By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar’s former president today slams “outrageous and inaccurate” suggestions by its former contractor that the $3.5 billion project would have been a ‘foreigners only’ preserve.
Thomas Dunlap, in a letter sent to this newspaper, said he hoped China Construction America (CCA) would not repeat its Baha Mar performance by leaving “another mess at the gateway” to Bay Street and downtown Nassau.
In a letter laced with sarcasm and irony, Mr Dunlap said CCA’s $250 million project, The Pointe, had no excuse for not being completed on time given that Baha Mar had unwittingly given it “a head start”.
He argued that Baha Mar had paid for the importation of the construction equipment and material now being used at the site adjacent to the British Colonial Hilton, and alluded to work having been started without the necessary permits and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approvals.
Mr Dunlap was responding after CCA’s vice-president, Daniel Liu, last Wednesday night suggested that Baha Mar would have effectively been closed to Bahamians.
Speaking at a media reception for The Pointe’s new, authentic Chinese cuisine restaurant, Summer Palace, Mr Liu said CCA’s project would “not be some private development that tries to keep the people away from the beach (or) tries to make it their own territory for their own ego”.
The CCA executive, in what was perceived as an attempt to hit back at Baha Mar’s original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, also said there was “no shortage of money” and that The Pointe would be completed on time.
Mr Dunlap’s letter thus further intensifies the ‘war of words’ between Baha Mar’s original development team and the project’s main contractor.
“I am flabbergasted at the outrageous and inaccurate reference by Mr Liu to Baha Mar as ‘some private development’,” Mr Dunlap writes in response.
“Had Mr Liu spent more of the time that Baha Mar paid for him to spend on our project instead of gallivanting about the Caribbean looking for new projects, he would realise that Baha Mar is very public.
“With over 40 restaurants, clubs and retail shops, it was for all to use.......including the very golf course that CCA was busy playing the days of the missed opening, while we were hunkered down trying to address the catastrophe of their failure to meet the opening date.”
Those comments refer to allegations, made in court documents filed on behalf of Mr Izmirlian and his companies, that CCA did not fully focus on Baha Mar because it was too busy seeking work on other resort projects.
It was also claimed that CCA executives submitted inappropriate expenses claims, such as for the purchase of golf equipment, scarves and lavish entertainment, which helped to drain Baha Mar’s construction budget.
Mr Izmirlian has repeatedly alleged that CCA’s failure to abide by its guarantees and agreements to deliver a completed Baha Mar, on time and on budget, was the key reason why the $3.5 billion development failed.
CCA’s position, though, has always been that Mr Izmirlian and his executives “mismanaged” the project, and caused repeated delays by insisting upon more than 1,000 construction work ‘change orders’.
The temperature of their dispute has been raised in recent weeks by the production of an internal CCA memo, dated January 20, 2015, which appears to show that the contractor knew two months’ in advance that it was unlikely to meet Baha Mar’s planned March 27 opening.
This was never disclosed to Mr Izmirlian and, perhaps, the Christie administration, although it has yet to officially comment on the matter.
Mr Dunlap’s letter today reiterates Mr Izmirlian’s position that CCA “deceived” both the developer and the Government over Baha Mar.
“We can only hope that CCA will do a good job completing The Pointe and not leave another mess at the gateway to Nassau,” he added.
“The people of the Bahamas don’t need another unfinished China Construction America project looming on their skyline, especially one at the gateway to its historic downtown.”
Mr Dunlap also urged CCA to ‘come clean’ on the number of work permits it has obtained from the Government for Chinese and other foreign construction workers.
Leslie Pindling, the contractor’s director of external affairs, last week revealed that the Government had granted CCA some 500 work permits for The Pointe’s construction.
Mr Pindling also said the project’s Heads of Agreement had confirmed that Bahamian workforce participation would be in the minority, with the labour component weighted 60 per cent in favour of the Chinese.
He subsequently backtracked from those figures at last Wednesday night’s media reception, stating instead that the workforce’s true composition was instead 70 per cent Bahamian and 30 per cent Chinese.
“Contrary to popular belief, at this property right now we have 321 Bahamian workers . . . that work for the property,” Mr Pindling said.
“We have 135 Chinese working on the project at present. So therefore that brings us in line with what we are suppose to be doing with the Government, which is a 70/30 split. Seventy per cent Bahamian (and) 30 per cent Chinese, and we fall within the demographics of that.”
Picking up on these discrepancies, Mr Dunlap told CCA: “Stop insulting the collective intelligence of the public........
“Why can’t CCA just reveal [the] facts, for the total arc of the project, not just the percentages on any given day or skewed to look good. Baha Mar lived with this ‘coconut and pea’ game by CCA for four years.”