LAST YEAR, we wrote two editorials, each inviting Prime Minister Christie to tell Bahamians whose side he and his government were on in the dispute between Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian and the Beijing owned EXIM bank and its construction company.
Of course, we did not expect, nor did we get an answer. However, despite the weather vane continuing to tip towards Beijing, we had hoped that The Bahamas would win in the end with the developer.
And so we were as shocked as Dionsio D’Aguilar, a former Baha Mar director, when it was learned that while the prime minister was ostensibly negotiating with Mr Izmirlian and Beijing for the completion and opening of Baha Mar, behind the scenes, his government had given CCA – the construction company blamed for the breakdown of the Baha Mar project – permission to move manpower and equipment from the unfinished Baha Mar site to start work on CCA’s $200m Pointe project near the British Colonial Hotel. When asked if this project, considering its track record at Baha Mar, would be completed on time, the new owners assured the press that it would, indicating that as they owned the project, it would meet its deadlines. For us, this was indeed a loaded answer. At the time, we wondered if in fact the core of the problem at Cable Beach was that the construction company and its backers did not own Baha Mar, but would have liked to have had it under their full control. Was this the object of the exercise that has led to the chaos that we see today? Was this the reason for the indifference displayed by EXIM bank when complaints were made to it about its construction company’s non performance — after all if this were a true investment, the bank should have been very concerned about a non-functioning construction company on a project for which it was now losing money.
Baha Mar was scheduled to open in December 2014. In January, it apologised for the delay, saying it would not be ready for guests before March 27, 2015. Three days before this date, hotel officials announced the opening had been delayed again to early May due to ongoing construction. Completion dates had been fixed by CCA, the foot-dragging construction company. The developer had expended a large investment training staff to fill the many jobs on the site. Large sums were spent on advertising for the trend-setting resort, even bookings were being accepted. A lavish wedding had been planned for what was billed as the most glamorous resort in Paradise. In the end, everything had to be cancelled. What promised to be the prize of the Caribbean had failed. The publicity was such that it is doubtful that if and when the hotel opens it will be able to recapture the enthusiasm that it had first generated.
Mr Izmirlian took the problems he was having with CCA to the Prime Minister. He told him that his back was to the wall and that something would have to be done urgently if the hotel were to meet its obligations.
Feeling he was not getting the support he expected, an exasperated developer said he did not believe that Mr Christie was doing what was best for the Bahamian people. In his opinion the “votes of The Bahamas will decide how they feel about the actions of the government” in the whole transaction. Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell, angered by the remark, suggested that anyone who did not conform with the values of The Bahamas should take the necessary steps to find some other county in which to live. Deputy Prime Minister “Brave” Davis agreed, saying that the office of the prime minister ought not to be disrespected.
We are certain that many foreign investors took note. For us it recalled our early days of attending the House of Assembly when we were shocked by a comment made by the late Sir Stafford Sands on the treatment of investors. “We bring ’em in, suck ’em dry and throw away the husk,” he remarked. Was this what had happened to this young, enthusiastic investor?
Mr Izmirlian in a desperate attempt to save his $3.5 billion dream filed for bankruptcy court protection in Delaware. “The general contractor,” he said at the time, “repeatedly has missed construction deadlines.” Unable to open, he said, “the resort has been left without a sufficient source of revenue to continue our existing business.”
Mr Christie was miffed, claiming that Mr Izmirlian had gone behind his back, and pulled a fast one.
Now we learn that while Mr Izmirlian was desperately crying for help to save his resort, staff and creditors, Heads of Agreement were quietly being signed on June 18, 2015 by the Christie government and the CCA, for the latter to start work at the Pointe. Although, it is claimed that CCA was not to start work at the Pointe until Baha Mar had been completed, Baha Mar was left idle and the Pointe started to take on life. If one were to examine who holds certain contracts at the Pointe, it will be easy to put the jig-saw puzzle together and have the answers for such preferential treatment. One investor was prepared to deal, the other was not.
Eleven days later, Mr Izmirlian filed for Chapter 11 in Delaware to save his investment. EXIM Bank and CCA, claiming that as the site of the complaint was in The Bahamas, The Bahamas should be the jurisdiction in which the case be heard. The Christie government agreed, claiming that to do otherwise would flaunt Bahamian sovereignty. In the end, The Bahamas government made an expensive mockery of our sovereignty.
Meantime, Deputy Prime “Brave” Davis was in Panama extolling the skills of CCA. The occasion was CCA’s opening of its Latin American Regional Headquarters in Panama City.
Said Mr Davis in praising CCA, which by now had walked off the job at Baha Mar to undertake its own investment:
“This expansion evidences the fact that success comes only to those whose goals are so strong that obstacles act only as the investor.” He acknowledged CCA’s contribution to the Bahamian economy and commended CCA for its resourcefulness, expertise and professionalism. “For The Bahamas, we are grateful for the contribution of CCA in our efforts to improve our economy through foreign direct investment, the creation of jobs, and the provision of training opportunities. As the financier, investor and builder of the Baha Mar project, CCA has helped create thousands of jobs for the Bahamian people and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for local businesses,” he said. We have failed to find any truth in Mr Davis’ statement. “Finances, dedication, network capability, and other resources are major assets of CCA; and these assets accomplish the seemingly impossible,” he continued in stating what today has been styled as “alternative facts.”
We hope that whenever the election date is called upstanding Bahamians will rescue their country from the clutches of the unprincipled.