By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Hotel Corporation’s newly-announced business tie-up with the Bimini Bay Resort was yesterday slammed as “further interference by the Government in the private sector”.
Michael Scott, the Corporation’s immediate past chairman, told Tribune Business that allowing it the Corporation own/operate the resort’s transportation and water sports amenities ran counter to the philosophy that the Government should ‘get out of business’.
Noting that this was an approach he, and the former Ingraham administration, had adopted, Mr Scott said the arrangement with Genting’s Resorts World affiliate meant the Government had effectively gone “back to the future” and was simply perpetuating an “outdated” development model.
And the former Hotel Corporation chairman warned that the deal placed the Government back into the ‘conflicted’ position he had worked hard to unwind in Mayaguana - that of being a joint venture partner in a project it was supposed to regulate.
Prime Minister Perry Christie, in unveiling the new Genting/Resorts World casino and Miami-Bimini ferry service on Friday, disclosed that a wholly-owned Hotel Corporation subsidiary would own and operate the Bimini Bay transportation and water sports amenities.
“That is not a move that would have been countenanced and encouraged by the Government in which I served,” Mr Scott, an attorney, told Tribune Business. “If they wanted to have done that, they could have done it on a sounder business basis, as the Government - or former government - did with the Bridge Authority.
“I just think it’s an outdated model, it will just add to bureaucracy, and act as further interference by the Government in the private sector, which we don’t need.”
Mr Scott agreed that the Bimini Bay deal was “a marked departure” from the policy that had been pursued by the former Ingraham administration with respect to the Hotel Corporation.
That had involved “divesting” its last few hotel and real estate assets to private owners, and ultimately winding-up the Hotel Corporation, transforming it into a Business Development or Tourism Development Corporation.
However, the arrangement worked out at Bimini Bay, described by the Prime Minister as a ‘public-private partnership (PPP)’, appears to mark the return of the Hotel Corporation as an owner/operator of tourism industry assets - albeit in a new niche.
Recalling the mandate he was given, Mr Scott told this newspaper: “The strategy was to resolve all outstanding matters affecting the Corporation, for example, Baha Mar, and aggressively market the Hotel Corporation properties - the Lighthouse Club in Andros, and the land at Winding Bay/Ocean Sound in Eleuthera.
“We would do what we could to get projects going, sort out the Mayaguana deal, and essentially wind-up the Corporation with the intent and mandate of having the parts of the Corporation devolved into a Business or Tourism Development Corporation.”
This, Mr Scott added, was designed to create “a more modern approach to tourism and hotel development”.
And he told Tribune Business: “The whole point was getting the Government, through the aegis of its various agencies, out of owning land and hotels.
“This [the Bimini Bay deal] is philosophically in opposition to the approach of the last government, and is a philosophical approach I don’t agree with, just as I don’t agree with government being a joint venture partner in the Mayaguana deal.
“That put the Government in a position of inherent conflict - an equity partner in a deal that required approvals and supervision of the Government of the Bahamas. That was not only unworkable, but unfair to other developers.”
The Prime Minister last week said the Hotel Corporation’s wholly-owned affiliate, Bahamas Hotel Corporation Tourism Services (Bimini), would not operate the amenities to the exclusion of existing public transportation franchise holders.
But no details were supplied to how this arrangement would work in practice, just as no details were provided on the promise to offer shares in Bahamas Hotel Corporation Tourism Services (Bimini) to Biminites.
“Arrangements are being concluded under which the developer will meet costs of equipment and transfer ownership to Bahamas Hotel Corporation Tourism Services (Bimini). The costs will be recovered in an agreed schedule of repayments,” Mr Christie said.