The development of post-independent Barbados has been facilitated not only by the resilience, contributions and nationalistic spirit of its people but largely through tourism and enormous foreign investment. But international and regional investors do not need Barbados. If they search long and hard enough, they are certain to find numerous alternative destinations across the globe where they can get equal or significantly greater returns on their investments.
Within the past few years Sandals Barbados has been an important entity on the local tourism and investment landscape – and long may it continue to be. The previous Freundel Stuart administration was instrumental in Sandals establishing root in Barbados but was pilloried as a result of the concessions it granted to the hotel chain. Other enterprises and the Barbados Labour Party Opposition at the time led the chorus of criticisms. Unfortunately, as appears to be a malignancy in Barbados, our politicians seem always to need to criticize a measure instituted by an opposing political party whether it brings success or has the potential to be successful.
To date those who earlier criticized the concessions given to Sandals have not had the fortitude to admit that Sandals has been a massive success in the island, providing significant employment and training opportunities for Barbadians, contributing in a major way to the development of sports and the arts in the island and in the region, enhancing our tourism product to the extent where the hotel chain has contributed directly to increased visitor arrivals from the United States, as well as other positive developments.
Previously, during the tenure of former prime minister Owen Arthur several local hotels were beneficiaries of financial and tax incentives, especially as it related to upgrades to their properties. The record will show that Sandals has used its own capital to upgrade its property even as the Barbados government gave capital support to other players in the tourism sector. The hotel’s capital investments in Barbados continued even as the country went through the throes of a debilitating recession. Of course, this is not to say that other enterprises in the island did not or have not played a major role in maintaining our economic equilibrium. But we would be disingenuous if we failed to appreciate that Barbados has been decidedly better off with Sandals in our midst than if it wasn’t.
Yet, true to form, our politicians whether directly or indirectly, continue to take regular shots at the circumstances under which Sandals was able to establish its presence in the island. During this week’s debate in the House of Assembly on the vesting of land to the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc., Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds brought up the issue of giving concessions to investors. He said while his government would also be giving concessions to future investors, it would not be “blindly” giving away everything to one entity
Mr Symmonds had this to say: “There has been tremendous expression of interests. We now have to go through the process of allowing those investors to come back to us with specific proposals and adjust their business cycles so as to fit in investment opportunities in Barbados, while at the same time we look to the way forward as we embrace them with a set of concessions that will fit neatly into that which we now do in Barbados for everybody else who are part and parcel of this country’s tourism product over the years.
“What we will not do is to go down the wicket like ‘blind Elda’ as the last administration did . . . or like ‘blind Sinckler’ and give away everything to one entity. That will not happen so as to cause chaos and disequilibrium in the sector. We have to use this opportunity to rethink and reconfigure what we call the awarding of concessions in Barbados so as to restore a sense of reality and a sense of fairness and a sense of a satisfactory way forward for the whole country.”
Mr Symmonds also noted that in giving concessions to investors Government had to find a way to tie a percentage of the investment to the uplifting of the social and economic fabric of Barbados. The thing about language is that often speakers make what they believe are deep, socially conscious statements without realizing that taken in the context of existing realities theirs are mere vacuous verbal emissions.
Often the nature of a problem – in this instance the dire state of the Barbados economy – as well as the volume of investment on the table and the potential it has for bringing in foreign exchange, will dictate the level of concessions likely to be given by a Government. It is the same logic that would perhaps lead a Government to give a foreign debt restructuring consultant $85 000 a month because it believes the situation is so dire that the money will lead eventually to positive returns.
But, to borrow from Mr Symmonds, Sandals has contributed in a major way “to the uplifting of the social and economic fabric of Barbados.” So puerile, political posturing put aside, it would seem the concessions given to Sandals were indeed worth it.