ST JOHN’S –– Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne is not losing any sleep over a threat by Sandals Resorts International (SRI) to sue him over what the company says were grossly defamatory statements.
In a June 21 letter written to SRI’s General Counsel, Dimitri Singh, and made available to the media, Browne insisted that his government would not be “intimidated or bullied”.
The hotel chain is in a public dispute with the government over its decision to end a Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST) concession on room rates, which was written into the hotel’s agreement with the previous United Progressive Party (UPP) administration in 2009.
Earlier this week, Sandals accused Browne of making highly defamatory allegations against Sandals and warned that it would take the necessary legal steps to protect its reputation and brand.
Browne responded: “If it is your company’s wish to sue me for . . . laying out the legitimate concerns of my government in relation to the Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax, which is the rightful asset of the people of Antigua and Barbuda, please be assured that my government would welcome the opportunity since it would call for full disclosure of the company’s financial dealings, including monies collected and retained abroad.
“My government, and the political party that I have the honour to lead, have a track record of welcoming foreign investment and for providing a helpful and enabling environment for the unhindered conduct of legitimate business to encourage their growth and development. No aspersions cast by your company can alter that outstanding record or the excellent experience of foreign and local private sector investors in Antigua and Barbuda.”
Browne contended that Sandals had benefited greatly from the generous tax holidays and other financial concessions granted by his Antigua Labour Party (ALP), under whose administration the company entered the market and thrived.
But, he added, “government has a duty of care to the people of Antigua and Barbuda who always come first in our consideration”.
The Prime Minister was adamant that the 2009 arrangement between Sandals and the previous UPP administration violates the laws of Antigua and Barbuda and deprives the people of more than $15 million.
Under the agreement, a 65 per cent ABST discount was granted between July 2007 and the end of 2014, a 60 per cent discount agreed for 2015 to 2022, after which time there would be no discount.
Browne said while Sandals was claiming that it had not retained a significant portion of the ABST that it has a legal obligation to collect and remit to the Treasury, the UPP leader Harold Lovell, who was a senior member of the UPP administration, had been quoted in a newspaper article on Monday as saying that was precisely what had been occurring.
“It is that blatant and wrongful practice that my government seeks to correct,” the Antiguan leader said.
“Your company’s retention of a significant portion of the ABST, which is the asset of the people of Antigua and Barbuda, is wrong and my government’s simple desire is to correct that situation.”
He also sought to clarify other statements made by Sandals in its letter threatening legal action.
SRI had accused Browne of making a “grossly irresponsible and incendiary statement” that Sandals Resort pays zero taxes into the Government Treasury.
Browne said the taxes he mentioned were specifically property taxes.
The prime minister ended his missive by saying that while the offer to resolve the dispute in “a just and equitable manner” is still on the table, his government would not be intimidated or bullied.