The Tobago Sandals mega-project has returned to the headlines with recent interviews of Sandals Resorts’ CEO, Adam Stewart, in Barbados and Stuart Young, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.
Stewart’s statements were widely reported in the local press (see Addendum 1 below) with an emphasis on the lack of secrecy in the entire arrangement and the fact that discussions were still at a preliminary stage. Minister Young’s CNC3 interview on Wednesday 28 February 2018 (below) was also notable for his insistence that there was no secrecy or any reluctance to engage with the public on this mega-project.
On 2 February 2018, the Ministry of Tourism announced its upcoming symposium – ‘Digital Transformation within the Tourism Sector‘ – as a major event on Friday 23 February 2018, in conjunction with Massy Technologies and featuring speakers from Microsoft and IBM.
This is an ambitious project intended to examine big-data, the cloud, the digital customer experience and the prospects of the hospitality industry in our country. As such, these proposals should have our principled support, but there is real cause for a pause here, given the distinct reluctance of the State’s agencies to answer our queries on the agreements and performance of the large State-owned hotels.
The three largest hotels in our country are State-owned – Trinidad Hilton; Magdalena Grand (formerly known as Tobago Hilton) and Hyatt Regency – comprising about 45% of the established hotel rooms, at the better end of the market. The amount of Public Money invested via capital outlay in those hotels is estimated, from the public record, in the first sidebar. But what is of deeper interest to me is that far larger sums of money are generated in the operations of those hotels than the capital spent to create the actual facilities. Those sums are spent on rooms, meals, drinks, rentals for functions and so on.
Recent concerns over the State’s land acquisition process, especially in relation to the Curepe Interchange project, have virtually coincided with the appointment on 12th January 2018 of the first Board for the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR).
The $222M contract for this project was awarded in August 2017 to China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) by National infrastructure Development Co. (NIDCO). NIDCO is one of the implementing agencies for the Ministry of Works and Transport, which is headed by Senator Rohan Sinanan. Twenty-Two parcels of private land have to be acquired to build this interchange between the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway and the Southern Main Road. That includes a part of the disused Kay-Donna Drive-Inn Cinema, which is at the south-western corner of that intersection.
Minister Sinanan has confirmed his part-ownership of the Kay-Donna property, which, together with the long-standing problems within the State’s land acquisition process, have given ground to the sceptics. In my view Minister Sinanan’s position is a direct conflict of interest, if ever I saw one. That said, it is not an irremediable conflict, indeed it must be remedied, since we ought not to either halt this project or delude ourselves to think that recusal is some kind of cure for this Executive Proximity.
This situation is a learning opportunity to re-establish some proper standards of transparency and accountability in the land acquisition process and for the OPR to issue strong regulations to assure best practices for the future. This article will outline the key issues in State land acquisitions and propose a best practice approach which could ease some of the legitimate concerns arising in relation to the conflicted situation of Minister Sinanan. Continue reading “Property Matters – State land acquisition”→
There has been a veritable cascade of events as we went through 2017, each seemingly more gripping than the last, so it is difficult to summarise such a year. Accordingly, these are the more important issues which I covered this year and which are likely to arise again in 2018. Continue reading “2017 in Review”→
This article will examine the perennial issues of the ‘interlocking directorate‘ and the role of our professional institutions in maintaining standards.
The previous article examined the High Court ruling against valuers, Charles B. Lawrence & Associates, arising from the 2012 lawsuit of Intercommercial Bank Limited (IBL) for a negligent valuation of a property on San Fernando Bypass.
Lawrence valued the property for $15M and also made a defensive claim that the bank ought to have known that the property sold two months prior for $450,000. That claim of contributory negligence failed, unsurprisingly. It is literally unbelievable that any property could increase in value from $450,000 to $15.0M in two months.
The Court took expert witness evidence from two other valuers, Brent Augustus (for IBL) and Roy Gumansingh (for Charles B. Lawrence & Associates), who both gave opinions that the property was worth $15.0M in 2008, on the assumption of commercial use. The Lawrence Report assumed commercial use and that was found to be ‘wholly misleading‘. That Report also failed to properly point out the presence of occupiers/squatters on the site, which both Augustus and Gumansingh took account of. In any case, the best offer received for the property was $2.0M, two years after the Lawrence valuation. Continue reading “Property Matters: The Ethics Gap – part five”→
My focus has been on grand corruption, the large-scale acts of fraud which endanger the very stability and rationale of our society and its key institutions. No act of grand corruption is possible in isolation. The only way to steal these large amount of money is to have the collaboration of responsible officials and professionals, who either look the other way or actively assist in the looting.
That was the case in Eden Gardens and the other episodes covered thus far. None of these acts of grand corruption would have been possible without the intentional help of professionals such as attorneys, engineers, accountants or even surveyors. Our current private and public sector systems rely on the professional standards and ethics of those professionals to ensure value for money. Continue reading “The Ethics Gap – part four”→
The previous article examined the ways that a culture which accepts unethical behaviour can stop even the best laws from working. This week, I will go deeper into those large-scale examples of improper practice in my own profession in relation to State property acquisitions.
As a context note, those are large-scale transactions in Public Money which therefore would be overseen by the new Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Act. Property acquisitions must be subject to robust oversight if we are to properly control transactions in Public Money.