#By NEIL HARTNELL
#SOURCE:Tribune Business Editor
investors have told the Canadian government that “the Bahamas justice
system appears to be stuck in neutral” in handling their complaints over
a $52 million real estate development, blasting perceived ‘inaction’ by
both the current and former administrations.
the letter that appears to have sparked a Canadian government warning
about Bahamian real estate transactions, Christopher and Jane Bain,
homeowners at the strife-torn Oceania Heights project in Exuma,
complained to Canada’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Diane
Ablonczy, that government officials in this nation were even refusing to
take their calls on the issue.
Business obtained a copy of their July 13, 2012, letter just as Fred
Mitchell, minister of foreign affairs and immigration, pledged that he
and the Government would “address” both the Canadian investment advisory
and the Oceania Heights dispute. The warning says real estate and
investment-related disputes in the Bahamas may be “prolonged and costly
that the warning did “not truly represent the picture in the Bahamas”,
when asked by Tribune Business whether he and the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs would respond, Mr Mitchell replied: “There’s no question about
spoke to the Attorney General this morning, and I intend to address it.
My own feeling is that there are judicial disputes in Canada that are
equally as tortuous, so I’m not sure it [the investment advisory] truly
represents the picture in the Bahamas. So I have the responsibility to
ensure the record is set straight.”
Mitchell indicated he was surprised that the Canadian government would
issue such a warning, seemingly at the behest of its citizens, without
probing more deeply into the situation on the ground.
have more to say on Monday [today],” he added in a brief interview with
Tribune Business from Grand Bahama. “What I was concerned about was
that I first saw the piece in the paper at Lynden Pindling International
Airport, and a couple of non-nationals of the country saw the headline
and also became concerned about it.
#“I was concerned about it when I saw it, it’s not a good thing and needs to be addressed.”
Bains’ letter indicates that they, and other Oceania Heights homeowners
engaged in an ongoing dispute with the developers, Howard and Donna
Obront, and their Bahamian attorney, Anthony Thompson, have become
increasingly frustrated with the alleged failure of successive
governnments to even acknowledge their concerns.
also claim that Canada’s High Commissioner for Jamaica, Stephen
Hallihan, whose portfolio covers the Bahamas, has made repeated
inquiries of Bahamian officials on their behalf but “to no avail”.
that Mr Hallihan had suggested they write to Ms Ablonczy, in her
capacity as foreign affairs minister, the Bains said: “To our knowledge
there are at least 20 Canadians (several from your home province of
Alberta), including the two of us, who are involved in this situation.
There are roughly an equal number of American citizens who are also
involved, and, like us, they are reaching out to their government for
help and intervention.
over two years we have been co-operating with the Bahamas Police in
their investigation........., but for one reason or another the Bahamas
justice system appears to be stuck in neutral.”
Business revealed in February 2012 how some homeowners at the 125-lot
Oceania Heights development were alleging difficulties in obtaining
title documents to their properties, and questioning whether due Stamp
Duty payments were being passed to the Public Treasury.
claims were that Oceania had twice sold the same land to two different
buyers, something the developers admitted had occurred “once” due to a
response, the Obronts and Mr Thompson accused a "small minority" of
Oceania residents of pursuing “a smear campaign” against them in a bid
to seize control of the project and force them out. In denying all the
allegations against them they also questioned why, if the Bains and
others had such a strong case against them, they had not taken their
complaints to the Supreme Court via a civil action.
that all homeowners had “crystal clear title” to their property in
Oceania Heights, the Obronts and Mr Thompson also denied claims that 11
lots, which are the subject of a legal dispute now at the Privy Council,
had been sold to third-party buyers.
#The Bains, though, said in their letter that successive Bahamian governments had “stood by and let this situation continue”.
is particularly perplexing is that the Bahamas Police and senior
officials within the Government of the Bahamas know all of this, and
have known about it for roughly two years,” the Bains said.
despite two years of writing countless letters, meeting with senior
officials, spending thousands and thousands of dollars on lawyers,
added that their attorney had brought the Oceania Heights matter to
former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham's personal attention, but “he did
nothing to address the situation”.
over to the Christie administration. “When the new government took
office earlier this year, we took heart and brought renewed vigour to
our pursuit,” the Bains told the Canadian government.
have written (June 19, 2012, by registered mail and by e-mail) to the
new Attorney General, Allyson Maynard-Gibson, to inform her of this
situation but have yet to hear back from her. We have once again called
Michael Smith, the Bahamas High Commissioner here in Ottawa, and now he
will not take our calls.”
Obronts previously confirmed to Tribune Business that attorney Mr
Thompson had been questioned several times by the Royal Bahamas Police
Force in relation to matters surrounding Oceania Heights.
he has not been charged, and the Obronts have accused the homeowners
opposing them of using the police, and threat of a criminal
investigation, as leverage to force them into an unfavourable
settlement. They contend it is a civil, not criminal, matter.
Bains, in their letter to the Canadian government, said the police were
awaiting a "green light" on how to proceed from Garvin Gaskins in the
Attorney General's Office. “One of our colleague property/home owners,
recently travelled to Nassau and, in the company of two of our lawyers,
met with Mr Gaskins,” they wrote.
Gaskins explained that because the police file is so large it is taking
considerable time to process it, and the reason for the delay is that
the photocopying is as yet incomplete. This explanation was met with
explicit disbelief, and Mr Gaskins will no longer take our calls.”
Tribune Business was unable to reach Mrs Maynard-Gibson for comment
before press time, one of the attorneys present at the meeting with Mr
Gaskins confirmed the "size of the police file" explanation. Speaking on
condition of anonymity, though, they did not recall the "photocopying"
Mr Hallihan as “extraordinarily helpful”, the Bains' letter added: “He
has spoken to several senior Bahamian government officials.
Unfortunately, and through no fault of his, this has been to no avail,
which is undoubtedly why he suggested that we write to you.
us say in closing, the Bahamian economy relies heavily on foreign
investment. For investors, the need for confidence in the country in
which they make an investment is essential. As we are sure you now
understand, our experience to date has not been a positive one.”
they told Ms Ablonczy: “We are bringing this matter to your attention
because we are optimistic that with the change of government there may
be a fresh opportunity in which a few words from somebody of your
stature in the Canadian government might make all the difference.
prominent US Senator has promised us that he will be writing the new
Prime Minister, Perry Christie (who is also the Minister of Finance), to
advise him that if matters continue as they have to this date that he
will be recommending that the US government place an investment advisory
regarding the Bahamas on the US government’s main Web site.
are asking you if you, or Stephen Hallihan, on your behalf, would also
contact the new Prime Minister, Perry Christie, and/or the new Attorney
General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Allyson Maynard Gibson, to ask
about this situation and what they intend to do to ensure justice is
done, perhaps indicating in the same breath that the Canadian government
will always take steps to inform and protect its citizens with regard
to perilous situations around the world.”
Total rubbish. Canadians and Americans always believe the
world is suppose to move for them. Only in the Bahamas we always jumping
and skipping for them. Yes the process may not be going as they had
hoped but who really knows the true story behind these claims. Everyone
involved in that investment appear to be foreign and are at each others
throats over some petty gated community quarrel. Honestly the Bahamian
government has better things to be doing than dealing with matters that
responsible adults should have to sense to deal with. It looks like an
attempt to embarrass the country. Why didn't they go to the Police
Commissioner or the Chief Justice first? Why try to make an
international story out of it? And then rather than their Foreign Office
speak to our Foreign Office the Canadian's issue some report. Typical
international bullying. I find it hard to believe that the HC in Jamaica
spoke to Mr. Mitchell and nothing was done.This is a private matter
between private investors and it should remain that way. Its disgusting
how they come and want to pressure our government into positions. The
FNM government at the time and the PLP government now had and still have
a hell of a lot of problems to deal with for its own people. Many
people have civil cases that have taken quite a long time before the
courts. But because these people think that their interests are more
important than others they want threaten and squeeze our small nation.
That's why I say we, really have to look at other means of economic
sustainability in this country. We are always at the mercy of these
investors who so arrogantly want to dictate policy in our country. I
would agree that the court process is not the swiftest or the most
efficient. But I don't appreciate this attempt by this couple to try and
make investors feel that the Bahamas is unfriendly or unhelpful.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We have given more away in this
country than we should, but anyhow that's another matter.