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Airport wins international ‘deal of the year’

Bermuda's controversial contract to build a new airport has won an international “deal of the year” award.

The public-private partnership contract was awarded 2017 North American Deal of the Year at a ceremony in New York organised by London-based IJGlobal Magazine, a top specialist publication in project finance and construction.

Bob Richards, the finance minister in the last One Bermuda Alliance government, who spearheaded the project amid public protests, said last night the news had “put a smile on my face”.

Mr Richards, who lost his Devonshire East seat in last July's General Election, said: “I hope Bermudians now understand the difference between facts and political spin.

“It was so controversial here and I'm glad it's got the recognition it deserves.”

The award was presented at the IJGlobal Awards gala at New York's Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Thursday.

The airport deal will also now appear in the spring edition of the magazine alongside other winners.

Mr Richards said he knew the deal with the Canadian Commercial Corporation and developers Aecon was even in the running only when a friend in New York phoned him yesterday to tell him the airport deal had won.

Mr Richards said: “I'm extremely pleased. I'm very proud and it's an indication of the good work we did.

“It's not just vindication — it's really good, it's an international award, away from Bermuda and Bermuda politics.”

He added: “It's a confirmation of the good work we did and proof of what we've been saying all along.”

The deal was opposed by the Progressive Labour Party and sparked public protests.

A report by overseas consultant LeighFisher released last month said cancellation of the deal only months into the start would have cost more than $100 million.

It added that the island's struggling economy would have suffered even more damage if the Government had pulled out of the contract, with job losses, “economic damage and instability, international reputational risk, threat of credit rating downgrades and negative impact on tourism”.

The report found that the terms and conditions of the contract were “broadly consistent” with similar public-private deals and the interest rate for long-term debt and the return on equity for Aecon were “within market range”.

But the LeighFisher report said the project was not competitively tendered, which could increase negotiating leverage, maintain competition and lead to best value for money.

But Mr Richards said at the time that a competitive tender would not have worked for such a small project because Bermuda could not have compensated unsuccessful competitors for the work they put into a detailed bid.

David Burt, the Premier, announced the contract would not be cancelled because it would be “fiscally irresponsible” and cost at least $196 million.

The report identified about $15 million in “enhancements” that could be negotiated and Mr Burt said he would work to get “the best possible outcomes from this situation”.

An independent Blue Ribbon Panel set up by the OBA last year to examine the deal found it was “commercially sound and reasonable and likely to meet the Government's stated objectives of long-term sustainability and increased traffic volume and revenue”.

The panel was made up of five on-island financial experts chaired by Malcolm Butterfield, a retired managing director at professional services firm KPMG.

Mr Butterfield said: “Overall, the panel's view is that this is a good deal. It's not perfect.”

A protest against the redevelopment in December 2016 turned violent when police officers clashed with demonstrators who blocked entry to the House of Assembly.

Officers used pepper spray on the crowd outside Sessions House.

Mr Burt, who was then Opposition leader, Derrick Burgess, Lovitta Foggo and Lawrence Scott were among the PLP MPs who showed up to picket Parliament.

At least 26 complaints were made to the Police Complaints Authority by members of the public in the wake of the demonstration.

The Bermuda Police Service said 14 of their officers were assaulted.

The Premier did not respond to a request for comment.

The last smile: former finance minister Bob Richards (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 17, 2018 at 9:00 am (Updated March 17, 2018 at 7:14 am)

Airport wins international ‘deal of the year’

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