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Editorial: What Is The Update On Baha Mar’S Casino Licence?

IN THIS column last year, we wrote that it seemed The Bahamas’ “sovereignty”, which the Christie government claimed it was protecting in the Baha Mar transaction, is more threatened today than if it had been settled by Chapter 11 of Delaware’s bankruptcy court and left in the hands of a private investor who had become a part of the Bahamas. Our position has not changed.

The Tribune was not the only public voice expressing concern. On the floor of the House of Assembly, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, whose government had inherited the PLP’s short-sighted decision to side with the Chinese government in the transaction, was asked his opinion should the Baha Mar project in the hands of the state-owned Beijing bank fail.

“It’s an untenable position,” he told the House on November 18, 2010, “to permit any foreign state to own land in The Bahamas.” Note the emphasis is on state, not private investor. He said, if the project should fail and he were still prime minister he “would not agree to foreclose on these properties (previously Crown land) to any foreign state or any entity which is owned by a foreign state.”

Last year, facing the same dilemma, Australia’s federal treasurer blocked the sale of its largest energy grid to State Grid Corporation of China and a separate bid for the same grid from a Hong Kong-based billionaire. The reason? Australia believed that such a sale would be against its “national interests.”

And what would be our national interest in the case of The Bahamas? For the Americans it should be the large footprint China is busily establishing by encircling the US in her own moat of security — the Caribbean Basin, both from the Atlantic and the Panama Canal on the Pacific side.

As for The Bahamas, the main concern is the casino licence, and China’s new policy of curbing overseas investments in such sectors as gaming, real estate, hotels and entertainment. Their object is to build up China by keeping the millions invested in foreign countries at home. According to a report China’s Greenland group “and all mainland consortium of investors are posed to walkaway from a $2 billion mega-project purchased last year on the west coast of the US – without having put a shovel in the ground.” And, according to Bloomberg, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it clear in a recent speech that Chinese financing has left many developing countries saddled with debt. This is the cry that we often hear from Freeport — “government sold too much Freeport land to the Chinese!” — areas once active now shut down with the resultant unemployment.

However, as of now it is not known if the Cheng group has completed the purchase of Baha Mar. The purchase was meant to take place on the “substantial completion” of the project on October 15, 2017. However, CCA, the Chinese contractor who has earned a reputation of creating problems by missing deadlines, has again missed the October 15 deadline. Has the purchase gone through? And, although the purchasing company is Hong Kong based, how much of China’s restrictions on investment in hotels and casinos overseas has, or could affect the completion of this project?

We know that Hong Kong is not mainland China. However, we also know that the severe hand of China rests heavily on a Hong Kong that was used to having more control over its own destiny. We also know that Henry Cheng Kar-shun, who succeeded his father Cheng Yu-tung on his death late last year, is now the chairman of the New World development group, and the proposed purchaser of Baha Mar. However, although from Hong Kong, Mr Cheng is also a Standing Committee member of the Eleventh Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. How will China’s recent edict about ownership of hotels and resort development’s affect his purchase of Baha Mar – especially if the agreements have not as yet been signed?

And, as for the casinos – many of which have the reputation of being on the wrong side of the law with their triad gangs – they are already looking for new havens to carry on their nefarious business. What better place than the Bahamas, noted for being a potentially safe haven? This month, The Tribune published a Financial Times report by Edward White in Taipei, which probes “Chinese efforts to disrupt society by allegedly funding criminal gangs.”

Has the FNM government done a thorough check on the depth of the PLP’s Gaming Board’s investigation of the group to which the PLP granted a casino licence on April 5 this year – just one month before the May 10 general election? The PLP were removed from power, but the FNM has inherited the potential fall out from its bad decisions.

Bahamians understood that the Baha Mar contract would be thoroughly investigated and Bahamians would be fully informed of what company would take over Baha Mar, the concessions that have been agreed, and whether the persistent report that the proposed holder of Baha Mar’s casino licence cannot get a licence in the US is true of false.

The Bahamas Christian Council should certainly be concerned about this gaming licence and its unknown operators. It is now time for the Minnis government to unlock Pandora’s box and let the Bahamian people be informed.

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