rate of four percent per year paid quarterly – $4.9 million paid in installments of $350,000 every three months.
As Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest tabled the resolution and sales agreement yesterday, he said the government takes its obligations to govern the finances of The Bahamas and its economy very seriously.
As he spoke, opposition members objected from their seats that Turnquest was attempting to begin the debate on the resolution.
In a letter addressed to the prime minister dated September 18, 2018, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip Brave Davis said in order for the opposition to facilitate debate on the borrowing, critical documents related to the purchase were needed by the end of the day, including the sales and purchase agreement, which was provided yesterday morning.
Davis also requested more than a dozen documents, including a recent appraisal, a quantity surveyor’s report on the estimated cost of repairs and restoration of the hurricane damaged properties and inventories to make them operational, and particulars of the due diligence performed by the government prior to concluding the purchase agreement, including profit and loss statements, among other items.
Insisting he was simply tabling the resolution, Turnquest continued, “Mr. Speaker, the member for Killarney has said often and I believe the opposition would not disagree that the health and strength of the Grand Bahama economy is vital to the overall growth of the economy of The Bahamas. As such, it would be irresponsible for any government to ignore the plight of that economy and its major economic drivers.”
He continued, “There is no doubt that the Grand Lucayan is a significant factor in the future of the economy of Grand Bahama. Notwithstanding its 400 or 450 employees, attached to that property are a number of ancillary, small and medium-sized businesses – individuals who derive their economic livelihoods as a result of that property.”
Turnquest said these individuals include straw vendors, taxi drivers, wood carvers and other artisans.
On a point of order, Davis said Turnquest had gone well beyond laying the document.
But Turnquest said his commentary was to ensure the opposition had the right context.
Representatives of both unions that represent the workers of the resort were present in the gallery.
Outside the House of Assembly, Bamboo Town Member of Parliament Renward Wells, leader of government business in the House, said the opposition was given notice last Tuesday of the debate on the resolution, and none of the issues surrounding the resort were new.
He said he saw the agitation from the opposition side as a “delaying tactic”.
“We understand the Progressive Liberal Party will be going into their convention very soon, and so we understand, but at the end of the day we are going to come back tomorrow and we’re going to debate the resolution,” Wells said.
“We’re going to pass it. The government is on a time line. We’re going to purchase that hotel in the interest of the Bahamian people, in the interest of the people of Grand Bahama and in the interest of the larger economy.”