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Baha Mar Expats Make ‘Pr Nightmare’ Warning

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Baha Mar’s former expatriate staff yesterday slammed the discriminatory creditor payouts, and warned that the resort and the Bahamas “could face a PR nightmare if word of this leaks out”.

Peter Lisosky, the project’s former beverage operations manager, told Tribune Business that the manner in which he and 200 other expatriates had been treated “could never happen in the US” or other developed countries.

Speaking after the Supreme Court ruled that the sums owed to Baha Mar’s former foreign employees did not rank ahead of the China Export-Import Bank in the creditors’ queue, Mr Lisosky said creditors were treated equally - regardless of nationality - in liquidation/receivership type situations in his home country.

The Baha Mar creditor payouts, funded and overseen by the China Export-Import Bank, favoured former Bahamian staff and companies over their foreign counterparts, who are now at the mercy of the project’s $2.45 billion secured creditor as to whether they will receive any compensation.

Several former expatriate workers yesterday said they had talked about hiring an attorney to pursue the sums owed, but Mr Lisosky questioned whether this was merely ‘throwing good money after bad’.

“Am I better knowing what I now know about the Bahamas,” he asked rhetorically. “Am I better not taking the risk of going after the money? I think that might be the case.”

Mr Lisosky criticised the committee that oversaw the claims payout, on which the China Export-Import Bank and its Chinese allies held the majority, for stringing himself and other expatriate staff along over their claims.

“My take on the whole thing is that it was very disheartening when they first started doing the claims process, and were communicating with us: ‘We’re going to make a decision on your claim, and here’s the date’,” he recalled.

“They they would say: ‘We haven’t made a decision yet; we’ll make a decision on this date now’. That date came and went. They wouldn’t communicate with us at all, even by e-mail.

“James Smith [the committee’s chairman] promised at one stage we’d be getting a large figure or sum. He said that, and then stopped talking to us. I said: ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’.”

Mr Lisosky continued: “That just showed a total lack of respect; just for us as human beings. We were less than people. We certainly weren’t close to equal.”

Tribune Business reported on Tuesday how the treatment of the former expatriate staff, and their claims, could undermine the Bahamas’ reputation as a ‘safe’ jurisdiction for foreign direct investment (FDI) and workers to conduct business in.

The Baha Mar creditor payouts favoured former Bahamian staff, contractors and vendors, who received 100 per cent of what was due to them, while many foreign contractors, suppliers and vendors were offered ‘cents on the dollar’.

This was made possible because the payouts took place outside the formal Baha Mar provisional liquidation and receivership processes, and outside the purview of the Supreme Court.

China Export-Import Bank provided a $101 million fund to compensate Bahamian creditors, which was billed as an ‘ex-gratia’ payment - something it had no obligation to do, as the debts were liabilities of Baha Mar, not the secured creditor.

Such discrimination in favour of Bahamian creditors would not have been possible had the payments been conducted under the supervision of Supreme Court-appointed liquidators/receivers, as all - local and foreign - would have to be treated equally regardless of nationality.

Mr Lisosky picked up on this theme, telling Tribune Business: “That could never happen in the US. Regardless of where you are from, if you are an employee you are an employee, regardless of race, nationality, origin. We thought we were equal, but that’s obviously not the case.”

Besides wages, salaries and gratuities, this newspaper was told that the 200 expatriate staff’s claims include prior year bonuses, plus benefits such as vacation pay, sick pay and living expenses.

Some $3 million had been set aside to pay claims if the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of the employees, indicating the size of the compensation they may be entitled to. Most, if not all, the former expatriates would have occupied senior management and specialist skills positions, meaning their claims will be at the higher end of the scale.

Mr Lisosky said most had “by now absorbed” the financial blow, but were forced to dip into their savings, relocate and seek new jobs without the cushion of what they were owed by Baha Mar.

Another expatriate employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business: “This thing is so overwhelming and confusing. We’ve talked about getting an attorney, but at this point we’ll take any money.

“There are almost 200 of us. We’re collectively owed a tremendous amount of money; it’s got to be in the millions. We worked for months in good faith with no pay. A lot of people weren’t paid their bonus from the previous year.”

Describing the financial impact as “terrible”, they added: “A big part of what was owed to us came out of our own pockets. Not only were we not getting a salary at the end, but we had to pay our own way home.

“When I moved to the Bahamas, I wanted to be there for years and years. My idea was to hire a group of Bahamians, and teach them what I learned from 25 years in the gaming industry.

“I trained my team as if they were my children. At the end of two-three years, they would have been able to go anywhere in the world and earn a living, putting their kids through college. We’re talking about generational wealth.”

The former employee accused the Government, especially the Christie administration, of “leaving us all in the lurch” when due compensation was not forthcoming following the October 2015 terminations of more than 2,000 Baha Mar staff.

“It cost $10,000 to $12,000 just to move all my stuff home,” they revealed. “Bahamians should be so much against discrimination, especially since the majority of the tourism industry in the Bahamas is out of the US.

“You would think they would have a little more consideration for their neighbours from the west. I think if more Americans knew how we were being treated by the Bahamian government and the owners of Baha Mar, they might be reluctant to spend their vacation dollars at Baha Mar.

“If word were to leak out, they might have a real PR nightmare on their hands.”

The former employee, though, was quick to emphasise that they did not want to harm Baha Mar or the employment prospects for thousands of Bahamians, many of whom they had been personally responsible for hiring and training.

Adding that they were prepared to reach a “compromise” over their claims, they added: “We don’t want Baha Mar to get a black eye because they didn’t pay us, but as word leaks out it’s going to look bad for Baha Mar.

“While we don’t have a very strong relationship with the new ownership, we have a relationship with the staff. Many of them working there were trained and hired by ourselves, and we want Baha Mar to succeed for the Bahamian people.”

The former employee said expatriate workers had found it difficult to hire a Bahamian attorney to represent them, as those approached had all backed away citing ‘conflicts’ because they had acted for Baha Mar in the past.

They added that the outstanding sums owed had created “a tremendous impact”, especially for expatriate staff who had families.

“We feel like we came there in good faith, in the true spirit of wanting to help the Bahamian people, and now the Bahamas government have really hung us out to dry, abandoned us and it’s really a slap in the face,” the former employee concluded.

The Supreme Court ruling means that the expatriate staff are now at the mercy of the China Export-Import Bank, and its goodwill, as to whether they will recover any of the money owed to them.

Mr Smith indicated to Tribune Business on Tuesday that some monies from the $101 million fund to compensate Bahamian creditors remain available, but that former expatriate staff were likely to receive ‘cents on the dollar’ at most.

Comments

Porcupine 6 months ago

The Bahamas wants to be treated as equals on the world stage but can't understand a basic concept like justice. Don't worry about bad PR. We are managing that very well with every rape, murder and robbery ourselves. Sometimes it is as if we have no morals at all in this country. Truly sad.

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TheMadHatter 6 months ago

The problem here is that he made it clear they came here with a desire to help the Bahamian people.

The Government will not allow that. They know an educated population wont vote for them...so keep the people ignorant is their motto.

These trainers had to go.

Next time just come and tief Bahamian job and teach us nothing. Thats the way we love it.

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OldFort2012 6 months ago

I don't know who is advising these people?? Legally they don't have a leg to stand on. This is not bankruptcy and has nothing to do with Baha Mar or bankruptcy. The claims of the Bahamian workers and contractors were SOLD by them for the full amount to a third company, which paid them. Nothing to do with Baha Mar. Get this: Baha Mar was NOT INVOLVED. Basically, they devised a clever way to get around the bankruptcy laws and enable only Bahamians to be paid in full. This was obviously done by the Chinese as some political quid pro quo. As to the claim that it could not happen in the USA, that is total rubbish. There is no law anywhere in the world to prevent anyone from offering to buy any asset for any price they freely choose to offer. Please stop threatening the Bahamas and vent your anger on the Chinese. But that is slightly harder to do, is it not? Much easier to lie about 400k defenceless people than a nuclear superpower.

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banker 5 months, 4 weeks ago

If the expats choose to, they can conduct a highly negative PR campaign. It is much easier to look at a simple fact that Bahamians got paid and expats didn't, than to educate anyone on the subtleties of what happened. Most people do not care to learn the subtleties but want the US Today version as iterated in the first instance -- Bahamians got paid and we didn't.

It is my contention that Baha Mar is a poisoned well -- if not poisoned, then insignificant. There has been no massive, coordinated marketing level like Sarkis did initially, and there is really nothing new to offer than a curiosity. Doesn't bode well for the economic well-being of the project, and if it continues to get negative press, then it een going nowhere.

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OMG 5 months, 4 weeks ago

You may be technically right but morally wrong and what needs to change is this"we are the Bahamas and we can do what we like". The reality is that this little country can be closed down financially and physically with the stroke of a pen and believe me there are countess destinations with the same blue waters , sunny skies, and sandy beaches which can be visited including airfare for a lot less than this overpriced destination. This we are the best and the rest of the world owes us a living is dead in the water, just look at the recent figures showing how once again the Bahamas has slipped in the rakings of the " ease of doing business countries". My point is simple, you can do whatever you want because this is your country but the reality my friend is that outside forces enable you to live and disregard the rules of fair play and you will reap the fallout.In fact we already are.

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banker 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Totally concur with everything that you said.

As a matter of fact, reputation can be destroyed in a moment with a viral lie.

My point was (and I must confess that I am being really pedantic because of the latest book that I am reading on the fallacies of thinking and opinion by Daniel Kahneman) that there are subtleties that most people will not take into account when creating an opinion. Moi -- I think that the expats should have been paid even if there was no legal obligation -- solely because the Bahamians were paid. Fair is fair. It is just plain wrong that they weren't. They came here with their expertise to build up the economy and create jobs, and they were not treated equally. Most expats carried industry knowledge vital to the operation -- they were not low level staff but had skills and experience to make the operation work. Everyone should be treated equally.

Reputation should be a guarded thing. Yes the Chinese stiffed the expats, but it is the Bahamas whose reputation is at stake.

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Dotherightthing 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Oldfort2012,

I appreciate your posts as they are well written, informative and provide clarity to the situation.

That being said did the Bahamian Government not provide concessions in exchange for the $101 million? Did the Bahamian Government not have a say in how the $101 million was allocated and to whom? If the answer is yes to either or both questions then the Bahamian Government clearly had the opportunity to ensure all employees of Baha Mar were compensated for what they were owed.

The Claims Committee was a Government appointed agency. Communication from this committee to the former expats was that a decision would be made by a specific date. This date came and went only to be told the decision date was delayed until December 31, 2016. That date also came and went and communication then stopped. Perhaps this was an intentional diversion as the Government clearly new there is a one year statute of limitation to file a claim against the Government. We were all made redundant October 15, 2015.

The Chinese have no interest in paying the expats unless they can be convinced by the new Bahamian Government that it is in their best interest to do so. The Bahamas does not need any help in the negative PR area and more importantly it's the ethical thing to do.

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OldFort2012 5 months, 4 weeks ago

I have no argument with anything you say. But I would contend that the problem rests with the current owners of Baha Mar and the Chinese rather than anything to do with the Bahamas. We should keep completely out of it. And the expats should keep us out of it. I have every sympathy for their plight. But it is a lost cause. They got shafted by the Chinese: chalk it up to experience and move on.

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observer2 5 months, 4 weeks ago

The Baha Mar agreements need to remain secret under the courts as it will be clear that the Chinese lent the Bahamas $100 million to pay off the Bahamian employees and contractors.

FNM need to increase the borrowing by $100 to $833 million. Ok, let's round it to $1 billion.

More unrecorded liabilities and ncompetent accounting by the government which is a big negative to international rating agencies.

I predict a junk rating by September. Which will increase collateral calls buried deep in government stupid loan agreements from $70 million to $500 million.

= government default by end of this year.

= get your money out of the country before the devaluation. A devaluation and debt default is needed to reduce the government debt and correct or balance of payments,

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banker 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Thinking that you are right about this. Debt reduction by first principles (paying it off by generating enough revenue to retire debt) is almost an impossible task unless the budget is pared down with scalpels, knives, chainsaws, machetes and pens. My estimate is that the civil service needs to be reduced by 10,000 people.

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proudloudandfnm 5 months, 4 weeks ago

I hate to say this but government has to pay these people to save our reputation..

And the PLP MUST BE PROSECUTED...

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Dotherightthing 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Oldfort2012,

I appreciate your comments as they are well written and provide transparent clarity to the situation. You are correct that the Chinese are calling the shots however the Christy administration had a seat at the table as it relates to the 101 million "gift". The Government provided concessions in exchange for this loan which was politically motivated.

The Government had the opportunity to recommended that the expats should be compensated in addition to the Bahamian employees, businesses and sub contractors needed to complete the resort but they chose not to include the expats in the discussion.

The Claims Committee was a Government appointed committee being directed by the bank. They ultimately were the facilitator of distributing the funds but if the Government would have included the expats in the initial communication with the bank everyone would have been paid.

The expats may not have a leg to stand on legally but they are going to seek legal representation in the Bahamas. What choice do they have?

The new Government needs to "do the right thing" and use their influence with the Chinese bank to utilize the remaining funds from the 101 million "gift" and pay the expats. If the bank chooses to not pay the expats where are the remaining funds going to be allocated?

No one wants to smear Baha Mar, The Bahamas or the Chinese but if the decision is to not pay the expats and do what's right why wouldn't this group who represents 500 years of hospitality and gaming experience/relationships tell their story to anyone that will listen.

This can all be avoided should the Government simply persuade the bank to pay the expats.

Dotherightthing

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