By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A key Sarkis Izmirlian ally yesterday blasted confirmation of Baha Mar’s sale as “classic PLP deal-making”, telling Tribune Business it was “amazing” that the Government had yet to table any documents in Parliament.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, who sat on Baha Mar’s Board under original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, said the “shroud of secrecy” covering Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE) purchase made it impossible to determine whether the deal was in the best interests of the country and Bahamian people.
And Mr D’Aguilar, the FNM’s candidate for Montagu, said that until all details were revealed it was “impossible to debunk” claims that the Chinese were in charge and telling the Christie administration what to do over Baha Mar.
Prime Minister Perry Christie, in confirming that CTFE had signed an agreement to purchase the entire share capital of Perfect Luck Assets, the special purpose vehicle (SPV) formed by the China Export-Import Bank to hold Baha Mar’s assets, promised that the secrecy would eventually end.
He pledged to table the Heads of Agreement with CTFE in the House of Assembly as a means to end the “mystery and speculation” surrounding the Baha Mar deal, but added that this could not be done yet because terms were still being finalised.
It is also unclear whether documents laying out the agreement between the Government and the China Export-Import Bank for Baha Mar’s construction completion, and details of the bank’s deal with CTFE, will be disclosed. These are currently sealed by Supreme Court Order.
Confirmation that CTFE and the China Export-Import Bank have signed a sales agreement for the former’s Baha Mar purchase comes as little surprise, given that both the buyer and the Government have effectively signalled in recent weeks that it is ‘a done deal’.
“I’m not surprised that the Government continues forward in this vein with the Chinese bank and CTFE,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business, “and I’m sure they’re patting themselves on the back that they’ve struck a good deal and are moving the project forward.
“It’s amazing how they’ve not tabled anything in Parliament about this deal, and the concessions they’ve given. While they jump up and down popping champagne corks, we cannot assess how good a deal this is for the Bahamian people.
“We have no idea how much this has cost us in terms of all the lawyers and concessions and trips to China.”
Among the many unanswered questions surrounding CTFE’s purchase are the total value of the investment incentives it has received; the nature of these incentives and whether they include VAT exemptions and ‘economic citizenships’ for Chinese nationals; and if CTFE is going to be paying the normal 10 per cent ‘transfer tax’ on the Baha Mar purchase price.
The value of incentives and tax breaks granted to Mr Izmirlian and his team was previously estimated at around $1 billion over 20 years, and given that similar will likely have been granted to CTFE, many observers believe the Bahamian public had a right to know all details given that it is there money and land (Crown and Treasury) at stake.
“The sell-out of the Bahamas to the Chinese continues,” Mr D’Aguilar blasted. “The Chinese are definitely running the show. Perry Christie and his crew think they’re running the country, but it’s really the Chinese and they’re telling him what to do.
“We can’t debunk that idea unless we see what deal has been struck.... It’s all shrouded in secrecy. Classic PLP deal-making; nothing in the sunshine, all in the darkness. This is the Bluewater deal for BTC all over again.”
Mr D’Aguilar, in comments directed to Prime Minister Perry Christie with the upcoming general election in mind, added: “Show us the deal man. If you want us to believe you, show us the deal.
“If the deal is closed, what are you scared of? If it’s such a great deal, stop telling us; let us see it and be happy with you. Show us the deal. The Government hasn’t put us at ease.
“Are they so desperate with an election coming in five months that they will come to the Bahamian people saying they have found a saviour, when they have done a deal with the devil,” the former Baha Mar Board member continued.
“I want to know if this is above board, and the best deal for the country when the Government wants you to focus on the hotel and the creating of jobs.”
Mr D’Aguilar conceded that it was positive for the Bahamian economy that a resolution for Baha Mar appeared to be in sight, given that it promised to employ thousands of Bahamians and create billions of dollars in extra economic activity.
He added, though, that the solution had been dragged out, and reiterated concerns about CTFE’s fitness to own Baha Mar’s casino, which is the largest in the Caribbean and the project’s centrepiece.
CTFE’s own statement, which accompanied the Prime Minister’s House of Assembly announcement, revealed little that was not already known.
Phase one of Baha Mar’s opening, which is set to begin in April 2017, will feature the casino hotel, casino, convention centre and golf course.
CTFE pledged that 1,500 jobs will be generated for Bahamians within this first phase. Once fully operational, Baha Mar Resort will employ thousands more.
Recruitment for the casino staff will begin in the New Year, and CTFE said it was seeking to establish marketing alliances with global gaming companies to drive business to Baha Mar. It is also building a leadership team from major resort and casino brands.
Graeme Davis, president of CTFE’s Bahamas subsidiary, said: “CTFE will dedicate significant, ongoing investment and resources towards the pre-opening and opening of Baha Mar.
“We will also ensure that the Bahamian people and the region benefit fully from the project, which will create tremendous job and economic stimulus opportunities.
“Further, by combining our global hospitality expertise with the vibrant and authentic Bahamian culture, we will create a memorable, unmatched experience for guests of which all Bahamians can be proud.”