By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government will foot the estimated $7.5 million bill to pay the salaries of Baha Mar workers this month in a bid to block them from being used as “pawns” in the resort’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy claim, according to Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson yesterday.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson said the decision to circumvent the Bahamian court system and file for Chapter 11 in a US court without notice to major stakeholders opened the door for “serious and far-reaching implications” to the country’s sovereignty.
However, the attorney general would not detail those implications or say whether the government was prepared to continue paying salaries if a resolution could not be met before the next pay period.
She also could not speak to the fate of Baha Mar’s Bahamian creditors, who are collectively owed an estimated $123m.
She said the Hotel Corporation of the Bahamas stands ready to pay the full salaries of Baha Mar’s employees, however it is unclear if the government will also pay the salaries for the resort’s foreign workers.
“The nearly 2,400 Bahamian employees who have been prejudiced by this bankruptcy proceeding must be paid,” she said at a press conference at her office. “Paying the employees without conditions attached would allow negotiation, hearing and resolution of other critically important issues determinative of the future of this project.”
She added: “This is the people of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas deciding as a matter of high constitutional principle that matters, we are advancing, that these kinds of matters ought to be heard in our courts and that the employees ought not to be pawns. They ought to be paid and these matters will be adjudicated upon in Bahamian courts.”
Baha Mar Ltd, and 14 affiliated companies involved with the mega-resort, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a Delaware court on Monday.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson said her office received the US court documents on Wednesday, adding that the China Export Import Bank, the project’s largest creditor, had not yet been served with the documents.
She said her office advised Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian of the government’s position on Wednesday, stating that Bahamian employees should be paid and that it was willing to step in to make this month’s payment if Baha Mar or the China Export Import Bank was “unable or unwilling to pay” as negotiations continue.
“It is important that the public be made aware that the orders obtained unilaterally by the Baha Mar entities from the United States Bankruptcy Court in Delaware were obtained on the basis that matters profoundly affecting the government and people of the Bahamas will be subject to adjudication in the United States,” Mrs Maynard-Gibson said.
“This would have serious and far-reaching implications for the Commonwealth of the Bahamas as a sovereign nation. Completion and opening of the Baha Mar resort are matters of paramount importance to the Bahamas. The government feels very strongly that resolution of the disputes that have delayed the project should occur in the Bahamas, subject to adjudication — to the extent that they cannot be resolved consensually — by Bahamian courts, consistent with the sovereignty of the Bahamas.”
Although the government was still seeking for the impasse between the developer and contractor China Construction America to be resolved at the negotiating table, Mrs Maynard-Gibson explained that the government’s legal team was investigating alternative legal options to ensure that Bahamian courts were “front and centre” in the matter.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson stressed that the matter was now under consideration before the Supreme Court, and that any further details could prejudice the presentations made on behalf of the government and the China Export Import Bank next week Tuesday.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court directed Baha Mar, at the request of the Office of the Attorney General, to provide the government with information necessary for it to pay the salaries of the more than 2,200 Baha Mar employees for the period ending July 3, 2015.
When asked whether the move could set a precedent for the government’s handling of existing and future labour disputes, Mrs Maynard-Gibson said: “Certainly we know whatever action we take the public looks at, and we want to be sure that the public understands at all times that we are acting in the national interest and for the benefit of the Bahamian people.
“We are very confident about the ability of the Bahamian courts to resolve these matters and we would hope that they would be resolved out of the courts. We welcome them being resolved as soon as possible,” she said.
Public court documents and briefings on Baha Mar’s court proceedings will be made available to the public via the Office of the Attorney General’s website.