By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
DEPUTY Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis yesterday confirmed that the Christie administration will continue to pay Bahamian employees at Baha Mar until the $21m owed to the mega resort by the government for roadwork is exhausted.
Mr Davis said it was a “misconception” that the government had paid the resort’s more than 2,000 Bahamian workers from the Public Treasury, adding that the funds were deducted from the sum meant to cover the government’s portion of costs for roadwork associated with the development of the resort.
In an interview with The Tribune yesterday, Mr Davis also challenged resort developer Sarkis Izmirlian’s assertion that the government was “fighting” with him over the project.
Mr Davis said Mr Izmirlian’s belief that he was in a fight with the government was questionable and insisted that no observer, international or local, would be concerned about the government’s handling of the matter.
“The premise that the government is paying them (Baha Mar workers) is a misconception,” Mr Davis said. “The government had agreed to advance the roadwork payments to him (Mr Izmirlian) and we did not do that.
“Hence we are making payments to his staff, and we will continue to pay.”
The government initially pledged to pay workers at the resort for a month after Baha Mar Ltd, and 14 affiliated companies involved with the $3.5b mega-resort, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a Delaware court on June 29.
The monthly payroll was estimated at $7.5m, and at that time it was unclear whether the government would pay expatriate workers.
The resort’s Bahamian workers are paid bi-weekly, and according to officials, Bahamian workers have been paid for three pay periods so far.
Baha Mar’s expat workers are paid monthly and had received their last salary payment shortly before the resort filed for bankruptcy on June 29.
The expatriate staff at Baha Mar’s Grand Hyatt hotel are reportedly set to be pulled out of this country after the government decided it was not going to pay non-Bahamian workers last week.
The decision was met with severe criticism from the resort and the official Opposition for its possible impact on the project’s ability to open quickly, and the trickle down effect on the real estate market, among other areas.
The salary bill for expatriate workers is estimated at $1.8m a month.
According to The Tribune’s calculations, if the bill for Bahamian employees is rounded to $6m, the government would be able to pay workers for another two months, or four pay periods, before the $21m roadwork fund is exhausted.
It was previously reported that the $7.5 million put up by the Christie administration in July was being treated as an unsecured loan to Baha Mar.
The loan was outlined in a letter from the Office of the Attorney General, addressed to Baha Mar President Tom Dunlap and signed by Director of Legal Affairs Antoinette Bonamy.
State Minister of Legal Affairs Damian Gomez later refuted the report, stating that the money was deducted from funds the government was holding for Baha Mar in connection with the roadwork.
In a staff memo on Tuesday, Mr Izmirlian stressed that Baha Mar’s main focus this week is to “explore ways” to pay its non-Bahamian workers. He said the government’s decision not to pay the resort’s foreign staff was “deplorable.”
The resort developer told employees that over the 13 years working on the project he “never imagined” he would be “fighting” with the government over the $3.5 billion property.
Mr Izmirlian also lamented that the project has “now been usurped for political reasons.”
Yesterday, Mr Davis maintained that the government’s primary objective was to ensure the completion and successful opening of the resort.
“(Mr Izmirlian) he has made a business decision,” Mr Davis said, “and we have to ensure that the business decision aligns with the overall objective of completing the project successfully, and having it operated successfully. So the fact that he perceives it as a fight causes some question.”
“There’s no doubt that people on the international stage are looking at what’s happening, and looking at how the government is responding to it, and how the developer is responding,” he added, “but I think any right thinking observer – international or nationally – informed of all the facts, would not be concerned about the manner in which the government is handling this matter.”