By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette yesterday said he supports Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe in his calls for the government to suspend its winding up petition against Baha Mar, insisting that the government “continues to waste time that should be spent fixing the problem”.
According to Mr Symonette, the winding-up petition filed against the $3.5bn Cable Beach resort in July has done little to bring the feuding sides together.
He accused the Christie administration of not putting a “heavy enough” interest in ensuring that an agreement was reached between developer Sarkis Izmirlian and the resort’s Chinese stakeholders as it did with its winding up petition.
Mr Symonette maintained that “the best way out of such a critical matter” would be “strong communications between all sides.”
“That should be the government’s focus,” the former FNM deputy prime minister said. “When you look at the overall process – the time spent in court, the time spent arguing through headlines – that time should be spent ensuring that the future of this project is secured.”
“Mr Wilchcombe is a smart man, he understands that all this legal wrangling could be by passed with all sides sitting at the table negotiating a way forward. We are talking about a project vital to our economic future.
“The prime minister should make this his sole focus, not the attorney general or anyone else. Mr Christie should devote all of his time and energy to resolving this issue with all sides seated around him – not in the courts,” Mr Symonette said.
On Sunday, Mr Wilchcombe insisted that it was never too late to rebuild broken relationships and salvage goodwill if all sides made good on declarations that they were committed to opening the resort.
“Of course the government has made the decision to proceed as such, and we take direction from legal quarters – that notwithstanding, it doesn’t mean the players in the game can’t sit and talk,” Mr Wilchcombe told The Tribune.
“Maybe I’m ignorant, but the bigger thing for me is getting the matter resolved, and in my view that’s bigger than the wrangling that’s taking place and all the brilliance of law.”
“Faced with the circumstances, some other decisions have to be made, but I feel that all that requires is two sides asking for an adjournment. We can have the sides withdraw or get a suspension, sit down and talk,” Mr Wilchcombe said.
He added that the biggest losers in the protracted legal fight over the $3.5bn mega resort were going to be the Bahamian public. He suggested that if liquidators were appointed to oversee the resort, it would lead to an “uphill battle” for the government.
However, Progressive Liberal Party Chairman Bradley Roberts told reporters yesterday the government had already exhausted its communications in the matter and was now resorting to its final bid to salvage the stalled development.
“The prime minister sent the attorney general and a team to China on two occasions and has had talks over and repeatedly with Mr Izmirlian,” Mr Roberts said at a press conference at PLP headquarters. “That’s exactly what the prime minister was attempting to do, but to no avail.”
Mr Roberts questioned how long the government was supposed to keep talking with no resolution in sight.
He added: “You talk until the birds come home? There has to be some culmination of talks. What I heard Minister Wilchcombe say (Monday), that action, that pursuit has been the intent of the government all along.”
In a letter sent to Baha Mar employees on Friday, CEO Sarkis Izmirlian stressed that the government’s proposed plan of liquidation would be costly and waste the resort’s assets. He stressed that he has been working for more than a decade to see Baha Mar come to fruition and will not quit.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the government’s winding up petition on September 4.
Baha Mar filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a US court on June 29, a move that Prime Minister Perry Christie has said came without notice to his administration. The government has aggressively opposed the bankruptcy filing.