By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government cannot allow itself to be distracted by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham’s personal apology to Baha Mar and the Chinese Government, Prime Minister Perry Christie said, dismissing Mr Ingraham’s comments as a “little blip in the screen.”
He explained that efforts to revisit the Baha Mar deal stem from questions regarding the cost per mile for the West Bay Street roadworks when compared to the costs of the Airport Gateway Project.
Mr Christie said that Mr Ingraham does not need to apologise because the government and Baha Mar are partners and will work it out “quickly”. He said the government has a similar relationship with the Chinese government,.
Mr Ingraham had warned the government’s “tedious, vexatious” efforts revisit the deal may cause “unimaginable” harm to the Bahamas. He noted that the government’s commitment to pay more than $45 million for infrastructural work was part of the initial agreement signed in 2005 – on the watch of the first Christie-led government.
The former prime minister said he is “saddened to see the good name of the Bahamas as a trustworthy and transparent jurisdiction in which to conduct business threatened” by an attempt to delay meeting a valid financial obligation.
In the House of Assembly yesterday, Mr Christie said of the apparent revisit: “The Minister of Works is told by people who are engineers that, ‘listen, be careful, minister because what you are paying for is not what you bought’. He doesn’t say that’s right or wrong, he says, ‘prove it to me’. So when he brings it to me, this is the context in which it’s being done.”
The prime minister said “we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted” from what the government needs to do.
“The newspaper article about a letter from the former prime minister is just a little blip on the screen,” he said. “Every single one of us is determined to dig a trench and get into that trench and look at the other side as they approach us – if they want that kind of spite, we’ll give it to them.
“But the point is, we have a country to govern and we are going to govern it effectively and we are going to govern it efficiently. If people have the expectation that things should happen faster, quicker, let’s explain to them, let’s take the time to explain to them the challenges we face and why something might be a little bit longer.”
When he was previously asked about the matter in question – the discussions over the financial obligations for the roadworks – Mr Christie had said the government has an obligation to “jealously guard” the public treasury.
He suggested yesterday that obligation stems from the prior administration’s roadworks cost overruns.
“The Ingraham government must end on the building of roads by a near $100 million. The enormity of that seems to have escaped a lot of people. It’s not $5 million or $10 million or $50 million, I’m talking about $100 million – and there was no apology. There was really not even a proper explanation.
“The Deputy Prime Minister comes to his cabinet colleagues and says the cost of the roadworks that we’re going to have to pay (regarding West Bay Street) is between $45 million and $59 million. A minimum of $45 million, per mile... Now tell me then what is the cost per mile of the road being built from the airport now – $12 million... It cost $12 million per mile to build a road from the airport, but you’re going to have to pay $45 million or $50 million a mile to do that, then for God’s sake I have to ask.
“There is probably an explanation... but I expect the Minister of Works and Baha Mar to put this thing behind us, quickly. I don’t even need forensic accounting on this matter to do this, I expect them as partners.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works, Philip “Brave” Davis explained yesterday a “key area of discussion” with Baha Mar is the government’s entitlement to determine the appropriate amount to spend. He pointed to the differences between the 2005 and 2011 agreement regarding the matter.
“The latter agreement does not explicitly include that entitlement, but in the light of the earlier agreements it could be held to be a reasonable assumption that the entitlement exists,” Mr Davis said. “To have a contractor determine under a contract the amount he gets paid by an employer without any reference to the employer as to whether he agrees the amount flies in the face of all established principles of contract, which is generally that the amounts to be paid should be agreed.”
Over and above that “matter of principal of interpretation of an agreement”, Mr Davis continued, is that Baha Mar is claiming the roadworks in question – the JFK connector and the new West Bay Street and “public infrastructure relating or appurtenant thereto” – has cost them some $118.8 million.
“Of which they claim $89.999 million represents expenditure to be shared between Baha Mar and the Government,” Mr Davis said. “Noticeably close to the estimated $90 million estimated at the outset in 2005. For the approximately two miles of road and utility provisions constituting ‘such works’ at the Baha Mar development those figures represent a cost of approximately $59 million or $45 million per road mile.
“Of interest is that the cost per mile of the Airport Gateway Project (6.2 miles of road, also dual 2 with utilities) is approximately $12 million per road mile and of NPRIP (13.2 miles of road, some of which dual 2, all with utilities) is approximately $15 million per road mile.”
Mr Davis said one of the government’s concerns is that the value for money being delivered for that reimbursement, in comparison to other infrastructure projects being concurrently delivered for the Bahamian people.