By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Perry Christie last night said Baha Mar’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in the United States on Monday came “without notice” to the government as he insisted that “it is completely false” to say that his administration had misled the public on the $3.5bn project’s status.
After indicating that his administration was blindsided by the bankruptcy filing, Mr Christie said that the decision by Baha Mar’s CEO Sarkis Izmirlian came at a point when his personal intervention with all parties involved led to a substantial agreement on a packaged solution for additional funding by the China Export-Import Bank.
This deal was going to ensure that the general contractor resumed construction at the West Bay Street project and that the mega-resort was completed, Mr Christie said.
“This is supported by exchange of correspondence as recently as June 26,” he said.
However, in the aftermath of Baha Mar’s shock bankruptcy filing, Mr Christie said the end goal for the government remains the same.
He spoke during an emergency press conference last night at the Office of the Prime Minister, flanked by members of his Cabinet.
It came hours after both the FNM and the DNA accused the government of not being straightforward with Bahamians regarding Baha Mar’s status.
The Prime Minister last night also invited FNM Leader Dr Hubert Minnis to attend a briefing on the matter in the interest of transparency.
“The government wants to reiterate that the number one priority of all stakeholders involved with the Baha Mar project should be its swift completion and opening,” Mr Christie said.
“It is of great importance to the nation and to all Bahamians that Baha Mar opens successfully. We must all work towards this goal as a matter of national priority. This is not the time to play politics, but rather, we must unite to ensure the best interest of the Bahamas and all Bahamians is met.
“The government remains committed to being open and transparent with the Bahamian people, as it has since the beginning of this project. Any claim that the government or I have been misleading the public as it relates to the status of Baha Mar is completely false.
“The government has been working with all parties and negotiating in good faith, and with an end goal of a successful opening of Baha Mar. The decision by Baha Mar to file for Chapter 11 under the US Bankruptcy Code does not change our end goal.”
Baha Mar currently has more than 2,000 Bahamians employed at the resort. Workers were sent home on Monday and told to no longer physically report to work. The resort has said it will pay wages to employees for the next three weeks. However, if Baha Mar’s issues cannot be resolved, there is likely to be a workforce reduction, a statement on Monday said.
While Mr Christie did not speak directly to the government’s assistance, if any, to employees, he said the sole focus remains on Baha Mar’s opening to protect the interests of current and potential workers.
“Negotiations must continue to progress immediately to ensure the successful opening as soon as possible. As previously stated, the government will not take sides, but rather continue to support all stakeholders in coming to a resolution. As the government of The Bahamas, we take the side of the Bahamian people, and we are acting to ensure the needs and interests of the people are first and foremost.
“This project will provide great economic opportunities for our country. Collectively, our sole focus should be on Baha Mar opening so that the jobs of current and potential employees are protected. This goal should not be and will not be, distorted by politics,” Mr Christie said.
Mr Izmirlian said in a statement on Monday that the decision to file for Chapter 11 came with a view to finish construction and open the property as soon as possible.
China Construction America, Baha Mar’s general contractor, has been blamed for repeated opening delays resulting in substantial revenue losses and the resort’s inability to open.
Yesterday, Baha Mar filed a claim in the English High Court against CCA’s parent company. The claim against China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd seeks financial remedies for alleged liabilities in respect to guarantee and performance obligations related to the construction of the project.
Baha Mar is expected to employ 5,000 people when it opens. The resort’s initial opening date was December 2014.