This title reflects the negotiating stance of our governments in these massive State-owned hotels as I wonder at the convenient distraction of the ‘Buck’ emerging from folklore into the modern media. A shadowy figure who is eating-out the family’s food, coming and going as they please, people have to tie-down their things but those could still go missing. No broken windows or forced locks, so somebody is letting the Buck in, like some kind of secret love affair. Well I tell you.
In this article, I will set out the recent disclosures by Minister of Trade and Industry, Senator Paula Gopee-Scoon, on Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre and Magdalena Grand.
On Tuesday 19th March 2019, the Minister of Trade and Industry replied in Senate to two questions by UNC Senator Taharqa Obika –
“…Can the Minister advise as to the amount of taxes and dividends collected from the Magdalena Grand Hotel for each year during the period 2015 to 2018?…”
The second question sought the same details for Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre.
The Minister’s replies gave a lot of details on the various taxes paid by those two hotels and those are shown in the tables/graphs for clarity. Those replies were helpful in that one can form fairly reliable preliminary conclusions as to the revenues of these hotels.
Eteck State-owned Hotel results 2015 to 2018
|Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort|
|Business Levy & Green Fund||$168,202||$433,574||$347,511||$297,862||$1,247,149|
|Hotel Accommodation Tax||$3,539,429||$3,031,384||$2,407,382||$2,078,101||$11,056,296|
|Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre Hotel|
|Business Levy & Green Fund||$154,076||$412,990||$391,863||$308,124||$1,267,052|
|Hotel Accommodation Tax||$9,717,579||$8,619,304||$8,387,015||$8,563,908||$35,287,806|
It was very disappointing to note that the Minister omitted the PAYE for Magdalena Grand. Are we to assume that no PAYE deductions are made from the salaries of Magdalena Grand staff? If so, that is irregular and needs a proper explanation.
But there was another unacceptable, yet unsurprising, omission in that the Minister gave no details of the payments received by the State from the operators of those hotels. It seems clear that the Code of Silence remains in effect in these large-scale State-owned hotels and the question has to be ‘Why?’. When are any of our governments going to tell the truth about the performance of these State-owned hotels? These are really large-scale Public Private Partnerships, so the public is entitled to performance details for these huge investments.
A further concern is that Party before Nation seems to be alive and well in our Parliament, since Senator Obika only asked about the period 2015 to 2018. Why? It seems to me that those years were chosen so that any criticism which might arise could be limited to the years of PNM’s administration – i.e. after the September 2015 General election.
The Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre Management Agreement is the only one of the State-owned hotels which is published, as an ‘Operatorship Lease’, with the Registrar General’s Department. That hotel is worthy of special attention due to the unusual extent to which its details are visible.
Next week’s article will delve into the actual meaning of those taxes paid and the lessons one can derive in terms of these Underlying Commercial Arrangements.