The Barbados Tourism Investment Inc (BTII) did nothing wrong by borrowing money from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to purchase the Almond Beach Village property.
Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy jumped to the defence of the entity and Government’s decision to borrow $55 million from the NIS during debate on the 2016/2017 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure in Parliament today.
Sealy explained that BTII only got involved in purchasing the property due to a lack of interest shown by the private sector.
“I don’t want the word going out there that officers of the BTII did anything improper with respect to our Social Security funds.
“First of all, the only reason we had to go this route with respect to purchasing the Almond property in St Peter was because the private sector was not interested. [The Trinidad based] Neal and Massy had the property for sale for quite some time and no one was interested in buying it. It tells us that the private sector was not interested,” Sealy said.
“We intervened in order to protect that property . . . we moved in when we absolutely had no choice.”
He revealed that upon borrowing the money from the NIS, BTII acquired the property at Heywoods, St Peter and entered into discussions with Jamaican hotelier Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart’s Sandals Group.
Sandals eventually bought the property from Government for $53 million.
Following the sale of Almonds, Sealy said the money received was then used to launch the Sam Lords Castle project.
He insisted it was a decision made by Cabinet, and that the NIS was always kept informed of their intentions.
“So in essence, it was a Government decision that we were going to build out hotel rooms at Sam Lords and that was the understanding. So when we got the funds from the purchase of the Almond property in St Peter, we immediately entered into discussions with the NIS indicating to them what our intentions were and of course moving towards having the loan settled through a mortgage facility from Republic Bank over the Sam Lords project,” Sealy explained.
“There was nothing sinister about this. Cabinet was involved in this exercise . . . Well it would have to be discussed in Cabinet. You think he [the Minister of Finance] would be lying down across his bed and just decide to sign a thing like that, $55 million? It doesn’t work that way!”
“The decision was taken and it was a very seamless exercise. There was no point at which the NIS can say they were exposed,” the Minister added.