“…we are running a Country, not a Company…”
—Mia Mottley QC MP, Barbados PM – from her inaugural budget Wednesday, 20 March 2019
This title occurred to me due to the quiet backsliding of the main supporters of the Tobago Sandals project. This is the kind of situation where people thought they were operating safely in the dark, until someone suddenly opens the door and turns on the lights. The emergence of Sandals’ recent skirmishes have also reminded me of a shuffle.
Those shameless promoters told the public repeatedly about how satisfactory the existing arrangements were for State-owned hotels and went on to explain the special benefits of Sandals and so on and so forth. The steady exposure of the rickety arrangements for the existing hotels and the publication of the Tobago Sandals MoU have combined to end the scheme. Sunlight is really the best disinfectant.
The decisive point here, in terms of the important issue of Caribbean Leadership Standards, is that our current political administration agreed to make tax/duty/work permit concessions to Sandals for that Tobago project which the State was funding. In all the other Sandals projects and their various issues about concessions, about which we are hearing so much, those hotels were built by Sandals. In Tobago, our Treasury was going to fund the entire resort and yet our politicians were intending to grant concessions, facilitate transfer-pricing and allow Sandals free choice in respect of goods and services. No wonder those Sandals officials were smiling the whole time. I tell you.
Please note that this kind of deal is not found anywhere else on the planet. That is for those supporters who want to chat about how Sandals transformed here or there. Here is the only country in which we were going to pay for the entire resort. Under the terms of that MoU Sandals was putting no money at risk. None.
None of the former defenders of Tobago Sandals seem ready, willing or able to defend their proposals, now that the actual agreed intentions have been disclosed. We are yet to hear any T&T leader even hint at repudiating any of the detrimental terms agreed in that Tobago Sandals MoU.
That position is quite different from that of the Barbados PM Mia Mottley QC who in delivering her first budget on Wednesday 20th March 2019 spoke strongly against Sandals proposals to obtain certain guarantees which would have prevented them from being taxed any differently for a term of 40 years. PM Mottley was clear in rejecting the Sandals proposals as being inimical to the stability of their country, and diluting the role of Parliament in establishing taxes. ‘…we are running a country, not a company‘ was a striking phrase used by PM Mottley, one for us to remember.
It is sobering to consider the Barbados PM’s clear rejection, even though Tourism is one of the mainstays of the Barbados economy and society. Compare that with the shuffle we have over here with the clauses in the Tobago Sandals MoU which effectively innoculate Sandals from any future impact in terms of changes in taxes, concessions or other incentives. At clause D (between pages 6 & 7) the State gives an undertaking to stabilise the tax regime applicable to Sandals. Can we negate the sovereign right of Parliament to tax the nation? Can we contract-out of the Social Contract? It seems that our politicians were prepared to.
But there is more – according to clause A17 on page five of the Sandals MoU, the government is obliged to –
“…Procure that the necessary laws, regulations or orders are enacted or made to give effect to this agreement, and any subsequent agreements…”.
Our politicians were prepared to agree to change our laws to facilitate this agreement. I always thought that agreements and contracts had to conform to the law, but not for Tobago Sandals. This has truly been a learning experience.
Intellectual Bankruptcy is the utter inability to defend ones position, in this case made all the more pronounced by the fact that all the resources of the State and its allies are at the disposal of these people.
Our Political leadership thinks that name-calling and throwing words are effective substitutes for defending ones large-scale proposals. What a sad stage for the PNM, founded by Dr Eric Williams. Well I tell you. All the King’s Horses and all the King’s Men is more than just a Nursery Rhyme from Primary School days.
When one considers the muted criticism for this reckless negotiation and approach to serious long-term development, it seems that political loyalty is still a major influence. The larger part of the talk one hears is sheer escapism to avoid confronting the truth.
As I said in public and several times, I do not believe that any of the major players in this project took bribes or anything like that. I meant it. The crisis we are facing is far more serious than that.
We are witness to a situation in which the brightest people, who went to the best schools and passed every test, with flying colours too, are unable or unwilling to pick sense from nonsense.
Blind Loyalty has eclipsed all the gains our country should have had from the education our foreparents sacrificed and protested to secure for us.
In the next article, I will analyse the recent disclosures by Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon on Trinidad Hilton and Magdalena Grand.