Norman's Cay Exumas Bahamas "Sweet Deal"
The Progressive Liberal Party Government is set to honour what is being called a "sweet deal" with a group of local and foreign investors to control the vast majority of land on Norman's Cay, in the Exumas.
But former Member of Parliament for Exuma George Smith is seeking to discourage the government from allowing the investors to exercise their option on a conditional purchase lease for the more than 400 acres of land, which he says is valued at around $60 million.
The deal was agreed to in principal shortly before the general elections of 2002.
The property was part of the controversial cay that was vested in the Treasurer after it was confiscated from Medellin cartel drug kingpin Carlos Lehder, who arrived on Normon's Cay in the late 1970's and began purchasing large pieces of property.
Lehder's operation figured prominently in the famous Commission of Inquiry into drug trafficking in The Bahamas during the 1980's. He is serving a long prison term in the United States for drug trafficking between South America and the United States.
It was revealed in the Commission of Inquiry that he built a 3,300-foot airport runway, protected by radar, bodyguards and attack dogs and controlled Norman's Cay for several years.
During the Commission of Inquiry, Mr. Smith's integrity also came into question. He was appointed chairman of the Hotel Corporation, which generated some controversy at the time when Prime Minister Perry Christie announced it.
Mr. Smith, whose constituency included Norman's Cay, believes it is wrong for the government to give the land to the investors simply because of the infrastructural and touristic development they plan to bring to The Bahamas.
Mr. Smith said in an interview with the Bahama Journal Tuesday he is concerned about the deal that investors - who include attorney James Cole - got approval under the FNM administration in March 2002.
"Some time after the May 2, 2002 elections it was brought to my attention that the previous government less than two months before the elections agreed to surrender all of the land that was vested in the Treasurer that was Mr. Lehder's property at Norman's Cay," Mr. Smith said.
"I felt that this was unfair to those individuals who stayed at Norman's Cay who were not afforded the opportunity to acquire the land to extend their businesses."
Mr. Smith added, "I was surprised that other people who may have an interest in doing other touristic undertakings were denied an opportunity to purchase the land. I think to have given the land to any one single entity was unfair, unnecessary and borders on being immoral.
"Land in the Exuma Cays is fetching a premium price. I encourage the government to revisit this matter while remaining reasonably fair to [the investors in question.]
Others who are concerned about the deal reportedly believe that Mr. Cole and his group will end up with $60 million in land after investing less than half of that value and what they intend to do will in fact become a real estate development.
But Mr. Cole was unavailable Tuesday to comment on these reports. His assistant said he is out of the country for another week and would probably be able to comment then.
The Journal has learnt that Mr. Cole is involved with the Amanresorts team, which is seeking to develop a $25 million tourist development at Norman's Cay.
Amanresorts owns luxurious resorts all over the world and provides five-star service to guests with three employees per room. In agreeing to the deal in principal, the former government reportedly saw it as a good way to drum up more Family Island investments and fuel greater economic prosperity for residents of the Exumas.
After satisfying the terms of the conditional purchase lease agreement, the group will be granted the right to purchase the "breath-taking" property for an undisclosed price.
Minister of Financial Services and Investments Allyson Maynard Gibson said Tuesday that the present administration wants to send the right message to investors that it is committed to honouring the commitments made by the past administration.
"The style of negotiations and the economic focus of administrations change from administration to administration," she noted.
But Minister Gibson added, "It is fair to say that it is unlikely that this administration would have come to the same economic terms as did the former administration. However, as Minister responsible for investments, I want to emphasize that the commitment made by the former administration will be honoured."
Norman's Cay is one of the most beautiful cays in the Exumas and is located 36 miles from Nassau and 210 miles off the Florida coast. Mr. Smith, who said that more Bahamians should have the opportunity to own the land in question, believes that this would be the "moral" thing to do.