Afra Raymond’s presentation on “State-owned hotels as a development option for T&T: Lessons for Small Islands Developing States” at the ISTT Caribbean Land Conference 2019 – Surveying best practices towards the sustainable development of Caribbean SIDS, at Hilton Trinidad Friday October 11, 2019.
Programme Length: 00:25:20 Programme Date: 11 October 2019
What are the underlying commercial arrangements in relation to our State-owned hotels? Is there any reason to think that these arrangements operate to our benefit, or is there genuine cause for concern?
My efforts to sift the evidence are ongoing in the face of this carefully crafted confusion.
Hyatt Regency is reputedly the most successful of the three State-owned hotels, so one would imagine any government would be eager to share news of those good results. The total Public Money invested in Hyatt Regency is $854M to date and that hotel opened in January 2008, so what return has the State earned on that investment? Certain limited tax and performance details for those hotels emerged after I started in 2016 to question the widespread unawareness of the underlying commercial arrangements in our State-owned hotels. I am not querying those taxation or profit details, indeed how could anyone, in the absence of audits or tax transparency?
This series on T&T’s State-owned hotels has shown the lack of transparency and accountability which is all too common in the other State-owned enterprises. These hotels are some of the largest Public Private Partnerships in which our Public Money is invested, so these are important in this era of declining energy revenues.
This article will examine the prospects for privatisation of those PPPs and make the link to the Tobago Sandals MoU.
Privatisations fit readily within the ambit of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act.
In this period of ongoing budget deficits, it is likely that apart from ‘downsizing’, the government will have to consider disposing of various assets to raise cash and reduce its expenditure. That was the underlying rationale for the significant staff cuts at TSTT and the closure/restructuring of PETROTRIN.
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.
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”→
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.
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?…”
“…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”→
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;
The "Big Lie" is a propaganda technique referred to by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, where a "colossal untruth" is stated and repeated as if it must be true, in order to influence a discussion in a direction that takes the lie for granted, rather than critically questioning it
The concerted attempts to sell the Tobago Sandals project were driven by high-level Public Officials who repeatedly assured the public that the existing arrangements for the three State-owned hotels were working satisfactorily. So much so that we should be pleased that the existing arrangements were to be adopted for the new project. The two main promoters were PM, Dr Keith Rowley and the Minister in the Office of the PM, Stuart Young.
Of course, we now know, due to the unplanned publication of that Tobago Sandals MoU, what were the terms and conditions on which the State intended to engage that project. No other hotelier had ever had a deal like that.
But there is a deeper series of official conversations on these existing State-owned hotels which need to be spotlighted so that a better view can be had as to ‘Who is Who and What is What’.
If that phrasing sounds over-imaginative and gross, just consider these proposals for Tobago Sandals…
The previous article stated the bare facts about this large-scale development and placed those for consideration. The response, online and elsewhere, was such that I am now going to set out the main arguments being used by the promoters of this project and place those for consideration.
What is ultimately at stake here is the right of our Public Officials to negotiate these large-scale projects, in secret and on our behalf. The promoters of this project are claiming that intangible but substantial element, the Benefit of the Doubt. This article will examine the merit of those claims for the Benefit of the Doubt. Continue reading “Property Matters – the Benefit of the Doubt for Tobago Sandals?”→