I have never activated Belonger Status in Turks — Stewart
CHAIRMAN of Sandals Resorts International Gordon 'Butch' Stewart says he has not activated or benefited from Belonger Status granted to him by the Government of the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI).
Stewart, who is also the chairman of this newspaper, said he wanted to make that information clear as he has got wind of an attempt to smear his name because of status.
"At no time have I used my Belonger Status nor have I employed it to gain favour in any way," Stewart said in an interview.
He explained that the Belonger Status was granted to him, his family and Dr Jeffery Pine, former managing director of Gorstew (Stewart's holding company), by the Michael Misick Government.
To benefit from the status, the holder must have it stamped in his passport.
Only persons with Belonger Status can vote in general elections in the TCI. It also gives individuals the absolute right to reside and work in the TCI without any type of immigration control. Further, only Belongers may be considered for certain official offices.
Belonger status is granted to individuals depending on the immigration status of their parents or spouses. In other circumstances it may be bestowed upon an individual as a direct result of a worthwhile investment or other significant contributions to the TCI.
The status was granted to the Stewarts because of their investment — Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa — in the TCI.
With 700 luxury one and bedroom suites, it is the largest investment in the Turks & Caicos and employs the most people there. Beaches Turks & Caicos has been granted Six Star Diamond Resort status and is the only 6-Star Green Resort in the Caribbean, making it the best recognised environmentally friendly hotel in the region. It is also regarded as the largest family resort in the Caribbean, it is also believed that Beaches TCI is the largest earner of foreign exchange in the British Caribbean territory.
Yesterday, Stewart made it clear that he did not pay for the Belonger Status and said he has no interest in acquiring Crown lands in the TCI. Sandals, he said, has acquired land in the TCI by private treaty in anticipation of future expansion there. The all-inclusive resort group has also acquired a two-and-a-half acre parcel of scrubland which was bought from the government. Stewart said the sale went through the full process of valuation and the attorney-general and received cabinet approval. It will be utilised as a water park for the sprawling hotel, which has been awarded the Best Family Resort in the Caribbean.
The granting of Belonger Status, he insisted, was simply a courtesy and an act of goodwill, nothing more.
"In no way am I qualified to buy Crown lands there," added Stewart. "I am proud of the fact that we have created and continue to operate the best family resort of its kind in the Caribbean, which has played no small part in helping the airlift in the TCI."
An industry insider noted that the hotel is the best ambassador for Jamaican tourism workers and employs 420 of the finest Jamaicans who wave the Jamaican flag in the TCI high. The insider added that some of the richest people in the world frequent Beaches Turks & Caicos.
Misick, who is facing tough questions from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament about financial impropriety and government corruption, has said that the issue of granting Belonger Status was free from corrupt practices.
"No one individual grants Belonger Status," Misick said. "Belonger Status is granted on the basis of the length of the stay in the country, the contribution they have made and how they have assimilated in the community. There are a number of factors there by law in the granting of Belonger Status."
He explained that the governor sits at Cabinet and acts on its advice concerning Belonger Status.
"If he thought the Belonger Status that the Cabinet was recommending was corrupt, he doesn't have to accept their advice," Misick told the committee.
Stewart added: "We are in the TCI to develop a tourism product, and we are extremely proud of what Jamaicans have achieved with this world-renown hotel. What we are not there to do is benefit from any sort of government favouritism."