Courtesy the Anguillian Newspaper
After gaining control of Cap Juluca in an auction sale in May this year, and following a ruling in the High Court in his favour, Mr. Charles Hickox, (one of the original owners) and the Anguilla Government have still not signed a Memorandum of Understanding and this is causing a set of problems. According to Chief Minister and Minister of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism, Mr. Hubert Hughes, Cap Juluca is being operated illegally. He explained, however, that the Government allowed the operation of the resort to continue to safeguard the jobs of the 400-odd workers called Julucans.
The Chief Minister was at the time addressing a mass meeting of Cap Juluca employees on Monday afternoon this week. During the morning a small number of workers visited the office of Labour Minister, Mr. Walcott Richardson, to express their concern over the situation at the resort. Rather than speaking with only them, Chief Minister Hughes, Minister Richardson and Mr. Jerome Roberts, Special Adviser to the Chief Minister, undertook to meet with all the employees at Spice Restaurant at Cap Juluca in the afternoon.
The meeting between the Julucans and the Government followed one held with the employees by Mr.Hickox on Saturday, July 21. Reportedly, the employees became concerned over the possibility that the resort would be closed indefinitely, on August 20, putting them out of their jobs. One of the reasons was said to be that the refurbishing of the resort to 5-star standards was not possible in time for its reopening on November 1. The other reason was the continuing closure by the Brilla Group of their three and a half villas which are no longer in the rental pool. These two matters were attributed to the Government’s handling of the situation, by not meeting its obligations to Mr.Hickox, which the Chief Minister has denied.
Both Mr.Hickox and the Brilla Group were bidders in the May 2 auction sale.Hickox won the auction of ten villas, comprising 53 rooms and suites on approximately 173 acres ofCrownLand. His bid was US$25 million. The Brilla Group, owners of three and a half villas, offered a bid of US$13 million. But despite the ownership result of that auction, in favour of Mr.Hickox, the problems of the resort appear to be far from over, as the Chief Minister said at the meeting.
“Cap Juluca is the flagship ofAnguilla’s tourist industry,” he told the employees. “Anguilla is known because of Cap Juluca and if Cap Juluca closes it would affect every other hotel project…It would send shock waves throughout the travel industry that something is wrong with Anguilla’s tourism…The people at Cap Juluca should do everything possible to keep Cap Juluca afloat – even if they have to take it over by force…”
Mr. Hughes, who stated that there were “plenty problems” at the resort, went on: “I wrote two letters… with the same contents to both Hickox and the Brilla Group… saying that the Government of Anguilla requires all the villas to remain within the rental pool…What if those villas were run separately? How could that happen? Where is the infrastructure to run ‘four’ villas at Cap Juluca separately? Where is the water, electricity and the other infrastructure?
“There is absolutely nothing of a Memorandum of Understanding for Cap Juluca. At the present time, we have been very lenient in allowing Cap Juluca to be run illegally. There is no legality by which Cap Juluca is running at the present time because we took account of your jobs. There is no Memorandum of Understanding. I told Mr.Aron[the former owner of Cap Juluca] I could not support the fragmentation of the sell-off of Cap Juluca…We never knew that Mr.Aron was fragmenting this property by selling to the Brilla Group, Manfredi, Rowan and all these people…When we got to know, when I tried to ask questions in Executive Council, the Governor stopped me from asking those questions.
“This is the type of battle I have been fighting for you at Cap Juluca and [imagine] to hear you all saying Haydn running Cap Juluca. Haydn is not a member of my Government…Haydn cannot talk for me…You need to examine yourself, stop the gossip and deal with reality.”
The Chief Minister spoke to some extent about the business relationship between Mr.Aron and Mr.Hickox and how the latter was able to secure ownership of Cap Juluca. “When Mr.Hickox came to me, I said, ‘Mr. Hickox, although there was a restriction on doing business with you, we now have to lift that restriction and do business with you,”’ Mr. Hughes continued. ‘“I am prepared to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with you provided that you can bring me a bona fide financial partner because Cap Juluca must not continue to slide. Cap Juluca needs money. Everybody was scraping up the money and doing nothing with Cap Juluca. It needs money to bring it back to 5-star status…So, Mr.Hickcox, I am willing to do business with you under one condition: show me money to fix Cap Juluca.’
“Once he can do that, I believe that Mr.Hickox and myself would reach agreement. When the Brilla Group came to see me, I asked them: are you prepared to work with Mr.Hickox(because if you have money Mr.Hickox needs people who have money)? They said yes. I asked Mr.Hickox if he was prepared to work with the Brilla Group and he also said yes. I called Mr. Wiggin from Webster Dyrud Mitchell Chambers, who was representing Mr.Hickox at the time. I said, ‘Mr. Wiggin, the best solution for Cap Juluca, to stop all the fragmentation and bring it back together, was to have Mr. Hickox and the Brilla Group come together as partners.’ Mr. Wiggin said, ‘Mr. Hughes, that’s a wonderful idea. I was thinking that way as well’.
“But it got out of my hands. It was taken out of my hands, and the Governor and myself were at war because I was not allowed to do what I could do.”
The Chief Minister said, in concluding his address: “My position is clear. We do not have a Memorandum of Understanding with Mr. Hickox at the present time. We do not have a legal position. The question of the villas going back into the rental pool has to be settled. The question of the rooms being put back to 5-star, I have to have a guarantee that that will be done. As long as Mr.Hickox and his team are prepared to sit responsibly with me, in accordance with the conditions by which he was first accepted to do business with me again, I am willing and ready to do that.
“I must see the finance plan for the rehabilitation of Cap Juluca. I must see where the money is going to come from. This is in accordance with Anguilla’s Alien Landholding policies that we do not accept to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with any developer unless he meets those conditions. As long as Mr.Hickox can come forward with his financial partners, and we see where the money is to do what is necessary, there is no problem with my Government.”
Minister of Labour, Walcott Richardson, stressed that the Government would never agree for CapJuluca’s workers to be sent home and had done everything to keep the resort open. “I have, as Minister of Labour, signed on to a number of work permits in the top brackets just to ensure that Cap Juluca continues to run,” he said. “This was to make sure that nobody would use us a scapegoat, to close down Cap Juluca, and say they cannot run the resort because the top management is not being given work permits. We have done everything so that work may continue…and we are hearing all kinds of things that we, as Government, are prepared to close Cap Juluca…”
Mr. Richardson urged the workers to do what the Government could not do, but which they might be able to get done through collective bargaining – a suggestion to form a trade union. “The moment is here. I will go home before I signed off to something illegal, and then I am put behind closed doors…,” he added.
Mr. Jerome Roberts said: “The Government of Anguilla has no MOU with Hickox, but has a signed MOU with Adam Aron. The Government of Anguilla asks all investors coming toAnguillafor their direct investment information. This has to do with where they are going to get their funds from…To date, we have received one bit of correspondence from the Hickox team as it relates to who they would be getting their funding from. That individual has already been questioned in Executive Council and Government has some concerns.”
He continued: “Hickox does not have an Alien Landholding Licence with the Government ofAnguilla…to operate. It has been mentioned to you, on Saturday morning, that it is a result of the Government why deadlines which Mr. Hickox had in place have not been met. How can the deadlines be met…unless all the necessary documentation is signed off? We have no MOU with Hickox, so how can he be ordering stuff [new products and repair materials] for this institution without an Alien Landholding Licence, without a signed MOU? This comes after these things are done. That, to date, has not been done hence the Government of Anguilla is not responsible for these deadlines you were told about.
“The Government of Anguilla is interested in Cap Juluca and the livelihood of its staff. This must not be seen as a Government-Hickox-Brilla entity. Government is very much well-bent on seeing this as being one unified entity going forward.
“The Government of Anguilla, on Friday afternoon [July 20], received correspondence from the Hickcox team that we ought to ensure that the villas are back in the rental pool by 3 o’clock. We are to ensure that the locks are off the villas by 4 o’clock or else immediate or indefinite closure of Cap Juluca. Does this sound sensible to you?
“The Government of Anguilla will continue to do all in its power to ensure that Cap Juluca remains open, but there is only so much we can do. We have to be vigilant, responsible and take the welfare of our people seriously…”
Mr. Roberts said the Government, through the Tourism Investment Committee, had received a draft MOU from the Hickox team requesting a response in two weeks’ time. “We did not meet the two-week’s time, but at least we met a deadline,” he stated. “Hickox flew down here for discussions…In going through the MOU you are going to tell me that one thing you are going to hold the Government and the Julucans hostage about is that Government must ensure…that the villas be placed in the rental pool.
“How can Government today, preparing a MOU, assure anyone that we can put those villas back into the rental pool? They are not our villas. They are Brilla’s villas and there must be on-going dialogue. As a result of that, the Hickox team exited the meeting… We have not got to the point of further discussions. You are asking for one thing. Can’t you allow us to ask you for what we want as well?
“Negotiation and discussion is a two-way progress. So you don’t come with what you want and expect that the Government must bend, because there are 400 workers at Cap Juluca, and … say take it or leave it. We are concerned about you, but we are concerned about the greater good of Anguilla, Julucans. You must also respondand understand that. The division in Cap Julucans must cease and each of you will achieve more in terms of teamwork.”
During the question and answer period, Attorney-at-Law, Joyce Kentish-Egan, legal representative for Mr.Hickox, attempted to respond to, and clarify, certain statements on his behalf.Her involvement was objected to by Minister Walcott Richardson and was eventually disallowed. He claimed that she and the Hickox team had already met with the workers, and that themeeting at which she turned up was for the Julucans and the Government. A number of the workers were of the opinion that she had information they wished to hear about and should be allowed to speak.
The meeting was chaired by Cap Juluca’s General Manager, Bernard Sarme.