Bahamas PM dismisses Chinese citizenship rumours

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NASSAU, Bahamas — Prime Minister Perry Christie on Monday dismissed as false, claims that the Bahamas government has agreed to the “sale or grant of 500 Bahamian citizenships to Chinese investors in connection with the Baha Mar project”. Christie issued a statement on Monday night in response to widespread rumours that the government is planning to give exorbitant concessions to Chinese investors in exchange for restarting the stalled mega resort.

After nearly a year in free fall, thousands of employees sent home, the Christie administration’s unfulfilled promises of a quick completion, and an election-year budget communication looming, the behemoth Baha Mar project is back in play.

But silence on the talks The Nassau Guardian has confirmed are underway in Beijing, China, has left a vacuum that skeptics and frustrated former workers have filled with fears of the worst.

However, the prime minister said in his statement: “Bahamian citizenship is not for sale at any time at any price to anybody.

“This is a non-negotiable position of my government.

“Moreover, it is for me personally, a matter upon which no compromise is possible.

“I can therefore assure the Bahamian people, without any equivocation whatsoever, that no deal offering Bahamian citizenship in return for an investment in The Bahamas will ever be entered into while I head the government of The Bahamas.

“I find the very idea of citizenship-for-sale to be repugnant to all that I believe in and to all that I stand for as a Bahamian. It will never happen on my watch.”

The statement noted the prime minister said the grant of Bahamian citizenship is “subject to strict eligibility requirements and qualifications under the Bahamas Nationality Act”.

“The suggestion that just because you buy Bahamian real estate or make an investment you somehow qualify for Bahamian citizenship is complete and utter nonsense,” the prime minister said. “Not only is it a complete non-starter from the standpoint of the government’s immigration policy, it is not even legally possible.”

The statement said the prime minister indicated that he would be speaking in “more comprehensive terms to the misleading information presently circulating on social and the electronic media concerning Baha Mar during his contribution to the budget debate in the House of Assembly later this week”.

The statement did not address the current talks in China or the status of the development.

With the $3.5 billion project linked closely to the fate of not only the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in the next general election, but indeed the future of the country’s tourism product, many are crying out for answers, frustrated by the Christie administration’s reluctance to publically speak on any concrete developments in the matter.

A group of them, writing as “disenfranchised Baha Mar citizens” sent an open letter to Christie over the weekend expressing concerns that Christie would work with the Export Import Bank of China (EXIM) to restart the project with China Construction America (CCA).

The letter asked the prime minister to keep the best interests of Bahamians at heart.

Opposition Free National Movement (FNM) leader Dr Hubert Minnis is backing the former employees.

Minnis, who gave The Guardian an interview and released a statement on Monday, not only strongly urged Christie to meet with the resorts former employees to disclose the latest on the previously long-dormant talks, but also went to bat for Sarkis Izmirlian, the billionaire Lyford Cay investor whose dream for the redevelopment of the Cable Beach strip came to a screeching halt after initiating bankruptcy proceedings and court action against CCA in foreign jurisdictions last year.

“They are demanding that the prime minister answer their concerns and I echo their questions. The prime minster needs to meet with the staff and reassure and explain to them what is happening,” Minnis told The Guardian.

“They want to know and if you truly believe in Bahamians then you should know that they deserve that.”

Izmirlian said last month he was willing to work with the government to open the project. However, he wants Bahamian labour to finish the build-out, not CCA.

But The Guardian understands the project will proceed without Izmirlian’s involvement if the Christie administration has its way.

What’s happening in Beijing

The Guardian contacted numerous Cabinet ministers and government officials close to the project and who had some knowledge of the talks on Monday.

Not one of them would go on the record, all citing not having authorization to speak about the deal being structured for fear of pre-empting the prime minister.

However, Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson and Sir Baltron Bethel, senior policy advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister, are representing the government’s interests in talks that involve EXIM, China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), and CCA; and Prime Minister Christie was set to make a major announcement on Baha Mar during his budget communication on Tuesday.

The Guardian understands that the government is trying to negotiate a jobs package to accompany the restarting of construction on the resort.

The Guardian also understands that the prime minister is hoping for a deal that sees over $75 million owed to Bahamian creditors satisfied within a reasonable time of the start of construction.

However, the prime minister has sent Maynard-Gibson and Bethel to China in the hopes of getting the project restarted several times over the past year.

Each time, they came back empty-handed.

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