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Commentary: Is Saint Lucia a Sandals colony?

Commentary: Is Saint Lucia a Sandals colony?

Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and News Now Global analysis. He can be reached at melanius@newsnowglobal.com

By Melanius Alphonse

In what has been previously described as the “liquidation of the nation”, Sandals Resorts International (SRI) could end up owning nine or ten properties in Saint Lucia, including a new Sandals project on hold, pending the outcome of legal action, filed shortly after the company broke ground on the Pigeon Island site in May 2018 and relating to alleged boundary encroachment and beach access.

According to information received, more Sandals owned properties and real estate business enterprises are on the cards for Castries, Gros Islet, Vieux Fort and Soufriere.

By all indications there is a cozy relationship between Saint Lucia and SRI, and by extension between Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and Butch Stewart, which has become a political and economic issue on the island.

“So the north of the island goes to Jamaica, the south of the island goes to Malaysia and the middle of the island gets menial labour support contracted through Guy Joseph and basic infrastructure. That’s what’s happening in Saint Lucia. And all the legal work gets done by Nicholas John and Mark Maragh,” Caribbean News Now was told.

Another issue centered on the Chastanet-led Cabinet’s decision to waive EC$24 million in withholding taxes on Sandals Resorts International, which had been assessed by the Inland Revenue Department for the period 2001 to 2009, based on Section 76 and Schedule 3 of the Income Tax Act.

Sandals claimed that the assessments were “not justified but were incorrectly determined and should have been withdrawn”.

Following the government’s withdrawal of the $24 million tax assessment, some social media comments described Chastanet as Stewart’s “puppet”.

Others said, “Our not so bright PM gave him back $24 million” … “All we got here is an idiot” … “Since he’s able to get his way with Chastanet, he feels he can treat the others likewise.”

There is also the ongoing debate over countless concessions without end, even backdated in some instances, while members of the ill-defined cabinet play well to “shut up and fall in line” under the command of impromptu meetings and attendance at a cabinet meeting recently held at a Sandals property.

Meanwhile the chain of command are the benefactors, sucking wealth out of the economy into foreign bank accounts, robbing Saint Lucian taxpayers blind while others are struggling.

Shortly after Sandals CEO Gebhard Rainer announced that Sandals flagship project in Tobago was withdrawing due to negative publicity, there were mixed reactions that the withdrawal was not a surprise based on a government ill equipped to negotiate with Sandals.

Others contend the project was mired in controversy, including legal and environmentalists’ concerns, which was expected to drive economic development and anchor the tourism sector for jobs and economic growth predicated on the benevolence of taxpayers but shrouded in secrecy, even as Sandals espoused transparency.

Meantime, Magnetic Media reports that “Beaches Turks Caicos Resort Villages Spa will be closed from September 3 to October 15 in 2019 and from September 7 to October 22, 2020, and then for an indefinite period from January 2021.”

“Government taxes were reportedly calculated in a way that is not sitting well with Sandals Resorts International, which owns the Beaches family resorts. The calculations by the Ministry of Finance and backed by the Attorney General’s Chambers have reportedly been in dispute for years. The lingering bill in dispute has now ballooned to some $60 million, we are told.”

Several articles published by Caribbean News Now have examined Sandals business model and operational conduct and on numerous occasions asked questions [still unanswered] including:

• Which side are local politicians on – Sandals or St Lucia?

• Are Sandals incentives reasonable or simply a concession to enablers?

• Is Butch Stewart hacking regional elections… again? – Part 1

• Butch Stewart – the top ten unanswered questions

The Bahamas is no exception, where Sandals sought to challenge a 2011 Privy Council ruling and ended up losing yet another legal action against a Bahamanian union with costs to be assessed.

The Antigua and Barbuda election campaign that returned Prime Minister Gaston Browne to office on March 21, 2018, is reflected in a series of articles entitled Sandals and the exploitation of Caribbean governments and people: An Antigua-Barbuda case study – Part one and two.

The election campaign showcased the resolve and leadership of Prime Minister Gaston Browne, putting in perspective Sandals Resorts International (SRI) and Butch Stewart.

The general elections also witnessed a media war between Stewart’s Observer, his cronies and Caribbean News Now. The rest is history, however, save for the losers concealing their private stupidity, uncomfortable to feeling disheartened, brown-nosed and shell-shocked by their current circumstances, and seemingly would like to have their collective butts kicked again.

In January of 2019, a known Sandals operative that Caribbean News Now has come across on several previous occasions using different pseudonyms resurfaced from licking multiple wounds. He chose to peddle a letter in a local newspaper in Saint Lucia, “Beware Of One-sided Narrative,” oblivious that what happens in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean will be a matter of interest in ongoing investigations in South Florida.

This merely represents further evidence that Sandals continues to attempt to manipulate regional media, which will in turn come under unwelcome scrutiny sooner or later.

Critics speculate as to what is at the heart of the powerful bond between Sandals, the prime minister of Saint Lucia and his ill-defined cabinet of ministers, and what will happen when the government falls.

Although facing damning legal consequences, it would be extremely naïve to think an ill-defined cabinet will do something different to upset their many lucrative prizes, their privileged access, huge contracts [direct and/or indirect] and the chance to accumulate huge fortunes, albeit at the behest of their political and corporate elites.

Saint Lucia has seemingly become the bedrock of a colony and business practices that imposed a government where their voice is clear,” I have my Sandals.” And an “all exclusive” colony at that, where the actions of a few sycophants are firmly indifferent to defending the peoples’ right to be heard, to benefit from the land of their birth, and to be free and prosperous!

Antigua and Barbuda, a political and economic model with a progressive leader, has taken the lead.

It’s clear Saint Lucia cannot continue to be bullied in denial, in the face of a reinvigorated opposition that will have no choice on assuming governance but to review, rescind, cancel and apply the law to questionable practices and fraudulent schemes.

As hard as this may seem, the odds are a steadfast foe. There ought to a solution to the crisis of nepotism, crony capitalism and conflicts of interest that breed inhumanity, inequality and poverty, thus threatening broad-based development.

Otherwise, the options still lurks that the 40 independence theme – “All IN, Our Journey, Our Future” is heading towards an “all exclusive” Sandals colony.

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