Sandals saga: Scolding and new Bill achieved nothing, analysts say

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Analysts have warned that the public scolding of Gordon “Butch” Stewart, and the allegations levelled at him and his Sandals hotel chain have done little to fix the relationship between the Government of Antigua & Barbuda and the investor.
According to political analyst Alex Bruno, the Gaston Browne administration needs to engage the hotel company in private and bring an end to the latest public spat with Stewart. “Go back off the public record and to the drawing board. Get the technocrats involved and non-politicians and hammer out a way forward with the Sandals group,” Bruno said.
In Parliament last week, Prime Minister Gaston Browne lambasted Sandals, its management, and its owner, for, as he claimed, making unreasonable requests for additional concessions and for announcing a prolonged closure – “an act of hostility” according to Browne. Speaking on the Big Issues panel on OBSERVER radio yesterday, Bruno said the government “went off the deep edge” with its legislative response to the hotel’s initial threat of a five-month closure for renovations, which said it would attempt to reduce to three months.
Browne trumpeted the Investment Authority (Amendment) Bill 2017 as a swift and measured response to the threat of surprise hotel closures. However, the political analyst declared, “Legislation on its own will not fix [the relationship].” The Bill, which awaits debate in the Senate, has also been dismissed as an “overreaction” by the former Chairman of the Antigua & Barbuda Investment Authority (ABIA) Dr McChesney Emanuel who believes it “is time for cooler heads to prevail”.
The Bill seeks to make it mandatory for hoteliers with 3 per cent or more of the total room stock in Antigua & Barbuda to give a minimum period of two months’ notice to the government if they intend to close or risk having concessions they enjoyed rescinded. Dr Emanuel said “incentives are being used as a weapon to get even”, while another voice on yesterday’s programme, Political Advisor Dr Isaac Newton argued that the discretion to take away the concessions – given to the minister in the Act – would be abused.
Dr Newton said, “I do not trust them with the discretion to exercise this in an equitable way without a sense of vengeance and vindictiveness. Let us not pretend that we can trust our politicians to be noble and ethical.”
Dr Emanuel believes the administration should never have given the Cabinet of Antigua & Barbuda the power to approve concessions – a discretion stripped from the Board of the ABIA, which is yet to be reappointed after around three years of being dissolved. During his speech in Parliament, Browne made an allegation against Sandals Resorts International (SRI) of discrepancies in its financial reporting and threatened that the government may sue the hotel chain over the issue.
(More in Today’s Daily Observer)

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