Sandals Responds To PM Gaston Browne

Image of Prime Minister Gaston Browne

PRESS RELEASE – SANDALS Resorts International condemns in the strongest possible manner the vicious, sustained and defamatory attacks that Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne continues to direct at this company.

The Prime Minister’s latest salvo came during the current affairs programme Nationwide at Five Radio Network in Jamaica on November 1, 2017, where he again made false claims that Sandals sought to avoid its tax obligations, and has acted inimical to the interests of the people of Antigua and Barbuda.

Nothing could be further from the truth, but the Prime Minister has demonstrated time and again that he has no interest in the truth.

Sandals Grande Antigua is the flagship hotel of Antigua and Barbuda. Over the past 25 years, we have been and continue to be the most significant contributor to the economy (EC$93 million in 2016). We are the leading earner of foreign exchange and the highest private sector employer. Sandals is unmatched in marketing Antigua and Barbuda throughout the world, while its citizens benefit from Sandals’ world-renowned training and development programmes, including access to the Sandals Corporate University. We are proud to boast that Sandals Grande Antigua has some of the very best staff members in the industry, the vast majority of whom are local, and have been with the company since inception.

Communities throughout Antigua and Barbuda benefit from the programmes of the Sandals Foundation and, only recently, following the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart personally donated EC$150,000 to relief efforts in Barbuda – ironically, even that was ungraciously lambasted by Prime Minister Browne as “insufficient”.

But that has been his attitude since 2016, when Prime Minister Browne and his administration, in clear breach of a proper and legally binding agreement, abolished the concessions granted under the previous government and signed by Finance Minister Errol Corte.

The fact is that in March 2000 Sandals, under Prime Minister Lester Bird’s administration, signed a Memorandum of Understanding which granted the company relief from the Hotel Tax and Guest Levy in exchange for constructing 100 new rooms. Not only did Sandals keep its word to the people of Antigua and Barbuda, we exceeded our obligations by almost doubling the number of rooms and suites to 180 at significant additional investment. This included adding tremendous facilities such as a brand new conference centre and restaurants to the resort. In doing so, we also increased employment by the addition of 120% more staff members who enjoy some of the highest compensation packages in the Caribbean.

After the Hotel Tax and Guest Levy was replaced by the Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST), the then government, in 2009, with the sole purpose of ensuring that Sandals as the most significant investor on the island was not to be prejudiced by the introduction of the ABST, granted Sandals compensatory relief from a portion of the ABST in order to maintain the value of the original concession benefits.

Since then Sandals has continued to fulfill its tax obligations in a timely manner and as a responsible stakeholder in Antigua and Barbuda. Our auditors have been top tier international companies such as PriceWaterhouse and, most recently, Grant Thornton, as well as the government agencies themselves, and there has NEVER, we repeat NEVER, been any issue regarding Sandals’ compliance with its tax obligations, including that of ABST.

The Prime Minister is aware of all of this, yet seems intent on maintaining his ill-conceived campaign of defamation against Sandals and its Chairman, both inside and outside of parliament. He either does not comprehend, or is intentionally and maliciously misleading the public regarding the computation of the ABST, claiming that his government has “written off” EC$100 million. The issue of a “write-off” does not exist. The fact is that ABST has always been included within the all-inclusive package as a component thereof. There is no question of Sandals ever withholding any taxes legally due and payable and, therefore, there is nothing for the government to “write off”. The tax has been computed exactly as it was written in the concession agreement granted to Sandals in order to achieve the level of development that you can see there today on Dickenson Bay.

Sandals has done its best to keep the peace; however, PM Browne should be reminded that as in all things, stepping outside the law has its consequences.

It is unfortunate that Prime Minister Browne and his government have failed to attract any new investment of significance in the tourism sector, since no major project has broken ground recently despite several promises. However, we do not believe we should have to suffer for that. One would think that with the challenges facing the Caribbean following the passage of two devastating hurricanes, the Prime Minister would spend his time in a more constructive manner, as we have done, in reaching out to the marketplace, working alongside rather than against us, to help promote the region and build Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism product.

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