By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar’s owner yesterday slammed successive governments for “12 years of unfulfilled promises” on energy and education reform, arguing that the $3.5 billion destination resort had to be developed in “a less than ideal” environment.
Sarkis Izmirlian, Baha Mar’s chairman and chief executive, warned that the Bahamas was “kidding ourselves” if it believed it could currently match the likes of Singapore and Dubai for economic competitiveness.
Addressing the National Conclave of Bahamian Chambers of Commerce, Mr Izmirlian called for this nation to “truly position itself” to attract the investment necessary to grow and expand the economy for the benefit of all residents.
He warned that there were “not many Sarkis Izmirlians and Sol Kerzners out there” who would have taken the multi-billion dollar investment risks represented by Baha Mar and Atlantis.
To position the Bahamas for success, Mr Izmirlian effectively urged that it liberalise its Immigration policy to attract, and bring in, the talent necessary to make the country “the Singapore of the Caribbean”.
And Mr Izmirlian did not miss the opportunity to take another swipe at Baha Mar’s main contractor, urging China Construction America (CCA) to fulfill its obligations to both the project and the Bahamas, and realise the “discontent” it was causing as a result of successive delayed openings (see other article on Page 1B).
Tribune Business yesterday found that Baha Mar’s website shows room availability at the 1,000-key casino hotel from July 1, 2015, onwards, indicating that the project opening may still be two-and-a-half months away. There was nothing to indicate when the three resort brands - Rosewood, Grand Hyatt and SLS - will open.
Still, Mr Izmirlian reserved his harshest comments for the seeming inability of successive governments to deliver on reforms vital to the Bahamas’ economic competitiveness and future prosperity.
Implying that this had hindered Baha Mar’s progress since the project was first conceived in 2003, Mr Izmirlian said: “It is important to realise how we got here and learn from it,.
“As Baha Mar has been developed, we have had to do so with less than ideal support, and a less than best in class business climate, which are critical to the Bahamas’ success.”
Warming to his theme, he added: “Unfortunately, a number of promises critical to the future of the Bahamas, over the past 12 years, have not come to fruition.
“All of the business community must be concerned about the unfulfilled promise of improvement in the reliable supply of power and the reduced costs of power.
“We should all be concerned about the gap in necessary education and training programmes that would allow workers to be better prepared for jobs, and we all should be concerned that growth incentive commitments are not viewed as reliable.”
Highlighting what he, and doubtless others, view as the urgent need for wide-ranging reforms, Mr Izmirlian told the private sector: “In short, all of us here today need this nation to truly position itself to attract the crucial investments necessary to grow, expand business and create the necessary financial reward and incentives for the young Bahamians who will graduate from schools over the years to come.
“Let us not kid ourselves if we think that today we are competitive versus countries like Dubai or Singapore.”
Emphasising that he remained optimistic, Mr Izmirlian said he “strongly believe that the Bahamas can successfully compete with the best tourism destinations in the world, and Baha Mar will prove that”.
With the Bahamas having largely pinned its economic revival hopes on the $3.5 billion Baha Mar project’s success, Mr Izmirlian warned that his development could not be the sole cure for this nation’s business, unemployment and social ills.
Echoing comments previously voiced by Gowon Bowe, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) chairman, Mr Izmirlian warned: “Baha Mar in and of itself is not the Bahamas, and cannot solve all the ills of this country.
“I can assure you this: There are not many Sarkis Izmirlians or Sol Kerzners out there who would be willing to invest in the Bahamas as we have.”
In comments that will strike a chord with many in the private sector, Mr Izmirlian suggested reforms could start with Immigration, with the Bahamas importing the necessary talents to deal with its existing education, crime and governance crises.
“We must position this country to succeed for decades to come, and we need help,” the Baha Mar chief said.
“We need to bring in, and listen to, the best minds in education, crime prevention and government to help us steer through and make us the Singapore of the Caribbean.
“Any by the way, bringing in outside help is not bad. It is smart and value added. It is simple as going to the right person for the right advice at the right time.
“If you had to get a triple bypass surgery would you go to someone who does one a month, or the person who does multiple per day?”
Urging Bahamians to resist protectionist nationalist impulses, and the notion of continuing to do the same thing and expect different results, Mr Izmirlian added: “We should not simply wrap ourselves in the Bahamian flag to protect old habits.
“Let us wrap the future in the Bahamian flag and give our children the future they deserve.”
Calling on the Government and community leaders “to pause and reflect”, Mr Izmirlian said they needed to determine what comes after Baha Mar to further uplift the Bahamian economy.
The Baha Mar chief recalled comments by a graduate of Baha Mar’s Leadership Development Institute (LDI), who had been shot twice and previously struggled all his life, to illustrate the dilemma confronting the Bahamas.
“In honour of this brave and smart young man, I ask you: Do we want to survive as a nation, or do we want to live and thrive?” Mr Izmirlian asked.