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Cabinet Office refuses to release Gencom correspondence

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The Fairmont Southampton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Cabinet Office has refused to release records of correspondence to and from the Premier about the investment firm Gencom.

Major Marc Telemaque, the Secretary to the Cabinet, found that the documents were exempt from disclosure under the Public Access to Information Act.

He claimed that their release could have adverse effects on commercial interests as well as on the island’s financial interests or the Government’s ability to manage the economy.

The Royal Gazette asked for copies of all correspondence to and from David Burt, the Premier, that related to Gencom, its subsidiaries and certain individuals — including Karim Alibhai, the company’s founder — since March 1 last year.

Chris Maybury, a long-time Bermuda resident who was said in June 2020 to be a representative of the Miami-based firm, was also named in the request.

Major Marc Telemaque, the Secretary to the Cabinet (File photograph)

An earlier Pati request sought the same information for the 12 months from March 1, 2020.

It resulted in the release of a string of e-mails that showed that Gencom, owners of the Fairmont Southampton and Rosewood Bermuda, lobbied the Government for a delay in redundancy payments to staff.

Copies of correspondence that spanned from March 25 to October 16, 2020 were received by the Gazette on September 21 last year.

They also showed that in June 2020 Mr Alibhai predicted that the two hotels would suffer losses of about $30 million by last spring “based on the adverse forecasts from each property post-pandemic”.

The second Pati request was made last October to cover the period starting from March 1, 2021.

Karim Alibhai, the founder and principal of Gencom (File photograph)

Major Telemaque said in a letter received last Tuesday: “I have considered the nature of the request and caused to be provided for my review those records to which the request relates.

“Having reviewed the relevant records I have determined that the records fall within the exemptions afforded by Section 25 (1)(c) and (d) as well as Section 31 (1) of the Act.

“Accordingly, I find that they are exempt from disclosure under the Act.”

Chris Maybury (File photograph)

The Pati Act exempted the release of information that “would have, or could reasonably be expected to have, an adverse effect on the commercial interests of any person to whom the information relates”.

It also allowed information to be withheld if its disclosure “would prejudice, or could reasonably be expected to prejudice, the conduct or outcome of contractual or other negotiations of any person to whom the information relates”.

The third clause cited by Major Telemaque said that a record is exempt “if its disclosure, or premature disclosure, could reasonably be expected to have a serious adverse effect on the financial interests of Bermuda or on the ability of the Government to manage the national economy”.

In his letter, the Cabinet Secretary also responded to an order from the Information Commissioner to give a decision on a request for a review of the records that were released last September.

Gitanjali Gutierrez told the Cabinet Office to provide its findings by January 25.

David Burt, the Premier (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Major Telemaque wrote: “I have reviewed the information officer’s processes for the release of records pursuant to the original request of January 2021 and am satisfied that all records required to be released have been so.”

The Gazette first requested an internal review on September 9, 2021 because at that time no records had been disclosed.

Copies of correspondence were provided later that month and an amended internal review request was sent on October 5, 2021.

It highlighted that a memorandum of understanding — said to be an attachment to two of the e-mails — was not included in the disclosure.

The internal review request also asked if minutes were available for a June 12, 2020 phone call, understood to be between Gencom and members of the Government.

Major Telemaque said: “The two matters raised in the revised/amended request of October 5, 2021 do not exist.”

The Gazette has asked the Information Commissioner for independent reviews of the latest decisions.

Mr Burt told news site TNN this month that the Government remained optimistic that the Fairmont Southampton would reopen next year.

The hotel shut down in 2020 after the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and had been set for an ambitious 18-month renovation project.

The Government stepped in to fund $11 million in redundancy payments to workers after Gencom, which owns the hotel through subsidiary Westend Properties, missed a November 20, 2020 deadline.

The cash was repaid in February last year.

Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, revealed at the beginning of November that “prospective capital providers” had met the owners as well as the Government and had drawn up a proposal for investment in the project.

Mr Burt said this month that “numerous meetings” had been held since then.

* To read the letter from Major Telemaque or the correspondence released earlier, click on the PDFs under “Related Media”.

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Published January 31, 2022 at 9:49 am (Updated January 31, 2022 at 9:50 am)

Cabinet Office refuses to release Gencom correspondence

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