By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE $1.2m write-off of a tenant’s $3.3m rent arrears at the Lynden Pindling International Airport was part of a resolution to a complex matter through several administrations caused in part by challenges that arose when airport traffic projections made by the Nassau Airport Development Company Ltd (NAD) did not materialise, former Transport and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna Martin said yesterday.
The Englerston MP explained that the tenant, PatMor Holdings, entered into leaseholds at a time when NAD faced a serious dilemma with the previous tenant and that this new lease was assumed when the outstanding arrears from the prior tenant for several of the units was already at a significant level.
In addition, Mrs Hanna Martin said challenges emerged when traffic projections made by NAD did not materialise upon which revenue projections were made by the tenant. Finally there were also questions as to whether the tenant in question was paying a higher interest rate than other tenants.
Following an audit by Kikivarakis & Co where all these matters were considered and recommendations made, former NAD Chairman Anthony McKinney, QC, said in September 2016 principle terms were agreed to resolve the longstanding issue.
These included: the sum of $1.2m from the total assessed rents be written off and the arrears of the rent in the amount of $2.2m be paid off under certain conditions.
PatMor was also to pay $800,000 within 90 days after execution of the deed of settlement, which was to be prepared by NAD’s attorneys and the balance of the arrears and interest was to be repayable on terms to be further discussed and agreed among other things. The deed of settlement was signed in early March 2017, while the parties agreed to the terms of settlement between later January and early February, Mr McKinney has said.
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar raised the matter in the House of Assembly last Thursday with accusations that Patricia Mortimer, the owner of PatMor Holdings, was allowed to rack up a rental debt over five years under the Christie administration and was allowed to remain delinquent due to “direct intervention by the political directorate”. He said this tenant had five stores in the airport.
While the minister did not name the tenant in the House of Assembly last week, he claimed that she approached NAD’s board of directors two months before the general election and was allowed to enter into an agreement to “write off” $1.2m of this debt on the condition that she give up one store and pay her balance.
He suggested that this was done as a personal favour extended to the tenant because she was well-connected politically and questioned why the woman was not evicted from the airport despite “five years” of not paying rent.
The minister explained that this was the reason NAD’s board was dismissed shortly after the Free National Movement won the May 10 general election. However, Mr McKinney has denied this, saying the board resigned. He has made letters public to substantiate this claim.
Given the particulars of the resolution to the matter, Mrs Hanna Martin questioned whether the minister had apprised himself of what took place, adding that it was “very unfortunate” that he sought to cast aspersions on the former NAD board, in a place where they could not defend themselves.
“The new minister alleged impropriety on the part of the board which comprises respected Bahamian men and women, from various professional backgrounds and in respect of which each has distinguished him or herself; that board also includes the CEO of Vantage Group of Companies. It is very regrettable,” the MP said in a statement yesterday.
She also said: “I am concerned whether the new minister apprised himself of these facts before he made such an unfortunate assessment of the board. I am further advised that this board did as the previous board did under an FNM administration, namely to work with the tenant towards a resolution.
“In light of the circumstances surrounding this matter and the minister’s allegation in the Parliament where these persons cannot defend themselves or legally challenge the minister, the minister must now be put to proof.
“The minister further seems to suggest that the tenant’s holding of multiple leases is evidence of some irregular dealings when he ought to know that there are other tenants who also have multiple leases but the minister apparently does not deem this strange.
“It seems that what he believes to be the political stripes of this particular tenant creates a problem in his perception in this regards. This is also very worrisome.
“The new minister should also know that the minister responsible for aviation is responsible for relations with the Airport Authority (AA) board and NAD and has no responsibility for or jurisdiction in the day-to-day activities of those boards.
“Any possible or remote suggestion or hinted implication that the prior minister sought to exercise influence in this decision-making is not true,” she said.
Mr McKinney maintained yesterday that during the course of the negotiations with PatMor to resolve the outstanding rent dispute, there was no direction or instruction from the former minister of transportation and aviation or from any other minister or politician directing the board on how to proceed with the settlement discussions.
He also said he “wholly” disagreed with Mr D’Aguilar’s statement in the House of Assembly regarding his characterisation of the board’s conduct with respect to the PatMor matter as well as with respect to the termination of the board’s tenure as directors of AA and NAD.
“As chairman of AA and NAD, I—and most, if not all, of the other members—submitted our resignations to both boards on May 16, 2017 or shortly thereafter.
“I most definitely submitted my resignation to both the Hon Frankie Campbell, minister of transport and local government and the Hon Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation on May 16, 2017. I sent it to both ministers as I was uncertain under which ministry the NAD’s portfolio would be managed.”
A letter dated May 16, 2017 and sent to both ministers read: “As you are aware, I was first appointed for one year to act as chairman of the Airport Authority on July 1, 2012. This appointment, by inference, meant that I would also act as chair of the Nassau Airport Development Company Limited. As of today those appointments continue.
“Technically, my current term as chairman of the above boards is due to expire on June 30, 2017, however, protocol dictates that I should tender my resignation from both boards at this time as my appointments were made by another minister and executive.”
On May 17, the minister of transport and local government replied: “I hereby acknowledge receipt of your correspondence dated May 16, 2017, regarding the above-captioned subject.
“Please be advised that the contents of this matter has been discussed with the Hon Dionisio D’Aguilar, and we both agreed that you should continue as chairman of the above boards until Cabinet further advises.”
Several days later on June 8, Mr McKinney said he was in communication with the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation who enquired whether members of the boards had tendered resignations. The former chairman said he intimated from this conversation that Cabinet was prepared to proceed with their new appointments, prompting him to write another letter to the tourism minister confirming his resignation.
“For the avoidance of doubt as of today’s date I hereby tender my resignation, with immediate effect, from the boards of both the Airport Authority and the Nassau Airport Development Company Limited,” the letter read.