— Winer, Lise. Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago: On Historical Principles. (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2008) p. 758
Many years ago, in an earlier life, I was taught about the perils of the short-lived ‘remou’ and that word snapped back into my mind when considering the current position with this Sandals MoU, in which all points are supposedly open for discussion. That stated position of no signed contracts will be the subject of this article. So many eminent people and responsible institutions were involved in this matter, that it is unfathomable how our Government could have signed that Sandals MoU on 10th October 2017.
My campaign to have that MoU made public got this far due its clear focus on the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) and the ‘Underlying Commercial Arrangements’, which are never discussed in public. The decisive element in the complicated process of creating these large-scale projects is intentionally kept from public view, by agreement. Our national assets are traded and degraded for decades, after the sheer outrage of colonialism, with the new leaders relying on the cultivated economic and financial illiteracy of our citizens.
The environmental aspects have never been a direct focus of my campaign, but I do know that the impacts on our natural assets surely carry an economic and financial burden we all have to bear, even the unborn. As I said recently, to even consider a large-scale resort complex at this site is like 40 years from now, when many of us will have gone from this place, proposing blocks of new apartments in the Queen’s Park Savannah. To some readers it might seem like I am being extreme, but after all, people need places to live, right?
The financial and economic outlook is no less damaging, but still the challenges and scepticism abounds. On Facebook last week a ‘friend’ who is a Certified Management Accountant wrote:
Facebook CMA friend Afra Raymond respectfully I disagree with your position on this matter…
Afra Raymond I have three points on this issue…Firstly, valuable Public Property and scarce Public Money should not be committed for such long-term and large-scale projects without our Free Prior and Informed Consent…hence my lawsuit to get the MoU…we can now discuss the implications of this project before any concrete is poured…Secondly, those MoU terms are deeply detrimental to the Public Interest…I have been checking with colleagues globally and not one of them has ever heard of a large-scale project built at public expense with tax & duty concessions and no guarantees as to employment or local content…not one…Thirdly, I am pleased to have both Dr Rowley and the THA Chief Secretary confirm that no binding agreements have been signed…that means we are not trapped and maybe some good might come from this high-level fiasco…that is a summary of my position in this matter…what are the parts with which you disagree?”
No reply. You see?
Yet another concerned hotel specialist stated that –
“We have reached a critical juncture in Trinidad & Tobago’s economy at large and more specifically, our tourism development. Sandals Tobago is a concept that I embraced from day 1, but it was never “at all costs“.
You know what must be done At All Costs?
- Our environment must be protected;
- Our human resource capacity must be nurtured;
- Our food production capabilities must be enhanced;
- Our Treasury must see benefits.
Unfortunately, the contents of the MOU between the T&T government and Sandals seems to not take these things into account.
We must keep our eyes open At All Costs!”
So just how did we get here? It is clear that there was no official intention to disclose the MoU contents. Just try to imagine Dr Rowley stating clearly to the public, in October 2017, that there were no provisions or quotas made for local employment, goods or services. That Sandals were to invest no capital, but were to receive the required work permits, together with tax and duty concessions.
Did the various teams of advisers and negotiators make these damaging proposals to Sandals, or was this sweet package authored by the hotelier? Did the Cabinet reject the advice it received and proceed in this direction? What could possibly have been driving this bizarre decision?
Now that we have been told that there is no signed and binding agreement, with all items available for discussion, several questions are begged. Most important, in my view, is the matter of the rationale for this immense investment in a single, huge project on these environmentally-sensitive lands. We are still awaiting a clear answer. For whatever reason, I am recalling Dr Rowley’s favourite, biting, political picong, usually reserved to express his disgust – ‘Like putting lipstick on a pig‘.
REMINDER: The role of a free press is to question the self-serving narratives of those in power.