Former Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna Martin yesterday said that what Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar referred to as a “bad deal” between the government and Western Air, was an arrangement to offset taxes owed by the company.
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 space in its San Andros terminal to the tune of $205,200 per year. D’Aguilar said the deal was executed just days before the 2017 general election. D’Aguilar said the annual rate of $60 per square foot was significantly higher than other government lease agreements.
He also said that the deal was motivated by “special interests”.
Addressing the matter in her budget contribution yesterday, Hanna Martin said, “A comparison of the lease rate for the terminal in San Andros to rent paid on buildings in New Providence is misleading.
“The Western Air rate, which was approved by the Cabinet and vetted by the Attorney General’s Office, included all utilities inclusive of electricity and janitorial services.
“In addition, this arrangement was first conceived as an offset for taxes owed by the shareholders of Western Air and was always meant to be temporary and short-term solution and one that had a minimum cash outlay by the government.”
Hanna-Martin denied that the deal was politically motivated, and noted that one of the airline’s co-owners was a Free National Movement (FNM) candidate in the 2012 election.
Earlier this week, Western Air Vice President of Operations and General Counsel Sherrexcia Rolle called for the government not to use Western Air as a “scapegoat or distraction” and pushed back against claims that the deal was motivated by special interest.
While she did not dispute the rental amount, and noted that the lease specified a rate of $5 per square foot plus VAT per month, Rolle said that the agreement came about because Western Air’s facility was the only one available to the government when the trailers the Airport Authority had previously occupied became unusable due to mold and asbestos.
She also said that the company was first paid two years after the lease began, under the direction of D’Aguilar, and that the government still owes over $500,000 in rental payments.
Hanna Martin yesterday called D’Aguilar’s comments misleading and said they were a “deliberate misrepresentation of the facts”.
“The truth is that the trailers which housed airport personnel, customs, immigration, airport security, etc. in North Andros deteriorated to such an extent that it became a health emergency and the varying government agencies had to quit, literally, immediately,” she said.
“The owner of the Western Air terminal facility agreed for the personnel to immediately relocate so as minimize exposure to serious health risks whilst not disrupting airport operations in the interest of the Andros economy. It was intended to be a temporary or short-term solution.”
She added, “The member for Free Town indicted himself by his own words by explaining why this, in his words, ‘hell no, no way’ arrangement persisted under his watch for two years is because he claims he was so busy but yet comes here to point a finger and pat himself on the back. If it is the terrible deal that he says it is, which we do not accept, it was never intended to be long-term but which became long-term under his watch and at his hand then his concerns are of his own making and due to his negligence.”
D’Aguilar indicated that new trailers have been purchased to house the Airport Authority at a cost of $150,000. Hanna Martin, however, criticized the decision.
“As I previously indicated that two years in as a minister of aviation he should come with a solution of a new terminal, not a grandiose announcement of new trailer,” she said.