By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday blasted Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin for her defence of rental agreement she signed with Western Air back in 2017, accusing his predecessor of trying to shirk “a very bad deal”.
Mrs Hanna Martin last week during her budget presentation fired back at Mr D’Aguilar’s initial condemnation of the deal, claiming he authorised all payments under the agreement.
Mr D’Aguilar, addressing the fallout outside of Cabinet yesterday, said he didn’t fault Mrs Hanna-Martin at all. He insisted her lack of accounting skills left her prone to making poor deals.
The Free Town MP yesterday said: “Let’s look at this, the first thing was that these trailers deteriorated. She came into office in 2012 and they got worse and worse and worse, until 2015 when the staff said enough, and they walked out of the trailers and refuse to work in those trailers anymore.
“(The former government) looked around and of course sitting right there was the Western Air terminal… and the Rolles agreed they could move into that facility. The Rolles said the rent is $5 per square foot per month. So you take five and multiply it by 12 you get to $60 a square foot.”
An animated D’Aguilar added: “There’s no disagreement on that. The Rolles and the government agreed that $60 per square foot and if you’d look at the instructions that were given to the airport authority by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Transport from the Minister of Transport it’s said in that instructions: We know that if you charge $25 a square foot it would be $75 plus thousand dollars per year. But we’re instructing you to over ride that and pay them $60 a square foot, which equates to $183,000 a year.”
“That’s what was done, no bones about it. And she’s saying, ‘Well, they included the electricity, they included other costs’, okay so if you’re paying $25 a square foot and you include those in most leases that would add another $7 or $8 dollars not take it to $60 per square foot, so she negotiated a bad deal, that’s the bottom line.
“And yes, it was probably a health emergency they had to move out of the building, but my point is that she came into office in 2012; so in 2012, 2013, 2014 and they moved out March of 2015, (the Ministry under Mrs Hanna Martin) could have fixed the problem.”
Mr D’Aguilar contended that Mrs Hanna Martin did nothing to “fix the problem,” insisting that she allowed the issue to deteriorate to degree where the need for the staff’s immediate removal arose.
“The $60 a square foot lease, that’s the problem. All I’m saying is it’s a bad deal. I’m not saying that there’s any dishonesty or anything untoward went on. I’m just saying it was a bad deal. That’s what I’m saying,” he said.
When asked by The Tribune how the matter was uncovered and addressed by his incoming team, Mr D’Aguilar added: “So what I did, was when I came in and I recognised that we were paying $60 a square foot and the only reason that it came to my attention was in February of 2018 they sought a renewal and they wanted to take it from $60 a square foot to $84 a square foot and I said hell no. I said I can’t believe that we’re paying $60. I mean in my office on Bay Street in the centre of our country, for the Ministry of Tourism in the British American Financial Building we’re paying $25 a square foot. In Andros you’re paying $60 a square foot? I said this makes no sense so I said no.”
He furthered: “I said let’s put as an interim measure to save the government, I think it’s now $202,000 a year that is inclusive of VAT, that we save the government some money and put the trailers back in. So the trailers cost $150,000 to install, we’re paying $202,000 in annual rent, in eight months we recoup our costs and it’s not an ongoing job. It’s just a bad deal and I don’t know how she can wiggle her way around it, $60 a square foot you all know every right thinking Bahamian knows that $60 a square foot is an outrageous amount of money to pay for rent, especially in an airport in Andros. And she created the medical emergency by not fixing the containers or replacing the containers as I have shown, cost $150,000 to fix, where she’s paying $202,000 every year in rent.”
Mr D’Aguilar went on to indicate that there was no lease agreement signed between the then government and the ownership group of Western Air.
He said the agreement came in the form of a Cabinet conclusion which came down on May 4, 2017.
“I wasn’t even appointed until May the 15th and then like a week later, it was paid. I didn’t know about it, I was just getting to the Ministry of Tourism, I hadn’t even delved in that yet. So this happened right at the cusp of the election, May the 4th the decision came down, paid them the money,” Mr D’Aguilar argued. “And Western Air was saying, ‘Well, we haven’t paid them any money in cash. Well, we’ve been looking at the charges that they’ve been accruing, flying into all of the Airport Authority’s other airports, landing fees, rental fees and all that; and we’ve been offsetting the rent that we’re obligated to pay them, which is $202,000 a year, against those charges.”
He added: “They’ve been about even so we haven’t been cutting them a cheque. Nothing untoward... just a bad deal. She made a bad deal. $60 a square foot in the eyes of every Bahamian, that’s a bad deal.”