Diana Mahabir-Wyatt

Have you met Butch Stewart? Would you describe him as a wimp? When he was a child did he mis-learn the nursery rhyme as: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will scare me more?”

So why did they call him “Butch”?

Are we really so naive in this country that we believe all the half-baked hype we have been fed about Sandals? Are our “leaders” such poor negotiators that they do not recognise the tactics used by Sandals experts?

Do you forget all that you learned in kindergarten? Like “Be polite”, “Clean up your own mess when you finish what you are doing” and “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day”? Sandals people are world renowned negotiators dealing with comparative amateurs. Ask the prime minister of Antigua about his dealings with Sandals. They play rough and always win. Turning their backs on a deal when they are not getting what they want is bargaining methodology you learn in Tactics 101.They are at Tactics 425.

Kindergarten bargaining for beginners?

Basic practice session case study: The buyer sees something he wants…a contract for refining gas, a property to build a hotel on or a carpet or a silk scarf…it doesn’t matter. This is just a game. Noticing his interest, you describe the quality of the item/service/investment or property in glowing terms. He asks the price. Does he pay the asking price? Of course not. But now he knows he has you because you want to sell. You ask for eight billion/or million, or hundred and they laugh and counter-offer three. You express shock but change to seven. Then, if they look no longer interested, but since it is them and they come with brand and “benefits”, you will go down to six and a half. Final offer. They say they cannot afford that and walk away from the negotiating table, pointing out that there are many other islands, properties, shops, investments or whatever that have better offers more suited to their needs.

You realise you might lose the only sale you may make, not that they might just be the cleverest bargainers who never miss the chance of making the seller give up not only the deal but the whole property.

It is part of the game the international experts play. Texaco and Shell did it to us when they realised their investment in T&T long term was no longer viable. They let us pay them for leaving. Sandals plays that game as well. They will let us pay for giving them land, tax concessions and even buildings.

So, you feel that you have won. And the sharks smile slowly and appear to agree. It is only after you are wrapping up the deal that they add what they will claim are the “usual riders”…: tax free this and that for five years, ten years. In Antigua it started with ten years tax-free everything… building materials. Linens, appliances, unquestioned work permits which is “normal”. Then it climbed to 15 years, then to 20. The Antiguan government anxiously agreed every time. No withholding tax, no corporate tax. Nothing. Then, two years after they agreed to 25 years, Sandals demanded that it be extended again, making it a total of 35 years.

And they demanded a new tax-free concession for all food and beverages, which, the Prime Minister said, would have bankrupted their economy. By then, all kinds of political promises had been made and concessions granted. Expectations were high to begin with, and the government believed them all. Sandals would employ 2,000 people, for example.

Checking the facts, PM Browne, in debating the Sandals investment in parliament, stated that his research found that in their hotels, the Sandals CEO would come from Head Office. Well, that’s to be expected, the PM said, reasonably. Then out of 12 or 15 top executives only two were locals. He frowned. Next level down, out of 20 managers three were locals. The frown got deeper. That was not what was promised. Then out of 75 supervisors, only 15 were locally sourced. All of the wait staff and bell staff, property maintenance and housekeeping staff, though, were local.

He claimed that, in Antigua, it was well known that Sandals were paying off the trade unions. And, making all bookings through their head office, they retained 35 per cent of profits before declaring income to the tax authorities in Antigua. They then deducted the cost of concessions. Their accounts are kept secret. It is a private company.

This was not what the prime minister expected when he had been wined and dined and transported in Butch Stewart’s private jet, assiduously courted when he first got into office.

Now, he said, when he did not grant the further concessions they demanded, they threatened to close the hotel for three to five months, depriving staff of all income. Don’t like it? Give us what we want, or we leave, or we strike a deal with the opposition with elections around the corner. There are ways to make you agree. The union has not objected.

If you do not believe this, go on to YouTube and listen to the PM Antigua and decide for yourself. Jesus wept.

— Diana Mahabir-Wyatt is an industrial relations specialist

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