Opposition Leader Mia Mottley wants answers about a $55 million loan, which she says was borrowed by tourism officials from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) two years ago to purchase the Almond Beach Resort at Heywoods, St Peter.
Repayment of the loan was due on January 31, 2016 under the original agreement.
However, Mottley said, this has not happened since the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. (BTII) requested an 18-month extension days before the repayment was due to the NIS.
Addressing a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) meeting at its Grantley Adams House, Roebuck Street, headquarters last night, Mottley pointed out that a condition of the loan was that the money had to be repaid immediately if Almond Beach was re-sold.
However, she said even though the Jamaica-based Sandals Resorts had purchased the property some six months after the loan was secured by BTII, the money was yet to be returned to the NIS.
Reading from a letter the BTII purportedly sent to the NIS on January 27, Mottley said after ignoring the initial agreement to return the money upon re-sale of the property, BTII had requested the 18-month delay.
The Opposition Leader charged that the BTII had also violated a loan stipulation that the NIS Board must consent to the sale of the property.
“But they sell it. They get the money. They went to Cabinet in May, and they decide that they ain’t paying NIS in January,” she alleged.
The Opposition Leader also criticized the BTII for giving late notice to the NIS of its request for a delayed repayment, in view of the Cabinet decision in May.
“They write the NIS eight months later, four days before the loan due, and say they ain’t paying,” she told the meeting.
Mottley further questioned the reason for the delay in repaying the loan, since BTII reportedly sold Almond Beach at a profit.
“What they do with the $55 million?” she asked, calling on Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to explain if there was an urgent and compelling reason to withhold the money from NIS, which faces its own challenges in meeting the needs of workers. “Was the $55 million so urgently needed?” she asked.
The Opposition Leader also accused Sinckler of complicating matters for the NIS by sending a ‘Letter of Comfort’ to its board assuring that central government would repay the money in February or March 2016, despite BTII’s request for the 18-month extension.
“But this letter of comfort is only valid for February and March to March 31st,” she said, pointing out that there is just a two-week window for Sinckler to honour his repayment commitment.
She also highlighted the terms and conditions of the loan agreement between NIS and BTII, while highlighting what she said were mistakes made by the statutory corporation in the way it lent the money; alleged unlawful acts by Cabinet; as well as what she described as the refusal of the minister with responsibility for NIS to defend the interests of the entity.
Mottley explained that there was no formal mortgage agreement at the time of the BTII loan.
She also charged based on her information, Cabinet was not a party to the initial loan agreement and therefore acted outside of the law in authorizing BTII to withhold repayment.
However, speaking in parliament today both Sinckler and Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy sought to downplay Mottley’s charges.