By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said yesterday Cabinet is still in the process of “reviewing” the Baha Mar deal.
Asked about the status of this aspect of national interest, Dr Minnis said: “We are still reviewing. We are still reviewing. And I want to speak from a position of facts.”
Earlier this month, newly appointed Attorney General Carl Bethel said the Minnis administration regarded the unsealing of the documents relating to Baha Mar’s sale as “very important”, but added that it was too early to reveal the avenue the government plans to take to have the deal made public.
Mr Bethel said at the time that he had not yet seen or reviewed the file and that any decision in this regard is not expected until the file has been looked at and discussed with his team at the Office of the Attorney General.
After repeated calls from the Free National Movement while in opposition and critics to reveal what was detailed in the deal, former Prime Minister Perry Christie in January assured Bahamians that the sealed court documents would be made public. However this was never done.
“I am just getting my first touch of the issue,” Mr Bethel said during a telephone interview earlier this month. “I haven’t seen the file as yet, although I did have my first verbal briefing on it. This is something that we do regard as very important. However, I have to review and then be briefed and we’ll go from there.”
On April 30, the former Christie administration released Baha Mar’s heads of agreement, which included several revelations, including a $4m annual bill for eight years by the government to help market the mega resort upon its opening.
The document, signed on April 25, also outlined a number of other concessions granted to the new buyer of the beleaguered resort, including value added tax (VAT) exemption for the project’s completion until the end of 2019 and write off of $10m in casino debts.
While stressing that there must at all times be “continued efforts” to maximise Bahamian employment at the resort, the government further allowed for the granting of up to 300 work permits for non-Bahamian workers in senior management positions, those with technical or specialty skills, including brand management, “where there is a demonstrable need and lack of qualified Bahamian applicants”.
The heads of agreement noted that after the first 18 months of operation of the resort and casino, work permit numbers are projected to drop to 200.
The resort also will be exempt from the payment of real property tax for 10 years “commencing on the date of opening for business of each facility within the project”.
The timing of the release of the heads of agreement coincided with the end of the government’s self-imposed deadline to push for the release of the sealed Supreme Court documents relating to the sale of the resort to Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE).
However, those documents remain under the court ordered seal and as a result, the sales price and other conditions involved in the process are still unknown.