By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Chamber of Commerce’s chairman yesterday called for greater government transparency over when the various Baha Mar agreements will be released, as he warned Bahamians to guard against “ignorance” in the general election run-up.
Gowon Bowe told Tribune Business that the Christie administration needed to better communicate how the process to ‘unseal’ Baha Mar’s construction completion agreement will work, and the status of the various transactions.
He also urged it to explain any outstanding conditions that needed to be fulfilled to consummate Baha Mar’s completion and sale, given that expectations had been raised by Prime Minister Perry Christie’s confirmation that a deal is in place.
“Time is moving on, and when is the transaction going to be completed and the petition for the unsealing going to be heard?” Mr Bowe said of the key questions being asked by Bahamians.
“While it’s not to contradict the Prime Minister that a deal may have been struck, there may be conditions precedent - certain things that have to happen, and certain milestones that have to be achieved” before the deal is concluded.
One of the likely ‘conditions precedent’, Tribune Business understands, is CTFE obtaining a casino licence from the Government via the Gaming Board.
While it has tended to hire casino operators, brands and managers for its other resort developments that include a gaming component, CTFE is departing from this model over Baha Mar.
Graeme Davis, president of its Bahamian subsidiary, said CTFE would form its own company to own and operate the casino, and hire a management team featuring experienced executives.
Given that Baha Mars’s 100,000 square foot casino is the largest in the Caribbean, and at the centre of the resort, a gaming license is critical to CTFE’s plans. Tribune Business understands that the purchase cannot be closed without it being issued.
The ‘Heads of Terms’ agreed between the Government and the China Export-Import Bank for Baha Mar’s construction completion have remained confidential after the Supreme Court ‘sealed’ them, on the grounds that the “integrity” of the process to sell the project needed to be maintained.
Given that Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), the Hong Kong-based conglomerate, has already confirmed it has signed a sales agreement to purchase Baha Mar’s assets from the bank’s Perfect Luck Holdings vehicle, many have questioned whether the ‘seal’ is still required.
Mr Bowe said this was one reason why more information needed to be forthcoming on the status of CTFE’s purchase, and the conditions that needed to be fulfilled before it was concluded.
Besides the construction completion agreement, CTFE also has to reach its own Heads of Agreement with the Government, plus conclude terms with the China Export-Import Bank.
Prime Minister Perry Christie previously ntil the keys are turned over.
“Is it that we will not see the unsealing until all details are finalised? That’s where transparency and communication needs to come from the Government. What are the open issues for consummation of this transaction? Are there milestones, conditions precedent that we have to await before the deal is closed? That’s the key sentiment.”
The Chamber chairman said that while there was much talk about the value of tax breaks “given away” to facilitate Baha Mar’s completion, Bahamians had to guard against knee-jerk reactions and speculation given that the project had become a political tool in the run-up to the general election.
“It may be a harsh term, but we have to be careful that silly season doesn’t make us ignorant,” he told Tribune Business. “We may not know all the facts.
“It may be that we end up criticising an aspect [of the Baha Mar agreement] that’s not bad, but miss a much more important issue because it’s shielded by partisan politics. We have to be mindful not to make everything a political issue.”