Unsealing Baha Mar documents ‘important’

Carl Bethel is sworn in as Attorney General by Governor General by Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling. Photo: Letisha Henderson/BIS

By KHRISNA VIRGIL

Deputy Chief Reporter

kvirgil@tribunemedia.net

NEWLY appointed Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday the Minnis administration regards the unsealing of the documents relating to Baha Mar’s sale as “very important,” but added that it is too early to reveal the avenue the government plans to take to have the deal made public.

Speaking to The Tribune on Monday, Mr Bethel said he had not yet seen or reviewed the file and that any decision in this regard is not expected until the file has been looked at and discussed with his team at the Office of the Attorney General.

After repeated calls from the Free National Movement while in opposition and critics to reveal what was detailed in the deal, former Prime Minister Perry Christie in January assured Bahamians that the documents would be made public. However this was never done.

“I am just getting my first touch of the issue,” Mr Bethel said during a telephone interview.

“I haven’t seen the file as yet, although I did have my first verbal briefing on it today (Monday).

“This is something that we do regard as very important. However, I have to review and then be briefed and we’ll go from there.”

On April 30, the former Christie administration released Baha Mar’s heads of agreement, which included several revelations, including a $4m annual bill for eight years by the government to help market the mega resort upon its opening.

The document, signed on April 25, also outlined a number of other concessions granted to the new buyer of the beleaguered resort, including value added tax (VAT) exemption for the project’s completion until the end of 2019 and write off of $10m in casino debts.

While stressing that there must at all times be “continued efforts” to maximise Bahamian employment at the resort, the government further allowed for the granting of up to 300 work permits for non-Bahamian workers in senior management positions, those with technical or specialty skills, including brand management, “where there is a demonstrable need and lack of qualified Bahamian applicants.”

The heads of agreement noted that after the first 18 months of operation of the resort and casino, work permit numbers are projected to drop to 200.

The resort also will be exempt from the payment of real property tax for 10 years “commencing on the date of opening for business of each facility within the project.”

The heads of agreement also committed the government to solving the long-standing issues plaguing the New Providence Landfill and addressing the issue of unreliable electricity supply in the capital by the end of this year.

The timing of the release of the heads of agreement coincided with the end of the government’s self-imposed deadline to push for the release of the sealed Supreme Court documents relating to the sale of the resort to Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE).

However, those documents remain under the court ordered seal and as a result, the sales price and other conditions involved in the process are still unknown.

The non-government organisation Transparency in Governance has recently made a motion in court to have the documents released to the public.

NEWLY appointed Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday the Minnis administration regards the unsealing of the documents relating to Baha Mar’s sale as “very important,” but added that it is too early to reveal the avenue the government plans to take to have the deal made public.

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Unsealing Baha Mar documents ‘important’