Christie Defends Concessions Under PLP

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Rt. Hon. Perry  G. Christie M.P./ Leader of The Opposition

Nassau Bah: In an exclusive interview with the Bahama Journal, former Prime Minister and Party Leader, the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie put to rest the claims made by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham that the concessions granted to the Albany Development in southwest New Providence may not have been legal.

In the House of Assembly, Mr. Ingraham claimed that because Albany would generally be made up of private club members, it did not qualify under the Hotels Encouragement Act or the Hotel Act and was not deserving of concessions as granted by the PLP.

Mr. Christie pointed out the error in the PM’s reasoning in this following story by Candia Dames of Jones Communications.

Despite suggestions by the government that the Progressive Liberal Party administration was too generous in giving concessions to developers, former Prime Minister Perry Christie stressed on Tuesday that his government did not give too much away. “The concessions that we gave will be returned ten fold to The Bahamas,” Mr. Christie predicted in an interview with the Bahama Journal at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition on Parliament Street.

In the House of Assembly a week ago, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham questioned concessions the former administration agreed to give to the developers of the Albany resort in southwest New Providence.

Mr. Ingraham said because Albany is slated to be a private members club with its amenities made available only to its guests, it’s not eligible for some concessions.

“Concessions available under the Hotels Encouragement Act require that hotels and related facilities and amenities that benefit from concessions under the Act remain open to the paying public,” he told parliamentarians.

“The requirement is stipulated in all agreements concluded under the Act. By definition a private club is barred from receiving benefits under the Act.”

But Mr. Christie said under the agreement, Albany would not receive concessions for a private members club.

He said his government agreed to grant concessions only for the components of that project, which qualify as a hotel under the Hotels Encouragement Act and the Hotel Act.

No concessions would extend to private residences or other components of the project not included as part of the hotel, Mr. Christie noted.

The former prime minister pointed to section 5(1) of the Albany agreement, which stipulates that only components included in the definition of “hotel” under the legislation qualify for exemptions.

He noted that hotels include homes and residential units, which are placed in the hotel rental pool for at least nine months of the year.

“Therefore, if you have a $20 million home and the owner of that home is prepared to place that home in the hotel rental pool for at least nine months of the year, that constitutes hotel rooms,” Mr. Christie said.

He noted that the agreement provides for the luxury hotel to be available for bookings by Bahamian residents and guests from all over the world.

The agreement also mandates that members of the general public – when they are guests – would have access to the development’s amenities.

“In giving the concessions, we were trying to avoid giving concessions to a facility that would be exclusive to foreign persons and one that was based on a residential community,” said Mr. Christie, adding that what his government agreed to did not violate any laws.

“So again, we put in special negotiations to ensure from a public policy point of view we were giving Bahamians access even though they would have to be guests.”

He said The Bahamas will benefit from the concessions granted.

“We believe that Ingraham is tied to his criticisms prior to the election and he has to justify those criticisms by trying to change some of these agreements in some way. We’re told he wants to take away the Gaming Board premises and the Development Bank premises and have Baha Mar surrender them; Baha Mar would be delighted to surrender them because quite frankly it would be cheaper than building a new set of Gaming Board and Development Bank offices,” Mr. Christie said.

He said the opposition has to continue the discussion publicly and make sure Bahamians understand the various agreements with respect to the concessions.

“You would find therefore that you are giving the [developer] an incentive to go and build a type of property that has not succeeded in the past. Therefore, when you look at South Ocean and Albany together you see that there is a prescription for success. Success means that thousands of people will have jobs that can be sustained out there,” the former prime minister said.

Mr. Christie said in order to put the granting of concessions into context Bahamians ought to look at concessions given to Kerzner International for its various Atlantis phases.

“When the Ingraham government negotiated its first phase, the extent of the concessions amounted to 45 percent of the value of the investment; whey they did their second phase it was 38 percent and when we negotiated our third phase we reduced the percentage to 20 percent,” he said.

“But in the course of examining the issues of concessions my government discussed that extensively and employed a major company out of Denver, Colorado to come to The Bahamas to do an exhaustive examination on the subject of concessions to Kerzner.”

He said the consultants recommended that on the basis of the economy of The Bahamas the government could make a decision that the Kerzner development is entitled to no concessions.

“It was our considered opinion after we looked at that consultancy report that the development would not take place under those circumstances or we could not risk the development not taking place,” Mr. Christie said.

“Therefore, we shared our concerns with Kerzner and we used it to negotiate the concessions downwards to assure that we ensured progress after [phase one and phase two].”

He said an economic impact assessment study was done before his government signed off on any agreement.

Mr. Christie said each study clearly outlines the impact the inflows of capital would have on the Bahamian economy.

“In making decisions on concessions, all of those things were taken into consideration,” he told the Journal.

“We did not give away too much.”