OBA wants answers on $50m guarantee deal for Fairmont Southampton developers
The Opposition last night demanded answers on why the public was not told about a $50 million guarantee for the redevelopment of the island’s biggest hotel.
David Burt, the Premier, revealed the 2019 deal with the owners of the Fairmont Southampton this week when he was quizzed about a bust-up with Curtis Dickinson, the former finance minister, who quit the job just days before the Budget was unveiled.
The Premier claimed he had mentioned the $50 million arrangement in last Friday’s Budget statement – but, in fact, he had only referred to an agreement, not the actual figure.
A major row over the $376 million revamp of the resort by developers Gencom is believed to have triggered Mr Dickinson’s decision to exit Cabinet.
Craig Cannonier, the shadow tourism minister and a former premier, said he would raise the guarantee in Parliament.
He asked: “Why was the taxpayer not told a guarantee of $50 million was in place back in 2019?
“And if so, was the then-finance minister only comfortable with that amount and no more?
Mr Burt refused to comment if Mr Dickinson’s surprise decision to quit was linked to a row over the redevelopment.
He said at a post-Budget briefing: “In regard to disagreements on this matter, I’m not going to comment on that further than what we stated inside of the Budget statement and that was that the former Minister of Finance did agree in 2019 with Gencom for the provision of a $50 million guarantee for the support of this project.
“Things have changed since 2019 certainly – supply chain issues and other things have changed and we are going to make sure that we deliver a deal that has the best interests of the country in mind …”
Why did the Government say on March 10, 2021 that it had not committed to provide “any form of financial guarantee” for the Fairmont Southampton revamp?
Why did the Premier say he had used the $50 million figure in his Budget statement when he had not?
Mr Burt signalled to MPs a month ago that a deal with Gencom was imminent, but talks are continuing.
Mr Cannonier questioned earlier decisions by Mr Burt, who has again taken on the finance portfolio, which he held after he became Premier when the Progressive Labour Party returned to power in 2017.
He said: “Maybe we see a pattern here – our Premier is keen on supporting projects like the solar panel contract at the National Sports Centre where the awardee had no money to facilitate the project.
“So, this Government signed off on $3 million-plus of the taxpayers’ money with few answers as to how this took place and by what authorities.”
Mr Cannonier also criticised Mr Burt’s “lack of transparency” and claimed he hardly ever gave a straight answer.
He said: “I'm not surprised that there are questions the media continues to ask, yet answers are hard to come by.
“But of course you can always rely on the frequently used reply – I paraphrase here – "You may not like the answer, but I gave you one".
“This Premier marched on projects like the new airport and Morgan's Point insisting on transparency, yet today you can hardly get a straight answer from him.
“Hiding behind the words ‘I gave you an answer – you may not like it but I gave you an answer’, is not good enough. The contradictions are clear. The answers, if you get one, are muddy.”
A Government spokeswoman denied Mr Burt had “misspoke” when he said he had mentioned the $50 million agreement in the Budget statement.
The spokeswoman highlighted a paragraph that mentioned the deal – but did not disclose the figure involved.
She said: “The Premier did not misspeak in further references to this.
“The agreement to provide a $50m guarantee has been, and continues to be, the subject of intense and detailed negotiations between the parties – negotiations which are never carried out in public.
“In 2019, the former Minister of Finance insisted on a raft of protections for the pledge made to support the project in this way, and his steadfastness in doing so is mirrored in the ongoing negotiations – negotiations which likewise will not be done in the media.
“It is only when a deal is done that there is a statutory requirement to advise the House of Assembly.”
The Government has still not said why it said last March: “The Government of Bermuda has not provided, and is not committed to provide, any form of financial guarantee.”