Commentary: Is Butch Stewart hacking regional elections… again? – Part 1

14
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and News Now Global analysis. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Melanius Alphonse

Two articles written by Glendon Phillip have appeared in the Jamaica Observer newspaper attacking the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne. Phillip’s articles are two of many that have appeared in the newspaper, in a sustained campaign savaging the elected leader of Antigua and Barbuda.

It is this obvious campaign that has sparked my interest… especially in the light of the (reportedly heavily influenced) outcome of the last election in Saint Lucia. Why is it happening, whose interest is it serving and are there lessons to be learned for Saint Lucia in the future?

The Jamaica Observer is owned by Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, who is also the main shareholder of the privately-held Sandals Resort International (SRI), the operators of Sandals resorts in several Caribbean countries, including Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Lucia. These two ownerships are important to note since Stewart controls both.

The first Phillip article appeared on July 3, 2016, in the wake of the revelation that the Browne government in Antigua and Barbuda had uncovered an undisclosed 2009 agreement between Stewart’s Sandals operation on Antigua and the then government of the United Progressive Party (UPP) whose then finance minister is now the party’s present leader, Harold Lovell.

The agreement was made on the eve of the 2009 general elections. According to its terms, Stewart’s Sandals resort was allowed to ignore the laws of Antigua and Barbuda by retaining for its own use a government sales tax that was in actual fact revenue due to the state on behalf of the people of Antigua and Barbuda.

Over the period, Stewart’s Sandals resort pocketed millions of dollars that other competing hotels were required to pay under the law, putting them at an economic disadvantage while, at the same time, depriving the state of very substantial revenues.

The closeness of the 2009 general election to the agreement between the UPP regime and Stewart’s Sandals resort holds more than co-incidental significance.

In the ongoing corruption trial of former Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) premier Michael Misick and others, in 2016 earlier media reports were confirmed by evidence adduced by the prosecution that US$1,650,000 had been paid by Sandals to Prestigious Properties Limited, a real estate company in the TCI, in which high government officials were the shareholders.

At the time it was first exposed, Stewart claimed that the payment was “unauthorised” and was made because Sandals “was legally bound” because the “payments were made by a senior executive and then treasurer of Sandals”.

Be that as it may, immediately after the Gaston Browne government in Antigua moved to recover at least some portion of the sales tax that Sandals retained for its own use and benefit, an anti-Browne onslaught was launched in the Jamaica Observer, clearly indicating, at the very least, that the newspaper was blatantly using its pages to attack the Antigua government on behalf of its owner.

Little attention has been paid by the publication to fairness and objectivity, and none to the principles of investigative journalism that would have sought to determine where truth and fact actually exist.

The Jamaica Observer’s latest attack on Prime Minister Browne is headlined “Political Lunacy!” and is authored by Philip, who is paid by the newspaper and is described, with no clarification or evidence, as “an international investment consultant working in the Caribbean”.

In this second savaging of the Antigua and Barbuda leader, Phillip employs invective and vitriol in his description of Browne’s policies and statements, which he describes as “flights of fancy”, “prepared to preside over a hungry, jobless population”, “running off at the mouth”, “small minded approach to tourism”, and “a Category 6 hurricane in the person of Gaston Browne has formed in the eastern Caribbean”.

Phillip’s language is more akin to a campaigning political opponent than it is of an “investment consultant” writing an “expert” column.

By any objective standards, the bald assertions made by Phillip in his recent attack on Browne are riddled with inaccuracies and falsehoods.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) records that Antigua and Barbuda was the fastest growing economy in the Caribbean region in 2016 at 4.6 percent; the country’s national debt to GDP ratio has been cut from 102 percent to 76 percent under Browne’s administration; unemployment has been reduced from over 20 percent to 10 percent; and an original IMF debt of US$120 million has been decreased to US$13 million.

With regard to debt, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), in its Caribbean Economic Review and Outlook for 2017, reports that Antigua and Barbuda was the lead country in reducing debt (by 5.5 percent) ahead of Grenada (by 5.1 percent) and Jamaica (by 4.5 percent). These accomplishments hardly reflect Phillip’s claim that Browne’s performance is “lacklustre”.

Since the disclosure earlier this year of the 2009 deal by which Sandals kept the government sales tax and the Browne government’s decision that the law must be upheld, the Jamaica Observer’s pages have been used for a sustained campaign to paint the Antigua and Barbuda leader as “anti-private sector investment”.

Phillip went as far as to state a blatant untruth. He claimed that “in a bid to frighten investors in the hotel industry”, Browne “says he wants “to acquire ownership in hotels in their territories”.

Public statements by Browne, which are freely available online and in the public domain, in no way support Phillip’s claim. What Browne is on record as saying is that “some hoteliers” have demanded tax and other concessions far beyond the limits set by law, and this is unfair to the taxpayers of the country.

Stewart is apparently such an hotelier, not only in Antigua but in Saint Lucia and other islands of the Caribbean. As a counter to this, Browne has proposed that his government will invest in new hotels in joint venture partnerships with the private sector. The proposition is that the government would take a minority interest, but get a share of profits that would be used to finance the needs of the county.

Contrary to the Jamaica Observer article, Browne has “no scorched earth policy” that would succeed “in driving out hotel investors”.

In violation of all the rules of good journalism, the Jamaica Observer is using its pages to vilify and malign the Antigua and Barbuda prime minister, whose policies do not suit Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart – the common owner of Sandals resorts and the newspaper.

It begs the question: is Stewart seeking to influence regional elections by means of his media mouthpiece, in addition to financing political parties that favour his business interests… and has this happened before in Saint Lucia?

Part 2: Election financing in Saint Lucia and prime ministerial jaunts in private planes – what is the quid pro quo?

print

14 COMMENTS

  1. Wonder whose interest you are championing Mr alhponse? You want to come across as a champion of the people, but in there you ring as hollow as those you are seeking to criticise. You are simply the other side of the coin sir. You are doing exactly what you are accusing ‘Phillip’ of doing, insinuating that a businessman is ‘hacking’ elections. I’m sure there is room for a slander lawsuit in there somwhere but that’s between you and butch. My point is, don’t think everyone out here is stupid. What’s good for the goose ……

    • Once upon a time, there was a strong man in Panama who ran a network of criminal henchmen notorious for uttering vague and intimidation threats to journalists and opponents. That strongman during his reign of terror was convinced he was untouchable because of his wealth and influence all over the region. Then he made the fatal mistake of crossing US Intelligence.

      On December 20, 1989, President George H.W. Bush launched Operation Just Cause to execute an arrest warrant against Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, on charges of drug trafficking. During the attack, the United States unleashed a force of 24,000 troops equipped with highly sophisticated weaponry and aircraft against a country with an army smaller than the New York City Police Department.

      Rest assured all the proxies or wannabe bogeymen operating on behalf of Butch Stewart calling and leaving threatening and intimidating electronic messages, “Do not **** with Butch – leave that alone – do yourself a favor – know which tree to climb” for whomever they ignorantly believe is responsible for penning the factual commentary are in for a very rude awakening.

  2. Mr Alphonse is so objective and so factual that he forgets that a concession agreement with an investor by a government is not illegal. A succeeding government might wish to rescind the agreement but that should be done with shrewdness, negotiations conducted in good faith and perhaps compensation for financing expended by the investor in pursuance of said agreement. The concession agreement – something which all sensible countries are offering to attract big investors – called for US$100 million in additional investment by Sandals, providing more flights into Antigua, more foreign exchange, more employment of Antiguans, more revenue for the government. Sandals spent the agreed money. Shouldn’t that be returned by the Gaston Browne Government? Sandals should test that in international arbitration. It is acts like these by Browne that are scaring of investors. Give it time. We’ll see who is right, Alphonse or Phillip.

    • Hmmm, but can the country afford it? Do the flights and visitor arrivals equate to $100m? Having that $100m in hand vis-à-vis the monies visitors might bring, which would have a more positive effect on the economy?
      I disagree with you I’m afraid!.

      • What $100M? If there is no resort, there is no $100M. So not only do you NOT get the $100M, you also don;t get any of the other taxes being paid either. But that’s assuming the figure of $100M is correct in the first place.

        • Now if all other resorts begin to act up due to unfair treatment… sandals will say oh well, that’s for you to handle while still not having to pay the abst….you try doing business with Sandals you’ll see how shitty they are…. for example, excursion tours…. you must take out a huge insurance policy, they want a huge chunk of the income you’re collecting from the customers….. Not 20%, think higher…. you must also make them the beneficiary on the insurance policy. Is that someone who really cares about the locals or just their profits…. for all i care as an Antigua, f*** butch and pay us our f**kin taxes like all the others must do… you already got your fair share of concession so pay up ur cheap ass.

          • I totally agree with you, why would any PM give any investor 50-60 years tax free on a poor Island, so only the investor is making money, and u the people are just simply slaves. SAY NO TO THIS ABUSE.
            SANDALS IS OPERATING LIKE ALL THE OTHER INVESTORS AS COLONIALIST. AND THIS TREND MUST STOP , ITS UNACCEPTABLY IN THE 21 CENTURY. SO I SALUTE THE PM OF ANTIGUA& BARBUDA. HE IS A DIGNIFIED BLACK MAN AND WE LOVE HIM.

  3. Wait. A man who sounds like Donald Trump’s wife is saying that Butch Stewart has more ranks than Putin?? Rig elections in two countries?? Well, Melanie, what you are actually implying is that citizens of both countries are stupid sheep and enjoyed being deceived and played. Come off your imported steed and see that we people on the ground may not not have the degrees and book sense you have, but we have the common sense and knowledge and experience that guides to to good decisions every; come and see that we fight for our families and not for fancy titles; come and see that we build our future on ideas, morals and values and not the next blog post; come and see that we thrive on progress and not being a puppet. Get your head out of the clouds, Melanie. You should at least know that when you insult Caribbean people, make sure that your path does not cross theirs.

  4. In fact, I dare say that this ‘crab is a barrel syndrome’ is what has kept – and continues to keep – Black people down. If you are so right and bright, either bring out your own party and show them how its done, or establish your own hotel chain and set the example. Your words really belong in a latrine. We as a people have been oppressed by other for so long, and now that we are developing our nation for ourselves, we have scabs like you talking all this scat. Be a proud Black prince son, not a poor, pitiful puppet. Whose pocket are you in?

  5. Mr Alphonse, you are a notorious Labour supporter in Saint Lucia, which means you also have a vested interest in opposing Allen Chastanet and his party, and using Butch Stewart and Sandals, as others have been doing in Saint Lucia over the past weeks. Its no wonder then that being one of Kenny’s boys, you are also one of Gaston’s boys. Add that to your overly long note introducing yourself sir. I hope you are not compensating for anything.

  6. Mr Alphonse is so objective and so factual that he forgets that a concession agreement with an investor by a government is not illegal. A succeeding government might wish to rescind the agreement but that should be done with shrewdness, negotiations conducted in good faith and perhaps compensation for financing expended by the investor in pursuance of said agreement. The concession agreement – something which all sensible countries are offering to attract big investors – called for US$100 million in additional investment by Sandals, providing more flights into Antigua, more foreign exchange, more employment of Antiguans, more revenue for the government. Sandals spent the agreed money. Shouldn’t that be returned by the Gaston Browne Government? Sandals should test that in international arbitration. It is acts like these by Browne that are scaring off investors. Give it time. We’ll see who is right, Alphonse or Phillip.

  7. Business as usual, methinks.

    There is nothing untoward about the owner of a newspaper determining its editorial, ideological, or political-support policy, something all newspapers do.

    There is nothing untoward about a for-profit company trying to get the best inverstment deal it can with landowners, suppliers, workers, and, yes, governments.

    If there is something illegal in Mr. Stewert’s actions, please point it out.

    Otherwise, I respectfully suggest that you submit Part 2 to the paper shredder.

  8. If Melanius “Melanie” Alphonse wants to talk about full disclosure, maybe he should talk about his attempts to shake down a certain political party in the EC for $650,000, threatening to run a hate campaign against them if they didn’t give him the money, which they didn’t.

    Hmmm, I wonder who you love to hate on.

    But then birds of a feather flock together, since Gaston also demanded money for his campaign HQ and the elections from Butch, which he too did not get, and now suddenly Sandals owes taxes!

    What Melanie needs to do is leave that basement in Toronto that he and his boyfriend are living in, and tell people the truth. And talking about boyfriend, what exactly is Melanie’s relationship with GASSton?

    http://bit.ly/2Dvw5HB

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.