Despite growing protests regionally against the Sandals “plantation model” of tourism development and repeated warnings that it is failing the region, Dr. Rowley seems hell bent on giving away our patrimony to Butch Stewart. Negotiations are couched in secrecy and questions are not welcomed.
“We must begin to ask why he and regional leaders keep selling us out in negotiations with Sandals Resorts International that are not transparent”, says Naparima MP Rodney Charles.
Barbados with a debt to GDP ratio of 108% has given Sandals a 25 year tax holiday that includes a waiver on all import duties, taxes, imposts and levies on capital goods such as building materials as well as food, alcohol and beverages.
Recently, according to Caribbean News Now, there were public protests in St Lucia calling on Gordon “Butch” Stewart to pay a disputed tax assessment of $24.4 million, dating back to 2001, including interest and penalties, “which the government later agreed to write off”.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne was allegedly the target of an on-going series of articles by the Jamaica Observer owned by Butch Stewart after his government reportedly put a stop to tax write offs to Sandals agreed to by a previous government.
One of the demands by former Sandals Resorts International deputy chairman Adam Stewart a few weeks ago (Adam has reportedly been replaced) was that successive TT governments must abide by everything agreed to by the current Rowley administration. This demand occurred at the same time he appeared to imply that TT citizens were nasty.
Stewart has reportedly also been accused of using his Jamaica Observer to attempt to interfere in Saint Lucia’s elections.
According to allegations reported in Caribbean News Now “similar issues and concerns are being raised in Barbados where an election is due shortly”. That paper also alleges interference in elections in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Former Jamaican PM Bruce Golding is on record last year as saying at the IMF High Level Forum in Kingston that “Barbados and other Caribbean countries are losing millions of dollars due to the number of concessions given to investors.
Last December at the 6th annual Statia Conference in Aruba former Barbados Environment Minister, Elizabeth Thompson is reported to have criticized the “all inclusive hotel model” stating it allows money to remain on the property while domestic shops and service providers are shut out”.
Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organization urged Caribbean Tourism Stakeholders “to stop promoting modern day plantations called exclusive resorts”.
Barbadians also have an increasingly uneasy relationship with Sandals with reports, denied by Sandals, that at its resort at Dover, Christ Church, citizens are being denied access using dogs to a nearby beach.
Given all that has been reported, Dr Rowley must come clean on why he appears so hell bent on Sandals. Is this our best shot at economic diversification?
He must tell us straight up about all concessions granted and for how long. He has a duty to inform us about the total direct and indirect costs to taxpayers and exactly how much money is Sandals contributing. He has to give us an idea of the return on this investment (ROI) and the expected payback period. He must spell out precisely and put in the contract arrangements, the anticipated quotas of local produce to be purchased and the number of locals to be employed especially at management levels.
“We want hard facts and figures, not obfuscatory generalities and customary pejorative, put downs as occurs in parliament whenever we seek information on Sandals and the range of dubious activities by this government” says Naparima MP.
Given reports that Sandals has demanded in St Lucia the right to import 85 “so called limousines duty and tax free” to provide among other things transport for guests, Dr Rowley must tell us how local taxi drivers (and other local businesses) will independently be an integral part of the spin off from the agreed arrangements.
“We don’t want to wake up one morning to find out that he has sold us out and there is nothing we can do about it”.