Property Matters – Filling the Gaps

budget2011“…Mr. Speaker, no coherent, co-ordinated planning or strategy for state enterprises exists. As a result we have begun to rationalise the state enterprises, including the special purpose companies, which will incorporate a new accountability system that goes beyond the presently operating company ordinances. It is these loopholes in public accountability that resulted in the UDeCOTT scandal. This must never again happen in Trinidad and Tobago…”
—Dookeran, Winston. “Facing the Issues: Turning the Economy Around,” (Budget Statement 2011, Port of Spain, 8 September 2010), pg 22.

The previous article – Cycle of Consequences – drew from the official record to detail the performance of UDeCOTT in terms of its accountability for the vast sums of Public Money for which it is responsible.

The reaction to that article was so striking that I am responding to the disbelief and many questions. I will also examine the record of e TecK in this related matter of the State-owned hotels. As always, I am relying on the official record and the written correspondence.

In 2016, I designed a research program to unearth just how these State-owned hotels are operated. I was assisted by my colleagues at Disclosure Today (DT) which made requests for information on my behalf via the Freedom of Information Act.

It is really striking to compare the unhelpful replies to our lawful requests for details with the official record. I created a timeline for clarity –

eteck-logoe TecK

  • 27 October 2016 – Request for Information submitted by DT;
  • 3 November 2016e TecK replies to deny all our requests, citing ‘business, commercial or financial confidentiality‘;
  • 20 December 2016 – DT writes to point out that e TecK‘s refusal is not in conformity with the FoIA;
  • 20 January 2017 – Having had no reply, DT issues its pre-action protocol letter;
  • 14 February 2017e TecK writes to apologise for the ‘apparent non-response‘, claiming that “…a letter was penned in response (to DT’s 20th December letter) however due to our inadvertence the said letter was never issued…”. This is also remarkable since e TecK agrees with us, despite their earlier claims as to confidentiality, that the Trinidad Hilton Operating Lease is in fact Registered at the Registrar General’s Department. e TecK also held its position that the Management Agreement for Magdalena Grand was confidential. There are clauses in those Agreements on recruitment, training, assignment and promotion of supervisors, managers and executives at those hotels, but e TecK claimed to be unsure what DT meant when asked what were the results of those provisions.
  • 27 April 2017 – DT pointed out that e TecK obviously had not even bothered to check its own files before refusing the lawful request, the default position seemingly in service of default secrecy. e TecK‘s claims that ‘the management/operating contracts are subject to financial audit by internal and external auditors‘ were incompatible with the findings of the June 2016 Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee into e TecK.

    “…e TecK acknowledge for the period under review that there was a lack of accountability and monitoring for the entity…”
    “…The Committee noted that there was a lack of urgency in dealing with the persistent delay in the submission of audited financial statements to the Parliament…”
    “…This enterprise was never formally audited…” (all citations at pg 20)

    “…the company’s figure (sic) for the Hilton Hotel Trinidad Refurbishment Project…were not a meaningful measure of performance, monitoring and accountability because of the ineffective budgeting process and cost control procedures…” (pg 22)

udecottUDeCOTT

  • 27 October 2016 – Request for Information submitted by DT;
  • 25 November 2016 – UDeCOTT replies to deny the requests due to ‘business, commercial or financial confidentiality‘;
  • 20 December 2016 – DT writes to point out that UDeCOTT’s refusal is not in conformity with the FoIA;
  • 6 February 2017 – UDeCOTT responds to ask, in respect of the Management Agreements it had just refused to disclose, exactly what were those documents DT was requesting. UDeCOTT effectively denied the existence of any such Management Agreements, repeatedly claiming that ‘it is not clear to what management agreement you refer‘.
  • 17 February 2017 – DT points out the irreconcilable conflict between UDeCOTT’s initial refusal to disclose and its new lack of clarity as to which document was being requested.
  • Noel Garcia, former MD of HDC. Photo courtesy Trinidad Guardian
    Noel Garcia, UDeCOTT chairman. Photo courtesy Trinidad Guardian

    21 July 2017 – DT pointed out that the Joint Select committee Report of July 2016 into UDeCOTT was instructive. At pg 54 of that Report, the UDeCOTT Chairman, Noel Garcia, stated – “…Yes there is a management agreement, which we call the hotel management agreement. We will make that available to the Committee…”. So there could be no confusion as to which management agreement was being requested, we wanted the same one the UDeCOTT Chairman was promising. You see? On the so-called secret details of the Hyatt Regency’s financial performance, the situation was even more ambiguous. At the same page of that JSC Report, Garcia continues “…I must say that Hyatt has proven to be one of the better investments, and one of the more successful hotels in Trinidad…”. Garcia was also quoted in a Newsday interview on 2nd May 2016 “…Asked how much profit Hyatt makes, the UDeCOTT Chairman said “I can’t give the figure right now but what I could say is that Hyatt is very profitable…The investment has more than paid back for itself…”. Apart from not having those details to hand, as it were, Garcia placed no other restrictions on the availability.

  • paulascoon-in-senate1 May 2018 – Trade & Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon reports to Parliament on the performance of Hyatt Regency, but is unwilling or unable to answer relevant and basic questions on that report. (pp. 4-5)
  • Present – Those management Agreements and proper accounts are still being concealed.

For those readers who are wondering, yes, these are the same management arrangements for State-owned hotels which are working so well.

4 thoughts on “Property Matters – Filling the Gaps

  1. Mr Raymond. Every Trinidadian and Tobagonian should ask the question: why is the is the government of the day not willing to provide the owners (citizens of TT) basic accountable information?. Is there some inside arrangement to the benefit of the ministers? We have seen state enterprises thumb their noses at the state enterprise committee appointed to look into the affairs of these state organizations. We the people are being taken for fools and ediots!. There should be accountability from all state enterprises. This is good governance. It seems that politicians and bureaucrats of all political parties have an interest in not giving information to the people of TT.

  2. Trying to fill financial gaps in our accomplished administrators’ policies is like trying to saturate a suspended sponge with water. Liquidation seems to be their collective object while their assets bulge with the loot. Each new policy drafted has built-in loopholes for consistent drainage, a principle that flood-prone areas need. CLR James warned us against supporting party politics and Lloyd Best wrote excessively about how we can limit corruption and curb the massive importation of products we can and should produce ourselves. Afra and David Muhammed feature among those who have the integrity and courage to speak out. Needless to say the media fills us with the more important news like our PM’s health and the new penalties for traffic offenses by maniacal citizens who are ticketed for 5km in excess of the limit and other such notorious infractions. Hotel management infractions are not life threatening so they are not news-worthy.

    Like teachers, many of us agree on policy changes until they demand more personal effort and temporary constrictions on their incomes and standards of living. Sacrifice is good as long as others do it. Gagging employees is almost a contractual mandate extended to permanent workers also who can and shall easily be framed or blackmailed by our honest leaders. David Rudder’s 2019 release called “Spirits” claims that we are, “trying to unconfuse this land of confusion.” When will we?

  3. Trying to change behaviours such that we become truly accountable for our choices and actions, though not impossible, would continue to prove very difficult. In part, I think its because we teach this accountability philosophy to our children as a kind of theory that works but the other behaviour is a cultural option that we practice as our reality. In fact when we are called to be accountable in our roles as “leaders” we seem to become threatened and insecure in our leadership role. In response we seek to shut down the questions, requests for information or challenging new idea, by way of executive veto power and any other devious method we can use. I live in hope that we will achieve the desired habits of transparency and accountability in our large public institutions, as we (minutely) practice the behaviours within our homes,schools, work places and communities.

  4. To Yatali,
    We become socially and economically displaced when we do right. We get oral agreements and then stabbed behind our backs. The history of this type of behaviour is our global history. The propagation of evil is now legalised in many countries. Thieving institutions run the global economy and pretend to punish selected wrongdoers. The judiciary supports those who fund it. Whistleblowers are condemned but not those whose acts are exposed. In schools those who video wrong actions are derided and the phones are banned. Even at tertiary institutions taping classes are more often prohibited than allowed.
    Might is still right.

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