Property Matters – The No Tell Hotel

What are the lessons learned in these examinations of the State-owned hotels in T&T? These are large-scale Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and that approach is being increasingly adopted by our government in this period of deficit budgeting, so this review is a relevant one.
ppp

In this article I will set out the general arrangements, the T&T arrangements, the Tobago Sandals MoU and the closer examination of the State-owned hotels. Investment policy and the prospects for privatisation will be considered in conclusion. Continue reading “Property Matters – The No Tell Hotel”

Property Matters – Anything for a Buck, part three

When I started this examination of the reported taxes paid by the e TecK hotels, it was with faint hopes of making any findings, given the erratic quality of the information provided by Minister Gopee-Scoon. Even the title ‘Anything for a Buck‘ was an attempt to make light of what seemed near impossible, picking sense from nonsense. But the humour soon vanished, just like the Buck, as I estimated the income and salaries for those hotels – Magdalena Grand and Hilton Trinidad.

hiltonposIn last week’s article, I estimated the sales and room revenues of those hotels, which showed that Hilton Trinidad’s Sales Revenue (estimated from its reported payments of Business Levy & Green Fund) was exceeded by its Room Revenue (estimated from its reported payments of Hotel Accommodation Tax). Sales Revenue is usually the sum of room revenue, food & beverage sales and other rentals for meetings/functions. That can only be described as an anomaly and one that requires a proper explanation, since it has a direct and adverse effect on the Rental payable to e TecK by Hilton Trinidad under the terms of its Management Agreement. That Management Agreement was registered as a Lease on 7th July 2006.

Last week I also made the point that there was not enough information to reliably estimate costs, other than salaries, from the taxes paid. This week, I will delve into the implications of the salaries by using the reported payments of NIS contributions and PAYE. Given that Magdalena Grand has no reported PAYE, according to the Minister’s statement on 19th March 2019, it is not possible to compare that hotel with Hilton Trinidad on all bases. Continue reading “Property Matters – Anything for a Buck, part three”

Property Matters – Anything for a Buck part two

The previous article started by dealing with the Buck and his alleged stealing. This week I will be examining, at last, just where does the Buck pass. For those readers who may be smiling, this is no jokey thing. In this article I will be looking at that thing and its meaning.

Minister Gopee-Scoon’s delivery on Tuesday, 19 March 2019 in the Senate was nothing less than a ‘Phantom Presentation‘. (See video below, begins at 29:35) All part of the ‘hop skip and jump’ between wanting to appear to disclose but not really telling the public the real story. Like the olden Primary School days when as children we used to play ‘Hide and Seek‘, with the one who could hide the best as the winner, along with ‘Catch‘, with the one who could run the fastest and twist suddenly being impossible to catch. You see? I am going to explain all that now.

As noted last week, Senator Obika’s queried ‘taxes and dividends collected‘ for the two Eteck hotels in the period 2015 to 2018. Continue reading “Property Matters – Anything for a Buck part two”

Property Matters – Anything for a Buck

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.

scoon-obikaOn 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. Continue reading “Property Matters – Anything for a Buck”

Property Matters – Sandals Shuffle

Property Matters – Sandals Shuffle

“…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. Continue reading “Property Matters – Sandals Shuffle”

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. Continue reading “Property Matters – Filling the Gaps”

Property Matters – Cycle of Consequences

This article will delve deeper into the State Enterprise sector and its role as an agent of government policy with huge transactions in Public Money. I will do so by continuing my focus on the State-owned hotels and their performance, drawn from the official record.

The poor quality of investment decisions with our limited Public Money has left us saddled with projects no private investor would have contemplated beyond an initial appraisal stage. Public Money ought to be managed to and accounted for to higher standards than those applicable to Private Money. That standard learning appears to have evaporated in our country.

ppp

The Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in relation to our State-owned hotels are evidently beneficial to the hoteliers but of limited, if any, benefit to the Public as shareholders. PPPs here in T&T are ones in which we have privatised the profits and nationalised the losses. That is what happened at Tobago Hilton and, in significant respects, at Carlton Savannah – as detailed in ‘Carlton Savannah Swirl‘ published in this space on 15 February 2015. What is more, some of the leading beneficiaries of those arrangements, such as Arthur Lok Jack, can declare – “Government has to get the hell out of private sector business.”. Continue reading “Property Matters – Cycle of Consequences”

Property Matters – The Curepe Interchange

 

“…There is a temptation to let the lying dogs sleep…”
Sikka, Premm. “HMRC is in thrall to big business. It can no longer do its job.” The Guardian. 8 September 2016

“The Upholder is worse than the Thief”
—from the defunct Trinidad & Tobago value system, decades ago…

The reported statements of the PM and Minister Sinanan on this cost reduction of about $300M achieved for the Curepe Interchange project and the alleged role of corrupt engineers in that process are ones I welcome. Any savings of scarce Public Money are to be welcomed, whatever the political administration. That said, those recent statements are necessary but not sufficient.

These points are here to set the table –
Continue reading “Property Matters – The Curepe Interchange”

Property Matters – Checking-out State-owned hotels

Property Matters – Checking-out State-owned hotels

In the previous article, I dismantled the false narrative as to the satisfactory ‘Underlying Commercial Arrangements‘ for our State-owned hotels. To do so, I used the official records of the Parliament and its Joint Select Committees. Those records actually tell this sorry story, but it is possible to rely upon the sheer mass of material to effectively mask reality.

The defenders of these rotten arrangements are unable to rebut the official record, so some have now taken to claiming that the accounts do exist and that I should admit my errors. Well I tell you.

In between the political loyalists who have a unique way with facts and the very shortage of those facts, one needs to establish certain cardinal points if we are to make sense of all this Carefully Crafted Confusion.

So here are my cardinal points to understand this puzzle –

  • Capital Expenditure is all ours – every cent is our Public Money;
  • Repairs and Maintenance – Ditto;
  • Returns to Private Sector – These are obviously at or above target rates, since both Hilton and Hyatt have persisted in their POS operations. If the returns were below target, those operators would have exited, which is what Hilton International did in Tobago in 2008;
  • Returns to Public Sector – Unknown – since there is no commitment to accountability or transparency, despite the periodic claims to the contrary from various high-ranking officials;
  • Private Sector Audited Accounts – We can be sure that those exist at the Private Sector level and are made available in a timely manner to the shareholders and stakeholders of those companies. No Chief in that arena could survive a failure to produce audited accounts in the required manner – that would be grounds for instant dismissal, for cause and without compensation. Of course there is no way a Private Sector Chief could ever refuse to provide those records to its shareholders and stakeholders;
  • Public Sector Audited Accounts – These are never available, for whatever reason. The Public Sector Chiefs routinely fail to produce these records and even when formal requests are made via the Freedom of Information Act, those are refused. No Chief in that Public Sector arena has ever been removed or disciplined for their flagrant failure/refusal to account;

Continue reading “Property Matters – Checking-out State-owned hotels”

Property Matters – Tobago Sandals Roles

This article will delve into the roles of the various officials and public Institutions who are responsible for this Tobago Sandals MoU.

Information Approach

This process followed the familiar pattern of information management, in which the ‘Underlying Commercial Arrangements’ are intentionally obscured, while other details are selectively provided.

topsecretIt is clear that there was no intention to disclose the MoU, given the strong official resistance to my request under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA). The entire nine-month period of my challenge was one of Carefully Crafted Confusion, with both sides claiming repeatedly that there was no secret, yet at the same time there were serious issues of commercial confidentiality. Of course, only one of those could be the truth. My litigation forced both Sandals and our public officials to decide which version was true, so the MoU was released on the day before our first Court hearing.

That MoU also contains a confidentiality clause which only permits any disclosure with the agreement of the other party. The parties promised each other to keep those important secrets safe. Continue reading “Property Matters – Tobago Sandals Roles”