PM Browne pushes Deluxe deal, Max Fernandez family bailout – again

SOURCE: Panoramio

When did this begin?

It was in October 2016 that OBSERVER media first learned that the Antigua Commercial Bank was foreclosing on the Deluxe Cinema. Charles “Max” Fernandez, MP and Cabinet Minister was the second largest shareholder in the business behind his brother Joseph Fernandez up to 2009, according to records at the Intellectual Property Office. But the government’s planned purchase of the property was only announced in March 2017. It was met with stiff political and public condemnation from those who saw it as a bailout for Fernandez and his family.

Why has it resurfaced?

Little was said on the proposed purchase beyond April 2017, then on Saturday, after more than a year of quiet from the government, Gaston Browne, the prime minister, declared that he  would raise it again at this week’s Cabinet meeting hoping that his colleagues “would see the merit” in buying the property. He added, “Let the detractors talk.” Fernandez has consistently rejected requests for comment on the matter.

Why does the gov’t want Deluxe?

In March 2017, E.P. Chet Greene, then Minister of National Festivals and Culture said the cinema would be converted into a performing arts centre. He argued then that the nation’s dancers, singers, dramatists and others deserved a home to use to continue the development of their respective artforms.

How much will it cost?

Again, in March 2017, Melford Nicholas, Information Minister said the government would spend EC $8 million on the property though he reported that the assessed value was $11 million – a good deal according to the minister. However, neither he nor anyone else has stated what it will cost the government to convert the Deluxe Cinema into a performing arts centre.

Who benefits from the deal?

When a bank forecloses on a mortgaged property it means that the bank takes possession of a property because the property owner, usually due to financial difficulty, has been unable to keep up their mortgage payments. The bank then sells the property to recoup the value of the loan. However, so long as the property remains unsold the mortgagor is still indebted to the bank and may still be indebted if the sale does not fetch the complete value of the loan. In addition to the disputed benefit to the people of Antigua and Barbuda from having an $8 million to-be-retrofitted performing arts centre situated on High Street in the government’s hands, the deal would benefit the owners of the Deluxe Cinema as it would ease them of the debt.

How has the opposition reacted?

When it was first announced, and again more recently, political opposition parties condemned the move as “a bailout”. Reacting to the prime minister’s latest announcement, Anthony Stuart, Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Governance Spokesman for the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) declared that the cinema was a “white elephant” that nobody wanted. He said the government needed to prioritise the payment of backpay to public servants, and the upkeep of government offices, where staff have stopped work in protest of poor conditions. “We cannot support this and we call on the government to pull back,” Stuart said. In a July 3 letter published in the Daily OBSERVER, Harold Lovell, Political Leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) condemned the plan as “irresponsible” and “immoral”. He too said that the government needs “to get its priorities in order”, pointing to “the millions of dollars [owed] in back pay to public servants.”

What did people think of it the first time?

In March 2017, OBSERVER media canvassed people in the capital, St. John’s, to get their view on the issue. For the most part, people were convinced that the money could be better spent elsewhere. Two young men felt that while the performing arts deserved attention, sports development should take priority. Another man said the cost was too high to be justified. One woman said the prime minister should “wheel and come again.”

However, there were those who were in favour of the plan. One woman said that the performing arts, which she viewed as a positive outlet for young people, deserved more attention from the government.

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