‘Manufactured consent’ is supported by “…effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion…“.
This article is based on notes for my presentation today to the Fourth Caribbean International Tourism Conference (CITC 2019) at UWI’s Cave Hill campus. My presentation will be on Trinidad & Tobago’s State-owned hotels to outline the results and provisional conclusions of my research. I designed that research program to examine the existing State-owned hotels as a way of understanding the real prospects for the large-scale Tobago Sandals being proposed by the current government in 2015.
I am questioning the role of our responsible elites in light of Dr Terrence Farrell’s ‘Where do we go from here‘ speech to the Queen’s Park Cricket Club on 22 November 2019. Dr Farrell also chaired a THA-appointed Committee to recommend a Medium-Term Policy and Planning Framework for Tobago. Those proposals were made on 12 November 2019 and included three new all-inclusive hotels for Tobago adding about 1,800 new rooms.
The three existing State-owned hotels (Trinidad Hilton with 418 rooms; Magdalena Grand with 198 rooms; and Hyatt Regency with 428 rooms) would have been dwarfed by the proposed Tobago Sandals complex at 750 rooms. Apart from its size, the proposed complex was intended to be developed on a similar arrangement as the existing hotels, with the State paying for the design, construction, fitting and furnishing before Sandals started its operations under a Management Agreement.
On 30 June 2016, former finance minister and international investment banker, Wendell Mottley, was named chairman of a negotiating team to arrive at an agreement between Government and all-inclusive operator Sandals Resorts for two hotels in Tobago. The other team members were Dr Terrence Farrell, Dr Rolph Balgobin, hotelier Michael Small, small farmer Glen Leslie and head of public/private partnership in the Ministry of Finance, Nadira Lyder, and two representatives to be named by the Tobago House of Assembly.
It was also reported that the Tobago Tourism Agency is to be chaired by Dr. Sherma Roberts, to consult with stakeholders and the public “to ensure that everyone is a part of the discussion,” the Secretary explained. Dr. Roberts is the Conference Chair of CITC 2019 and Graduate Coordinator, M.Sc. Tourism Programmes, at UWI, Cave Hill.
The MoU for this Tobago Sandals project was signed on 10 October 2017 and was eventually published on 28 November 2018 after my Freedom of Information litigation. The terms were all seemingly in favour of the hotelier, that is my considered opinion. I have not read any contrary views from any of the promoters of this scheme or their advisers.
My research program was conducted with the assistance of Disclosure Today with only limited success, supplemented by various Parliamentary disclosures arising since 2015. The basic case I am advancing is that the only way to properly approach negotiations for a new large-scale hotel project would be with a solid grasp of how the existing hotels are performing. The preliminary conclusion would seem to be that the existing hotel operations are both very poorly understood and very closely guarded.
Sandals apparently withdrew from the Tobago project on 15 January 2019 and there has been little further meaningful discussion on those proposals. Dr. Rowley made an interesting damblay at the post-Cabinet briefing just after the discussions on that project had been stopped, with him disputing Robert Amar’s claims that Wendell Mottley had been appointed to work on those negotiations. To his credit, the PM promptly apologised to Amar once his error had been pointed out, but to my mind it resembled an attempt to deny the very existence of that negotiating team.
Of course, one could not expect a member of the responsible elite to disclose confidential advice, but I do wonder if that negotiating team ever met, considered proposals from Sandals or made any recommendations to the Cabinet?
So, in the final analysis –
- What is the position of Drs Farrell and Roberts on the case for substantive research into the Management Agreements for and performance of our State-owned hotels?
- What is the position of Drs Farrell and Roberts on the proposed approach set out in the Tobago Sandals MoU? For those with short, or convenient memories, that proposal was to have the State fund a huge, luxurious resort on valuable public land with further grants of tax, duty and work permit concessions, together with explicit recognition of the hotelier’s right to transfer pricing. Was that an acceptable way to proceed? Was there sufficient research to support such a large-scale approach anyway? If the approach was unacceptable, which aspects of it were unsatisfactory?
Silence and ambiguity align badly with responsibility.
ADDENDUM: The Barbados Paradox
The single most disturbing aspect of the arrangements for our State-owned hotels are the boldfaced efforts to avoid any proper accountability, even in the face of our Freedom of Information Act requests.
Barbados Hilton was built with Public Money on public land and is operated by Hilton International under a Management Agreement, which is a similar arrangement to what obtains in our hotels. But the similarity ends there, since the Barbados Hilton is held by Needham’s Point Holdings Limited, which publishes regular, detailed annual reports – the most recent one I found was for 2015.
Barbados has no Freedom of Information Act yet is always in the top ranked countries within the annual Corruption Perception Index compiled by Transparency International. Well this gives us a clue as to what I call the Barbados Paradox.