Next Growing disquiet in Tobago over proposed Sandals resort

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SCARBOROUGH, Tobago — There is growing disquiet in Tobago over reported plans to set up a Sandals resort on the island.

Word first emerged late last year that the hotel chain owned by Jamaican businessman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart was in discussions with the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).

Now Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a People’s National Movement (PNM) meeting in St Joseph last week has revealed that the government intends to build a 750-room Sandals resort in Tobago.

The prime minister said the government was negotiating with the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) to secure funding for the planned resort.

But the news has not gone down well with some on the island and many have since taken to social media to air their concerns.

A group on Facebook entitled ‘Save No Man’s Land’ has been formed, using the name of the place the Jamaican businessman is reportedly eying to put down his hotel.

A petition has also been started, calling for full disclosure on the matter.

The main concerns include the all-inclusive nature of the resort and the repercussions for the island’s economy and the environmental impact of development on such an environmentally sensitive part of Tobago.

Many fear the damage irreversible damage such a development can do to the Buccoo marsh and the nearby world famous Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool.

Concerns have also been raised in light of the revelation that Rowley will now head a special committee charged with managing Tobago’s tourism sector despite assurances by the Chief Secretary Orville London.

The online petition, which up to news time had garnered almost 900 signatures, is calling on the Tobago House of Assembly to commence full and complete disclosure on the plans for the resort and to host public discussions as a matter of urgent public importance among stakeholders to get their views on this major project.

Up to news time no one from the Tobago House of Assembly or the central government has sought to clear the air on this issue.

Meanwhile, last week the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, became embroiled in a testy public exchange with Stewart over Sandals’ retention of 65% of service taxes the resort collected from its customers on behalf of the government, by what the Antiguan government has called “an unlawful agreement” with the former administration and has now rescinded.

In response Sandals has announced plans to take legal action against the Antigua and Barbuda government.

In Antigua and Barbuda, the Sandals resort pays no direct taxes to the government treasury, an agreement that extends for another 25 years. It also pays no taxes on imported capital items, none on food or beverage, and none on items needed for resort improvements.

In Barbados, Sandals also negotiated a 25-year tax holiday on all import duties, imports and levies, including VAT on the importation or local purchase of all capital goods from Barbados — including hotel equipment, furniture, fixtures, vehicles, and computer equipment. Barbados also granted a 25-year tax holiday on all food, alcohol and beverages imported or bought locally by the resort.

The resort group has also come in for harsh criticism there, where opposition MP Ronald Toppin called the resort “a state within a state” and called on the government to make public its agreement with Sandals resort.

Toppin made the call during the recent budget debate in the Barbados House of Assembly.

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