Almond Beach Village a study in how government loses credibility
I would like this week to stay on the subject of transparency and communication in the tourism industry and the underlying speculation, misunderstanding and consequential harm that can result by not ensuring these virtues are carried out successfully.
In both major printed newspapers last Sunday was the announcement of an auction, set to take place the following Saturday of many ‘goods and chattels’ of the Almond Beach Village which closed its doors, just two weeks short of a year ago. Yet in another arm of the media just a few weeks ago, under the banner headline ‘Buying back’ we were told that of the four options on the table, ‘Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will sit with his Cabinet to agree to buy back Almond Beach Village and its brand for almost $110 million’.
The article went on, ‘The plan, being piloted by Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, calls for a US$10 million refurbishment project, after which the sprawling 400-room facility will be turned over to former staff, who have submitted a plan to operate it’.
The purported logic behind choosing this fourth option was justified by the time the property could be out of service, citing the other three alternatives as ultimately taking too long to implement. Other verbatim quotes include ‘In view of the urgency of this need, it is now proposed that Government seek to immediately acquire Almond Beach Village’ and ‘with a view of reopening in an effort to supplement room stock for 2013 and beyond’.
In the scheme of things, perhaps during the little under three months since these statements were made, so much could have changed. But surely you would in the interests of all those it could effect, least of all the severed staff, explain to the public what is now going on?
The first question would be, that if you were seriously intent on re-opening the hotel in the shortest possible time, why would you be auctioning all or part of the components that make it operational? Again, it is a classic example of lugubrious communication with not just the industry, but also the taxpayer who clearly would have to pay the bills if the Cabinet’s decision was invoked.
“Once again, it’s needless damage control when this scenario could have been entirely avoided.”
Harlequin saga known to government for years
And finally, I would like to finish this week on the subject of the Harlequin saga. At first I was going to describe it as the Harlequin debacle, but there has been nothing sudden about this whole sordid affair as the political administration have been aware of it for years.
Millions of Dollars of unpaid bills to contractors, suppliers, salaries a quoted ‘$80,000’ alone to the NIS and we have not even been told if there are other uncollected obligations, like land tax or VAT. Add to this the loss of possible profits to the private sector, income tax and NIS contributions, corporation tax, compounded by payment of unemployment benefits as a result, exacerbates the situation.
This at a time when legitimate small businesses like ours are owed tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding VAT refunds for over two and a half years.
I really hope Government will learn something from this. It is long overdue that due diligence checks are a prerequisite to granting planning permission and ensuring legally, all ‘investor’ deposits are held in escrow pending an actual title sale.
Once again, it’s needless damage control when this scenario could have been entirely avoided.