Sea Breeze MP, the Hon. Carl Bethel (BIS Photo/Peter Ramsay)
Contribution to Debate on Baha Mar Resolution by Sea Breeze MP, the Hon. Carl Bethel:
MINISTER BETHEL: I rise in order to give support to the Resolution to authorize the Treasurer to sell portions of West Bay Street, the Cable Beach Police and Fire Station, the portion of “Corridor No. 7 North”, and the Cecil Wallace Whitfield Centre to the proposed developers of the Bahamar resort.
This Resolution which will allow the conveyance of significant landholdings owned by the government is a requirement of the Heads of Agreement with the Bahamar developers.
For the avoidance of doubt it should be re-emphasized that the government supports the efforts of Bahamar to re-develop the Cable Beach resorts. If the government did not support the proposal it would not have signed the Supplemental Heads of Agreement. For anyone to suggest otherwise would be the heights of mischief-making. The fact is that the government supports the proposed development.
Much has been made by members opposite of certain comments by the mover and seconder of this Resolution that there was some “doubt” as to whether the Bahamar group had the financial wherewithal (one might say ‘the mean green’), or the financial backing to accomplish all that is envisaged and promised in the original (2005) Heads of Agreement and now in the Supplemental Heads of Agreement.
Let me, however, remind members opposite and the general public that such doubt as was expressed was conditioned by the expression of confidence in the assurances now given by the Harrah’s group which have indicated and confirmed their intention to assume an equity position in the project.
Mr. Speaker, let me say that I do not for one moment doubt the sincerity of the efforts of Mr. Sarkis Izmirlian or his committed and dedicated team of Bahamians led by Robert ‘Sandy’ Sands. No one in the government doubts the sincerity of their efforts.
However, the members opposite have endeavoured to posture themselves in a ‘holier than thou’ position on the question of the prudential doubt expressed by the mover of this Resolution. That is, in all the circumstances, a posture of convenience which is now being adopted purely as an attempt to score political brownie points.
The fact is that the letter, dated the 20th February 2007 from the Ministry of Financial Services and Investments, signed by Sir Baltron Bethel (and tabled yesterday by the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister) plainly states, that as at that date “The government has not received satisfactory evidence that Bahamar has obtained adequate financing for the Project. To date no commitment for financing has been obtained…”. That was the considered view of the former government as late as January 2007.
If that was the view of the former government nearly 2 years after the signing of the original Heads of Agreement which was dated the 6th April 2005, surely even they must have had some doubts. It was in recognition at least of a request for an extension of time for compliance that the present government in the Supplemental Heads of Agreement has now agreed to extend the time for obtaining financial backing to the 31st March 1009.
It seems that the argument really is that the mover should not have expressed his prudential doubt publicly. That could only be the argument since plainly both governments have had their doubts, expressed in writing. The difference is really simple, you know. Unlike the Rt. Hon. Member for Farm Road and Centreville, the Rt. Hon. Member for North Abaco does not peddle false hopes. If you hadn’t noticed it by now, the Rt. Hon. Member for North Abaco is a straight talker. He calls it as he sees it. Period.
Unlike members opposite who, when in office, filled the airwaves up with tall promises and grandiose schemes for Billions and Billions of dollars in foreign investments, most of which has not materialized or been either seen, felt or experienced by the Bahamian People, the Member for North Abaco is not in the business of peddling false hope. If it happens, it happens, praise the Lord. If it does not, well at least we tried.
There is, therefore every prudential reason to express some doubt, but also, in view of the written commitment of the Harrah’s Group, to take some comfort that their financial undertaking will, hopefully, provide the necessary support for the broader financial efforts of the Bahamar group. This was all that The Rt. Hon. Prime Minister and Member for North Abaco did, and he should be commended for leveling with the Bahamian People.
Mr. Speaker, much has been made by members opposite of the so-called harm caused by what they have described as a policy of “stop, review and cancel” of contracts and Heads of Agreement supposedly left in place by the former government. When the true record of the Supplemental Heads of Agreement is looked at we can see that in making such a claim the PLP are at their hypocritical best! It is utterly amazing that they can stand here with straight faces and bemoan the short time it has taken this government to re-negotiate and finalize the present Agreement.
Much has also been made by members opposite of what ‘good negotiators’ the former Prime Minister and his Cabinet sub-committee were to secure this development for The Bahamas.
The fact is that the former Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues dawdled, delayed and dragged on their negotiations such that the project was almost lost to The Bahamas. Further, they dawdled, delayed and dragged matters on for more than a year and a half after the fundamental terms of the proposed Supplemental Heads of Agreement had been submitted to them and, further, were voted out of office without having had the courage of their convictions to go ahead and sign the deal that they eventually made.
[Read extracts of Letter dated the 25th January 2006]
The former Prime Minister, from the assertions made in this letter, was certainly not a man who said what he meant or meant what he said. Or, if he meant what he said, he certainly did not do it!
Mr. Speaker, can you imagine how far along we would have been if the former government had, at that time, the courage of their convictions, and had given the requested approvals in January or February of 2006?
Had that occurred then, the Bahamar group would not have been faced by what we all face now, a recession in the world’s largest economy, a sub-prime mortgage and credit crisis in that economy, and consequently an international (credit) liquidity crisis.
Had the Perry Gladstone Christie PLP government done their duty when Bahamar was imploring them to do so way back in January of 2006 – more than 2 years ago! – our country would not now be in the condition that it is in. They should be ashamed of themselves for their inaction and inattention to details. They should more so be ashamed to fix their mouths and come here ‘sceitfulling’ about some so-called policy of this government to ‘stop, cancel and review’ Heads of Agreement they say that they left in place. The Perry Christie PLP did not even have the courage to finish all necessary steps to complete their own signature project.
Mr. Speaker, when I read the imploring words of Mr. Izmirlian I also recall the extensive months and investments that he and his group have made, even in the absence of the necessary support and full agreement of the former government in completing extensive renovations particularly to the former Radisson Hotel, now successfully renovated and re-branded as Sheraton. I think that it is fitting to record the grateful thanks of the Bahamian People for his continued confidence in his vision of re-developing the Cable Beach area, and his belief in The Bahamas and the Bahamian People.
Mr. Speaker, when the Bahamar project was announced in 2005 great suspicion was caused by the refusal of the then government to be specific about all that had been agreed; their refusal to table the Heads of Agreement, and the side letters or agreements entered into as a result of the terms of that agreement.
There was further suspicion that the original plans would engulf, or wrap around, Goodman’s Bay, a national People’s asset, when all that the then government could say was that “public access” to Goodman’s Bay would be preserved.
There was an outcry. The outcry was such that the PLP government felt the need to refuse to approve Bahamar’s acquisition or documented attempts to buy the houses on the strip of land on the other (eastern) side of Goodman’s Bay, even though these were private land purchases which did not involve any State-owned land.
It is my view that these private attempted arrangements support the original suspicion of Bahamians that the first design of the Bahamar project would have involved the engulfing or surrounding of Goodman’s Bay by vast condominium developments which would have put the People’s patrimony in the back yards of the rich and famous in some kind of new ‘Condo land’ development.
But, as one prominent member on the other side said yesterday, he was not and is not a “details” man; and they, apparently, only belatedly realized that they had to do more to protect the unencumbered right of Bahamians to all of the Goodman’s Bay park area, and not just to have “access” to it.
Obviously neither that member nor his colleagues appear to have concerned themselves overly with details since it is apparent, from the assertions in Mr. Izmirlian’s letter to the former Prime Minister in January 2006, that the government had already agreed to allow for Skyline Drive to be cut in two to make way for the new golf course in the original 2005 Heads of Agreement.
Yet this is the very point which the former Prime Minister was heard to say was one of the reasons why he had not, yet, approved the Supplemental Agreement before he was voted out of office in May 2007.
Mr. Speaker, the point has been made that the former government negligently agreed to convey the Cable Beach Golf Course and other land knowing that the intention of the developers was to move the Golf Course from its present location so as to allow for the land on which it presently sits to be used for other developments (Condo land).
The agreement to do so by the PLP government was and remains a clear breach of the Restrictive Covenants which were included in the original 1952 conveyance of Crown Land by the then Governor, Robert Neville, to a company called The Golf Course limited.
These restrictive Covenants provided that … “the said pieces parcels lots or tracts of land shall be used for the purpose of a golf course only and for no other purpose whatsoever”.
[Table a copy of the Indenture of Conveyance]
The English Royal Governor wanted to make sure that no residential development could take place on this land and to, thereby, preserve ocean view and access to the beachfront by Bahamians, and to prevent the Goodman’s Bay area from being surrounded by housing and other residential developments. An Englishman was prepared to do this for the Bahamian People, but Perry G. Christie and the PLP were prepared to sign it all away at the stroke of a pen. The member for Fox Hill mentioned something about the Rule against Perpetuity. That rule has no application to Restrictive Covenants which act in personam and in rem; the Latin phrase ‘in rem’ meaning that it binds the land.
It remains to be seen how a purchaser taking land that is so restricted can fail to honour the terms upon which he takes possession. But that is an argument for lawyers and activists.
Mr. Speaker, with these few comments I only wish to reaffirm that we ought to support the overall effort of the Bahamar group to re-develop the Cable Beach area. They have already accomplished much, but much more remains to be done. It can only be achieved with the united support of the government, the Opposition and the wider community in the best interests of the Bahamian People. In that spirit and on behalf of the good residents of the Sea Breeze Constituency I am happy to support the Resolution.