Western Air Vice President of Operations and General Counsel Sherrexcia Rolle yesterday disputed Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar’s claim that the government entered into a bad deal with the company to lease its terminal in San Andros for $60 per square foot.
Rolle said she doesn’t want Western Air to be used as a “scapegoat or distraction”.
In his budget contribution last week, D’Aguilar claimed that the Christie administration ordered the Airport Authority to enter into an “egregious” deal with Western Air to lease the terminal to the tune of $205,200 per year. D’Aguilar said the deal was executed just days before the 2017 general election.
However, when contacted for comment yesterday, Rolle said Western Air received its first rent payment under the Minnis administration.
“From when the lease first started in 2015 we never received any form of payment from the previous administration or any sort of advancement,” she said.
“The first payment we received on the rent was two years later under the direction of Minister D’Aguilar on May 22, 2017.
“So he actually was the first one, ironically, to pay this rent.”
She said the first payment totaled $428,054.38.
She said the government kept up payments for a few months before “they discontinued paying”.
“So payment has not been received for rent in the past year,” she said.
“We don’t personally believe that rent is that significant of an issue because in the airline industry we have to have a good working relationship with the Airport Authority.
“So, despite them having an outstanding balance of over $500,000, we continued to allow the government offices to remain in the building and to occupy the space until they were complete.
“Any sort of suggestion or insinuation, as if it was a result of special interest or political association or if it was unscrupulous, is completely inaccurate.”
When he spoke in the House of Assembly, D’Aguilar said when he took office he 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,’” he said.
“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.’”
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,” he said.
“…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.”
Regarding the rent amount, Rolle said, “It should be noted that we never sought for the government to be a tenant.
“Like I said, it’s our private terminal and it’s been that way for many years and as a result, because of the dire conditions, we agreed to assist and we negotiated a lease and the lease was $5 per square foot per month, plus VAT.
“So it’s a matter of opinion as to whether that was sufficient or unreasonable for the government at that time.”