MOST Bahamians are very passionate about their politics. It would be unusual for a day to pass without someone grumbling about something that displeased them, either with the PLP government, the Opposition FNM or the DNA.
However, the announcement from the Attorney General’s office last Tuesday on the Supreme Court’s postponement of the hearing of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in Delaware to protect the Baha Mar resort, rattled many. The reaction was not only panic, but a fear that we have never seen before in a Bahamian. Did this mean, several asked, that the People’s Republic of China would own by default that large strip of real estate on which Baha Mar now stands? Does it mean that although the Prime Minister assured Bahamians he would not take sides, his government was now aligning itself with the Chinese government? The tone of the Attorney General’s statement certainly gave that impression.
Today the world is a very small place and what happens in its far corners can be seen by all — Bahamians included. Many are very aware of the recent unrest in Hong Kong as a result of the heavy hand of Beijing. And those who are astute enough to think for themselves, fear that if Mr Christie’s shopping list, which he took to China, is granted, the Bahamas will end up a second Hong Kong —not owned by China, but so deep into China’s pockets that Bahamians will have forfeited their freedoms.
Although Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder — at the request of the Government and the Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM) the project’s largest creditor – has adjourned the Baha Mar bankruptcy hearing to Tuesday, by so doing the judge has already made his decision. The hearing was to ask the Supreme Court to recognise the orders of the Delaware Bankruptcy Court’s chapter 11, which would protect not only Baha Mar, but its creditors until the dispute between Mr Izmirlian, EXIM and the contractor could be resolved. The Delaware court gave Mr Izmirlian “the automatic stay to secured and unsecured creditors in the Bahamas within seven says of the petition date”. That date would have passed before the Supreme Court was prepared to hear the petition. So the passage of time will decide the fate of the Delaware orders. They will be dead unless a stay is quickly granted.
A Chapter 11, not offered in Bahamian courts, is the best way forward to protect the resort’s creditors, its staff and the company. Under Bahamian law, a receiver would be appointed to take over the company. Should this happen, Mr Izmirlian would not have the opportunity to fund the business. Brands and management would flee and Baha Mar would be dead. Does government want to be the executioner of this enterprise or will the court allow it to use Chapter 11 to give it an opportunity to repair the damage, protect both staff and creditors, and move forward?
“The Government and the EXIM Bank today,” said the Attorney General, “believing that the Bahamian Supreme Court should hear from all parties with an interest in this matter, asked the Supreme Court to adjourn the Developer’s application for the Bahamian courts to recognise the Orders of the Delaware court.”
According to unconfirmed reports, a rumour mill, laced with misinformation, has been set in motion to throw Baha Mar and Sarkis Izmirlian to the wolves.
“It is important,” said the Attorney General, “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. This would have serious and far-reaching implications for the Commonwealth of The Bahamas as a sovereign nation.”
Many Bahamians on hearing this were of the opinion that they would prefer to temporarily surrender some of the Bahamas’ sovereignty to a Delaware court rather than forfeit this country’s sovereignty to Beijing.
But what has riled up Bahamians was Government’s announcement that it would pay the estimated $7.5m salaries to 2,400 Baha Mar workers so that they would not be “pawns” in the resort’s Chapter 11 claim. Under Chapter 11, Mr Izmirlian was given permission to continue paying his staff. This payment was being made out of his own pocket.
However, it was stopped when government took it over. Government was supposed to pay Baha Mar staff their salaries by 4pm on Thursday. To date government has made no payment. Nor has it paid the promised $21m, the remainder of a debt that it has owed Baha Mar for some time under a road works contract.
As a result of the many calls that we have had over this issue, our reporters will be asking government the questions we have been asked in the past few days. Only government can answer them. In addition to the questions and comments being made on social media, Bahamians would like to know:
If in fact the government is broke, how can it — and with whose permission — use taxpayers’ money to pay the Baha Mar workers? If it can pay this, why can’t it pay the CLICO annuities and the City Markets Pension Fund? Will it pay government workers’ salaries who are now being laid off? If not, why not?
Where is Tiger Wu, president of China Construction America, Inc (CCA)? It is understood he has left for China. Shouldn’t he be here for these proceedings and to ensure that his company completes the work at Baha Mar?
Is there any entity in the Attorney General’s office that might have a conflict of interest in the Baha Mar matter? There was much chatter on this point.
Is it true that four CCA workers were caught and stopped with two suitcases filled with documents that they were trying to remove from the Bah Mar property?
Callers were also very interested in Prime Minister Christie’s statement after an earlier trip to China when he planned to seek funds from China’s US$3bn dollar investment fund, to support the Bahamas’ budget, refinance and restructure the country’s debt.
In last year‘s 2014/2015 Budget debate, Mr Christie emphasised the need to get new sources of funding to drive this country’s national development.
According to a statement released by Bahamas Information Services at the time, Mr Christie also gave assurances that the Bahamas government will promote opportunities for investment in the energy sector, gas exploration, mining, forestry, tourism, airline services, financial services, agriculture and fisheries.
Bahamians would now like to know how deeply imbedded is China in any of these areas of this country’s development.
We know that CCA has bought downtown’s British Colonial Hilton Hotel with its six acres for $60m. Here it plans to build another hotel and develop the waterfront strip. In May of this year, CCA’s senior vice-president was urging government to “make a decision” quickly on his company’s proposed master plant to revitalise the whole of downtown Nassau. He suggested that the area could become a “Bahamian Riviera”.
The persistent talk is that this company is to develop from the BC Hilton as far east as the Potter’s Cay bridge. True or false?
Bahamians might not have a Freedom of Information Act, but this is their country and they are demanding the answers to which they are entitled.
It has been suggested that we are against the Chinese. This could not be further from the truth. We think the Chinese are very fine people. They are also very talented. The Bahamas has always had a well integrated Bahamian Chinese community. They are as Bahamian as any one of us. In fact one of our godsons, a lawyer, is a Bahamian of Chinese parents.
What we object to is China as a state — owning so much of our country. While the Attorney General is fretting about sovereignty, is the Prime Minister, in his attempt to attract investment, busily whittling away that sovereignty?
Bahamians would like all of these questions answered – and now, not next year.