A deal has been struck that could lead to the completion of the stalled $3.5b Baha Mar casino resort in the Bahamas.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Perry Christie delivered his 2016-17 budget to parliament, during which he announced that a “framework agreement” had been reached between Export Import Bank of China (EXIM), the unfinished property’s largest creditor, and China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), the parent of the project’s main contractor.
Christie said the agreement provided “a pathway forward” for Baha Mar’s completion by establishing a framework for “putting in place the financing required for completion of the project” and for CSCEC subsidiary China Construction America (CCA) to “remobilize and restart construction to finish the project as expeditiously as possible.”
The Bahamas Tribune reported that talks were now underway between CCA and the resort’s court-appointed receivers on the precise terms that would allow construction to recommence and to establish a firm timeline for the completion of work.
Controversy over the deal erupted even before Christie made his announcement. On Sunday, a local radio talk show host alleged that the prime minister had made a number of promises to seal the deal, including 30-year casino license exclusivity, a similar period of VAT exemption and providing 500 Bahamian citizenships to the project’s Chinese investors.
An angry Christie called the citizenship claim an “absolute lie” and offered “without any equivocation whatsoever” his insistence that “Bahamian citizenship is not for sale at any time, at any price, to anybody.”
Other critics included the project’s original developer Sarkis Izmirlian, whose Baha Mar Ltd issued a statement saying there was “nothing in CCA’s past performance at Baha Mar that should lend confidence” to the contractor’s ability to complete the project without “re-engaging in deceitful business practices.”
Baha Mar Ltd sued CCA in June 2015, shortly after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and the developer’s Wednesday statement repeated many of its previous allegations, including “overbilling and substituting inferior materials and systems to the detriment of the potential of this resort.”
Also expressing outrage over CCA’s continued involvement are Bahamian contractors, who are owed a collective $74m for work done before all activity on the unfinished project ceased last spring. A former Bahamian Contractors Association president said putting CCA back in charge before local contractors are made whole “would be beyond stupid.”