PM alleges Sandals and other hotels ‘creaming off the top’

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Prime Minister Gaston Browne is again accusing Sandals Resorts International (SRI) of financial misdeeds – this time, of concealing millions of dollars in profits from the government of Antigua & Barbuda.

Yesterday, SRI’s Regional Public Relations Manager Sunil Ramdeen told OBSERVER media that a response to Browne’s allegations would be forthcoming today but that one could not be made before the time of going to press.

Browne alleged the company had been “creaming off the top” when reporting its earnings from bookings and said his administration is prepared to sue SRI if it comes to that.

“I want to put them on notice that we reserve the right – I’m not saying we are going to do it – but we reserve the right to pursue Sandals International in court for manipulating their figures,” the prime minister declared.

The prime minister claimed that “most of the hotels in Antigua are doing the same thing” – blanketing other hoteliers with the same allegation.

The latest allegationagainst Sandals formed part of the prime minister’s presentation during the debate on the Investment Authority (Amendment) Bill 2017 in the House of Representatives yesterday.

The swiftly drafted Bill is, according to PM Browne, a response to the Sandals Grande Resort & Spa’s announcement this month that it would close for five months and then only three months beginning in September for renovations – an “act of hostility” designed to force concessions out of the government, according to Browne.

The prime minister said that when the Sandals’ managers were present at the Cabinet meeting of July 19, they “had no plans” for renovations or expansion and could not quote a cost for the work to be done.

If the prime minister’s comments are accurate, then they render those of Minister of Tourism Asot Michael questionable since Michael told reporters last week that the plans presented by the Sandals’ managers were satisfactory and the cabinet had a “cordial” meeting with them.

Visibly perturbed yesterday, Browne said he and his ministers were “disrespected” by the managers who he claimed were “not even natives of this country” and who he claims told the Cabinet, “This is private property we do not have to talk to you.”

The amendment to the Investment Act seeks to impose a mandatory requirement for hoteliers with 3 per cent or more of the total room stock in Antigua & Barbuda to give the government notice of any intent to close, or risk having any concessions they enjoyed rescinded.

 

(More in today’s Daily Observer)

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