Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe
By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Deputy Chief Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe said he believes the government has taken the right approach in negotiating the new deal to complete Baha Mar, pointing to the need to get the resort’s rooms filled with a view to attaining sustainable overnight visitor growth.
“I think it is very good for the country. It’s taken 20 months to get to the point where we are at now. Now we get to the details and work out the various situations that require firstly that the employees who all were employed are satisfied in terms of their pay. The second, we have to ensure that the 1,300 contractors and vendors and others who were involved are paid, and then of course getting the work started,” Mr Wilchcombe told The Tribune.
“I feel that the government has taken the right approach in terms of negotiating with the Chinese and the Export-Import Bank (CEXIM) and others, and staying away from the media, staying away from the glare of the media and sitting down negotiating in a way that was required and that all sides could agree in taking it to the Supreme Court and getting the Supreme Court to agree.”
Mr Wilchcombe said while Baha Mar remains unopened, the country maintains one of the lowest inventory counts in the competitive tourism market.
“If you look at Cuba, they have 63,000 hotel rooms. The Dominican Republic has 55,000 hotel rooms. Jamaica has more than 30,000 rooms. Puerto Rico has more than 30,000, and we are around 15,000. We are one of the leaders of the tourism industry, but we have to cause the economy to grow. We have to see sustainable growth levels between five and seven per cent. Our overnight visitors will account for that.”
Mr Wilchcombe’s comments follow a week which saw immense backlash in response to the revelation that the documents regarding Baha Mar have been sealed by the Supreme Court.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Perry Christie said there is “nothing secret” about Baha Mar and that lawyers have instructed him not to divulge relevant details because of the sensitivity of the matter and the amount of money being transacted among parties.
He criticised public figures, questioning whether they are fit for public service in view of their criticism of the government’s limited revelation of details surrounding a recently struck deal with CEXIM to get work on Baha Mar remobilised.
Mr Christie’s comments came during a ground-breaking ceremony at the Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute (BTVI) to mark the beginning of construction of a $2.3 million smart classroom complex at the institution.
He defended his government’s actions from critics who have said that insufficient details about Baha Mar were revealed during his evening press conference on Monday.
“They say they don’t believe me, even though what I say has to be approved by the courts and held by the courts for the time being; people got to believe I’m stupid,” he said.
“And when I say people, those who say that in all my years in public life I would get up to the Bahamian people, speak to their future about Baha Mar, which is the most complex, vexing issue that resulted in downgrading by Standard & Poor’s specifically and question marks by Moody’s rating agencies, that I would get up and announce something that wasn’t true. The naivety of people in public life amazes me to the point where I question their fitness to serve.”
Sources told The Tribune Mr Christie was eager to “set the record straight” on Baha Mar, hence his comments.