By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A furious Leslie Miller yesterday slammed the Bank of the Bahamas (BOB) bail-out vehicle for trying to sell his multi-million dollar plaza while in the middle of talks with the government.
The former MP and Cabinet minister said it appeared that "the right hand does not know what the left is doing", given that his family is negotiating with the government to lease the Summerwinds Plaza on Tonique Williams Highway to a variety of public sector agencies.
Mr Miller hit out after Bahamas Resolve, the vehicle to which BOB's "toxic" loans have been transferred, advertised his Summerwinds Plaza for sale to interested buyers via a newspaper advertisement in Friday's edition of The Tribune.
He questioned "who the hell's talking to who", given that he was speaking to the prime minister, minister of works and attorney general about the plaza's potential lease to the government, and accused the Ministry of Finance - which has direct ministerial responsibility for Resolve - of "doing its own thing".
Mr Miller's assertion, though, was emphatically rejected by a highly-placed government source, who revealed that Bahamas Resolve and its Board "got explicit directions from Cabinet" to pursue recovery of the collateral for these toxic loans regardless of the borrowers' identities.
This, they added, was done to reassure that political connections, wealth and 'membership of the elite' will not stand in the way of efforts to recover assets for the Bahamian taxpayer, who has been saddled with multi-million dollar liabilities as a result of the 'toxic' loan transfer to Resolve and subsequent injection of government bonds to shore up BOB's balance sheet.
"The Board of Resolve is pushing through and liquidating all assets without consideration of who may be owners of the underlying properties," the source said. "That helps a lot, as they're not having to tiptoe around the politics of it."
Marlon Johnson, the Ministry of Finance's acting financial secretary, and who is also secretary to the Resolve Board, declined to respond to Mr Miller's comments or speak to specific loans being targeted for collection.
Raymond Winder, the former Deloitte & Touche managing partner who administered Resolve, was similarly tight-lipped when contacted by Tribune Business. However, this newspaper's real estate contacts yesterday revealed that Mr Miller was far from the only prominent deadbeat borrower featured in Friday's newspaper advertisement.
For it exposed two former Cabinet ministers, and an ex-Bank of the Bahamas managing director, as being among those whose delinquent loans were transferred as part of the BISX-listed institution's rescue, further burdening an already-strained taxpayer with responsibility for their collection.
Tribune Business was pointed to Destini Lakes, the South Westridge community being offered for sale off Gladstone Road. This newspaper was told that the project's principals included former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson, which was confirmed by sources familiar with the matter on condition of anonymity.
Also featured was a Coral Harbour-based community called 'Coral Dreams'. Realtors told Tribune Business this development is, in fact, 'Coral Breeze', whose principals were former Cabinet minister, Algernon Allen, and his sister, ex-Bank of the Bahamas managing director, Pauline Allen-Dean.
Previous news articles confirmed this, and other well-placed sources added that regardless of which community was in the paper, 'Coral Breeze' is among the delinquent Bank of the Bahamas (BOB) commercial loans transferred to Bahamas Resolve.
The Government has twice bailed-out Bank of the Bahamas via Bahamas Resolve, removing 'toxic' loans from its balance sheet in exchange for two injections of promissory notes or government bonds, valued at $100 million and $167 million each.
Resolve is supposed to service the interest payments due to Bank of the Bahamas on these bonds, but has been unable to do so because of difficulties in realising the security for the loans it has received. This means the Bahamian taxpayer has been called on to fill the gap to the tune of $25.805 million in the 2018-2019 Budget.
And although 'toxic' loans were transferred to Resolve at 'face value', both the IMF and the Government have estimated they are worth 20 per cent of this figure at most - leaving taxpayers to shoulder a potentially enormous liability.
Mr Miller, meanwhile, blasted Resolve for seeking to sell the Summerwinds Plaza from under him at the very moment he was trying to secure its lease to the Government.
"I don't think the right hand knows what the left hand is doing," he told Tribune Business. "We are negotiating with the Prime Minister, minister of works [Desmond Bannister], and attorney general [Carl Bethel], and these other fellas are doing what ever they want to do.
"It's obvious to me that these guys, Marlon Johnson and the Minister of Finance [K P Turnquest], are doing their own thing irrespective of what the Prime Minister, Cabinet and everyone else is doing. There's no doubt about it."
Mr Miller said he had hired Damien Gomez QC, the former minister of state for legal affairs, to represent him in a matter where the Summerwinds Plaza's lease to the Government was discussed just two to three weeks ago.
"They [the Government] requested a timeframe for the leases to be completed and for a new road to be put in place on the western side of the property," he told Tribune Business.
"We wrote to them and were having ongoing discussions. In the meantime, Resolve looks like they're on their own road." Mr Miller added that the situation had placed him and his family in "a bad and very tenuous position" in the talks with the Government, but pledged to "see it through".
Mr Miller has previously repeatedly denied to Tribune Business that Resolve had placed the Summerwinds Plaza in receivership, and appointed a manager to run both it and his family's Mario's Bowling and Entertainment facility. Sources close to Resolve, though, have been equally emphatic that this is correct.
Companies owned by Mr Miller and his family, according to documents seen by Tribune Business, borrowed between $25-$28 million from Bank of the Bahamas, which was secured on the Summerwinds Plaza and associated real estate assets.
The commercial mortgage was 'upstamped', or increased, repeatedly, with this practice at its most frequent during the last Ingraham administration - something that does not fit the narrative of politically-based loans.
The Minnis administration previously suggested a 10-year lease of the plaza, agreed by its predecessor, was among the deals it blamed for "handcuffing" its financial plans.
But Mr Miller described the lease - entered into by the former Christie administration in 2016 - as "a win-win" for all parties given that the rental rate was 45-55 per cent lower than that typically enjoyed by the Government.
The outspoken ex-MP told Tribune Business that the main potential tenant was the Immigration Department, which had been lined up to lease some 98,000 square feet at the former Robin Hood store. Other government departments supposed to join it are the Registrar General's Department, Public Parks and Beaches Authority and Parliamentary Registration (voting) Department.
Mr Miller emphasised there was "nothing underhand" about the lease deal, which he said had been vetted by the Attorney General's Office. Yet the arrangement had run into trouble under both the Christie, and now Minnis, administrations.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said Resolve and its Board were firmly focused on the recovery of all collateral assets securing the 'toxic' loans. "I can't comment on any of the specific transactions, but what I will say is that the Board of Resolve is going through the terms of its engagement, which is to ensure all outstanding matters turned over to it are liquidated to recover the value of the assets," he told Tribune Business.
"The Board, with the full support of the Government, has been moving at full speed to address all outstanding matters, realise the assets on these distressed properties, and recover taxpayer money consistent with the law. The Board is following through on the mandate the company has, and doing so with the full support of Cabinet."