Sandals lawsuit raises questions about Trinidad and Tobago hotel operations

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By Caribbean News Now contributor

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Recent revelation that Sandals is being sued for “tax fraud” raises questions about hotels in Trinidad and Tobago, says Afra Raymond, a chartered surveyor and managing director of Raymond & Pierre Limited, who was critical of Sandals Resorts International’s interest in opening a resort in Tobago.

The resort chain is being sued for allegedly charging guests 12 percent tax rates and retaining the funds instead of remitting the collected taxes to the various governments where their resorts are located in the Caribbean.

Raymond, a well-known activist, declared that the basis for the suit filed against Sandals was only plausible after backdoor duty-tax evasions were revealed in the Turks and Caicos.

According to Raymond, the revelation of Sandal’s lawsuit reveals the importance of transparency. He emphasised that without those hidden deals having been exposed, how would those suing Sandals Resorts International have been equipped to know they were being charged inaccurately and dishonestly as alleged in their suit.

Raymond said nationals should be questioning what is currently occurring with hotels at this time, as Trinidad and Tobago has hidden tax and duty concessions and arrangements for large hotels, making it conceivable for the same kind of dilemmas to transpire.

The chartered surveyor sent a letter to the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) in October 2016 to inquire in respect of the three state-owned hotels (Hyatt Regency, Hilton Trinidad and Magdalena Grand) whether the accurate returns had been filed and/or the actual taxes due had been paid.

Raymond said that even though there had been two official disclosures of taxes paid by these hotels, the BIR still refused to say whether the correct terms had been filed. The two revelations of taxes came on March 19 and April 30.

The first disclosure was of taxes paid by the Hilton Trinidad and Magdalena Grand, Tobago. The second disclosure was for VAT paid and PAYE for the Hyatt Regency.

Raymond, a former president of the Joint Consultative Council for the construction industry, applied for the information under Trinidad and Tobago’s Freedom of Information Act, but he was not furnished with the memorandum of understanding (MoU) and other documents pertaining to the construction. He then filed a lawsuit which he won and the government was compelled to hand over the MoU and other documents to him in November 2018.

In related news, neither the Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association (TCHTA) board of directors nor the premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson would comment on the lawsuit.

This is contrary to the latter’s firmed commitment in January that the issue was an active matter before Cabinet and gave an assurance to the public that she would be fully transparent on the tax dispute with Sandals. Cartwright-Robinson also vowed that she would set out the facts as reported to and experienced by her as minister of finance in its most unambiguous terms as soon as the occasion arises.

The Turks and Caicos premier declared that “I assure the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands that this matter will be settled in the very best interest of all the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.” Cartwright-Robinson further added, “I implore those void of facts to resist casting wild accusations and unwarranted attacks on elected and public officials as well [as] Beaches Resort itself.”

The Turks and Caicos premier’s plea for those void of facts to resist casting wild accusations and unwarranted attacks. Nonetheless, with there being a void of information from Cartwright-Robinson since January, inadvertently obfuscate that which she has spoken out against.

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