By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE public spat between the government and Baha Mar investor Sarkis Izmirlian has “dampened the mood” for investment in the Bahamas, an outspoken businessman said yesterday, arguing that the country should be “hungry” for foreign direct investment (FDI) projects and not scare off developers.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, the Superwash president and a director at the stalled $3.5 billion Cable Beach resort development, said that the ongoing Baha Mar dispute was “not making people excited about investing in our economy”.
Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business: “The outlook doesn’t seem so rosy and people are apprehensive about investing. Nothing has really changed in a truly dynamic sense to cause there to be any increase in employment. Crime is still high, the educational system is still poor, our tourism product is stale, the cost of energy is still too high and all of these factors have remained unchanged. You don’t have any massive investment by the private sector and then you have our politicians who are saying crazy things that are scaring people off. This whole battle over Baha Mar is not making people excited about investing in the economy. These politicians are scaring people off with their diatribe.”
Mr Izmirlian, the CEO of Baha Mar, has been at odds with the Christie administration since June 29, when the resort filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a US court, a move the government said came as a surprise. Foreign Affairs and Immigration minister, Fred Mitchell, recently warned Mr Izmirlian that his permanent resident status in this country could be revoked after his “attacks” against the Prime Minister, Perry Christie. Shane Gibson, Minister of Labour and National Insurance, defended Mr Mitchell and suggested that the government should now begin performing “psychological evaluations” on all foreign developers seeking to do business in the Bahamas.
Mr Christie has also questioned the developer’s mental health after he released a scathing press release about the government. Mr Izmirlian said in a recent letter to his staff that he never imagined he would be “fighting” with the government over the project.
“We have politicians pandering to their base,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “The fact that you would even mention revoking someone’s permanent residency, the fact that you are talking about psychological evaluation, is detrimental to investor confidence. We need to be hungry for foreign direct investment and not scare developers off. People want to feel comfortable when they are investing their money and if they don’t they won’t invest.
“I know politicians won’t admit this but its the truth, the begging by people in distress is unprecedented. I have never seen it this bad. We cannot afford to be making stupid statements. Every person that doesn’t invest one dollar creates the potential loss of the job of a Bahamian. We have to make it easier for people to invest, easier to get business going and employ Bahamians. There are 33,000 to 35,000 people looking for a job and the question is: what is the government going to do about it?”