A robust effort by Member of Parliament for St James Central Kerrie Symmonds to force Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to disclose details of the reported sale of the Hilton Barbados Resort came to naught today.
During his contribution to the second reading of the National Insurance and Social Security Amendment Bill, which sought to increase the number of persons sitting on the board of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), Symmonds chided Sinckler for tabling the bill when there was much speculation about the sale of the Needham’s Point property.
He charged that it was “a slap in the face of the people” for the minister to bring such an amendment without discussing the sale, which he said, was of great concern to Barbadians.
“I thought the sale of the patrimony of Barbados, or part thereof, would be of sufficient fundamental nature that you would sit down with the public and say that we have come to an agreement, who we have come to an agreement with and these are the circumstances which will give rise to what will follow,” the Opposition Barbados Labour Party legislator said.
Citing media reports that Government had signed off on the sale of the hotel for US$80 million, Symmonds was adamant that the NIS should have been informed given that it had significant interest in the property which first opened its doors just as the island became independent in 1966.
“We have a circumstance where the NIS stands exposed as a bond holder, ain’t know nothing about the sale; stands exposed as a creditor, ain’t know nothing about the sale; the NIS stands exposed as minority shareholder, have shares in the property, aint’ know nothing about the sale, and the people of Barbados who would be claimants for benefits, who would be pensioners who wait in a line expectantly, ain’t know nothing about no sale.”
As Symmonds read out his charge sheet, there was mumbling on the Government side but not a word from the Minister of Finance.
However, undeterred, the BLP parliamentarian questioned the final sum being paid for the recently refurbished prime property, saying that the reported sum was not near enough to ensure that Government meets its statutory obligations to the hotel’s employees in the event that they are severed by the new owners.
“What is the arrangement that falls in place for these workers?” he asked.
“This is a slap in the face of the people to try to make an amendment without speaking to these fundamental issue that touch and concern the lives of the people, because every worker at the Hilton needs to be given an assurance as to what is happening with their severance payment,” Symmonds insisted.
The concerns were however ignored by Sinckler who told the House as he wrapped up debate on the bill that “at some future date I would address the fundamental other issues that were raised about the NIS and its investments and so forth because there are a number of things that we need to bring to light and to speak to generally”.
It was last month that Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy assured that the jobs of Hilton employees were safe, telling a Democratic Labour Party political meeting that the sale was premised on strict condition, “that not a single member of staff is to be affected or impacted” by the transition.