Funding not likely

by Shawn Cumberbatch

fourseasonsSome foreign investors who have presented Government with “final bids” to buy and revive the stalled Four Seasons Project have their eyes on millions of dollars in assistance from the National Insurance Scheme.

After current developers Paradise Beach Limited received approval for a $60 million loan from the social security entity last year, any new overtures are unlikely to win the National Insurance Board’s support this time, however, with officials now preferring to help rescue the closed Almond Beach Village, Barbados TODAY investigations have revealed.

Speaking during the Estimates Debate in the House of Assembly in March, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler spoke of a plan to sell the hotel and villa development and said “that entire project is going to go back into private sector hands, there will be no need for participation of NIS”.

But PBL Executive Chairman Professor Avinash Persaud said yesterday that with the name of the successful bidder set to be announced by month-end, more than one of the “handful” of interested parties in the race wanted to use NIS money.

“Some of those who have submitted bids have said that they will be bringing their own funding for the construction of the 110-key Four Seasons Hotel and some are interested in using the funds from the IDB and NIS that have already been approved for the construction of the hotel,” he said.

“Even those who bring their own funding may still wish the IDB to be involved in helping with the plans that have been laid to protect the environment, link to local farms, and maximise the involvement of local small and medium enterprises.

“I have briefed the IDB and NIS. They are aware of the situation and they are all fully supportive of us finding the best outcome for the project and the country,” he added.

Very-reliable sources close to the NIS disclosed, however, that the while the organisation had millions of dollars at its disposal to invest in Four Seasons “we would prefer not to be involved”.

“Our funds might be better utilised as part of a solution for Almond. Solving Almond seems essential to any economic recovery,” the official told Barbados TODAY.

When contacted, NIS Chairman Dr. Justin Robinson neither confirmed nor denied this view, but said there would be no automatic transfer of loan approval from Persaud’s company to any new buyer.

“The board would have to make a decision,” he stated.

Another official also noted that all of this could end up being mere conjecture since Government might chose an entity bringing all of its own funds.

Persaud said the Freundel Stuart Administration now had “a handful of final bids, with almost each continent being represented”.

“A due diligence process, centered on capacity to repay all creditors and complete the hotel and villas, is being carried out on the bids that were submitted before May 31,” he said.

“It is the intention that this process will be complete and a successful bidder will be announced around end-June, if not before. At the point of that announcement, there will be a full statement, where all of these details and more will be made clear.”

Sinckler had complained during the Estimates that “there are lots of people who I think disingenuously tried to derail that process and create the impression that we were raiding the NIS, when in fact the way in which the thing was eventually designed by the lawyers and the financial experts insulated the NIS and the NIS money from anything”.

“So the NIS’s bulk of that money has not even gone anywhere near Four Seasons because there are certain things in there that had to be done to trigger it,” he said.

Sinckler also said Government “will finally be able to step back from this project” and that “we are just waiting patiently for the paper work to be signed so we can move on to the Almond because that is where we are going next”.

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