Antigua's Observer Radio gets tongue-lashing from PM

Sunday, November 12, 2017

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Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne last week gave Observer Radio journalist Paul Quinn and his colleagues a severe tongue-lashing while being questioned abou t his continuous attacks on Sandals and its owners.

Quinn, though momentarily stunned, managed to keep his cool and remained calm throughout the tirade. The interview followed one earlier with Adam Stewart, the Sandals CEO, who contradicted the claims frequently made by Browne that the resort got illegal tax concessions from the previous Government.

Following are extracts of Quinn's interview with Prime Minister Browne.

PM Browne: You allowing Adam Stewart to come here to try and trash the prime minister of this country who is standing up for the people of Antigua and Barbuda? Where is your loyalty to this country? What's the matter with you?

Radio Observer: Mr Prime Minister, Mr Prime Minister, I'm only asking you to respond and you are responding quite forcefully (interrupted)…

PM Browne: Absolutely, because you have to understand that this is a national issue. It's not about Gaston Browne. I don't have no personal fight with the “Butch” Stewart family. It's about defending the best interest of this country. I took an oath. You took no oath! None of you at the Observer took any oath! I took an oath to defend the best interest of this country, to do so without fear or favour!

Radio Observer: Mr Prime Minister, having said all of that, and in the spirit of your new call for entrepreneurial socialism, in the spirit of your public/private partnerships, do you think it is in the best interest of yourself and the Government and people of Antigua to be publicly feuding with the hotel industry?

PM Browne: We not feuding with no hotel industry. You understand the genesis of this, that there was a private negotiation taking place with “Butch” Stewart himself, which started with a negotiating committee, a subcommittee of the Cabinet involving myself, former (tourism) Minister Asot Michael, as well as Minister Robin Yearwood. “Butch” Stewart then made a demand, that he not negotiating any further with the committee after he could not get his way and decide he talking with the prime minister only.

He spoke to me, he made certain demands and I said to him, sir, with all respect to you, we cannot accede to those demands'. Because he not only wanted to continue this usurious arrangement with the existing property. He said to us,'If I am going to build a Beaches (hotel) I not only want the existing concession but I want more. He said to us, 'you would have to give me food and beverage, everything off'. And I asked him a simple question: what is in it for us? And you know what was his response to me? 'Prime minister, they want me to build two hotels in Mexico'.

So we said to him, 'look, we cannot continue this usurious arrangement'. And you know what happened? He took the matter public. We never took the matter public. And not only that, he brought the UPP (Opposition United Progressive Party) into it, wrote a whole series of letters, copied Harold Lovell (UPP leader) and then got his attorney, Jimmy Bristol, to come on your radio station to broadside my Government, to make it look as though we did something wrong, as though we are hostile to investors, which is not the case.

And I am saying that what pertained with Sandals in the past was wrong. And by the way, to show you how magnanimous we have been, it would have been EC$101 million that would have been remitted (under the pact with the previous Administration) and we wrote it off. We have a formal agreement. I sent it to your journalists. And you guys cannot understand that you have to stand up for this country and to publish it.

And to pretend as though you don't know that is the case, that there was a write- off of $101 million. I sent it to several of your journalists but you don't publish it because you want to deceive the people of Antigua and Barbuda to make it look as though we are fighting with Sandals. It's Sandals who is fighting us. There have been about 27, 28 articles in the Jamaica Observer attacking me on a daily basis, planted there by Sandals, by “Butch” Stewart and co. But guess what, they can't move me off my crease because, at the end of the day, it is one singular focus this man here has, and that is to do what is right and what is in the best interest of the people of Antigua and Barbuda. Investors come and investors go. They saying that politicians come and politicians go; investors come and investors go.

Radio Observer: Well, according to Mr Adam Stewart, they are in this for the very very long haul.

PM Browne: I understand that.

Radio Observer: And in fact, his very statement was that politicians will go eventually.

PM Browne: And so does investor too, investors too.

Radio Observer: Let us switch gears a little bit have made your points very forcefully (interrupted)…

PM Browne: What I'm saying to you and those deracinated people on Observer Radio, stand up for this country. Everything cannot be about partisan politics. Y'all have no pride, you have no national pride? Y'all have no loyalty to this country? What's the matter with you?

Radio Observer: Well, Mr Prime Minister (interrupted)…

PM Browne: You don't stand up for this country!

Radio Observer: Well, Mr Prime Minister, let us look at what happens at YIDA (investor), let us say (interrupted)…

PM Browne: Yeah, let's talk about YIDA. With your nonsense. That's y'all propaganda you all putting out there. If any enterprise that operates within YIDA's free trade zone or special economic zone that does domestic business must pay our taxes. If YIDA operates hotels, they must pay that ABST. Sandals does not enjoy inferior concessions compared to any other. They have most favoured investor status. They have the best concessions of any investor in this country. So don't try that! You must stop deceiving the people. I know y'all want listenership, but you must do so using the truth!

Radio Observer: Mr Prime Minister, so the concessions granted YIDA, let's say that there is another government (interrupted)…

PM Browne: I done tell you what the facts are.

Radio Observer: You have already told me what the facts are? (silence)…Can you tell us what are the concessions, in a nutshell, the concessions granted to YIDA?

PM Browne: Boss, there is a special economic zone. We all know that in free trade zones, that the companies that operate there, that it's primarily for exportation. When you are exporting the issue of domestic taxation does not come into play. They get tax-free. However, I am saying to you, any business, it doesn't matter the business, if you, for example, Mr Quinn, decide that you want to rent a space in YIDA's economic zone, and you're providing goods and service to the people of Antigua and Barbuda, they have to pay our taxes.

Radio Observer: Yes, we understand that (interrupted)…

PM Browne: I think I'm very clear. I think I speak perfect English. You might not like my style or my form, but appreciate the substance!

Radio Observer: Mr Prime Minister, moving right along, you say it's not a feud and Mr Adam Stewart says it is not a feud. For many of the persons looking on, it appears a little bit unseemly. Is this the end of this matter sir?

PM Browne: I want to tell you, I would hope so. I have no interest continuing this issue. By the way, after he attacked me, your radio station called me. I declined to speak. It so happens now I am in office. I got a call that you want me urgently. And I don't want you to give the public the impression that I running from you. Because I don't have anything to run from. I can't run from truth. All I've done is to tell the people of Antigua and Barbuda the truth.

You have asked me questions now; I tell you what the truth is. You have the evidence, you have the factual evidence in your possession. Why don't you publish it? But instead you want to play cheap politics to make it look as though I have wronged the investor and that I have something to apologise for!

I not looking for no fight with “Butch” Stewart or anybody. But where you cross the line, I'm going to stand up for this country. It's going to happen every time, without fail. Because guess what, me no want nutten from them, they can't bribe me.

Radio Observer: Well, Honourable Prime Minister Mr Gaston Browne, you have said your piece. And we certainly appreciate you coming on and clearing the air and saying your side of the story, sir.

PM Browne: And I thank you for the opportunity. And let me reiterate, as far as I am concerned, this issue is dead.

Radio Observer: Yes. And most Antiguans and Barbudans are hoping (interrupted)…

PM Browne: All Sandals has to do is pay the 12.5 per cent guest tax. I hope they not coming back with any foolishness about any additional credit and so on. That's what they did us this year. They brought forward another $5 million. Remember, after we done wrote off $101 million last year, we said hey, total wash. They came back with another credit of $5 million this year. I'm saying I don't want no foolishness from Sandals. Pay government the taxes. We want the 12 and a half per cent. Is not their money to hold on to. It's trust money. When they collect the money from the guests, put it in the treasury so that we can build schools, so we can run our hospitals, so we can provide scholarships to our people, so that we can employ our people, so we can pay pensions on time. This is a stakeholder model we are calling for.

Radio Observer: Mr Prime Minister, just so you know, Mr Adam Stewart said…There's seems to be some dispute, because he said there was no $100-million write- off.

PM Browne: Boss, you have the document in your possession at Observer Radio. I have sent it to several of your journalists. Publish it!




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