Analyst calls for Integrity Commission to look into “gifts”

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Prime Minister Gaston Browne said in parliament yesterday that he has received gifts from Sandals’ owner, Gordon Butch Stewart.
“About a month ago I got a call from Mr Gordon Butch Stewart, the chairman of Sandals. He said to me, Prime Minister, I want us to meet, I want us to have lunch. Prior to that he was buttering me up. Christmas I got a bottle of Dom Perignon. On my birthday I got another bottle of Dom Perignon,” the prime minister said.
“He sent his private jet here, myself and my security officer flew down to Grenada then we flew to Barbados where he showed me another property there he’s expanding. On our way back he gave me a document in which he says he was going to build an eight-storey building in the old Sandals. I even gave him assurances that we will do all in our power to expedite the sale of the Halcyon property so he could invest in the beaches,” Browne said.
He added that even before getting back to Antigua, Stewart’s lawyer asked for immediate concessions on food and beverage based on the plan to build the eight-storey hotel.
Browne said that he responded by telling the lawyer that he would go to Cabinet and try to sell them the idea even though he thought it would be difficult to do so.
PM Browne, however, admitted that Cabinet was not impressed with the idea and said the request would be revisited in the following fiscal year when … certain debts would have been paid off. According to the prime minister, Mr Stewart was not pleased with the Cabinet’s decision.
However, Josh Drayton, researcher in the Anti-Corruption and Political Policy Unit says that these gifts are quite unethical, especially given that the hotelier was seeking concessions.
“The Prime Minister admitted in parliament, under parliamentary privilege, that he was given multiple gifts by the owner of Sandals Resorts. Here it is that the PM is admitting that he received a number of gifts and he knew what that meant because he used the term “buttering up”, he used the term “he was looking for an advantage”. Drayton rationalized.
“I found it very interesting, given that the Prime Minister knew the intentions of Sandals, that he continued to engage with them in settings that were not formal or official settings, like getting on a private jet and heading to Grenada with the owner of Sandals. The Integrity Commission should look into this.”
He added that there are several important ethical questions which need to be asked and answered. These questions include: “Why would the Prime Minister get on a jet with the owner of Sandals knowing his intentions? Why did the PM wait until now to speak out against it? Why did the PM decide to do this under parliamentary privilege? Why didn’t the PM ensure that he met Sandals and/or their agents in a professional setting with other members of his Cabinet and why did the PM agree to carrying a proposal to Cabinet knowing the circumstances under which the proposal was made?”
Drayton added that the most important questions are: “Did the Prime Minister report the matter to the authorities and what kind of relationship does he continue to have with Stewart?”
According to Drayton, it is unclear what other conversations could have taken place on the plane ride to Grenada and he referred to the actions of the Prime Minister as questionable. He has suggested that the Integrity Commission should look into the issue of those gifts that have allegedly been given to the Prime Minister.

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