Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Mia Mottley says the current system of managing concessions under the Tourism Development Act (TDA) is anything but fair.
In fact, she told a gathering of industry stakeholders here on Wednesday that what it had essentially done was to create three classes of hoteliers in the country.
“Those like Sandals that get everything without consultation, . . . those who have to come to the Ministry of Tourism, and I believe every two weeks the Ministry of Tourism is taken up with having to push paper, which is nonsense, and then those who don’t even get anywhere near the Ministry of Tourism or anywhere near the concessions because their cash flow has been such that they had difficulties in being able to meet basic statutory requirements and as a result therefore they are precluded from being a beneficiary of any of those concessions,” Mottley explained.
However, while warning that it “cannot be the way”, the Prime Minister said to loud applause that “one of the early things the Ministry of Tourism will be looking at is how to bring about greater equity as well as fairness and transparency in the management of those concessions under the Tourism Development Act”.
Responding to a question posed by Sandy Lane’s Director of Finance, Risks and Compliance Joanne Roett during the annual general meeting of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, Mottley also suggested that the Gordon Butch Stewart-led Sandals Resorts International (SRI), which benefited from a suite of concessions granted by the previous Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government, would be made to pull its weight just like every other “Barbadian” hotelier.
“I want to carry you back to a speech I made to the Barbados Chamber of Commerce when I indicated in 2014 that I think Mr Stewart would have to become a Barbadian. I didn’t know how much I needed him to become a Barbadian [then], but we do need him to become a Barbadian [now]. And rest assured, Barbados is a country governed by the rule of law, but, by the same token, Barbados is a country that is fuelled by consultation and conversation,” Mottley said, adding that “I have every confidence that [based on] a conversation that sets out what the issues are, what we face, and what we have to do to go forward, we can get people to do the right thing in this country.
“Let me say therefore, that I look forward to meeting with Mr Stewart on behalf of the Government and people of Barbados and, at the very least, let’s start where we need to start, with the room levy. So I look forward to that conversation as we move forward together,” she added.
In order to attract the Jamaica-based hotel chain to the island, the DLP administration had granted the SRI a suite of concessions back in 2013, including a 25-year tax holiday.
This included waiver on all import duties, taxes, impost and levies on capital goods, such as building materials, as well as food and beverages.
The controversial deal also included waivers on duties for the importation of motor vehicles and personal and household effects for senior hotel staff and non-Barbadian workers.
When the tax holiday period is over, Sandals will only be required to pay half the “applicable rates and taxes prevailing” for another 15 years.
SRI, which currently operates Sandals Barbados and Sandals Beaches in Dover, Christ Church, is scheduled to embark on an estimated US$400 million construction of a Beaches Resort at the old Almond Resort site in St Peter.