By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Opposition’s House leader has expressed concern that the Government’s agreement with China Construction America (CCA) may have compromised a Bahamian developer’s proposed project for Lighthouse Beach.
Loretta Butler-Turner told Tribune Business she had requested disclosure of The Pointe’s Heads of Agreement partly because of fears that the deal may cut across Bahamian plans for that location.
Although the Heads of Agreement, dated June 18, 2015, makes no specific reference to Lighthouse Beach or the western tip of Paradise Island, it was mentioned by Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for investments.
Mr Rolle, in his address to the House of Assembly upon the Heads of Agreement’s tabling, said: “Furthermore, the developer [CCA] has agreed to partner with the Government in the enhancement of Lighthouse Beach.”
Mrs Butler-Turner, was not present in the House of Assembly when The Pointe agreement was tabled, and suggested the timing may have deliberately coincided with her absence. She only learnt of Mr Rolle’s Lighthouse Pointe comments when Tribune Business read them out to her from his address.
Questioning why the Lighthouse Beach agreement with CCA was not included in the Heads of Agreement, Mrs Butler-Turner told Tribune Business: “A Bahamian applied for that as well. He’s got his own project proposal and cannot get any answers.
“I’m very concerned about that if you have a Bahamian who is just hanging in the branches and can’t get an answer. There is a project in the Prime Minister’s Office for that.
“Why is it that the Government is so opaque as to what they have planned for the western end of Paradise Island? In the absence of this thing being in the overall Heads of Agreement, what else has been left out?”
Mrs Butler-Turner declined to name the Bahamian developer involved, or go into detail on the nature of their project, suggesting they did not want publicity given the commercial sensitivity associated with it.
“It had to do with preserving the lighthouse,” she added of the Bahamian project. “They certainly wanted to use the northern side, which is a nice beach.
“They seemed to think that Perry Christie has led him on, and thinks he’s at a point of breakthrough and does not want to jeopardise that.
“Clearly, I told him that I’d heard the Government had entered into an agreement with CCA for that property, and I doubted very seriously that he was going to get dibs on that.”
Mr Rolle could not be reached for comment on the matter by Tribune Business over the weekend. However, there is a recent history of project proposals to use the western end of Paradise Island and Lighthouse Beach as a ‘beach break’ getaway destination catering to both locals and tourists.
Mrs Butler-Turner, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that it had taken more than 18 months for the Government to reveal the contents of The Pointe agreement with CCA, as she questioned “how current” it was.
She added that there was “total confusion” in the Heads of Agreement over the number of work permits granted, and the 70:30 ratio of Bahamian to foreign workers (in the Bahamians’ favour) that was supposed to be maintained during The Pointe’s construction.
Mrs Butler-Turner said the agreement’s first page said The Pointe would “provide approximately 200 hundred jobs for Bahamians during the peak of construction”.
Yet she added that page 14 referred to the granting of 400 to 500 hundred construction-related work permits, despite the stipulation that a 70:30 labour ratio be maintained once Bahamian sub-contractors are included.
“There seemed to be discrepancies with regard to that, even though they said there would be a 70: 30 ratio in favour of Bahamians,” Mrs Butler-Turner said.
“It’s not a well thought-out Heads of Agreement. It leaves too many unanswered questions. This is why I kept pushing for this, and I’m not satisfied that those questions I had have been substantively answered.”
The reference to “200 Bahamians at the peak of construction”, though, refers to a specific point in time - rather than the duration of the whole project. This would enable the 70:30 ratio to be maintained, especially if the work permits are spread out over the construction duration.
Mrs Butler-Turner, meanwhile, expressed concern that the Government may also be exposing Bahamian taxpayers to unknown costs due to the permission granted to CCA to undertake utility and infrastructure works in the downtown area.
In particular, the Heads of Agreement requires the Government to “review the traffic flow on West Bay Street from the Hilton to Nassau Street”, so that there is “easy access” to The Pointe’s marina and retail shops, with roadway repairs and a solution to flooding also called for.
CCA is allowed to conduct this work itself if it is not completed before The Pointe opens, and to do the same with regard to all electrical and water infrastructure.
Recalling the dispute that arose between the Government and Baha Mar’s original developer over the cost of the West Bay Street road re-routing, Mrs Butler-Turner said: “The Government is getting into a position where it doesn’t know what the final cost will be.”