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CASTRIES – The St Lucia government has defended its decision to exempt Sandals Resorts International (SRI) from withholding taxes, in an eight-year old dispute that the hotel group with the authorities.
Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Dr Ubaldus Raymond, said the matter was brought before Cabinet which decided to end the dispute. The exemption covers the period 2001 to 2009.
“There are lots of details which I cannot discuss at this point in time, but I believe that cabinet made the correct decision in having the taxes exempted on behalf of Sandals,” Raymond said, adding that he understood the amount involved totalled EC$24 million.
On Tuesday, the main opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) described the decision by the government as extraordinary and highly unusual.
“The Prime Minister and Minister for Finance must explain to the public, why the decision was taken, whether the decision was taken on the recommendation of the Comptroller of Inland Revenue, the total revenue which has been lost and whether the same exemption will be applied to other hoteliers,” it said.
Raymond said: “It is not taxes that Sandals owed. If Sandals or any entity owes the government any money then the government will have that entity to remit its taxes.”
He said that based on what was presented to Cabinet, it was discovered that the taxes which were calculated as owed to the government were actually taxes that had to be exempted.
“I believe in all fairness, we were given all the evidence and in cabinet we look at everything – we ask the tough questions and when we make decisions in cabinet, I believe we always come up with the right decisions on behalf of the government and the people of Saint Lucia,” Raymond said.
He said he believes that when the facts are presented to the public, people will understand that the government made the right decision.
“I don’t want it to look as though the government gave Sandals a break – that’s not the case,” he said, noting that generally members of the public do not ask for details but people merely hear certain things and ‘move with it.’
Raymond said Sandals was given the exemption, but the important question is why.
“The question also is: Did Sandals owe the government of St Lucia money and the government actually gave it back to Sandals? That’s not the case.”
Raymond said the government needs money and wherever it can be obtained the government will seek to get it.
“Taxes is not something we take lightly – if you owe the government, the government will come after you for its taxes. In fact the taxes do not belong to the government – they belong to the people of Saint Lucia,” he said. (CMC)