The $124 million invested in Four Seasons by Government was not written off because Prime Minister Mia Mottley was the lawyer involved in the project.
This was made clear by Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Ryan Straughn, who has maintained that Mottley had no say in whether that money would be taken off the books.
Straughn made the comments in response to former Democratic Labour Party Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxine McClean, who raised questions about Mottley’s role in the failed project, as she expressed concern that the monies had been written off.
The US$600 million project, which was to involve the construction of a 110-room hotel and 35 private villas, ground to a halt in 2009 after the original developers ran out of money.
Famous X Factor mogul Simon Cowell and Formula 1 boss Eddie Jordan were among the early investors in the beleaguered multi-million dollar luxury resort planned for the 32-acre Paradise Beach site.
In the most recent Auditor General’s Report which covers the financial year ending March 31, 2019, it was revealed that Government had written off the $124 million it had invested in Four Seasons.
Speaking on the popular radio call in programme Down to Brass Tacks on Monday, McClean said an explanation was needed as to why the money was written off.
“What we have and it is a little embarrassing I suppose, is a situation where we had, and I don’t think it is a secret, the now Prime Minister of Barbados and Minister of Finance was the lawyer for the Clearwater project and in her new capacity as Minister of Finance we have a situation where a debt to the tune of $124 million is being written off and what I am suggesting is that there is need for an explanation,” McClean said.
But in response, Straughn said Mottley had not been part of any discussions by Cabinet to write off the money as she had recused herself.
“I knew that Ms McClean was trying to suggest that because there was a conflict of interest that somehow the participation in the decision-making was somehow untoward. I can give the public the full assurance that not just in relation to this matter, but any other matter that relates to any member of Cabinet to my certain knowledge, anytime there has been a conflict, persons recuse themselves from any decision-making and allow the remainder of the Cabinet to make the decision,” Straughn maintained.
He gave the assurance that Government was working assiduously to restart work on Four Seasons and recoup the monies invested.
In fact, Straughn said Government was on the cusp of attracting investment to the project last year but was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He explained the money was only written off from “an accounting perspective”.
“The Government has been seeking to move this process forward with respect to the actual investment and to get that Four Seasons project going. We were literally about to solve it when COVID hit and the reality of all of this is we needed to take stock of what had already been invested with a view of seeing how we could re-engage corporate investment in that specific project.
“When we came to office there was no clear understanding as to what was the rate of return of investment the Government had made in Four Seasons. There was no clear path as to how the Government would get back any money or the taxpayers would get back any money in the current situation. So from an accounting perspective, given that the project had been stalled for some years, unless there was a clear way with respect to some investor coming in and resolving the matter there was no way that any revenue was going to come back from that,” Straughn said.
“So from an accounting perspective it was what you would call ‘written off’, but from the perspective of being able to get the project executed, this Government has been working to try to resolve that matter in order to ensure that whatever we can salvage we indeed can salvage. It does not mean it is a blow to taxpayers unless we can’t actually get the project executed.
“So as it stands right now there is absolutely no revenue, no activity, anything at all taking place down at Paradise. The Government put in $124 million according to the audit and right now there is nothing to show for it, that’s the reality of it. Our undertaking was to see how best we can move the process forward and that is why we were engaging to get new investment in, under new terms, in order to ensure we could see some of that money come back to the taxpayers of this country.” ([email protected])