Nassau, Bahamas — Bahamas Immigration and Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell had one message for Baha Mar megaresort CEO Sarkis Izmirlian on Monday: “If you can’t hear, you will feel.”
Speaking at the Emancipation Day service in his Fox Hill constituency, Mitchell warned Izmirlian that if he doesn’t conform to the values of The Bahamas, he should take the necessary steps to find some other country to live in.
Mitchell further warned the developer to “cease and desist” in his criticism of Prime Minister Perry Christie and to be reminded that it is within the power of the Immigration Board to revoke his permanent residency status.
Izmirlian is a citizen of Switzerland.
Mitchell said Izmirlian’s recent criticism of Christie’s leadership is “offensive, improper and incompatible with the status of someone who is not a Bahamian”.
“The late Clarence Bain used to say we must not be weak-kneed apologetic negroes,” Mitchell told the crowd, which included Governor General Dame Marguerite Pindling.
“This cannot stand. It is at the very least important for the invitation to be extended to that individual to consider making the appropriate steps to live elsewhere, if he does not wish to conform with the mores of the conduct of those who are economic guests in our country. He can consider that fact.”
The ongoing back and forth between Baha Mar and the government of The Bahamas has been a fixture since the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US District of Delaware on June 29.
While Baha Mar has said the government’s actions are questionable and “disgusting”, Christie has questioned Izmirlian’s mental state.
Former immigration minister Loftus Roker has said that, had he been in office at this time, Izmirlian would have been put out of The Bahamas.
Mitchell said the entire Baha Mar debacle has challenged the country’s sovereignty and emancipation.
“You cannot have some rich man who thinks because he has money [that] he can buy influence in our country, speak to our leaders in any which way or fashion and then seek to manipulate our young people to work against us,” Mitchell said.
“I was also offended by the letter which the developer wrote to the employees in which he seems to suggest that this is all the government’s fault, while addressing the employees of Baha Mar as Baha Mar citizens.
“Let me get this straight. There are only citizens of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
“That is the country to which we owe loyalty. Baha Mar is a commercial entity, designed purely for the profit of the developer.
“The developer cannot buy the young people of The Bahamas as it is seeking to do, and they should not succumb to it.”
Mitchell said the ordeal is setting a bad precedent for other foreign investors who may decide to follow in Izmirlian’s footsteps.
“It is, therefore, no surprise then that an investor, because he has the word ‘billionaire’ behind his name, would think, would have the temerity to believe, that he can challenge the leader of our country on political grounds.
“Imagine now, those work permit holders on their various jobs in The Bahamas, seeing this and hearing this, they must think, ‘Well if one of their own can attack the leader of the country without consequences, it will be open season on every Bahamian employee in these establishments’.”
But Mitchell said neither Christie nor the Bahamian people have to ask what “the role of the immigration minister is where such abuse occurs”.
“The answer is obvious and impatient of debate,” he said.
Mitchell added that the Baha Mar debacle is a result of Baha Mar being unable to pay its bills.
He said in the ordinary course, if a homeowner defaults on mortgage payments, the bank forecloses.
“That is all this is. The developer for the second time in this development is unable to pay its bills,” he said.
“The whole matter will go away if the developer will pay its bills to the bank.”
Izmirlian, who appeared as a guest on the Star 106.5 FM radio show “Jeffrey” last week, said he doesn’t believe that Christie is doing what is best for the Bahamian people.
Izmirlian added that he believes the “voters of The Bahamas will decide how they feel about the actions of the government” regarding the entire ordeal.
But Mitchell decried the developer’s comments and said “money does not buy our silence and our subservience”.
“We are talking about the Office of the Prime Minister, not Perry Christie, and it deserves respect,” he said.
“One day many a man or woman hopes to sit in that office, from the leader of the opposition to ministers like myself, to the little boys and girls running around Sandilands Primary School.
“If we allow the office to be denigrated and say not one word, we betray all our forefathers and foremothers and what they fought for.
“I believe the prime minister. I support what he is doing. I don’t believe the developer. I don’t support what he is doing.
“The prime minister is doing what is best for The Bahamas.
“We did not come this far over 42 years to let some [fellow] come into our country, talk to us any kind of how. No sir. Not here and not now.
“Let the word be clear, let him cease and desist. It is the wiser course of action and the old Bahamian proverb says ‘If you don’t hear, you will feel’.
“The Immigration Act reminds us in section 18 1D that the permission to live in The Bahamas can be revoked where an individual has so conducted himself that, in the opinion of the board, it is not in the public interest that he should continue to enjoy privileges inferred by the certificate.”
Izmirlian said he still believes in Christie, but likened their relationship to a spouse sleeping on the sofa.
Baha Mar sought to have the Delaware proceedings recognized locally, but a Bahamian court rejected its application.
Izmirlian has said that the company does not have enough money to finish the twice delayed Baha Mar.
The company is currently involved in a dispute with its contractor, China Construction America (CCA) Bahamas, which it has blamed for the delays. It is engaged in negotiations in China with CCA’s parent company, China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), in an effort to reach a deal and resume construction.
The government filed a winding up petition, seeking to bring the company into the control of Bahamian courts, but that matter was adjourned to August 19 to allow negotiations to play out.
The government’s proposed liquidators, PricewaterhouseCoopers, also revealed that it had a conflict of interest, having done work for CSCEC in the past.
It is unclear if a resolution will be reached between Baha Mar and CCA.