By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The 10-year lease of Leslie Miller's Summerwinds Plaza is among the deals the Minnis administration is blaming for "handcuffing" its financial plans, Tribune Business can reveal.
Government contacts, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to this newspaper that the former Cabinet Minister's Tonique Williams Highway complex was one of the arrangements slammed by the Deputy Prime Minister in his mid-year Budget presentation.
K P Turnquest declined to comment when contacted yesterday, 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. He told this newspaper that he was suffering a case of "double victimisation" from both political parties. While the former government "held up the project" after Mr Miller publicly voiced his support for then-Opposition leader, Dr Hubert Minnis, he said its successor also appeared reluctant to move honour the contract.
Mr Miller added that "my family's future is in the hands of Dr Minnis and this government", revealing that he was already "out of pocket" on the deal as a result of undertaking renovations to meet the various government agencies' requirements.
Implying that rental payments have not been made, Mr Miller said: "We've had these leases in place from 2016. The leases started from then. Every time I would go and support Dr Minnis in his fight with Mrs Butler-Turner, they [the former government] held up the project.
"The election was over, Dr Minnis is prime minister now, and I'm being victimised again. I was victimised by the former government for supporting him, and I'm being victimised with family now for God knows what about.
"I'm victimised by my own government for supporting Dr Minnis, and now I'm being victimised again. Am I ever going to win? I don't know why they're coming after me when I supported him more than 90 per cent of them. They're coming after me for no reason.
"I'm a Bahamian and my family deserve to live like anyone else. The Prime Minister and minister of works said they're dealing with it, and we're just waiting for them to work it out and we'll do what we need to do so people can move into the space available. I expect them to live up to the terms of the lease, as it was done in the best interests of the ministries responsible."
Documents previously seen by Tribune Business and other media show that Mr Miller's Summerwinds Plaza and adjacent real estate assets were mortgaged to Bank of the Bahamas for a collective sum worth $25 million-plus.
The ex-Cabinet minister added, though, that the 10-year long-term lease signed with the Christie administration was priced at a $25 per square foot rental rate - a rate he said was $20-$30 less than what the Government typically pays to rent properties.
Mr Miller said he and his family were also responsible for renovation and maintenance costs, and added: "We're simply waiting for the Government to honour their obligation, and we'll go on and get the building ready for occupancy.
"It's not our fault it hasn't moved forward. Every ministry and department has signed off on their space. Immigration is taking 98,000 square feet, the Registrar General has signed off on their space, Parks and Beaches has signed off on theirs, and Voter Registry has already signed off.
"It's a win-win situation for all concerned, but I have to wait for their decision. It's all I can do. The Potcake awaits their decision. It's up to them. I have nothing to do with it. My family's future is simply in the hands of Dr Minnis and his government, and I trust them to do the right thing for Bahamians everywhere."
But Mr Turnquest, in his House of Assembly address, cited two cases where the Government owed between $13-$14 million for property leases and had "no exit clauses", even though "not one single government worker has ever set foot in the building".
He suggested some matters may result in legal action as the Government seeks to escape commitments it has no use for, adding: "Some of the agreements we have met in place, we are seemingly hand-cuffed even though we have no need of the service, so we have to figure out how to equitably exit these arrangements the former government put us in.
"We owe $13 million in one case, $14 million in another. But not one government worker ever set foot in the building. There's no exit clauses; the leases cannot be terminated. We have to pay it to the end. We're stuck."
"You wouldn't do it with your own money," the Deputy Prime Minister said of these and other contracts entered into by the former government. "No one would do it with their own money. It is evident that with these ongoing commitments we need to be doubly vigilant over the balance of the fiscal year to bring spending below Budget limits."
Tribune Business understands that another property referred to by Mr Turnquest is located on Soldier Road, but Mr Miller said he and his family had already incurred expenses in fitting out Summerwinds Plaza to the Government agencies' satisfaction.
"It's just been a continual run around," he told Tribune Business. "We're trying to get it resolved so we can get the premises finished to move the departments in.
"You couldn't get a better location than Tonique Williams Highway. We have over 200 parking spaces, and have started renovations to the entire building. It was almost fully stripped, we put Dura rock in the front, put in one mezzanine and were about to put in another.
"All of a sudden we were told to stop, and are now waiting on the Government to give me the green light so people can move into their respective areas. We're out of pocket. The Government knows what they need to do for us to get on with having the building complete for the tenants."