By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar’s claims committee chairman yesterday said he was “not familiar” with a “third party” entity whose former employees are increasingly fearful that they will be excluded from the creditor payouts.
James Smith confirmed to Tribune Business that he was aware of a Baha Mar affiliate called The Hobby Horse Company, but was unsure of the role and functions it performed.
He was responding after this newspaper obtained evidence that former Baha Mar workers, who were either employed by The Hobby Horse Company at the time of the project’s collapse, or previously engaged by it, are becoming increasingly concerned that they will either be excluded from the settlement process entirely or see their payments cut.
Deyvon Smith, a former Baha Mar employee, in a posting on Facebook that was shared across social media, warned that those contracted to The Hobby Horse Company at the time of Baha Mar’s collapse would receive “no payment”.
“I am a former employee of Baha Mar, and as you know there has been talk of Baha Mar employees receiving outstanding payments, which is false,” Deyvon Smith wrote.
“To all my fellow Baha Mar employees, if you have not signed your hotel contract and still work for Hobby Horse Company, please know that you will not receive any payments whatsoever from Baha Mar.
“You are setting yourself up for more disappointment and unfulfilled promises thanks to our soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister Perry Christie.”
Other former Baha Mar staff confirmed that Deyvon Smith was a former employee, and Tribune Business possesses evidence showing his concerns over The Hobby Horse Company are not isolated ones.
This newspaper understands that The Hobby Horse Company was the entity that Baha Mar placed all its new hires with, until they were assigned and contracted to one of the four resort properties - the hotel/casino, the Grand Hyatt, Rosewood or SLS.
Tribune Business can reveal that other former Baha Mar staff have contacted the creditors committee to inquire if they will be paid monies owed to them by The Hobby Horse Company, and if they will receive funds covering the period when they were switching from this entity to one of the hotel properties.
In response, Mr Smith urged any Bahamian who felt they had a valid claim against Baha Mar to contact the committee he chairs, pledging: “No one will be turned away.”
The former finance minister told Tribune Business: “I have heard of this company, Hobby Horse, but I’m not sure whether it’s a management or administrative company. I’m not familiar with the details.”
Mr Smith, though, added that the committee was dealing with a similar situation relating to Baha Mar’s training academy, or Leadership Development Institute (LDI).
“There were a group of people in the academy guaranteed jobs at Baha Mar,” he explained. “Some had been contracted, and some had not been contracted, before it collapsed.
“The process is trying to accommodate everyone they can within the amounts. When we discover the non-traditional employees not directly engaged by Baha Mar in-house, they have to be dealt with in almost a special way, designing a package for them.”
Conceding that the creditor payout committee had not specifically dealt with The Hobby Horse Company, and any of its former staff, Mr Smith said: “If there is anyone out there who has a claim, they ought to submit it and let the committee look at it.
“No one is being turned away. If they fall into this specific category, it requires a more in-depth look. If they were associated with the company for a period of time, and feel they might qualify, they ought to come in.”
Mr Smith urged former employees with Hobby Horse Company-related concerns to come and talk with Baha Mar’s former human resources executives, plus attorneys and accountants at the payout location, to “try and work it out”.
Meanwhile, the former finance minister revealed that the creditor committee had been “re-writing a lot of cheques” up until Monday night, just prior to yesterday’s payout start.
He added that claims from Baha Mar’s contractor and vendor creditors were “not coming in as swiftly as we thought”, and urged them to submit even incomplete submissions as the September 30 deadline looms.
Suggesting that around 250 former Baha Mar employees had come to collect their payments during the first two hours yesterday, Mr Smith said: “We’re expecting around 700 a day to get to just short 2,000 staff members who would have been engaged.
“It went very smoothly. I heard one or two people were saying that what they got paid did not square with the letter they got in October 2015, but I doubt there’s very many of them, as the calculations were based on the same data that the Baha Mar human resources department had.
“In some cases, where it was brought to our attention, legitimate adjustments were made. Right up until last [Monday] night we were re-writing cheques. But for a lot of them, the difference was $26 or something like that.”
Mr Smith said attorneys, accountants and former Baha Mar human resources executives were available to assist if payments “don’t reflect expectations”.
Confirming that Baha Mar’s expatriate staff have been told to wait until October 31 for determination of their fate, he added that the committee wanted to avoid a ‘last-minute rush’ on contractor and vendor claims.
“They’ve not been coming in as swiftly as we thought,” he told Tribune Business. “Submit the claims. They may be incomplete, but at least get into the queue. The quicker, the better.”