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PM asked for help


PM asked for help

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Stories by Geralyn EdwardIT WAS Prime Minister David Thompson who sought economist Avinash Persaud’s help in getting the stalled Four Seasons project going after the original developers failed three times to secure private financing to restart the tourism and residential facility.Persaud, who provided an unrestricted tour of the facility and discussed plans to salvage the project slated to employ about 1000 people during the construction phase, admitted that a lot was riding onits success.“I got a call from the Prime Minister last September inviting me to a meetingat which he was going to be the host to British investors, with the hope of [my] encouraging them to come to Barbados.“At the end of that, we naturally slipped into a conversation about the number of projects that had been halted in Barbados. . . . We both agreed that Four Seasons was a particularly sad operation given that it had the power to spawn or help to transform the entire tourism sector,” Persaud told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY in a recent interview.According to the new executive chairman of the project, “We had three very powerful brands – the Four Seasons, the brands of the villa owners who include the leaders of the world’s entertainment industry, and the Barbados brand.“My view was, if you brought those three brands together there must be a way to make it work. The Prime Minister said if what it took to make it work was a Government guarantee, then that was what his Government would be willing to pursue.”Persaud admitted, however, that the numerous delays in getting Four Seasons restarted had shaken the confidence of some villa owners.“Despite all the delays and all of the difficulties, I still believe this project will play a significant role in the continued upgrading of our tourism sector. It is what we need to do to be able to pay Barbadian workers reasonable incomes in the future.“Before my invovlement in October 2009, there had been three failed attempts to rescue the project without a Government guarantee. When I started on it in September and October, discussing it with a range of regional and international banks, it became clear that there was no appetite for new lending [for] hotels and no project in the Caribbean, least [of all] one that was already in difficulty,” he noted.With ANSA McAL Merchant Bank of Trinidad and Tobago on the verge of syndicating the loan, Persaud saidvilla owners felt that the Government guarantee provided a signal of Government’s strong support.“It would be dishonest to say that the length of time it has taken for the guarantee to be signed did not have some impact on their confidence in the project and Government’s commitment. “We continued to assure them that it was a matter of due process and was necessary, but we certainly had a job to do. “One of my jobs is to rebuild the trust and confidence of villa owners and everyone else in the project.”