OBA promises St George’s hotel training
Bermudians wanting to work for the St George's hotel will receive training despite the requirement being removed from the legislation, the One Bermuda Alliance has promised.
Concerns about the role that Bermudians would play in the East End hotel dominated the marathon debate, which ran for more than 12 hours.
Ultimately, the St George's Resort Act 2015 passed in the House of Assembly shortly after 2am with substantial amendments.
A lease agreement with the developer is to be tabled in November, when the House resumes.
The Act received lukewarm Opposition support: while Progressive Labour Party MPs agreed that the resort was necessary, many suggested that the legislation had been rushed; others called for tougher conditions committing the developers to hiring Bermudians and using local entertainers.
Yesterday's special sitting of the House came after the PLP held a press conference last week claiming that the Bermuda Government displayed a “stunning lack of commitment to Bermudians” in proposing to remove the requirement from the Hotel Concessions Act.
However, tourism development minister Shawn Crockwell hit back in the House, claiming the move is intended to make Bermuda's tourism industry more competitive.
Mr Crockwell said that while the requirement had been removed from legislation, the training of Bermudians would remain a requirement of the Master Development Agreement.
The only difference he said was that the requirement was not attached to the concessions “which should be attached to the investment that is made” by the developer.
“Bermudians can rest assured that they will have preference for construction jobs and jobs for the operation of the hotel and those who are interested in training will receive training. I know that members of the management company are already scouting in Bermuda looking for the best talent.
“We believe that concessions should be attached to the investment that is being made. If we turn around and say there are other terms and conditions before you can get any concessions, then that becomes a disincentive, and that is why we have not had development on this site for 27 years.”
In response, Marc Bean said: “Why not enshrine it? Who cares about an agreement when you can enshrine it in legislation?”
Little was mentioned by the Government about the removal of the requirement for local entertainment to be employed.
Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance, pointed out that other hotels in Bermuda received a tax holiday without being required to offer training.
“Why are we telling a new investor bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into to this country to jump a higher hurdle than people who are here,” he said. “It is nonsensical and it renders us less competitive.”
The issue of concessions was hotly debated, with Mr Crockwell branding the existing concessions Act “outdated, antiquated and uncompetitive”.
Mr Crockwell said it was inconsistent with other Caribbean destinations. The proposed amendments to the Act would give ten years of concessions to the developers.
“To some it may appear we are giving away too much for too long a period,” he said. “But the decision is the result of very extensive research on this subject. There is a reason why we have not seen new hotel development in this country for years. Our system, our structure is not competitive enough. I am aware of a deal that was brokered in one of our competitive jurisdictions where the concessionary period was for a 40-year period.”
He said the Government had researched other island jurisdictions, including Bahamas, Barbados, Cayman Islands and the Dominican Republic.
“The concessions and their duration provided in this Bill are consistent with other island destinations that have had measurable success in attracting and securing foreign investment, with the exception of Barbados, that just amended their concession relief to 25 years in 2014.”
Walton Brown, the Shadow Minister of Immigration, asked whether Bermudians could be encouraged to enter careers in hospitality by receiving free hotel accommodation as an incentive, while shadow culture minister Michael Weeks suggested there be a provision for the developers to facilitate free hospitality education for Bermudians through the Bermuda College.
The Opposition highlighted the 262-year lease agreement contained in the St George's Resort Bill, which Mr Crockwell said was in line with the lease outlined in the Park Hyatt agreement brought by the PLP.
Mr Crockwell asked: “So what is the problem?”
Shadow Attorney-General Michael Scott, among other Opposition MPs, raised the issue of allegations made against the developer Desarrollos, including its alleged involvement in a corrupt Ponzi scheme.
“I would ask him [Mr Crockwell], while he is on the topic of the Opposition's concerns, to publicly address the fact that Desarrollos are currently under investigation in a Federal Court for, among other things, setting up subsidiaries to conceal fraud,” Mr Scott said.
Mr Crockwell said the developers had been incorporated, adding: “In order to be incorporated, the principals have to be vetted by the Bermuda Monetary Authority. Government has done its due diligence. That development is clear evidence that substantial due diligence has been done in ascertaining that the developers are fit.”
Responding to remarks across the aisle on the Jetgate affair, Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the Minister of Community, Culture and Sport, told MPs that out of the 12 expressions of interest submitted for the St George's site, none had come from the American developer Nathan Landow.
Zane DeSilva, the Shadow Minister of Tourism, retorted that Mr Landow had missed the deadline and had been dropped, while Mr Crockwell interjected: “So he did not submit anything.”
However, it was the need to get Bermudians working and committed to the development that consumed much of the deliberations.
Closing his remarks, Opposition MP Jamahl Simmons urged the government side: “If you will not put this in legislation, put this in your hearts and make it a priority that Bermudians come first — I guarantee you, we will succeed.”