Editorial: ‘Ah we run t’ings’

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We have spoken about the dwindling use of diplomacy a few times in the past and we have implored our politicians to reacquaint themselves with the dying art but our pleas have seemingly fallen on deaf ears.  We make that statement in light of the recent dust-up between Sandals and the government. 
First, there was the stunning news that Sandals would be closing the resort for up to five months. It is worth noting that the news came from the workers and not from government or Sandals. The government claimed to be blindsided and the prime minister immediately went on the offensive calling the decision to close “an act of hostility” and stating “the closure is a play for additional concessions”.  Strong words considering that the PM had not talked to the Sandals representative before making his comment.
The level of diplomacy, at that moment in time, left something to be desired.  There was no calm talk in the middle of a possible tourism storm.  Instead, there seemed to be a knee-jerk response that led to an attack of the single largest private tourism investor. This is not to pick sides because we have already stated that if this is any attempt to take advantage of us then we prefer a bit of pain now, so that we can benefit in the long term.  We do not believe that any investor should try to strong-arm the government into submission.  That said, at this point, we have not been apprised of any outrageous demands so we are focusing on the diplomacy surrounding the situation, or rather lack of it. 
To understand what we mean, let us get current with the most recent comments and release from the Minister of Tourism, Asot Michael.  The first thing that struck us was the double down on the ‘act of hostility’ statement after the situation had seemingly been quelled.  In the post-Cabinet press briefing, Minister Michael confirmed that the government viewed the episode as an act of hostility.  The reasoning?  He said, “We are still of the view that because sufficient notice was not given and there was no consultation with the government prior to the announcement – yes, it would have been deemed an act of hostility.”
Although there was an apparent agreement in hand for a shortened closure along with other issues being addressed, there seemed to be an unexplanable need for a public trashing to ‘show dem who run t’ings round here’.  In a follow-up, Minister Michael released a tersely worded statement on the matter that pretty much corrected Sandals on their letter to the Antigua & Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU).  Remember, after Sandals met with Cabinet, they communicated the outcome to the ABWU, saying, “In the interest of our team members and all stakeholders concerned, Sandals Resorts International intends to make every effort to reduce the period of repairs to three months, and we are targeting a December 17, 2017 reopening of Sandals Grande Antigua”. 
Minister Michael’s press release basically said that Sandals was simply doing what they were told to do and they better continue doing that because the government is watching and waiting.  Of course, that is our interpretation, so we will let the good minister deliver the message.  He said, “The government will hold the resort’s owners and managers to the undertaking on which the government insisted.“
Look, we understand that a government needs to flex every so often but that should be done behind closed doors.  There is no need to berate an investor in public.  News, today, goes global in a split second.  Say it in Antigua & Barbuda and it is near simulcast in every corner of the world.  Corners where potential future investors sit. 
How does anyone think this ongoing Sandals saga plays to an investor thinking of bringing his or her investment dollars to our bit of paradise?  We will guess badly.  Looking from the outside, all they see is a government in a public brawl with an important, long term investor.  Insults and name calling like “concessions bandit” are used without restraint by the highest level positions in the land.  We suspect that they will ask themselves, “If they treat Sandals like that, how will they treat me?”
It is almost like our politicians have abandoned diplomacy because they are under the misguided impression that it denotes weakness.  Instead, they have adopted a new, more aggressive way of dealing with sensitive relationships – one that they perceived demonstrates strength but includes insults and a dismissive attitude. We would like to advise them that insults do not build bridges and a dismissive attitude has a boomerang effect.  Diplomacy is a necessary art for a politician and great statesmen are considered artists.

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