A Chinese contractor building a luxury beach-front scheme in the Bahamas has been ordered to stop work because it overstepped construction permits, prompting calls for the government of the Caribbean nation to resign.
China Construction America (CCA) is the contractor on the stalled $3.5bn Baha Mar mega resort, but it is also developing a leisure and residential scheme dubbed The Pointe on Bay Street in Nassau.
Last week the government’s Buildings Control Division issued a stop order on The Pointe after a site visit showed that construction had progressed beyond what permits for ground preparation allowed, local newspaper The Tribune reported.
The infraction appears to have been limited, but the stop order comes at an extremely sensitive time in the Bahamas as more than 2,000 people hired to work at the Baha Mar casino and resort were made redundant last Friday, 23 October.
Heads should roll because it sends a hell of a statement– Former Bahamian deputy prime minister, Brent Symonette
But the historic project ground to a halt on 29 June this year when the developer Sarkis Izmirlian filed for bankruptcy protection, blaming CCA for delays and poor workmanship. CCA countered by accusing the developer of mismanagement and lack of funds.
‘Heads should roll’
Now opposition figures in the Bahamas have slammed the administration of the prime minister, Perry Christie (pictured), for being too close to the Chinese.
Former deputy prime minister Brent Symonette, member of the Free National Movement (FNM) opposition party, this week called for the country’s executive leadership to resign over the issue of the stop order on the $250m The Pointe resort.
"In light of the whole debacle with Baha Mar and the things that you’re reading in the newspaper with the Chinese government involved with different things, officials at the Ministry of Works should have been extra vigilant that they did not go beyond the permits they had," Symonette, who did not contest his House of Assembly seat in the 2012 election, told The Tribune.
"We’re talking about a multi-story building which has some serious liabilities. This is the Bahamian people’s lives they’re gambling with."
He added: "Why have they been allowed to go on this far? Whoever issues permits must have known that they didn’t have the requisite approvals, and heads should roll because it sends a hell of a statement."
A ‘little further’
A buildings control officer told The Tribune that the stop order came because CCA "appeared to have gone a little further" than approvals allowed.
"The (permit application) process hasn’t been completed so we requested that they stop and make sure get all the approvals in place," said the officer, Craig Delancy. "The applications are in, but they haven’t gotten all the approvals. There will always be modifications and changes, the ground preparation was done but they appeared to have gone a little further."
Besides Symonette, other figures from the FNM, which lost 12 seats in the House of Assembly to Perry Christie’s Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in 2012, used the stop order to attack the government.
Former minister of works, the sitting MP Neko Grant, told The Tribune yesterday that CCA should be disciplined for working beyond approvals, and that the serving works minister, Philip "Brave" Davis, must account for CCA’s activity.
Artist’s render of luxury oceanfront scheme, The Pointe, in Nassau (Thepointenassau.com)
FNM MP Loretta Butler-Turner also weighed in, saying in a press statement that there are "serious questions" over whether the Christie administration is following and protecting laws, regulations, and safety standards of the country.
And FNM chairman Michael Pintard said it appeared that the Christie administration is too close to CCA and Chinese officials to exercise adequate oversight.
Although Christie’s PLP won a landslide in 2012, capturing 29 of the House of Assembly’s 38 seats in the Bahamas’ first-past-the-post system, the popular vote was more evenly split, at around 48.6% for the PLP and 42% for the FNM.
It means that ahead of the next election, which must take place in or before 2017, the FNM will be looking to capitalise on any perceived mishandling by the PLP government of the Baha Mar project and any perceived impropriety in its dealings with CCA, which is a subsidiary of state-owned contracting giant, China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC).
Financed mostly by China’s Export-Import Bank, and handed to CCA to build, Baha Mar has become a major political headache for the Christie government. On 25 August ratings agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) lowered the Bahamas’ investment grade to just above "junk" status, citing the stalled resort as a factor that will depress growth.
Baha Mar developer Sarkis Izmirlian has accused the government of colluding with the Chinese entities against him while seeking protection from creditors in a US bankruptcy court.
While the Christie government denied this, it and CCA have been on demonstrably friendly terms. In April Philip "Brave" Davis, who is minister of works and deputy prime minister, attended the inauguration of the company’s new office in Panama and praised the company in a speech.
Probing The Pointe
In October 2014, as reports were emerging of payment problems on the Baha Mar scheme, the government agreed to sell the site of Nassau’s historic British Colonial Hilton Hotel, plus an adjacent six-acre site, to CSCEC for redevelopment.
The adjacent site went to CCA, who subsequently revealed plans to build an ocean-front leisure and residential scheme, which it dubbed The Pointe.
Scheduled for a 2017 launch, The Pointe comprises a 200-room hotel, oceanfront residences, an 80-slip marina and leisure facilities.
CCA broke ground on 6 August in a ceremony attended by Perry Christie.
The relationship between the Christie government and CCA is a now a sore point, one which FNM MP Loretta Butler-Turner was keen to probe this week.
"Why did the developers feel that they could proceed as far as they have without the requisite permits?" she said in an interview with The Tribune. "Why did they feel that they could flaunt Bahamian legal and regulatory requirements?
"The Bahamas has a high unemployment rate that is tremendously worsened by the termination last week of over 2,000 employees from Baha Mar. Despite this, there are a significant number of foreign construction workers at The Pointe.
"During negotiations over Baha Mar, the PLP raised the issue of bringing in foreign workers at the mega project. Now, on a much smaller project, they have agreed to foreign workers. This is hypocrisy in the extreme."
In light of Baha Mar, she said, "there is a need for extraordinary diligence and oversight at The Pointe."
[Edited 2 November 2015 to correct an earlier version that said Brent Symonette lost his seat in 2012.]