Sandals welcomes TCI Govt's promise to settle dispute

Thursday, January 31, 2019

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Sandals Resorts yesterday welcomed Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) Premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson's assurance that her Government will settle a current dispute with Beaches Resorts.

At the same time, the all-inclusive resort chain made it clear that it has, for the past 23 years in which it has operated in the TCI, met its tax obligations.

“Beaches TCI has... punctually and accurately paid taxes according to law. As a matter of fact, we are the first in line to pay our taxes. To the contrary, it is Beaches Resorts that is currently owed many millions of dollars in overpaid taxes,” the resort chain said in a news release.

“Prior to 2016, Beaches TCI underwent several tax audits by the TCI Tax Department which always resulted in a clean sheet,” added the hotel chain which is a part of the Appliance Traders Group that includes this newspaper.

Last Friday, Beaches confirmed that its TCI property will be closed from September 3 to October 15 in 2019 and from September 7 to October 22, 2020, and then for an indefinite period from January 2021.

A story published by Magnetic Media stated that Government taxes were reportedly calculated in a way that is not sitting well with Sandals Resorts. The calculations by the Ministry of Finance and backed by the Attorney General's Chambers have reportedly been in dispute for years.

However, on Monday, Cartwright-Robinson, who is also the finance minister, said that her ministry has been addressing the long outstanding issue with Beaches and the Government was confident that with the facts in full view, it can bring an end to a critical outstanding matter that has seen its basis in an arrangement in place since the resort's operation started in the 90s and existed throughout every Government in the TCI since then.

She said she wanted to make it clear that the matter is not one of Beaches avoiding taxes or of the former governments or ministers of finance before her intentionally leaving the issue unaddressed. “The current matter followed an event/action that occurred in 2017,” she said.

“I assure the people of the TCI that this matter will be settled in the very best interest of all the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands. I ask those employees of Beaches, taxi drivers, other hotel operators, airline agents and airline workers who contacted me frantically for representation to know that they are being held in highest consideration,” the premier said.

“A large amount of work has since been vested towards the conclusion of this matter. However, as this matter is active before Cabinet where final positions were agreed and are currently being given effect and certainly before Friday's publication of the Beaches letter relating to the proposed closures, I am unable to disclose anything further,” she said. “However, I assure everyone that I will be fully transparent on this issue and will set out the facts as reported to and experienced by me as minister of finance in its clearest terms as soon as the occasion arises.”

“I implore those void of facts to resist casting wild accusations and unwarranted attacks on elected and public officials as well asBeaches Resort itself. I wish to thank those in the public service, especially my PS [permanent secretary], the PS of finance who brilliantly crafted the most appropriate solution at the very outset, all other public officials (the AG's Chambers and Revenue Control Unit) who assisted in getting us where we are now and Beaches (who continues to be a valued and valuable partner in these islands) for the progress we have made thus far towards resolving this matter,” Cartwright-Robinson added.

Yesterday, the resort chain explained that in 2017 the Tax Department, “in disregard of the prevailing legally binding agreements in writing, unilaterally and unlawfully imposed additional taxes and penalties at a preposterously crippling rate of 10 per cent per month, compounded, which translates to more than 213 per cent per annum”.

The company pointed out that it invested in the TCI on the strength and assurance given by the Government in legally binding agreements.

“The Government has acknowledged the injustice and has undertaken to remedy the egregious wrong but, in spite of assurances has been unable to do so for over two years. While not a comfortable position, Beaches TCI was forced to take legal action against the TCI Government for breaches of the binding agreements,” the company said.

However, Sandals said it was heartened by the premier's statement “that this very serious matter is engaging the attention of Cabinet, which we are hopeful, will protect our guaranteed written rights as was agreed”.

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