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Editorial: Now Time To Open All Baha Mar Files

DR HUBERT Minnis should not have to be reminded that one of the main tenets of his party’s political platform was to open wide government’s doors and expose the PLP’s five-year management or mismanagement of the people’s government and the spending or misspending of its finances. In some areas they have carried out their mission with great vigour, in others there is too much foot-dragging.

And the area that could have the greatest impact on the future of this country if the wrong decisions are - or have been made — is the Baha Mar project. Bahama Mar was launched as the enterprise that would put the Bahamas’ footprint on the world map as a leader in tourism. And yet, it is the one area - the most important in our opinion — that is still shrouded in secrecy.

Maybe if the full truth were known, no investor would trust the Bahamas again as a safe investment haven. And yet, failure to expose the truth and try to rectify the wrongs as far as legally possible would completely destroy the Bahamas — remember under another PLP government our islands were cast adrift as a “nation for sale.”

Thanks, to an FNM government, under prime minister Hubert Ingraham, this country was pulled out of the mire. One investor turned, took a second look at the Bahamas, saw it was on a new course and decided to take the plunge with the Ingraham government. Sir Sol and his son, the late Butch Kerzner, created the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island. Other hotels and investments followed and the Bahamas regained its place in the world.

The FNM is on the cusp of success or failure. It is time to make a decision. The full truth has to be told about Baha Mar. Bahamians don’t even know how many acres of land are involved in this investment, nor any of the plans going forward. Much of this information is locked down by the courts at the request of the Chinese bank with no objection by the PLP government when the decision was made. The FNM is now the government. Attorney General Carl Bethel has said that he has reviewed all documents and sees nothing wrong with the agreements. Although, he is the Attorney General whose word is to be respected, so much that is wrong has swirled around this contract - made worse by secrecy— that one man’s opinion is not going to sway public opinion.

About 15 years ago, Perry Christie, talked Sarkis Izmirlian into purchasing the Wyndham Crystal Palace from US investor Phil Ruffin. Not interested, Mr Izmirlian twice turned the offer down. On Mr Christie’s third attempt, Mr Izmirlian took the bait and not only purchased the Ruffin hotel but also relieved government of its failed Radisson Hotel. The Baha Mar dream was born. We won’t go into further details other than to say that other than signing government’s heads of agreement with Baha Mar, there was so much foot dragging on the part of the Christie government that the party was voted from power with the final Baha Mar agreement still not signed.

At the time the world was on the edge of a recession, and when, thanks to missed deadlines with his Las Vegas partners, because of the yet unsigned heads of agreement by the Christie government, the Vegas partners pulled out, leaving Mr Izmirlian to search for new investors. At the time the Chinese were the only ones cashing in on the world’s financial crash. China Export-Import Bank was willing to provide the necessary funds and become part of the Izmirlian dream.

However, as opening date was nearing EX-IM Bank’s construction partner, CCA kept failing on all the opening dates that it had set for Baha Mar, thus running up company expenses. Mr Izmirlian went to Mr Christie with his problem. However, Mr Christie seemed not to grasp the gravity of the situation. China Construction America (CCA) kept failing on completion dates. The financial problem became desperate, and, so without consulting anyone Mr Izmirlian quite sensibly applied for bankruptcy protection under Delaware court’s chapter 11. Miffed that he was not taken into Mr Izmirlian’s plans, Prime Minister Christie took to his corner and sulked. He was supported by his sidekick Fred Mitchell, then Immigration Minister, who petulantly declared that if Mr Izmirlian did not conform with “the values of the Bahamas he should take the necessary steps to find some other country to live in.”

The matter went to the Delaware court with Mr Christie objecting that the Bahamas would not support it because it disrespected the Bahamas’ “sovereignty” - thus making a mockery of the meaning of “sovereignty”. As a result the investment went into Bahamian liquidation, and — thanks to “sovereignty” – has since been a bundle of confusion and secrecy. Mr Izmirlian has been blocked from bidding on his own investment, and Mr Christie, who had talked him into making the $800-$900 billion investment, refused to intervene on Mr Izmirlian’s behalf with China Export-Import Bank. Mr Izmirlian was cut off from all attempts to repurchase his investment. Mr Christie went ahead with his “sovereignty” nonsense despite several pleas from former prime minister Hubert Ingraham not to do so as he would regret making such a grave error.

However, it is still not known whether the Cheng group from Hong Kong, which is supposed to purchase Baha Mar on its completion, has as yet done so. Why? Because the jinx in this whole sad tragedy of errors — CCA — has again missed its “substantial completion” deadline — October 15, 2017. The completion of this enterprise was the condition of sale. If this is true and the Chow Tai Fook Enterprises are not yet the owners of Baha Mar, how could the Bahamas Gaming Board under the Christie government have granted Sky Warrior Bahamas Ltd a casino licence on April 5 – a month before this year’s May 10 election?

If this resort has not been sold then we urge that the bidding process be opened and Mr Izmirlian be allowed to bid.

Mr Prime Minister under your open government, the public is entitled to this information. Remember the politicians are the servants of the people. This is one tenet of democracy that the Pindling and Christie government’s forgot to their party’s destruction. We hope Dr Minnis does not make the same mistake.

All files now have to be opened and the whole truth be told.

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