The Buccament Bay Resort, which has been closed since December 2016, will not reopen this year, as the government had hoped.
“… the legal work is moving slower than he would have wished,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told a press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday.
“It’s clear now that even if they don’t complete within the next couple of weeks — they keep putting back these deadlines — that the place would not be opened for December.”
The prime minister noted that he had said earlier this year that he would be disappointed if the resort does not reopen for December.
“And I am disappointed.”
Gonsalves noted that Opposition Leader Godwin Friday had asked him in Parliament if, by saying he would be disappointed if the resort does not reopen by year end, he was saying that he expected the resort to re-open by that time.
“I said I used the word the word disappointed, I know what words mean. And I am saying I am disappointed that — the younger guys in the cabinet wanted me to take it early but I outlined to them that in the circumstances it is better we let it go through this process and then we see. I always say that if it needs be I would come in. The state would come in, but it seems as though they are sorting out the difficulties,” Gonsalves said.
The resort, which has the largest number of rooms of any tourism facility in St. Vincent, was forced to close in December 2016, when the state-owned power company cut its electricity supply over non-payment of bill.
This followed several weeks of protest by workers over the non-payment of wages.
Since then, the government has brought fraud and tax evasion charges against naturalised Vincentian, Britain-born Dave Ames, the main principal behind the resort, who fled the country as prosecutors moved in on him in June 2017.
Finance minister disappointed too
Meanwhile, at a press conference on Monday Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves expressed disappointment that the resort is yet to open.
“… if you had told me at the beginning of the year that we’d be sitting in October and that rehabilitative work would not yet have commenced, I would have been very surprised,” he said, when asked about the potential impact of the closure of the resort on the nation’s fiscal performance.
“I thought we would have been further along in the process,” he said.
There have been raised hopes throughout this year as the government has hinted that the trustee in bankruptcy was closer to signing a deal with a potential new owner of the resort, which is the subject of a number of legal challenges.
The finance minister said:
“The negotiations have been more complex than anticipated, based largely on the situation that the former owners of the resort left it in. There are a number of people claiming ownership of the same villa, there are a number of legal challenges involved.”
He said the prospective purchasers did not want to buy a lawsuit.
“They wanted to resolve these issues in advance,” the finance minister said, adding that the prime minister has always made clear that the government would not stand askance if the need arose for the state to “to play a more active role in facilitating a resolution…
“I think we are very, very close to a resolution. There were conversations as recently as the day before the prime minister left for the United Nations General Assembly [on Sept. 19] that resolved a lot of the outstanding issues. There is an offer on the table between the prospective purchasers and the bankruptcy trustee and I hope that they will respond favourably to that.”
Regarding the impact, the finance minister said that without Buccament Bay Resort, flights from the United Kingdom “are difficult”.
The nation is yet to receive a direct flight from the United Kingdom, an important source point for tourists, since the Argyle International Airport, which opened Feb. 14, 2017, made such direct flights possible.
“Because we need a certain critical mass in terms of rooms to get the transatlantic flights,” the minister said, noting that those transatlantic flights are done with larger aircraft that fly from North America to the Caribbean.
“So the numbers they plug into their equation to make it viable for them and for us, is affected by the number of rooms that Buccament Bay has,” he said, referring to the transatlantic airlines.
He said that if Buccament Bay Resort is not opened on day one of the tourist season this year, he expects that it would be reflected in the United Kingdom and European visitors to SVG.
“It would not affect our North American traffic because historically, North Americans did not stay at that hotel but I do believe it will affect our stay over visitors from the United Kingdom and from Western Europe.”