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Letter contradicts reason for Sandals' closure

Antigua Sun, Tuesday 21 March 2000, 10:15am

Prime Minister Lester Bird has expressed surprise at the reason given by Sandals Resorts International for its decision to cease operations on 1 Aug., 2000.

He said that he remains convinced that any issues the hotel chain "perceives to exist can be resolved in a mutually satisfactory way," which will not necessitate the closure of the resort.

The Prime Minister pointed to a letter, dated 16 March, that he received from the chairman of Sandals International, Gordon "Butch" Stewart, as the reason for his surprise. In the letter, Stewart tells the prime minister that his "nine years of operation in Antigua have been productive, instructive and enjoyable."

Stewart added that Sandals was "pleased with the partnership which it was able to forge with diverse sectors of the economy, especially the relationship with the Prime Minister himself."

Mr. Bird said, "In this connection, I am surprised that Sandals could say that the business climate in Antigua is not synchronous with its evolving business strategy."

The PM said that discussions are continuing, at the invitation of Sandals Resorts, between representatives of the government and the hotel chain.

"I am encouraging the process of dialogue which Sandals has initiated, and I am sure that Mr. Stewart will do the same thing," he said.

The Prime Minister added, "When reasonable people sit down to talk, they reach reasonable solutions. Therefore, my government remains convinced that whatever difficulties Sandals may perceive to exist can be resolved."

He said he had been made aware of a suggestion that Sandals is closing its hotel because of the government's introduction of a 2 percent tax on gross sales.

"I wish to make it clear that nothing could be further from the truth," the Prime Minister said. "No one should use this rumour as a basis for any attempt to shirk their responsibility to pay taxes that are due to the nation."

Prime Minister Bird said he had held a meeting with representatives of the hotel association last week, and a formula was agreed by which they would pay a 10 percent tax rather than the 8 percent that is now payable under the law.

"This formula," he said, " was acceptable to the hotels' representatives and satisfies both the law and the government's policy.

"Therefore, there can be no issue over that matter, and there should be no linkage with the announcement by Sandals International."

The Prime Minister promised to keep the public apprised of the ongoing discussions.