January 28, 2013
It was a trip to The Bahamas nobody wanted to make.
After taking time off work, finding baby-sitters and spending thousands of dollars on hotels and airfare, more than a dozen investors from Canada and the U.S. touched down in Nassau late last week for a meeting.
There weren't enough chairs at the conference room table. Carry-on bags were stuffed beneath their feet.
These investors did not arrive for sun, sand and sea. They were here to get answers.
Last Friday, the Exuma Chamber of Commerce and Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis mediated a face-to-face encounter at the Ministry of Works and Urban Development between the investors and principals at Oceania Heights Limited.
The much-anticipated encounter was the crescendo in an issue that has been sounding off for years. Oceania Heights, comprising more than 40 acres of pristine property overlooking the sea, has been the source of controversy since sections were first sold off in the mid-90s.
While many issues are disputed, investors, politicians and businessmen related to the development have reached a common recognition: The feud isn't good for business.
"The country is being put in a bad light," Davis said. "I have agreed to accelerate the process, if I can. The issue has serious implications to persons involved. A swift resolution will be best for all parties."
For hours, Davis listened patiently to the concerns of international investors.
principals of Oceania Heights have been accused of double-selling lots, failing to process stamp duty and provide official documentation and falling behind in the construction of amenities. It has also been alleged that lots were sold prior to Oceania Heights receiving subdivision approval.
Anthony Thompson and Howard Obront, the principals of Oceania, have denied any wrongdoing. Thompson attended the meeting strictly as an observer.
"I wish to apologize for the misunderstanding," said council representing Thompson. "We do have a significant problem. We are here as a courtesy and to resolve them in due course."
Resolution can't come soon enough for Derek Nedzel from Denver, Colorado.
His father, now deceased, purchased two lots at Oceania in 1999 and 2005, spending a total of $1.5 million, according to Nedzel. As executor of the estate, he said everything is on hold until the deeds and assets are resolved in The Bahamas.
Nedzel is seeking the executed deeds for these properties, alleging that the properties were fully paid for but no documents were issued. His father bought the properties, he said, as an investment so he could flip the lots and earn money for his daughter's medical expenses.
"I have a sister who is ill and I need to provide for her now," he told Guardian Business. "I just want the money back. I can't afford it. I need the money back to pay for her medical expenses. My father worked until the day he died at 84."
Ruth Edmonds, an investor from Nashville, Tennessee, also bought land for the purposes of flipping at a profit.
She alleged that an official from the Ministry of Finance first informed her that the lot was already owned by someone else.
"I purchased lot 104 in 2005 and someone else owned it. It was purchased back in 1996," Edmonds claimed. "I bought it for $550,000. I just want my money back. I am not interested in living there or building anything."
Dr. Terry Swaine, an orthodontist from Kingston, Canada, claimed he has a similar predicament after he purchased two lots for $220,000 each.
He alleges that one of these lots was already owned by someone else at the time of purchase.
He described Oceania in Exuma as a "beautiful investment", describing a property with excellent views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Swaine, like others at the meeting, aren't entirely sure what to make of last Friday's meeting.
He hopes that both sides can resolve their various issues so investors, and The Bahamas, can move on.
"I don't know where this is going to take us," he said. "But I want to see their feet put to the fire because it has hurt a lot of people. And hurt The Bahamas."
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