The more than 30 guests at Buccament Bay Resort on Wednesday had their already bad vacation turn into the ultimate nightmare as the state-owned electricity company, VINLEC, disconnected power at the one-time five-star resort for non-payment.
The disconnection of the electricity is the latest in a string of problems to hit the resort, where workers have been striking for more than a week over the non-payment of wages.
It came two days after a British court ordered accounting firm, Wilkins Kennedy, to pay the resort owner’s — Harlequin, their former client, US$11.6 in damages — about a quarter of what it had sued for.
The judge, who said Harlequin’s business model had elements of a scam, also said the damages should not be paid to the company in light of the many claims against it.
Speaking to iWitness News on Wednesday, Thornley Myers, chief executive officer of VINLEC, the country’s sole commercial supplier of electricity, confirmed that the resort was disconnected from the grid for non-payment.
He, however, declined to say how much was owed, telling iWitness News that doing so would breach confidentiality, adding that that is the company’s policy with any of its clients.
Myers told iWitness News that VINLEC’s decision to disconnect Buccament Bay Resort was not taken lightly and that his company hopes that the resort can find a way to make the necessary payments to keep its doors open.
“The fact is, no decision like this is ever taken lightly,” Myers said. “The resort is a place of employment that brings in revenue and is an important symbol for tourism in the country. These decisions are never taken lightly and all sorts of things are taken into consideration, besides payment.”
He said the decision to disconnect the resort is something that VINLEC has deliberated on for some time and further told iWitness News that the public might not know that the resort has been disconnected several times in the past.
Myers said VINLEC was aware that the disconnection comes at a time when it has been reported in the media that staff at the resort have not been made. He said that if the resort remains open, there is hope for the workers being paid — suggesting that the decision to disconnect the electricity illustrates the extent of the monies owed to VINLEC.
Meanwhile, the complaints about the service at the resort over the past few weeks continued after the disconnection on Wednesday. “It’s been pretty shabby,” Carol Banks of the United Kingdom said of her experience since arriving at the resort last week Monday for a two-week stay for which she and her husband, Ron, had paid almost 4,000 brutish pounds.
“Today, we were told absolutely nothing about the power going down and we’ve had to come and find information for ourselves,” she further said in an interview with Searchlight newspaper.
“We don’t know where we are going, we don’t know when we are going. Everything is just down and we’ve been left clueless, really,” she said.
The couple said they did not know where they would spend Wednesday night, adding that at first they were told the resort will get them a hotel in Barbados, but were later told that they would have to book a hotel there themselves.
Ron was concerned that they would very well end up on their own at the airport in Barbados, even as the resort has not told them anything about a refund.
The couple booked their end-of-year vacation in April and when they inquired of their travel agency before setting off, they were told the only issue at the resort had been the weather.
“They didn’t tell us anything about the staff not being here, about the restaurant not being opened, so we didn’t know anything until we got here,” they said, adding that the staff have done their best.
The resort has been running on a skeletal staff as some 70 employees have stayed away from their posts after not being made for almost three months. At the same time, Dave Ames, a Britain-born naturalised Vincentian who is chair of Harlequin, fled St. Vincent in June as prosecutors summoned him to court on tax evasion and theft charges, related to the non-payment into the state coffers of workers PAYE and social security deductions.
The Banks stressed that they have not been able to see St. Vincent because of the situation at the resort, adding that they would have gone on an excursion if one were available.
They said they might stay in the country for their remainder of their vacation — which ends Monday — if they find a hotel. If they can’t find a hotel, they will go to Barbados, but said they could not envisage Buccament Bay Resort being able to find them a hotel room in Barbados, and feared that they might end up camping out in the airport before returning to the United Kingdom.
American Marton Browne threatened legal action after his vacation for which he paid US$2,000 was ruined. He, however, noted that with the long list of claims against the resort, his might feature very low on the list. Browne said he arrived on Monday to find only a skeletal staff. He woke up Wednesday morning to find out that there was no electricity.
Guests were told that it was a maintenance problem, Browne said, adding that he later learnt that the owner of the resort is “a crook” that he didn’t pay his electricity bill. “We are forced to leave the island 2,000 out of money,” he said, referring to the sum he paid for the vacation. He said the owners of the resort “just ripped off a bunch of nice people, ruined people’s vacation…
“Worst of all, it will leave a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths about St. Vincent. And you, the population of St. Vincent had absolutely nothing to do with it.”
Browne said that because there was no electricity at the resort, the skeletal staff, who have been “so nice” during his stay could not do anything to help with arranging flights and the like. To add insult to injury, he and his companion have to pay for a change their flights back to Barbados.
“The whole thing is insane. Somebody had to know about this,” he said.
The couple said they did not know about the situation at the resort until they arrived at E.T. Joshua Airport, and it was too late to turn around. Browne said he would like to see the local police find Ames and hold him responsible for what he has done.
“Right now, my feeling is I will never come back to St. Vincent. I will never put my foot back here because of what happened. And it is not fair to you. It is not fair to the public because you had nothing to do with it.”
Browne said he planned the trip three weeks ago and was scheduled to stay at the resort from Dec. 12 to 19, but would not even make a call to regional airline LIAT to try to make a flight change, because the phones at the resort don’t work without electricity.
He said he did not understand how something like what is going on at the resort happens, especially in the high season when the Caribbean depends on tourism.
Browne said they were looking forward to the great time they say on the internet.
“It has been the exact opposite. We lost money, time, effort; extremely disappointing. So, again, I hope that the police and the government somehow bring this guy to justice. I don’t think we are going to be remunerated. I really don’t think so.”
He said it would be a really good idea to put something in place to ensure that such a situation doesn’t happen again.
“I wished we had known. We came in good faith, we had no prior knowledge and we just really got screwed,” said Browne, who told Searchlight the development was “more than disappoint and upsetting and financially devastating.
“We saved up for vacation. Christmas time’s supposed to be a happy time of the year.”
He said they could have stayed in Barbados but decided to try another Caribbean island.
He said that in they future, before going to any Caribbean island he will inquire about his hotel, even if he had to call media houses to confirm that there are no issues there.