By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FREE National Movement Leader Dr Hubert Minnis accused the Christie administration yesterday of using its time-worn tactic of “smoke and mirrors”, hitting out that “secrecy and lack of transparency” have clouded the deal to complete the Baha Mar project.
Dr Minnis also questioned the timing of the government’s announcement on Baha Mar, which came just hours after the country was downgraded by international rating agency Moody’s.
Insisting that the announcement was proof that the government was trying to hide “suspicious deals”, he called the lack of specificity troubling given the high stakes that hinged on the resort’s success.
“It is apparent that the embattled Prime Minister Christie and his PLP government are once again trying to use smoke and mirrors to hide the broken promises made by the PLP,” he said.
“Is it a coincidence that only hours before the national address the country’s credit rating was once again downgraded by the international rating agency Moody’s?
“(Monday’s) hastily convened address does nothing to satisfy the needs and worries of the Bahamian people. The lack of specificity only proves that the prime minister and the PLP are trying to hide the suspicious deals they have made with the Chinese since the prime minister was unwilling to reveal what additional concessions were demanded by the Chinese in order for them to agree to the deal.”
During a live broadcast on Monday, Mr Christie announced that construction at the stalled Baha Mar resort is expected to resume in September, putting the property on a track to fully open no later than winter 2017. Mr Christie did not take questions at the press conference, remaining tight-lipped on which “world-class hotel and casino operator” would purchase the Cable Beach development and the concessions granted in exchange for arriving at a deal between the government and the Export-Import (EXIM) Bank of China.
Under the terms of the agreement, Mr Christie said, Bahamian contractors still owed money will receive a significant portion, if not all, of their claims, while thousands of former Baha Mar employees will receive outstanding amounts due to them.
Mr Christie said the deal had been approved by Justice Ian Winder of the Supreme Court just two hours prior to the broadcast, around 5pm.
Yesterday, Dr Minnis welcomed the deal “on behalf of the thousands of unemployed Bahamians.” Pledging his party’s commitment to stand and fight for the Bahamian people, Dr Minnis called on Mr Christie to immediately release all the details of the agreement to the public.
“The prime minister and the PLP have already failed us multiple times on the Baha Mar resort and now that their jobs are on the line they are willing to do anything to get the resort opened before the next election,” he said.
“The prime minister must come clean with the Bahamian people and answer the following questions. How many Bahamian jobs will be given to the Chinese? How many citizenships will be given away to Chinese nationals?”
Dr Minnis said: “Will the Bahamian contractors get paid in full the more than $100 million they are owed before construction starts again?
“Will Baha Mar pay the millions of dollars they owe in unpaid utility bills before additional utility services are supplied for construction?”
FNM Deputy Leader K Peter Turnquest yesterday raised concerns over the language used by Mr Christie during the broadcast, pointing to inconsistencies with his earlier statements concerning the shuttered resort. He noted that it was not unusual for a financier to complete a project in receivership as a way of protecting its investment.
“Not many people will take on an unfinished project,” Mr Turnquest said.
“In respect to Baha Mar, there has been all kinds of rumours of defective work or sabotaged works so it will be very difficult for any investor to get involved at such an open-ended stage.
“The prime minister omitted to mention a buyer after having told us for months that these buyers were lined up. Come to find out the only news is that the investor is going to do all it can to protect its investment, that was fully expected.”
“The prime minister said that they gave the usual or appropriate concessions, but what does that mean? We have already given millions in terms of concessions, so what additional did we give?”
He added: “He also changed his story in going from insisting that contractors will receive all funds owed to them, to now using qualifying words that they will receive a significant portion or all. He said that to try and make the case that if you don’t get all it’s still good because it would have gotten worse - that’s bull.”