(ANTIGUA OBSERVER) – Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals Resort International is challenging the comments made by the Prime Minister Gaston Browne that his father’s company has been demanding heavy concessions.
“Mr. Browne has put himself in a corner with Sandals resort that is very unfortunate, because there is no other hotel that has been reliable or more consistent,” Stewart said.
The Sandals CEO in refuting the allegations made by the prime minister suggested that PM Browne should challenge those “assertions” in court. Stewart added that if the saga reaches to that point, his company will have numbers to dispel the allegations.
According to a statement issued by the company, “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.”
PM Browne has for months accused the Jamaican-based company of unjustifiably asking for long concessionary periods, a request he says cannot be sustained in the twin-island’s economy.
Browne said throughout the region tourism industries have had to “struggle” because hoteliers are extracting much concession. He explained that those country’s income “would have been drastically reduced because … these hotels do not pay for corporation taxes.”
Last week, during a telephone interview on Nationwide 90FM in Jamaica, Browne said if a business cannot turn a profit in about ten years, then it is clearly not viable, adding that hoteliers use their significant influence on small countries.
Those comments led, Stewart to criticise the prime minister for making “assertions” on how Sandals Resorts International calculates its taxes and said Browne was acting like a “broken record.”
“We were given legally binding concessions which they have chosen not to honour. Now they are claiming that our calculations as a result of the granted concessions are not right,” Stewart said.
The hotel CEO also responded to Browne’s proposed “entrepreneurial socialism,” which would see the government having a stake in hotel projects. He said that the company has worked with governments that have stakes in hotels – as recent as last month with Trinidad and Tobago – which “contradicts another assertion” made by Browne.
“Do we want to be a part of what he’s doing with his government?” Stewart asked rhetorically before answering, “Absolutely not. Would we do it with another government? A government which we see as more ethical, and fairer and less political, you know we have just done it.”
Sandals has once again condemned the prime minister’s “defamatory attacks,” on Friday, but Stewart said these exchanges will not run the company from Antigua. Sandals has operated in Antigua since 1991, becoming one of the largest private sector employers on the island. Stewart said that Sandals has made a concerted effort to employ Antiguans at every level of operations and favours using Antiguan products and services.
The latter being in response to the prime minister accusing the company of not using products like English Harbour Rum at its two resorts. He advocated that Sandals believes in linkages and helps to boost local economies, especially with taxi operators, which he estimated as 60 operating here.