In which a Flying Pig births a White Elephant…

If that phrasing sounds over-imaginative and gross, just consider these proposals for Tobago Sandals…

The previous article stated the bare facts about this large-scale development and placed those for consideration.  The response, online and elsewhere, was such that I am now going to set out the main arguments being used by the promoters of this project and place those for consideration.

What is ultimately at stake here is the right of our Public Officials to negotiate these large-scale projects, in secret and on our behalf.  The promoters of this project are claiming that intangible but substantial element, the Benefit of the Doubt.  This article will examine the merit of those claims for the Benefit of the Doubt

This is a summary of the case being made by the promoters of this large-scale project – The Government has invited Sandals to set up in Tobago and those negotiations are at an early stage.  An MoU has been signed, but no contracts have been agreed as yet.  There is no secret, given the early stage of these discussions.  It would be counter-productive to disclose any details at this stage.  The proposed project will follow the established arrangements for the existing State-owned hotels – Trinidad Hilton, Magdalena Grand (formerly Tobago Hilton) and Hyatt Regency. 

Under those arrangements, the State contributes the land and pays for the design, construction, fitting and furnishing of the hotels to the specifications of the hoteliers, who operate the facilities under Management Agreements. The existing arrangements are satisfactory, so the public can have a measure of comfort since this is an established pattern.  Once the agreements are signed, then the public can be informed of the details.

  • There is no secret – If there is a secret/confidentiality clause/commercial confidentiality, then just say so and we could all understand what is happening– Business as Usual.  If the deal has the strong attributes being claimed, then there should be no difficulty releasing the main terms of the MoU, which is a pre-contract, non-binding document.  The MoU will outline the roles to be played by the parties as well as the proposed timetable.  Given that the State is investing valuable public land and funding the design and building of the resort, I can see no case for the hotelier to receive any incentives or concessions, beyond those established in the Tourism Development Act (2001).  Is the Government considering the grant of additional tax/duty/work-permit concessions to Sandals for this project?
  • The details will be provided once the deal is agreed – No details have ever been provided on our three existing State-owned hotels, so why should anyone believe that this case will be different?
  • The existing arrangements for our State-owned hotels work well – Is that really so?  Is the normal arrangement beneficial?  On 25th October 2016, with the assistance of my colleagues at Disclosure Today, I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Finance for copies of any audits or management reviews which had been conducted for the three State-owned hotels.  On 10th November 2016 the then Finance PS, Maurice Suite, confirmed that no such audit or management review had ever been conducted and I have no reason to doubt him (a scanned copy of that letter is below).  Given that the State-owned hotels have never been audited or subjected to management review, how can we place any reliance on the repeated claims that the existing arrangements are effective?  Think about it this way – The Finance Ministry has not measured the performance of those State-owned hotels within its portfolio, so how can we possibly manage those assets or judge their performance?  We can be sure that if the existing State-owned hotels were profitable we would have been told.  Just think about the recent announcements on Caribbean Airlines’ ‘return to profitability’.  You see? 

  • Premature publication of the details being requested will jeopardise the entire deal – there is abundant and solid research to show that the conventional views on contract confidentiality do not safeguard the public interest.  Indeed, given our country’s full membership in the Open Government Partnership, this is a position which will be difficult to evidence in the minds of reasonable people. 

We must be vigilant to ensure that the underlying commercial arrangements for this large-scale Tobago Sandals project really serve the Public Interest.

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5 thoughts on “Property Matters – the Benefit of the Doubt for Tobago Sandals?

  1. Greetings  to you Mr Raymond, Could you tell me what happens when a company closes and the employees have paid money into a medical plan in some cases for over forty yearsi.e. Petrotrin Also should the workers join the new plan that another company is offering i.e. to be in the plan and receive benefits   up to a specific sum  for two years and then nothing  I really need you to reply to me  Kambiri de Suza

  2. PIVOT POINT

    I was standing on reality avenue, where believers of political rhetoric lime.

    There I saw a pivotal junction ,where both Sandalz and the State are making turns for the better, so I wondered:

    why the pessimism Afra?

    It is reality, that SANDALZ has a bad history of exploiting Caribbean economies like Antigua, Barbados ,Grenada ,they even pulled out of Cuba, etc.

    It is reality that the STATE of T&T has a penchant for secrecy and little to no transparency, like Hyatt, Hilton and Magdalena, and the ghost records of these 3.

    I believe that these two entities, State and Sandalz are at a pivotal point Afra.
    Are you not a believer?

    They are negotiating for the betterment of, Tobago.
    Are they negotiating for the betterment this NATION? No,no!

    A minister said so!
    They are negotiating for the betterment of, Tobago.
    So I am inclined to believe this, as long as I stand on reality avenue, where believers of political rhetoric lime.

    My imagination however ,asks a haunting question in the midst of this reality:
    Where is Trinidad in all of this?
    If Trinidad is not there,could this be the reason for the secrecy?

    That from independence to now, all that Trinidad has accomplished was shared with Tobago and now that the economy is in crisis, self-governance is saying:
    “Take your bat and go?”
    Is this the fulcrum of secrecy?
    If so,who is paying for this spin?

  3. There is no secret. The man in the street knows. Stuart Young does as he is directed. The media depend on advertisements from the government and corporations, so there is no secret there either. Bertram Allette Walter Rodney, Maurice Bishop, Che Guevara and Dana Seetahal paid the ultimate price. African-Americans know. Guyana, Haiti and Grenada know. Africa and India know. There simply is no secret.

  4. Good day all.
    Very interesting to see an official release from the government which indicates to all and sundry that “No such audit was conducted”. Why are there no other options rather than just sandals ??

  5. Mr. Ruiz,
    Just like pregnancy, having three fatherless children leaves the mother few other options but to avoid having a fourth. Just like pregnancy, she seems all ready to have twins and the state will of course foot those bills, after all, we now have four potentially huge, foreign-exchange earners that replaced Petrotrin and TSTT and Scotia Bank and Sagicor have offered citizens crucial lessons on capital investments. With all this wisdom and the usual dependable guidance of our PM and his 3 sage advisors, 2019 can become the benchmark year that will propel T&T into first world economic status.

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