The Christie administration ordered the Airport Authority to enter into an “bad deal” with Western Air to lease its terminal in San Andros to the tune of $205,200 per year, according to Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar, who revealed on Thursday that the deal was executed just days before the 2017 general election.
D’Aguilar, who was contributing to the 2019/2020 budget debate in the House of Assembly, suggested the move was motivated by special interests, a claim that former Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna-Martin strongly denied.
The tourism minister said Hanna-Martin authorized the move to relocate the board of the Airport Authority, which had been previously housed in “dilapidated trailers”.
“I don’t fault the previous minister for the move,” D’Aguilar said. “The trailers had been allowed to deteriorate into mold-infested hellholes. The only problem that I have with the move was that it came at an enormous expense.
“When I took office and learned that the Airport Authority was paying $60 a square foot to rent space in a building in Andros, at a staggering cost of $205,200 a year, I said, ‘hell no’.
“This lease was brought to my attention when it came up for renewal in February 2018 and the landlord requested an increase in the rent to $84 a square foot. Once again, Mr. Speaker, I had to say, ‘hell no’.”
Adding perspective, D’Aguilar said he is advised that the Ministry of Tourism rents space in the British American Financial building on George Street for $25 per square foot.
“Yet, the Airport Authority was ordered on May 4, 2017 by the previous administration to enter into a lease, which, by the way was never executed since no one seems to have a copy of it, retroactive to March 2015 to rent 3,063 square feet in the Western Air Terminal for $60 a square foot.”
“…I am advised that two years’ worth of rent, or $395,127, was advanced to the Airport Authority from the treasury in May 2017 and the rent was paid to Western Air,” he added.
“Mr. Speaker, over the four-year life of this arrangement, the Airport Authority incurred rent totaling almost $800,000 for this terminal in San Andros,” he continued.
“What makes this so egregious, Mr. Speaker, is that the project to install new trailers, which the current board, under the chairmanship of Mr. J.M. Pinder, has just completed, I am advised, will cost approximately $150,000.
“…So, do the math Mr. Speaker, we will pay for these trailers in eight and half short months.”
D’Aguilar said the Airport Authority’s board will move into the new trailers.
“…Mr. Speaker, I am not going to opine on this transaction other than to say that it was a bad deal, yet another PLP bad deal, which we have corrected,” he added.
“The member for Exuma talked at length yesterday about special interests. Well, I want him talk that.”
But Hanna-Martin noted that the Minnis administration paid the rent the last two years.
“So, to the extent that it was a PLP bad deal for a couple of months, it’s been… as much of a bad deal for the Free National Movement,” she said.
She said the Christie administration was forced to act quickly, as the previous terminal had deteriorated to the point where it presented a health challenge. She added that Western Air had appropriate accommodations to fill the void and denied there was anything sinister about the deal.
Hanna-Martin said instead of trying to create a scandalous narrative, D’Aguilar should focus his attention on building a new airport terminal in Andros.