(BARBADOS TODAY) — Government appears willing to forego more than an estimated $800 million of “Superman money” that international hotel giant Sandals Resorts International (SRI) intended to pump into the economy over a two-year period on the construction of a state-of-the-art Beaches property.
As the stalemate between Government and SRI officials lingers, Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmonds told journalists on Tuesday that Government has made it clear that it would not be changing its position.
At the root of the deadlock is a claim by the Mia Mottley administration that late last year Sandals asked for assurances that its original deal, signed with the former Freundel Stuart Government in 2013, would not be changed by any future Government.
“What they want is a commitment from this Government that there will never be a future Government ever in Barbados that will decide that they are going to impose a level of taxation on that company, and we cannot tie the hands of a generation not yet born and we will not propose to try to do so,” said Symmonds.
“It would be a wrong thing I think . . . The reality is that it will be unconscionable. So we have drawn the line on that matter,” he said.
Just last month Group Deputy Chairman of SRI Adam Stewart told Barbados TODAY that his company was still willing to continue construction of the Heywood’s, St Peter project, but said only if the original agreement was kept.
Under that agreement, Sandals was offered concessions, which included a 25-year waiver on all import duties, taxes, levies on capital goods, such as building materials as well as beverages and goods.
“I want to be clear, we are not in an adversarial position whatsoever with the Government. We have a tremendous amount of respect for both sides of the political divide and for Prime Minister Mottley. The Minister of Tourism has been a great friend of the company. We have done many things in the international marketplace. The relationship is not adversarial, but US$450 million is what we call Superman money. And for us to take that risk we would only do it under the original agreement,” Stewart had told Barbados TODAY back in September.
However, when pressed on the matter, Symmonds said while the country valued the investment from Sandals and it could richly benefit from it, the Prime Minister had already made it clear that “we cannot go where angels fear to thread”.
“The Mighty Sparrow once said that if you catch somebody broke you will get it all for nothing. Though we are on bended knee financially, we still have to maintain a certain amount of pride and dignity in the way in which we conduct business in Barbados. He may well be proposing superman money but there are other people, as this situation with Virgin has demonstrated, who are prepared to come to the table,” said Symmonds.
His update on the matter came Tuesday during a press conference at his office to announce that the island had secured some 30,000 seats from the UK to Bridgetown via Virgin Atlantic, to fill the void that was created by the collapse of the Thomas Cook group last week.
He suggested that to allow no room for adjustments in the Sandals deal for future Governments would be unfair to other hoteliers who did not benefit from the same kind of concessions.
“So there has to be a sense of fairness and we have made our position very clear and it is for the proposed developer, who has already spent considerable sums of money in developing the beach area, to make a determination as to what his next step will be, but the Government is not changing its position,” said Symmonds.
So far SRI has invested some US$17 million on beach work at the old Almond Beach Resort location. The project was expected to last about 27 months and employ some 1,800 people throughout the process.
In an indication that should Government lose the investment there would be other investments coming in to fill the void, Symmonds further pointed out that following the major investment conference here in the first quarter of this year there were “very positive responses” from a number of people so far.
“There is still dialogue going on but we would want to think that good sense will prevail. In the interim, there are other people with whom we will do business, we may not do it with Superman money but we will do business,” said Symmonds.
In fact, he said in about two cases so far “the legal work” is already completed.
As it relates to the proposed US$100 million controversial Hyatt Centric project on Bay Street, The City, Symmonds said he expected work to begin early next year, adding that considerable progress has been made in terms of moving “all the obstacles that existed”.
At the same time, Symmonds gave the assurance that work was progressing on the US$200 million Wyndham Sam Lord’s Castle Resort.
There have been reports that the St Philip project was on pause due to a withdrawal of several of the Chinese workers who were leading the construction.
However, when asked about the claims, Symmonds simply said: “The Government is not building it so I can’t speak to the pace at which the developers are doing what they have to do” while adding that the Chinese were “still involved”.