By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas "is as much an unwitting victim" of the Fyre Festival fiasco as its attendees, the Minister of Tourism revealing that organisers kept ministry officials away from the event site.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, in a recent interview with Tribune Business, acknowledged that the fall-out had created "a PR nightmare" for the Bahamas, but argued that his Ministry's officials were not to blame.
"The organisers of the festival, according to our people, were very reluctant to give them access to the site," he revealed. "They were assured the organisers had it covered.
"It was only on the day people arrived that they had access to the site and saw that the things promised were not in place. The Ministry then stepped into action to get those people out as quickly as possible, working at the airport."
Mr D'Aguilar, speaking just before the US federal authorities charged the Fyre Festival's principal organiser, William McFarland, with fraudulent misrepresentation based on allegedly false declarations of his personal and corporate assets, said the Ministry had seen its role purely as a facilitator.
"Obviously, this is a PR nightmare for the Bahamas, but if anybody comes to the Bahamas and wants to stage something, the Ministry puts forward its people to assist in getting all the requirements and permits in place for it to work," he told Tribune Business.
"They do this time and time again for many festivals and conferences down here. I don't think anybody realised the fall-out would have such an effect on the Bahamas. The Ministry is as much a victim in this as the Bahamas is a victim in this and as the attendees. I'd like to think the Bahamas is an unwitting victim."
The Fyre Festival took place prior to the general election and Mr D'Aguilar's appointment as Minister of Tourism. Tribune Business, though, has previously revealed how DeAnne Gibson, its manager of culinary tourism, was linked via her sister to the company that provided catering services to the event.
That company, Cater Fyre, was created specifically for the event by two University of the Bahamas (UoB) culinary professors, one of whom was Mrs Gibson's sister, after the organisers approached the Ministry of Tourism seeking advice on who they should hire as caterers.
And Pedro Rolle, the Exuma Chamber of Commerce's president, previously told this newspaper that the Ministry of Tourism chaired a meeting, with McFarland present, where Exuma stakeholders were encouraged to give their full support to Fyre Festival and ensure it worked.
All this raises questions as to whether the Ministry of Tourism's judgment was impacted by the involvement of officials seeking to profit from the Fyre Festival, and whether the involvement of its officials gave credibility to the organisers and induced Exuma-based vendors to provide services that ultimately left them out-of-pocket.
Mr Rolle yesterday told Tribune Business that it was impossible to determine the total financial loss for contractors, vendors and individuals whom the Fyre Festival had failed to pay because no "central registry" of sums outstanding existed.
Expressing fears that the debacle and its impact will be 'swept under the carpet', the Exuma Chamber chief added: "I can't give a number. I've heard of no effort by anybody to say how these debts will be paid, and if it will be done on an individual basis."
Mr D'Aguilar earlier this week said it was highly unlikely that the Fyre Festival's Bahamian unsecured creditors would receive what was due to them, given that there were little to no assets in this nation to claim against.
Neither Mr Rolle nor K P Turnquest, minister of finance, were yesterday able to confirm the fate of the Fyre Festival assets seized by Customs over non-payment of import duties and other taxes by the organisers.
These assets included $10 million worth of music sound stage equipment that had been leased by McFarland's Fyre Media. Mr Rolle said he thought everything had been moved to Nassau, while Mr Turnquest was unsure of their status.
Mr Rolle, meanwhile, said Exuma residents and businesses were "refusing to dwell" on their Fyre Festival losses and moving on with their lives, despite the huge financial hit taken from not being paid five to six-figure sums.
"For the most part, these people are amazingly resilient in terms of accepting what is that has happened, and moving on," he told Tribune Business.
"On the Family Islands, people don't have a whole lot and work hard for what they have. The mood is never to dwell on the negative. There's been no bitching and moaning.
"I think for the most part people feel they got into this and it didn't work out, so where do we go from here? That's in a way good, but it's unfortunate they find themselves in this position to begin with."
Mr Rolle said five and six-figure losses on the Fyre Festival "represents a significant portion of the year's earnings for these small businesses; that's not a small sum.
"To be owed $50,000 means you went all in on this and expected to do well," he added. "If you went into debt or lost a year's worth of work to do this, it's not a pleasant thing."
The Exuma Chamber chief suggested that if the Government was still in possession of assets belonging to the Fyre Festival organisers, the proceeds of any sale or auction should first be used to compensate Bahamians vendors and creditors, rather than the Government.
"Customs is losing a portion of its revenues, but these people are losing money where they expended hard cash," Mr Rolle explained. "In some cases, the Government should not be the first to be compensated for losses.
"People on the ground should be factored in as well. They're out of pocket real monies. I think they should be number one, and Customs number two."
Mr Rolle acknowledged that the Government would likely say all relationships with the Fyre Festival organisers were commercial ventures, where Bahamian entrepreneurs knew they were taking a risk.
However, he argued that it was not the private sector's job to vet organisers of such festivals coming into the Bahamas - arguing that this was the Government's responsibility. And he suggested that the Ministry of Tourism's role would have provided Exuma businesses "with a level of confidence" to provide products and services.