Prime Minister Gaston Browne has addressed the planned five-month closure of the Sandals Grande saying he does not think its related to the Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST) dispute with Sandals Chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart.
Browne, who is off island at a conference, said talks have been requested with Sandals on the matter.
Below is his full response to Observer Media on the planned Sandals Grande closure
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the ABST dispute. That’s a settled issue. It was immoral for Sandals to hold on to trust money collected on behalf of the state. There is no way they could have justified that.
Another demand was made recently by Sandals for the Cabinet to waive the duties and taxes on food and beverage. This request was deferred considering that the other hotels would have made similar demands resulting in a significant reduction in tax revenues.
It was explained to Sandals officials that the government’s finances are in a very precarious position, and that if we waived duties and taxes on food and beverage, it would plunge the government’s finances into a crisis. This is particularly so, considering that we just gave up over $35M by abolishing Personal Income Tax.
We undertook to review the request in 12 months. It would appear that this decision was not to their satisfaction and that the closure is a play for additional concessions.
We do not wish to have an acrimonious relationship with Sandals, and we have requested a discussion with its Chairman, Gordon Butch Stewart to resolve the issue amicably in the interest of all stakeholders.
We trust however that Sandals understands that the government, workers and suppliers of goods and services are all stakeholders, and must share equitably in the economic gains from their investment. Closing the hotel for five months will be self-defeating.
I am told to that Social Security conducted an audit of their books without giving adequate notice. That certainly would not have risen to the level for this type of action.
In so far as my personal relationship with Butch, to my knowledge that remains good after we settled out differences over the ABST issue last year.
You can be assured that my Government is standing firmly with the employees and the people. We are a resilient people who are not unaccustomed to challenges. This too shall pass. At the end of the day, everything will be alright.”
Asked further whether the Sandals Grande closure combined with the anticipated negative impact on the citizenship by investment programme revenue from the withdrawal of the visa waiver by Canada would lead to a review of the government’s budget, Browne said: “We had a balanced budget for the past two years due to the increase in revenue and fiscal prudence. In the circumstances, we are likely to run a deficit and would have to borrow to fund the deficit”.