Property Matters – Digital Transformation in our Tourism?

Property Matters –  Digital Transformation in our Tourism?

On 2 February 2018, the Ministry of Tourism announced its upcoming symposium – ‘Digital Transformation within the Tourism Sector‘ – as a major event on Friday 23 February 2018, in conjunction with Massy Technologies and featuring speakers from Microsoft and IBM.

This is an ambitious project intended to examine big-data, the cloud, the digital customer experience and the prospects of the hospitality industry in our country. As such, these proposals should have our principled support, but there is real cause for a pause here, given the distinct reluctance of the State’s agencies to answer our queries on the agreements and performance of the large State-owned hotels.

The three largest hotels in our country are State-owned – Trinidad Hilton; Magdalena Grand (formerly known as Tobago Hilton) and Hyatt Regency – comprising about 45% of the established hotel rooms, at the better end of the market. The amount of Public Money invested via capital outlay in those hotels is estimated, from the public record, in the first sidebar. But what is of deeper interest to me is that far larger sums of money are generated in the operations of those hotels than the capital spent to create the actual facilities. Those sums are spent on rooms, meals, drinks, rentals for functions and so on.

We almost never get any real open discussion on the actual revenues of these hotels or the arrangements for sharing those monies between the State as property owner and the hotel operator. Continue reading “Property Matters – Digital Transformation in our Tourism?”

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Property Matters – Trinidad Hilton Improvements

Property Matters – Trinidad Hilton Improvements

At the end of January 2018, the Ministry of Trade & Industry and its implementing agency, Evolving Technologies & Enterprise Development Company (ETECK), announced the completion of a $7.6M project for the renewal of the Trinidad Hilton Pool. According to the official statements, that project was completed on time and within budget, as part of the State’s long-term obligations at that 418-room hotel. Despite those assurances, there was a series of condemnations which need to examined.

hilton-pools

Trinidad Hilton Management Agreement

Three of its interesting details –

  1. Hilton pays ETECK a rental of 76% of the ‘Annual Gross Operating Profit’ which is defined in the lease;
  2. ETECK is responsible for doing replacements, renewals, extensions or improvements to the Trinidad Hilton at its expense. That means that ETECK was acting within the lease terms in paying for those pool improvements;
  3. Hilton is required to prepare detailed accounts of the hotel’s operations and submit those to ETECK.

Please note that Trinidad Hilton is undergoing a hugely expensive improvement program since 2008 (see Sidebar).

I am not making an issue of the decision to do these improvements or making allegations of cost or time over-runs. There may be issues in those aspects of the project but I am not engaging those.

My issue has been and remains, that despite all the smooth press releases and so on, we are unaware of the underlying commercial arrangements by which these hotels exist. The three largest hotels in our country are State-owned – Trinidad Hilton; Magdalena Grand (formerly known as Tobago Hilton) and Hyatt Regency. Those hotels are operated by foreign entities under management agreements with the State agencies which hold the ownership interest. They can therefore be classed as Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). Since PPPs are currently being promoted as a development approach, those arrangements certainly ought to be closely examined, looking beyond the Hilton pool. Continue reading “Property Matters – Trinidad Hilton Improvements”

CL Financial bailout – the consent order, part two

CL Financial bailout – the consent order, part two

The previous article gave the essential details of the fight for and contents of the Consent Order between the Ministry of Finance & The Economy and I. It has now been nine days since that Consent Order, yet despite the best efforts of my team we are no closer to understanding this delay. We do not know what reply the Ministry gave its attorneys, who is working on compiling these details, or indeed, if anyone is working on it.

Therefore one has to wonder, in relation to the requested details ‘What did they know?‘ and ‘When did they know it?

This article will examine these delays. Continue reading “CL Financial bailout – the consent order, part two”

CL Financial bailout – the consent order

CL Financial bailout – the consent order

On Wednesday 24th January 2018 we settled the Consent Order in the Appeal Court, in this long-running legal battle between the Ministry of Finance & The Economy and I. That Consent Order will allow the public much better insight into the CL Financial bailout. The Ministry of Finance & The Economy has now agreed to provide two of the three items I requested in 2012 under the Freedom of Information Act –

  1. Any unaudited financial statements of CL Financial Limited for the years 2008-2011 in the possession of the Ministry of Finance which were relied upon to prepare the affidavits of Minister Winston Dookeran filed on 3 April, 2012 in High Court proceedings CV 2011-01234, Percy Farrell and Others v Clico and others.
  2. Any list of the creditors of CL Financial existing at the date of the request in the possession of the Ministry of Finance, the names of the EFPA holders of Clico, the dates of the repayment of EFPA holders of Clico and the identities of those whose investments have been repaid.

We agreed to delete Paragraph 2 of the Order of Justice Boodoosingh, which referred to the presentation made to Independent Senators in September 2011.

The Ministry is to pay Seventy Percent (70%) of my High Court costs to be assessed in default of agreement and it was also agreed that there would be no order as to costs in respect of the appeal.

The Appeal Court panel comprised Justices of Appeal Mendonca, Jamadar and Rajkumar.

I am thanking my attorneys, Gilbert Peterson SC and Kingsley Walesby, for their diligence and skill in seeking the Public Interest in this important matter. I am also thanking my friends and media colleagues who supported this campaign for proper standards of accountability, transparency and good governance in our country.

We could not have come this far without the assistance of other campaigners such as the T&T Transparency Institute, Disclosure Today, the Constitution Reform Forum and of course, TedX POS and The Big Black Box…Special appreciation goes to those organisations…

Finally, of course, I thank the Minister of Finance & The Economy and his Cabinet colleagues who decided to support this long-standing call for those details to be published. It is a case of better late than never, so my thanks are sincere ones. We now need to maintain our vigilance as we advance the standards of accountability, transparency and good governance in our country.
Thank You.
Afra Raymond

That was the Press Release I made at the end of these protracted legal proceedings.

Timeline of this legal action

  • 8 May 2012 — Request made under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) to the Ministry of Finance & The Economy;
  • 29 March 2013 — Lawsuit filed to challenge the refusal of the Ministry to provide the requested information. The Ministry’s reason for refusing was that CL Financial is a private company and not a ‘public authority‘, to which the FoIA is limited;
  • 22 July 2015 — High Court ruled in favour of my original Request for Information and ordered publication of the requested details;
  • 10 August 2015 — The Ministry appealed the High Court ruling, citing new reasons not advanced in the earlier case;
  • 24 January 2018 — At our first hearing, the Ministry resiled from its previous positions and only objected to one of the three items I requested. We agreed the terms of a Consent Order and the legal matter ended.

The bailout started in January 2009 — that is the official date at least — so it is almost nine years in progress. It is impossible to say just what caused the Ministry of Finance & The Economy to reverse its position, but at last there will be a long-overdue publication of the details of just who got paid.

Certainly, with the effluxion of those 8+ years, certain legal limitations would have accrued, such that it may well be impossible to proceed against certain persons.

On 8th August 2017, the Appeal Court ruled in favour of the State’s application to appoint Provisional Liquidators to CL Financial. As required by that ruling, the first 3-monthly Report of the Liquidator is due to be filed in the High Court at the end of January 2018. That Liquidator’s Report would comprise detailed accounts of the sort which would have negated the Ministry’s earlier objections to publishing the accounts for the CL Financial group.

It will be fascinating to examine the details when they are submitted, which I expect within the next fortnight. We will be able to see who were the real beneficiaries of this immense payout of Public Money.

Of course, the terms of the Consent Order do allow a certain latitude, so it is important to remain vigilant in this endgame. Apart from the two parties to this concluded legal battle, the fact is that most of the beneficiaries I interacted with never wanted their identities disclosed. I would be surprised if those wealthy and influential persons did not attempt to thwart the impending publication.

The final point is that the item for which I withdrew my request was the presentation made to Independent Senators in September 2011 by the then Minister of Finance & The Economy, Winston Dookeran. The fight for that item would have raised certain fascinating issues between the Freedom of Information Act and the Constitution, which at S.55 protects Parliamentarians and their proceedings from intrusion by the Courts. Those issues are sure to arise again, but both sides left them aside in reaching this agreement.
Continue reading “CL Financial bailout – the consent order”

Property Matters – State land acquisition

Property Matters – State land acquisition

Recent concerns over the State’s land acquisition process, especially in relation to the Curepe Interchange project, have virtually coincided with the appointment on 12th January 2018 of the first Board for the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR).

The $222M contract for this project was awarded in August 2017 to China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) by National infrastructure Development Co. (NIDCO). NIDCO is one of the implementing agencies for the Ministry of Works and Transport, which is headed by Senator Rohan Sinanan. Twenty-Two parcels of private land have to be acquired to build this interchange between the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway and the Southern Main Road. That includes a part of the disused Kay-Donna Drive-Inn Cinema, which is at the south-western corner of that intersection.

rohan sinanan
Sen. Rohan Sinanan

Minister Sinanan has confirmed his part-ownership of the Kay-Donna property, which, together with the long-standing problems within the State’s land acquisition process, have given ground to the sceptics. In my view Minister Sinanan’s position is a direct conflict of interest, if ever I saw one. That said, it is not an irremediable conflict, indeed it must be remedied, since we ought not to either halt this project or delude ourselves to think that recusal is some kind of cure for this Executive Proximity.

This situation is a learning opportunity to re-establish some proper standards of transparency and accountability in the land acquisition process and for the OPR to issue strong regulations to assure best practices for the future. This article will outline the key issues in State land acquisitions and propose a best practice approach which could ease some of the legitimate concerns arising in relation to the conflicted situation of Minister Sinanan. Continue reading “Property Matters – State land acquisition”

CL Financial bailout – 2017 summary

clf-bailout

This first article for 2018 is my summary of the key issues emerging from the ongoing CL Financial bailout. Yes, the bailout started on Friday 30th January 2009 and nine years later we are still at it. We have spent at least five times more than the original estimated cost, yet the situation remains essentially unresolved.

One of the most alarming aspects of this bailout has been the staggering increase in the amount of Public Money spent. The original cost was estimated to be $5.0Bn and we were told by the Minister of Finance in his Mid-Term Budget Review on 10th May 2017 that – “…the Government may be owed up to $27.7 billion by the CLF Group…”.

Despite that huge increase in expense, about 15,000 policyholders are still to be paid, so who got that $27.7 Billion in Public Money? I sued since 2012, under the Freedom of Information Act to get details of those payments and the audited accounts of the CLF group. Despite the change of government in September 2015, after my High Court win in July of that year, the State has continued its appeal against that High Court ruling. The Appeal Court hearing of my case is set for 24th January 2018, so we will be seeing more of this issue of State secrecy in huge expenditure.
Continue reading “CL Financial bailout – 2017 summary”

VIDEO: The CL Financial Bailout meeting – The Caribbean Connection 23 July 2017

This is our meeting at St Mary’s College’s Centenary Hall in Port of Spain, Trinidad on Sunday 23 July 2017 to discuss the CL Financial bailout

The session was Chaired by Gregory McGuire and the speakers were

  • Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC, former Attorney General and then attorney for Lawrence Duprey
  • Afra Raymond
  • Dr Patrick Antoine
  • David Walker

Due to a series of technical issues we were only able to get recordings of myself and the two subsequent speakers.

Programme Length: 00:23:39
Programme Date: 23 July 2017