WE do not agree with Bishop Simeon Hall that there should be no reaction from those Bahamians, yet to receive government’s promised assistance for their financial losses when CLICO (Bahamas) collapsed, on learning that the government has paid the salaries of more than 2,000 Baha Mar employees who are now jobless.
This is one Pandora’s Box government will regret having opened, whether the money came from the Consolidated Fund or the unpaid $21m owed Baha Mar for the Cable Beach road work. Not only will the suffering CLICO investors feel unfairly treated, but so will union members and others who in the future could assume that they too can reach for government’s financial life-line in a crisis.
They will be particularly aggrieved when they learn that in filing for bankruptcy protection, Baha Mar’s Sarkis Izmirlian was asking the Bahamas court to approve the US Bankruptcy Court’s permission to set aside $80m to continue in operation. Out of this Baha Mar staff and essential creditors would have been paid. No need for government’s assistance.
So, unlike the thousands of CLICO policyholders, Baha Mar workers were not in an “equally precarious” position as Bishop Hall claimed. Under Mr Izmirlian’s arrangement, his staff had a better chance of being paid than those policyholders who have already waited so long for government’s promised “assistance”.
If our court had approved the decision of the Wilmington, Delaware court, all Baha Mar employees would have had their salaries in their bank accounts at 4pm on Thursday. The money was there ready for payment as usual.
Instead, government undertook to pay them so that they would not become “pawns” in the bankruptcy proceedings. However, when Thursday, Friday and Monday passed with accounts still empty, staff certainly knew whose “pawns” they were.
Although Damian Gomez, Minister of State for Legal Affairs, announced that all Baha Mar staff members had been paid, reports reaching our office yesterday afternoon was that a handful of staff had not been paid their full salaries.
Mr Gomez said the majority of Baha Mar’s Bahamian employees had their salaries directly deposited to their bank accounts, but due to some challenges some of the workers were paid with cheques.
The Tribune understands the workers were only paid for two weeks which represents $2.2m in salaries.
It was initially expected that the government would pay the whole $7.5m salaries bill, which is Baha Mar’s usual monthly average.
Sovereignty also became a major stumbling block in government’s objection to the Delaware court, even though Delaware was seeking approval to work in tandem with our Supreme Court.
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.
That’s very interesting. How would she classify the situation Prime Minister Christie now finds himself in as he selects the venue for a partners’ meeting to settle a matter that is strictly a Bahamian affair — after all wasn’t that the reason for objecting to the Delaware court?
Why should he, as he sits in arbitration on a matter that affects the future of The Bahamas, even consider the possibility of going to Beijing to settle it?
He has rejected that possibility only because it would be too much trouble for the Chinese to lay out the red carpet for an arriving dignitary.
We would have thought that the “serious and far-reaching implications” to the country’s sovereignty would have been uppermost in his mind rather than the fanfare necessary for his visit.
We think that he and his Attorney General should get together and wrestle with the meaning of “sovereignty”. There is a thumbs down for Delaware, but no problem for Beijing! This illogic escapes us. But it is certainly interesting.
The Bankruptcy Court in Delaware could be a threat to our sovereignty, but a meeting in Beijing wouldn’t. What an interesting concept.
Mr Christie claims he was “blind-sided” by Mr Izmirlian when the latter filed for bankruptcy without informing him.
As we understand it, Mr Izmirlian made it crystal clear to the prime minister that he was being financially bled to death and would not be able to hang on much longer. His Chinese construction partner had downed his tools with Mr Izmirlian complaining that construction deadlines were repeatedly being missed. In his chapter 11 filing he also claimed that the construction company had inflated invoices for the work it had completed. No work, an unfinished hotel, no guests to bring in revenue, and out of his own pocket he was paying his jobless staff.
A businessman in Mr Christie’s shoes would have instantly got the message — “bankruptcy court here we come.” The only detail possibly withheld from Mr Christie was the venue of the hearing.
Any businessman would have held that close to his chest for fear of his unfriendly partners being told and making an attempt to thwart his plans for saving himself, his staff, his hotel and the financial future of The Bahamas.
After all if we were in his shoes, we would not have considered the ribbon-cutting visit of the Deputy Prime Minister to Panama a friendly gesture, particularly when in praising the work of the construction company, he knew that there was a problem with a branch of the same company in Nassau and, as a result, Baha Mar was heading for failure.
And we certainly would have known what side government was on when permits were delivered in record time to China State construction company to get on with the work at the Hilton British Colonial Hotel, which it had recently purchased, despite the company’s undertaking that it would see Baha Mar completed and opened before turning its attention to its newest investment.
If Mr Christie really had his hand on the pulse of what was happening he would have had no excuse to claim that he was blind-sided. He should have known – although he didn’t know the venue — that bankruptcy was inevitable and imminent.
So far, many Bahamians fear that its government is too far in China’s camp. However, we must admit that holding the finances, China is shuffling most of the cards.
In declaring that the successful opening of Baha Mar would be the best for the country, Mr Christie has promised that his administration will continue to be transparent with all Bahamians over the matter.
He said he would continue to be neutral while standing firmly on the side of the Bahamian people.
This is one horse that he does have in this race — and this is the horse that we are putting our money on.