• Lighthouse restorer: ‘A deal is a deal’
• Filed statement of claim December 30
• Says his project ‘ready to start today’
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The entrepreneur behind the proposed $2m restoration of Paradise Island’s lighthouse has initiated legal action against the government for failing to give effect to his crown land lease.
Toby Smith, principal of Paradise Island Lighthouse & Beach Club Company, yesterday confirmed to Tribune Business that his “statement of claim” was filed with the Supreme Court on December 30 naming the attorney general as the defendant.
“A statement of claim was filed last year and the Attorney General’s Office has not responded to it. It was received by the Supreme Court on December 30, and I understand that the Chief Justice has reinstated timelines which give the Attorney General’s Office two weeks to file their defence and they haven’t done so,” Mr Smith said.
“I have every confidence in Wayne Munroe QC, and I have every confidence in the justice system of The Bahamas. I am looking forward to a day in court where the facts can be laid on the table, and when the government makes a commitment to a Bahamian, they should honour the agreement. A deal is a deal.”
Mr Smith is alleging that he was granted a valid crown land lease over parcels, including both the lighthouse and an area at Colonial Beach for his ‘beach break’ destination, that is now legally binding.
A January 7, 2020, letter from Richard Hardy, acting director of Lands and Surveys, was headlined “approval for crown land lease” over two separate parcels - one that was two acres in size for the lighthouse, and another of three acres for the “beach break” element.
Mr Smith previously told this newspaper he returned the lease, bearing his signature and other formalities, to the Government on January 9, 2020. However, the Government has to-date failed to apply its signature and execute the lease, with officials telling the entrepreneur that the document is now “not worth the paper it is written on”.
The entrepreneur voiced fears at the time that his project was being “marginalised” and treated like “a second class citizen” to make way for Royal Caribbean’s rival beach break destination that was targeted at the same portion of Crown Land.
“I feel as though I’m being pushed into a corner. I’ve already invested substantial money in tidying up the prime beach parcel, planting trees and removing debris, and planting grass,” he said then.
“It was put to me that the Government have agreed to give use of the land for the beach club to a foreigner, which they believe is in the national interest of The Bahamas. Quite frankly, my opinion is that giving up prime beachfront Crown Land to a foreign entity is not in the best interests of any Bahamian.
“I am here to fight if necessary for the rights of Bahamians that aren’t necessarily in a position to fight for themselves. Don’t get me wrong. As a Bahamian I understand the importance of foreign direct investment and development in our country that primarily protects Bahamians and provides equal opportunity. I embrace FDI, but only when it is done with respect for Bahamians.”
Mr Smith yesterday argued that the COVID-19 backdrop of high unemployment and reduced incomes should be a compelling reason to give his Paradise Island venture the go-ahead, especially since Royal Caribbean’s plans will at the very least have been delayed by the devastation inflicted on the cruise industry and its finances as a result of the pandemic
He said: “I’m ready. I could start today. I can start today. I’ve got many Bahamians. We all know about 40 percent of the Bahamian workforce is currently unemployed. I would have thought that the Government of the Bahamas would be chomping at the bit to have a Bahamian project come along, willing to hire Bahamians with the necessary capital.”
Ownership and project financing will be 100 percent Bahamian, with the development generating $5m per year in revenues for the Government once complete and fully operational. Some 40 construction jobs will also be created if it gets the go-ahead, while an initial public offering (IPO) to local investors remains a long-term goal.
Mr Smith had previously told this newspaper: “I’m not going to continue to be ignored. The financing is in place. We can monitor and enforce safe social distancing. And there is legal recourse available. Is that what Bahamians have to be faced with in our country?
“I have attempted through a mediator to reach out to Royal Caribbean to explain where my boundaries are in my Crown Land lease agreement, and I’m astonished Royal Caribbean are still trying to push over my boundaries with what appears to be the support of the Government of The Bahamas. Do we need to be issuing work permits and Crown Land to a foreign cruise line?”
Mr Smith, in an April 30 letter to the Prime Minister, urged: “We wish to have a virtual meeting with you to discuss the Paradise Island Lighthouse & Beach Club project so we can invest and create commercial opportunities for Bahamians, get Bahamians back to work and assist in getting the economy turned around.
“While we are cognisant and sensitive to the current global pandemic, we would like to receive all government approvals once those agencies reopen and commence as soon as the all-clear sign is given. We have tens of thousands of unemployed Bahamians, and we would like this project to receive accelerated processing to provide for opportunities for Bahamians with an urgency.
“We also wish to receive direct government assistance to mitigate any delays originated by government, and an accountable government designate to bring this project to fruition. Since we are in our ninth year of trying to conclude this matter with the Government we trust you understand why accountability is important to us.”