Baha Mar: What Did Govt Know?

Source: Tribune 242

By NICO SCAVELLA | Tribune Staff Reporter | nscavella@tribunemedia.net

The Free National Movement has called on Prime Minister Perry Christie to “be transparent” and reveal whether his administration was aware that the $3.5 billion Baha Mar resort was likely to miss its March 2015 opening deadline.

FNM Chairman Michael Pintard yesterday said Mr Christie is “duty bound” to explain the specifics surrounding the government’s numerous meetings with the relevant officials last year over a possible resolution to the Baha Mar deadlock.

On Monday, The Tribune reported the contents of a confidential memo China Construction America (CCA) sent to its parent company in Beijing, in which it warned that the Cable Beach project and its stakeholders faced “irreversible and catastrophic loss” unless drastic action was taken.

The January 20, 2015, memo was sent two weeks after Baha Mar’s contractor assured Mr Christie and resort developer Sarkis Izmirlian that all was on track for a scheduled opening at the end of March 2015.

However, Mr Pintard suggested that at some point during the discussions, the government should have received the memo that the resort would likely not make its opening target.

Mr Pintard also said Mr Christie should be “especially cautious” about future statements surrounding the opening of Baha Mar, given that he has been “consistently incorrect” in his predictions on a potential resolution of the Baha Mar controversy.

In the confidential memo CCA sent to China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) in January 2015, and obtained by The Tribune, CCA warned that Baha Mar faced “catastrophic loss” unless CSCEC sent at least another 450 Chinese workers to give it a chance of hitting the March 27 target.

In the document, CCA warned that the construction situation at Baha Mar “is very difficult” and in urgent need of fixing.

The memo was sent two weeks after Mr Christie and a Bahamian ministerial delegation visited China in early January 2015. Mr Christie, Mr Izmirlian and their respective teams held joint meetings with officials from CCA and the China Export-Import Bank, Baha Mar’s financier, during which they were assured that the March 27 opening would be hit.

It was also written three weeks before the Prime Minister’s Office and Baha Mar issued a joint statement on February 10, 2015, stating that Mr Christie and Mr Izmirlian jointly met with the relevant officials and had “received the necessary assurances that the resort will be ready for guests on March 27.”

“At some point the government of the Bahamas became aware of what you and the public are now just discovering,” Mr Pintard told The Tribune yesterday. “The question would be, at what point did this happen? And I believe now that it is in the public domain, the government is duty bound to be transparent about at what point were they made aware of the failure of the China Construction company and its parent company to satisfy the labour requirement in order to hit the identified timeline for opening.”

This admission by Mr Christie, Mr Pintard said, is “especially important” given that the government “sided heavily” with the Chinese after Baha Mar filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in last June, despite the memo clearly indicating that the contractor could be seen as at least partially responsible for the construction delays.

“What else has been revealed that the government is aware of and has to date not shared with the Bahamian people with respect to the challenges that Baha Mar is facing?” Mr Pintard asked. “And why would the prime minister, on multiple occasions, suggest that he is armed with information that will show the hotel is going to be open soon, when based on this memo, clearly, there seemed to have been no movement in the direction of providing what is not a small number of workers?

“At a minimum, the public now knows to take much of what Mr Christie says with a grain of salt. If a deficit in terms of qualified labour was an issue ahead of the March 27 opening in 2015, then it stands to reason that the deficit in labour has to be addressed now for any future opening of the development.”

Baha Mar filed for bankruptcy on June 29, 2014 in the United States, however the cases for the resort’s Bahamian companies were later thrown out of court.

In October, the Supreme Court approved the China EXIM Bank’s request to have the property placed into receivership.

Mr Christie has, on numerous occasions, expressed optimism in a resolution to the Baha Mar debacle.